Finally done with my XM computer stuff

After running my new XM setup for a week on my computer, I was plagued with a problem I have experienced for years when using the TimeTrax adapter: The Dreaded “Error: Com Port Closed” window.

What would happen, is while recording music, the computer would pop up this error. Sometimes after ten minutes, sometimes after two hours. Instead of individual songs, the computer would just keep recording one file forever, so I could easily have a song file over a gigabyte if the recording went on long enough.

I decided that since I was using a completely new OS with new drivers and a new version of the software, that the problem MAY lie with the TimeTrax adapter itself. It was really designed to operate with its own software. So, I bit the bullet and built my own cable.

Firs, I bought a serial-USB interface cable online by PlugAbles. Windows 10 found it with NO drivers needed (although it came with a disk – I didn’t need it). Then I bought a Gender Changer plug, because I bought a male version of the cable by accident. Thankfully I had a spare cord that would fit the XM unit, and a serial plug with solder cups. I followed directions and pinout diagrams I found online.

First thing I did was cut the USB head off the cable, and solder on a set of USB header pins, so it would plug direct into the motherboard.


The next step was fabricating the new cable. It’s mostly electrical tape. There are 9 pins on either end, but only 3 go from XM to the computer. then there are 2 positive wires and a ground that feed power to the XM unit. Thankfully computers have readily available 12V plugs. Sorry for the wire mess, I’m running 6 hard drives and 2 DVD drives. Its a big case…


The Cables worked fine, and I ran a third cable to a front panel switch, so I can reset the XM system without having to power down the PC.

Now for the full-up test.

Thankfully everything was wired right. I checked it with the meter like 18 times. One wrong solder joint and I would be feeding 12 volts into the USB port of my motherboard, which probably would be bad.

The XM unit came on fine, and I fired up SiriusXM Recorder. Since it records over repeat songs, It’s been recording 12 hours without a hitch. 98 Individual songs, no errors. I’m very pleased, and I’m thinking I should have build my own cable quite a while ago.


I know, enough nerd stuff, get back to hiking.

Well, this relates to hiking – because this is how I get 95% of my music I listen to while hiking or in the hammock. The rest I get from YouTube Downloader.

Over the Hump – an AT Hike in the Roan Highlands

Over the weekend (Sep 24 and 25), our meetup group joined many, many other people in hiking part of the AT between Carver’s Gap (In Tennessee), through part of North Carolina, and ending at Mountain Harbor Bed and Breakfast, in North Carolina.

The trip became known as the “Five Guys and Burgers” hike. All the women dropped out one by one, so by the time Hiking day rolled around, there were only five guys left. At the end of the hike, we had burgers on the way home, thus the title.

I had heard of the difficulty and beauty of this section for a while. Uncle Johnny (of Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin) says it is one of the most beautiful sections of trail in the area. 5 Balds in 8 miles, or something like that. I was impressed, but I wasn’t expect near as much open area as we had.

Hikers generally refer to the A.T. as “The Green Tunnel”. Most of the time you’re walking along in shade, under a tunnel of greenery of some sort. On this hike, we wound up being in the sun more often than not, which lead to me getting somewhat sunburned in spots.

It started out easily enough. I got up at 4am and headed to Columbia SC, trying not to die in a car wreck in the dark after three hours of sleep. Then it was a nice easy ride to Mountain Harbor Hostel. Thankfully we got there at the same time as another group, and they piled us all in one van and drove us the 25 minutes to Carver’s Gap. If you have seen my previous hike starting at Carver’s Gap, this one was going North instead of South. Last time we went to Iron Mountain Gap. This trip was headed 15 miles back to Mountain Harbor, along TN Route 19E.

They dropped us at Carver’s and bid us Adieu. From the previous trip, we headed down into a valley. We didn’t get a lot of grand views and awesome scenery. This time however, we walked across a gravelly path and within a quarter mile we were standing on top of a bald mountain with incredible, awe inspiring views. And it only got better as the day wore on.

We ran into a LOT of day hikers and small groups. The guys we rode with in the van were headed to Overmountain Shelter, one of the most scenic and largest shelters on the AT. We were passing it by, headed to Doll Flats 12 miles away. It wasn’t long before we were up one bald, down into a saddle, and up to the top of another bald. There was a side trail to Grassy Ridge, but out and back it would add another mile to the trip, which our group skipped.

At this point we were running into fewer and fewer day hikers. Going down the trail into the valley beside Grassy ridge, I passed the last of the out-and-back crowd from the Carver’s Gap parking area. We stopped at Stan Murray shelter and had lunch with a father and son. From their accent I was guessing they were from the Boston area, but I didn’t catch exactly where. They had spent a few months walking south from Maine, and had around 350 miles to go before going back to the real world. The younger one reported being stung by yellow jackets the day before, but thankfully they were north of where we planned to be hiking. Bees were out everywhere, both bumblebees and honeybees. There was even a large contingent of flies, and around the shelters I could smell why.

Hiking takes its toll on an area. In the south, a lot more thru-hikers start than will finish. The trail is crowded enough in the spring and summer months, and add in the cooler weather of the fall, and there’s a whole lot of hiker poop buried in the woods close to the shelters. The area around Stan Murray shelter really kind of reeked. It was sad, really. I didn’t see a Privy (sort of a primitive poop/leaves compost system), so I’m guessing a lot of the smell was probably badly buried dung. 

After leaving Stan Murray, we went over Little Hump Mountain. I am guessing it is named such because it is slightly dwarfed by nearby Big Hump, but there was nothing little about it. We had something like 600 feet to walk up, a lot of it out of the trees, on dry trail surrounded by thigh high grasses and flowers buzzing with bees, in the sunlight with no breeze.

The A.T. is no Green Tunnel through this section. The views from the top of Little Hump were worth the climb, however. I was glad the temperature was tolerable. On an August day in the sun in the high 80s it would have been miserable. After Little Hump we passed Overmountain Shelter. I couldn’t see it from the trail, and I still had enough water to make Bradley Gap, so me and Jim passed the shelter without stopping to check it out.

From Little Hump, we went down into some scrub brush and trees, and there was a trickle of water coming from a spring. I stopped at this point, since I had only a little left in my bag, and it was a few miles to our planned stop at Doll Flats.

I was tired and a little hot when I dumped my pack at the spring. Calling this trickle of water a “spring” was greatly overstating it. There was a bit of liquid seeping through some rocks onto the ground on a slope. Someone had dammed up a little puddle and stuck a 2 inch PVC pipe in it about 3 feet long. The other end of the pipe (thanks to the slope) was about 6 inches off the ground. A trickle of water was coming out the end into a larger puddle a few inches deep and barely large enough to stand in, before the puddle ran down the hill. A couple with a pump filter were trying to pump the puddle dry, but the filter kept clogging. They finally pulled the pre-filter off the end of the hose and sucked up about a liter of liquid before the filter gave up and started squirting water out the top.

They wished me luck and started packing up. I walked over and plunked my Squishy Bowl under the pipe and let it start to fill up. I had clear, dirt-free water to pour in my bag to gravity filter it. The guy’s mouth dropped open, like “I could have done that”. Live, learn, and work smarter. They wandered off. I got about a liter and a half over ten minutes or so, and walked on. The trees and brush opened back up to a grassy field, and there it was in front of me. Hump Mountain.

Normally I don’t get to see the mountains I’m about to climb. They’re shrouded in trees and bushes, obscured from view. This one was laid bare, a victim of it’s own height and weather. Another 600 feet or so to walk up. At the top however, was a 360 unobstructed view. I could see my hiking partners as little dots, already a ways up the side of the hill. I took stock of the one thing I couldn’t replace: Time.

There is a tendency for hikers to beat themselves up making miles, especially on weekend hikes. I’m a victim of it myself. Turn a leisure hike into a Death March, and wind up at camp at 3pm with nothing to do. That’s what I was worried about on this one. I was estimating my arrival time at camp to be around 5pm, much earlier than I really needed to be there. I decided then and there to take it easy, enjoy the hike, and get to camp probably just before dusk.

So that’s what I did. What happened next can only be described as something akin to a religious experience, at least as close to a religious experience as a Rastafarian can get (R’amen). The journey was a pilgrimage of sorts. There I was, a solitary traveler, a stranger in a strange land. As far as I could see in front of me, there was no one. As far as I could behind me, no one. Maybe it was the view, the extraordinary scenery, or something inside me that connected with the earth at the moment. Or maybe I was dehydrated and low on calories. Whatever it was, it was pretty intense. I finally reached the top, only to find the water-pumpers there ahead of me with three other people, stretched out drinking beer.

I understand wanting to have a drink in the wild. But beer? Look, you’re carrying like 92% water. Water! What carry all that extra weight? Bring Jack Daniels. Then you’re carrying a lot less water weight – only 60% water. Too each his own. I stopped for a snack halfway down the back side of Hump Mountain, at a GeoCache called “rattlesnake playground”. It was aptly named, for it was buried amid a big pile of snaky-looking rocks. I poked it with my pole, but I didn’t stick my hand in to open it up. After that it was mostly downhill to Doll Flats camping area.

Doll Flats is HUGE, and it’s mostly flat. The picture below is looking back south from the edge of the woods where the trail continues north. It was our view the next morning.

At Doll Flats we ran into some very loud, rambunctious boy scouts. Thankfully they pretty much kept to themselves. I set my hammock up and went for water. I asked my group how long they had been there, and they said “about an hour”. By the time I set all my stuff up and ate, it was starting to get dark. The scouts managed to build a fire in the fire ring and were having fun exploding acorns by tossing them into the fire. The scoutmaster said he knew about “hiker midnight” and would calm them down. True to his word by about 9 they were quiet and settling down.

I was missing Claudia’s mixture of Bailey’s and Vodka, but I had brought my own drink, just a little bit of brandy made from Muscadine grapes (the only true American grape, native to the southeast). It warmed my insides a bit and I went to lay down. It’s nice to sip a half ounce or so of something to help relax after a hike.

It didn’t take long – between the brandy, the 12 mile walk, and 4 hours of sleep I might have had the night before, I fell asleep in the middle of texting my wife and kid. I actually had pretty good signal from Doll Flats. I stayed that way until 3:30, when I woke to the sound of something walking through the woods. I assumed a scout had to pee, and went back to sleep. At 6 I woke up again, and lounged around. It wasn’t quite light yet, but by 6:30 I was packing my stuff and prepping breakfast from the hammock. As my cappuccino cooled off, I walked out with my camera and took the above picture of the meadow. By 7:30 I was waving bye to my friends. I had enough water to make the Hostel, only 3 miles away downhill.

The trip out was non-eventful, all downhill in the cool morning. Until I fell. I fell hard on my side when a foot shot out on the edge of the trail. I skidded down the trail on my side, getting dirt all over my thigh and backpack. But after laying there for a minute I realized my pride was hurt more than anything. I got up and headed on out, a little more cautious. By 9 I was sitting in the parking lot at Mountain Harbor, and within half an hour we were back in the van heading out.

Unfortunately we made such good time that Los Jalapeños in Erwin wasn’t open yet, so we ate at Fuddrucker’s in Asheville, NC.

But, we had 15 miles of trail under our belts and were back in columbia before supper. It was a good weekend to hike, with great company.

Our Movie:




It’s alive, It’s ALIVE it’s ALIVE…

So it turns out the TimeTrax thing on my computer just needed a few things. The first was a working driver for the Serial-USB chip on the board, a Texas Instruments 310. IF you have this issue, just Google TUSB310 and there’s a windows 8 driver that works fine.

The second was the fact that after about 10 seconds of being powered on, Windows thought TimeTrax was a mouse. So, I had to wait for the precise moment the “mouse” popped up in Device Manager, and click “disable”.

After fixing the drivers, boom, TimeTrax was back and blinking. Next, I had to add some cables for the XM Radio. You can see here a long black 2-wire cord running across the whole thing. It leads from the back of the front panel jacks into the XM radio under the plate. That way, the internal radio passes through the same resistors that the old external radio did.


With everything working on the hardware side, it was time to fire up SXMRecorder. Unfortunately, the old version wouldn’t work. Thankfully although the program is years old, and run by one guy, he had an updated version that works just fine on Windows 10.


I was glad to see everything was still working as it should. Now I can let the computer once again do its job of steadily plugging away and making MP3 files for me at its leisure. Next up, downloading a new copy of WonderFox DVD ripper/converter. With a faster processor, maybe it won’t take a full day to convert a movie to something I can watch on my iPad.

The XM-Enabled computer.

I’m rebuilding parts of my PC (Beavis is his name), which hasn’t had a major update in a dozen years or so. While cleaning it out and re-running some wires, I think I accidentally fried one of the best inventions of all time: my TimeTrax Recorder.

TimeTrax was a hardware and software interface for the XMDirect receiver, which came out around 2004. It was originally marketed as a DVR for XM Radio. Going to be at work while an artist interview is on? The “Garth Brooks: Crap Live Retrospective” is on at 3am? No problem, record it and listen later! The problem was, the thing recorded every song off whatever XM Channel you set it to, and made MP3s out of them. Naturally, the RIAA freaked the hell out. It wasn’t long before TimeTrax was run out of business.

But – the cat was out of the bag. Basically the hardware is just a fancy serial-to-USB converter with a little blinking light and a software suite. The software servers having long ago shut down, TimeTrax programs were replaced by enterprising programmers who made their own standalone versions for free.

I won’t be able to tell if I accidentally killed my TimeTrax unit until I can get Windows up and running, but I figured I would go ahead and work on integrating an XM receiver into the computer itself. Worst case – I have to replace the TimeTrax board with a serial-USB cable and wire a 9-Pin DIN plug to hook onto the radio.

After 10 years with a fan sucking air through the case, the TimeTrax board actually doesn’t look too bad. The black and white wires are power from the PC. The huge grey thing to the left is a front panel USB plug, not related to TimeTrax (I bought the front panel USB bay mainly to cover a hole left by a DVD player. The TimeTrax mounting came later). The green board screwed to the old Radio Shack breadboard is the TimeTrax unit, sans case. You can see the black power connection on its top left, and the old style square female USB plug housing in the middle.


The front of the computer is below. The TimeTrax board protrudes through the front, with its wacky 9-Pin plug to match the one on the XM radio. To the right of the plug are the audio ports for the radio. The red light was supposed to signal power available, and the green light was power on to TimeTrax, controlled by the little switch on the upper panel. The red light never worked, I think it burned out. But the green light would blink when the unit was operating, as it was wired in parallel with the original light on the TimeTrax unit itself.


I removed the USB cables and cleaned the board as best I could. There was just enough room under the mounting plate to bolt on an XM unit. In this view you can also see the audio cables. They are separate from the TimeTrax unit, but when I originally installed it, the XM radio line-out levels were too strong for the computer’s sound card. All the MP3s were “clipped” on the louder sounds. They sounded like crap. So, I ran the audio through two variable resistors (in blue on the bottom left, soldered to the board). The resistors were adjustable through a pair of holes on the front of the PC, but once I set them the first time, I never had to mess with them again. The audio cable runs through the inside of the PC, out the back, and plugs into the sound card Line In port.


To make it easy to assemble the unit onto its plate, I removed the TimeTrax breadboard and flipped the whole assembly upside down. I drilled holes and used hard drive screws to secure the XM unit to the underside of the breadboard mounting plate – temporarily the top. The sheet metal on the underside of the USB bay was just thin enough that the hard drive screws self-tapped and held pretty well. Any good computer nerd has plenty of drive mounting screws lying around.


After it was mounted, I reinstalled the TimeTrax board, the USB cables, and re-wired the front panel switch (the front panel with the switch isn’t installed in the below picture, for clarity, and because I forgot to take a picture). I moved the whole USB/Timetrax/XM thing up a bay, and mounted the switch plate under it. I love these snap-in bays. Screw two rails to something and slide it in until it snaps. Best computer case, ever.

img_4702The only thing sticking out of the front panel is the pink antenna access port. I don’t want to leave the antenna hard-wired all the time, and I don’t want to have to open the case to remove it. 

Several things to do before I finish this build:

  1. Test TimeTrax once I finish my reload of Windows. Right now, nothing works because the PC has no OS, just 4 blank drives waiting on data. I can’t remember if TimeTrax is dependent on the USB working before the blinking light comes on, or not.
  2. If TimeTrax works – solder new audio cables to the back side of the existing ports, to hook onto the radio inside the PC without some weird cable monster sticking out front. Unfortunately, the 9-Pin plug is where it is, and I can’t change the orientation of the whole board. So, I’ll have a cable snaking out from beside the DVD drive and plugged in the front.
  3. If TimeTrax DOESNT work – I’ll still have to fix the audio cables. But, I’ll have to remove the TimeTrax board and build a new Serial-USB cable interface to go inside, and tie it to the spot where TimeTrax used to sit. Thankfully, Serial-USB cables and drivers are really easy to find on Amazon. I have the pinout diagram for the XM and it’s serial interface, so all I need is a male plug with solder cups on it, also easy to find on Amazon.

The only nice thing about removing TimeTrax would be removing the cable from the front. With a USB-Serial cable, everything would be inside the PC except the antenna cable. Also – it would remove my dependance on this piece of unavailable hardware, because once I construct a working adaptor, it’s something that could be rebuilt in the future.

The best thing to all this is, back in 2004 or so, there was a big car computer/XM culture of hackers that wanted to build computer stuff into their cars, before in-dash nav and entertainment systems were standard in the car industry. They figured out how to do all this stuff; How to take an XM radio and build a custom cable that Windows would recognize, which pins went where, and how to supply power to the whole thing without blowing up computers or the radio. So, hats off to the car geeks and Google images.

Walking into the Town the Hanged the elephant

This past weekend I went on an Appalachian Trail hike into Erwin, TN. It’s a town with a dubious past, as they hanged an elephant around the 1900s, for trampling people at a circus. But – that’s not why we went there. We were there to hike.

We started the hike at Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, and he drove us around to Iron Mountain Gap. There were originally supposed to be ten of us, but Kim decided to just meet us at the halfway point and car camp, along with extra supplies. We were glad she did.

The nine of us were dropped at Iron Mountain and quickly the crowd dispersed. Like usual, some of our crowd really moved with a purpose and took off. I was with part of the group for a little bit, until I stopped for a geocache about two miles in. after that I was alone until Cherry Gap shelter. I ran into most everyone there. They were just leaving, so I ate some of lunch alone. Cherry Gap had a nice fast flowing spring. I was really thirsty by then and didn’t even filter the water, just drank it straight from the collection bag. I then grabbed a full 3 liters for my pack, as the rest of the day (7 miles) was supposed to be dry. Another 16 ounces from the collection bag at the spring, and I was ready.

Hiking along in my kilt. 

I ran into one other hiker at the base of Unaka Mountain, but we separated soon after as we began a 1300 foot climb over the next three miles. I hate long climbs. I’d rather do switchbacks over shallower grades for longer distances. I gave a squatch call at one point, and heard a response which turned out to be my hiking partners ahead of me, and above me.

We made good time. Too good. We hit the campsite by 4pm and found Kim there with the water. Some of the group exclaimed they should have slack packed instead.

If you’re not familiar with slackpacking, it means “cheating”. What you do is give most of your stuff to a driver, while you only carry food, water, and maybe first aid stuff, a map, and a raincoat. The driver then meets you with your stuff later down the road and you set up camp. I considered it on this hike, but I need to get in backpacking shape, and carrying a full pack for ten miles is really the best way to do it.

So we set up camp and compared each other’s stuff, which is always fun. I rested a bit in the hammock and got up at 4:45 to fix my food. It was at this point I was glad Kim was there with spare water. I had about a liter left and the water source was down to a trickle. It would have taken forever for everyone to get water. A storm was coming up, so I walked another half mile to the top of Beauty Spot itself. It was definitely named right.


I fixed my food at 5:00 and finally the last hiker walked in, tired and somewhat dehydrated, we think. He was better later in the evening and walked out fine the next morning.

The storm never really impacted us. We had a campfire that night and it dripped rain on us a little, but for the most part the night was cool and storm free. What rain did happen really made it humid, though, and the next morning everything was damp from mist and humidity. My summer underquilt performed perfectly. I was going to sleep without the quilt, but the cool wind under the hammock was just a bit clammy and chilly at 9pm. I popped the Sumderquilt in place and it was warm without being hot, and kept the wind off.

Jim said he wanted to be out of camp at 7, so I set my phone for 6:00. When it went off, I was still dark out, so I tried 6:30. It was light then, so I ate right in the hammock and started putting stuff away. Other people were waking up and telling their night time stories. Kim, who had brought 2 year old Tinsley, wound up sleeping in the car part of the night, because to a 2 year old, a tent is a jungle gym, not a living space. Sonya was a little creeped out that at 6 am she heard the “Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance. I admitted that was my alarm, with didn’t allay her fears all that much. I told Leslie that her snoring sounded like a bit cat growling/purring outside my tent. It was a bit unnerving until I figured out what it was.

When I was ready to go, I noticed a huge pile of firewood someone had gathered. Not intending on hanging around too late, I said my goodbyes and wandered off, after getting water. Around 4 miles down the trail was out first chance for water, and after that, it was EVERYWHERE. Just when I thought we were done with downhills and in town, we had to go up and over a pretty steep ridge, which just about did me in.


I sprung for a five dollar shower at the hostel, which was the best 5 dollar shower I’ve ever had. I bought a 50 cent razor and shaved my face using the big bottle of community shampoo (I was NOT using that bar of soap. No way in hell).

Here’s our movie:

I learned a few things:

Summer hiking isn’t that bad. I typically avoid it because at home it’s like 104 degrees and 98% humidity. But in Tennessee it was a high of 80 and 99% humidity. So, doable but still a bit hot in the sun. Having a five dollar shower at the end is really nice, however.

The Sumderquilt fulfilled its purpose nicely. It’s first full up test proves the design and function are sound.

You can leave home a lot more than you think and still be okay. I left absolutely everything home that I could. This time I didn’t even bring my pocket camera or my GPS, which saved me about a pound and a half. Instead I brought my phone (which I always have) and a 4 ounce backup charger. Thanks to a paper map and the ATHiker App, I had all the information and picture-taking ability I really needed, with enough of a phone charge to last for an overnight hike. I did all this because I thought I was going to be lugging 5 liters of water at first. Kim’s water supply changed that, but I was still carrying a lot of water weight. I also brought exactly enough food. I ate everything that I had, except for some of the peanut mix that I made.

Ten miles is a lot for the go-home day. I like to be in the car earlier on the last day, especially looking down the face of a 5 hour trip home. I’ll have to remember that when planning future hikes.

My bladder is slipping…

Normally when I hike I use a camelback, referred to in the hiking world as a “water bladder” since there are like 30 different vendors that sell essentially the same thing: A plastic bag that holds water. It sits just inside the back of the pack, and theres a little plastic lip that sort of holds it to the shelf sits on. Invariably it slips off, and works it way to the very bottom of the pack while I’m walking. I can tell when this happens because the drinking hose gets really short.

So today I decided to do some modifications. The first was removing the silly adjustable clip and strap from the top of the camelback. It looks like a good idea, but was poorly planned, and I found it quite useless. Plus, there’s really nowhere to loop the clip though inside the pack. The pack has a little velcro loop inside the top, but it comes loose under the weight of a full water bladder. The other option is to undo the clip, work it through the slot for the water tube, and out the other side. It works, but its REALLY HARD to get the thing to come back out, especially in the woods when you’re tired and cold or hot.

So I opened up my pack and looked at it. On the top opening there’s a pretty useless strap with a clip in the middle, that goes from the front to the back. I use it when closing the pack, but since the top also has a draw cord and cord lock, it always seemed superfluous.

I cut the strap off the side of the pack away from my back, and used that clip when I cut and re-sewed the loop on the top of the Camelback Unbottle. So now I had a single, non-adjustable loop with a male clip on it. Then I shortened the backpack strap on the side near my back, leaving the female side of the clip on it. 


Now I can drop the camelback in the pack and just clip the two together, and if the strap works its way loose, it can’t go very far. It can’t slip all the way to the bottom of the pack like before.


I’m thinking of designing my own pack from the ground up. Lighter, tie-dye fabric (of course), wrap-around sides like on one of the Gregory models, a proper shelf sleeve for the water bladder inside the back, water bottle holders on the outside you can actually reach without being a contortionist, and a convenient hidden holster compartment for concealed carrying, since some hikers like to do that. Again, one you can reach without being a contortionist.

Hiking – Next!

My old scale broke. I guess I should have expected it – it was a cheap Walmart scale. My wife sells crafts and stuff and has to weigh stuff for postage. When the scale broke she came to me in true woman form with her laptop, and deliberated for 20 minutes on the merits of various scales. She handed the laptop to me and asked my opinion. I looked at two on the list for about 10 seconds and clicked “order now” beside the slightly more expensive one. I was done with cheap scales. Discussion over.

I use the same technique picking out greeting cards. My wife hates watching me pick out greeting cards, because my theory is the shopping cart should never really come to a complete stop. Find a card with a pretty picture on the front, glance at key words inside, and you’re done. The recipient doesn’t know whether you’ve spent 10 seconds or 20 minutes picking it out. What’s really important is the message you write inside to go with it. That’s why the blank page is there.

So – I weighed my new underquilt thing again since my old scale was apparently suffering impending death. It came out to 1 pound 6 ounces, which sounds good. I then weighed my old lower temperature quilt. It came in at 1 pound 12 ounces.

For those of you with 33 month old children, that prefer to overly complicate measurements: it comes out to 22 ounces and 28 ounces respectively. Not as much of a weight savings as I really hoped. I’m considering opening the foot end, and removing the extra side panels of insulation, leaving just the extra layer over the back. BUT – I’ll do that AFTER my next hike. Since I’m doing a full up test in a few weeks. My test takes me back near Erwin, Tennessee.

Organizing a hike is pretty tough to do. It’s really kind of a pain in the ass. I told a friend of mine last week I was probably going somewhere. We started kicking around ideas, and someone else joined the discussion. It took 427 messages and 4 hours over two days, along with 23 blurry pictures from hiking books, and we came back to the A.T. again.

My goal by the end of the year is to have the entire section from I-40 to Davenport Gap completed, a distance of approximately 230 miles. I have several 2 and 3 day sections planned, but I’ve been missing 20 miles into Erwin, TN since March. It a section that crosses an open field called Beauty Spot Gap. BSGap

The above picture was apparently taken right on Beauty Spot. Credit goes to Google Images and Right-Click/Save-As. It presents a chance to tent/hammock out right on a gorgeous bald mountain and catch a sunset and a sunrise. I’m hoping the weather is nice. For example, this weekend the temperatures are supposed to be highs in the 70s and lows in the mid 60s. Where I live it’s like 95 degrees in the shade. I’m really looking forward to trying out the new quilt and walking with my friends, old and new, covering some 20 miles of the AT overnight.

I’m looking at trying some star trails and long exposures overnight. It all depends on the weather. I’ve been practicing a while with my DSLR camera, I think I can do some halfway decent stuff if it doesn’t rain, and the clouds behave. One of my favorite finds recently is the Appalachian Trail Weather site. Just click on the trail, the state, and the shelter you are closest too, then check out the forecast. Its great because a lot of the trail isn’t near a town, or it’s way above town so the weather can be drastically different. Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 9.20.57 PM

Another site I like is’s moonrise/set calendar. If you’re planning a hike and want to know whether to expect a moon or not (especially involving photography of stars) it’s information is pretty valuable. In my case, I’ll be looking south/Southeast most of the night. For example, if I was going on August 26th, a photograph of stars needs to take place between dark and around 1am. At one frame every 30 seconds, thats about 4 hours of pictures, or 480 frames. at 30 frames/second, thats only 16 seconds of star motion. If the moon were coming up at 9pm, I could forget it. Looking directly into the moon would totally wash out the stars.

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The biggest challenge is always getting everyone to agree on a place and setting up cars. There are usually a lot more “go-ers” than drivers. I.e. “I want to go, but I don’t have a spare car”. Most of the time I just post a hike on our group and say, “this is where I’m going, you can come or not.” It works pretty well, but sometimes I throw it out there that I’m taking suggestions. Usually it’s much harder to come to a consensus that way.

I’m not usually a summer hiker, but I’m looking forward to escaping the relentless South Carolina heat.