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.

6.  Books

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!

006 All Who Wander – Cimarron: A Tenacious 88 Year Old AT Thru-hiker on Life, Love, Trail Magic and the Curse of Hiawassee. Part 2

Join Cimarron and I for Part 2 of this “Zero Day” conversation in Hiawassee, Georgia. Music provided by Under the Appletree

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:

 also on facebook!


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.

It was just a dream…

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

AT Hike (Fox Creek to Damascus, VA) Day 6

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

Ghosts in the Wind (Art Loeb Trail)

“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?


“Did you say in your 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)

Foothills Trail (Oconee to Burrells Ford

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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Raven Cliff Falls Hike January 2010

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.

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 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.

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 2

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.

Ankle Story

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?

Foothills Trail, finally Part 1

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.

Quote of the Day

“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

8 Miles

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!

Rim of the Gap Part 1

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.

Rim of the Gap Part 2

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.

Blue Ridge Journal Day 7

Day 7


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.