“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. Our flesh-and-bone tabernacle seems transparent as glass to the beauty about us, as if truly an inseparable part of it, thrilling with the air and trees, streams and rocks, in the waves of the sun, – a part of all nature, neither old nor young, sick nor well, but immortal.”
– John Muir
If you’ve begun this review I’m assuming that, like me, you’re already in the Laurel and and the Laurel is in you. The third installment in The Benjamin Drum Trilogy couldn’t find it’s way into my greedy little hands quick enough. If you’ve read my reviews of either The Summer Boy or Between Times then you’re aware of my fondness for this Appalachian epic and it’s writer. I have resolved to, rather than ramble on with felicitations, let my words be few. Let’s let Laurel Falls speak for itself:
Eventually the day began to work into him and he let go of thoughts and puzzles and simply drank in the golden light, the piney air, the songthrong of
innumerable birds. He walked, shedding haste and urgency as he went, feeling the weight of the mountain moving up through his soles and ankles with each step, through calf and knee and thigh, through belly and chest and shoulder, until finally he knew himself a mobile attenuation of the constant presentiality of
the mountain. He stopped and stared long and often into the lovely and loving
faces of flowers, had leisurely and unwordful conversations with a bear, and two
wolves and a large cat he met along the way. All of them recognized him as
kindred soul, like them manifest of the soulfulness of the mountain they
traversed, strangers before their meeting moment, and forever after aware of
their eternal familiatude. The same mountain breathed in them all, the same sun
warming and lighting them all. The same waters quenched their common thirst, and if need be, the body of any one might nourish the life of another. One Soul
imagined them all. One Life sustained the becoming of every one. Crossing a
creek on stones slippery with drenched mosses, Talks To Trees heard the guttural gratings of Raven perched in a chestnut high above. He looked up at his face reflected in the corvidaes dark orbs, through Raven’s eyes saw himself tiny and foreshortened among the grounded leaves below. “I know you,” said Raven in his unspeakable tongue. “We are brothers bone and blood. ” Talks To Trees nodded and waved before walking on. “Yes, we are,” he said aloud to Raven, to the tree, to the path and the flowers and the light and the air and the water, to Owl wherever he might not be listening, to the boy and man pursued across times and worlds, “We are the same.” Once across the little stream, Talks To Trees strode away. He fancied he heard Li singing in the distance, but knew it to be earthsong, the music of the day. Before he took many steps, Raven called after him, “Brother two-legged, you are the Namer. What will you call this place of our sacred meeting?” Talks To Trees halted, turned, spread his arms wide and smiled as the word came to him across water and worlds and time. “Abalahci.” He laughed. “The Other Side.”
Did you read that?!
If any passage has ever radiated the spirit of John Muir, this is it…and this is one small excerpt from a brilliant novel replete with beauty. Laurel Falls is the third book in the series…presumably a trilogy. If it ends here, it ends in resplendent glory…
Please don’t let it end here.
This episode features a podcast from…The Dirtbag Diaries. If you’re not familiar with The Diaries, you’re missing out. When I heard this episode last week, I just had to share it with you. Please stay tuned till the end to find out how you can get involved with bringing a little beauty into the world. A big thanks to the Dirtbag Diaries for allowing us to share this. You guys are the best.
From the Dirtbag Diaries Podcast episode page:
We got a call from Australia. M’Lynn’s husband, Paul, passed away this past July. He left behind three pairs of polished hiking boots and a backpack packed for his dream hike: the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail.
She had an idea for one final gift for her husband. “How good would it be,” she asked, “for his boots to make the journey even if Paul could not?” We want to make it happen. Give a listen. We need your help.
Want to help? To learn more, visit: http://www.ducttapethenbeer.com/paulsboots
Music: Original score by our friend Amy Stolzenbach.
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
― John Bunyan
In this episode David gives a little background on where he’s been, what’s been going on for the past several years and why there have been so few episodes.
Thanks for listening!
Alfie Dog Publishing:
The Trail Show:
“The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
I fell head-over-heels in love with the Appalachian Trail years ago. I dream of, one day, consumating that relationship with a thru-hike. For those of you unaccustomed to the term, a thru-hike of the AT would consist of me shouldering a back-pack, beginning at Springer Mountain in Georgia and following the white blazes, hiking north for 2,189.2 miles (This year. It changes each year.) until arriving at the summit of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. (This is not the only way to thru-hike the AT; there are myriad options. This is how I would prefer to do it). And to answer your question, yes, people really do this…every year. Many more attempt and bail than succeed but still, a lot of people make it to Katahdin (Or Springer, for those contrary Southbounders.)
In the meantime, while I try to pay off my house, eliminate a mountain of medical debt etc., I bide my time by doing section hikes of this beautiful footpath, reading AT books, memoirs (I have a bookshelf full of them), poring over maps etc. The first AT book I ever picked up was Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. (For the hilarious account of how I discovered it, listen to the first few minutes of episode 2 of the All Who Wander Podcast: http://allwhowander.us/002-all-who-wander-becoming-odyssa-book-launch-part-2/).
I really, really enjoyed the book. I also care deeply for the guy in the aforementioned story who really, really hates this book. Jack, if you know him, is a hard-hiking, hard-drinking character with a heart as big as all outdoors. He so despises this book that he is often seen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase, “Bill Bryson is a Candy-Ass”. Was I surprised that Jack went to see the film adaptation of the novel? Yes. Was I surprised that he didn’t care for it? Really? Do I need to answer that? Jack posted a seemingly sincere query on facebook several days ago. It read,
“Well, someone else will, no doubt, start a thread like this, so it may as well be me…the film version of A Walk In the Woods opens nationally tomorrow. Some of you have already seen it. I’ve already viewed it and have my own opinion…but I’d much rather hear YOURS. Looking forward to hearing from lot of you.” I responded simply, “We plan to see it this weekend.” He replied, “Save your money.” Daniel Quinn, a mutual friend, commented, “So much for I’d rather hear from others. LOL”
Hee hee hee. Funny stuff.
So, notwithstanding Jack’s friendly economic admonition, Dana and I bought our tickets, mandatory $20 worth of popcorn and root beer and settled into our seats to see what Redford had done with this (mostly) beloved book.
Disclaimer: As I mentioned at the start I fell head-over-heels in love with the Appalachian Trail years ago. This, undoubtedly, colors my perception of all things AT…including this movie. Jack and thru-hikers like him (He has 7 completed thru-hikes under his belt) take issue with the fact that Bill didn’t finish the entire trail. Well, I’ve most certainly hiked fewer AT miles than Bryson so I’m not sure where this places me on the scale in terms of hiker-cred. In addition, I’m no movie critic. I’ve only known one and, true to his title, he was terribly critical of nearly every movie he saw and looked down his nose on anyone who actually took pleasure in a film. I’m not that guy and hope I never will be. I’m much more easily entertained. Also, this whole process is awfully subjective. Because I so love this trail, hiking, backpacking and all things wild…I’ve no idea how a non-hiker might perceive the film. But here it is through my eyes:
I liked it
Yeah, I know. With that lead-up you were expecting a little more.
Okay, here’s a little more.
I liked it a lot.
I didn’t love it but I loved parts of it.
It’s a movie about the Appalachian Trail. You had me at “hello.”
It’s filmed on the Appalachian Trail. You set the hook.
It’s a movie based on a (mostly) beloved best-selling AT book which stars Robert freakin’ Redford and Nick Nolte. Really, what more could you ask for?
Were some of my favorite parts missing? Yes?
Did some of the jokes play out better in the book than on the screen? Yes.
Was it too short? Sure did seem that way.
All things considered, I guffawed through much of the film. Because of my deep love for the Trail, moments touched me on a soul level and caused my eyes to well with tears. I guess part of me wonders if I ever will see my dream of a thru-hike fulfilled. I’m nearly 50, with a laundry list of ailments doctors haven’t found a diagnosis for, a boatload of debt, two aging parents that need me to be around and a love for my family deeper than my love for the Trail. Yes, I identified with both of the main characters, Bryson and Katz. Maybe that’s where the magic happens.That connection. Will that happen for everyone? I don’t know…but it certainly did for me. It made me long to spend more time on my beloved Trail. It inspired me to do more to protect and defend our wild places. Maybe, just maybe it’ll do the same for someone else. I’d say that would be a success.
Good film. Grumpy Old Men meets Homeward Bound. I hope you like it. That’s my Trail up on that screen. I give it 4 trowels.
While anxiously awaiting the release of the film adaptation of the classic fly-fishing novel The River Why I read a comment by one of it’s creators that was critical of the classic movie, A River Runs Through It. They snobbishly dismissed the film for its lack of realism in the fly-fishing scenes. Over dinner I mentioned to Dana and Josiah how the comment had left a bad taste in my mouth for the person who made it and had sort of tainted my opinion of the upcoming movie before I’d had a chance to see it. My son Josiah, 18 years old at the time, said, “It’s not a documentary on how to fish. It’s a story.”
“It’s not a documentary on how to fish. It’s a story.”
Some of the biggest criticisms of Wild that I’ve heard have, unfortunately, come from the trail community. I heard comments like, “Want to learn what not to do while backpacking? See Wild.”
Strayed lays her heart bare in the book and on the screen. She unabashedly lays out a gruesome recounting of heartbreak, loss and bad decisions. She is beyond candid concerning her lack of experience as well as her moral failures. At no point does she claim expertise…in anything. In fact, she paints a picture of herself that is far from attractive. It is, at times, difficult to watch. I imagine it was even more difficult to endure. When confronted with this kind of raw confessional, our response is judgement? Really? Did we all come forth from the womb with an ultra-light pack, a 10 lb baseweight, practicing LNT ethics and obeying the levitical law to a point? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…or boot.
It’s not a documentary on how to backpack…or live, for that matter. It’s a story. It’s her story.
Another criticism or complaint goes something like this, “Oh great, now everyone and their brother are going to hit the Pacific Crest Trail to try and ‘find themselves.” And that’s bad? My own story is not that different. Dana, Josiah and I followed Jesus right out of the doors of the institutional church and into the woods. The wilderness became for us a sanctuary and a place of healing. The trail community welcomed us with open arms and have become like family. Yes, I discovered myself on the trail. I discovered life and passion and saw a longing awakened that transformed my life. I know countless nemophilists who would echo that sentiment. Why disparage others from searching for the same?
A related concern is that the hordes of newbies will cause irreparable damage to the trails. Granted, more traffic is going to bring about wear and tear. That’s unavoidable. Why not use this as a teaching opportunity? Great organizations such as The Pacific Coast Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy have. They’ve seized upon this opportunity to raise awareness, teach trail etiquette and draw attention to causes that desperately need it. In addition, think for a moment about how you felt about caring for the wilderness before you discovered backpacking…and after. Conservation wasn’t even on my radar before I found my place in the woods. Now? Don’t get me started! At this moment in US history the protection of our wild places is on precarious ground. I just recently signed a petition to try and prevent the logging of a great national treasure, Pisgah National Forest…just a couple of hours from our home. What if these hordes of new hikers were to become passionate about caring for wilderness? Imagine the potential!
I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed the film. I enjoyed it even more when I watched it with my wife. Dana lost her dad just a few months ago. I knew the early scenes would be difficult for her to get through. They were. I’ll admit, I strained to see her expression during those scenes and others. You know what I saw? Solidarity. She saw something of her own struggle in Cheryl’s tribulations. She resonated with the heartbreak. She identified with the call of the mountains and their promise of beauty and healing. She remembered what it was like when we were first starting out and had no clue what we were doing. She laughed sardonically with self deprecation at Cheryl’s bad luck, frustration and angst. When the boot flew off the mountain, I swear I saw Dana do a fist-pump. She rejoiced with Chery’s triumphs and gloried in the vistas attained. If for no reasons but these, I loved the film. C.S. Lewis said,”Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” ” I’ve no doubt that were Dana and Cheryl to meet they’d be fast friends.
Great story, great acting, great film making, struggle, heartache and redemption. Beautiful scenery, to boot. If you want to see a “How-To” on backpacking there are some good videos out there that’ll fit your need. If you want to laugh, be moved and inspired see Wild. You’ll be glad you did.
It’s not a documentary on how to backpack…or live, for that matter. It’s a story. It’s her story. And it’s a good one.
What Tolkien has done for Middle Earth, George Martin has done for the Game of Thrones world, and Stephen Lawhead has done for Ancient Briton, Mitchell has done for the Southern Appalachians. His highly anticipated second novel, Between Times, not only delivers on it’s promise to continue the enchanting story of Ben Drum’s pilgrimage through The Laurel but actually may surpass it’s predecessor in depth of narrative, lyrical beauty and artistic genius of storytelling.
The Celtic Knot. Known also as the Endless Knot or the Mystic Knot. You’ve seen them. Their sweeping, interlaced arcs and lines. From as early as 450 AD they’ve adorned clothing and structures, illuminated ancient texts, and decorated human flesh. Much has been argued as to their intended meaning but one glance reveals what the images themselves convey of interweaving, overlapping… interconnectedness. To me they speak of the connection between the visible realm and The Otherworld, of beginnings and endings that become beginnings, of thin places where the barrier between the two worlds provides a window…or a door.
Within the pages of Between Times entwine an endless knot as intricate, interwoven and captivating as those illuminating the Ancient Book of Kells. The writer tips his artist’ hand. Mitchell has given much of his 73 years to creating visual art. In Between Times, as in The Summer Boy, one sees the brush strokes of a master. His medium has changed. He paints now with words as beautifully as he ever did with pencil, brush or gouge. This novel is a work of art. A literary Celtic Knot. Not unlike the character Rider, prepare to be swept up into a torus of prose, a Great story artfully and poetically interwoven with magic, mystery, legend and beauty.
“Still, now and again he would go, drawn by a movement in the air or transient quality of light or a wind-borne cry of some wild thing. The looming peaks and ridges spoke to him continually in languages that were just beyond the threshold of understanding.”
“Mura loved these mountains the way he might once have loved a woman, or a deity. Every photograph he made was an act of adoration, of worship and communion.”
Even the chronological element of the narrative itself carries with it this beautiful interweaving, gently and elegantly flowing back on itself. I read the last word of the last page and realized that what seemed to be the end might just also be the beginning. I immediately turned back to the first chapter, where the story left off…or began…or both!
“Laurel is a space apart, Horace, out of any moment. Your world might think of it as something like a singularity enfolding all times, all places. The reality is more like the center of a flower, where all the petals join and become one with the others…”
While being swept up into the grand narrative and wooed by the anapestic prose an unsuspecting reader, if not careful, might just unwittingly begin to grasp the rudiments of quantum theory! The endless knot is complete and becoming. I’ve rambled on enough.
Mitchell has done it again. Yet another Appalachian epic. If you read one book this year. Make it Between Times.
If you loved the Summer Boy, you must read Between Times. Like an ancient Lindisfarne Artist-Monk Mitchell deftly and beautifully weaves his Appalachian epic akin to a literary Celtic knot. If, like the author, you love mountains, wild places, if wilderness is your sanctuary…or you wish it was…read this book. If you long to be swept up in a great story, bigger and more ancient than your own…read this book. It is an absolute joy…a delight! Get lost, once again, in the Laurel. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll meet you there.
Find more of Henry’s writing at his site,
at his publishers site,
at your local bookseller,
or purchase at Amazon.com
Remember, if you connect to Amazon through one of the links here at allwhowander.us a portion of the sale goes toward keeping the All Who Wander podcast going. Thanks in advance!
You can also follow Henry on Twitter and find him on Facebook.
A Child’s Walk in the Wilderness – An 8 Year Old Boy and His Father Take on the Appalachian Trail by Paul Molyneaux: Book Review
Several years back, as my son Josiah was approaching graduation, I became enamored with the idea of he and I doing an AT thru-hike together. One spring near the beginning of my infatuation, Dana, Josiah, and I inadvertently stumbled into that old stone CCC building at Wa-lasi-yi known as Mountain Crossings. While Josiah and I were inside imbibing the magical atmosphere of this incredible outfitter Dana saunters in and informs me that she had just been on the AT. “What?! No way!” Sure enough, the AT actually travels right through Mountain Crossings. Josiah and I burst into a sprint, ran out the door and raced each other to the back of the building where we saw our very first white blaze. Wonderstruck, we continued down the old footpath, blaze to blaze for a mile or so where we paused to let the moment sink in. Josiah climbed down from a tree he’d been sitting in, turned toward me and said, “Dad?…let’s keep going.” I’ll carry those words and that mental image with me till the day I die. How I wish we had.
Last week, with my REI dividend check in hand, I walked into our local branch intent on buying Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire or maybe The Monkey Wrench Gang. They had neither. As I combed the shelves looking for my next adventure-read I saw something new. I picked up A Child’s Walk in the Wilderness, scanned a few pages and made my way to the register with my prize. Within the first 20 pages I was hooked…for an obvious reason. When the author’s 7 year old son had said, “Let’s keep going”, this father had the courage to say yes.
Though by far the most compelling, this was certainly not the only reason I was sucked in. A Child’s Walk is a great piece of writing. This isn’t Molyneaux’s first rodeo. He makes his living by his craft, having previously authored two books: The Doryman’s Reflection and Swimming in Circles as well as writing for the NY Times and other publications. All this I borrowed from the back cover, but even without that info, his obvious skill shines. Instead of the typical linear narrative I’ve come to expect from books in this genre, this tale, like the hike itself, often folds back on itself, revisits significant moments and takes side trails for reflection and contemplation. The author, whose marriage was struggling at the time of the journey, holds little back. At moments raw in his honesty, you feel as if a friend is spilling his heart. He doesn’t try to put a pretty face on the abrasiveness of hurting people, including his own. Balancing this transparency is the wonder, curiosity and infectious, adventurous spirit of his son, Venado. It’s a joy to watch as a father who brought his little boy to the wilderness in order to educate him is educated by his little boy.
“This is why we are leaving now, my son and I, to go off into the mountains and walk the forests for days on end, to watch spring come and feel its warmth, to howl in the wilderness and remember possibilities.”
These words resonate deeply within me. In fact the Manifesto from which they are excerpted (page 34) itself gives voice to the very same cry from my own spirit. Molyneaux seizes upon McKaye’s concept of the Barbarian Utopia. It becomes for he and his son, not a mere literary device but a philosophy of living…a way of life…a way to life. Returning to wilderness to re-discover the life that “civilization” has stunted into mere existence. Did it work? Well, you’ll have to read the book for yourself.
A father and his 8 year old boy take on the challenge of the Appalachian Trail. The author’s evident writing skill is enhanced by quotes from Benton McKaye and complemented by his son’s pencil drawn illustrations. One of my favorite AT reads ever. I didn’t want it to end. Highly recommend.
For more info visit:
5 years ago I wasn’t ready to read this book. I was at a different place on my journey. A place where phrases like “enriched by insights from Eastern religions” would have sent up red flags, raised an alarm in my pharisaical soul and brought about a slamming of the city gates to keep out the new-age-enemy of what I saw as a faith that needed defending and protecting. In those 5 years my expanding view of the love of God has penetrated, softened and enlarged my heart, deepened my intimacy with him and disabused me of these silly notions along with any agenda I may have clung to. I’m coming to believe that this Abba who loves me more than I could possibly imagine has secreted away in people of all ethnicities (and yes, even faith systems or lack thereof) facets of himself and pieces of his story for you and I to discover. Sort of a cosmic game of hide and seek. Because “God likes it when we place nice together,” as my friend Tom Conlon once said. If you’re at the place in the path where your guard is already going up in reaction to this statement maybe you’re not quite ready for this book…but then again, maybe you are.
From the foreword by Parker J. Palmer:
“Jerry May knew he was dying as he wrote this book. He gathered up all the life he could hold with words… as wild creatures gather food against a hard winter…and left us a book so well stocked with love and wisdom, tears and laughter, healing and hope, it can help all of us winter through.”
These poetic and heart-felt words say more about this book than I could ever attempt to. Let’s hear some more. This time May’s own words from the preface:
“I am sick now. The prospect of my death is continually before me. My body is frail, my energy always at the edge of exhaustion. At the same time I am wilder than I’ve ever been before. My soul basks in wilderness, and I am grateful.”
Based on these excerpts one might be led to believe The Wisdom of Wilderness to be a depressing dirge, a dying man’s morose reflecting on the end of his days. Allow me to dispel this misunderstanding without hesitation. This is anything but. May skillfully and poetically weaves together a lifetime of adventure, laughter and wisdom into a raw, honest and triumphant ode to life as it is meant to be lived. He beautifully relates the healing God provides through wilderness (a healing that I myself continue to experience) while catching you completely off guard with irreverent stories that had me buckled over in spasms of gut-wrenching belly-laughs. He and his little boy’s encounter with a Korean Zen Master alone make this book worth the delightful read.
I can’t recommend The Wisdom of Wilderness highly enough. Though the library provided me with the version I read, I plan to purchase my own copy to place on the shelf beside John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Annie Dillard, C.S. Lewis and others. They’ll find themselves in good company. I’d have to guess they already have.
The Wisdom of Wilderness is Gerald G. May’s swansong. This wonderfully written account of the healing nature provided for him through his beloved Appalachian Mountains deserves a place among the classics. You’ll laugh, cry (and laugh until you cry) and long to spend more time in the wilderness he so beautifully portrays. You may, like me, not agree with all of his theology but you’ll be moved by a life lived from the heart. And who knows, maybe we’ll find ourselves a little further down the path. This book epitomizes what All Who Wander is about. Highly recommend.
from the back cover:
“Hoping to rekindle the spirit of freedom she once knew, a divorced, single mother sets aside family and societies expectations to seek fulfillment by following a lifelong calling. On the eve of turning forty, Amy Allen reaches for her personal goal of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Accepting the name of “Willow” bestowed by her teenage sons, she settles them into new lives at their father’s house and departs on a 2,000 mile walk.”
I’m a sucker for an AT narrative. I’ve read…dozens. Recently in a gathering of AT thru-hikers I overheard the sarcastic midstream comment, “…and then they’ll write a book because what we need is one more book about the AT.” At this point, I injected myself into the discussion. “I think we do need another book about the AT, and another, and another. Personally, I can’t get enough.” When I started Summoning the Mountains, I thought I might have to eat my words.
I met Amy Allen at an AT festival in Dahlonega, GA. She stood smiling behind a small table covered with several small stacks of her book. I was struck, at first, by the beautiful graphic design and if you can judge a book by it’s cover (I’m convinced that sometimes you can) this is one I wanted on my shelf. From the name and tag line to the font and color selection to the perfect cairn that adorns the cover I was hooked. After thumbing through, I found the design continued throughout the entire book, very tastefully and enticingly done. Amy and I talked for a moment and I assured her I’d be back to purchase a copy.
Later in the day, Dana, Josiah and I sat listening while Amy shared her story of her “pilgrimage into forty” and the role that her thru-hike played in that transition. Her meek, quiet voice was just what you might expect from her tiny, petite frame. We took in her photos of our beloved AT during her slide show presentation, empathized with the frustrations she encountered from not being able to completely leave behind her “normal” life to focus completely on her hike and laughed along with her at the inevitable misadventures that are part and parcel of such a journey. “To be expected on a trip of this magnitude” as a friend of mine is fond of saying. At some point we dropped by and picked up our book and pocketed it away for later.
That same night I snuggled down in my hammock, burrowed beneath my quilt as the North Georgia coyotes and owls began their nightly serenade, and began to read. A chapter or so in and I drifted off to sleep. Over the course of the next several weeks I picked the book back up but struggled to connect. It wasn’t the writing. It is a well-written, well-edited thru-hiker journal. Had I finally had enough of such accounts? It certainly wasn’t the typesetting, as I’d mentioned already. It was the fact that Amy Allen was a 40 something mom, and I…was not. For this very reason, I have historically avoided most books by female writers. There are certainly exceptions to this and the exceptions are most extraordinary (case in point? Jennifer Pharr Davis) but as a rule I’ve found that I don’t enjoy female writers and this had to be the source of my disconnect. Having established this, I continued to read. Once I pushed past my gender bias, Amy immersed me in her story. Like most AT narratives (and most AT thru-hikes) Summoning the Mountains is not a thrill ride but instead a steadily plodding narrative, filled with hardships and happiness, punctuated by familiar landmarks along the Trail and made rich by the characters and friendships that grow along the way. Before I knew it, I was sucked in, pulled along for the journey, as if I were making my way north along with Amy and her cadre of companions. And this is why I read AT narratives. My own Appalachian pilgrimage is years away. A mountain larger than Katahdin looms between Springer and I. It’s name? Mortgage. Until that mountain is conquered stories like Amy’s both sate my hunger and stoke the fires of my longing.
As Willow approached Katahdin (Oops, spoiler alert!) I shared her conflicted emotions. The summit she had longed for was finally within sight but the end of her journey was as well. I wasn’t ready for the book to end. Thank you, Amy for sharing your story and providing me a welcome reprieve from my mundane day to day…until my own pilgrimage begins.
Summoning the Mountains is a 40-something mom’s well-written, well-edited and eminently readable account of her thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Recommended. It took me there.
This is Part 3 of our latest series ATKO 2012, which features some amazing talks and audio from last years Appalachian Trail Kick-Off at Amicalola Falls State Park. In this episode we’ll get to listen in as Sgt. Rock and George “Tinman” Andrews help a thru-hiker lighten his load by doing a “Shakedown” on his pack.
Thanks for listening!
George “Tinman” Andrews
Appalachian Trail Kick-Off Event:
“Believe an expert: you will find something far greater in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you cannot learn from the masters. “
~St. Bernard of Clairvaux
This is Part 2 of our latest series ATKO 2012, which features some amazing talks and audio from last years Appalachian Trail Kick-Off at Amicalola Falls State Park. In this episode Gene Espy shares about his 1951 thru-hike of the AT. Once again there’s a lot of ambient noise particularly the woman seated to my left who continually rocked back and forth in a metal chair that was groaning it’s protests, and Gene is a bit of a low-talker. Nonetheless, this audio footage is a piece of history from a legend of the Trail, The Second Thru-hiker.
As I mentioned last time, in an effort to post as many episodes as possible prior to this years event, there’ll be minimal editing. Hope you enjoy and thanks for listening!.
This years event is upon us! Friday, March 8 – Sunday, March 10. For more info visit www.atko.info.
Appalachian Trail Kick-Off Event:
“The ideal mountain trail is one which has no end. The ideal trail journey is one which never turns back, but leads forever onward to discover what lies around the next bend and beyond the next crest. Such a trail is the Appalachian [Trail], and such is the kind of journey that, better than on any other trail in existence, may be made upon it.”
~ELMER ADAMS, Walking in the Clouds, 1939
This episode features Bill “Skywalker” Walker, long-distance hiker, speaker and author sharing about his most recent adventure on the Camino de Santiago. This is Part 1 of our latest series ATKO 2012, which will include some amazing talks and audio from last years Appalachian Trail Kick-Off at Amicalola Falls State Park.
Don’t miss this years event!
It’ll be held Friday, March 8 – Sunday, March 10.
For more info visit www.atko.info.
Thanks for listening!
Skywalkers contact info:
Appalachian Trail Kick-Off Event:
“There is nothing like a wilderness journey for rekindling the fires of life. Simplicity is part of it. Cutting the cackle. Transportation reduced to leg or arm power, eating irons to one spoon. Such simplicity, together with sweat and silence, amplify the rhythms of any long journey, especially through unknown, un-tattered territory. And in the end such a journey can restore an understanding of how insignificant you are — and thereby set you free.”
– Colin Fletcher, The River
This is Part 3 of a new series called Big Sky Country. Join Dana and I as we re-live our recent trip-of-a-lifetime to Montana, Wyoming and Yellowstone. This episode includes, among other things, our wildlife encounters.
Thanks for listening!
The music for this series has been provided by Denny Earnest from his album entitled : An Acoustic Hike Through The Jackson Hole Wilderness. His music is available for purchase in I-Tunes. If you’d like to contact him you can reach him at:
or visit he and his wife at the Wildflour Bakery in Emigrant, Montana for some delicious fresh baked artisan bread and pastries .
Angler’s West Flyfishing
Howlin’ Hounds Cafe
Flying Pig Adventures
“Nature is too thin a screen; the glory of the omnipresent God bursts through everywhere” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wanna see some pics from our trip out west? Here’s a link to my facebook page with a whole bunch of pics
Note: So sorry about the extra “outro” about 30 minutes in. No charge. Tough for a perfectionist but…I’m gonna “leave it like it is…nevermind the turpentine, “as David Wilcox puts it.
This is Part 1 of a new series called Big Sky Country. Join Dana and I as we re-live our recent trip-of-a-lifetime to Montana, Wyoming and Yellowstone including the dramatic weeks leading up to it. This episode includes the back-story and flight to Bozeman…warts and all! Thanks for listening!
All Who Wander, Episode 14, August 2012.
The music for this series has been provided by Denny Earnest from his album entitled : An Acoustic Hike Through The Jackson Hole Wilderness. His music is available for purchase in I-Tunes. If you’d like to contact him you can reach him at:
or visit he and his wife at the Wildflour Bakery in Emigrant, Montana for some delicious fresh-baked artisan bread and pastries . We certainly did, nearly every day we were in Montana!
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you beyond the next turning of the canyon walls.”
Wanna drop me a note?
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Wanna see some pics from our trip out west? Here’s a link to my facebook page with a whole bunch of pics:
John Muir fan? I certainly am. Thanks to Kindle (www.amazon.com), thrift stores and Librivox (www.librivox.org) I own nearly everything he’s ever written. His passion for wilderness…for the Creator revealed in His breath-taking creation throws fuel on an already raging fire in my heart for all things wild. I ache to have at my leisure weeks, months even, alone in the woods. I long to be able, like Muir, to call things: flora, fauna geographic formations…all things, by their true name. When I read Muir I want to cast off restraints, “throw off the bowlines” as Twain put it and as Winton Porter adapted it,
“throw on my pack, dust off my boots and walk away from my everyday. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Each time I pick up one of Muirs writings I wish I’d met him. (Or course, there’s that little issue of us being separated by several generations) I wonder what it would’ve been like to have known him as friend; to have filled our pockets with hardtack and gotten ourselves lost rambling through forests, climbing mountains and sleeping beneath the stars… to share the wonder of reveling in this amazing world our God has created. Samual Hall Young was that friend. It is grippingly clear the impact Muir’s friendship and shared adventure had on this young missionary…even on his writing style. His written voice is so similar to that of Muirs that I can effortlessly imagine a conversation between the two. Mr. Young entered the Alaskan wilderness in the hopes of bringing the “white-man’s religion” to the “savages” but I think both the savages and the wilderness, along with Muir himself had a profound impact on him.
This wonderful little book belongs in the library of every Muir fan, every lover of wilderness if only for the insights into Muir’s beautiful, eccentric personality such as this one:
“Muir at once went wild when we reached this fairyland. From cluster to cluster of flowers he ran, falling on his knees, babbling in unknown tongues, prattling a curious mixture of scientific lingo and baby talk, worshiping his little blue-and-pink goddesses. “Ah! My blue-eyed darlin’, little did I think to see you here. How did you stray away from Shasta?” “Well, well! Who’d ‘a’ thought you’d have left that niche in the Merced mountains to come here!” ‘And who might you be now, with your wonder look? Is it possible that you can be (two Latin polysyllables)? You’re lost, my dear; you belong in Tennesee.”
Did you know that Mr. Young has the honor, also, of being the owner of the infamous “Stickeen” the cantankerous little mutt that accompanied the two on their excursions into the Alaskan wilderness and the subject of Muir’s own classic by the same name? If you enjoyed that little book, you’ll truly appreciate seeing this pup and his relationship with Muir from Mr. Young’s perspective.
I’ve rambled on enough about this book . I own it on Kindle but plan to search for a hardback copy for my shelf.
The Gist? Buy it. Read it. You’ll love it.
Here’s a link to the free kindle version through Amazon:
If you plan to purchase one of the other copies via Amazon, would you consider doing so via the Amazon link at All Who Wander? We’d certainly appreciate it. A portion of the cost will go towards keeping All Who Wander going. Thanks!
013 All Who Wander-Trailfest Series: Trail Days Damascus, VA – Part 3 Long-distance hiker, Krispy Kritter
This is the 5th and final episode in this years Trailfest Series in which Dana and I follow the migratory herd of 2011 Northbound AT thru-hikers from trail to trail town stopping off at hiker celebrations along the way. Once again and finally we find ourselves in Damascus, Virginia for the 2011 Trail Days Festival.
This episode of All Who Wander features retired firefighter and long distance hiker, Krispy Kritter.
Ransomed Heart Ministries
or look for me (as well as the All Who Wander fan page) on facebook
Wanna see some pics from the 2011 Trail Days? Here’s a link to my facebook page with a whole bunch of pics. I bet you can’t pick out Krispy in the parade!
“We can have wilderness without freedom; we can have wilderness without human life at all, but we cannot have freedom without wilderness, we cannot have freedom without leagues of open space beyond the cities, where boys and girls, men and women, can live at least part of their lives under no control but their own desires and abilities, free from any and all direct administration by their fellow men.” -Edward Abbey
When Dana and I landed in Bozeman, the first thing we did was go in search of a replacement for my Samsung point and click. I’m loathe to spend money on myself but I thought, “How many times in my life will I get a chance to capture the beauty of this western landscape?” I figured it a well-justified expenditure. The Samsung had actually served me nicely for several years but due to an open housing acquired moisture spots on the internal optics. I’ve talked a little about a couple of waterproof, shockproof adventure cameras here in the blog section so went in search of one of them. My search ended at the Bozeman Costco where I picked up Nikon’s contribution to the adventure camera category, the AW 100. I read over the specs, played with the display a bit and though it was well beyond my budget, thought good of my purchase and shrugged off my usual buyers remorse. After charging the battery, I experimented with different settings, functions etc. The next day we ventured into Yellowstone where I gave my new toy a workout. Over the course of the week I shot nearly a thousand pics/videos. Here’s what I discovered:
– Panoramic function. Didn’t realize this was one of the perks until I unpackaged it. Simple, easy to use and gives great results. Perfect for the wide open spaces and majestic summits of Montana.
– Video function. “Easy button” on the back of camera gives me video capability with a single click. HD video, I might add.
– Macro. Simple to use, Beautiful, detailed results. Love it.
– Landscapes. Great camera for landscapes. Unlike my Samsung, it gave me nearly perfect focus every time.
-GPS. Though I didn’t explore it fully, the AW 100 boasts onboard GPS which, as a hiker, I consider a phenomenal feature. I often return from a trip, sort through my pics and wonder, :Hmmmm, where was this?” Assuming it functions well, I consider this a huge plus.
– Location of lens. It took several screw-ups before I re-trained my finger away from the top left corner.
– Rechargeable battery with heavy external charger. Neither convenient nor practical for backpackers.
– High maintenance. This is supposed to be an adventure camera. When you peruse the manual you’re given instructions to be careful about getting it wet. Really?! Don’t get a waterproof camera wet? If exposed to moisture of any kind, you’re to immediately dry the camera with a cloth. Nice, Nikon. Really nice.
– Focus issues. Though it performed admirably on macro and landscapes, anything in between was no-man’s land. I have a slough of disappointing pictures of wildlife that I’ll never get another chance to capture. The automatic focus on this camera is a miserable, epic fail. Were it possible to buy a point-and-click adventure camera with manual focus, I’d be a happy man.
– Digital zoom takes waaaaaaaaay too long to initiate. Missed a lot of shots waiting for it to kick in.
– Shutter lag. Pretty severe and at seemingly random intervals.
– Resolution. The AW100 boasts 16 megapixels. Again, great color and detail on macros and landscapes but anything in between is washed-out and sort of hazy in appearance. Dana’s 8 mega-pixel Sony consistently gets strikingly better shots than the Nikon. Without exaggeration, many of the 2 or 3 mp shots from my crappy phone camera look better than the results from the Nikon. No excuse.
-It locks up. No kidding. This happened, not once, but repeatedly. If I left the power on for more than a few minutes without snapping a pic, it would completely lock up. The only way I could restore function was to open the battery compartment, eject the battery, re-install the battery, close the compartment and cut the camera back on. Geez.
Nice try Nikon. Some cool features but bells and whistles do not a camera make. Let’s start with the basics: A good camera should take good pictures. Fail. Just praying Costco will let me return this since I left the inconvenient packaging in Montana.
Update: Costco was amazing! The store in Greenville gave me a full refund plus an adjustment in sales tax, with nearly no questions asked despite the fact that I purchased the camera in Montana and had neither the original packaging nor the receipt. Thanks Costco! You guys ROCK!
Several weeks back Dana and I found ourselves in Hot Springs, NC where we had the great privilege of meeting and befriending Frank, his lovely wife Debbie, his crazy Jack Russell Rosie and their Airstream Diva. The four of them are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime across America. Frank just sent me this awesome pic of his new t-shirt. You can probably surmise why! Thanks, Frank. I love it! Looking forward to following your journey online.
You can keep up with them too, here:
Happy Trails, DiBona family!
We saw our wolves. To be precise, we heard them first. Several people had gathered by the roadside. We pulled up, quietly pushed our doors shut and, as stealth as coyote, walked up to a wildlife enthusiast equipped with a tripod mounted lens nearly as big as our rented Subaru. “What are we watching?” I whispered. “Listen,” he replied. ” We did as suggested and from far away heard two wolves raising a long, beautiful howl to the cloud covered Wyoming mountains. We lifted our little cameras, zoomed in and just barely made out two wolves, one gray and another that appeared distinctly cream colored.
I had been reading Shadow Mountain by Renee Askins, her well-written account of the role she and her compatriots played in re-introducing wolves to Yellowstone. Due primarily to man once again meddling in the affairs of the wild, the natural wolf population had been completely decimated. Her book details the long, hard battle to bring restoration to the natural order; to undo the damage we’d done. It was a pretty moving encounter to experience firsthand the fruits of her labor. Thank you, Renee.
Our original plan had been to hike to the summit of Emigrant Peak in Livingston, just a few miles from our cabin in Paradise Valley. 18″ of snowfall on our second day in Montana added to an already frozen summit had rendered that dream a risk not worth taking. The boulder covered approach would have been treacherous enough without it’s icy coating. Now? Darn near impossible. In lieu of breathing the rarified air at 11,000 feet we hoped to instead find a few hikes in Yellowstone, at least getting into these woods we’d so longed to wander in. My run-in with the boulder changed that plan as well. We spent nearly all of our remaining 3 days driving through Yellowstone, stopping every 1/4 mile or so to snap a picture. It’s a difficult trap not to fall into, especially when one of us (Uh, yeah…that’d be me) had the misfortune of being run over by a boulder. Would I recommend seeing Yellowstone from behind a car door? No. Definitely not. Friday came so quickly that both of us had to stay vigilant in fighting off remorse for not using our time in this idyllic setting better. It was a blur. I convinced Dana to get a two day fishing license to at least wet a hook in these legendary waters. On our last voyage into the Park we headed toward Cooke City, again taking in the majesty of these spectacular mountains. Along the way we stopped off at Soda Butte (Yeah, I know. Funny. It’s pronounced “byoot”) Creek, where I hung my hammock, lost myself in Norman MacClean’s classic and watched Dana try her hand at enticing a few trout to rise. I watched ground squirrels play beneath my nest and observed the cartoon-like antics of a yellow-bellied weasel as he darted in and out of the ground squirrel’s tunneled home. Although Dana never saw much success we both enjoyed our few short moments of relaxation…something we wished we’d spent a lot more time doing. An hour or so after we arrived the sun was once again swallowed up in grey clouds, while rain and sleet drove us back to the car and on toward Cooke City for lunch. That old adage applies here more than anywhere I’ve visited,” If you don’t like the weather here…just wait 5 minutes.” Unfortunately for us, we saw a mere 12 hours or so of sunshine in our entire week. Take it like it comes, right? Well, as disappointing as the weather and my accident were, the wildlife just about made up for it. Over the course of the week we saw bison, elk, mule deer, pronghorn, coyote, bighorn sheep, bison (Yup, I realize I mentioned bison already), osprey, a yellow-headed blackbird, magpie, a badger, ground squirrels, a hoary marmot, a yellow-bellied weasel, wolves, a moose, bison, more bison, bison calves, black bear, black bear cubs, grizzly, (did I mention bison?) and more. At one point there was so much wildlife in one location I half-expected Rafiki to step out with Simba raised over his head. Instead we saw a herd of bison convince a grizzly to find something other than a bison calf for lunch. Pretty amazing stuff.
So many people have asked if we’d go back. Absolutely. Would I hope for better weather? Yup. (And less boulder contact as well.) Would we try to return with only a week? Probably not. The jaw-dropping magnificence of this incredible country was other-worldly and more than the eye could take in…especially in 7 or 8 days. It was indeed a balm for two heartbroken and war-weary people. Had we not gone….I don’t even want to think about it. Would we like a do-over? You bet. We’d love to see Paradise Lost redeemed. Next time, closer to summer with a month to spend….maybe a year. Next time we’ll see it from the midst of the wildness, rather than the safety and convenience of a cozy Subaru. Next time, maybe from the Continental Divide Trail. Next time…
I’ve posted some pics from our trip at the All Who Wander Podcast facebook page. Here’s a link:
“Your sunshine’s here,” Dana intoned sweetly while I shook off the residue from the previous nights sleep. (Amazing what a muscle relaxer can do.) I dragged my bum leg and bruised body to the back door where I feasted my eyes on Emigrant Peak, it’s sisters, and the valley below all lit up with sunshine just as Dana promised. Beauty, unadulterated beauty. A perfect day for hiking. Unfortunately, hiking was no longer an option. Nearly all of the day was spent with my leg propped up and covered in ice packs while my new Osprey Aether 70 sat in the corner taunting me. The good news is that it gave me a little time for writing. Occasionally I’d look up at a magpie in a burst of flight, with the Crazy Mountains as a backdrop. I’ve gotta tell you, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a day. It also gave us opportunity to visit Chico Hot Springs Resort and Spa for lunch where I discovered I most definitely do not like the taste of elk. Life lesson. Short and sweet entry today. We plan to be up by 4 am and on our way back to the Park, this time heading through the Lamar Valley toward Cooke City. Hoping to spot some wolves. So early to bed, early to rise…
It’s not a vacation till a boulder rolls across your leg.
We rose early, jumped into our rented Subaru and pointed it toward Yellowstone. The day before, I’d spotted a couple of signs in Gardiner boasting breakfast buffets and despite the fact that “nary a grit were to be found in these parts” (Tom Conlon quote), the organic, farm fresh eggs common to this area more than made up for it. Unfortunately, either I’d imagined the signs or they’d been taken down since yesterday. We ended up having breakfast in a little diner that was overflowing with sightseers as well as locals, staffed by one frantic, flustered and overworked waitress. Almost 2 hours later we finally left the diner and drove under the Roosevelt Arch, the giant monolith that marks the Northwest entrance to Yellowstone. Most everything was still obscured in the billowy whiteness of snow and fog but we held out hope that the God who had made these mountains and had brought us here would lift the clouds to give us a glimpse of his handiwork.
Today’s destination was Old Faithful, 51 miles from the entrance. Neither Dana nor I were overly excited about seeing the geyser itself but moreso in walking for a while in footsteps my dad had left there years before. As a young soldier he had driven his Studebaker through the area, spending his nights sleeping under the stars. The summer evening he spent camping just outside of Old Faithful Lodge a family invited him to join them for dinner. He thanked them for their generosity but explained he had some hot dogs he planned to roast over the fire. They told him to save his hotdogs for later, tonight he would eat steak. Of course he couldn’t say no to steak. Years later the kindness offered to this young serviceman lives on. I have to admit, I was combing the area looking for a soldier not unlike my dad I could extend the same generosity to…pay it forward.
We were told that no matter what we did, we just had to enjoy a meal at the Old Faithful Lodge. Famished, we sat down to what we anticipated would be a sumptuous meal, served buffet style. Unfortunately, like every other meal we’d had inside the park it was a huge disappointment, bland and overpriced. All of the concessions for the park are sub-contracted to a company called Xanterra. Seasonings, apparently don’t figure into their bottom line. Take this not so much as a criticism as a suggestion to bring a picnic lunch. We looked jealously all around us at those who’d had the foresight to do this very thing. Yellowstone is made for picnics…and its unbridled splendor more than makes up for a lack of good food.
The clouds parted just in time for us to see the 2pm eruption of Old Faithful. The old geyser must be getting along in years for it erupted with a whimper, not a bang. In the midst of it’s whimper , the clouds moved in and a cold rain began to soak us as we ran to the car.
If you know me at all you’re aware of my disdain for gloomy, white skies. This had been our weather, with occasionally interruptions of rain, sleet and snow, since we left the airport. As hard as I fought to not let this affect my disposition, the weather coupled with hours of 30 mph driving, stopping every 1/4 mile or so to hop out and snap pictures had left me in a sullen funk. I looked on longingly as I saw 4 guys hoisting their packs for what must’ve been a multi-day backpacking trip into the wild. It didn’t escape Dana’s notice. “Want me to let you out?” “Nah, I’m fine.” “No, you’re not.” I wasn’t and I knew it. Surrounded by this veiled beauty and stuck in this horrid pattern of starting and stopping had made it’s mark on me.
At the sight of a sign marking the Continental Divide, we stopped again to snap a pic. Pointing to a steep embankment, Dana said, “Crawl up there and let me get your pic.” The soil was loose but I made it a little ways and posed while bracing myself on an exposed root from a fallen tree. Once done, I scrambled the rest of the way to the top to find a spot out of view to, ahem, “make water” as my dad calls it. I returned to the top of the hill and warned Dana and an older woman who’d arrived in my absence to move out of the way, in case this went bad. Dana hid behind the sign and the woman moved to the side. Best I can tell, when I began to slip I instinctually reached out and grabbed a boulder that sat loosely in the soil, dislodging it to chase me down the hill. I was nearly at the bottom when it overtook me, slamming into my right calf, driving my knee and right shoulder into the gravel. Dana, the older lady and her husband all screamed as I fell. I hopped up quickly, dripping blood from multiple places and hoping, praying I’d not done serious damage. 7 hours later, after our continued “start-stop-snap-a-picture” method of travel back into Emigrant, I limped bruised and battered back into our cabin and took inventory of my injuries. Best I could tell I had a mild ankle sprain from hyper-extending my foot when I attempted a “Superman” off the embankment, a torqued and bruised knee, one seriously bruised, scratched and swollen calf along with an assortment of cuts scrapes and scratches from my trip through the gravel. Like I said, “It ain’t a vacation till you get run over by a boulder.”
Exhausted from the previous days adventure we opted to hang around the cabin today. We drove down to the Howling Hound Cafe (www.facebook.com/pages/Howlin-Hounds-Cafe/248852179382) in our snow-covered Subaru for some delicious, farm-fresh organic eggs, bacon and huge-chunked-fried potatoes for breakfast. You’ll not only find some great grub at this family run restaurant but you’ll also feel like you’re one of the family. The effusive, amicable conversation makes this one of our favorite spots so far. As I’m sure you’ve realized this day held little adventure and a lot of food. A rib-sticking lunch at the historic Old Saloon and Livery Stable held us over till the next day. Since we didn’t go looking for adventure, it kind of came to us. Twice our water at the cabin was reduced to a drip. Local plumber Don Hinks interrupted his Memorial Day weekend to get it going again. Thanks Don. Don and his four spoiled-rotten- snow-white Samoyed sled dogs that accompanied him everywhere were a great interruption to our lazy day and good medicine for our bruised and grieving hearts.
Subtle notes of her fragrance drift toward me on the breeze. Intoxicating. My head swims with longing. I imagine her shadowed eyes sparkle with whimsy…a touch of the demure. Draped in opaque, pearl lightness she conceals her breathtaking beauty, teasing my imagination, revealing only a little at a time in her sensuous dance. Seduction is her art and she is a master. We’d traveled thousands of miles, driven for hours and arrived in Yellowstone to discover that the spectacular mountains we’d come so far to experience were draped in mist. The sun and wind would occasionally work together to expose some far-away summit radiant white or a snow-covered grassy slope low on the mountainside. It was most certainly a strip-tease.
2 hours earlier…
Awaking early and finding the sun already up (Had we taken a wrong turn and ended up in Alaska?), I stood in the living room, pointed my camera at the bedroom door and waited like a hunter for Dana to rise from her slumber. She opened the door, laid eyes on the winter wonderland on display through the huge windows before her, gasped and squealed like a little girl. I grinned like I’d planned it that way. Even though we’d been greeted with snowy precipitation, this was late May! We figured there was no chance there’d be any accumulation. Boy, were we wrong. This kind of snow at home would keep us hunkered down, subsisting off of bread and milk. That’s just how we do it in the South. But we weren’t in the South. This is Mon-freakin’-tana. We’re going to Yellowstone! First stop? Breakfast. We returned to our little bakery and enjoyed Montana’s answer to the McMuffin: Scrambled egg with pepper-jack and canadian bacon on toasted Ciabatta and freshly brewed black, dark roast coffee to wash it down with. A hearty, wholesome, tasty start for our first foray into Yellowstone.
As the Subaru took us into Gardiner, the mostly veiled landscape began to change before our eyes. Even the few feet visible beneath the fog stood in stark, geologic relief against the snow covered mountains and meadows. Enormous jagged rock formations came into view just beyond the Yellowstone River paralleling Highway 89.
Main Street in Gardiner boasted a wide array of little shops and businesses. Spotting an outfitter with the compelling name of Flying Pig Adventures (www.flyingpigrafting.com) we parked down the street, blinking at the falling snow as we took the sidewalk back to the entrance. We found a very similar inventory to the other store. We also found the same friendly, courteous staff…if not more-so. We took turns alternately chatting with the owner and playing with her sweet white lab. She listened intently and compassionately as Dana told her of our recent loss of Scooby. I picked up a small container of gas for my stove and our newfound friend threw in a really cool lightweight cordura shopping bag emblazoned with the Flying Pig logo. Her part to help assuage our grief. I responded with, “So if I tell you that Dana’s Dad just had extensive scalp surgery to remove melanoma and my mom just had a stroke…what do we get?” She answered, “Chocolate?” We all laughed and said goodbye.
This, our first excursion into Yellowstone, didn’t provide much in the way of scenery but plenty in the way of wildlife. We were in awe at our first few close-up encounters with these giant, otherworldly creatures called bison. (Apparently, North America has never had a buffalo…only bison. Who knew?) After a while, though it became nearly routine. They were everywhere! Our exclamations of wonder were replaced by, “bison,” or “Another roadblock.” “Bison?” “Yup.” Deer and mule-deer were everywhere, evidenced (even around the geyser vents) by their abundant scat. Every so often we’d come across a traffic jam caused not by bison but by a bear-sighting. Of course, everyone (us included) wanted to spot a bear, especially a grizzly. Sightseers in rented RV’s would often stop in the middle of the road because they caught a glimpse of a black bear. We’d all put it in park, jump out of our vehicles and run to the side of the road, camera’s flashing until a ranger showed up to break up the party. This “start-stop-take-a-pic” mode of travel would become our way of life. Fun for a while but not a very efficient way to get from point A to point B. It took us all day to get from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower Falls and back and left us exhausted. It was well after dark by the time we made if back to the cabin. That’s saying something around here. (Until this moment I wasn’t convinced it ever got dark.) We looked forward to a long soak in the hot tub (this was a 25th anniversary celebration 2 years late, for goodness’ sake). Unfortunately it was not to be. T’was broken and would stay that way for quite a while.
After a decent nights rest in the Holiday Inn (Don’t they have great beds?) we had a delicious skillet breakfast in the hotel restaurant, packed up, bought a few necessities for the week and made our way toward Paradise Valley (or more specifically, Emigrant), Montana. Just a mile or so down the interstate, we were welcomed to the area by a snowstorm. Undaunted by the white stuff, our rented Subaru just kept on going (Oh, we could get used to this! The Subaru, that is.) Of course we stopped and snapped a few pics; snow is a rarity in our neck of the woods. On the way in we stopped for lunch in a town called Livingston, eating at a little cafe/ coffee shop (the name eludes me) where we enjoyed a chicken wrap, organic fair-trade coffee and friendly conversation with the owners. We were there quite a while. We’d soon learn that the pace of life is slower out west…at least in the restaurants. We visited the local outfitter, Timber Trails (http://timbertrailsmontana.com), where we were welcomed by friendly staff but a limited inventory. It was a small store. This seems to be the case for most of the outfitters we’d visit. Instead of catering primarily to hikers, most of them were bonafide outfitters offering guided horseback and/or river rafting trips. The stores usually offered less in the way of gear than they did in apparel. I mention this to encourage you to bring most of what you’ll need in the way of adventure gear with you unless, of course, you plan to avail yourself of the guided trips. We did find that nearly all of the stores carried both iso-butane propane as well as bearspray, two items not allowed on commercial airlines.
We arrived in the sprawling metropolis of Emigrant (Population 372…make that 374) around 4pm. Since we couldn’t check in until 5pm we wandered through a few of the local haunts: The General Store, Howlin’ Hounds Cafe (www.facebook.com/pages/Howlin-Hounds-Cafe/248852179382), the Old Saloon and Livery Stable and our favorite, the Matson Rogers Anglers West Fly-fishing Outfitters (www.montanaflyfishers.com). We swapped fishing stories with two great guys whom I suspect are the owners. Dana picked up some Smartwool baselayer at a drastic discount. If you think backpacking gear is expensive, and it is, you’ll be shocked at the price of fly-fishing gear. Finding a bargain in a fly-shop is unheard of. So, needless to say, next time you’re in Emigrant drop by and see these guys. You’ll be glad you did.
We made one last stop at The Wildflour Bakery where we picked up a fresh-baked loaf of flax-bread loaded with sesame, poppy, flax and a dozen other seeds I couldn’t identify. It made hearty, delicious toast!
We arrived at our cabin via a series of telling road names such as Aries, Sirius and Hilarion, taking note of an interesting trail nearby called the Buddhist Path. After the last week we wondered just what we’d gotten ourselves into. The cabin itself, however, did not disappoint. Though the surrounding peaks were obscured by fog and snow, the house itself would make a nice home for a week. We loaded in our luggage and gear and fell asleep while it was still light to soft snow falling on the grassy meadow surrounding the house.
I peered out the window just beyond my new friend Ed at the awe-inspiring mountains that encircle Bozeman International airport. An absolutely perfect, stunningly clear day displayed the beauty of the snow-capped mountains as if created just for us. The past week had left us stunned, senses-dull and wondering if we’d ever see this moment. Dana’s dad had undergone a scalp removal and skin graft (taken from his abdomen) in order to remove his melanoma; Our big, beautiful, goofy, lovable friend, trail-guide (and yes, retriever/ St. Bernard mix), Scooby had undergone a series of daily seizures culminating in one that lasted over an hour forcing us to say goodbye to the best dog ever; and My mom experienced an eschemic stroke which brought her to the hospital by ambulance and destroyed her short term memory, caused hallucinations and rendered her speech 70% gibberish. We hadn’t slept much in over a week and up until 12 hours ago weren’t sure whether we wouldn’t end up cancelling this trip of a lifetime after all. But at the last moment Mom had haled and improved pretty dramatically, Dana’s dad had shown continued improvement and though we were still devastated by the loss of our Scooby, we excitedly packed and re-packed last night missing yet another nights sleep.
“Two things pierce the human heart, beauty and affliction.” -Simone Weil
Terminal to plane to terminal to plane to terminal to plane to terminal since 4:30 am. Dazed and stunned by pain and beauty…here we were. Wheels touched runway and the pilot locked down the brakes. Our bodies strained against the seatbelts and I asked Ed,” I wonder if he’ll pull a Starsky and Hutch at the end of the runway?” We laughed, said our goodbyes and filed like cattle out of the puddle-jumper into the handsome, lodge-like terminal. Dana and I stared out the window at the mountains, still wondering at the idea of it all. Were we really here? Surrealistic is the only word that captures the moment…and it’s insufficient. We wandered into the gift shop and after what must have been a half-hour, it occurred to one of us that we hadn’t picked up our luggage. We scurried down the escalator and found our bags had either been tossed or fallen off the conveyor. At least they were here. We picked up our Subaru Outback from Hertz, loaded in our luggage and set off toward the city of Bozeman to find a hotel for the night. We’d planned to camp the first night but I realized we desperately needed a little comfort from a Holiday Inn. We found one, surrounded by majestic mountains, showered and headed to the restaurant for dinner. Moments before my Black and Bleu Sirloin Salad arrived my internal organs seemed to dissolve in my gut. My body had had enough. The weeks of stress, sleep deprivation and a day of airport food had caused my digestive system to revolt. I stomached a few bites then raced back to the hotel room while Dana finished her Four-cheese Penne. Bedtime early tonight.
“Really, babe, I think you’re gonna like him. He’s a great communicator.”
2 years ago Scat and I had opted to hike from Woody Gap to Neels Gap, spending a cold night on Blood Mountain, rather than join the girls for the Amicalola Falls AT Celebration/ Backpacking Clinic. I wanted to go to the event…just not at the exclusion of a walk in the woods. While Scat and I trudged uphill through snowdrifts 2 and 3 feet deep, Dana and Ma Fred attended some great presentations. One of their favorites was Bill “Skywalker” Walker. Not just aware of, but sharing my addiction to AT narratives, Dana bought me a copy of Skywalker’s book, Skywalker: Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail. She even had Bill autograph it. He wrote “Wayseeker, Katahdin is a mere 5 millions steps away.” Gotta love that! Like a kid at Christmas, I couldn’t wait to tear in. I quickly discovered that my high school diploma and limited college experience had not prepared me for the vocabulary I was to encounter…closely. Progress slowed to a crawl as I repeatedly reached for my Webster’s. Now, I realize that hackles are rising on the necks of Skywalker fans as you poise to fire off scathing e-mails. Well, let me have it…but at least finish this little review before doing so. I just didn’t enjoy it. I’ve been forthright about my sketchy education. I will most certainly confess that I have no right to pass judgment on another writers work. Even that last statement implies that I see myself as a writer and makes me uncomfortable. Nonetheless…I just didn’t like it. C.S. Lewis has taught me that much…to be honest about my likes and dislikes. There were some good, even great moments but as a whole it was…and is my least favorite AT narrative. There, I’ve said it…and I pray Bill never reads this.
Flash forward to this years event. Digital recorder in one hand and event schedule in the other, I dragged Dana all over Amicalola Falls. (Not that she minded.) Presenter after presenter entertained, educated and provided fresh new content for future All Who Wander podcasts. We had a blast! As I scanned the schedule I noticed something: Skywalker’s presentation would be in support of his latest book and thru-hike…on the Camino de Santiago! What?! I’d just discovered the existence of this ancient pilgrimage a year or so ago. I had waited impatiently for Emilio Estevez’ film on the Camino, The Way to come to Redbox since we had just missed one of the limited showings in Asheville. With my distaste for Bill’s writing warring against my confidence in my wife…we went…and were not disappointed.
Bill was absolutely charismatic. His animated gesticulations, his passion for the Camino, his wry humor and engaging personality not only held my attention but struck fire to my imagination…enticing my heart to that ancient path and awakening a longing to walk this pilgrimage as well. My experience with the real Skywalker was as dissimilar to my experience with his book as it could possibly be. I thought, “Now, here’s a guy I’d like to share a trail with.” I even began to re-examine my original assessment.
Just a few weeks ago all three of Bill’s books in Kindle format were free on Amazon. I downloaded all three. I immediately dove right into his narrative on the Camino, The Best Way. The very first couple of pages gripped me, It seemed so different from what little I remembered from his first offering. I yelled to Dana, who was in another room, “I like it! This is really good!” She laughed. Then I wondered…what changed? Had Bill’s writing improved? Had he gotten an editor? Maybe. Maybe it was the fact that I had met the real Skywalker and been captivated by his authenticity and his love for the Way. Maybe it was me that had changed. Maybe both.
Well, since this is a book review…of sorts, I should give you my take. The Best Way is part trail narrative, part travel guide, part history book and all Skywalker. I’d recommend that you pick it up on Kindle or some other e-reader format because The Best Way is also part vocabulary lesson. Along with liberal splashes of espanol, Bill has continued his use of words unfamiliar…unfamiliar to me at least. Whether Bill is trying to impress us with his expansive knowledge or he’s struggling to find words to express what can sometimes be almost inexpressible, I can’t say. I can say that having a “close-encounter” with the real Skywalker has given me a whole new take on his books. So would I recommend The Best Way? Only if you’re willing to have a sehnsucht for hiking the Camino awakened in you. (That one was for you, Bill.)
This is the 4th in a new series of shows in which Dana and I follow the migratory herd of 2011 Northbound AT thru-hikers from trail to trail town stopping off at hiker celebrations along the way. This time we find ourselves, once again, in Damascus, Virginia for the 2011 Trail Days Festival. This episode of All Who Wander features an outdoor, street-side native american flute concert by thru-hiker, musician and author Windtalker (aka Randy Motz) There’s a lot of street noise but I think it just serves to give you a better feel for what a chaotic, beautiful mess Trail Days is.
This years 2012 Trail Days will be May 18 – 20.
For more info, visit: www.traildays.us
If you’d like to contact Randy and his wife Georgia, visit their website where you can find booking information, pick up a CD or purchase one of the many books they’ve co-authored…including The Walk, Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail…which I reviewed last year at www.allwhowander.us
Their website is: www.rmghadventures.com
Me : firstname.lastname@example.org. or look for me (as well as the All Who Wander fan page) on facebook
Wanna see some pics from the 2011 Trail Days? Here’s a link to my personal facebook page with a whole bunch of pics including one or two of Windtalkers concert:
Happy Trails and Donadaghovi, until we meet again…
“The danger is that you will not listen to the voice that speaks to you through the seagull mounting the gray wind, say, or the vision in the temple, that you do not listen to the voice inside you or to the voice that speaks from outside but specifically to you out of the specific events of your life, but that instead you listen to the great blaring voice of our mass culture, which threatens to deafen us all by blasting forth that the only thing that really matters about your work is how much it will get you in the way of salary and status, and that if it is gladness you are after, you can save that for weekends.”
I’m pretty sure I groaned out loud as the first scenes flashed on the screen. I thought back to the grass roots effort by fans of the book to save the movie that was slated to die before completion, “There just wasn’t enough money to do this right.” I thought, “No, don’t start like this…people are gonna get up and leave.” I wanted to get up and leave. It was awkward…really, uncomfortably awkward. In fact, I was afraid that maybe one of those awful, garish “christian” production companies had donated a huge sum of money and hijacked Don’s book and Steve’s vision. I honestly thought these things. With dread and overwhelming disappointment, I thought these things. Then I remembered how much I had paid for the ticket and decided, “Eh, I’ll give it another scene or two.” Honestly glad I waited.
I would write this completely different if I thought everyone had already seen the film. But if you’d already seen the film you wouldn’t really care what I think…hopefully. Okay, maybe you would. You would probably be as excited as I am and wanna talk about it. (So, I may actually write a “spoilers included” version of this just because I’m so stoked about the movie.) So, editing out the spoilers, there’s not a whole lot I can say that won’t ruin the genius behind this movie. But there are some things. Here they are:
1. If you’re easily offended…don’t see this film. Wait, do see this film. You need to see it.
2. If you’ve read the book, forget that you’ve read it. Watch this as a completely separate work.
3. If you’re expecting something akin to Fireproof…you’ll really enjoy the first 5 or 10 minutes, then you’ll get up and leave.
4. Don’t leave. Wait it out. I promise it’ll be worth it. (Have I said that already?)
5. That first scene…it’s awkwardness? Intentional. Genius. You”ll see.
6. Steve Taylor’s fingerprints are all over this.
7. So are God’s.
Yup, that’s all you’re getting out of me on this one. So go see it. Then come back here and let me know what you think. Save the spoilers for my private e-mail (email@example.com).
One last thing” What does this have to do with wilderness, hiking, the outdoors, etc? Nothing, really. It has everything to do with God. With searching. With struggle. With wandering. And you know…not all those who wander are necessarily lost.
This is the 3rd in a new series of shows in which Dana and I follow the migratory herd of 2011 Northbound AT thru-hikers from trail to trail town stopping off at hiker celebrations along the way. In this episode (AWW 011) we found ourselves in Damascus, Virginia for the 2011 Trail Days Festival.
This episode of All Who Wander features Scott Rogers, bionic-hiker and self-proclaimed one-leg wonder.
This years 2012 Trail Days will be May 18 – 20.
For more info, visit: www.traildays.us
If you’d like to contact Scott visit his website at:
firstname.lastname@example.org. or look for me (as well as the All Who Wander fan page) on facebook
“Our suicidal poets (Plath, Berryman, Lowell, Jarrell, et al.) spent too much of their lives inside rooms and classrooms when they should have been trudging up mountains, slogging through swamps, rowing down rivers. The indoor life is the next best thing to premature burial.”
Oh yeah, you’ll have to have a facebook account to view these but here’s a link to some pics from last years Trail Days:
The 2nd in a new series of shows in which Dana and I follow the migratory herd of 2011 Northbound AT thru-hikers from trail to trail town stopping off at the hiker festivals along the way. In this episode (AWW 010) we visit historic Franklin, NC for “April Fools Trail Days” and Ron Haven’s Hiker Fools Bash. We meet old friends, make new ones and introduce you to some of the characters and legends of the Trail. If you’re anything like me, be prepared to see your wintertime blahs dissipate and Springer Fever awakened just a little early this year.
or look for her on facebook.
2012 April Fool’s Trail Days March 30th and 31st:
email@example.com. or look for me (as well as the All Who Wander fan page) on facebook
“I don’t think I am an explorer. An explorer wanders far and abroad to find some place he has never seen. I ramble off and away to find a road back home.” -Henry “Graybeard” Mitchell.
Wanderlust indeed. I’ve wanted for a while to create a blog or series of blogs on the subject of wanderlust especially as it applies to those of us obsessed with that little pathway that travels from Springer to Maine. Today, a friend (Seven Thunders) posted this video on my facebook page. It was shot by the infamous Andrew Skurka. (A legend interviewing a legend. Pretty stellar stuff.) Anyhow, until time allows me to devote a few hours to writing here’s one of the Greats dispensing some wisdom from the trail and waxing poetic about this phenomenon. Enjoy!
The Mayans Got It Wrong! 20
12 Reasons the World Can’t End in 2012.
Pardon me if wax eschatological but whatever your Long-count Calendar may say, the world cannot end in 2012. I enter into evidence a list of items in no particular order.
The world can’t end because I have yet to do the following:
2. Create a series of podcasts from the Trail on said thru-hike and see All Who Wander reach a million subscribers. (Hey…it could happen!)
3. Write a book inspired by said thru-hike.
4. Record a full-length album…well, you get the picture.
5. Thru-hike the John Muir trail and spend some quality time (say a year or two) wandering around Yosemite.
6. Thru-hike the Continental Divide Trail
9. Watch the sunrise from my hammock on Macchu Picchu
10. Spend some quality time wandering around Yellowstone, maybe do a little fly-fishing.
11. Spend a month deep in the wilderness of Newfound Gap doing nothing but
watch the slow approach of autumn set the mountains aflame.
12. Trans-American bike ride
13. Bike the Blue Ridge Parkway end to end
14. Thru-hike the Mountains to Sea Trail
15. Canoe the Suwannee River from Fargo, Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico
16. See the Northern Lights from somewhere deep in the Boundary Waters Wilderness
17. Take Dana to an all-inclusive resort…finally.
18. Break Jen Davis’ AT speed record…Oh come on! That was just hilarious!
19. See Josiah’s dreams come true
20. Southbound Thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail
I really could come up with 2,012 reasons. What about you? What would you add to the list? I can’t wait to read your comments!
Photo gratefully used with the kind permission of Paulino Romero at www.mayacalendar.com
The first in a new series of shows in which Dana and I follow the migratory herd of 2011 Northbound AT thru-hikers from trail to trail town stopping off at the hiker festivals along the way. In this episode (AWW 009) and the next we visit historic Franklin, NC for “April Fools Trail Days” and Ron Haven’s Hiker Fools Bash. We meet old friends, make new ones and introduce you to some of the characters and legends of the Trail. If you’re anything like me, be prepared to see your wintertime blahs dissipate and Springer Fever awakened just a little early this year.
Undulations by Karen Thompson
Tents made by Judy “Heartfire” Gross
“The Packa” by Cedar Tree Industry
The Worlds ONLY Full Coverage Backpacking Rain Parka
436 Cabin Fever Dr.
Marion, VA 24354
Greenleaf Canoe Company
Harold “Harley” Mo
or look for him on facebook by searching “Greenleaf Canoe Company”
or look for me (as well as the All Who Wander fan page on facebook)
“It’s when you’re safe at home that you wish you were having an adventure. When you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”
This Christmas episode of All Who Wander features a winter hike on the Art Loeb Trail with Henry “Graybeard” Mitchell from milepost 420 on the Blue Ridge Parkway across Black Balsam Knob to Shining Rock. Henry is an artist who makes his home in Greenville, SC.
He has several sites:
Music has been provided by Jacob Johnson. Here’s his contact info:
You can also find his fanpage on facebook
Hope you enjoy! Merry Christmas and may Christ be born in you this holiday season.
Last minute shopper? Never fear. All Who Wander has 10 great ideas for every budget.
Last year for Father’s Dad I posted a “Hiker Dad’s Wish List”, in the hopes of providing some gift-giving inspiration for wives, family and friends of my fellow trail-loving dads. Well, Christmas is barreling down on us like Jen Davis headed toward Springer. Since, as of this writing, it’s “Black Friday” and I’ve elected not to participate in this particular holiday madness I figured I scratch out an updated list for Christmas 2011. You’ll probably notice that a couple of the items from “Hiker Dad” made it to this list as well. Well, they’re that good! Don’t feel limited by what I’ve suggested; I’d love for you to contribute your ideas as well. Just post your suggestions in the comment section of this blog. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!
1. A box of the new Clif Mojo Chocolate Almond Coconut bars ($14.99)
Love Almond Joy? I do. While browsing at my local outfitter I discovered that Clif Mojo had created their own version of this trifecta of flavors. Toasted coconut, chunks of chocolate and whole roasted almonds. I scooped up a handful and hoofed it to the register. They are so much more crunchy and delicious than their Peter Paul predecessor ever dreamed of being and obviously a much healthier choice. A case might last the winter hiking season!
2. Amazon.com gift card. ($50 and up)
Did you realize Amazon isn’t just about books? They have everything!
When All Who Wander became an Amazon affiliate I was shocked to discover the ridiculous range of products from books to music to outdoor gear, to (yes) even kilts, available for online purchase! Try this experiment: Drop by www.allwhowander.us and type something…anything into the search window. You’re gonna be surprised! Did you also realize that by connecting to Amazon.com via the search window or product links at allwhowander.us you help support AWW? Just by doing what you would normally do!
3. Starbucks Via ($3.99)
My MSR coffee filter has, sadly, been relegated to spending the remainder of it’s days in the Land of Misfit Hiking Toys. The reason? Blame it on the evil Starbucks enterprise. Once I had my first sip of this micro-ground coffee I was sold. I never dreamed so much flavor could come from such a tiny foil sleeve of coffee. I won’t hike without it. A three- pack sells for around 4 bucks. Great stocking stuffer! (And yes, available through our Amazon link!) Sorry, MSR…we did have some good times, though, huh?
4. Adventure Camera ($349.00)
For Father’s Day I mentioned how much I’d love to find an Olympus Stylus Tough- TG 810 wrapped up in a box in lieu of the Father’s Day standard of necktie, socks or underwear. Well, there’s still a spot underneath the Christmas tree just waiting for said box. The 14 mega-pixel, shock-proof to 6.6 feet, freeze-proof to 16 degrees, waterproof to 33 feet and crush-proof up to 220 lbf is every hiker dad’s answer to the dilemma of balancing weight versus features, quality and endurance. I love the integrated GPS which allows you to “record landmark data in your image and then enjoy the photo surfing feature which lets you see exactly where your photos were taken by using a map display!” This beauty has dropped nearly $50 to $349.99, The good news is that Olympus no longer corners the market and recently several other manufacturers have followed their lead. Still hoping the healthy competition will lead to even better features and more affordability in adventure cameras. The competitors? I thought you’d never ask! Two of the contenders are Fuji’s Finepix XP20 and the Pentax Optio WG-With any of the three I could save my zip-lock bag for tp and trailmix…I’d be happy!
5. 4 Season Cuben Fiber Hammock Tarp ($299.00)
On my previous list, the #2 position was held by the Warbonnet Blackbird Hammock (available at www.warbonnetoutdoors.com). I’m thrilled to say that due to the generosity of some amazing friends, not to mention Kenneth Waddy, I am now the proud owner of a Blackbird. If for no other reason, the suspension system places this hammock high on my list of favorites. The only thing missing at this point is a tarp. The one I have my eye on right now is the 4 Season Cat Cut Cuben Fiber Tarp (#4 on the previous list) from www.HammockGear.com. This 8’6″ x 10′ 10″ beauty weighs a ridiculously light 6.5 ounces! Consider that a sil-nylon tarp of the same approximate dimensions weighs 19 ounces; still light but nearly triple the weight of the cuben fiber version. Yes, the price-tag is nearly triple that of the sil-nylon as well but I can tell you from personal experience that Adam (Stormcrow) and Jen’s exceptional craftsmanship and customer service make it worth every penny. How do I know this? I just unpacked my beautiful new Incubator underquilt (#3 on the previous list) and reveled in their exquisite handiwork. They even re-arranged their schedule to get it to me in time for a hike up Cold Mountain. These guys rock! Watch for an upcoming podcast that’ll include a discussion of hammocks, tarps and underquilts with Stormcrow and thru-hiker, Bat at the Hiker Fool’s Bash in Franklin, TN. Great stuff!
6. E-reader ($75 and up)
I love books. I mean real books. Ink and paper. Hardback, paperback, leather-bound…I love books. In fact, a friend of mine sent me the manuscript to a fantastic novel he had recently completed and I struggled to finish it because I had to read it on my lap-top via MS Word. So when another friend suggested I buy an e-reader for hiking because I could “carry a thousand books” I wasn’t even remotely interested….that is until I picked one up. I was shocked at how light it was. In fact, I broke out my digital scale and started weighing my books. It was lighter than 90 percent of what I’d been carrying in my pack. I love simplicity. Hence I love low-tech. The last thing I want is one more piece of technology to maintain but I’ve gotta admit…maybe I need to give E-readers another look.
The list of features available on these babies reads like a NASA manual. Most weigh in at less than 8 ounces. Looking for books to pre-load? Here are a few on my list:
– 46 Days by Brew Davis
– Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
– Lost In Wonder. Rediscovering The Spiritual Art Of Attentiveness.
by Esther DeWaal
– Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge
– A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller
7. The Winter Tilley ($99.00)
Every time I see this hat in an outfitter, I try it on. Due to it’s $100 price tag I’ll probably never buy it but I gotta tell you, I love this hat! This handsome wool noggin-topper sports tuck-away ear warmers, is crushable, packable, snow and rain repellent and dry-cleanable. Not to mention it makes me look cool…and let’s be honest…I need all the help I can get.
8. Casio Pro Trek PRW2500-1 ($300.00)
Dana’s pick for the list features: solar power, digital compass, altimeter; barometer; thermometer; tide and moon data, backlight with afterglow, power saving function, water-resistant to 660 feet…oh yeah, and it tells time too! (Need I say more?) Certainly a watch with this toolbox could help even the most navigationally challenged outdoorsman (namely me) get his (or her) bearings. Price tag? About $300.
9. Sleeping Pad ($120)
I’m a hammocker and prefer not to sleep on the ground if it can be avoided. However, there’s a 70 mile section of the AT that travels through the Smokies in which it’s “strongly suggested” that you sleep in a shelter. Assuming one day I get to do my thru-hike, I’m gonna need a pad. Choosing a sleeping pad, as with all gear, is a dance between pack-weight and comfort. For comfort? There’s no contest. It’s the Cosmo Nemo with pillow-top. (Yes, I just said “pillow-top.”) Even I could get a good nights sleep on the ground with this luxurious sleep system. And hey, it’s only 70 miles, right? Not buying it? Still too much weight? No problem. Thermarest has a pad for you . The Therma-rest Neo Air packs to the size of your Nalgene and weighs a mere 14 ounces in the regular size. One warning: Buy a set of ear-plugs for your gift recipient. Surprisingly comfortable but crinkly-noisy.
– Sleep comfort? Cosmo Nemo with pillow-top
-Low-packweight Therma-rest Neo Air
10. A Better Story (priceless)
After the publication of his best-selling memoir, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller found himself glued to his couch with nary an ambition, aspiration or even an idea what to do next. When two movie producers show up on his doorstep and approach him about making a movie based on his book he realizes that his life falls somewhat short of an engaging read. Thus begins his journey to edit his real life into a better story. A Trans-American bike ride, a hiking trip to Machu Picchu and the foundation of a mentoring organization all contribute to his “living a better story.” “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” chronicles this journey. This scintillating and inspiring read stoked my own imagination. What about my life is book-worthy? Was there anything about my own story that would make a narrative you “couldn’t put down”? By now most of you are aware of my obsession with doing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Yes, I’m still obsessed. If I have a book in me, I think it would emerge during that pilgrimage. What about you? Maybe a “better story” would begin with something smaller. Here are a few suggestions:
– A week-long thru-hike such as the Foothills Trail or the Art Loeb Trail or if you’re nearer to Maine, how ’bout the 100- Mile Wilderness?
– Find a way to brighten someone else’s holiday…secretly help provide
Christmas for a family in need.
– A charitable donation made in the name of the giftee: One of our favorites? New Jerusalem Missions. (www.newjerusalemmissions.com)
Here’s hoping you and yours have a Merry Christmas from all of us at All Who Wander.
Does life, your job, stress, routine suck the life out of you? Do you feel like you’re dying inside? Do you daydream about being in the woods? On the trail? What do you do when it’s just not possible? How do you care for…awaken your heart? This episode is a little different than previous episodes. I hope you enjoy it. We’d love to hear from you if you do. Would you visit the comment section of this podcast episode page and let us know what you think? Maybe tell us how you care for your heart? Stay tuned at the end of the podcast for a special tribute to our friend Gunne. For more info on Tom Conlon visit: www.tomconlonmusic.com or www.myspace.com/tomconlonmusic. For more info on Gajon (aka Gary Abel) send an e-mail to Gajon Flutes @ firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trail-guide for the Soul: The Walk – Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail by Randy Motz & Georgia Harris
The melody lifted and soared as if born of, and upon, the wind itself. Song formed from breath, shaped and made smooth and comely by the texture and soul of the cedar love-flute it flowed through. I’ve been enamored with the first-nations love-flute from the moment I first heard it. This particular day we sat in the midst of a strange community of hikers pausing briefly on their pilgrimage to Katahdin to celebrate and rest. To our left along the grassy bank was a young couple, he with long hair tied back, she with dreadlocks, in matching red raincoats. My eyes were drawn to them. Something about their gentleness with each other, their smiles, their quiet laughter stilled and quieted my soul. To my right, just below the embankment was an average 50-ish man in jeans, t-shirt and round glasses sitting in the lotus position, eyes closed, posture perfect. Directly ahead of me was another gray-haired, bespectacled 60-ish man sporting a ball-cap embroidered on the back with the name “Strider.” One of my favorite characters in all of literature. Was that his trail name?
The place was Damascus, Va. The event was Trail Days 2011 and we were all, amid the distractions that are part and parcel of a street festival like this, basking in the music of Wind-talker, Randy Motz. For an hour or so, his flute-song created a small sacred space for us. Few words were spoken but it was clear, to me at least, that Wind-Talker and I had a mutual Friend…Maker, Graybeard likes to call him. Earlier, as Wind-talker was setting up his gear we shared a little conversation. To be fair, I did most of the talking. Randy and his wife Georgia (“Mom” as she’s known on the trail) had done a thru-hike several years prior and in the process of asking him about his hike, I found myself confessing my own desperate longing to do the same. Familiar phrases fell naturally from my lips as I described this haunting, “The woods have become my sanctuary, the AT my obsession.” He spoke little, nodded much and told me I might enjoy the book he and his wife had written: The Walk: Reflections on Life and Faith from the Appalachian Trail. Afterwards I took him up on his suggestion and he generously signed the copy I hold now in my hands.
I spend most of my days in sweltering heat, covered in sawdust, surrounded by screaming woodworking equipment. Each morning before starting my day I show up a little early, find a spot to sit down behind the building and as John Muir puts it let “…nature’s peace… flow into [me] as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into [me], and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” Occasionally I’ll read scripture or some other book. The Walk became that book for a while.
I began The Walk with high expectations. I longed to hear echoed in these pages that same melody that had poured forth from Wind-talkers flute. That’s not what I heard…at least at first. What I was struck by was the Motz’s command of the written word. Their writing style clear and concise, their vocabulary expansive but unpretentious, there was no confusion as to what they were trying to say. They said it well. I wondered though, as I read, if I had made assumptions about Randy based on our short conversation, that were incorrect.
You see, I’m in a different place than many people who might read this post. For the past several years I’ve been discovering what it means to abide, to sink deeper into my Abba’s Love for me, outside the walls of the institutional church. Because of my distance from the Institution, I’ve become hyper-sensitive to and agitated by what I perceive to be religion. That’s not necessarily a good thing. I often get it wrong. If I’m not mistaken, Randy and Georgia are, at present, part of an institutional community of believers. Having said that, they strike me as a couple able to walk in complete freedom untainted by their affiliation with the System. Love, hope, encouragement and freedom are found in the pages of The Walk. I found myself reading with a pen in one hand and my journal in the other, scribbling down the inspirational and thought-provoking quotes that headed each chapter and are peppered throughout. The Walk is liberally seasoned as well with native wisdom from the likes of Lakota/ Sioux Richard Twiss and other native sages. Scripture quotations are taken from Eugene Petersen’s The Message which lends to it’s conversational feel. These along with the excerpts from their AT journal serve to transport the reader, vicariously, right to the Trail with it’s sounds, smells, tastes, beauty and pain.
Without doubt my two favorite chapters are 5 and 6. The title of chapter 5, “Praise and Worship” , has mental associations for me of instruments, sound systems and compulsory singing and hand-raising. There’s nothing of the sort here. Randy and Georgia manage to capture the beauty and wonder of encountering God in what many would think an unlikely place, the wilderness. They express with eloquence and emotion, the soul-gasp that seizes ones heart when you unwittingly stumble upon a thin-place in the midst of an old forest, or the undeniable sense of Presence when the rhododendron choked woods open to a breathtaking vista. There’s no religion here…only spontaneous gratitude…eucharisteo , no matter your spiritual leanings. Chapter 6 relates their journey into simplicity. Winnowing down your world to what you can carry on your back is wonderful practice for doing the same in your non-thru-hike life as well as your spiritual life. It’s an ongoing, never-ending process. Realizing how our possessions can possess us and taking steps to change that may be one of the most important things we can do to reduce the clutter, noise and distraction that impede our walk with God. Randy and Georgia not only give practical wisdom on how to take those first steps but are open and transparent with the naked truth of how they struggle with this themselves.
Honestly, with chapter headings such as “Family and Community”, “Praise and Worship”, “Pride and Humility” and “Service” something in my anti-establishment gut churns and braces to be guilted with a reminder of duty and obligation and how I should just try harder. Probably just the last tendrils of religion still clinging to my soul. Or maybe these headings are sheep in wolves clothing. Familiar phrases that evoke old pharisaical emotions but hidden inside them is the life-giving message of grace, hope and love. Hope I didn’t just give away your secret, Wind-talker and Mom. Oops.
“What will you do with your life? I have taught you swordsmanship. You may be the most gifted pupil I have ever had. But your heart, Packer. Where is it leading you?”
It’s a commonly known fact that Appalachian Trail thru-hikers quickly develop a metabolism like that of a blacksmiths furnace, requiring a constant influx of calories. I hope, one day, to experience that phenomenon myself. As for now, my beer-gut physique remains relatively unaffected by the two weekends a month I’m able to spend on the trail. Having said that, for much of my life I’ve experienced the literary equivalent. Allow me to explain:
From the moment I discovered the myriad worlds hidden in books I’ve fueled my own adventures by exploring those of others. I love to read. Probably a bit too much. On any given week you’ll find me dividing every free moment between 4 or 5 books simultaneously. It’s a never ending battle to feed the dragon. (Thank God for the library!) So, several weeks ago Dana surprised me with a stack of $2.99 paperbacks. The first to grab my attention with it’s fantastical artwork (Sometimes you can judge a book by it’s cover!) was a “swashbuckling fantasy story” by George Bryan Polivka called Blaggard’s Moon. I devoured it. Immediately I turned to Google-the-Gweat-and-Tewwible to see what else Mr. Polivka had to offer. I quickly discovered that he’d penned a trilogy. Paydirt! Wait. A pirate trilogy. Now, I like Jack Sparrow as much as the next guy but, really? How many ways can one tell a pirate story? At least three more!
“You deaf, boy?”
Packer Throme didn’t answer. The last thing he wanted now was a fight. Dog Blestoe was a big man, bigger than Packer by three inches and thirty pounds, and Packer’s elder by thirty years. Leathery, gray-headed, lean and muscular from a lifetime of hard labor, Dog stood across the table with hands knotted into fists. Packer stayed seated and silent.
Whereas Blaggard’s Moon wooed you slowly and kindly into the story, Firefish drops you harshly and abruptly into the action with it’s opening lines; into a palpable tension where through the eyes of young Packer you find out just what a mess he’s made of his life.
Orphaned by a father considered a nut-job by the rest of the fishing village he calls home, Packer blows his one chance at “success” by being kicked out of seminary for punching a priest. He, thereafter, finds himself in the tutelage of a master-swordsman. He thrives in his newfound interest but finds himself longing for home and his one true love, whom he has left behind. This longing is part…maybe the deepest part of his reason for returning. The other? To stow away on a pirate ship on a voyage to find the mythical firefish, vindicate his father’s name and maybe find some redemption of his own. Is this a suitable way for a failed priest to spend his life? How far young Packer has wandered from the path…right? Maybe his mentor, Senslar, can shed some light:
“Only one thing can put such a drive in a man’s heart as the drive I see in you. God has made you for a single end, and even though you do not know what that end is, you know what direction you must go to find it.”
“To the sea?”
Senslar laughed and shook his head. “You are not a turtle, Packer. You are a man created in the image of God. The sea will be too small for you.”
“What do you mean?”
The swordmaster grew serious. “The deep longings of your heart may take you out to sea, but the sea itself will not fulfill them. Only the calling that God has put within you can do that.”
“And what is that calling?” Packer asked, desperately hoping this man was wise enough to answer, to stop the bleeding caused by his severed call to the priesthood.
“I cannot tell you. That is why I asked.”
Okay, maybe not.
Where is your heart leading you? If you, like myself, identify with Packer’s uncertainty in life; if you resonate with this divine discontent, this undeniable longing that often leads down a “road less traveled” then, like me, you’ll find encouragement, hope, adventure and maybe a few more questions in the pages of this beautifully written tale. I’d venture to say that by the time you’ve reached it’s final chapter you’ll be eager to dive into the second book of this trilogy, The Hand that Bears the Sword. I know I am.
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – JRR Tolkien
A Hiker-dad’s Wish List for Father’s Day (No underwear, socks or neck-ties! But maybe…just maybe…a kilt!)
Our recent “Hiker-mom Wish-list” was one of our most popular blogs to date so here’s the companion blog for Father’s Day. Enjoy!
1. Adventure Camera
Just before our hike through Grayson Highlands, VA last year, Dana and I clambered to find an affordable high-res “point and click” to preserve the memories. The process went something like this:
1. Spend hours online researching cameras with the features we wanted.
2. Find a store that carries said camera.
3. Either ignore pesky, omni-present, high-pressure salesperson or stand around looking frustrated while being smartly ignored ourselves.
4. Settle for a model similar to what we were looking for because our choice isn’t available at said store.
5. Take it home, try it out, experience profound disappointment.
6. Return to store, go through the laborious process of getting a refund.
7. Start over with step one and repeat until lithium is necessary.
Days before leaving we decided we had to have something and that something happened to be a Samsung SL605. Until this week (one year later) I couldn’t figure out how to pull off a decent close-up. That and the fact that it didn’t use disposable batteries were the biggest reasons for my discontent. 2 days into our hike, the battery indicator revealed a fully charged battery. I was impressed. Then I shot a couple of short videos of the wild ponies and the camera was down for the count. No more pics for the rest of the trip. Months later I discovered that there’s some weird issue with the battery contacts. If I had known, I could’ve popped out the battery, popped it back in and quite possibly been “good to go.” Oh well.
The camera I’d had my eye on is the Olympus Stylus Tough-6020. They’ve recently released an even sexier version, the TG 810 which is 14 mega-pixel, shock-proof to 6.6 feet, freeze-proof to 16 degrees, waterproof to 33 feet and crush-proof up to 220 lbf. I love the integrated GPS which allows you to “record landmark data in your image and then enjoy the photo surfing feature which lets you see exactly where your photos were taken by using a map display!” That’s freaking cool! Since this beauty retails for $399.99, it looks like I’ll be sticking with “Sam.” The good news is that Olympus no longer corners the market and recently several other manufacturers have followed their lead. Hopefully this healthy competition will lead to even better features and more affordability in adventure cameras. The competitors? I thought you’d never ask! Two of the contenders are Fuji’s Finepix XP20 and the Pentax Optio WG-1. With any of the three I could save my zip-lock bag for tp and trailmix…I’d be happy!
2. Warbonnet Blackbird
A couple of years ago for Father’s Day, Dana suffered from an episode of temporary insanity and bought me (what then was) the Hummer of hammocks, the Clark North American. I love it. The Clark enabled me to do what I’d never been able to do, sleep in the woods. I could rave about it’s many features but suffice it to say I bought one for Dana shortly after. Several weeks ago I lost my mind and bought us each a new Deep Jungle hammock by Hennesy. We love these as well. We don’t need 4 hammocks but I can’t bear to part with any of them. Well, let’s take the insanity to an entirely new level: One of my goals for Trail Days was to try out and possibly purchase a Warbonnet Blackbird. I’ve heard so much about the Blackbird and have even been approved by the owner, Kenneth Waddy, to sell this amazing hammock…but I’ve yet to even see one in real life! Sooo, not something I need but certainly something I’d love to check out! In case you’d like to check it out, go to www.warbonnetoutdoors.com.
3. 3 – Season Incubator Underquilt by Hammock Gear.
The one negative of hammocking is winter sleeping. It’s very difficult to stay warm. The solution? An under-quilt. An underquilt is just what you’d think. It’s a quilt that attaches to the underside of the hammock where the fill maintains it’s loft and provides a barrier of insulation against the cold. Months of research led us to a near decision. Over Thanksgiving I popped Adam (Stormcrow) at Hammock Gear an e-mail and he responded by calling me personally. An educational 45 minute phone-call convinced me that when we were ready to buy, we would buy from Adam. He says it better than I so check this out:
The ULTIMATE underquilt for freezing weather… A full 12 oz of high quality goose down, the Winter Incubator provides unrivalled insulation to keep your back-side toasty all night long. Winter Protection to 20* (12* below freezing!) and only 22.5 oz packed!
For serious protection on chilly nights, trust your tail to the Incubator… it’s the full-length big-brother to the CrowsNest. This UQ will keep you warm and cozy, with 12 oz of Hungarian Goose down, and 9 differential baffles that run the length of the quilt. The differential baffles help keep down from shifting, providing more consistent warmth throughout the night.
The Incubator has a tapered cut, which not only reduces weight, but provides a more secure wrap around the hammock, eliminating drafts.The quilt is designed to mimic the natural position of the body as it lies in the hammock. Choose the Incubator for the ultimate in luxurious protection and comfort against the harshest cold, and keep yourself warm and cozy all night long! Comes complete with shock-cord suspension and stuff sack. $239.00 from www.HammockGear.com.
4. 4 Season (4 Doors) Cat Cut Cuben Fiber Tarp by Hammock Gear
Yeah, hammocking can get expensive. Both our Clark’s and our Hennesy’s have sufficient tarps to keep out the rain, but…this tarp…this tarp…is the junk. Dana and I were in Franklin, NC for the Hiker Fool’s Bash this year (basically a bunch of thru-hikers, past, present and future hanging out in a parking lot and swapping stories) when we were immediately approached and befriended by a hiker named Bat. Bat introduced us to his friend Storm-crow who just happened to be Adam from Hammock Gear! We sat and talked hiking, hammocks, under-quilts and tarps until the sun went down. (Watch for an upcoming podcast) Bat uses this particular tarp and brought this 8′ 6″ x 10′ 10″ tarp out in it’s ridiculously small stuff sack and I was shocked at how light it was (6.5 ozs!).
$309.00 from www.HammockGear.com.
5. New Backpack
I picked up my present external-frame Jansport Ranier for $20 at Nanty-fest a few years back and despite a steady stream of mild-mannered-ribbing from more “progressive” hikers it’s been a great, dependable pack. The only downside as far as I’m concerned is it’s annoying habit of snagging low-hanging tree branches. My son Josiah finds this hilarious and nearly every time he has to duck, he stops, turns, waits and watches for the inevitable tangle. Always good for a laugh. Oh, I should mention that I nicknamed my pack Squeaky. I guess that’s pretty much self-explanatory. Usually a little soap gently applied to the strap connections quiets that right down. Soooo, having said that I have been flirting with the idea of stepping into the 21st century by exploring the world of internal frame packs. I tried out the ULA Catalyst while at Mountain Crossings but after walking around the store with 30 lbs in the pack I decided it wasn’t for me. I was carrying nearly all of the weight on my shoulders. I prefer to have 75% of the weight distributed to my hips. (I don’t have much in the way of shoulders.) A few weeks ago Josiah and I were hiking north on the AT into Damascus, VA when we encountered some thru-hikers. One of these guys had a Catalyst. I told him of my qualms. He said he had the same problem but when he called ULA, they explained how to adjust and bend the stays to conform to his back so that the weight was carried on his hips. He said it made all the difference and he loves his Catalyst. So, maybe I should give the Catalyst a shot. This 47 oz pack has an overall capacity of 4.600 cubic inches…plenty! You can buy it from www.ula-equipment.com for $250. These are also available at a select few local retailers including Mountain Crossings at Wa-las-i-yi, Neels Gap, GA.
I’m a voracious reader. On any given week, I’m usually reading 4 or 5 books simultaneously. When hiking I struggle to narrow it down to one lightweight paperback. Usually it’s my tattered, stained, patinated paperback of The Hobbit.
Here are just a few I can’t wait to get my hands on:
Auralia’s Colors by Jeffery Overstreet. The third and final book in the Auralia’s Colors Trilogy.
The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard. I’ve heard this book quoted by many of my favorite writers. I think it’s time I scored my own copy.
Anything and everything by Frederick Buechner. No, that’s not the name of a book. I mean anything and everything. I love Buechner and the local library’s patience with me is probably wearing thin.
Our Southern Highlanders by Horace Kephart. This classic account of life among the people of the Southern Appalachians comes highly recommended from my friend and hiking partner, Henry “Graybeard” Mitchell.
Some more Annie Dillard. I recently picked up Pilgrim At Tinker Creek from a used bookstore but I wouldn’t mind having everything she’s written.
One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I subscribe to Ann’s blog. Her writing moves me like nearly no one else’s. Raw, poignant, relentlessly beautiful, lyrical and oozing with grace. I read an excerpt from this book on Amazon.com and was humbled to have glimpsed so deeply into another’s soul. She’s…amazing.
7. Mountain Hardwear Elkommando Kilt
Damn right, I’m serious! I’m 44 years old, Anglo-Scot-Irish-Cherokee and I don’t give a crap! It’s light-weight, cool and incredibly…convenient, shall we say. My frustration with pockets too small for a map or Appalachian Pages has soured my taste for hiking pants. At Trail Days I spoke to a rep about my issue and he agreed but said that it wasn’t hikers who drive the market for hiking pants, it was ordinary consumers…consumers who apparently are more concerned about fashion than practicality. I actually like the Utilikilt (www.utilikilts.com) a lot. Looks like something a Spartan might wear and can literally hold a 6-pack of your beverage of choice. Gotta respect that! Problem is the $400 price tag, not to mention the fabric. Even the light-weight version is too heavy and contains 40% cotton, not apt to dry as quickly as synthetics. So I’m looking at the Elkommando and the possibility of talking someone into adding some big ole pockets for my maps and guides…and maybe a stud or two just for effect! You can order yourself one through the REI affiliate link on this site for a much more reasonable, $75…and you’ll be supporting your favorite podcast!
8. Puffy Down Jacket
I know, I know. sounds like something a 9 year old girl would want. I can hear it now, “That should go nicely with the skirt (#7)!” Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Puffy Down Jacket has all but replaced the old fleece stand-by as the jacket of choice. On average they weigh around half a pound, pack down to near nothing and have become the new standard of warmth for thru-hikers. At the Hiker Fools Bash in Franklin this year nearly every hiker I saw was wearing and swearing…by their puffy down jacket. So, I’m weighing my options. The obvious choice would be Western Mountaineering’s Hooded Flash Jacket sporting 850+ fill goose down and weighing in at a whopping 9 ounces! You can pick one up from www.westernmountaineering.com for around $260.00.
9. Back-country Boiler
I’ve known about chimney kettles for several years but due to weight, size and price they’ve always seemed impractical to me. The pack-weight saved by using found fuel, didn’t seem to justify the loss in pack-space and the gain in stove-weight…until now. The Backcountry Boiler from www.theboilerwerks.com is about the same size and weight as that Nalgene Baltimore Jack told you to get rid of. It can “depending on fuel and operator skill, boil 2 cups of water in under 5 minutes” using the stuff you’re clearing off the ground to make a spot for your tent. That’s a big boast from a small kettle. I’d like to find out if it’s true. They range in price from $80 to $160, depending on the features.
10. AT Thru-hike
Kinda hard to pick this one up at your local REI…but this is a wish-list, right? If there were any method to my madness this would be number one on my list. If it were even a financial possibility I’d be happy to trade everything I’ve just rambled on about for an opportunity to “hike with spring” from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. It’s my dream to make this 5 or 6 month pilgrimage with all of the joys and pains, thrills and monotony…and live to tell about it. This past spring I nearly threw caution to the wind, quit my job and left for Dahlonega. I had it bad. Until that day I’ll continue to dream and spend every moment on the Trail that I can. Average cost? 6 months wages + $4,000.00…give or take.
Hope this little list was inspiring and informative. (If nothing else…entertaining!) What say next year we get started a little earlier and you let me know what your Hiker-dad wish list looks like? I can’t wait! Happy Father’s Day to my Abba, to my dad, Deyerle Ray Longley, the greatest earthly dad a guy could ever wish for and to all of the other dads and hiker dad’s out there. Be blessed and Happy Trails!
It’s that time of year again! For those boyfriends, husbands or offspring of Moms happier on the trail than in the kitchen, here’s a quick list of gift ideas straight from a hiker-mom-extraordinaire…my hiking partner (and wife) Dana. Most of these can be purchased through one of our hand-picked affiliates and you can support All Who Wander by shopping (Isn’t that cool?) Just click on the affiliate links on our site…and thanks!
1. A Fork In the Trail by Laurie Ann March. This practical how-to book on creative hiking cuisine through dehydrating is the quintessential reference manual for those who love to eat well on the trail with out a pack weight from hell. (Clever, huh?) Now, I know I said maybe Hiker-mom wanted out of the kitchen but a girl’s gotta eat, right? Available at Amazon.com.
2. Footwear that doesn’t turn my feet to hamburger. Dana’s feet issues are a recurring problem. We’ve tried so many different styles and brands; even had a custom fitting by a “professional” and she always ends up with blistered, oozing feet. One of her latest ideas is to try the SmartWool Light Hiking Socks for Women available at REI. Maybe these in conjunction with her fitted boots will ease her pain.
3. SmartWool Micro-Weight Long Underwear for Women. Dana has transitioned from traditional zip-off hiking pants to a much cooler, hipper and more (shall we say?) convenient hiking skirt. (Heck, I’m thinking of doing it myself…I mean…a, uh, hiking KILT.) She still likes to wear summer base layer beneath for it’s wicking properties as well as the protection (albeit it minimal) it provides. As you can tell, we’re big SmartWool fans. This item also available from your friendly REI store…via All Who Wander. :)
4. Leki Khumbo Aerogon Anti-Shock Speed-Lock Trekking Poles. Dang, that’s a mouthful! This past summer, moments prior to our 4 day AT hike through Virginia, Dana’s twist-lock pole failed. My duct-tape-fix got her through the trip but she’s (and, by neccessity, I am) plagued by issues. Leki is renowned for their durability, reliability and availability in outfitters all along the AT. A damaged or broken pole is generally repaired by the outfitter at no cost to the hiker. Great company! Great product! These particular poles feature a simple “speed-lock” locking mechanism. I’m guessing my hiker-bride isn’t alone in her wish for these beauties. Yup, REI again!
5. Nemo Cosmo Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad and Pillow-Top from Modular-Air Technology. Dana and I are hammockers. That probably won’t change. However, our dream is to do a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. In the Smoky’s thru-hikers are, ahem, “strongly encouraged” to sleep in the shelters rather than tents or hammocks. This presents a problem for we who can’t sleep on the ground or wooden planks, as is the case here. This pad…oh, this pad…is amazing. Though it’s too heavy (With the pillow top it’s still less than 4 lbs) to use regularly it’s actually rather light for the comfort level it delivers. An extra pound or two to get us through the Smoky’s is a small price to pay to sleep in the lap of luxury. Just copy and paste the bolded words into the Amazon search engine on the All Who Wander site and be the hero of Mother’s Day!
I hope this short-list gives you some inspiration. It certainly gave me an excuse to get some ideas out of my wife! Hey, I’ve got an idea: In the comment section of this blog, give me some of your ideas! You can tell the “Hiker-mom” in your life that you’ve just GOT to put some ideas up on the All Who Wander site! Sneaky, yes but it’s win/ win the way I see it! Hope you and yours have an amazing Mother’s Day and if you’re a Mom (hiker or otherwise) we love you and are so grateful for what you bring to our lives, the world…and the woods!
005 All Who Wander – Cimarron: A Tenacious 88 Year Old AT Thru-hiker talks about Life, Love, Trail Magic and the Curse of Hiawassee. A River Runs Through It
Join 88 year old, veteran thru-hiker Cimarron and I for this “Zero Day” conversation in Hiawassee Georgia.
Music provided by Under the Appletree:
004 All Who Wander – Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs! Post-hike musings on snow, gear & trail markings.
Join River (Dana), Scat (Chester), Ma Fred (Ma Fread) and myself for a lively lunch-time conversation about our overnight hike from Dicks Creek Gap to Deep Gap on the Appalachian Trail.
– You have a hankering for adventure
– You hike, backpack or want to
– You enjoy discussing the finer points of noodles vs. trail-bars
– You enjoy (or have at least heard of) Thoreau, Muir, or Annie Dillard
– You find something dark and squishy in your sleeping bag and test it to see if it is edible. (Thanks to http://outontheat.blogspot.com for this one!)
– You’re disillusioned with the institutional church
– You’ve discovered what appears to be bear poop containing small
bells and smelling of pepper and wonder if you should be concerned.
– You have a long commute.
– You stand in long lines
– You enjoy making fun of my goofy, white-trash southern accent
– You want to help a 44 year old man leave his day-job and thru-hike the 2, 175 mile Appalachian Trail!*
*Most websites feature ads. On our site you’ll find “ads” that are actually affiliate links. We make a little money every time you link to one of our hand-picked affiliates such as Amazon, REI, or Mountain Life. We make even more if you buy something from them! We chose these because we love, trust and buy from them regularly ourselves.
What’ll it be like?
My hope is that the pod-cast will become a mixed bag of “audio-hike” field recordings, discussions about gear, conversations with artists, writers, musicians and everyday people like you and I who are discovering what it is to walk with God outside the box of institutional religion…exploring the “thin places”, dreaming of what could be, and talking about people, books, films and music that have helped us along this path.
What can I do?
Listen. Enjoy. Tell someone. Give us a review in the I-Tunes store. Patronize our affiliates. Post a link to an All Who Wander pod-cast or blog by clicking on the facebook button at the bottom of each post. Become a fan of All Who Wander on facebook. Join the conversation by posting a comment at www.allwhowander.us. Let us know what you think or what you might find helpful. Tell us if you know of someone who’d make an interesting guest on the show. (Maybe that’s you!) We really, really look forward to hearing from you!
Join River (Dana), Ma Fred (Ma Fred), Skat (Chester) and myself in this “audio-hike” episode of All Who Wander on a “day-hike gone awry” as we tramp through snow drifts up to 2 foot deep in an attempt to reach the shelter before night fall. Layer up, strap on your boots, get ready for adventure and a laugh or two as well on this winter misadventure on the Appalachian Trail.
All Who Wander 002 is the second half of Jennifer Pharr Davis’ “Becoming Odyssa” book launch at Diamond Brand Outfitters in Arden, NC. This episode contains the storytelling portion of the night. You’ll hear from yours truly as well as 4 other hikers as we share our stories from hiking the Appalachian Trail. I apologise again for the audio quality. It is what it is. If you enjoy this podcast I’d love to hear from you. Please post your comments at www.allwhowander.us and if you have time I’d appreciate it if you’d do the same at I-tunes. I just finished reading “Becoming Odyssa” and loved it. Please patronise your local outfitter, visit www.allwhowander.us or Jen’s site at www.blueridgehikingco.com and pick up a copy. You’ll be glad you did! Thanks for listening!
In this, our very first episode, we join Jennifer Pharr Davis, who has the distinction of being the fastest woman to ever thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, at Diamond Brand Outfitters in Arden, NC for the launch of her book “Becoming Odyssa.” This is the first part of a two part series. Please visit Jen’s site:(www.blueridgehikingco.com) to learn more about her extraordinary life and to buy her book or you can purchase it through one of our affilates, Amazon.com, by visting our site (www.allwhowander.us).
Hope you enjoy! We look forward to your comments!
Just a quick update. You may have noticed that there’ve been precious few changes at All Who Wander. My apologies. I still look forward to a full-blown launch within the next couple of months but setting up the infrastructure for this is proving to be more difficult than I imagined. I’m not a tech-geek. Fortunately there are those (such as Cliff Ravenscraft, the Podcast Answerman www.podcastanswerman.com) who are energized with passion by all of the details that, to me, are frustrating obstacles to the launch. I just wanna start making shows! I’ve returned to Cliff repeatedly for advice and he’s always responded quickly with much needed encouragement and input. However, Cliff makes his living at consulting and thus far hasn’t received a dime from me. Primarily because I’m out of dimes.) I don’t want to take advantage of his generosity so I’m trying to figure this out on my own. Demands from my day-job don’t allow for much free-time to work through my technical dilemmas so I grab every spare minute to try to slog through this quagmire of confusion. I’m afraid Dana is beginning to view my laptop as “the other woman.” Each time I log-in to Feedburner to try and discover why my cover art isn’t showing up in I-tunes I see more and more people subscribing to the podcast. I’m at once thrilled and mortified. I’ve told nearly no one about the show and yet the subscription numbers continue to climb. For goodness’ sake, there’s not even a real podcast posted yet! The 7 minute clip is just a welcome from my heart that gives a little background on what All Who Wander is birthed out of. I just want to say thank you for your interest and especially for your patience. All Who Wander is coming soon. I promise. In the meantime I hope you’ll do as we did this weekend and find time to care for your heart with a walk in the woods. Not all those who wander are lost.
This, our maiden voyage, is just a short conversation by the campfire, enjoying a mug of coffee as we share our stories and get to know each other. Glad to meet you and look forward to seeing you here again. If you’d like a feel for what an actual episode is like stay tuned for upcoming shows!
It was just a dream. No, not even a dream. Just a spark of a notion. I’m not sure where it came from. I guess, in part, it was a longing born of desperation. Josiah was now in high school. Graduation, with whatever that entailed, loomed ominously on the horizon. I’d become acutely and painfully aware of the passage of time and like a lot of dads, I imagine, wanted to carpe’ the remaining diems we would share together before he launched out in pursuit of his own dreams.
The idea was insane, really. Though, as a family, we’d spent many a night on the banks of the Chattooga and Chauga rivers, the idea of strapping 30 pounds of gear on my back and taking a walk had never even entered my mind as something remotely appealing. But that niggling spark wouldn’t leave me alone. So when Dana, Jo and I happened across the old stone building in Blairsville, Georgia I was unprepared for the way the tinder would ignite as wind blew across that spark of a notion.
Swinging aside the old wooden door, (not unlike Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy) my senses were awakened by air rife with the smell of leather and gear, the frenetic motion of an outfitter in peak season and the almost tangible excitement that swirled like an enchantment in the electrified atmosphere populated by that rare breed of creature, the Thru-hiker. It was magic. I was under it’s spell. I wandered, dream-like, through the old store and ended up, somehow, at the back counter. A voice, “Hey man, can I help you?” The eyes of the forty-ish, unshaven, slightly rotund guy behind the counter sparkled behind John Lennon spectacles with the light and wonder of a little boy. If there were such things as “old souls” I’d encountered a young one. I struggled to push out the words but the spark wouldn’t be ignored, “I…it’s kinda crazy but…my boy is graduating in a couple of years and I…I wanna hike the Appalachian Trail with him.” This really was crazy as I had somehow, for all of my 42 years, remained oblivious to the trails 2,175 mile existence. After a whisper of a silence he looked directly at me, smiling, seemingly at the spark within me and said something like, “That’s not crazy at all. I’ve thru-hiked it seven times myself.” I imagine my jaw became unhinged as he introduced himself as “Sunshine” (at least that’s the way I remember it). He spent the next half-hour or so encouraging me to “Just get out there and start walking.” He scribbled down several websites he thought would be of help and as I walked out the door I knew that his impish grin and infectious passion had ignited that spark into a flame. The chill October air swept across my face and I turned to see a mischievous smile plastered on Dana’s. “Guess where I just was.” I shrugged. “On the Appalachian Trail.” “Uh-uh!” Jo and I took off up the stairs, ran up the hill behind the building and saw for ourselves the white blazes marking the old footpath. We ran ahead, kicking up in our wake the red and yellow, orange and brown leaves that blanketed the trail. After traveling maybe a half mile or so we stopped to catch our breath, imbibing the brisk, earthy, intoxicating mountain air. “Dad?” “Yeah, buddy?” “Let’s keep going.” God, I wish we had.
We didn’t leave the mortgage for the bank to contend with. We didn’t walk away from our jobs, commitments, obligations and responsibilities (though my heart screamed that was the only reasonable thing to do). We did, however, start to walk and to dream. The forest became, for me, a sanctuary; the AT an obsession. I read everything I could get my hands on…especially narratives. I read of real-life characters like Earl Schaffer, AWOL, Jennifer Pharr Davis, Warren Doyle (who’s hiked it 16 times!), Granny Gatewood, Bill Bryson and Katz, Future-man and Apple-Jack. Nearly mythical creatures such as Bombadil and Baltimore Jack, a hard-nosed, hard-drinking veteran of the AT infamous in his distaste for Bill Bryson, evidenced by his t-shirt that reads “Bill Bryson is a pansy.” Honestly, how much of what is told of Jack is true and how much is legend may never be known. But we didn’t just read, we grabbed every available moment to actually walk the AT, overnighting when we could, day-hiking when we couldn’t. Every time we passed by that outfitter, which we learned was called Mountain Crossings we’d stop in and say hi to the proprietor, Winton Porter and his crew. Never again did I see “Sunshine”. I guess it never occurred to ask what had happened to him.
One day last winter, Chester (aka Scat, aka Forest Dump) and I spent a frigid night on Blood Mountain after trekking through snow drifts nearly three feet deep in places. We rose early and began our slippery, ice-covered descent into Neel’s Gap. Despite my lack of sleep I felt like a kid at Christmas. I’d watched the sun set from Blood and was about to introduce one of my best friends to Mountain Crossings, the catalyst for my obsession. Once again, as I had dozens of times since that fateful day, I swung open the old wooden door. Always we’re greeted by the smiling faces of the staff, often Winton himself. Today, however, was different.
There, standing before me was…Sunshine?! What was his name? My mouth fell open. I stammered, “It’s you!” “You did this!” Grinning, he struggled to make sense of my jabbering. “I mean, you’re the one that started all this…this hiking thing.” Funny thing is, he looked at me as if he knew me as well. With both my hands clasped around his in gratitude, I just asked, “What is your name?” He answered, “Jack.” I looked at him quizzically, “Jack?” He elaborated, “Baltimore Jack.” “Whuh?! You…you’re…THE Baltimore Jack?” “Pretty sure. Yeah.” At this point he removed a well-worn Zippo from his pocket as ID. He held it up for me to see. I was a little too dumbfounded to focus but I did read the words, “Baltimore Jack.” I hugged him. (I don’t think anyone had ever done that to him before. He handled it pretty well, considering.) I reminded him of how we’d met and thanked him for fanning that spark into flame. We talked like old friends for a half an hour or so when Dana walked up. I introduced him, to her surprise, as the guy who’d started all of this and the legendary Baltimore Jack. Her jaw dropped. “No way!” He went for his lighter again. We ended up exchanging mutual invitations, him to South Carolina (Other than Florida, the only state he’s never visited) and us to Vermont. Dana said to him, “Don’t tease me. We’ll come.” He assured her the invitation was genuine. Maybe we’ll just take him up on that one day. As we headed back down the mountain towards home, I started laughing hysterically as I recalled that on our first meeting I had reached for a copy of Bryson’s “Walk In the Woods” and Jack had taken it away from me and put it back on the shelf saying, “You don’t want that.” He really does hate that guy!
Just over 2 hours south of The Shire (The foothills of South Carolina) lies this gateway to a land of myth and magic, mystery and adventure where tales abound and many more are waiting to be written. How it is that I grew to be in my 40’s before discovering this land is a mystery in itself. Perhaps I was not so different from the Hobbit himself, grown fat and content with my pipe-weed, seed-cakes and tea. For adventures are “nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner.” But thankfully, not long ago, as it happens, a mysterious bearded man placed a queer mark on the door of my hobbit hole and Adventure was unleashed upon my mundane little life. I’ve yet to walk The Trail from end to end, but that niggling spark became a flame, the flame burns stronger still, and like Bilbo I’ve tasted of adventures…nasty things. Unlike Bilbo, I’ve been swept up in their enchantment and one day soon I’ll leave Springer Mountain for Neel’s Gap. I’ll swing open that old wooden door once again, step back into the woods and walk till I see Katahdin. Because, you know…it was just a dream, really. No, not even a dream. Just a spark…
“Not all those who wander are lost.”
–J. R. R. Tolkien
Day 6 (June 30)
Only 6 miles left of our adventure. With an odd mixture of sadness and exhilaration we broke camp and joined the families of cyclists moving down the trail to Damascus. Dana had switched to flip-flops by this point, which were rubbing brand new blisters in brand new places but she trudged along like a champ. We took our time, stopping occasionally to play in creeks, set up cairns and take pictures. Around 10:00am the white blazes led us out of the woods, onto US 58 and into the city limits. At this lower elevation, we found the flora ablaze in color: Snow white blooms, rimmed in threads of red trim, vivid pink and deep orange flowers and yellow golden-rod looking plants that stood nearly 4 feet high. Best of all? Blackberries. Growing wild by the side of the road were patches of juicy, ripe blackberries. With just a little effort we were able to find handfuls of ripened, delicious blackberries which we ate right off of the vine, er…bush. Trail magic of the highest order!
Walking into Damascus felt fantastic. It wasn’t a stretch to imagine this thrill as part of a thru-hike. I got lost for a moment as I was swept up into my daydream. I was stirred from my reverie by shouts of “We made it!” We saw the first “Welcome to Damascus” sign. Fred collapsed in the grass and we took turns recording the moment, photographically, for posterity. We laughed and played our way into town, feeling, looking, and I’m sure, smelling like real hikers. We had an early lunch at a local restaurant, stuffing ourselves on giant cheeseburgers (No wonder I put on weight when I’m hiking, huh?), french-fries and ice cream for desert. We donned our packs, once again, and savored the remainder of our walk to Mt. Rogers Outfitters. I brought in my water filter and the owner happily repaired it free of charge while I watched. Good as new. More trail magic. We hesitantly loaded our packs into the van and navigated twisting, turning mountain roads to find our way to the cabin where we’d enjoy several days of lazy, restful, recuperation. Like our walk in the woods these blissful, laughter-filled days became blurred and soft around the edges…kind of like stepping unexpectedly into the mist-muted morning light of a grassy, mountaintop meadow. Maybe this was one of those thin places as well.
“Heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller.” – Celtic saying
Day 5 (June 29)
Once comfortably burrowed in my sleeping bag, the night before, I realized I’d not hung my food bag. I could not imagine leaving my cozy nest to stumble through the darkened downpour and hang a bag of food. Hey, Warren Doyle has hiked the AT 17 times and has never once hung a bear bag; I’d take my chances on one rainy night. I survived and so did my food. Due to my laziness I enjoyed the direct benefit of having breakfast in bed. I woke up, while remaining firmly ensconced in my bag, lit my stove, fried up several slices of bacon, boiled water for grits and coffee and managed to pull off some reasonably un-charred toast. Woohoo! I broke camp and headed off, past a girl scout troop, down the trail to the spring. I filtered enough water for everyone, which was no easy task since the handle had broken off of my water filter the day before. I came back to the shelter to find everyone packing up and Dana bandaging her feet. They were a mess. Something would have to be done. Just not sure what yet. We sat down, consulted our maps and guide books and discovered that the AT wasn’t the only trail that led to Damascus. According to what we read there was a trail called the Virginia Creeper Trail that was very nearly flat and traveled adjacent to a river all the way into town. This had to be the answer. As much as we wanted to take the AT all the way in, this was the only logical option. Just so happened we were less than 2 miles from the juncture. It was settled then. Virginia Creeper, here we come.
On our way up and around Whiteside we had met an older fellow whose name (of course) eludes me. He told me that he drops his wife off at an AT trailhead, allows her to hike for several days then picks her up at a pre-arranged location. I asked him why he didn’t join her and he told me he just couldn’t sleep on the ground. Being the hammock-evangelist I am, I regaled him with stories of how hammocking completely changed my wilderness life. I couldn’t sleep either…but I do now. He promised to check into it and told me to keep an eye out for his wife. Her trail name is “The Old Grey Mare.” Well, guess who we ran into! We immediately hit it off and hiked together all the way to the junction of the AT and Creeper Trail. She had taken the Creeper in last year and came back this year to get it right. AT all the way. Gotta love the Old Grey Mare…she ain’t what she used to be. She’s a lot better.
We crossed a set of twin creeks (Whitetop and Green Cove?) and when we stepped on the bridge got a little confused about which way to go. We asked a construction worker if he could help us out. He did. And better yet told us that just a short way in on the Creeper was a little cafe with burgers, fries and milkshakes. This was obviously confirmation that we were headed in the right direction, Oh yeah! We took off with newfound purpose.
The Creeper was everything we’d hoped for except for the fact that it wasn’t exactly a trail. It was more of a nicely graveled road more appropriate for bicyclers than hikers. Apparently it was built along the path of an old railroad, crossing multiple trestle-bridged creeks and rivers along the way. But with thoughts of burgers and fries and lunchtime rapidly approaching we couldn’t find that cafe quick enough. Finally we began to see little signs, “10 minutes to the snack bar”, “5 minutes to concessions” etc. Maybe it wasn’t an actual cafe but, heck, at this point anything was better than mashed potatoes and trail bars. We saw it and Jo and I broke into a run while Dana hobbled slowly in our direction. As we approached we saw more little signs that read, “OPEN.” YES!!! We made it! Then we saw it. Closed. We walked all the way around the little building. Closed. Freaking closed. We were so disappointed. Jo got up, ran back down the trail and knocked over all the “OPEN” signs so Dana didn’t get her hopes up just to be let down again. Chester, Fred then Dana slowly filtered in. It was 11:30 and my belly confirmed it so I boiled up some noodles. We munched on bars while we bemoaned our bad luck and especially the evil concession stand owners. After a short break we got back on the trail and dragged our feet slowly, dejectedly toward Damascus. Every few minutes we’d have to step aside to make way for cyclists. That combined with Dana’s tortured feet and the big bag of “let down” we were dragging made for slow going. It seemed like we’d been walking for hours since leaving the concession stand. In reality it’d been maybe two miles when we came upon what looked like a little town. “Is that what it looks like?” I was staring at the backside of some sort of little building with picnic tables behind it beneath a shelter of some kind. Bikes were parked everywhere and people were…eating? Was it a church picnic? A cook-out? I walked slowly around the building. It was a restaurant! This was the cafe’ we’d been told about! But we’d just eaten…awwwww, who cares?! Wooooohoooo! We dumped our packs, found an entrance and ran inside to find Chester already in line to order. He’s like the Toucan Sam of greasy spoons. He’d followed his nose! Short version? We feasted. I mean FEASTED! Burgers, cheese-fries, milkshakes, the works. Then we loaded up on junk-food for the night. What an oasis. That made our day.
Bellies full and hearts content, we sauntered lazily down the trail through rolling hills and lush farmland. It was around 1:30pm so we walked another 3 or 4 hours till we found a perfect campsite next to the river. The girls bathed in the river, we filtered water (just upstream), set up camp and feasted once again. We spread out our sleeping pads, sat down in a circle, dumped out our food bags and helped ourselves to a backpacker’s smorgasbord: potatoes and gravy, bacon, Chester’s ever-present summer sausage, chips, cookies, candy-bars, coffee and anything else we could find. After two lunches, how we found room for it all is a mystery but we did…and it was wonderful. We laughed and talked around the campfire till well after dark, crawled into our respective hammocks and slept like well-fed babies. Ahhhhh.
Day 4 (June 28)
We awoke to overcast skies in a mist-shrouded forest. After a quick breakfast we broke camp and were back on the trail by 8:45 a.m.. 25 miles to Damascus. I’m not sure I can explain why but there’s little I enjoy more than walking through deep forests, cloaked in mist in the early morning hours. I was in my element. We walked in relative quiet, shaded by a canopy of birches, pines and fir trees. It was like walking through a fairy tale forest. Less than an hour in, with no warning, we stepped from our fairy tale forest into the mist-muted morning light and found ourselves breathing in the crisp, undiluted morning air of a grassy, mountaintop meadow. Words cannot come close to expressing the wonder of that moment. When we finally managed to stammer out a few syllables, they were only gasps and “Ohhhh,” and “I…I…ohhh.” I felt joy and freedom and gratitude like I haven’t since I was a little boy…and I wasn’t alone. Each of us simultaneously experienced the same exhilarating thrill of childlike freedom. It was a gift….from the Gifting Giver. We lingered and basked in the glow of the moment. Surely this is one of the thin places spoken of by the ancient Celts.
We reluctantly made our way down the trail to cross VA 600 (Whitetop Rd.) to a parking area where a huge group of hikers from a local church were resting after spending a week on the section of trail we were about to step onto. We dropped our packs, said our hellos and swapped stories. As the conversation reached a lull, I opened my guidebook to discover the magical place we had just encountered, as well as where we were now sitting was known as Elk Garden. From here the trail ascends 380 feet in 3.2 miles…in the rain, to Buzzard Rock. Well, maybe not always…but for us, it was raining. It actually started while I was precariously balanced on a rock in a creek trying to filter enough water to get us through lunch. I leapt from my perch, donned my rain gear and stretched my rain-cover over my pack with ninja like grace…right. Well, I got it done, anyhow. Buzzard Rock is an enormous boulder that juts out of the southwest side of Whitetop Mountain. I’m told it’s a great place to watch hawks spiraling up on thermals and a well-known stop on the AT. Most everyone who passes this way has their picture taken while standing on the outermost point of the projecting rock. We arrived to discover that another uber-large church group had taken up semi-permanent residence on the rock with no intention of moving. We dropped our packs and stretched out in the meadow at the base of the boulder while Dana doctored her mangled feet. We gazed down the trail ahead of us and noticed a hiker heading North, climbing the hill we were resting on. He looked to be in his sixties, military cut, stocky-build and calves like grapefruits. This guy was a hiker. He plopped down next to us and as we got to know one another he pointed to a spot on a mountain way off in the distance and said, “There’s my house right over there.” Apparently he lives locally and hikes this section several times a week…which explains the grapefruit. We realized we’d met his hiking buddy on our way up and around Whitetop. His friend started hiking South while he hiked North and they planned to swap vehicles and meet up down the mountain. Pretty good plan, actually.
We said goodbye, started our descent and realized the trail had become a narrow gash through a briar patch. It was literally 6″ wide and about a foot deep, covered in “ankle-breakers” (rocks about the size of a softball) some partially embedded, some loose. This was hands-down my least favorite part of the trail. Without the extra stability of my poles it was inevitable that I would fall…and I did. Fortunately, I didn’t hit the ground…the briars broke my fall. Well, I recovered virtually unscathed and carefully and slowly, painstakingly picked my way down the mountain.
We planned to camp at Lost Mountain Shelter which was 4.7 miles away but nearly all downhill. We had reached VA 601 (Beech Mountain Road) by 3:30 pm and were feeling pretty good about making it…until the sky suddenly turned dark. Not a good sign. Chester and Josiah were way out ahead and I had been laying back to make sure the girls didn’t get separated from the rest of us. At this point I figured it was time for a change of plans. I ran nearly a mile back down the trail, grabbed Dana’s hammock and then charged back up from whence I’d come. My plan, however flawed, was to make it to the shelter and put up both hammocks before the rain hit. Somehow, I pulled it off…just barely. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a spring shower. This was a thunder-boomer of epic proportions. I dropped my pack and barreled back down the trail, grabbed Dana’s pack (due to exhaustion and hamburger feet she was barely moving) and ran it back to the campsite. By the time she arrived at the site, emotions had worn thin and the weather wasn’t the only thing in turmoil. We ended up in an epic thunder-boomer of our own, yelling, screaming and crying. It was awful. Each time we tried to talk it out, it only got worse. We went to our separate corners: she to the shelter and I to the hammock. 20 minutes later, in the midst of the torrential rain, explosive thunder and crackling lightning, Dana left her warm, dry shelter to stand beneath my tarp while we worked past the raw emotions, found and offered forgiveness and resolve. Physically as well as emotionally spent, I drifted to sleep in the heart of the storm, at peace.
Day 3 (June 27)
If you’ve never awakened in the woods, burrowed in a down sleeping bag, nestled in a gently rocking hammock swung between two trees, next to a softly babbling brook….if you’ve never breathed in the cool, moist early morning air as your eyes open to the slightly diffused, days first light…well…I’m sorry. I can’t imagine ever growing accustomed to the peace imbued in that moment. “Ahhhhhhhhh” slipped unprompted from my lips and after a slow pan of my mist-shrouded surroundings I closed my eyes once again and rested, cradled in the affection of my Abba and Creator. Physiology, unfortunately, disrupted my reverie as my hungry belly sent images of grits, bacon, pita bread and strong black coffee to my brain. This and this alone stirred me from my nest…well, maybe this and the realization that today we may just see wild ponies!
We had decided months before that we wanted to spend our vacation this year hiking the first 40 or 50 miles of the AT. Dana was sharing this with Joel, a veteran AT thru-hiker and manager at Half-moon Outfitters. He told her that if he could spend 4 or 5 days on the AT within a half-days drive it would be through southwestern Virginia. When she asked why, he eagerly responded with descriptions of the terrain, gorgeous scenery and ponies…”There are ponies!?” “Yeah, wild ponies.” I’m pretty sure everything Joel said to her after that sounded kinda like, “Bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla…and bla.” Soooo, I guess we’re going to Virginia! But I digress.
After packing up, we set out into the mist-laden rhododendron forest and crossed a foot-bridge over Little Wilson Creek. We then, via a ladder-stile marked with our old companion, the white blaze, crossed into Grayson Highlands State Park. A quick stop at Wise Shelter, some re-adjustments to Fred’s pack and Dana’s band-aids (She’d already developed blisters on most of her tender little toes) and we were back on our way. By 10:45 we’d crossed Quebec Branch (4,200 feet) and were on our way to ascending another 720 feet in elevation to Wilburn Ridge. Now, I’ve got to confess, I too was a little excited at the prospect of seeing ponies and my eyes ranged to and fro in a search for some evidence of their existence. Unfortunately, evidence is exactly what we found…pony droppings. I documented with pictures just in case the actual ponies didn’t pan out. A large rock outcropping greeted us as we neared the next summit and the trail itself grew rocky…and more poop-y. I tried for a laugh by telling Jo the story of the sociologic experiment involving the 5 year old pessimist and the 5 year old optimist. Well, I got a chuckle anyhow. Moments later the rock-strewn trail made a turn and entered a meadow. A meadow filled with ponies!
With trembling hands I fumbled with the new point-and-click, trying to put it in video mode, while also trying not to spook the ponies. I somehow succeeded. I also quickly decided that I preferred the actual hands-on experience to photographs and video so I put the camera away. Distracted by the herd, I wasn’t immediately aware that we had company. Along the way we had encountered the occasional thru-hiker (It’s pretty late in the season) but this couple was different. Ron Roman and Diane Doyle, we learned, were thru-hiking the AT as a part of a 10,000 mile tour (via foot and bike) in which they planned to “collect” on video 10,000 dreams. At their request we stopped and shared our own dreams, preserved for posterity by Ron and his camera. I felt a kinship, and to be honest, a bit of jealousy. Ron and Diane were living my dream…to thru-hike the AT and to help others discover who it is they were created to be. I walked away….jealous, yes, but also encouraged and inspired to chase my own dreams. To learn more and follow their quest, visit www.journeyofdreams.com.
It was almost 12 o’clock and we were nearly 10 miles in when we reached Massie Gap, named for Lee Massey who settled there with his wife and 5 children in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. (Appalachian Trail Guide to Southwest Virginia). Our climb continued up a moderately steep, rocky path. Near the top of our climb up Mt. Rogers was a beautiful, boulder-strewn grassy plateau that comes into view unexpectedly as you crest the hill. Just to the right of the trail is a huge, prominent boulder that begs to be climbed. I scrambled to the top, breathed in the mountain air and felt like Rafiki from the Lion King. I quickly scurried back down, however, because I wanted to set up my camera to catch the expressions on the faces of Fred and Dana when they topped the hill. Of course, they couldn’t say no to the boulder climb either so “adapt and overcome”. Instead I took some poser shots of them on top of the rock.
Chester had gone ahead, so while the girls played on the boulder I panned the horizon, taking in the exhilarating view of the rocky cliffs. “Hey Dad, can I try out your hiking poles?” “Sure.” Jo took off, exploring the advantages of becoming a quadruped and I wondered that there was a place so beautiful just a few hours from “The Shire”. The scenery I was taking in I’d only glimpsed in books, magazines, television shows and movies. It was clear how this area had gotten it’s name. I felt as if I had walked right through some ancient portal and been transported to the Scottish Highlands. Who knew? Well, the girls caught up and we started what would be the steepest part of our climb up, over, around and through huge boulders and Fraser firs as the trail continued up the side of the mountain. We reached, not the summit of Mt. Rogers, but the highpoint of the trail on said mountain and as I stopped to catch my breath I looked down the trail at Jo…without my poles. “Hey buddy, tell me you have my hiking poles in your pack.” “Dad, you’re kidding, right?” “What do you mean?” “I stuck ’em in the ground beside you at the base of the mountain…I’ll go back down.” “No way you’re going back down. Guess we just left some trail magic for another hiker.” Good news for them; not so much for me. We still had 30 miles before we reached Damascus. Oh well.
11.3 miles in we reached the infamous “Fatman Squeeze.” The trail descends into a cool, damp, narrow tunnel formed by a gap in the gargantuan rock. It’s pretty tight in places but not nearly as skinny as it appears. We all made it through without having to remove our packs. From here we turned left into a rhododendron thicket just beneath a rock outcropping, crossed a fence and followed the trail as it skirted the very edge of the woods. Shortly thereafter we, surprisingly, encountered another herd of ponies, these more aggressively social than the last. They did not want us to pass. Despite the ponies hospitality w e arrived at Thomas Knob Shelter by 2:30 pm for a very late lunch. A young family : Mom, Dad, their son and daughter (all hammockers) walked up as we were polishing off our flat-bread sandwiches. Since they were familiar with the area they were able to clarify exactly how to reach the spring so I could fill up everyone’s water. It was quite a walk during the hottest part of the day down a hill I wasn’t looking forward to climbing while laden with my water jug. The trail maintainers had thoughtfully fenced in the spring, I assume to keep the ponies from contaminating it. I made my way back up the hill, we said goodbye to our new friends and by 3:50pm were back on the trail. Happy to be heading downhill again, we descended into and through Deep Gap, around 500 feet in almost 2 miles. The girls were toast. Though we wanted to get some more miles in they’d had enough and made it abundantly clear that they weren’t walking any farther than absolutely necessary. Since camping isn’t allowed in Deep Gap we began a search for a site just on the other side. Trail maintainers were working on what seemed to be the only available campsite. When I asked for suggestions they told me we were welcome to join them. We gladly accepted and climbed the narrow path to find an elaborate tent city complete with a cooking area, coolers, grills and tables. It looked like we’d stumbled upon a military outpost. Can’t imagine the effort it took to pack all of that in. We found a grove of birches a hundred or so yards away, hung our hammocks, choked down a quick dinner and crashed just as a light rain began to fall.
Day 2 (June 26)
We awakened early to break fast with the complimentary “continental” version, checked-out and met our shuttle-driver for a long and winding trip to the trailhead. When we arrived back at Mt. Rogers we discovered that we would be sharing the ride with two other hikers who were able to enlighten us even more as to what lay ahead. Upon reaching the trailhead we snapped a couple of pics of our new friend the shuttle-driver, dragged our packs from the van, said our goodbyes and began to strap on and fine tune our equipment. Immediately Dana discovered that the locking mechanism on one of her trekking poles had failed. I spent around 10 minutes trying to do a temporary fix. (Thank God for duct-tape, huh?) Not a great way to start a 5 day hike…but at least we were starting a 5 day hike! We snapped a few more pics and then June 26, 2010 at 8:30 am Dana, Fred, Chester and I followed Josiah into the woods. Wooooohoooo! It begins.
Oddly enough, I felt a little disoriented. Up until this moment every AT section hike we’d done had been north-bound. At the advice of several, more experienced hikers we decided to do this section south-bound due to the preponderance of north-bound PUDS (Pointless Ups and Downs) and also due to the fact that we all love ending our hike in a trail town. Damascus, Virginia is widely hailed as THE trail town. Even so…it just felt weird.
My nostrils welcomed the dizzying, earthy scent of the woods and The Trail welcomed us with a glorious display of blooming rhododendron, groves of birch trees standing straight as soldiers, myriad fungi of tan and brown and orange and the ever-present white blazes leading us south.
We all enjoy stopping at the shelters along the way. They serve as bite-size goals, a place to rest, re-fuel, refill our water supply, hang out with other hikers and peruse the trail-journals found safely stored in zip-lock bags, usually in the eaves of the structure. We reached our first one, Old Orchard (a mere 8.3 miles in on what would be a 40.7 mile hike) around 10 am. Perfect time for a snack…and (as my dad would say) “Lo, and behold!” trail magic! Sitting in the shelter was a nearly full bag of the most delicious, scrumptious trail magic I’ve tasted as of date…True North Blueberry Nut Clusters. If you’ve never had the pleasure of indulging in this decadent treat, go right out and buy a bag (but only eat while hiking!) Most shelters are “decorated” with graffiti of some sort. This one had served as a canvas for a hiker/ artist who, apparently, had decided packing in their acrylics was worth the weight gain. Nice work, so I’d have to agree.
Lunch time found us resting near the top of a small mountain, playing on boulders, enjoying a snack and, for Josiah and I, exploring a gorgeous meadow just beyond the beaten path. We ran and played among Fraser firs on grassy hills and stood atop Volkswagen sized rocks. We watched, as in the distance, horses and their riders trotted towards us and waved while passing. We climbed back through the stile to join the others back on the trail. Not long after, we entered the “Crest Zone” of the Mount Rogers National Recreation area on Balsam Mountain. We weaved our way through thickets of what I assume were mountain blueberries. Unfortunately and fortunately they were far from ripe. Unfortunate because we couldn’t enjoy freshly picked mountain blueberries. Fortunate because local bears couldn’t enjoy them either! The thickets opened into a spacious, grassy clearing at the foot of Stone Mountain. The trail actually went, via a stile, through a corral where a large group of teenage scouts were taking a rest from the blistering sun in the scant shade offered by a kiosk. We joined them. A sign in the shelter informed us that we were at “The Scales”. According to the sign this was once the site of a large set of scales where cattle were weighed before being shipped to market. Today, the corral is still used by locals for round-up. The ladies were grateful to discover that there were also bathrooms in the corral. Guess they potty-train their beef in the Crest Zone.
Around 2:30 pm we began an ascent that would lead us to the top of Stone Mountain. As we started our walk we were flanked on either side by meadows filled with wildflowers: tens of thousands of nearly identical leafy, green-stalked plants, nearly three feet high, with small, bright red blossoms. The overall effect was dizzying…like looking at one of those 3-D graphics that reveals a holographic image. We found a shade tree part way up the trail and waited for Dana and Fred to catch up. The view of the valley and corral, where we’d just been? Striking.
By now the sun was directly overhead, shade was rare and we were feeling, well…broiled. At the top of Stone Mountain (4,800 feet) we found a small grove of trees and sat down to cool off for a few minutes. Moments later we were joined by Dana and Fred and we continued to the summit. Nearly flat and well-populated by other hikers (and their dogs) shade was still hard to find. We pressed our tired bodies against a rock outcropping, guzzled sun-warmed water and tore into our food bags like half-starved grizzlies.
We had heard rumors of a creek-side campsite just a couple of miles down the hill. Our guidebooks seemed to confirm this and we decided that, considering how much company we had on the trail, we’d be wise to find something and set up camp early. We quickly made our way through the forest and down the mountain, nervously smiling as we passed other hikers.
We passed through another stile which marked the beginning of the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness Area. This is where we hoped to spend the night, just outside of Grayson Highlands State Park. We weren’t disappointed. Within minutes we were welcomed by the delicious melody of water dancing over rocks and spotted, nestled in a glen, a nearly hidden campsite just to the left of a small meadow. It was perfect. We dropped our packs, picked out our trees and strung our hammocks.
Before the trip I had decided to try my hand at cooking on a wood stove. I found some plans on the internet, bought a can of pineapple juice, and in short-order had crafted a decent looking wood stove. I couldn’t wait to fire it up. With a pile of moss, pine-needles, sticks and twigs piled to my left, dehydrated ground beef, dehydrated spaghetti sauce and penne pasta on my right, and a generous cloud of smoke surrounding my head, I set to cranking up my kitchen. It didn’t take long for me to develop a new appreciation for my iso-propane hiker stove. I’m pretty adept at starting a fire but keeping a high enough, hot enough fire going for long enough to boil pasta…well, let’s just say that I humbly begged my hiker stoves forgiveness for my infidelity. She graciously took me back…and helped me finish dinner! After burying the leftovers a long way from camp, Chester and I collected and bundled together the food bags and went in search of a tree. This proved to be the days most tiresome task. Out of exhaustion and frustration we settled on hanging our bear bags from branches we optimistically thought would be just out of reach and hoped for the best. Ahhhhhhh, bed-time.
Sometimes, with the passage of time, our memories of cherished events become…blurred, soft around the edges. Details that seized our attention at the moment of occurrence dissipate into a dreamy haze over the years. In June of this year we experienced this very phenomenon but instead of occurring naturally it seemed to be cast upon us, like some awful enchantment. Here I sit, months later, wishing with everything in me that I had bought that little waterproof journal I’d seen in the outfitters…to have some written record of those few short days spent walking the Appalachian Trail through southwest Virginia. So, instead, I wander the trails of my mind, sort through snapshots of those recent days and try to recall the emotion, the pain, the wonder…and I end up with well, snapshots.
Day 1 (June 25)
We arrived in Damascus and headed straight for Mt. Rogers Outfitters where we’d leave our car for the duration of our hike. Meandering through the store, we talked to locals about mountain weather conditions which can, we discovered, change on a dime (Sweltering heat can instantly become a deluge which can give way to night-time lows we’d only experienced in winter months.) I’d hoped to leave behind some of my base-layer and maybe my sleeping pad…drop a little weight. No such luck. Better to be prepared (as the boy scouts say) , so it looks like 35 lbs is as low as I’ll go. Josiah dragged me out of the outfitter and into a creepy little thrift shop next door. We sifted through what was mostly junk and quickly decided to make our exit from the “Tarantino-ish” atmosphere. Upon reaching the door we discovered it had been locked behind us. Whuh?! As panic crept up my spine, one of the employees came to the door with a key to let us out. Creeeeepy. Did I mention…creepy?
Since the Mt. Rogers hostel was closed for renovations we had to make other arrangements for the night. We located a Days Inn on the outskirts of town, rented a room, unloaded our gear and realized quickly that not only was the AC not working but our mexicano neighbors bought their beer in bulk, iced it down in sidewalk coolers and liked their music blaring from their pick-up radio. Nice enough guys but we were hoping for a little creature-comfort before starting our trek. A visit back to the hotel office gained us a new room with cooler air and a little distance from the “fiesta.” Now for dinner. Cracker Barrel seemed our best option and I enjoyed, appropriately enough, the “Campfire Chicken and Vegetables.” Delicious. Back to the hotel to catch a few winks in “civilization” before our adventure begins.
“DAVID!” Pause. “DA-VID!!” Pause. “DAAAAA-VIIIIIID!!!”
“Huh? Whuh-what’s wrong?! Whuzzzmatter?!”
I had been asleep. With earplugs in.
Now? I was not.
I fumbled with my earplugs and my sleeping bag zipper. Why don’t those things ever work right?
“THERE’S SOMEBODY IN MY HAMMOCK!”
“Did you say in your hammock?!”
“YES! THERE’S SOMEBODY IN MY !@#$ HAMMOCK!”
I struggled to wrap my mind around the situation while working clumsily and feverishly to extricate myself from my cocoon. It had been a cold night and I had used everything in my arsenal to create a cozy environment. That happened to include velcro-ing my tarp around my weather-shielded hammock.
“Aren’t you in your hammock?”
Obviously we have a problem here…
It had all started with a late night decision (Why can’t we ever decide on a trail a week…or for that matter a day in advance?) to hike toward Black Balsam Knob via the Art Loeb (pronounced “Leeb”, I think.) Trail just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in NC. Since we had no idea how exactly to do this we stopped at an outfitter on the way, purchased a guidebook and a map for the area and then confirmed the practicality of our plans with a very helpful, albeit distracted ranger. While affirming our choice of route he suggested (as he pointed to his map) that we use the Mountains to Sea Trail to form a loop hike. It made perfect sense…until we got there and looked at our own map. So we decided to just take Art Loeb from where it crossed Farm Road 816 to the first patch of trees (3 miles away according to all we’d read) camp, then return by the same route the next day.
Of course, there were cars crowding the parkway and myriad “leaf-peekers” out for day-hikes. Don’t blame them a bit. Growing up, I was among those crowds. My family would join the rest of the Southeast in filling their tank with gas, packing a picnic lunch and pointing their station wagon toward those beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to see the autumn leaves at their peak of 3-D techni-color. ‘Tis one thing to look at a beautiful work of art, ’tis another to step into said creation and walk around. We planned to do the latter.
Despite my awful map-reading skills we traversed multiple hills, knobs, balds and even a 6,040 foot high mountain (that Dana couldn’t seem to stop calling Tannenbaum. “Tennent. Tennent.” “Tannenbaum.” “Okay. Tannenbaum.”) From the summit of…Tannenbaum we spotted a grove of, what I believe were, Black Balsam Pines. Mostly dead and dying but trees nonetheless. While stumbling down through a washed-out, ankle-breaking, rhododendron-walled descent Dana’s love of hiking had, well…waxed cold. I walked in near silence as she shared her contempt for this narrow channel of doom, while dodging an ascending boy scout troop. The grove was perched about a hundred feet from the top of a knob and, I hoped, would provide a shelter from the wind. We entered the site on a winding path through scrub-brush, weeds and half-dead trees and a beautiful, almost hidden, campsite opened before us. A solo-hiker who was just packing up shared with us all the hidden amenities: a clear, pure mountain spring a mere ten minutes away, a source of firewood and most importantly a rock overlook with a view of the valley just through the rhododendron forest to the rear. We bid him thanks and good-travel, hung our hammocks, ate our potatoes and built a roaring fire. Interesting to note: The reason we ate potatoes? You know those ridiculously expensive dehydrated meals found in all outfitters? Yep, we bought one. Mac and cheese with bits of crunchy ham. We left it in the car…along with a Luna bar, a peanut-butter crunch Clif bar and the one thing I was most excited about…my Loksak, a tactical-grade, odor-proof zip-lock bag that would enable me to keep my grits and bacon in my hammock so I could have “breakfast-in-bed. All in the car. Potatoes…again.
So after dinner, we nearly ran to the top of the rock to watch the most spectacular sunset we’d ever, ever seen. We ooooo-ed, we ahhhhhh-ed; we held each other and let the beauty of that sunset wash away any residual from the “channel of doom.” We reluctantly picked our way back down to our little grove and hung the bear bag maybe 30 feet away from out hammocks. Not a good plan but this area suffers from a serious tree shortage. I stoked up the fire and we sat and talked until our exhaustion lulled us into a comfortable silence. We zipped ourselves into our hammocks, then our bags, then planned to drift off to sleep. That’s when the wind started picking up. Before sleep could come the wind became enraged and tore through the gap and into our little grove, whipping our tarps against our hammocks. It actually, all night long, would lift the tarp and by default our occupied hammocks into the air and drop us. The movement itself was unsettling but with the accompanying whipping tarp sounds…well, sleep seemed unlikely. I found and used a set of earplugs I had brought along and somehow entered dreamland. I’m not sure what time it was but I awoke to the sound of a man’s voice, “Hello? Hello,” and the beam of a flashlight shining through the fabric of my hammock. I managed to unzip my mosquito netting and weather-shield and poke my head out. As I was responding with, “What?! What the…?!” I pried my sleepy eyes open for a look at this invader…and there was no one there…but the wind…the accursed wind. Surprisingly enough, I fell back to sleep…until, “DAVID!”
As I said earlier, “Obviously we have a problem here.” When I finally wriggled free of my cocoon…for the second time that night, I stepped into what was very nearly daylight. The harvest moon was full and bright in the October sky and lit up our grove as if it were morning. I observed with panic a set of boots just visible beneath Dana’s hammock. I jerked completely awake, leaving behind the 9″ hunting knife I sleep with when hiking, and ran to Dana’s “rescue”. What was I going to do, half-asleep, scared out of my wits and no knife? Hug the attacker? I got to the other side of her hammock and realized what I had seen were actually Dana’s boots. She’d left them sitting right where she’d taken them off. “What’s out there?!!” she yelled in a panic. “The wind. It’s just the wind.” “But I heard scratching!” Her tarp had torn loose and was scraping against the fabric of her hammock. “It’s just the wind.” This lovely fiasco took place at 3:38 in the morning. We spent the rest of the “night” being wrestled, jostled and tossed by our invisible attacker…the Wind.
We both awoke, surprisingly refreshed, just in time to watch a gorgeous sunrise. We braved the freezing wind with tears in our eyes while scarfing down a quick breakfast of grits, oatmeal and Starbucks Via Caramel coffee. Mmmmmm. As we broke camp and packed up our gear, we gut-laughed while filling in details for each other of the night’s adventure. We had discovered from the guy who camped here before us that the trail the ranger had told us about actually existed, though it wasn’t the Mountains to Sea Trail…hence the confusion. We enjoyed a gentle, hour long, easy hike on a farm service road with breath-stealing vistas almost all the way back to the car. The last 1/2 mile on the Art Loeb Spur Trail went nearly straight up the side of a knob but brought us to a fantastic summit before plunging us back down into the shaded, balsam forest that smelled occasionally of cinnamon and hazelnut, where we’d begun our journey. We found the Montero. The Montero found Brevard. We three found the Sagebrush Steakhouse where we more than made up for leaving the mac and cheese in the car. With a final stop at the Leopard Forest Coffee Company we found our way home…or at least to our house, pleasantly exhausted, sated on beauty, and deliciously content.
I told Dana, through chuckles, “I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that our little grove had a reputation for being haunted.” It was nearly Halloween.
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david longley (alive adventure gear)
With the exception of a really short day-hike, it’s been months since I’ve been in the woods. Work, sick parents, my own issues and a thousand other distractions all kept me from the thing that brings me life. That’s just wrong. Out of desperation, more than anything really, I made the decision to get in the woods somehow, someway. Dana’s mom was in the hospital so I ended up going this one alone. Though I miss Dana terribly when she can’t come along, I still really long for extended times of solitude. So by 4 pm Friday, I’d thrown my pack in my truck and pointed it south on 85. At 3:45 pm I’d decided to hike a section of the Foothills Trail I’d walked several times before. The biggest reason I chose this hike was so that Dana would have an excuse to meet me Sunday. She needed this as bad as I. At least she’d get a couple hours by the river.
So, at 6:30 pm I hoisted my overloaded pack onto my back and trucked off down the trail to make some miles before dark. Miles might be an exaggeration. I made it 1 3/4 miles before finding a nice clearing with 2 trees created for hammock hanging. It was a little cooler than I thought but still warm enough that my 15 degree bag did the trick. Sleep came in spurts due to the constant barrage of dropping acorns. Not sure if they were falling off naturally or if the squirrels were pelting me with them as some sort of vendetta because of my invasion of their territory. I must’ve drifted off eventually because I was awakened with a start at 2 am by the shrill, mournful wail of a coyote, not more than 20 feet away. With a semi-restless night behind me I finally woke to a rich red sunrise, broke camp, retrieved my bear bag and munched on a trail bar while blazing some trail.
By 8:30 I’d made it to Jumping Branch with a growling belly so I plopped down right in the middle of the trail, fried up some bacon and whipped up some cheese grits. Fuel for the journey! Back on my feet and to Nicholson Ford by 10:30 am. Just pass the parking lot, I met a family on the trail: Grandparents, parents, and their kids, Kate and Nick. I wish we had talked more. They seemed really cool. Nick is a Clemson student and rafting guide. They were all out for a day hike….3 generations. Made me think how incredible it would be to be able to share this with my own mom and dad.
Up to this point this trail had been gravy; it was either downhill or softly undulating terrain which made for a nice stroll. But Nicholson Ford signaled change. Knobs, hills and ascent were to come. “Bring it on!” I muttered in faith, and my wobbly, couch-weakened legs rose to the challenge.
I topped the ridge and was startled by a brownish blur that darted onto the trail about 20 yards ahead of me. I seriously wondered if I had just seen a sheep. It quickly occurred to me that it was highly unlikely that I’d encounter a sheep in the woods. (Cut me a break! I said “quickly.”) Then I questioned my interpretation of what I’d seen. Had I just seen a bear cub? If so, where’s Moma? (the bears, not mine) Moments later I heard a voice call out, “Luca!” Around the bend came two exceptionally cool ladies, Ashlie and Wendy (I think. Sorry if I’m wrong. I stink at names.) We talked for about half an hour while Luca displayed his remarkable speed and agility, darting in and out of the woods and occasionally signaling the approach of other hikers with a bark or two. Ashlie and Wendy are from Tampa, Florida and come up every year to hike along the Chattooga. I think they and Dana would’ve hit it off due to their mutual love of the river. They struck me as seasoned, passionate hikers and the conversation never lulled as we talked about other places we’d walked. Here’s where I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I’m working on starting an audio pod-cast. I brought my digital recorder along on this trip and recorded sections of my hike. What I really wanted to do was to record some of my conversations with people I meet along the trail. Some of the most genuine people I know, I met in the woods. I want to be able to share that with potential listeners. I couldn’t do it. I guess one reason is that I’m usually so caught up in meeting them that I forget and the other is that it’s well…awkward. How do I broach the subject? I couldn’t do it. Next time, huh? Well, we realized we were “burning daylight” and Luca was obviously ready to continue his adventure so we resolved to continue our conversation on facebook.
Lunch came late (3:30) and was barely edible (my soup didn’t fully hydrate)…but the view was gorgeous. I stopped at this little beach on a bend in the river, just past Simms Field. Several years back, on our first visit, we camped here and pulled trophy rainbows from the deep pool just past the little falls. After choking down my “less-than-hydrated” vegetable beef soup, I left my haven to a fly-fisherman and started the switch-back ascent of Round Knob.
Our first encounter with Round Knob was not a pleasant one. It was our very first overnight hike, Halloween weekend, and we’d been told by a “local” that we had an easy one hour stroll to Burrell’s Ford. (The same guy told us he’d just discovered an exhausted hunter, recovering from open-heart surgery, who had outrun a bear. I’m guessing that should’ve been a clue.) Nearly 2 miles of switchbacks later we reached the top and began our descent through the gorge as night began to fall and into Burrell’s Ford…around 5 miles total…not an hour. . Dana melted down several times, swore she’d smelled a bear and ended up panicked, moving at a snail’s pace and nearly hypothermic as we completed our hike in the dark. This time Round Knob was much less daunting. Having said that, by the time I had gotten within 3 miles of my destination I was exhausted, aching and sick of walking. It happens.
Dana wouldn’t meet me until 10am Sunday morning so I could’ve very easily hung my hammock right there by the river and finished off the 3 miles in the morning without any problem. My motivation in arriving tonight was two-fold: First, Dana had shown, shall we say, concern that due to my recent inactivity maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. I wanted to put any concern to rest and prove to myself, as well, that I could (even in my atrophied state) pull off a 15 or 16 mile day. That’s motivation #1. Motivation #2? Have you ever had a smell, or a taste for a food pop up in your imagination completely unprovoked? It happens to me regularly and it happened at just that moment. There’s a little steakhouse about 10 miles down the mountain that has a really tasty flame-seared marinated sirloin and an eclectic salad bar with a delicious in-house-made buttermilk ranch dressing. I figured if I made it to Burrell’s Ford I could beg a ride to my truck at Oconee State Park, drive to the restaurant, put my craving to rest and then make it back to my hammock by nightfall. So with steak dangling before me, I shrugged on my pack and put one foot in front of the other until I made it to the parking lot. Unfortunately, no amount of looking pitiful, dropping hints or outright asking got me a ride to my truck so the steak was out, Idahoans were in and 7pm found me nestled in my hammock by the river in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness. What had been a mild night before was followed by one of the more frigid nights I’d spent outdoors. I donned every item of clothing I had brought with me, zipped shut my weather shield and still spent the night chilled. Seemed like winter had arrived early.
I woke early, packed up and sat on the edge of the woods till Dana arrived, thankfully, early. Using the excuse of retrieving my fly-rod from my truck I quickly hopped into the Montero, cut the heat on wide-open and thawed my aching bones as I drove down the mountain. I made it back and never even took my rod out of it’s case. We hung out by the river for a while before heading back down the mountain once more, to Mellow Mushroom for my traditional celebratory meal: The Brutus Caesar salad with jerk chicken and meatball appetizer. Ahhhhhh. What’s next weekend hold in store?
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“Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.”
This quote, from the movie Hitch, is what just about everyone remembers most from the film. Understandably so. It’s a great line. However, two other things are forever lodged in my memory. The first is the scene where Will’s character has an allergic reaction to something he had for dinner while on a date with Sarah, played by Eva Mendez. The image of his first post-reaction look at himself in a convenience store mirror sent me into spasms of laughter. This one scene justified the ticket price for the movie. Directly on the heels of the food-allergy scene is the second. A benadryl-induced conversation ensues between the two. It plays out something like this:
– So, how do you feel? – Good. Relaxed. So what about you? Any siblings? Sister. Maria. Lives in D.C. Younger, right? I could hear it in your voice. Sort of an innate protective thing. Yeah, I guess. What? She almost died once. I was…we were skating on the pond behind our house…and she fell through the ice. My dad pulled her out. Gave her mouth-to-mouth. Longest three minutes of my life. Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over it. Kind of defines you, doesn’t it? You know like, one moment you’re gliding along… the next moment you’re standing in the rain watching your life fall apart. Except it was snow. Yeah. That’s what I said, “snow.” You said “rain.” Some kind of precipitation. Is that what happened to you? Nothing as dramatic as falling through the ice. You know… it definitely… Left a scar? Yeah. I guess it’s best just not to love at all, right? Or skate. Are you here?
This idea of a significant event that has a lasting effect on the direction of your life…a defining moment, was a new concept for me. A concept that seized my imagination. Synapses erupt into a fireworks display and my mind is bombarded with flashes of memories. One of these stand out even more than the rest.
It was my senior year in high school. Graduation was approaching and as absorbed as I was with everything that entails, in my peripheral vision were my friends and classmates. I overheard snatches of conversations, “My parents are buying me a new set of luggage for graduation…for college.” ” Oh yeah? Did you get accepted at USC?” “I did, but haven’t decided whether I want to attend Lander instead.” “Jasper, are you still planning on moving out of state?” “Yep. I heard Tim made into med school.” “Doctor, huh?”
Their excitement fueled by pursuing their dreams was an indictment on my lack of dreams. The more they talked, the worse I felt. My sophomore year, I had made a decision to attend vocational school rather than pursue academics. Two of my favorite teachers, the Stroms (They were husband and wife) tried to dissuade me. “You are gifted in the sciences, David. Are you sure you want to do this?” My argument was weak but made sense to me at the time. Most of the men I knew, including my family physician, were involved in woodworking as a hobby. I thought, “Why not pursue it as a career?” So, in addition to working in a cabinet shop after school I spent half of my school day in a carpentry course at Donaldson Vocational School. I loved my teacher, Mr. Christie, but we both realized, after I’d spent a year in the program, that there wasn’t much more it could offer me. So I opted not to return for the second year of the carpentry program.
Flash forward to the weeks before graduation. Conflicting thoughts about what to do with my life began to accumulate in my gut like garbage in a paper bag. “I’ve wasted a year. It’s too late to change my plans now. I’ll never be able to cram enough sciences in to get the attention of a college.” “Besides, I’m not crazy about science. Sure it comes easy to me but I really enjoy art more.” “Woodworking allows me some creativity.”
I’d actually investigated some universities that offered art programs but my parents had recently suffered some pretty heavy financial set-backs. They couldn’t afford the tuition. Other than the Strom’s no one else had offered any guidance or counsel as to what I’d do after graduation so student loans or grants weren’t even on the radar. What was I going to do? Suck sawdust for a living? Not exactly sure what triggered it but, sitting with my girlfriend Dana on her basement steps, all of this came to an ugly head. The paper bag…I fell apart. With red-rimmed eyes I rambled on about how disappointed my mom and dad must be in me. My friends were on their way to becoming doctors, lawyers and journalists. I had basically muddled my way through high school without a plan and look at the result. A wise man once said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” I was perishing…or at least I felt like it. Dana listened, was quiet in all the right places and spoke encouraging words to me. We held each other for a while and, strengthened by her faith in me, I pulled myself up straight and found the resolve to keep going. A defining moment.
Not only did I marry that girl (one of the best decisions I’ve ever made) but I’ve been haunted by that moment on her basement steps all of my days. A 10 year stint in youth ministry was largely influenced and shaped by that defining moment. This almost un-explainable desire within me to help others discover who they’re created to be…obviously has been birthed within me by this same moment. I’m not even sure what to do with this longing but I can’t run from it so I’m trying to give it expression through Alive. It’s something, right?
I guess all of this is finding it’s way into print because my son Josiah is now in his senior year in high school. I’m sure, like his friends and classmates, he’s wondering about, maybe struggling with, these same things. I want to help him. I want him to know I once grappled with the same questions….still do. I want to help. I also want him to know it’s okay. I want him…Josiah, I want you to know….as important as a vocation is…it’s not so much about what you do but who you are and Who you know. It’s a journey…a beautiful journey. Dan Haseltine says it better than I:
Lesson one – do not hide
Lesson two – there are right ways to fight
And if you have questions
We can talk through the night
So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I’ve been where you’re going
And it’s not that far
It’s too far to walk
But you don’t have to run
You’ll get there in time
Lesson three – you’re not alone
Not since I saw you start breathing on your own
You can leave, you can run, this will still be your home
So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I’ve been where you’re going
And it’s not that far
It’s too far to walk
But you don’t have to run
You’ll get there in time
Get there in time
In time, to wonder where the days have gone
In time, to be old enough to wish that you were young
When good things are unraveling, bad things come undone
You weather love and lose your innocence
There will be liars and thieves who take from you
Not to undermine the consequence
But you are not what you do
And when you need it most
I have a hundred reasons why I love you
If you weather love and lose your innocence
Just remember – lesson one
-Jars of Clay
It is true. “Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.” Something, something significant is hidden in these moments. Something that echoes of Eden. Maybe, just maybe, if we listen we’ll hear our Creators whisper, ” I love you, I made you. I made you for this.”
So, what are your defining moments? What, or more importantly, Who are they pointing you toward? Relax, listen and enjoy the journey…what you hear may just take your breath away.
Titles I’d considered for this story:
Wish I’d brought my ice-axe.
I’ve never been so afraid.
The dumbest thing I’ve ever done.
Why did I leave the rope in the truck?
What is it about a group of men tossing their gear into an old pick-up and heading off in the twilight hours to the mountains? Since Josiah was a wee young thing he was thrilled to be awakened before dawn for whatever adventure might await. “Hey buddy, time to wake up.” His sleepy eyes would slowly part then widen. Recognition of what awaited would stir the anticipation in his eyes and a big, beautiful grin would transform his tiny face. A love for wildness and adventure must be encoded in our masculine DNA.
This morning, my boy (now 17) opted to sleep in. Nonetheless a band of brothers, old friends…3 generations of the Garrett clan: Chester, Josh, Taylor and I would find our way to the Mountain Bridge Wilderness to see what adventure awaited us.
When I was invited along on this hike I first checked the weather (high of 32 degrees with a chance of snow) then I called the ranger to make sure the trail hadn’t been closed (It hadn’t been but apparently a particularly treacherous section made it a close call) and then finally and most importantly I confirmed the existence of an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet (Doris’ Kitchen) in Marietta.
Upon wheeling my truck into Doris’ parking lot, I hopped from the cab and very nearly ran into the restaurant. (The benefits of a pre-hike-southern-cooking-romanesque-food-orgy can not be over-estimated) We were greeted by a friendly young waitress who seemed more than accustomed to seeing a bunch of unshaven, unkempt, backwoods looking characters at 7 am. That could only be a good sign. A restaurant that draws rugged, working-class men typically could be counted on for the kind of high-fat, cholesterol laden fare I was hoping for. I was not disappointed. Moist, tasty, scrambled eggs were accompanied by buttery grits (of course) along with some tasty, well-browned milk gravy, cat-head biscuits and an assortment of delicious meats including bacon, country ham, thick-sliced slabs of fried bologna (or baloney as it is correctly pronounced) and an assortment of other items that never made their way to my plate. After shoveling in an over-sized helping of these breakfast delicacies I was disturbed to discover that a vat of what so obviously was syrup (it was with the pancakes) was not. It was red-eye gravy. Not to wax philosophical, but deep within the heart of every true-blooded southern boy is a hole that can only be filled with red-eye gravy. So I returned with an empty plate for a second helping of grits and a watershed helping of some pretty decent red-eye. Gorged and wired from too many cups of black coffee, we set out for the last stretch of asphalt that would lead us to the mountains we had come for. Thanks for breakfast, by the way, Chester.
We arrived in the Raven Cliff Falls parking area right at 8 am. After completing the requisite hiking forms we donned our coats, shouldered our packs and made our way down the red-blazed trail with even more enthusiasm than we’d shown earlier for Doris. It was cold. As cold as I’ve ever been. Fortunately, our bodies are designed with an internal heater which is switched on by getting your butt in gear. So we did. Buggy and I were both intrigued that our bodies seemed to warm in stages, core first, then legs and arms, one foot then the other then toes and finger-tips.
It was a cold (have I mentioned that?), crisp morning and due to the season there was no foliage to block the beautiful views of the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. Guess it was the pay-off for braving the temps. Chester wondered out loud what the temperature was and I remembered that my Dad had just given me a whistle equipped with both a compass and thermometer. When we reached the over-look for the falls I pulled it from my pack and hung it outside. It read 25 degrees. It read 25 degrees for much of the hike. After some cheesy-poser shots, trading cameras and photographers we headed back to the trail to enter the Dismal. Our trek through this old hardwood forest would involve a descent of over 2,000 feet in a mile and a half. The purple-blazed Dismal Trail dumps you, with quivering legs of Jello at a juncture with the pink blazed Naturaland Trust Trail which leads to an exceptionally fun cable-crossing over beautiful Matthew’s Creek. We stopped and spent about a half an hour doing some rock-hopping, boulder-climbing and junk-food munching before crossing the creek and beginning our equally steep climb up the deceptively pink-blazed Naturaland Trust Trail. Pink is apparently not for sissies.
It was in the midst of this difficult climb that I realized the water in my bottles had frozen…solid. I managed to abate my thirst by licking a little moisture from the opening but more than anything was taken aback that my water could actually freeze. It was really cold.
Our trail led us to a high-pass that wormed it’s way around the base of a huge granite out-cropping. I’d walked this trail a year or so ago in the summer but the ice and snow of winter had transformed the landscape so that what we were hiking now was really a different trail. Spectacular vistas and ice formations became visible throughout the entire hike but nothing could have prepared us for what was around the next bend. We made our way up a series of steps cut into the earth and crudely fashioned with wood and slabs of stone, to enter “The Cathedral.”
Even a brief study of architecture reveals that ancient (and sometimes modern) man-made cathedrals are engineered with high-vaulted ceilings and open, ethereal spaces so as to make the congregant aware of his own smallness in relation to the building. Some say this was done to emphasize the vastness of God but history has often proved otherwise. In many cases the motivation was that the congregant be reminded of his own insignificance and subsequent need for the institutional church…de-emphasizing the love and grace of an Abba who moved heaven and earth to rescue us. Having said that, the magnificent view of the 150 foot high granite face covered in enormous ice formations not only spoke of the vastness of God but also his un-explainable infatuation with his creatures, the object of his affection. It seemed as though he had set this otherworldly setting up just for us…just for me.
As I began to awaken from my reverie it slowly dawned on me that we had to cross this. Our path to the other side was a 6 foot wide slab of solid ice probably 50 ft across. Josh wasted no time. He dropped to his knees and began to crawl across the icy slab. A third of the way in he called for Taylor who crossed in the same fashion…reaching out for a hiking pole his dad extended to him. Chester decided that, caution being the better part of valor, he’d explore other options. Against my better judgment and for reasons un-explained I went with Chester. He reasoned that rather than cross at the top where the ice was level he’d cross down lower where the ice formed what can only be described as a 15′ foot wide, 75 foot long giant-ice-slab-sliding board. His first step was to be placed on a piece of bark about the size of a credit-card, his second a rock about the size of a hamburger bun, his third on a loose rock Josh had just tossed onto the ice and finally a rock protruding from the ice that was about the size and shape of a nalgene bottle. Each of these “footholds” were a full stride apart. Now understand, one slip, one mis-step would send him rocketing 50-75 feet down this uneven, solid-ice-slip-and-slide to what (if God was merciful) would be death, if not, a long, cold, painful wait for Mountain Rescue to arrive and drag his broken body to a hospital. He yelled, “Get out of my way!” and ran across. I swear to you he ran. When he reached the other side I realized I had been holding my breath. I exhaled and it immediately occurred to me that all 3 of the Garrett boys were on the other side of this icy slip-and-slide-of-death. Probably ranks as the all-time dumbest thing I’d ever done…I followed him. I did not run. I hesitantly and awkwardly twisted and stretched, legs trembling, palms sweating and tried not to think of what the bone-crunching impact would be like when I smashed into the bottom. Well, I made it. Thank God I made it. Stupid, stupid, stupid…but I made it.
We found the trail and continued our ascent which grew more difficult (though not as treacherous) with every step. It was time for lunch. The bitter, winter winds had made their appearance and drove us to find shelter for our meal. Chester pointed out what appeared to be a three and a half foot high open cave beneath a boulder. I thought he was kidding. He worked his way around the massive monolith and discovered a much bigger area than I’d first imagined. A perfect place for lunch. (Bear Grylls would be proud) Taylor fired up his new Snow-peak iso-butane stove and minutes later was enjoying a hot-steaming plate of Ramen noodles. I had chosen to go low-tech. A half bottle of denatured alcohol and an entire box of esbit tablets later I sat down for a tasty meal of Lipton Alfredo Noodles. Next time I’ll bring a wind-screen or fall back on my trusty iso-butane stove. By the time I was done cramming down my noodles, the rest of the boys had shared a cup of coffee, were packed and ready to go. “On the trail again,” Josh “willied-out” as we worked our way up and around the mountain.
Moments later we arrived at the suspension bridge spanning Raven Cliff Falls. People standing on the overlook we’d just left a coupla hours ago would (with binoculars) be able to see us shivering in the freezing mist on this bridge. More phenomenal ice formations were visible just beneath us. We snapped some pics and continued to follow the pink blazes. Eventually our trail connected us with the blue-blazed Gum Gap, basically a Jeep trail, that led us back to the familiar red-blazes we’d started with early this morning. As often does, excited banter and playful ribbing gave way to a contemplative, natural silence comfortable only among old friends. Occasionally I’d chuckle to myself at the ridiculous chance we took crossing that icy section of the Cathedral, amazed that we were alive and un-scathed. We walked, ran and played our way back to the truck, where we un-burdened ourselves from our packs and rode back down the mountain, basking in the afterglow of a rugged hike, grateful for friendship, grateful for the warmth of the truck heater, grateful for mountains, rivers and waterfalls and grateful to be returning to our families. Chester said, “Hey, let’s do this again tomorrow!” Soon, old friend. Soon.
You know…the road is a dangerous place to be, especially 107 in Mountain Rest. Dana and I were headed to Burrell’s Ford for a weekend of trout-fishing and hammocking. We were working our way up the winding mountain road, racing against nightfall and almost to our turn-off when a big black image rocketed into my peripheral. I hit the brakes, thinking I could avoid a collision but alas, I was too late. Our ears resonated with the sound of bumper and fender giving way to what apparently was not an unstoppable force. With my heart punding in my ears, I brought the truck to a stop and watched the reckless teenager spin around in the road and tear back off in the direction from whence he came. We were startled to say the least. “Did you…?” “Was that…?” And yes, it was….a bear.
I’m not sure what exactly started this adolescent bear on his trajectory but he was running out of the woods at a speed I thought un-natural for a critter. He definitely did not look both ways before crossing the street or he’d have seen two glaring headlights “bearing” down on him. Wearing an expression of true bewilderment, he went down with one paw outstretched and spun around. I’m sure our faces carried a similar expression. Astonishingly, he seemed no worse for the wear. When I inspected the truck for damage I was just as surprised to discover little evidence of the impact…other than a smear of mud.
Needless to say, Dana had to summon a little more courage than is usually necessary to walk the 15 minutes in the dark and sling her hammock between two trees. I have to admit I heard echoes in my brain of comments made by friends, “That hammock is just a pinata.” “It’s just a meat bag for a bear.” Our courage and resolve were strengthened, however, by the presence of our trusty trail guide Scooby (who seemed be recovering nicely from the stun of being thrown against the back window of the truck) and Dana’s new charge Frodo, a shih-tzu (pronounce it how you like) puppy.
Once the bear bag had been hung and the coals from the campfire had burned down to embers, we zipped ourselves into our pinatas for a cozy nights rest…that never came. This night we discovered the value of a good sleeping bag. We do not own good sleeping bags. We own inexpensive sleeping bags made by Ledge, that provide almost zero warmth. Now, it does need to be said that weather.com registered a 26 degree low in Mountain Rest that night but ours were supposed to be 20 degree bags. They’re not. Dana said the only way she could “bear” (okay, I’m done) it was the minimal warmth provided by Frodo. I must admit, I had considered putting Scoob in the hammock with me but thought better of it due to weight, fur and funk concerns. So, around 3:30 a.m. I rose to boil water which I poured into my Nalgene and used as a bed-warmer to cut the harshness of the chill. It wasn’t much but I was able to cop a coupla z’s before the sun came up.
Sunrise found Dana on the river, landing her limit of beautiful trout while encircled by 8 cute little kids, seven girls and a boy. (Along with their 5 dads they were our neighbors for the weekend.) Not a bad haul considering. Since I slept in every piece of clothing I owned it didn’t take a lot of self-talk to convince myself to leave the “comfort” of the hammock, revive the fire, boil water and enjoy a breakfast of instant grits, a toasted peanut butter sandwich and some strong, black sumatra. In the midst of my groggy, morning ritual I was approached from behind by a little girl…one of the 8:
“Hi, my name is Helena. What’s your name?”
“Hi Helena, I’m David.”
“David? I know who David is. I learned about him in Sunday School. He’s a Great shepherd and a Great king. My Daddy’s name is Mike. He’s a Great Fixer.”
“Is that right? What does your daddy fix?” “Oh, he fixes houses and cabinets and dressers. My moma is a Great RSDO. What sort of RSDO are you?”
“Uh, I don’t …I don’t know what you…what do you mean?”
About this time Helena’s dad walks up with the most genuine grin I’ve ever seen. It’s obvious he loves this little girl. Helena does the introductions and leaves her dad and I to talk. As our coffee lost its heat to the morning chill we discovered we had in common our professions as well as our faith. He invited me to visit the co-op he runs just a few miles from where I work and he used a phrase to describe his wife’s employment that clarified Helena’s question: She owns an Art Studio…rather than an RSDO. Oh.
Funny thing is I still don’t really have an answer. I’m a Great…a great…I’m a Great…big mess, maybe. But something I’ve learned and maybe you learned in Sunday School…He is Great. And hidden in that is the answer to the other. As Dana and I drove back down the mountain (ever alert for bear), I was grateful for Helena’s question posed in perfect Junie B. Jones fashion and the journey I’m on to find the answer.
Last weekend while our boy was chilling at the beach Dana and I hit the trails, sort of. We did some pretty easy stuff in Dupont State Forest which maybe totaled 3 miles but we ended up at Hooker Falls where we played for about 3 hours and talked to a lady from Florida who had come to the area after googling “swimming holes.” She and her boys were having a blast right along with us. We stayed in Flat Rock and had some of the best Brick Oven Pizza money can buy at a little bakery in the back of “The Wrinkled Egg,” an odd little store right on Main St.. As I was heading in for my pizza I detected a mind-altering whiff of hickory and, not unlike Toucan Sam, was led by my nose to Hubba Hubba Barbecue which is basically in the Wrinkled Egg’s backyard. Good smoke, good char. Good stuff. I had the pulled pork, pulled chicken and the brisket. It was all delicious. Notice I made no mention of sauce. That’s because it doesn’t matter! If it’s really barbecue, the sauce is only a distraction and often the enemy of the real deal. (Stepping off of my soap-box)
Thursday, I made the 15 minute drive to the parking lot at Paris Mountain and spent my lunch break hiking the Brissey Ridge Loop. It was 2.4 miles of the best soul-therapy I’ve had in a while. It wasn’t rich in beautiful vistas, but what it lacked in views it more than made up for in peace and solitude. It’s amazing how clear Papa’s voice is when you remove the distractions, huh?
Friday, I decided to leave at 1pm and spend some time on the Sulphur Springs Loop at Paris Mountain. 3.5 miles is a lot longer than you might imagine, especially in the heat of the day. Still, a rough day hiking…better than a good day at work, right?
Friday night Jo and I enjoyed an exceptionally cool party at Newspring that was a thank you to those of us who host a small group. It was called Barbecue, Bluegrass and a Bunch of Bull. There was a mechanical bull. I’ve always wanted to try one of those things. I did. 24 seconds I held .. it completed a tilted, 400 mph spin that threw me about 5 feet into the side of the giant kiddy pool it sat in. What a rush! When I clumsily made my way back onto my feet I had bleeding ankles and some pretty intense discomfort in my groin area. After all that another guy beat my time, mercilessly, and received a $100 gift certificate as a prize. Still had a blast. A big thanks to Trevor, Matt, Andrea and all who helped out. I felt appreciated. Still wish I’d won…but I’m not bitter…really.
Sunday morning Josiah and I headed towards Raven Cliff Falls but on the way were led astray by the Gorgeous bald of Table Rock which towers majestically over 276. We decided to hike to the top. How hard could it be? Yeah, that hard. We followed the red blazes to the first bald and assumed it was the summit. After snapping a few pics, I looked behind me and saw a red blaze. “Jo, the trail keeps going.” So we kept going. We came to another bald and another beautiful view. This must be it. More pics, more rest…another look over my shoulder…more red blazes. “Jo, there’s another blaze.” We kept going. Yep, it happened again. Actually a total of 4 times. At one point Jo, said in frustration, “It’s all about the journey, my butt!” When we finally encountered the summit and overlooks it was breath-taking. It was also more than a little dizzying. I kept telling Jo to sit down. (He confessed on the way up that as a little boy he had recurring nightmares of falling off of Table Rock.) Yeah, sitting is good. After hanging for awhile with some fellow hikers Carl and John (more about these guys in a later blog) we started our descent. I usually let Jo lead but going down hill my feet sometimes get a mind of their own and I find myself in an all out run that resembles parkour. When this happens I can usually hear Jo yelling, “Wait up, Bambi!” (He says I look like a deer, bouncing off of rocks and trees.) Bambi. Come on. What was Bambi’s Dad’s name? Anyhow, after ending our 7.2 mile, 5 hour trek we made our way to the swimming area where we indulged in some low and high-dive antics for a couple of hours. Back on 276 we turned our gaze to that big rock we’d just summit-ed and were pretty intimidated by the sheer altitude. Hard to imagine that we were just sitting on top of that.
(Side note: Hiking has given me a monstrous appetite. My metabolism has yet to catch up so I’ve piled on about 6 pounds in the past 4 days. After a disgusting display of bingeing on crab legs last night I’m scared to get back on the scales.) Said all that to say this: When we came off the mountain we passed this roadside barbecue vendor on 276 who we’ve passed a half dozen times. This time temptation was just too great. I did, however, limit myself to a half-sandwich. Killer…killer barbecue. He also had whole chickens, cornish hens and baby-backs. So much meat…so little time. Killer, killer barbecue. I’ll be back.
Alright. let’s put this in perspective. Over the past 10 days I’ve hiked a total of probably 16 miles (My feet are killing me), give or take. The average AT thru-hiker hikes about the same…every day…for 5 months. A young woman, Jennifer Pharr Davis (Google her. She’s hiking with a purpose. Cool stuff.) from western NC is at present averaging about 33 miles per day on the AT…per day! That’s insane. If I’m ever going to have a shot at this AT thing I’d better get my flabby butt in shape. Wanna go hiking?
Scooby is a lot of things. Poser is not one of them. I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. While Dana tried her artistic best to get a usable shot he squirmed and shifted, stood up, laid down, rolled over and pulled at the purple leash whose other end was firmly clinched in my grubby. We were trying to grab a pre-hike pic before the two of us (Scooby and I) started our adventure. At 10:17 am, Friday morning we both kissed Dana goodbye (not sure who had the sloppier kiss) and walked thru the stone archway at Amicalola Falls State Park, GA which led into the woods and up the trail toward Springer Mountain. Not officially the Appalachian Trail but a footpath hiked by most who would attempt the journey of 5 millions steps to Maine. At the end of this 8.8 mile hike is the official trailhead of the AT marked by two brass placards and a breath-snatching vista to boot. Our plan was to hike to the top of Springer, dream of the day when we’d begin our five month journey to Maine, and then hike the mile and a half back down the mountain to spend the night at Black Gap Shelter, returning Saturday to AFSP to meet Dana in time for lunch. So we were off.
We headed across a wooden footbridge so long most would call it a boardwalk, crossed the street and back into the woods again. After a surprisingly short walk we popped back out of the woods into a paved area with a “reflection pool.” Apparently the reflection pool doubled as a well-stocked trout pond as evidenced by the busy lines and full stringers of the anglers practicing their art. After a few moments of confusion (We couldn’t find the light blue blaze that marked the trail. Don’t blame Scoob. He’s color-blind.) we realized that the trail was joined for a while by the trail to the falls. We discovered that this first leg of our journey required the ascent of a staircase, 604 steps. The lion’s share of these steps were a steel grid which is effective at helping humans make the ascent; not so much tender-footed canines. Scooby didn’t complain but I could tell he wasn’t a happy hiker-pup. After reaching the top of the falls we crossed even more pavement and finally were able to bid a glad farewell to this last vestige of modernity as we crossed another road and ascended a few timber steps into the wild…or so we thought.
A little over a mile into our journey we reached a juncture in the trail where it was intersected by the bright green blazed trail leading to Len Foot Hike Inn, accessible only by foot, hence the clever name. We stopped at the juncture for a quick snack (home-made chunky monkey style trail mix…mmmmm.) then plowed ahead across a footbridge, yet another road and up Frosty Mountain…and yes, another road crossing. (You just can’t get away from those things). The path led us through several old-growth, hardwood forests where the trees were spaced like 20 foot apart, their combined canopy shutting out most of the sunlight but their leaves illuminated by that light. Soft mountain ferns lined the path. The air was moist, cool and virtually silent. I cannot describe to you the overwhelming feeling of wonder that gripped me while walking through the heart of this almost magical gift from Abba, the Creator God. I choked back the emotion and whispered inept words of gratitude.
Six miles and about 1700 feet of ascent in and the path emptied us into a clearing marked by another placard commemorating the passing of a husband and father who died in a small plane crash on that very spot 30 something years ago. After a whispered prayer for the family left behind we stepped back onto the trail into Nimblewill Gap (Gotta be a story behind that one). As we were carefully picking our way down the slope we encountered a couple of sobos (south bound’ ers). They were a husband and wife, Butterfly and Sight-hound. Butterfly had previously thru-hiked the AT and today they were training for an upcoming long-hike in Europe. Very cool people. Seemed to hit it off with Scoob as well. A mile later we started our climb up Black Mountain, rising to 3605 feet above sea level.
A short aside: I have to mention this. I was carrying about 35 pounds of gear, water and food on my back. I encountered several people on the trail who had no gear and many who had no water. The strangest of these was a young, pretty, petite girl in a white sundress and heels…(HEELS!) who was happily, delicately and deftly plodding along with nary a bead of sweat on her perfect brow. What?! Talk about your minimalist hikers. I felt a little ridiculous. It was more than a little surreal.
When we arrived at Black Gap Shelter we followed the sign that pointed toward the water source. Already tired, aching legs led us steeply down about 400 paces to a puddle where we filtered enough water to refill our supply. Legs screamed (Mine. Scoob seemed to be fine) as I drove myself back up the ascent to finish the day’s miles to the top of Springer, scrambling over small boulders at times. When we reached the summit we were surprised to find it overtaken by a large group of hikers from Georgia State. Among those we quickly got to know were Gardner (The Librarian. Think Georgian Ducky from NCIS), Lynn (who tried to explain azimuths, bearings and the sort to me), Ken (I think) who was a middle school science teacher, and like 5 other really cool people whose names I promptly forgot. (Really wish I hadn’t. No kidding, way cool people.) Scoob and I soaked in the view for a few moments, enjoying our relative solitude. We lost ourselves in the reverie of one day starting our hike here. After our short break we made our way back down the mountain to Black Gap Shelter., racing against nightfall. The Georgia State crew had already set up camp in the spot I had been eye-balling so I snuck deeper into the woods and hung my hammock. After setting up house, I broke out my camp-stove and made Scoob and I a dinner of Lipton noodles: Alfredo Broccoli for me and chicken for him. Just as I was breaking out the magnesium and dryer lint to start a campfire I got a proverbial knock on my proverbial door. Ducky came over to extend an invitation from the GS crew to join them around their campfire. So I made myself a cup of tea and sauntered over while their dog was doing their dishes. A couple of hours and a whole lot of laughter later I said my goodnights and made my way back to camp. I got a little reading in while the other campers talked late into the night. My hammock is way comfortable; not very soundproof.
The following is an excerpt from the book Desire by John Eldredge
The Clue 09/16/2009
And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. U2 There is a secret set within each of our hearts. It often goes unnoticed, we rarely can put words to it, and yet it guides us throughout the days of our lives. This secret remains hidden for the most part in our deepest selves. It is simply the desire for life as it was meant to be. Isn’t there a life you have been searching for all your days? You may not always be aware of your search, and there are times when you seem to have abandoned looking altogether. But again and again it returns to us, this yearning that cries out for the life we prize. It is elusive, to be sure. It seems to come and go at will. Seasons may pass until it surfaces again. And though it seems to taunt us, and may at times cause us great pain, we know when it returns that it is priceless. For if we could recover this desire, unearth it from beneath all other distractions and embrace it as our deepest treasure, we would discover the secret of our existence. We all share the same dilemma – we long for life and we’re not sure where to find it. We wonder if we ever do find it, can we make it last? The longing for life within us seems incongruent with the life we find around us. What is available seems at times close to what we want, but never quite a fit. We must journey to find the life we prize. And the guide we have been given is the desire set deep within, the desire we often overlook, or mistake for something else or even choose to ignore. The greatest human tragedy is simply to give up the search. There is nothing of greater importance than the life of our deep heart. To lose heart is to lose everything. And if we are to bring our hearts along in our life’s journey, we simply must not, we cannot abandon this desire. And so Gerald May writes, There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call our heart. We were born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies. We are often unaware of it, but it is always awake…Our true identity, our reason for being, is to be found in this desire. The clue as to who we really are and why we are here comes to us through our heart’s desire.
(Desire , 1,2)
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Just a quick post. Alive Adventure Gear is off to a pretty wobbily start. In addition to coming up against wall after wall with wholesalers due to our “homeless” status (We don’t have brick and mortar) I don’t have a laptop that I can create the website on. So… for the time being, I plan to make the best of what’s available with our Myspace, Facebook and now Blogspot accounts. Ultimately, all of the archives found at Myspace will be transferred to Blogspot due to its easier to use and organize format. Anyhow, we’ll keep you updated as much as possible. Leaving for Blue Ridge, GA in a coupla days for some backpacking, trout-fishing and canoeing so I won’t be posting until we get back.
Join us on the journey!
I woke early to find Scoob curled just beneath me and ready to hit the trail. So we broke camp and snuck quietly out, saying our goodbyes under our breath. Just a short jaunt down the path was another water source I hoped was nearer to the trail. It was and though it was just a silt-thickened trickle, I was able to filter enough to refill our bottles for our journey back. This one trip taught me that a collapsible jug is not a luxury but a necessity. Time to start saving my lunch money again.
On the trip up I decided to chance leaving Scoobs leash off. (He did really well. He, like Jo, likes to lead but he’d wait on me every so often to catch up.) A couple of encounters with more aggressive dogs caused me to leash him back up for the trip down. Let’s just say that we descended that mountain in a hurry. Woody Knob was the exception. I hate Woody Knob. My guide book shows almost no appreciable elevation gain. !@#$%^ (Insert expletive of your choice) The book is wrong. It was at this point my attitude turned south. I started complaining to myself and had pretty much decided that I was insane to think I could do this for 5 months straight. Had almost convinced myself to sell all my gear when I had an epiphany: I had started my day au natural (Not naked, naked mind you. That’s only on June 21st)…sans caffeine. Oooohhhhh, that explains it. We had run out of coffee and I had been so excited to get on the trail that I’d forgotten to buy any. Pretty much incontrovertible evidence that I’m an addict. Don’t like it but the first step is admitting that you have a problem. Not that I plan to do anything about it.
Now something interesting happened at this point. Earlier in the morning we’d
heard what I thought was a dog. There are some houses in the area. To be expected on a trip of this magnitude (Ain’t it so, Keith?) Once we reached the top of Woody Knob, I collapsed onto a boulder and was trying to catch my breath. Seconds later the dog started up again. Soon his bark became a howl. His howl began to grow in pitch, warble and change. He sounded like he was being tortured. One howl became many. Maybe 8 or 10? They all took up this eerie, haunting, warbling song. No kidding, Scoob stood up, looked directly at me, twisted his mouth to the side as if in fear and said, “Okay, lets go.” (Well, give me a little artistic license here. He may not have actually spoken but his body language…) He literally drug me down the mountain for the next 3 hours.
When we finally arrived in the parking area we laid down on the oh so cushy pavement and rested till Dana arrived. When she did…oh when she did…she greeted me with a hug, a kiss and a 1 liter Dr. Pepper with a cup of ice. My girl! We drove up to the lodge and before I could get out of the truck I caught a whiff of fried chicken. After a hike of any distance I lose all self-discipline when it comes to food. We would have fried chicken and we’d have it soon. Unfortunately, it was 10:45 am and they didn’t serve until 11:30. After scaring the young lady in the gift shop by expressing my primal need for meat, I decided we would camp out by the door until they opened. To the left of our table was a gorgeous view of the mountains, across from me the beautiful love of my life, but to my right…to my right? The buffet. I tore into this enormous chicken breast with such an unbridled fervor that I was drawing stares from people around the room. Mothers hugged their children tighter. Grown me looked on with disgust. I could care less. As the perfectly fried, crunch gave way to the tender, succulent, oh so juicy white meat, my eyes rolled back in my head and I nearly passed out from sheer pleasure. Not to mention the caffeine was kicking in. Now that’s a good day.
The Curse of King Creek Falls
Once upon a time there was a young couple. They were known as Princess Dana and, well…Dave. (David fell into the ruffian/ street urchin category) Early on in their marriage Dana’s father would often regale them with stories (fishing stories, I might add) of catching score upon score of rainbow trout on the River Chattooga in the wonderful land known as Mountain Rest. Rapt with attention, they listened and felt the spark ignite somewhere down deep within them. They believed that they too would find this magical place, Mountain Rest, and like the young princess’ dad they would catch score upon score of rainbow. Well, the young couple set out on their adventure and indeed they happened upon this fantastical land of Mountain Rest and though the rainbow were not in abundance as promised, they were certainly there. Weekend after weekend they would brave the elements to reach the River Chattooga by the break of day and though they were met with many trials and not many fish they fell in love with Mountain Rest and soon began to primitive camp there (read “poop in the woods”). They brought their friends and soon had a young ruffian of their own named JoJo. Like his parents JoJo also loved the woods, the river and the land of Mountain Rest. One of their favorite things was to go exploring. One day they discovered a beautiful waterfall that the beautiful Princess Dana, especially, loved to sit under. Most every time they journeyed to Mountain Rest they would hike to this waterfall. Unfortunately the kingdom of the young family was assaulted by the foreign invaders of Mort Gage, Jobs and Ob Ligations. They spent so much time fending off these enemies that they spent less and less time in Mountain Rest till they finally stopped going altogether. 7 years passed and the family began to make forays into the woods once again. On one of these trips they happened upon their waterfall. Unfortunately it was at night and Princess Dana was having a royal meltdown so they didn’t get to enjoy it. Several months later the family, joined by their friends Prince Taylor and the Saxons (Yes, those Saxons) returned again to the land they had loved so much. Ruffian Dave (who was now bald but dashingly handsome anyhow) decided to try to find the lost waterfall once again. He we was joined by Ruffian JoJo (who now has Ruffian Dave’s long hair), Prince Taylor, the Saxon princesses Karen and her daughter Mary Cat as well as Princess Karen’s son, the prince Jay (who I’m pretty sure is actually a ruffian, himself.) Prince Scott and Princess Dana decided to stay on the River Chattooga to try and coax some Rainbow from the waters. Though Princess Mary Cat and Prince Jay were bickering back and forth the trip was glorious. In order to find the trail they had to make their own path through brush and bramble but lo and behold, they did find the trail. Ruffian David was so happy to be in the woods that he trotted ahead of the traveling party, practically dancing down the trail. Upon nearing the waterfall he decided to stop, climb up an embankment, have a drink of water and wait on the rest of the party. Moments later the party arrived and Ruffian Dave grabbed a tree and swung himself down onto his left foot, which instantly crumbled, rolled and tossed him, pack and all, onto the ground. After being helped to his feet Dave and the party made their way to the waterfall, which they discovered was called King Creek Falls. Dave removed his shoe and soaked his injured ankle in the exhilarating waters of the falls. As all looked on the ankle magically swelled to the size of a medieval half-tennis ball. It was amazing. The party thought it best to part ways. Dave picked his way back to the chariot parking area and the rest of the party to the River Chattooga to retrieve Princess Dana and Prince Scott. Somehow Ruffian Jo and Prince Taylor, in an effort to find Ruffian Dave managed to walk the trail nearly 5 times. Ruffian Dave, family and friends, left the land of Mountain Rest earlier than they had planned due to the magical ankle swell but can’t wait to go back again soon. Next time Ruffian Dave plans to be a little more careful. In the meantime they enjoy watching the magical ankle change beautiful colors while Ruffian Dave and Princess Dana return to fend off the foreign enemies. I can’t help but wonder if King Creek Falls is cursed. What do you think?
Well, I guess we see how much sway I hold over my bride, huh? She ain’t blogging!Since I have trouble remembering yesterday’s breakfast this should be an interesting recap of an event from over two months ago.We chose this section of the Foothills Trail for several reasons: 1. Much of this section runs parallel to the Chattooga river allowing us some primotrout-fishing along the way.2. Being our first “real” overnight hike with gear (Not to mention Dana’s first hike with gear or even over 2 miles) we didn’t wanna bite off more than we could chew.3. We would end our hike at Burrells Ford where we’ve camped and fished for 20years…kinda nostalgic.After dropping my truck at Burrell’s Ford we made our way in the van to the Nicholson Ford Road Access where our journey would begin. Since we were getting such a late start we planned to hike just a short ways and look for a campsite to start fresh from in the morning. We threw on our packs and I strapped on my 8″ Gerber knife just ‘cuz it looks cool. Maybe a half an hour down the trail we discovered just such a spot. A peaceful stand of pines within sound of a gurgling creek. We set-up our brand new used tent, stowed our gear in Brandon’s tent, built a fire, had a Mojo bar and some water and rested a few moments while the sun went down. It was already getting cold and really dark. I strapped on my headlamp and took off alone to find a spot to hang the food bag. Veteran hikers have taught us a few things about hanging food bags. Unfortunately you could publish an inch thick manual with the advice they give. If it’s possible to meet all the criteria for location of tent and subsequent hanging of your food-bag you wouldn’t know it by me. So, I do the best I can. I tear out through the darkened woods counting off my steps and trying to spot a tree with an appropriate branch. As I slow my pace I notice a sound as if someone is following me. I turn to find Josiah, Brandon and, struggling to keep up, Dana. Seems as though they were a little uncomfortable sitting in camp alone. More the merrier, right? We found our tree, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts finally worried the food-bag over the top of the branch and secured the rope to an adjacent tree. A quick jaunt back to camp and we were ready to bed down. Those of you who know me realize that this is the most difficult part of the wilderness experience for me. I don’t sleep. I just can’t get comfortable. Tonight will be my first night trying out my 18″ thick Thermarest (2″ actually but it’s enormous compared to what most hikers use…and heavy, which is a really bad idea when you consider that in backpacking every ounce matters.) So I rifle through my pack and dig out my copy of Waking the Dead by John Eldredge for something to chew on as I drift into unconsciousness. “Drift” turned out to be an apt description of my sleep as I drifted in and out of a restless slumber which was better than previous efforts but still not what I’d call refreshing. I, of course, was lying awake praying for the sun to come up, end my tormented night and begin our adventure on the Foothills Trail. After a bar and some notoriously bad coffee made with my French-press, we packed up, retrieved our food bag (which survived the night unscathed) stopped for a quick, cheesy, snapshot at the sign and tromped off down the trail. Not far into our hike we encountered our old friend, the Chattooga, who we traveled beside most of the day. We also encountered several other hikers, fishermen and hunters, all of whom seemed to have their bearings and felt confident in confirming that we were just where our maps and trail notes said we were. One guy in particular, who said he’d basically grown up in these woods told us we were just an hour or so away from our destination. “It’s all flat and an easy hike.” Our already high spirits were buoyed even further at the thought that we were making better progress than we’d imagined. (This same guy told us he’d encountered a hunter who had collapsed from exhaustion as he was chased by a black bear, a hunter who had allegedly had open-heart surgery 10 weeks prior. At this point Dana deemed it necessary to unpack her air-horn and honk it every 90 seconds or so. Nothing like the peace and quiet of the woods, huh?)We eventually passed thru a gentle wooded section known as Simms Field that, were it not for an infestation of gnats, would’ve been a great place to camp, even for a large group. We stopped to explore, scrambling across the boulder strewn river and snapping a few pictures. We climbed to the top of a mammoth boulder and while we were enjoying the view before us were quickly covered in a legion of lady-bugs. They were everywhere…thousands of them! Really cool stuff. After climbing down we decided that despite the gnat (and lady-bug) invasion this would be an ideal spot for lunch. So I broke out my hiker stove and prepared the golden standard of AT fare, Lipton noodles. I added a little protein by throwing in some vacuum packed chicken breast Brandon’s mom had bought for us. Not bad. Not sure I could echo those sentiments after 5 months of eating it every day…but not bad.We discovered early on that the Foothills Trail, for whatever reason, was not blazed out as well as we would’ve liked, so occasionally I’d scout ahead and come back for the others. One particular section led us directly along the river’s edge, hopping from stone to stone. At this point we lost the blazes, I ran ahead, found a blaze and a gorgeous sandy beach across the river from a big rock bluff, adjacent to a deep pool brimming with trout…big trout. We made camp, caught and released the biggest trout I’ve ever seen come out of the Chattooga, and then enough normal sized trout to have an incredible dinner grilled over a wood fire. We all looked like dirty Gollums, eating with our hands by firelight and sucking our nasty little fingers. “We likes ’em raw and wriggling”…or at least seared and juicy. Daylight found us fishing again, loading Dana’s pack with nearly twenty trout and back on the trail by noon-ish to reach Burrell’s Ford in an hour or so…or so we thought.
1. You have to get your own guidance. Others can confirm but you can’t rely exclusively on their ability to get it right.
2. Don’t confuse others with overconfidence in your guidance. You might mess up their journey.
3. You can be extremely passionate and still be extremely lost.
4. Most all foods taste better when you’re backpacking. This is not necessarily true for coffee.
5. Often “easy” is a subjective term.
6. Sometimes the trail is most vaguely marked nearest to the most amazing destination.
7. It’s usually darkest just before the…greasy cheeseburgers, hot bath and clean sheets.
8. Nothing like an 8″ Gerber stapped to your hip to get the respect you deserve!
“The Rule of thumb for the old backpacking was that the weight of your pack should equal the weight of yourself and the kitchen range combined. Just a casual glance at the full pack sitting on the floor could give you a double hernia and fuse four vertebrae. After carrying the pack all day, you had to remember to tie one leg to a tree before you dropped it. Otherwise you would float off into space. The pack eliminated the need for any special kind of ground-gripping shoes, because your feet would sink a foot and a half into hard-packed earth, two inches into solid rock.”
-Patrick McManus, A Fine and Pleasant Misery, 1978
In the Chinese culture each year is given an animal affilliation. I decree this year to be the Year of the Pig. I love, looooove, good barbecue. In fact, as I’ve stated and overstated I am a barbecue snob. I’m on a never-ending quest for good smoked meat. I am usually disappointed. End of disclaimer. This year, I’ve discovered several very good barbecue joints in our area. Two days ago an old friend ,David Cox (who has drastically different standards for barbecue) called me and told me he had just eaten at a restaurant that has “your kind of barbecue” (meaning MY kind of barbecue). His words. Last night Josiah and I visited the Pompous Pig on Clemson Blvd in Anderson. I ordered a chopped pork (I prefer pulled)/ smoked chicken combo. Jo had a sandwich. Jo enjoyed his sandwich. I moaned in what could almost be referred to as ecstasy…but I digress. We were met, upon entering, by an extemely friendly teenage girl who welcomed us enthusiastically and informed us in a perfect southern drawl that we were “Gonna have a real good time.” Once we decided to order we approached the register where we were greeted by yet another teenage girl who was intelligent, lucid and friendly. Upon being seated at our table we were approached and checked on faithfully and attentively by no less than two servers. My pork was graciously prepared per my request with “outer meat.” (This ups the smoke taste exponentially and makes me happy.) Not only was it smoky, but moist and delicious. The smoked chicken breast was the best I’ve ever had. They had somehow managed to achieve a strong smoke, a delicate seasoning and a moist tenderness that rivaled crabmeat. Most people I know in this area won’t appreciate the quality of this barbecue. It’s kind of sad, actually. Nonetheless, I am impressed and enamored. Now, I normally wouldn’t waste anyone’s time on side-dishes. They’re such a non-issue to me they’re not usually worth mentioning. I make an exception here. Jo’s fries were less than spectacular. (The Pompous Pig could take a lesson from Henry’s on Wade Hampton.) My side was fantastic. I had the “mashed potato bake” (think Cracker Barrel’s hashbrown casserole in mash potato form…layered with crispy-chewy cheese skank) and cornbread which was moist like pudding and was made with what tasted like fresh corn…oh yeah, and it came with home-made honey butter. Dang. As if this wasn’t enough the owner brought us a complimentary sample plate which was made up of mexican-restaurant-style tortilla chips, “Texas Caviar” (think salsa made from black-eyed peas, corn, onions, peppers and tomatoes) which was really good, smoked chicken salad and broccoli salad with almond slivers. To sum it up, I’ve a new favorite restaurant and the Pig has plenty reason to be pompous. Check it out…unless of course, you think 3 Little Pigs has good barbecue. Something about casting pearls before swine comes to mind.
Just in case you’re reading this Dave…thanks for the recommendation. You’ve redeemed yourself for the harsh words you had for Henry’s.
This would work so much better if I could imbed the pics with the text. Well, it is what it is. Most of you (all 3 of you who actually read this!) realize that I’ve been kind of obsessed with this idea of hiking the AT when Josiah graduates. I’ve actually read extensively on the subject from journals to “How To” books to equipment guides etc. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten from veteran hikers is “Get out there. Hike.” So we’ve done that, mostly day hikes. Most day hikes can be accomplished with minimal investment. A few months back Jo and I did our first overnighter on Rim of the Gap in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness area. We quickly discovered that we were ill equipped for overnight trips. When we went to Nanty-fest, our intention was to buy equipment for re-sale. It seems I’m a little too tentative for that and will need to work on that area. However, we did find some great deals on some stuff for ourselves. Between that and shopping local outfitters we found ourselves reasonably equipped for an overnight hike. We chose to do a section of the Foothills Trail for the length, the intensity, and it’s proximity to the Chatooga River. So aside from the pleasure of hiking itself, this trip was a field test, for our equipment as well as our own endurance. Is this something I actually enjoy enough to do everyday for 3-5 months? Well, we learned a lot about hiking, camping, ourselves and equipment. This’ll deal primarily with the equipment. Hope it helps!
1. Backpack. I’m a big boy. Big boys need big packs, apparently. So 98% of the packs I tried on at Nanty-fest were too small. One of the sellers showed me how to measure my torso and select an appropriate size pack. Short version is: I found one pack that was large enough and it just so happens that it was an external frame Jansport. I got it for $20! (Here’s an example of my buyers timidity: I could’ve bought 2 of the same pack for $35 total and re-sold number 2 but…) Anyhow, after several trial runs with the pack I learned how to load it with my gear and long story short is…we made friends. It’s very low on frills, and high on potential. I like the separate compartment located on the bottom which allows me to access my stuff without having to dig my tent out. The external frame made my external packing more stable; I was able to strap my sleeping bag to the bottom and my sleeping pad to the top. There are extremely helpful side pockets as well as two daisy-chains on the back. Once I learned how to adjust the pack where my hips carried the bulk of the weight I was surprise at how well I was able to carry my load. I had intended to keep it under 35 lbs but ended up lightening some the other hiker’s loads which quickly sent me over 40 lbs. I felt it. You should feasibly be able to carry approximately one third of your own body weight. Not sure who came up with that butit wasn’t someone built like me! 65 lbs would’ve run me into the ground in a just a couple of hours. The only negative I saw with this pack was it’s tendency to hang on limbs. Because it was an external frame, I found myself snagged on a branch more than once over the weekend. My limited experience with packs makes me far from an expert but on a scale of 1 to 10 (until I come up with a hip, clever rating scale I’ll just use numbers!) I give it a 9.
2. Tent. I love (well, loved) our tent. It’s a 4 man/ 3 season Coleman we bought used for $20 at Nantyfest. This tent would not be a good choice for the AT due to it’s size and weight which is still considerably small and light for a tent it’s size. It had to be divided up between Dana, Jo and myself even for our short excursion. I got the tent, Jo got the poles and Dana got the fly. (Teehee) It took 2 people to set up due to it’s “old school A-frame design but was crazy fast to set-up. Only one problem: Apparently the previous owner had put it up wet. There was a dis-colored streak about 3′ from the bottom that ran the length of the tent on both sides. We discovered this shortly after I accused the boys of tearing the tent on their way out. Apparently the discoloration was due to mildew or some like-minded evil. Needless to say our tent didn’t survive the trip. Lesson learned? When buying used, set it up and inspect it no matter how friendly and helpful the hungry college kids are who are trying to sell it. Rating: It’d been a 10 if not for the mildew. As it is? Doesn’t even register. Tents with holes just aren’t worth much.
3. Camp stove. Oh my gosh! This is one of my favorite purchases. Considering the fact that I bought it for $25 from the same guys that sold us the tent…well, it kinda makes up for the tent. This stove operates on a really small can of iso-butane/propane gas whichyou can pick up for around $5. It folds up into a case about 1 1/4″ x 3″ x 3″. It ways mere ounces. I can unpack it, set it up, and light it in under a minute and have a substantial mess kit pot of water boiling in less than 5 minutes. No kidding. I actually brought an 8″diameter by 10″ high enameled cook pot because I was cooking for 4. 6 minutes to boiling. I cooked almost all of our meals on a half-full container and still brought home fuel. You can buy this same campstove new for about $50. It’s worth every penny. This one get 5 stars! Did I just change the rating system? I think I did.
4. Sleeping bag. Yeah. Not my wisest purchase. Unfortunately when I mess up, I mess up big. I bought 3 of these Ledge 20 degree oversized bags at once, paying almost as much for shipping as I did for the bags. First, the good: Love the size of the bags. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a big boy. I sleep on my side with my knees to my chest. I decided to buy a bag I could move around in. Plenty of room. For a 20 degree bag, it also packs up reasonably small. Now, the bad: a. When the bags arrived, I unpacked one, crawled in it, and cinched up the mummy bag style opening (great feature) around my head. It tore. Yup, right out of the box, it tore where the drawstring comes out of the bag. b. 20 degree my big white booty! I had on thermals, was sleeping in a 3 season tent and I still froze. I guess this explains how they were able to pack it up sosmall. This also explains why serious hikers invest in a good goose down bag. Definitely worth the money. In spite of the issues I’m going to keep the bags primarily due to how much it’d cost me to return them. I’ll add a fleece liner and make due until we can afford some good ones. Sticking with the cosmologicaltheme, I give the bag 1 star and it’s falling…
5. Self-inflating sleeping pad. I almost never sleep when camping due primarily to extreme discomfort. I’ve tried sleeping pads in the past that are bulky, hard to inflate and even harder todeflate and roll-up. Everyone I talked to suggested Therma-rest. I bought the thickest one (2″) Half-moon carried (display model was only $65!) haunted by the fact that it would weigh entirely too much to ever carry on the AT but thinking, “Can’t go 5 months without sleep.” Here’s what I found: Very simple to inflate as well as deflate and roll. Held it’s air all night long. Was much more comfortable than any self-inflating pad I’d used before.”What’s the problem?” you ask. I still was uncomfortable. My hip wasn’t as much of a problem but my shoulder kept me tossing and turning all night. Pad gets 5 stars, my aging body gets 2.
6. Water Filter. Out of everything we bought, this is my absolute favorite. I paid full price for this Katadyn 3 micron water filter at Half-moon and I’d do it again. After dozens of confusing conversations with hikers, salespeople and salespeople who were obviously bs’ing me, I settled on this model for several reasons: It doesn’t have a ceramic filter which makes it better suited to cold weather. Ceramic apparently will freeze and break. Dependability. I talked to several people who have used the same filter for years with no problems and no giardia. Simplicity. So freaking easy. Mine even comes with it’s own pouch and internal zip-loc bag so you can keep your intake hose from contaminating your output hose. The filtered water is not only safer but delicious. I’d have a really hard time switching to tablets. The Katadyn is a necessity and gets 5 stars, only because I can’t give it six…or can I?
7. Stuff sacks. Went to buy stuff sacks at an outfitter and was shocked at how mucha little bag can cost, so I went to Wally-world. 3 pack was like $10! Yeah! Got home, opened the package and the first one I pulled out had a slice in it. I figured it was still a bargain so I loaded ’em up and threw ’em in my pack. Day 1, the 2nd sack tore. Sack3 is still hanging in there but I don’t give it much hope. Some things you can buy at Wal-mart. Apparently stuff sacks aren’t one of them. Here’s a tip: There’s a army surplus/ outfitter store on Wade Hampton Blvd. in Taylors that is going out of business. Everything in the store is 50% off… and yes, they have stuff sacks…ultra-light stuff sacks. Better hurry, though. Their last day is December 31.
8. Zipper Tag Thermometer. Another thing you apparently don’t buy at Wal-mart. This little thermometer/ compass made by Coleman held great promise for me. I was sorely disappointed. In the middle of the night as I was burrowed deeply in my 20 degree bag freezing my kahunas off, it read 100 degrees. I won’t even qualify this one with a rating.
9. Shoes. I bought a pair of Salomon XA PRO 3D Ultras at Mast General Store for just over $100.00. They’re trail running shoes. They’re not a boot and not designed for rigorous long-distance hiking. Having said that, they performed extremely well. The toe-box was a little small for my tastes but certainly not claustrophobic. They are a light weight shoe and I never even noticed any drag on my feet due to weight. My feet remained cool the entire hike and the tread hardly ever slipped in the slimiest conditions. 5 big ones.
10. Knife. One day I’ll buy a Leatherman or something comparable. I’ll keep it in my pocket. Regardless of what’s in my pocket I’ll carry the 9″ Gerber survival knife on my hip. Not because it’s sharp (though it is) or even useful (it certainly is so) but because of an interesting phenomenon. When we came out of the woods after the hike and entered the Jack in the Box for some much appreciated junk food, I noticed I was getting some grave appraisals from people we encountered. It was something I’m not used to…something akin to respect. Yeah, there’s just something about a 9″ knife on your hip that makes people look at you different. Funny thing is, I didn’t realize until later on that it was the knife. Maybe I thought it was that rugged outdoors glow from being on the trail for several days or just my imposing masculine physique. When we went to check into the hotel Jo asked, “Dad, you’ve still got the knife on your belt.” “Yes, yes I do , son, Yes I do.”
In case I haven’t mentioned this, I work for what may just be the best company ever. Like at most places, things are slow at MMI right now. Most days I come in and try to find something productive to put my hand to but some days…
This past Tuesday was one of those days. I was finally able to hook up with a great old friend from my Garfield days, Henry Mitchell. We’ve talked for months about hitting the trail together but until now hadn’t made it happen. If you’ll look in my pics under Falls Creek Falls you can see Henry in one of the photos. I’ve always thought he resembles a gnome but on the trail this day it was if I were walking with Myrddin Emrys…the wise Merlin. I told him as much. He doesn’t actually discourage the comparison, either.
At 6am we met at Stax (Original) for some delicious bacon, grits and eggs and about a gallon of Dr. Pepper. (That was me. Henry had a greek omelet and hot tea.) I threw my pack into Henry’s truck and me made off for the short jaunt to Jones Gap, where he regaled me with tales of crazy aunts and bad cooking. We were on the trail shortly after daybreak. (On the way, Henry pulled off to call his boss and inform him that he”d be doing some “geologic surveying” which apparently is code for “I’m on a hike, again.” Guess we’re both kinda lucky, huh?) I quickly discovered that Henry and I make good hiking partners. He slows my pace enough so that I can actually appreciate my surroundings. Somedays I enjoy hiking in silence. Today I was blessed with the conversation of an old friend. It seemed that wherever our talk meandered, the conversation had a way of coming back around to the subject of our mutual Friend and third hiking partner. Being in the woods will do that…as will being with either of us, I guess. As we approached the falls we stopped for a silent visual draught of the view overlooking the valley. It was beautiful, of course. Henry spoke in hushed tones of his daughter Kate (I think he’s kind of proud of her) and one of their hikes together. As they took in a similar view from another trail, she said that the ancient Celts believed that the purest worship music was found in the solitude of the wilderness, as the rivers, the wind and the trees lifted their song to the Creator. If you’ve ever spent much time in the woods, I think you’ll agree.
After laughing our way back down the mountain (Not quickly enough, if you ask me. For some reason I opted for the Spinx bathroom over the one God provided and my bladder was at critical mass) we made our way to Hardees where we lingered over a cup of coffee, neither of us wanting to end our journey. We talked of ecology, and politics, old times and yes, the Great Interrupter.
Looking forward to another morning walk, soon, Henry. Tell Jane Ella hi, for me.
Uh yeah…not whatcha think. Musically powerful tune but that ain’t it.
This weekend Dana suggested we hike to Raven Cliff Falls. Considering her level of endurance and my recent back issues that seemed an easy, reasonable hike. 2 miles, hour and a half up, hour and a half back. Dana caught a nasty flu virus and was out of commission but Jo, Brandon and I hit the trail early Sunday morning. Weather was amazing as it has been all week. Only moments after setting foot to the trail I was in my element. Even with the boys, there was ample peace and virtual solitude. It still amazes me that when the noise is eliminated how conscious I become of God’s presence. It was a powerful time interrupted only sporadically by, “Look at that view” or “Check out that boulder.” Segue. A great old tree stuck it’s branch out over the path about seven feet in the air. Yep, time for a stop. After exploring a side trail Jo was in the tree in a flash. That’s my boy. Once back on the trail Brandon somehow ended up in the lead position again which gave us a spectacularly entertaining view. He couldn’t seem to walk more than a few paces with out an “SAT” (slip and trip). We kept track. By day’s end I had accrued 6, Jo 8, I think and Brandon 18. No kidding. Just over an hour in we reached the viewing platform for Raven Cliff Falls. We were so far away that you couldn’t really grasp the height and power of this 410′ waterfall. Dismal Trail which passes through The Dismal (“a mature hardwood forest” as my trail book describes it) was just around the corner so we decided to take it to its end, turn around and come back. The boys were all for it so we were off. We ran, slipped and slid down the steep incline for a half hour or so. Once at the bottom we decided the path with more adventure and certainly no more exertion would be to complete what we had started of the Raven Cliff Falls Loop. So upon the advice of a fellow hiker we took off. We encountered several more views of the falls and even heard it nearby but never really got a better view. We did encounter a man-made cable crossing over a shallow stream which was a lot of fun. One cable was low for walking on and the other slightly above it to hold on to. About an hour later we crossed a suspension bridge over a gorge which was cool but not near as much fun as what we had just crossed. Next came the strenuous part of the trail. It went on forever. We had only brought enough water and snacks for the short trail and on this section we annihilated most of what we brought. As we started approaching the end of the loop we encountered a lot of other people on the trail, most with dogs, headed toward the falls. (Love the dogs. I gotta get Scooby out there soon.) Well, once back at Caesars Head we ran into the guy who had given Jo and I a shuttle after our Rim of the Gap hike. We spent a few minutes catching up and he told us to check out the overlook for the hawk migration. 340 had been spotted the day before but we saw nary a bird. We hopped back in the car and headed down the mountain with voracious appetites, eyes desperately searching for my barbecue guy. We weren’t disappointed. He was there. This roadside vendor (right on 276) of Turkish-spanish descent (Tim Lara, I think) has some of the best smoked pork I’ve ever had…ever, and as you well know I’m a barbecue snob. Today wasn’t quite what it usually is due to the fact that his wood supplier brought him pecan rather than hickory so it had a much milder flavor, but it was still really good. (He assured me next time I came through he’d be back up to par.) What a great ending to our longest hike to date…8.3 miles. Put it into perspective, though: Average hiker on the AT does anywhere from 12 – 22 miles…every day. Jennifer Pharr Davis averaged 38 miles per day doing 63 miles on her next to last day which was in the mountains of Georgia! Crazy. Don’t think I’ll be hitting 63 miles a day anytime soon (Not even sure I want to!) but hopefully we’ll build our endurance do some longer hikes. Can’t wait! Look out AT, we’re coming!
Here’s the latest: Mike is working feverishly on the new temporary website in his spare time which is truly spare. (He works 7 days a week at his day job.)
Here’s what he says:
Layout complete with table,Logo at top with pic,I’m about 45% done with the navigation,and no content on it as of yet… as in words and pics of products.
Yeah, I understood about half of that…anyhow, thanks Mike!
Rejected by another outdoor gear wholesale house. Yep, you guessed it…no brick and mortar. Our requests for dealerships are always met with, “We’d love to help you out. Call us when you have a building.” Instead of getting frustrated, we’re trying to look at this as a course re-direction. With our primary emphasis being our custom shirts, maybe our secondary should be used gear. This appeals to me for several reasons: One, it’s our only available option at this point. Two there don’t seem to be an awful lot of people that deal in used gear especially in our area, and three, we’re always personally looking for used gear. We’re trying to get equipped for back-packing and man is new gear expensive! So, week after next we plan to hit the NOC in Bryson City which is hosting one of the biggest gear swaps in the southeast called NantyFest. (Yeah, hold your comments on the name, huh?) Anyhow, we’ll be scoping out gear for ourself as well as potential inventory for ALIVE.
On a personal level…I’m going flippin’ nuts. Fall is almost upon us. The trails and rivers beckon and I’ve got an annoying back injury that’s just taking the fun out of life. Dana bought me a Mountain Bridge Trail Guide and it’s like backpacker’s porn. I gotta get over this and get out there!
Hope you’re all doing great. Join us on the journey!
What an unbelievably beautiful fall-like morning. As I was sitting in my truck this morning, sipping a mug of Cerrado Gold, enjoying my morning selah with Jesu, the Lover of my Soul…I was overwhelmed with such a feeling of contentment, well being, blessedness…shalom as the hebrews say. If only for the moment, fall is upon us. Before me is a copy of Blue Ridge Outdoors which has gracing its cover a beautiful photo of a hiker on a summit overlooking a valley of foliage aflame with autumn colors. A longing grips my soul. A longing to hike, to get on a river, to be outside somewhere drinking in the breathtaking beauty of God’s creation, which even in its fallen state causes mortal man’s knees to go weak and heart to soar. (I’m blessed to work for a company that understands this and gives me freedom to sneak away occasionally but alas my back pain tells me today is not the day…but I digress…) What about this longing, for beauty, for adventure? Is it only about temporal things? Ted Dekker, for one, believes that it is evidence of a deeper longing, a foretaste of heaven. John Eldredge would concur. We were created for Eden and every so often we are afforded a glimpse…and God, how it moves me. I want to be baptized in it. I don’t want a glimpse, I don’t want a sprinkling. I want full-immersion in the beauty and adventure that is God. For now, I settle for the foretaste…which, if you ask me, is not too bad.What about us? Are we also “more than we have become” as Mufasa so succinctly stated? That ancient living book that reveals God to us says that “All creation groans in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” Sounds like maybe there’s something to that. What is it that holds you back from becoming who God intended you to become? St. Irenaeus said,”The glory of God is man fully alive.” What makes you come alive? Why don’t you ask Him? Get outside, in His creation, alone, maybe on a trail, where the noise of life falls away and ask Him. While you’re at it ask Him for the courage to pursue His dream for you…then hold on for the journey of your life.
16 years (and to be specific, 9 months) ago this coming Sunday began one of the greatest adventures of my life…my boy, Josiah.I can still hear him say, blue eyes gleaming, “Daddy, let’s go on an uh-binchur.” Who could say no? Well, buddy, this Sunday you’ll be 16 years old and your Mom and I are so proud of who you are that I can’t quite put it into words. We are honored to be a part of your life, much less to be your Mom and Dad. Your radical pursuit of God puts you at the top of my heroes list. I am humbled by the opportunity Papa has given me to watch as someone of your caliber becomes the man God created him to be. We love you more than you can possibly know and have loved every minute of this uh-binchur you’ve taken us on. Yeah, buddy, let’s go on an uh-binchur.
I love you…
Rim of the Gap Part 1
Saturday evening Jo returned home sunburned from spending the day at the lake with some friends. While he was finishing up a bath I asked him how tired he was. He said, “It depends on what you wanna do.” I said, “Cut grass.” “I’m exhausted,” he replied. “How ’bout an overnight hike on Rim of the Gap?” (Rim of the Gap is a very strenuous 4.3 mile trail at Jones Gap.) “Let’s go!” We’ve primitive camped for 20 years but this would be the first time that we carried everything we’d need on our backs and hiked 2 hours up a steep ascent to do so. So we threw a few items in our packs, intentionally leaving out the 8 man tent for obvious reasons. We decided to spend the night in our recently purchased “travel hammocks” and sleeping bags. By the way… our sleeping bags? Way too big for backpacking. After a quick stop for trail bars, nuts and water we arrived in the Jones Gap parking lot at 7:10 pm. As we were walking toward the registration box I had a nauseating revelation. I had suddenly remembered some very important information. You’re supposed to pre-register for camping. I ran to the office and unbelievably it was open. I walked in, hands in the air, bemoaning my blunder. Elliot, one of the guys working there, said “Let me see what I can find.” After running through our options he found an available site 2 hours up the trail on Pinnacle Pass, the very place I’d hoped we could camp. A man makes his plans…thank God, He determines our steps. So with a newly purchased map and an admonition from a very accommodating Elliot to hurry to the site, we busted it up the trail which ascends about 1,000 feet in about a mile. It wasn’t very long and we found ourselves hiking under the cover of night with only my headlamp lighting the way. It was beautiful and, Jo thought, a little creepy. Suffice it to say that blaze colors look striking similar and reasonably rare at nightfall. We struggled to find our way at several junctures. But after stumbling past our trail several times we tied our hammocks up and prepared to sleep like babies. Unfortunately due in large part to out hammocks there was precious little sleeping to be had. First, they were too small, un-bearably uncomfortable and extremely prone to flip. Then factor in the bugs. There were the flying bugs: mosquitoes, gnats, “no-see-ums” and who knows what else. Then there were the ants who discovered they could leap off the tree and slide down the sloping ends of the hammock to make landfall on either feet or head respectively. I smashed well over a dozen ants and one spider directly on my forehead. Jo sustained over 32 bites of some sort just on his left arm. Did you know that the crickets (I guess that’s what they were) never stop their noisemaking as long as it’s dark? And they were really loud. Eventually we unzipped our sleeping bags (which were too hot anyway) and hid beneath them giving us at least some protection. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that while we were setting up our hammocks something nearby howled…then warbled on the end…then did it again…and again. It was almost otherwordly. After spending the night waiting for dawn, I finally got out of my hammock (for the 19th time) snapped a few pics of Jo and started packing up. We were on the trail heading back to Rim of the Gap by 6:30 or so.
For some reason Jo likes to be in front so I usually let him lead. This morning, for some reason, he’s behind me and 10 minutes into our hike (We’re on the John Sloan Connector) he stops and whispers, “Bear, bear, BEAR!” By the time I figure out where he’s pointing all I see are rustling bushes. Jo was given an amazing gift; he saw two bear cubs playing. Amazing. I know what you’re thinking, “How cute.” Yes, cute…but…we’ve read a bit about bears. Our black bear is very non-aggressive toward humans unless…yeah, you get between mother and her cubs. She’s not concerned with your intentions and no amount of explaining or apologizing will do. You’re a threat to her family and quite possibly a tasty meal. So we froze…for like 10 minutes. We heard what sounded like a large bear like critter moving through the foliage…so we waited, (Jo had his camera out of course.) and waited and waited some more. Obviously we survived so Bear tip 1? No sudden moooooovements! 2 hours later I hear laughter bubble up unexplainably from Jo’s chest. when I asked “What?” He replied, with a big ol’ smile plastered on his face, “I saw two bear cubs.” The Gifting Giver is so good.
The morning heated up unusually fast and our water supply dwindled even faster. We’d filled our bottles and brought 3 bottled waters apiece but were still running out. If we keep this up a water filter/ pump is going to become a necessity. You just can’t carry enough water for even a 5 mile hike. According to our map the trail ahead would descend for 200 feet in about a mile then ascend 400 feet in the remaining mile. It looked nothing like the map. We were constantly climbing up steep trails, only to carefully pick our way down root covered hills, only to begin yet another climb, sometimes up rustic ladders or via cables. It was a lot of fun. Exhausting but fun. Every now and then we’d get a peek out across the valley and the views were almost dizzying. In places there were breaks in the trees and you could look out over sheer drops of what must’ve been several hundred feet which led to other even greater drops. We were at least 2,400 feet above sea level and it felt like it. In several places the spongy trail gave way and scared the poop out of me. At one point I stepped on a really big rock that, seemingly defied the laws of physics and rocked up into the air, throwing me off balance about 4′ from a 100′ drop. That was a trip. Oh, I almost forgot, the trail leads right through a boulder where we had to take off our packs and slide through an opening. Check out the pics.
The effects of the drought are pretty apparent because we encountered several places that looked like they were once waterfalls of some degree but were now dry. We did cross in one place where I could dip my hat in a pool. That was de-licious.
By this time I’d decided that doing a flip-flop (A flip-flop is when you reach the end of the trail and then turn around to hike back to it’s start) was out of the question. Whether it was due to sleep deprivation or just the fact that we’re wimps, we were toast. The map showed a connector trail called Frank Coggins that led from the end of Rim of the Gap to Caesars Head Visitor’s Center. It was 1 mile and was rated as “easy.” Easy I could do. It was the most anti-climatic end to a hike we’d done to date. It left us at the intersection of 3 trails with no fanfare or hoopla of any sort. On that note we set to our mile walk up Frank Coggins. When we arrived at the Visitor’s Center we were greeted by two friendly faces. One belonged to a girl who was working with Elliot the night before and she recognized us. (While I was whining about biting off more than we could chew she informed us she just completed a 22 mile hike. Yeah, thanks.) The second belonged to Adam, with whom I inquired about a shuttle back to Jones Gap. After discussing it with some mystery person in a back room, Adam came out and happily said, “I’ll take you.” He declined my grateful offer to “kiss him full on the mouth,” (I’m not sure why) led us to his chariot (a white station wagon) and gave us a most appreciated ride back down the mountain. It was here that I realized just how aromatic we’d become. I apologized repeatedly. Having done a half-thru hike of the AT,Adam was well aware of the effects hiking could have on body scent. He re-assured us we were fine. I think he probably torched the wagon when he got back. Adam, whose trail name was “Thieving Bear,” (Ask him when you see him) was a great guy and we really enjoyed hearing some of his story. We discovered a common passion for hiking and trout-fishing and I think there was a lot more to Adam than a 1/2 hour shuttle gave us time to explore. I hope to run into him again soon.
Jo and I threw our packs into the truck and made our way down the mountain. We stopped at a gas station and once again the hiking monster took over my appetite, destroyed my will-power and drove me to the deli-counter where I was compelled to order fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and fried okra. It’s a bit of a blur. In the midst of my feeding frenzy I have vague memories of giant ostriches, ducks and a wobbling death-metal goat but it might’ve just been the food induced stupor I was in. You’ll have to ask Jo.
We arrived blissfully home thanking our God for making our way, an awesome hike, a shuttle ride, great new friends, fried chicken, okra and mac and cheese and sleep. Dana walked in the door hours later, back from her trip with our old friend Lisa to see Journey, Heart and Cheap Trick. That’s her story to tell.
Last night, a friend inquired as to the progress being made on the website. Here’s the answer. We’re looking for a photo that will provide the background for the homepage. Maybe you can help. What I’m looking for is a high res photo from the inside of a wooden barn. The view would include the double doors open wide in the center of the photo with a window to the right. The walls on either side will be in view as well as a few of the rafters above the door. I’ve even looked for an old barn I could photograph myself and have yet to find one appropriate. I’ve scoured the web for hours on end and found stuff close but not really what I’m looking for. I’d appreciate any help.
I left a house full of sleeping teenage boys and one sleeping beauty to go to the day job. They’re all heading to the Chatooga this morning for a day of trout-fishing, hiking and mountain boarding. They’re bringing along some of our friends from homegroup, Deneen, Kirstie and Lydia. (That’s gonna be one packed out Sport’s Utility Van!) I’ve got a deadline hanging over my head so I’ll have to try to find some adventure in the midst of this chaos. Usually it finds me.
With the little time I’ve had to spare, at breaks and lunch, I’ve been having some conversations with a couple of guys interested in helping us out with the website. I’ve discovered that my level of creativity may just be beyond practicality. I’m learning to accept that little word, “compromise.”
We got rejected by another company for dealership, again due to the fact that as of yet we have no brick and mortar. This policy which seems common to almost all is designed to protect the Mom and Pop shops. I’m a big fan of the non-conglomerate, non-corporate, little guys. (For Pete’s sake, we are one!) I appreciate their efforts to take care of these guys but we need a break, here. We’re so grateful for the Ground guys who’re willing to grant us a dealership and put up with our junk. (Thanks Matt and Matt! You guys ROCK!) So now I’m obsessed with finding a loop-hole…maybe an existing business in our area that could rent us a back room or a broom closet or something really cheap. I’m also wondering if instead of pursuing these dealerships we should be investing out time and resources into our t’s which was kind of the point to begin with. Hmmmmmmmm. A man makes his plans……
Anyhow, this project won’t complete itself. Hope you guys have an amazing Fourth. It was for freedom He set us free!
Sorry, I’m late with this post.
Day 8 Saturday
Trying desperately to stay positive but seeing the week come to a close, with the added chore of packing up and cleaning up while still living under the pink fog…not my best moment. I feel particularly unpleasant and angry with Scoob. By no real fault of his own, he’s been a pain in the butt at times. I just wanted to be done, on our way and shoveling some grub in my pie-hole. When everything was finally complete we ended up having to wait on the dishwasher so we could re-stock all of the plates, bowls and silverware. We bided our time by watching a slide show of the pics from the week. Cool stuff..but we weren’t leaving yet. Finally, we head down the dusty gravel road for the last time and stop at a restaurant in Blue Ridge recommended by many of those who signed the guest book at the cabin. It’s called the Iron Skillet and to be honest I never had any inclination to eat there before. (Check out the sign and you’ll see what I mean; see pic.) At the risk of going all “nutty buddy” (story for another time) on you I cannot tell you what a surprise the Iron Skillet was. Absolutely the best breakfast I’ve ever had, the best service I’ve ever experienced and, hands-down, the best restaurant in the Blue Ridge area. Dana, Michelle and myself all ordered the Cajun skillet which was potatoes, fluffy, delicious scrambled eggs, green onions, myriad crawfish tails, andouille sausage, a rich hollandaise sauce, all topped with cheddar cheese and served up steaming in a little cast iron skillet. As if that wasn’t enough it came with a side of grits and a pancake of your choice. Michelle had the banana nut which was loaded with seared banana slices and walnuts. Dana had the peanut butter chip and I…well, I had the bacon pancake. Yes, that’s right my friends crispy bacon cooked right into a fluffy pancake. It’s not just a fantasy. Of course I was so hungry that I added a side of the skankiest most delicious corned beef hash ever served up ala carte in a greasy spoon. Keith raved about his omelet, Josiah seemed pleased with his decision and Luke, ever the oddball, ordered a turkey sub…which he claimed was wonderful. Right. Just another word about the Iron Skillet: The server was of such a caliber you would’ve thought him a maitre’ d in an upscale 5 star restaurant. His charm and expansive knowledge of the menu gave me the distinct impression that he must be the owner. He wasn’t. But he and his wife (the cook…nay, the chef) took such ownership in the place that without them I’m sure it would be devoid of the very qualities that make it such a great restaurant. Thank you Iron Skillet. You tamed the savage, angry, hungry beast and ended our amazing week on a substantial high. Can’t wait for our next trip to Blue Ridge.
Started reading “Authentic Relationships” by Wayne Jacobsen and his brother Clay. Great stuff. Causing me to reflect on how many incredible friends God has placed in our life. Tom Conlon’s song, “Arms of Jesus” is playing through my head. Thinking this might be a good direction to go with the small group. Hopefully learned our lesson with the TVA. Called the night before and the message said the dam would release at 1pm. We loaded the canoes and prepared to leave at 12:15. Just prior to departure I called again…thank goodness. The release time had changed to 3pm. We squeezed in some more fishing and hang time, called at 2pm to confirm and left by 2:15. We were gently drifting down the river when the dam released. Not nearly as spectacular as I had hoped for. I assumed it was due to the fact they were only running one generator. We watched as the river began to slowly rise and we had a much easier paddle back to the cabin. Just as we arrived at the cabin the girls informed us that they had once again postponed the release time by and hour. As we pulled the boats out of the river we watched the river rise quickly to what looked like flood stage and the current increase dramatically. Dang, we had missed it again! We cleaned up and headed into Blue Ridge for some tasty but seriously over-priced pizza. We drove through town trying to find info on how to get on the AT but everyone was closed. Looks like I should’ve planned better. We’ll have to move the hike to Friday morning.
Highlight of the day: The Olympic Whitewater Center. We arrived at the Welcome Center and explored the near dry Ocoee River bed where the 1996 Summer Olympics were held. Had we visited on the weekend we could’ve watched kayakers tackling the hybrid course (it’s partially man-made) in all of its glory. We settled instead for the lower section of the Ocoee where we watched rafters and kayakers alike tossed about on what looked like a thrill ride. Dana and I have done our share of guided whitewater rafting but nothing we’d experienced compared with the river before us. At one point we met Sally and Steve who were canoeing and kayaking, respectively, down the Ocoee and had pulled out for a moment due to Sally having a foot cramp. We talked for nearly half an hour as they offered pointers for we novice paddlers. They told us about a great spot to pull off and watch kayakers “rodeo” named “The Hell Hole.” They weren’t kidding. What a blast. We found a spot under the bridge where we could’ve reached out and touched the boats. We got some great pics and video. We weren’t there very long before our newfound friends made their way through the rapid…at least Sally went through. Her hubby decided to take a gentler path…around the rapid. We waved and cheered as they went by. We literally had to pull ourselves away because of our growling bellies. After a delicious meal of cedar-grilled trout, most of which Dana caught, we chilled for the night.
Didn’t sleep much the night before…an hour, maybe two. Got up at 4:45 am, woke up Josiah and we backed quietly out of the drive and pointed the Sports Utility Van toward Springer Mountain (the start of the Appalachian Trail)…or so we thought. After logging over 2 hours of driving, most of which was dusty gravel back roads, we came to the end of our directions and realized we were nowhere near where we wanted to be. Jo rummaged around in the dash and found some similar directions that stated we were supposed to head in the complete opposite direction at a particular juncture. No one, I repeat, no one is conscious in Georgia at this time of the morning so I couldn’t even break the male-stereotype and ask for help. After back-tracking 10 or 12 miles we were once again on course and finally found the parking lot on Springer, which was empty except for one lone black Jeep. Jo and I donned our packs; I slipped into my Father’s Day present (Dana bought me a pair of waterproof Northface hiking boots at a really cool gear shop in Blue Ridge) and after making a quick “wilderness deposit” we sprang toward the white blazes with vigor and excitement. We chose as our destination the first shelter on the trail, Black Gap. We were finally here. Though we were only doing a half-day hike we were stoked to be doing it on the AT. Josiah remarked that though he had been excited at the possibility of one day doing a thru-hike, after having actually set foot on the trail it seemed like something we were supposed to do. It’s what I’ve felt for a while and it was great hearing him say it. The AT was clearly marked and, at least on this section, easy hiking but due to our excursion yesterday I was having some pain in my big toe on my right foot. I’m not sure what it is but it flares up anytime I hike on uneven terrain. About an hour in we arrived at a small footbridge that crossed a little creek. I needed a break so I sat down, pulled off my new boots (which had worn a blister on my pinky toe…same foot) and changed into my trail running shoes. I scrounged around in my pack, found a Zip-lock bag of Advil and munched a handful. It was at the precise moment I swallowed that I thought, “Advil aren’t pink.” Oh crap. No, Advil aren’t pink…Benadryl are. I freaked. Jo said, “Let’s turn around and go back.” Sage advice. Sage advice I’d have to ignore. We’d waited too long and traveled too far to turn back this close to our goal. I examined my options, which were few. The only sensible thing seemed to be getting the pills back up. So while Jo turned away in pity I jammed my ample fingers down my throat. Now, it’s probably important to note here that I absolutely hate throwing up. I can’t stand it and will avoid it at all costs. Just the sensation of feeling my own wet, throat flesh closing around my fingers should’ve been enough to trigger the desired effect…but it wasn’t. After struggling unsuccessfully for several minutes I verbally kicked myself and hopped back on the trail. Crazy enough, within minutes we saw a sign for the shelter. We made it to our goal. After snapping some pics, reading some of the entries in the guestbook and making an entry of our own we started back for the parking lot as the effects of the little pink pills settled in. I honestly don’t remember a whole lot of our trip back up the mountain or our van ride back down the mountain for that matter. I do remember waking up 5 hours later in my bed at the cabin feeling groggy but rested. I was greeted by my beautiful wife who said, “Hey, the dam released. You up for a paddle?” Sure, why not. After a peaceful trip (our 4th this week) down the Toccoa we returned to the cabin where Keith built a campfire of such blazing magnitude it was near impossible to approach with a skewered marshmallow. As if the Smores weren’t enough we followed our bonfire feast up with a visit to a local Dairy Queen the Bigos’ had scouted out earlier in the week. Adventure comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s a pecan cluster Blizzard with extra pecans.
Woke up to another beautiful day. Dana wasted no time, of course, finding a sweet spot on the river where she spent the morning enticing the trout and landing more than a few. One of these was really, really big. Not as big as mine, of course (tee hee) but big nonetheless. We called the TVA last night to find out when the dam would be released. Of course the pre-recorded message was preceded by the disclaimer that “schedules are subject to change without notice. I ignored the disclaimer. The dam was scheduled to release at 10 am. Perfect. We hoped for an exhilarating trip down the river with a delicious barbecue feast afterward. We showed up early to ensure we didn’t miss the release. We were probably a 30 minute paddle down the river when we realized the disclaimer had come into effect. The previous day’s adventure was about to be repeated. We had 3 options: We could try to paddle back up river, against the current. We could repeat the drudgery of dragging our canoes through the remainder of the trip or we could try option 3. Josiah found a spot that seemed to have road access. We thought we might be able to make our way back to the truck, drive back down, load the canoes and still make it back in time for barbecue. We went for it. After walking about 100 yards we dead ended. We turned back around to break the news to everyone. After minimal discussion we decided to make the paddle downriver. Since we prepared ourselves for the misery ahead it wasn’t nearly so disheartening. We actually made it back to the cabin in about 2 hours, showered, changed clothes and still made it to the restaurant by 2pm for a mouthwatering spread of slow-smoked baby-backs, pulled-pork, chicken and beef. We were so famished that we actually followed up our Romanesque binge with a hot-fudge sundae. Sleep came quickly.
Today was Scooby’s day. Dam was scheduled to release at 10am, then 1pm, then 3pm. (Dam you, TVA! Tee hee. Just a sampling of all the dam jokes cracked and yet to be cracked this week). All week Scooby has made it clearly known that he doesn’t like being drugged (We gave him doggy Dramamine), hauled 3 hours away, and then left behind as we paddled down the river, so today…is his day. Jo came along for the ride. Keith and Luke came too…in their canoe. Buddy did not. Buddy is their dog and he’s round like a barrel. He’s more obese than any lab should ever be and he looks like a surgeon we know named Dr. Rowitz (although Dr. Rowitz isn’t fat at all). Michelle says Buddy’s not fat. He’s fat. (Is it just me or do I sound like Junie B. Jones?) As my friend Mark Lowe’s grandma said (of Mark, not Buddy), “I know fat when I see fat and he’s fat, fat, fat.” So Buddy stayed at the cabin. The dam released (or so we thought) at 3pm. We began to slowly paddle and drift as we waited for the river to rise and the current to pick up. It took Scoob a while to get his sea legs and until that time we had some pretty close calls. He saw some cows and a donkey then some ducks. Each time he stood alert and prepared to leave the boat but we talked him down. Basically he did pretty well and seemed to enjoy himself. We arrived back at the cabin about an hour later, just in time to see the dam actually release. As we pulled the boats out of the water we watched the river surge above the rocks. Dana and Michelle had called after we left and found out that they postponed the release until 4pm. Go figure, huh? So we threw caution to the wind and drove to Blue Ridge for some reasonably good and way over-priced pizza, wings and garlic rolls…and greek salad. . When we arrived back at the cabin the river was rushing past and some fellow paddlers told us it was pretty rough. Jo and I excitedly leapt into the canoe and headed for McCaysville. Now is probably a good time to mention that I had several sensible options for take-out that would ensure a safe, quick trip. Of course I chose the one option that made the least amount of sense…McCaysville. Dana would pick us up at Toccoa River Adventures in McCaysville and shuttle us back. Where was I? Oh yeah, we shoved off in the canoe. Again, Scooby was unhappy with being left behind. So he dove in and swam toward the boat. We shouted him back to the bank. He ran along the bank with Buddy in tow. We laughed. Then he jumped in again, and tried, unsuccessfully, to swim upriver. We stopped laughing. We turned and tried to paddle upriver against a substantial current. It wasn’t easy but we were faring better than Scooby. He was fighting against the current and was losing the battle. Jo got him to the bank, dragged him back to the yard and delivered him to Dana who tied him up. This took about 20 minutes. Just in time for the Dam to stop generating. Yeah, almost no current, but we were going to McCaysville, by gosh, come hell or high water. I was hoping for the latter but we ended up with just a touch of the former. As the sun began to dip below the horizon, and thunder rumbled in the distance we paddled and paddled and then paddled some more. The exact implications of my bonehead decision weren’t completely clear but were becoming clearer by the minute. We were enjoying the scenery, much of which could have come directly from the “Deliverance” set. The river shacks were cool to look at but better judgement forbade us saying hi to the neighbors (Two of which looked like they walked right out of a bedroom scene in Lil’ Abner. Yes, I’m aware Lil’ Abner had no bedroom scenes. I’m trying to be delicate here.)
More paddling, awkward smiles and more paddling. What happened to that dam current? Sorry. As darkness began to settle quickly over our surroundings and the lightning began it’s dance, I started to consider our options…which were few…okay two. We could keep paddling and hope that the plastic canoe would act as an insulator or find a place to pull out here in the boonies and hope for a friendly neighbor with a modern communication device like say a telegraph, 2 dixie cups and a length of string or maybe…a phone. Just as these thoughts were working through my mind lightning struck a little closer and Jo asked nervously, “Hey Dad, think maybe we oughta get off the river?” I’m just looking for a spot. Directly around the bend are some of those yard lights. Looked friendly enough, so we banked the canoe and started making our way toward some ladies in a neighboring yard. I walked quickly with my hands waving in what I hoped looked like a benign request for help. It worked. After explaining our situation to our new friend, she offered to just drive us to McCaysville to meet Dana. When we arrived at TRA Dana wasn’t there. Now, my main concern most of this time had been Dana’s sanity. It had been a while and I was afraid she was beyond worried. My goal was to put her mind to ease. When she wasn’t there I started to freak. (I found out later that my concerns were valid. She had been struggling with whether or not to call the “authorities” and gather a search party). We found her just up from our agreed upon spot. She had moved and cut on the headlights to better provide a “target” for us. Long story short? We found her, made our way back to the canoe, shoved it into the back of the van because I forgot the straps (yeah) just as it started to rain. Just before we left, our heroine told us we “just had” to visit the Olympic Whitewater Center on the Ocoee. We assured her we would and made our way back down the dusty gravel roads, grateful to be warm, sheltered and basically dry.
Started my day out reading a couple of chapters in Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. Still blown away by how God is using this book to remind me of who I am. By mid afternoon we found ourselves in our canoes at the TVA Blue Ridge Dam. Pre-lease, the river is pretty “dry sledding” but we’ve found that at these times the fishing can be spectacular. Today proved to be the exception. None of us were having much success at getting more than a nibble from the myriad trout that could be clearly seen from the canoe, some of which were really big, until…We tied off near a shallow pool where the trout seemed to be gathering for a some sort of a convention. Still nothing seemed to reap any results with these fish. I had tried everything in my box except… Here’s where some explanation is necessary: Aeons ago a fellow fisherman told me his secret to landing the the big boys…a Rapala jig. So, of course, I went right out and bought one, put it in my box and tried it unsuccessfully for the past 15 years. Eventually I lost it. A couple of years ago, a new friend, Roy, said the same. Honestly, if you know Roy, he’s bound to say just about anything so I took it, along with my personal experience, with a grain of salt. The next day he gave me his Rapala Jig, which was much smaller than mine, and by the way was brand new, in the box. Again, I tried this thing repeatedly, only to be ignored. Today, all of that changed. As a desperate, last ditch attempt I tied on the lure. I cast it and the moment it struck the water my rod was nearly jerked out of my hands. For what seemed like an hour but must’ve been only minutes I battled a beast of a trout. True to Hollywood form he leapt out of the water and tried to shake the lure from his mouth. He swam beneath and around the canoe. While Jo and I watched in breathless amazement Dana screamed like a banshee. Eventually I brought him next to the boat and began to stroke his belly to calm him down. He was huge…HUGE! Our best guess is 22- 26″, maybe 3 ½ – 4 pounds and easily 4 or 5 inches from his belly to his back. Mammoth fish. I was using 4 lb test and we had no net so as I reached for this gorgeous fish…you guessed it, he became the one that got away. Sick to my stomach that he was gone, with my lure stuck in his mouth but I sat and contemplated what had just happened. It was an amazing battle and he won but it was worth it just to have been on the other end of that line. After bemoaning my loss, I dug around in my box and found a little Panther martin jig. I tied it on and tossed it in. On the third cast…it happened again! Another trout, almost as big as the last, nailed that jig. I brought it to the side of the boat and again, due to no net, lost it. Yeah, I’ll be buying a net tomorrow.At this point we’re not sure how far we are from the cabin but nightfall is quickly approaching as a thick mist begins to settle on the Toccoa. Both canoes are struggling to get through the many shallow sections of the river. At one point Keith, Michelle and Luke capsize their boat right at the bank which brought on laughter, cursing and some pretty hilarious river calisthenics. We eventually made it back to the cabin where Scooby greeted us by jumping into the river and almost drowning trying to get back out. Jo leapt from the canoe and rescued his sorry St. Labrador butt. Keith decides to try out one of his Rapalas at the cabin and reeled in a monster-brown. Must’ve been at least 24 inches and 4 lbs. It was such an amazing fish that he decided to release it. Fortunately Jo got pictures of this one. What a monster! After the boys and I drove all over Blue Ridge for an hour and a half looking for a net and new lures we came back to the cabin, some of Michelle’s delicious homemade bruschetta and a hot tub. Now that’s adventure!
Went to Fred’s house the night before for C-mans 4th b-day party and ended up getting in so late that we didn’t load the van till this morning (Saturday). After piling a weeks worth of clothes, mountain-board, canoe, fishing gear and a freshly laundered Scooby Doo we headed out…sort of. We stopped at Bob Poock’s Hardees for a new creation; I had them combine the the breakfast bowl with the low-carb breakfast bowl for something that probably had about 18,000 fat grams…energy for the road, right?On the way we stopped at one of our favorite stores on the planet, Mountain Crossings at Walasi-yi. It’s a popular stop on the Appalachian Trail which if you haven’t noticed, has become an obsession with me. We didn’t encounter any thru-hikers but greeted several section hikers, most of whom had just completed 30 miles or so. While Jo and I were lusting over the gear and amazing t-shirts Dana took Scooby and beat me to the trail. And when she saw us again, believe me, she took no small pleasure in letting us know! So Jo and I took the leash (with the dog) and set-out. Within the course of a matter of minutes we found our first white blaze! We were stoked. (Blazes are just strokes of paint on trees used to identify the trail you’re on. The AT, which stretches from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, Maine..approximately 2175 miles…this year, is identified with white blazes.) Before we found the blaze I told Jo that we’d just walk until we found one. I kept saying, “just a little further.” He said, “Let’s just go. Let’s keep walking.” I was tempted. Later he chuckled and said, “It would make a great book: Woman’s husband, son and dog set out for short walk and don’t come back…for 5 months!” I mused, “Hey babe, we’re in Maine. Come get us, would you?” The appeal of the trail has now become almost mystical for me. Near the white blaze was a tree that Jo, of course, had to climb. As he was monkeying to the top my gaze was drawn back to the path. The allure of the beautiful trail stretched out before me seduced me once more. I reminded myself soon…soon.Once we arrived and got unloaded we looked up the number for the Swan Drive-In. One of the more significant losses I’ve seen in my lifetime is the extinction of the Drive-In movie. When we discovered that one of the rare survivors of the VCR/DVD revolution was just down the road from where we were staying we determined to make a visit. Dana and I as well as Keith and Michelle all have fond memories of the inimitable Drive-In. It’s something we’ve longed for years for Jo to experience. As we were digging up the number we talked about what movie we’d like to see. All of us agreed that either Kung Fu Panda or the new Indian Jones would be fantastic. Dana said, “Wouldn’t it be great if they were showing a double feature?” A feeling of wonderment came over me. Double-feature. A term that from the advent of digital recording technology, had been deleted from our lexicon. While we waited in the stifling heat of a local restaurant for our food to arrive (Apparently the AC was down) Dana made the call to see what was showing. She erupted in a blood curdling scream. I honestly thought we’d won the lottery…even though we’d never played. She informed us that tonight the Swan Drive-In would be showing a double-feature. Yep, you guessed it. Kung Fu Panda and Indiana Jones. We were all pretty worn out but couldn’t pass up a chance like this so we loaded up and headed for the Swan. One of the things I miss the most about the demise of the Drive-In is the pre-film activity. At the Swan, like our own beloved Augusta Rd. Drive In, families gathered in the patch of grass before the giant screen for Frisbee, football, tag, hide and seek and various and sundry other activities. We had a blast. Keith brought a Frisbee and before long kids were gathering from everywhere. The infamous flying disc made it’s long and seemingly random circuit repeatedly, interrupted on occasion by the tag football game which would barrel right through the crowd. It was chaotic, it was crazy and it was beautiful. As nightfall approached we made our way to our camp chairs, opened the back of the sports utility van and cranked up the radio to 101.5 fm. I’m sure the giant soft drinks, corn dogs, nachos and funnel cakes were partially to blame but we all found ourselves nodding out during what were probably two pretty good films. It was never really about the movies anyway. Good times.
Wow, we’re back. It’s Monday morning and we hit the ground running. What was supposed to be an easy week is panning out to be more insanity for the day job. This past week was a blast and more so than ever we need a vacation from our vacation. We’re wasted and back in the grind. Here’s where my life philosophy gets tested…during the monotony and drudgery of daily life. Can I live truly alive in the midst of this? God willing.
While we were in Blue Ridge I kept a journal which, of course, could be aptly described as the ramblings of a madman. I think it’ll be interesting reading for those of you who are curious. I’ll begin posting the entries from that journal daily (10 days late) starting tomorrow along with some killer pics from the week.
Last night I got a phone call from my dad who told me that Mark McD, a friend of the family, had called. He had visited the site and said we need some pics of the product up with pricing. I agree. I so agree. Problem is, right now, the budget only allows for that crappy homemade page that’s up there right now. Takes money to make money goes the old adage. Anyhow, I still appreciate the input and all the encouragement. We’ll continue to pursue getting that dream site done but in the meantime, be patient and join the journey as we keep you updated on our myspace and virb accounts.
This is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Period.
Years of full-time ministry depleted me of the essence of who God created me to be. The last 5 or 6 years have been a slow process of introspection, healing (not always fun) and and restoration. This book was the final puzzle piece in this process. (Or at least it seems so) God used Shane to remind me of things that I am now shocked I’d ever forgotten. Read it, and join the journey.
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
By Shane Claiborne
It’s 1:53 pm on Friday and I’ve been up since 3am. I’m going nutz! Picked up banner from Signs-Plus (Great job, Glenn!), t-shirts from Brady’s (Way to step up, Ricky!), product from Ground Industries (who’ll be at the Mountain Sport’s Festival this weekend doing demos and also selling boards), and thank you Yeshua (and Maverick Label) the bumperstickers arrived and look pretty doggone good. Thank you Amber for taking my crazy designs and turning them into something these aforementioned guys can use. I spent way longer than I should’ve trying to create a “under construction page” for the website so there’d be something to look at when people, hopefully, visit it. Guess what? After two hours of trying it wouldn’t upload. Yeah. So I bought a site-builder from Go daddy and fought it for an hour or so. Arrrrggggggh. Don’t like the site builder at all! Sorry it’s so lame but if I can find someone to build what’s in my head, you’re gonna love what’s coming! Well, I’ve gotta go dump our old refrigerator. We got a new one! Woohoo! You’ve no idea what a good thing that is. If you’re reading this hope to see you…or meet you tomorrow.
7 more days and we’ll be on the Toccoa River for 7 blissful days of canoeing, trout-fishing, hiking, exploring and soaking in a hot-tub. Awwwwwwoooooooo, yeah!