The Taco Wrap

Most hikers that spend a lot of time with the same group, or hike long distances on the AT, have a trail name of some sort. My hiking friends gave me the name Taco because I sleep in a hammock. Some people call hammocks “Bear Tacos”. There was even a Kickstarter project at one point called exactly that: The Bear Taco hammock.

It’s not the best trail name, I agree. It sounds like I really love Mexican food or something. I heard an awesome trail name this weekend. They named a guy Crime Scene, because he uses a little wood-burning stove, gets sooty, and leaves little black fingerprints all over everything. His gear looks like the Crime Scene guys have been dusting for prints, evidently.

But – I digress. This past weekend I was camping along the Foothills Trail in South Carolina down by a river. It was a bit cold, but nothing terrible. I wasn’t sure about the weather and how cold it might be, and if there would be bugs. Normally I take my open top, netless hammock in the winter. Laying in it at night though, I was quite surprised by how well the bug net cut down on the cold breeze. Evidently there is a lot of drag created by the little net holes. I unzipped the net just a bit at one point to adjust my under quilt, and a cold breeze blew in like I opened a window. This got me thinking – how could I better insulate my hammock for the cold, while still letting out nasty condensation and breathing.

Hennessy Hammock sells something they call the Over Cover. Its basically a cloth top with portholes that clips over the bug net.

Hennessy Over Cover
Hennessy Over Cover

It looks pretty interesting, and much like what I’ve tried to do in the past using various clothing items on my ridge line. But, instead of an extra piece of cloth to carry and rig, it would be nice to have something completely attached. I already have to string up a tarp, then a hammock, then a Grizz Beak on the end if it’s cold/wet. Now I’m looking at yet another thing to put up. To keep camp simple and fast (especially in the cold) it would be nice to have something fully integrated.

My last hammock came from Hammeck, a company that has since gone out of business temporarily while the family concentrates on other things. But, they sold something called the Envy S, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. I found a video online and took a screenshot.

Envy S top with door
Envy S top with door

In this hammock, (hammeck) you climb in and zip it closed. Then, If you want a lot of air moving through, you unzip it from the inside and there’s still a bug net. But if it’s cold outside, you can zip the thing completely closed if you want. So, bug protection, wind protection, and still in hammock form. Perfect! But, since they’re shut down, I have to make my own.

The Taco Wrap. Something to completely wrap up Taco.

The first step in making this thing was to put together a hammock blank. Those are REALLY easy. I’ve gotten to the point where I can cut and hem a single-piece hammock in an hour. It’s really not that hard. It took me just as long to make the ridge line and loops for the ends. I’m getting to the point that I don’t much like working with the amsteel rope. It’s just a pain in the ass making loops and such.

By the end of the night I had made a hammock and ridge line, ready for suspension testing. OF course, I have to take it apart and tie dye it… it wouldn’t be a Taco Hammock without Tie Dye!

The next step will be preparing the top cover and deciding how much of a window I want. After that’s done, I ‘ll tie-dye the top as well, then begin cutting windows and installing top fabric.

Back on the Foothills Trail

The Foothills Trail (or FHT) is a 77 mile trail that runs around the northwest corner of South Carolina, and up into North Carolina for a bit, before coming back to rest at Table Rock state park in SC.

Our meetup.com group had planned a trip to the Tennessee section of the Appalachian Trail this weekend. Unfortunately, the AT was partially on fire and very dried out. So, we changed our plans to hit a section of the FHT that was not on fire, and not dried out. The thing about the Foothills Trail is, the eastern portion of it runs along a river and you’re never more than about a mile from water at any point.

So myself, Mike, Cowboy, and Michelle left Columbia Friday, at bright-ass early in the morning and drove up to Sloan Bridge (SC Highway 107 almost to NC), dropped a car and headed to Oconee State Park to start walking. The day was nice and cool, with clear blue skies, and we made very good time over mostly flat land. Our planned stop was PigPen Falls, which is nicer than it sounds. Evidently there are two trees you can’t camp next to, because those two trees have “no camping here” signs on them. We were going to avoid those two trees, but it turns out time was on our side. It was only 2pm. We walked another 3 miles, which put us to having a slower, easier, second day.

Our campsite was right along the Chattooga River. There were some rocks sticking out into the water, and we had plenty of flat room to spread out. Despite it only being 4pm or so, I was starving. I set up my hammock in “Porch Mode” because it wasn’t supposed to rain, and then went and laid out my dinner.

Dinner consisted of a previously seasoned, seared, and frozen tenderloin. I cooked it over my Snow Peak canister stove, because there was supposedly a burn ban in place. Accompanying the steak was a piece of bagel, some Chai Latte, and Apple Brandy, courtesy of Michelle. After dinner, most of us tied up our UrSacks. I helped Michelle hang her food bag PCT style, which was a comedy of errors reminiscent of when I used to hang mine. It was good and dark by the time we were done.

Because we weren’t allowed a fire according to several posted signs about a statewide burn ban, by 6:30 everyone was cold and it was dark. I retired to the hammock, intent on staying up as late as possible. I made it to 8:30 before I fell asleep with my phone playing music. I woke up much later and the phone was dead. After plugging it into my charger, I discovered it was 3am, and needed to sleep more. It was quite chilly, but I slept rather well, even after deciding maybe “porch mode” wasn’t the best choice for laying in a hammock in 30 degree weather. “Close and tight” would have been a better use of the tarp, to keep some wind off. But the river sounded good. Someone’s snoring did not, but it was on the edge of my hearing and I slept pretty well.

It really amazed me how well the mosquito net kept out the cold wind. I mean, it’s a net, you’d think the wind would blow right through it. But apparently there’s enough drag on the fibers that it slows down a lot of breeze. The few times I opened the net to adjust my underquilt or turn off my ENO lights, I was greeted with a blast of cold air. It was during the middle of the night I decided to go ahead and sew my “Taco Wrap”. Based on the Hennessy OverCover, the “Taco Wrap” will be a zip-on covered top, sewn from 1 ounce fabric and bug netting. It will cover up to my torso in solid fabric, and my chest and head area in a combination of solid fabric and mosquito netting – which will let out moisture and prevent me from suffocating.

Saturday morning we got up late and hung around taking it easy. After all, with our increased walking distance the day before, we were going to be way early for our rendezvous with Leslie. We got to King Creek Falls a few minutes early, and stopped for a snack. Then we headed up the hill and had a conundrum. The junction of the Foothills Trail and Chattooga Trail apparently happens in three places, and we weren’t sure exactly where she was going to be. Thomas and Mike went ahead, and Michelle and I waited at the Burrells Ford parking area. Within about 5 minutes Leslie came bounding down the hill with no pack. She was on a ridge waiting for us and we never showed up.

There was a bit of confusion because there is a spur off the FHT that runs down to the Chattooga, but it’s not really the Chattooga trail, itself. It’s like a mile long “on ramp”, that bypasses a bit of the Foothills Trail, and the Burrells Ford parking lot. We walked down together, with the pack, and began to get worried about Mike and Thomas. We asked a few people along the main trail if they had seen two guys northbound and they told us no. Finally we arrived at the East Fork trail intersection and found Mike and Thomas. When we arrived, Mike gave us the good news. They had run across a group with a campfire, and were told the burn ban had been lifted in the area. Sweet, hiker TV time.

It turns out that Mike and Thomas guessed we would eventually have to come that far, and had been resting peacefully for about 30 minutes after a nice flat hike, while we hiked uphill half a mile and then downhill for a mile. It was at the point that Mike made one of the most awesome suggestions in the history of hiking. The place we were talking was the intersection of the East Fork trail and the Chattooga River Trail. The East Fork ran only 2.5 miles up to the Fish Hatchery. Mike suggested we camp out, then walk back here, and head to the fish hatchery.

The final phase of the day began with a 2 mile hike to Ellicot Rock where we planned to camp. The path was in need of repair and was full of deadfalls we had to go up and over, or crawl under. Mike had told us it was supposed to rain this evening, and we weren’t looking forward to crossing back over these paths in the wet and rain. When we arrived at the campsite, it was in pretty bad shape. Fine for a tent or two, complete with a little sandy beach, but bad for hammocks. Almost every tree was dead, with at least 8 large “widow makers” overlooking the tent site. Not really what I wanted to sleep under during a thunderstorm. A quick poll was taken, and we walked a mile back to our “Plan B” campsite (Or as Amy Schumer would call it – Plan A). This put us a total of 3.5 miles from the car in the morning – instead of 7.5. We headed off.

The Plan B (A) Campsite was at the confluence of the Chattooga River and a stream coming in from the side, on a point in the river. Anxious to get rid of some weight in fire starters and paper towels that I had wrapped my bagels in, I started piling up little sticks. By the time the final hiker arrived, we had a little fire going. The ground wasn’t entirely flat, and the next camping area was almost another mile away. Everyone was tired and it was getting close to dusk, so we made do. I wound up next to another hammock person, sharing a tree in common, and the tents fought for space. We ate dinner and Michelle earned the trail name “Cricket” when she stepped on one that scared her. Strange behavior for a vegetarian…

We told stories and watched “Hiker TV” around the campfire until about 8pm. More Apple Brandy was passed around and we had a fine and pleasant evening. The rain started just as the fire died to coals, and we retreated to the tents. It wasn’t long before my tree-mate was asleep, and after fighting my own hammock into submission, I found I couldn’t sleep for anything. What was worse, someone was snoring over the noise of the river and the stream. It was a constant dull roar. Nothing I would do would drown out the noise. Finally at about 1230 in the morning, I gave up and took a Percocet left over from my Wisdom teeth getting pulled a year ago. Goodnight.

At 7am I woke up in a drug-induced fog, to a cold rain. Packing up in the rain is always an interesting experience, but it is better knowing it’s your last day, and no matter how wet stuff gets that you have dry clothes and a warm car waiting at the end of the trail. Mike and Leslie quickly outpaced the rest of us, and before long Thomas had gone ahead as well. I was worn out and sticking with Cricket, knowing that someone had to go get the cars anyway. We arrived at the shelter at the end of the Fish Hatchery Road, and Thomas was guarding the packs belonging to the others. Not having had anything to eat, I finished off my beef jerky and heated up a cappucino, and then huddled cold and wet in the corner, covered with my sleeping bag liner. When Mike and Leslie arrived, we split up and headed off to pick up the last car.

One tradition we always do is stopping for food on the way home. It’s nice to eat something not boiled or rehydrated or in a bag. We went to a mexican place in Walhalla SC, and I had some of the most god-awful hot Camarones Diabla I’ve ever tasted. “Satan’s Shrimp” was the perfect name for these ultra-spicy little morsels of Hell. They were equally hot the following afternoon, if you know what I mean.

Of course, planning the next trip is as much fun as reliving the last one. So, I find myself looking at maps and thinking ahead, even as my stuff is strewn all over the house drying out.

The final tally? 29 miles, and 8000 feet of elevation gain.

gps-track-fht-dec-2016

Please don’t go out there on your own…

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I was perusing Amazon for hiking stuff earlier today. I ran across the standard orange poop-hole digging trowel. It’s funny what people “also bought” sometimes while buying other stuff.

So I started reading the comment for some reason, and I ran across the gem above. The question was ridiculous and the response was simple and to the point. But how often have you wondered something silly and obvious, only to come up with the solution later and thought, “Boy was I stupid!”

It’s easy to respond to stupid questions with condescending answers. For some of us, cynicism is an art form, cultivated over years, nurtured and developed into something with its own mind. Often when an opportunity presents itself, our joking, cynical side spews forth an answer before our rational brain can come up with a decent response.

I’m not picking on Elizabeth, above. Not in the least. I laughed and laughed. I reposted her response on Facebook. It was funny and perfectly logical. Someone that doesn’t understand the simple practicalities of pooping in the woods probably shouldn’t be out in the woods alone, yet. If taking a dump is so confusing, then how would the same person handle falling into a 35 degree creek in 45 degree weather? Would they know not to carry a raw steak in their pack and cook it over their camp stove in the vestibule of their tent? Would they assume trail shelters have wi-fi, power outlets, running water and HBO?

I used to take flying lessons, many years ago. There was a quote on the wall in the office:

Whenever we talk about a pilot who has been killed in a flying accident, we should all keep one thing in mind. He called upon the sum of all his knowledge and made a judgment. He believed in it so strongly that he knowingly bet his life on it. That his judgment was faulty is a tragedy, not stupidity. Every instructor, supervisor, and contemporary who ever spoke to him had an opportunity to influence his judgment, so a little bit of all of us goes with every pilot we lose.

Those of us who have been out a few times have an opportunity to help the newbies. I was on a newbie hiking trip a year or so ago. I had hung my bear bag, and one of the new guys had finished eating and walked over to where my bag was hung, PCT Style. He started messing with the rope with his right hand, because he had a wad of stuff in his left. He was just as confused as a bear might have been. The more he pulled on the rope, the higher the bag went. I asked him what he was doing, and he said, “I’m trying to get the bag down so I can put my trash in it.” I responded maybe a little bit sharper than I should have, “Not in MY food bag you’re not!”

I took the opportunity to educate him, that we all carry out the remains of what we carry in. We don’t litter, we don’t burn trash (okay maybe paper towels or napkins, but that’s it), and we don’t put our trash in other people’s bear bags. He had assumed that somewhere there would be a trash bag or can.

Even hiking for a while, we can all learn something. There aren’t many hikes that I don’t learn something, or at least watch a different way of doing something and think “Oh! I didn’t know you could do it that way.” Recently I watched a couple trying to pump filter some water out of a puddle. They were having a terrible time at it, and I was exhausted and just sat and watched. When they finished, I plunked my silicone squishy bowl down under the trickling pipe, and waited so I could pour fresh clean water into my “dirty” bag before squeezing it through a filter. They looked at my bowl of water, mouths open. Then I realized – had I put my bowl out for them, it would have saved us all a lot of time. They could have pumped from the bowl, out of the mud, and cleared out of there faster leaving the source open for me.

It was a missed opportunity, for me to be a friendlier hiker to my fellow trail-marchers. But they learned something just by watching me. I’m sure the idea of a fill bowl won’t escape their memory for a while.

Someone may say silly things, ask stupid questions (they DO exist!) or even do things that make us stare and ask “What the hell was he thinking?” but if we can help someone learn something (even if we have to make a snarky response before answering the question for real), it makes us all look better, and improves the woods experience for all of us.

Imagine if the original poster of the question above never asked. You’re walking along the trail one day when you’re hit by flying poo from behind a bush. The person comes out with their orange trowel in hand and says, “No one told me to dig a hole, I just bought this thing on Amazon…”. So, Snark first, then educate. We’ll all get along better out there.

Now I’m going to go read some more silly questions.

About to lose my shit…

Sorry for two posts in two days. This is kind of a Rambling one, but I’m really frustrated.

I’m totally about to lose my shit. First: My 4 year old refrigerator is dying. I can’t find anyone that will fix it because it’s an LG model. Sears won’t even look at it until December 12th. It won’t make ice, the food in the freezer section is mushy, not solid, and my thermometer says the top section is 44 degrees instead of the 36 I have it set on.
I put my complaint on the Pastafarian Wailing Wall on Facebook. Pastafarians are good people. They didn’t just offer up thoughts and prayers. They actually made suggestions, which, because of my personal relationship with reality, and they were something that I figured might be of real help. I took the back cover off and vacuumed the fuzz off the coils. I  took the drawer off the front and removed the back panel. Nothing was frozen up. There is some corrosion on the copper connectors at the compressor that I didn’t like. It was some white powdery stuff just like you see on a car battery when you finally lift the hood after owning the car for four years and it won’t crank on a cold morning. I’m hoping the freon pipes aren’t leaking, slowly poisoning us.  I looked for a blockage in the fridge’s air system but couldn’t find anything. It all looks rather normal. Nothing I did seemed to help.
So I go to Lowes, where no one is around to talk to. I then call them and get a pricing runaround and finally give up and look online (Mental Note: ALWAYS start online. Screw “Shop Local” and phone calls and all that bullshit. If you can’t find it online, you don’t need it). I say Phuck It and order a new fridge. Next Thursday is the day we sacrifice Turkeys to the gods in thanks for a bountiful harvest and that our weapons were much better than the Native Americans – I NEED a fridge.
So, pissed yet satiated in new-fridge buying, I try and relax and edit my AT Supermoon pics. Lowes calls. The “In Stock” fridge – is not. They’re out. The fridge is in Florence, but that’s not the local area. I’m shaking with anger at this point, and I’m three breaths away from inventing new swear words to use on the poor unfortunate Lowes clerk. I tell her that I ordered an in-stock fridge, and it’s not my fault they can’t count: 1 fridge in stock – 1 fridge in stock means 0 fridges in stock, and they need to get it to me for the ordered price.
She finally tells me they can do a store-to-store transfer and my fridge should be at the house Wednesday.
Hold it right there, Willis.
Should be? SHOULD be? My Damn fridge BETTER be here Wednesday. I tell her to make absolutely damn sure. I don’t want any shit Wednesday about the truck being out of town or they being short on drivers, that they can bring their happy butts here by then or not at all. Another hold call later and she says she can confirm with certainty that it WILL be here Wednesday.
Although something tells me that I might be looking for a truck Wednesday at 5:30.
I apologize in advance to the neighborhood, because Wednesday I’m going to take a shotgun to my old fridge. They aren’t going to “Refurb” something I paid $1500 for, four years ago, and pass it off to someone else at an extreme markup. Screw that. It’s going to have big holes in it.
I then did what any reasonable person would do. I turned to the Scriptures for an answer. In the Loose Canon: Old Pastament, Pastalm IX talks about having food around, after all:

Pastalm IX — The Holy Ponderance

1. Oh Great Noodly One. To thee I doth ponder,
for thy presence inspires much rumbling of my tummy. 2. And after repeated rumbling and grumbling
of thy digestive system, shall I sunder forth
to the Holy Refrigerator in search of your fulfilment. 3. And after much fumbling and bumbling
through the empty shelves, shall I surrender
thy wishful thinking and retreat to the holy ATM
to replenish thy monetary stocks.

And since the Book of Piraticus mentions Rum as the preferred drink of Pirates, and that once you imbibe enough Rum, his noddlyness will push you to the floor, encouraging you not to get up again, I decided that I should partake. This being Friday, the Sabbath, why the Hell not.

It’s been a stressful week, after all.

So Join me, fellow pirates, in restocking your refrigerators, or ordering new ones that then must be restocked, and in drinking of thy holy grog.

R’amen.

Yeah yeah yeah, hiking. I know.

A hike into the fire

Ive been gone a while. Nothing of note has really been occurring. A Disney trip, a hike screwed up by work… but I finally got in some time this week. And it turned out to be quite interesting.

On Monday November 14th, I found myself in Marion, NC for a class for work. I’d previosuly been into this area before, a few months ago hiking from Carver’s Gap to 19E near Mountain Harbor Hostel.

I arrived near Marion early enough to make the AT before sunset. I figured, since if I checked into my hotel room there would be nothing to do, why not go ahead up into the mountains and maybe take some time lapse of the sunset. I had anticipated the possibility of getting in a little trail time and brought along my tabletop tripod and SLR digital camera.

Unfortunately, Google Maps was not quite up to the task. Oh sure, when I looked at google on the phone before leaving town, it looked like it was basically a straight shot through the hills on two or three major roads for an hour. An hour and fifteen minutes later, I’m driving into some hillside development back in the sticks thinking “I should have been there by now.”

Google and my phone have of course lost their signal, and although it still shows me on the right road, according to it, I know I’m nowhere near the right place. I pull out my portable GPS that I use for Hiking. It has the roads on it too, thankfully, and shows me I’m 20 minutes from my destination. In fact, Google led me astray and has me up in Tennessee now.

So I leave the neighborhood, find the main road and come into Carver’s gap, 30 minutes after sunset. Disgusted, I want to just go home, but figure I didn’t just drive over an hour to turn around. So I jump out of the car and SHIT IT’S COLD. I pull on my coat, gloves and quickly throw my little pack on my back and start up the hill in the near darkness. There were several cars in the parking area, and some people, like me, heading up the hill. I passed a few hunters going down the hill in orange vests, and I was glad to be going into the woods after hunting time was over. It’s easy to forget the same trails we hike are used by deer hunters.

It’s only a half or three fourths of a mile to the lookout at the top of the first hill. Along the way, hiking was an interesting experience. I’ve never hiked the AT in the dark before, I was glad I had walked this section or it would have been a little confusing. The path is well worn and even gravelled along the first part, as its a popular area, but on the grassy hilltops it’s easy to get turned around if you step off the path.

I passed the first section where I could see off to the west, but other than where the Sun just set there was not much to see. Finally I could see off to the East, and noticed what everyone was looking at.

For a few weeks, there have been a number of fires in North Carolina. The smoke was pretty bad in places, hanging in a pall over the area. Tonight a lot of the smoke had cleared off to the East, although to the North and West it was still bad. There were a few clouds in the sky, and out in front of us was the Supermoon.

I was listening to the radio on the way up, and because the only stations I could get in the mountains were country music, jesus stations, and NPR, I wound up listening to a lot of NPR. Oddly enough they were talking about the fact that Supermoon is actually an astrology term, and that science types call it a Peak Perigee moon or something like that. The moon was going to be very slightly bigger in the sky, and a few percent brighter. It was a distance difference of only a few hundred miles (out of the 250,000 miles it is normally from us).

But the effect on us shaved apes in clothing was astounding. It was easily the second best trail night I’ve had. The best is still Walnut Mountain when we all watched the sunset. But this was right up there. It’s easy to see how primitive man created religions around celestial bodies.

The moon was halfway out from behind Mount Mitchell I am guessing, when I got to the top of my hill. I found a small rock no bigger around than maybe three fett, and plopped my tripod down. I fixed the camera in place, sitting there on the ground. There were maybe a dozen people spread out all over several acres. I got a few pictures of the moon, but there wasn’t much to see, just the moon in the sky. And it was just a pinpoint because I hadnt brought my big lens, just a 50mm zoom.

So I took several long exposures of the sky as viewed from the top of the hill, looking west at Venus, and almost straight up, and then back at the moon. I had brought some Gatorade and Ritz crackers, and I sat there eating them just watching the moon go up. It finally reached a point where it was lighting up some clouds pretty well, and interacting with the clouds by going partially behind them. People walked by while the shutter was open, providing some interesting camera effects.

I got out my headlamp and wrote the word Moon across the sky, and played around with it. At one point I made a red ghost of myself. Sitting on the ground was making me cold, and after a few more shots I started to pack up. I got one with a group of people standing there looking at the moon (I did ask them to stand still for 15 seconds) and another which looked funnier than it was. This person walked near me and turned on their phone camera to take a picture. But in my shot, because of the timing, all you see is the moon and someone at the top of the hill on their phone. It was an unintended social commentary.

Ritz in my stomach and camera in my bag, it was time for a short hike down to the car. I packed up and headed down the mountain. About a mile down the road into North Carolina there was a truck on the wrong side of the road half in the ditch, and a guy stomping out a fire. It was almost completely out, but I stopped to help him, stomping on embers and trying to rub out coals and little flames with my boots. The fire had scorched an area about 30 feet wide, and ten to fifteen feet up the side of the hill. The man had lost his cell phone, and despite looking with a flashlight, we couldn’t find it. He said someone had just set the fire.

While I was helping him look for his phone, another truck pulled up. A man got out and said he had gone to a house down the hill and called the fire department. No one had cell service on this part of the mountain. I had to get down the hill, so with the two of them there, I left. My wife had texted me during a brief period of service and the text was “Call me”, which sounded urgent. I wasn’t, I would find out later, but I needed to get to service and find out what was up.

As I drove down the hill I thought about how lucky those people on top were. If the fire had escaped and burned up the hill, the place where I was watching the moon would have been a perfect place to get burned up. A dry bald grassland with no trees to slow the fire, and a slight wind, may have made it hard for the people on top to get out of the way, especially in the dark. I don’t know who you were, mysterious Hispanic guy, but the hikers on the hill owe you a debt of gratitude.

Pictures to come later, they’re stuck in my camera because I forgot to bring my card reader on my trip, and I’m writing this in my hotel room on my Raspberry Pi, plugged into the hotel TV. Oops.

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.

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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…

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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: