I’m converting…well, a little.

I used to be a die hard amazon fan. In fact, up until very recently my goal was to buy everything on my x-ma$$ list at Amazon.Com. Stuff is cheaper, ships quick, and there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you get that text from UPS saying “package delivered”. The waiting is part of the fun.

I spent some time at “The Backpacker” store in Columbia yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised. I had a long talk with one of the sales guys about getting into backpacking. He showed me some stuff and pointed out what he thought was good. I can trust his experience, he’s hiked the Appalachian Trail, so he probably knows a thing or two about packs and equipment. I tried on a few. Sure the one I like is 20$ cheaper on Amazon, but he said “It has a moldable hip belt – we heat it up, you put it on and walk around ten minutes while it cools, and then its formed to your own body shape and feels great.

How’s Amazon going to do that?

He offered advice on sizes. Since my spouse and child would loathe the idea of walking around in the woods for a few days; smelly, tired and away from TV, InterNet, and WarCraft (my kid is a Worgen Warlock), I don’t have to carry a lot of extras.

He showed me sleeping bags, and how a bag packs down into the size of a volleyball. Incredibly light and small. My bed sheets don’t roll up that tight. We talked about tents vs. hammocks (I’m sold on the Hammock Tent – no more laying on rocks and having rains float you away).

I’ll go back – I like the store. I’ve bought gloves and such from them before, and I’m going to get my daughter some new ski gloves before January. Sure you can buy the same gloves at Dick’s, but the salesmen (IF they help you) often aren’t experienced enough. When the guy says , “Oh – I used these when I skied in Aspen last year and they kept my hands toasty”, thats an opinion I value.

Sure – I’ll stick with Amazon for some things. Books (mainly Kindle – I rarely buy paper books anymore, though its a shame. Kindle books are half the price of paper), camera accessories, computer parts, cables, stuff I know I want that I don’t have to ask questions about.

But when you go into a store and say “I’m just looking to learn”, and a guy spends 30 minutes explaining things to you without attitude, and being very helpful, that’s a store worth supporting. Plus – I did some comparison shopping online. That North Face sleeping bag I want? Its actually 10$ CHEAPER in the store. Since shipping and sales tax are often the comparable – I’ll save money buying in-state, and help my state, too.

I still want to stick to online shopping as much as I can for x-ma$$ though. Nothing sucks like going ANYWHERE between Thanksgiving and X-Ma$$.

Angie’s Apple Adventure – or: Top O’ the Mountain.

I have seen the top of the mountain.

And there were apples there. Continuing my removal of pictures from FaceBook – I removed last year’s “Angie’s Apple Adventure”, and have reconstructed it here.

The AAA (Or 3A) is an annual event, begun 3 years ago, where we go to North Carolina and pick apples. The apples are good, and pretty inexpensive, however between eating and driving, that bag o’ apples winds up costing around $100. So I also dub the trip the “Hundred Dollar Sack o’ apples” trip.

Its worth it, though. I can’t think of a better way to spend the day than by going to the Mountains of North Carolina. Actually I’d like to spend the weekend there even better. I love the mountains.

Anyhow – we go to this place called “Sky Top Orchards”, that really is on the top of the mountain, On Pinnacle Mountain Road west of Zirconia. You can see the orchards on Google Maps from above, it’s pretty cool. Usually the day starts early, with a three and a half hour drive to the area, then lunch at the Village Bakery in Flat Rock. When that’s over, we head to Sky Top, and spend an hour or so picking the apples. A drive down the mountain again, and it’s over. Last year we drove into the Pisgah Forest, up to Looking Glass Falls “The most photographed waterfall east of the Mississippi”. It really is awe inspiring. There was a guy swimming in the falls, although the water was freezing. I think I’m going to try this year. I have to remember – swimsuit and towel.

So – there you have the Apple Adventure. Mix in some good local food, a smattering of outdoor fun, some drives that make the rides at Carowinds seem tame, and all for $100 or so. A good family fun day.

Up on the housetop…

Up on the housetop Mexicans crawl
they rip off my shingles one and all.
Down come the old ones on the ground
There’s shingles everywhere, all around
Oh Oh no, please don’t slip, oh oh no, please don’t trip

Up on the housetop, click, click, click
I hear the nailgun, quick quick quick.

 

So this morning I wake up to a van and a huge pickup with knobby tires in my driveway. I’m thinking, this isn’t right. Someone’s in the wrong place.

Then I see four Hispanic guys in “roofing company” shirts milling about.  Actually, I knew they were coming, they were just supposed to be here on Monday, not today. But it’s a surprise when you open the door and there they are. One was able to tell me in broken English the the house they were supposed to do, didn’t get it’s shingles. So they came to do mine, since my shingles came yesterday.

I’m kind of scared. There is no dumpster or port-a-john, so I wondering where the shingles and other work detritus will go. They are working very fast, though, as it’s barely 8:30 and half the roof has been stripped. I told them “Trabajamos Rapido!” which from what I recall means “you dudes work fast”. At least that’s what I hope I said. Don’t tell me if I’m wrong.

The sounds are a bit creepy, though. I keep waiting for someone to come through the roof on me. It sounds a bit like the zombie apocalypse, that the zombies are clawing their way through the roof. It’s hard to play WarCraft when you are scared some dude with a pitchfork is going to slip and impale himself right outside the window. Maybe Battlefield 2 would be the better choice…. the bangs and booms and nailguns add that much more realism.

Hailstorms are great! Thank you ___ (insert deity of your choice here)____!

 

 

Live Locally, Shop Globally

Or something like that.

Its getting close to “That Time” again. You know the time I mean. Time for Merry Thanksgivo’WeenMas! The time of year that people forego sanity and all sense of financial responsibility in order to give in to the unending slew of advertising and greed, only to buy too much crap for their house.

It’s the “Holiday Season”. Fall is here, which means stores will briefly put out some slutty Halloween costumes for twelve-year olds, then gloss right over Thanksgiving (Hooray Pilgrims, NEXT!) In Fact, some stores put their stuff out BEFORE Fall. Congratulations, Lowes. You win the Greedy Bastards award AGAIN this year. September 9th:

Cities will put up non-denominational “Holiday” greetings (snowflakes and the like), Santa Claus (its NOT Spelled SANTA CLAUSE – that was the Tim Allen movie, you morons. Get it right), and generic Happy Holidays signs, so as not to “offend anyone”. This is America, what happened to having the right to offend people? I’m sorry, but if you want my money, you have to say Christmas. Happy Holidays doesn’t cut it. I’m not buying my kid a Nintendo DS because it’s New Years Eve. I’m buying her the thing because I couldn’t find a religion that doesn’t celebrate giving presents in December.  Its the winter solstice – even the pagans celebrate this time of year. Last year JC Penny included Jews in its “holiday” advertising, and Old Navy threw a shout-out to Wiccans, so the message is clear:

We don’t care why, just go out and buy crap.

I’m used to it by now, there’s no way out. As much as I want to say, “Screw it! I’ll put up the tree, some lights, eat too much and drive all over the countryside to see everyone, but I ain’t buying nothin’!” I’m stuck.

So – The first of 80 shopping trips will soon commence. I live in a small town, and the mantra every year is “Spend your money here!” I get so sick of it. I always spend my money here. I buy gas, clothes, shoes, dinner out, groceries, prescriptions, pay taxes, go to doctors, dentists and the movies (hey, its a small place, but where else can you pay $2.50 to get in and watch a first run movie? The family saw Harry Potter 7b on opening weekend for $7.50 – take that Myrtle Beach!).

I’m tired of hearing it. “Every dollar spent here stays here”. I’m sorry, but there’s no Tanger Outlet in town. No Dick’s Sporting Goods, no Best Buy… so, I’m going to have to shop elsewhere. I’ve looked really hard for the Spencer Gifts and the Hot Topic, but I can’t find them either.

Support the local guy when you can, but sometimes you can’t. That’s just how life is under capitalism.

Oh, and Happy Holidays.

Titanium Sporks

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So I’m looking at camping and backpacking stuff on the REI site, trying to find a way to spend my gift certificate and start gathering equipment. After reading several sites and participating in a forum on the subject, there seems to be a lot of stuff to get.

Titanium Sporks.

If you’ve been to KFC you know the spork, that funny spoon with little slots in the end that sort of works as a fork too.
It turns out the plastic ones don’t work so well in campsites and over little hiking stoves. They melt. So – hikers being a weight conscious bunch , they pick the lightest strongest metal there is.

Thus, the titanium spork. The coolness of a spork plus the strength of titanium makes for pure awesomeness. I want to take one to a restaurant and say, “I don’t need silverware, I brought my Titanium Spork!”

There’s other titanium stuff too, cups and pots and such. However, it appears titanium is expensive. But the titanium spork? Totally worth 9 bucks.

Squeal Like a Pig, Boy!

If you’ve never driven along the Blue Ridge Parkway trough North Carolina you are missing a treat. Its the Appalachian Trail for people too lazy to un-ass their cars. It is full of captivating views, incredible scenery, and some roadway excitement to rival rides at Disney World for the adrenaline rush. There’s nothing like approaching a blind 120 degree curve when a truck barrels around it halfway in your lane because he’s going too fast, and the only way to avoid a wreck is by inching either really close to the rocks (if you’re on the inside), or inching towards the open unrailed drop next to the road, (if you’re on the outside)..

But I digress. This post isn’t about driving. Its about when you stop the car at any overlook (and there is one about every mile on the Parkway) and gaze over the mountains into the wilderness beyond. Since the first time I laid eyes upon it, I’ve wanted to scramble down the hillside – in the places where there is hillside to scramble down, and wander off. I want to see what’s over the next hill, find out where that stream goes, or simply marvel at the vast empty wilderness (as long as you don’t turn around and look up at the cars).

I’ve had a little camping experience. If you can call camping within 100 feet of a car, “Camping”. It fits the basic definition. Sleeping bag, Tent, Mosquitos, Ticks and Chiggers. But add “the bath house is over there 30 yards”, and “come to the car and get your change of clothes”, or “you guys walk to the beach, I’m going to drive to Wal-Mart for burgers, we’ll grill out tonight”, and that sort of takes away from the true back-to-nature experience.

Where’s the hardship, the sense of being on-your-own, self-reliant? Okay – I was a kid when I went camping for more than a night. We would stay at Myrtle Beach or Disney World (this was 70s and early 80s. There were no cheap hotels in Disney – it was either the Polynesian of the Coleman Tent). I was also what you would call, in today’s terms, “wimpy”. Nerds don’t camp. They don’t join boy scouts. I was in cub scouts, which included meetings in the church basement to make popsicle stick boxes and learn about indians, just in case we met any the white man hadn’t killed yet. We never camped, though.

So I have this wanderlust now. For the last couple of years, my wife, child and I have undertaken “Angie’s Apple Adventure”, an October Pilgrimage to Sky Top Orchards in North Carolina, to procure what I call the “Hundred Dollar Sack of Apples”. It’s a LOT of fun, involving a day trip to the Mountains, picking fresh apples right off the trees, stopping for delicious local food, and driving through the most beautiful (somewhat scary) scenery. And usually when we go the leaves aren’t changing much yet, so the people aren’t out clogging the roads (much). But the mountain trips re-ignited my desires to see the woods.

Seeing as how neither my wife or offspring are much interested in 1. Camping, or 2. The Woods, I think I will be on my own. I started looking through camping and hiking web sites, thanks in part to the REI gift card my sister gave me last year when I said I wanted to start camping.

There’s a LOT of crap to look at. First of all, I figure the trip’s not worth it unless I’m far enough away from the car that I’m really on my own. So, I need something to sleep in, and something to keep the bugs off me when I’m sleeping. So, Tent and Sleeping bag. The smallest tent I can find is a hammock tent, which looks awesome. The sleeping bag has to be long enough for my 6’02 body… and warm enough (because sleeping in a hammock tent lets the wind blow under you). All this has to go in a hiking pack… along with water, water purifiers (you NEVER drink from streams. You can get all kinds of nasty bacteria, which will give you a case of the runs that make that case of diarrhea you got from the Mexican restaurant look like nothing.), a tiny portable stove to boil water (campfires are often forbidden in state forests), cups, some sort of food, sporks, a change of clothes, hand wipes, toilet paper. Thankfully a lot of things come in tiny sizes for traveling. toothpaste, even toothbrushes. The one thing they say you don’t need – deodorant. its smell attracts bugs. Not sure about the shampoo. No bathrooms around…. and who wants to try and bathe in a stream. Brrrr. shaving could be tough too – ticks like beards, so shaving is a must.

Then there are those things out to hurt you. In addition to chiggers, ticks and other insects that can be controlled with DEET, there are larger critters. Snakes, bobcat, mountain lion, bear, and deliverance-type Appalachian Americans (i.e. Hillbillies). There is some debate on the Geocaching board about “packing heat” on the trail. Guns are heavy, and while quite efficient, seem like overkill to me. I found a wicked-looking ka-bar kukuri Machete. Lighter than a gun, really scary-looking, and it is actually useful for clearing brush, chopping small limbs, and self-protection.

I once faced down a ka-bar machete in high school. Some guy was messing around with some other guy’s girlfriend. The cheat-ee wandered up to the building looking for the cheat-er, and pointed that ka-bar’s end at me. He asked If I knew where the cheater was. I pointed towards the door, and left them to work it out on their own. That was one scary-wicked looking knife.

Actually needing something like that might not happen, but I would feel better carrying something, than nothing.

Of course the goal is to see things like this:

Which was actually a short walk from the Car… instead of a three day hike.

At heart though, I’m still a nerd. I’m wondering where I can recharge my iphone in the woods. I found the solution. They make a solar cell for that, that only weighs a few ounces and straps to the top of your pack. Nerds and Nature unite!

But I’m NOT learning to play the banjo. Maybe a set of little speakers and the Dueling Banjos mp3 on my iPhone will help keep people away. While I’m at it I might put some ‘squatch calls on there too.

The Cell Phone DJ

I was walking through a mall the other day. Everything was going as well as it could be in a mall.

Evidently the new fall line is out from “Skanks R Us”, there was the obligatory five-friends-side-by-side stroll going on so you couldn’t get past, the “overly annoying loud girl” screeching at her friends and laughing like a hyena, and then I heard it.

Since when do Alvin and the Chipmunks sing gangsta rap?

No wait – its not the chipmunks. Its regular music played through a cell phone’s tiny, tinny speaker. Someone needs to answer their phone. As the person walked past me, I could see he wasn’t getting a phone call. This guy was wandering through the mall playing music through his cellular phone, just for the Hell of it.

Wait. Stop the presses.

People really do this? I can confirm, I’ve seen it done several times. On streets, malls and sidewalks. Someone please put an end to this. Nothing shouts, “Hey! Look at ME! I’m a huge Douchebag!” quite like walking along with your cellular phone just playing music. We don’t want to hear it. No more than we want to hear music blaring from your $500 car with it’s $3000 stereo (or for the rednecks in the bunch, your $500 truck with its $3000 stereo and the jacked up off-road knobby tires).

Buy ear buds. They have a much better Bass response, and even better, WE don’t have to hear your song selection. I might like Young Skeezy or Volbeat or Lady Gaga too, but that doesn’t mean I want to hear the song buzzing like a mosquito boring into my brain.

If you want to be a DJ, buy some equipment, have your friends invite you to parties, build a business. Have fun with playing music where and when people like to hear it. But just letting your phone blast in a mall is a lot like a proctologist giving drive-by exams. I didn’t ask for it, I don’t want it.

At least in the 80’s, carrying your music around meant something. You hefted thirty pound boom boxes onto your shoulder and played it at ear-deafening tones, but it sounded GOOD. And you went through D batteries like howitzer shells during the Battle of the Bulge…but at least it was impressive.

Now, you look like a moron. Please, just put the phone away.