20 Miles through the mud, and loving it.

This past weekend (May 21) 9 of us headed up to Hampton, TN for an overnight hike in the rain. We didn’t purposefully hike in the rain, but when you’ve scheduled a hike for 3 months, you don’t let a little rain hinder your walking.

We met at the US 321 Crossing of the AT at Hampton, TN by Watauga lake, about 10 minutes before our prescribed time, and waited on our shuttles. And waited, and waited, and waited. After several tense phone calls with the outfitter in Damascus, we were told that the shuttle driver had taken the van to Wilbur Damn road, 40 trail miles away but 40 minutes up the road. They sent a new set of cars and took us for free. So by the time we hit the trail is was almost 1 in the afternoon. The only good part of that, was that we went ahead and ate lunch in the car and had to carry a little less food weight. We were dropped at TN91 – Cross Mountain Road (which you may remember from the trip where we got snowed on a few months ago)

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According to some thru-hikers we met along the way, it had been raining for days. One said they hadn’t seen the sun in 9 days. The trail showed the strain. Everywhere we stepped was covered in mud. The trail was sloppy, squishy and wet. Most everyone had mud halfway up their calves by the time we got any distance. It was cool, though, which made the walking easier. We soon began splitting into separate groups, intending on making Vandeventer Shelter by 6 or 7pm.

This trip sort of changed my outlook on thru-hikers. Not that I ever had any issues with them, but I’ve usually thought about trying to avoid the thru-hiking bubble. The woods are for peace and solitude, a place to relax and be alone with your thoughts. But meeting the thru-hikers was fun, and going south you get to meet lots of them if only for the few seconds you’re in talking range. Most of the interaction is limited to what’s coming up in your respective directions: Wheres the water? How far to the shelter? Seen any bears? Is the shelter full? There may be a little bit of extended talking at water spots or shelters, but that’s by choice.

We met a father-daughter team that had been on the trail about two months together, at Iron Mountain shelter. I saw a group of guys that had obviously seen each other several times. We all stopped at the only decent spring for a few miles, to filter some water. One of the guys (Eno or Emo – not sure exactly what his trail name was) looked to be about 150 pounds soaking wet, and talked about Trail Days and the fact he had to get off the trail for a little bit because he was so exhausted. Walking 30 miles a day for a couple of weeks, no wonder he was exhausted.

The only good part to come from starting so late, was that while we were sitting in the cars dealing with the shuttles by phone, it rained on and off several times, some times pretty good. Once on the trail it rained a little, only once really good enough to worry about putting on the raincoat. But the wind got up pretty good several times, so I was happier to have the jacket as a wind breaker than as a rain protection.

One problem with wearing a rain jacket while hiking is sometimes you get just as wet from sweating as you do from rain. But at least the raincoat keeps the wind off. One nice feature to have on a raincoat is “pit zips”. I just discovered my jacket unzips at the armpits. Two years. I’ve had the jacket for two years and I just figured this out by watching someone else. It was nice to unzip the jacket and stick my arms out, only keeping my torso covered for wind protection, but letting my arms cool off some.

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Our fortunes turned in the afternoon. About 5 we stopped for water at a pretty decent tent site. By now, Three of our group were 4 miles ahead at the shelter. Another three were ahead by a half mile or so, leaving me, Carol and Kim at the back taking it easy. This was supposed to be the last easy water until after the shelter. While we were stopped, Carol texted one of the others to ask about the shelter situation. We were told a group of boy scouts had been in front of us intending on using the shelter and the sites around it. Unfortunately, Vandeventer Shelter is on a ridge line, surrounded by rocky sections and lots of overgrowth and poison ivy. It’s not great for big groups wanted to spread out. The text came back: the shelter was packed full and all the space around it was occupied. The next four miles after it were ridge line too, with no way to tell where a decent site might be. So we made a decision to stop where we were for the night.

The only problem: This was a two day hike of about 21 miles. We had done 7.6. The shelter was around 4 miles ahead, and the end of our hike was a little over 13 miles ahead. So the first three hikers had 4 miles on us, about 2 hours of hiking time. We had a great tent site, but would have to make it up in the morning. Thankfully, the way we drove up in small groups meant we could take one extra hiker in our car. The first three could leave when they got to their car.

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Night went very well. Surprisingly, the rain held off until we got camp set up. About 630 the rain started one again in earnest while I was eating supper. I recorded a complete “how to make supper in the woods” video for a coworker who was interested in that. After supper the rain sort of tapered off to a barely defined drizzle. The other three hikers showed up at this point. Up until now it had been just me, Kim and Carol at the campsite. Jim, Dorothy and Steve arrived and began setting up. Steve chose a solitary spot across the trail with a fire ring, because Kim and Carol took up the only flat tent spots right close to the fire rings on our side of the trail. It was my intent to avoid the inevitable depression from not being able to start a fire.

Steve, however, was a scoutmaster or ninja or something and started a campfire with wet wood in the rain. At first I thought he was just sending smoke signals but before long he had a decent little fire going. Unfortunately there was really nowhere to sit around his fire and I retreated to the hammock area, and partook of Carol’s Jamaican Rum with hot spiced cider. Not too long after that, it was bed time. I lay in the hammock only to find that apparently some application had been running the GPS all day and I was down to 15% on the phone.

No music, no games, no movies, no reading. Not if I wanted the alarm to wake me in the morning. So I lay back in my new hammock, only to realize I hung the thing on a slope and my feet were a little too high. I had a hammock made by a company that was going out of business. I sent them some tie-dyed fabric I did, and it turned out awesome. It has dual side zippers so I can sit in it like a chair, get in either side, and even reach out the sides to fix the under quilt or grab something from the backpack. I ignored the feet issue and tried to sleep.

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Unfortunately some people didn’t respect the traditional 9pm hiker midnight, and laughed and such until late. It was okay, though, because a Barred Owl started his call over and over. We hooted back at him, some a bit more, umm, alcohol-infused than others. He kept up his conversation for about 20 minutes until it started POURING RAIN. This quieted everyone down and finally we were off to sleep. It rained in fits and starts throughout the night, but overall it was one of the better sleeps that I’ve had. New hammock definitely an improvement over my too-short Hennessy that always cramped me in (I knew I should have bought the tall version). At 4:20 the rain returned with a vengeance, and stayed that way until about 6am. I finally got up, ate and began packing. 8% left on the phone!

We started drifting out of camp around 8am. Carol was first, and I followed a little after. Steve caught up with us at some point, and then we leapfrogged each other for a good while, meeting up at the Wilbur Damn Road access point. I sat for lunch for about 5 minutes before Carol and Steve showed up. We crossed Watauga Dam together, and I played with using my “stickpic”, a little plastic thing that turns a trekking pole into a camera mount. It seems to help smooth out some of the bouncing and jerking that walking while filming seems to plague my videos. My guess is the arm muscles help to form a simple kind of “stedicam” with the camera on the end of a long pole.

After the dam it was a rolling 3 more miles up and down through a section of trail that was known for bears. Simple instructions from the park service: Don’t stop, don’t hang around. Just walk straight through. I got a bit ahead of Carol and Steve, despite telling everyone to stick together. That was my bad… but I kept asking NOBO hikers about bears. No one had seen anything. Turns out I wasn’t far ahead. Carol and Steve walked out into the parking lot about 3 minutes after me. I had time enough to change my shirt and take off my “base layer” (what they call leggings for guys, so guys will buy something to keep their legs warm), and that was it. I was, however, exhausted. Jim, Kim and Dorothy walked out of the woods about 5 minutes later. We split up, and thus began the long drive home.

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My video is here:

My video of me cooking supper over my Fancy Feast cat food can stove, as requested by someone at work:

 

 

 

 

Into the bubble

Over the weekend I got the chance to get back out into the woods. It had been about a month or so since my last hike, and it was time I found the comfort, solitude, and torturing pain of a backpacking trip.

Im a three season hiker – I prefer fall, winter, and spring. As the weather gets warm I start to shy away from doing many hikes, but the weather looked good, mid 70s at 6000 feet. Originally 9 or more people had signed up, but as is typical with trips, people started dropping out the closer we got to the hike. A few days before, the weather took a turn for the nasty: Good temperatures, but lots of rain. I said, “Screw it” and held fast to the idea of going. A few more people dropped out Friday afternoon. Saturday morning 3 of us showed up at the meeting spot, two drove direct to Erwin, and 1 failed to show up at all. Since I don’t usually drive, I drove our little crowd up to Tennessee. Jim, Paul and I met Bob and Laura at the Hostel for the drive up.

We started our hike in Erwin Tennessee, at Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky Hostel (On the Nolichucky River, of course). There I got just a glimpse into the thru-hiker life. Back in February or March, people in droves started flocking north from Springer Mountain, Georgia, intending to walk five or six months to Mount Katahdin, in Maine. They spread out, but in general a big group of them spread out over a few hundred miles moving slowly north. This is called the “thru-hiker bubble”. Time of year and last month’s forest fires meant we were smack in the middle of it. A tent city had sprung up outside Uncle Johnny’s, not to mention a full parking lot of people in cars out for the weekend or section hikes. People were buying alcohol fuel by the ounce, getting mail drop packages from home, and were in all states of wear from fresh faced and clean to scraggly and smelly.

So we paid our shuttle fee* and followed the van up to Iron Mountain Gap, dropped a car and took a quiet but long van ride to Carvers Gap. There were lots of Bicycles out on the cool, misty, very windy morning. We hit the trails, which Jim said looked like the Pacific Northwest. Lots of tall evergreens blocked most of the wind and a lot of daylight. It was a nice medium “up” for the first mile, about 700 feet. I stopped to take a couple of pictures, fix my shoelace, get a little extra water, and take off my outer shirt. Jim, Bob, Laura and Paul went on and it was mid day before I saw them again. Hiking is like that, you can spread out and hike alone, while with your group.

It was lunch by the time I got to the turnoff for Roan High Shelter, the highest shelter on the AT at 6200 feet. I walked up to it and found a small group had already taken over for the day. They appeared to be staying there, even though it was just lunchtime. I went inside the bare room (which would have been great for filming a horror movie), sat down and ate my lunch. Bare floor, log walls apparently cut from local trees, with what appeared to be concrete in the log gaps to keep down the wind. The building was cool but it was out of the wind. The group I met had been hiking for a while, over 2400 miles across many different trails and states. They would hike a while, find work, make some money for food and gear, and hike more. It was a real nomadic life. It sounded sort of appealing, at least for a little while.

After eating, I said goodbye and wound up just down the trail at a beautiful bald area formerly occupied by the Cloudland Hotel. Nothing remained but a bit of driveway. I smelled someone down the hill in a parking area cooking hamburgers, but there was no sign for hikers, so no Trail Magic for me. Trail Magic is when, completely unexpectedly, someone will set up a hiker feed or offer to take a hiker to their house for a shower or whatever. The hiker culture is really weird, because everyone is generally so nice and helpful to each other. It’s kind of the way society is supposed to be.

I met up with the rest of my group soon afterward, sitting down to lunch in the middle of an incredibly green field of trillium and wildflowers. I kept up with some of them for a while and we began spreading out. It was a 2000 foot drop over 4 miles from our highest point of the hike to Hughes Gap. I stopped for water at one point and Paul went on ahead. Laura happened upon me as I was finishing up. We headed towards the shelter, looking for the other three of our group. Along the way we passed Little Rock knob, which had some beautiful views over the landscape. It was totally worth walking back up 1000 feet to see the view. The sun had come out and it was a little warm out by this point. Even though there were clouds in the distance, it was beginning to look like the weather was in our favor.

Laura and I found the rest of the group getting water just half a mile or so from the shelter. We walked on as a group and found that the thru-hikers were laying siege to the area around the shelter. We found several decent tent spots and began setting up. I went for water, which was a heck of a clog down the hill and back up, but the water was cold and clear and flowing pretty well from a pipe stuck into the side of the hill. I ate dinner and got my stuff prepared for rain, because during dinner we heard some rumbles of thunder. We started a small fire right about 6:45, immediately followed by the rain beginning in earnest. I lay down and relaxed in the hammock while it rained.

I had a cellular signal and posted a few hiking pictures, although Jim was 75 feet away and had no signal. The mountains are strange that way. Along about 7:45 the rain eased off and several more people showed up, setting up tents in between the rest of us. I got up and walked around a bit. One grizzled older man walked up to me and just said, “Mountain Man” and confused me, until I realized it was his trail name. “I’m Taco”, I said. He looked at me confused and I pointed at the hammock. “Because I sleep in a bear taco”. By 830 the rain started back and I went back to lay down, intending on sleeping. The people in the tents right next to me were planning there hike for the morning and the sound was carrying right through the tent walls. I tried to rest, and soon they got quiet. It started raining like crazy, and rained on and off all night. I slept pretty well. The temperatures were perfect and the rain was soothing.

At 5 am I woke up and couldn’t stand it any more. I HAD to pee. I moved around and got redressed in the hammock, got up and went just outside the tent area to pee, and started putting aways some of my stuff around 5:30 By 6 I was mostly packed and sat around and ate breakfast. Oh, yeah, and it was still raining. The nice thing about an overnight trip, is you don’t really have to worry about wet stuff. Keep your sleeping stuff dry and everything else just gets jammed in the pack wet. By 7 I was done with eating and was packed, and looked over at Jim and Paul. Paul was about to put his pack on, and Jim was right behind him. Laura and Bob hadn’t packed up yet, but they were driving separately.

I shrugged on the green beast and walked off down the trail. After about a quarter mile I realized I had on too much stuff and that it stopped raining. I took off my jacket and over shirt, and braved the woods in just my shirt. The wind would occasionally shake the trees and drop some water on us, but the rain seemed all but done. The weather made the woods very misty and otherworldly. It would have been a beautiful forest to film movies about elves and dragons and stuff like that. The rain made the browns deeper, the greens really showed up, and the light filtering through the mist was really nice.

Jim and Paul caught up to me after a while, and we stuck out the rest of the day together. It was only 6 total mile to the car from the shelter, mostly a series of tough ups followed by tough downs. Overall it was downhill to the parking lot, by close to 1000 feet, but we paid for that downhill with lots of ups. It rained on us a bit on the way to the car, but not hard enough to get out the jacket again. After all, there were warm dry clothes in the car.

We left the trail around 10:30, took a tour of the backwoods of TN wile finding the interstate, and headed home. A quick stop at a seafood place later, and we were home. It was nice hike, although I have the “hiker hobble” today.

My hiking video is below.

 

*A note on shuttle fees: We talked about this at length on the trail. So many people sign up to these things, then drop out at the last minute. This often causes problems for people that want to go but can’t because a hike is full. Also – no shows are a big problem, because if I schedule a shuttle for 9 and show up with 5, they charge the same rate as they would have for the 9. Its just how shuttles run. So the 4 that dropped out just cost the 5 that showed up extra money. In the future my rule will be something like this:

I will schedule the shuttle when I arrange the hike. You get a spot on the hike when you PayPal me some money for the shuttle. Anyone unpaid a week before the hike gets dropped. Anyone who drops out less than a week before the hike may not get a refund. No shows don’t get a refund. When you show up for the hike, I’ll take care of the shuttle at no additional cost for you.

 

Making a hammock…

A friend of mine asked me to make him a hammock since he does some boy scout stuff, and apparently hammocks are popular now in the scouting industry.

Normally I just make single-color hammocks because they’re easier and cheaper (less fabric, less stitching). He asked for black and red, and let me pick so I put the black as the main body and the red as the outside. I used 1.9 ounce ripstop – mainly because the squares make it easy to cut straight lines.

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Pinning up the sides is always the toughest part on these. I leave the selvedge on it (the funny looking 1/2″ edge left over from manufacturing) because it is a little tougher and makes rolling the hem easier. I went ahead and pinned both sides at once.

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Once the sides were done, I rolled the end channels for the suspension ropes. This part is pretty easy and fast, you don’t have to be as precise with it as you do the sides.

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The finished basic hammock blank. Just a big rectangle of black and red.

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Now for the sacks – I usually make a storage sack for the hammock – you stuff the whole thing into its own sack during the day, and at night you have a storage place for a water bottle or headlamp or whatever. I hate making the sacks. I REALLY hate making the sacks. I always make them too big or too small. So I made one too small and sewed it on anyway, because who can’t use an extra storage sack?

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The larger one is plenty big for the hammock, the suspension, and maybe a small toddler.

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The finished hammock with the end ropes in place.

Hammock6So I had the red leftovers from the side pieces, and decided to try tie-dying it since my previous efforts have been less than pleasing. I used standard Rit Dye, added 2 cups of water and two cups of vinegar. I heated the mix to 180 degrees, tied up my cloth, and dumped it all into a ziplock bag for two hours. After removing and washing – here was the result:

TieDyeI also figured out something new this week after replacing my camelback hose. The camelback hose works great with the sawyer in-line. I made a video about it.

No, it’s not Halloween, but my fabric thinks it is.

A coworker asked me to make him a hammock (Abracadabra, you’re a hammock!) for use when he’s going into the woods with the scout troop. He wanted Garnet and Black for a certain sports team which shall remain nameless here. I got his fabric stuff, and took the opportunity to re-try something a bit different while working out his particulars, with a piece of fabric I ordered a while back.

Hammock Red and Black

My first experience with tie-dye and nylon was when I bought my hammock chair about a year ago from Trippy Gear on Facebook. It looks nice and works well, and I talked back and forth with the owner many times. I bought a second piece of raw fabric from him, and made what’s become my FAVORITE piece of backpacking gear, my tie-dye hippy hammock.

My own experience with home tie-dye has been rather lackluster. Most stuff I dye just doesn’t hold the color. It looks great before washing, then after washing it looks like I accidentally left some pens in a pant pocket, and they leaked all over everything leaving faint color marks.

On my first camping gear dye, I tried using some dye designed for nylon. I started with a base of Robin Egg Blue fabric, and tried to dye it dark green and purple. It looked AWESOME when I rinsed it in the sink, but when I washed it, it looked like the fabric equivalent of a week-old bruise. Still, it was better than the Robin Egg Blue base color. Apologies to the LGBT community but that color was GAYYYYYYYYYY. My wife asked me, “What the hell are making out of that stuff, a bridesmaid’s dress?” Yeah, it was that bad before dying. It looked much different online, more blue and less bluish-white. Why a blue base? Because I didn’t want any white left over at all – it was easier to start pre-colored than start with white.

But – Spurred on with a step-by-step technique someone posted on Hammock Forums, I figured I’d give it a try. First step – RIT dye. Plain, cheap dye from Hobby Lobby or Walmart or Target. Dump in a Big Old Pot with 2 cups vinegar and 2 cups water, turn the heat on and drop in a thermometer. Wait until it hits 180.

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While waiting, tie up the fabric. I used 5 yards of orange Nylon HyperD 1.6 ounce from Ripstopbytheroll.com. I have made hammock chairs out of 1 ounce HyperD but I wasn’t sure about long term stability of the fabric, so I went with the heavier weave. It has a diamond-shaped weave instead of the typical square weave of most 1.9 ounce nylon ripstop fabric. It feels a bit different and stretches a little better, but it’s a pain to cut and sew for the same reason. At least with regular square-weave ripstop you can use the squares as a cutting guide.

I went with the classic Spiral, folded the fabric in half and tucked the ends back so it was more or less a square, and twisted from the middle. I put lots of rubber bands on, because I didn’t want the dye to coat the WHOLE piece of fabric. So I had a big orange ball.

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The vinegar Hell mix hit 180 and really started killing my sinuses. I plunked the ball into a gallon size Ziplock FREEZER bag (they are tougher than the cheap-o off brand non-freezer bags), and poured in the dye. I mushed all the air out, and then slipped it into another bag in case the first leaked. I put the whole thing back into the big old pot, in the sink, again in case of leakage. Then I set the clock for 90 minutes and took a nap, because the pollen is killing me and I took a Benadryl.

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I think I had the ball rolled TOO TIGHT, and put too many rubber bands on the thing. After the time was up, I rinsed the fabric until the dye running off was a very light purple, and dumped the whole mess into the washer. When it came out, I could tell there was less dyed than plain. Since I folded the fabric and tucked the ends, the ends are nearly completely dyed a very dark purple, almost black against the orange fabric.

There are two spider-web patterns in the fabric, equally spaced from the ends, Shroud of Turin style because it was doubled over. I’m not sure which spiral I like better. One looks closer to a tie dye spiral but the other is this awesome spider web looking thing, just a jumbled mess. But instead of a purple/orange piece of fabric I have a mostly orange halloween looking piece.

Maybe I’ll make something for use during deer season, so I have less of a chance of getting shot by hunters.
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Bring us gifts! But only the ones on this list:

I get it, second time parents have a lot of baby shit already. Not the brown smelly kind of shit, but you know, pacifiers and diaper bags and bottles and little socks and onesies and all the other crap that goes along with having an infant. All the stuff that takes up 2/3 of the space in the car when you go on a trip somewhere foreign, like Wal-Mart. Because if you have a kid you know that at some point leaving the house required as much equipment and planning as a summit of Everest.

So, I understand that second-time parents might not need more of that stuff. What do they need? Diapers for one, because babies shit a lot. Liquor, for dad because he has to put up with another kid screaming for the next two years. Ritalin, because based on what I know of Elementary school kids, Ritalin is a LOT easier than parenting, especially when there’s two or more of them. iPads, because no one wants to share their iPad, and sometimes its hard to remember to clear the history.

So a relative of mine is having a second kid. We stopped at one, because one was the deal. No way in Hell was I going through that again. The announcements to friends and family, the buildup to the birth, the hormones, the hospital bills, the 327 doctor visits, the birth, the hospital bills, the sleepless nights, colic, illnesses, constant bottle washing, expensive formula, buying completely new wardrobes every six months…

NO! I was NOT starting over. After my kid was born I got fixed. One and Done. Best, Operation, Ever. And we had it EASY. Facebook wasn’t invented yet. Now you’re expected to chronicle every aspect of your pregnancy. Cutesy gag-me pictures of the happy parents, time lapse photos of mom standing in one spot in the same pose every week getting bigger and bigger, showing off all the baby shower goodies, the silly “hands shaped like a heart over the big belly” closeup. It just never ends. It’s hard enough being a working parent without making a constant documentary of the pregnancy.

My wife gets this party invitation the other day in the mail. I can tell its a party invitation immediately. First of all, it’s from someone we don’t know. Whenever you get a card-shaped letter in the mail from someone you don’t know or haven’t heard from in years, it’s best to just throw it away without opening it. It’s usually an invitation to something, and introverts like me prefer to avoid those things. Weddings, Funerals, College graduations, Baby and Bridal showers, stuff like that. Second, there’s this mistaken idea that lots of women have that says, “If you get an invitation to something, that means they expect you to send a gift.”

My thoughts are, if you GO, you take the gift, but surely no one expects a gift for just INVITING you? Your gift is your ticket in, and that’s it. According to my wife, that’s not how it works, “If you get an invitation, you’re supposed to send a gift.” I asked her why don’t we just start sending invitations to random people west of the Mississippi, and see what kind of gifts we get?

She fails to follow my instructions, and instead of tossing the unopened card into the burn box, she opens it. Now she’s committed. She can’t say, “I never got that card”, or “I had no idea I was missing such an important life changing event taking place on one of my only days off on the weekend.” Now we have to deal with it. Drive 45 minutes out of the way, waste several hours, and drive 45 minutes home. Yes, it’s a baby shower. But not just ANY baby shower. It’s a “Books and Diaper Party”. Remember what I said about second-time parents having all the baby stuff? Apparently they want to make sure they don’t get more of the same.

But this makes it really inconvenient on the party-goers. How do you invite someone to something but give them a shopping list? “Hey my bachelor party is next week, make sure you only bring Redheaded strippers, no blondes!”

And I know it’s not the parent’s fault, it’s the party planner’s doing. But for what she spent on the invitation, she probably could have bought a good deal of books and diapers herself. There was a fold-out die-cut diaper in three color ink, with a thin opaque paper insert with a little flower gem at the top, with a couple of different colors of ink. I want to take it down to the printers in town and say, “How much to make this?” Because I’m sure it wasn’t cheap.

But as shopping goes, books are easy. We have a kid, I’m sure we can find some old books around the house to give up. There’s also Amazon, which has some great children’s books, like

Go the F*ck to Sleep

That’s not your mommy any more: A zombie tale

K is for Knifeball – an alphabet of terrible advice

Goodnight Goon

And of course, a big box of Cloth Diapers. Because nothing says disgusting like washing poo-coated cloths in the same washer as your work clothes. Everyone you pass will be well aware you have a child at home or in the car in the mall parking lot.

Dashing through the snow…

Over the weekend I had my first hiking trip since my child broke her leg. It was a trip that was moved because the wife’s grandmother died. One would think this would be an omen, but it turned out pretty good anyway.

The trip was our first to Damascus, VA. We had 8 scheduled to attend, but one got the stomach flu the night before and dropped out. Another said she would meet us in town, so Saturday morning we loaded 5 of us in the van. One was late, so we left. The late one called us and met us up the road from our usual spot in Columbia, still in PJs. New trail name: PJ. Her alarm went off, she just went back to sleep.

So, now that we had everyone – Sunshine, Jim (NoTrailName), Cowboy, Mouse, PJ and I were headed to the most famous trail town out there, Damascus. It was a 4 hour drive. They need to move this AT thing closer to home. We covered 4 states though, pretty cool, SC, NC, TN, and VA.

So we arrive right on time at the store, and the guy is really anxious to get us on the van. I don’t know if he had another shuttle, or if he just wanted to shuttle us up and go home. I’m guessing it was the latter, because it seemed like we had the trail totally to ourselves all weekend. He drives us through Shady Valley, drops us off with a wave and rumbles off, leaving us looking across the field at the cow pasture.

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So begins 10.5 miles of walking to Abingdon Gap shelter. We soon spread out like normal, with the racing group shooting on ahead, and the slower, out of shape ones in the back. The scenery was beautiful, wide open spaces with dustings of snow here and there from a recent trip. It was supposed to snow 4-6 inches, but they didn’t get much of anything. We were hoping to make camp before it rained, as it was supposed to rain in the evening, a last minute weather change posted the night before our trip. Cold isn’t bad. Rain isn’t bad. But cold AND rain just sucks, plus putting up a tent in the rain is just terrible.

We passed one shelter and stopped for a bite to eat and water collection. There weren’t many water sources along this section, some parts we’ve done, there’s water EVERYWHERE. This trip just had two decent sources, and one really crappy one. Even though I had some water, I filled up my two liter bag as a spare.

As the day rolled on, the blue sky dwindled and it got cloudier and nastier looking. About a mile from the shelter, the wind started picking up and it seemed to get colder. I could hear stuff falling in the trees and figured it was raining. Instead of rain though, I soon started getting hit with sleet of some type, large white balls of what looked like styrofoam pellets. I think that was nature’s way of saying, “you better hurry, dumbass”. I redoubled my efforts to reach camp, and the sleet/snow stuff stopped after a just a minute or so. When camp came into view though, it started back with renewed vigor. I picked a spot to hang my hammock as the sleet/snow mix picked up, and got my stuff hung just before the worst of it. By the time I was done, there was a quarter to a half inch covering in some places.

Dinner was quick in the open-sided shelter, which happened to be facing into the wind. I didn’t feel like eating a lot, but nice warm mashed potatoes and Chai tea felt good in the cold. It’s not often you sit outside in the snow drinking hot tea. Myself, Jim, and Sarah had tents we put up. Cowboy, PJ, Kim, and Mouse elected to sleep in the shelter itself. I’m not really into shelters, myself. They’re open sided so the roof is about the only advantage. Wind and cold still get in. Mice tend to congregate in them as well, and then there’s the ever present possibility that one of your sleeping partners may be a chronic snorer. I retired to the hammock after dark, intended to try and stay awake for a while.

That Wasn’t happening. I tried playing on my phone, and found I had a cell signal. I told the wife it was snowing on us and she said “you’re going to freeze!” I was already warm and snug in my 0 degree under and top quilts, so I was happy (just not looking forward to getting out in the morning).

Somewhere around 830 I realized I had forgotten to take my GORP bag (nuts and raisins) out of my pack and stick it with the rest of the food in the bear bag. It was still right next to me in the pack. I wasn’t about to get out and untie the frozen bear bag, so I just picked the GORP bag up and slung it as hard as I could, out into the woods (It was still there, untouched in the morning). The sleet and snow would come and go. It was funny to listen to, as it would build up a little on the hammock’s rainfly, and then something would shake it a bit and it would all slide off the side like a mini avalanche. Either that or I would smack the side with my hand and knock it off on purpose. I fell asleep before 9, exhausted.

Around 2am I was awaked by a rustling sound, that sounded like something was tearing through my tarp or pack. I turned the headlamp on, and it turned out one of my tarp end flaps had come loose and was blowing back and forth across the leaves. I was able to inch to one end to the hammock, trap the offending flap, and tie it crudely into place. I woke up again about 4 am to find my face cover had been removed (i must have done it in my sleep), and my face was cold. I pulled it back on and slept peacefully until 6 am, when I started hearing voices.

The nice thing about putting up the hammock in the snow was I pitched the tarp really low, to keep out blowing snow. Therefore my hammock was pretty low, too, which meant I could just roll to the side and reach out and put stuff in the pack without even getting up. I packed what I could and put on my down jacket and went to eat breakfast.

The problem was, even though the ground was warm enough to melt a good bit of the fallen ice, the tree upon which I hung my bag was not. The knot froze in place. I had to breather on it and work it loose with my teeth, which looked pretty silly, I’m sure. The bag was semi-frozen in the shape of a large ham, so even when I got it to the shelter’s table, it was tough to get the food in and out of it. I needed water, having used up the last bit of mine. As I was getting ready to leave, Sarah (who Sunshine had given the trail name “Bouncy” for the way she just seemed to bounce along effortlessly  in front of us) asked if I would just take her bag, and I could fill mine from hers, at it held 6 liters. So I did… and soon figured out why people were making bargains with each other to get water.

Water was two tenths of a mile way the hell down a hill. Just getting there was difficult, then I filled a 6 liter bag with water and lugged it back up. By then I was plenty warmed up to hike, I took my 2 liters and went to pack the last bit of my stuff.

Mouse and PJ left first, Followed soon by Cowboy. Sunshine had just woken up and had to make food and pack her stuff. She threw up at one point and we got really worried about her, but after she threw up she said she felt better. I know that feeling – Hello Hot Springs trip.

Once Sunshine was packed, Jim and I headed off just in front of her and Bouncy. I expected to see Bouncy pass us in a flash at any moment, but she and Sunshine stuck together. It seemed like a LONG trek out of the woods. I guess it felt that way because we had to get back to town and drive home, so we were sort of racing the clock. I much prefer relaxing easy second days, so maybe I’ll plan a shorter mileage second day in the future. We finally hit the Tennessee/Virginia line, and Jim had waited on me, so we could take pictures at the sign on the trail. The sign said Damascus was only 3.5 miles ahead, which was a relief, and I knew that after this point, most of the trek would be downhill towards town.

I thought I did pretty good, keeping Jim in sight for a ways. We would leapfrog each other at some points. Finally about a mile from town I had to sit and rest and eat something. He went on ahead and that’s the last I saw of him. Coming into Damascus was quite a treat. I was relieved to see flat ground, I was tired and smelly and my feet hurt. But when I walked under the “Welcome to Damascus” arch, I felt a connection with all the trail hikers before me that had come the same way. It was a surreal experience. My final half mile was through town back to the parking lot where the car was. I changed clothes and sat for about fifteen minutes, and Bouncy and Sunshine walked into view.

After a short rest in the sun and packing the car, Bouncy chose a place to eat and we had some pretty good post-trail food. We all must have been a bit dehydrated, because for the whole drive home no one had to stop and pee. Winter hiking is like that – you don’t seem to feel thirst as much for some reason.

Finally home, and now everything that had been frozen (bear bag, tarp, etc) in my pack had thawed out well, wetting a lot of my stuff. Time to dry out and plan the next adventure.

damascusmap

Video is Here:

Get me some Pi.

So I started playing with this Raspberry Pi computer thing. The first thing I realized? Computers are hard. There’s a reason people say “If you need help with a computer, call a teenager”. I guess I’m getting old in that respect.

So far I’ve had it a week, and I figured out how to stick a flash drive into it, and make it play a movie. I was actually surprised at it’s ability to play videos. After all, its a little bigger than the palm of my hand. My old XP machine is two feet tall and weighs 20 pounds and it chokes on video (it really needs a rebuild – but it runs all my pirated software and I hate to have to mess with it).

I’ve learned a few things about Linux though. Most of what I learned is that Linux is REALLY picky. I spent 3 hours trying to figure out why it wouldn’t recognize my wifi adapter. It turns out there was a space on the first line. There wasn’t anything ELSE on the first line. Just a space with nothing else there, the second line was where the real information was. But because there was a space, I had wifi.

I also finally got my keyboard off “UK”. When I push Shift+3 I expect the # symbol. That’s “pound”, not “hashtag”, you damn millennials. But when you try to type # on a UK keyboard, you get a funny wavy L with a line through it.

It’s kind of fun playing with a bare-bones system like it, though. There’s all sorts of stuff they say it will do, First I have to figure out how to hook it up to my shared drive on the old XP machine where I keep all my pirated music and movies. My wife’s MacBook found my shared drive in like three seconds. It will probably take a week to get it on the Pi. But it’s better than wasting away looking at Facebook.