Archive for November 2009

B Collision

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 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.

Thanks Helena.

Hiking, Barbecue and Urban Cowboys

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?

AT Approach Trail Part 1

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.