Over the Hills and Through the Woods

To Winterplace West Virginia we go!

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Time for the Great Kaylee Ski Trip. The GKST is evidently an annual event (I wasn’t sure after its inaugural event last year), where I take Kaylee skiing. Since her birthday is in January, it became her combination birthday party/present last year and the tradition continues. Sure, it’s more costly than Chuck E. Cheese, but it beats inviting 30 kids to some place and then listening to them scream and yell. Plus, it builds memories that last forever, instead of something forgotten in the back of a picture album.

“Look mom! There’s the time we had my Hello Kitty party at the mall. I completely forgot about that. WTF were you thinking?”

So – It all began some time ago with the planning and purchasing of innumerable Ski items, including gloves, special socks, a new coat, a “ninja facemask” and goggles. Some of these were farmed out to others as X-Mass presents (thanks guys!) and others we made special trips ourselves. This year I chose a non-holiday weekend, simply because it was less busy, and MLK weekend was 70 degrees. Damn Global Warming.

Kaylee insisted on staying at the same Hotel, which is very nice. They even gave us a discount rate. The hotel was very quiet, and with the exception of a revival or some other form of chanting going on in the meeting room, we hardly saw anyone (except for a group of odd teens in the hall having a very serious discussion on Jesus – teens are supposed to be shallow and self-indulgent, when do they have serious discussions on anything but MTV and sex?).

So the plans were made and the date set – Saturday morning off we went (after some very generous packing help from Mom, who decided not to go since we were not supposed to get home until 2 am Monday morning – a work/school day).

The first thing I realized was we were out of gas and had no ice for the snack cooler. I fixed that and then set Emily (the crackhead GPS we use) to take me to the Hotel. She tried to send us through Monroe, North Carolina, but seeing as how Monroe has one stop light for every citizen, I took a back road to I-77. Kaylee had lots of fun playing with her camera. 200 pictures later and we were almost to Virginia.

Charlotte from I-77
Some Lake near VA

As we approached the mountains – I recalled everything being covered in snow last year. Unfortunately this year there was no snow anywhere, and stuff was much less picturesque. Including this house, which was part of last year’s favorite images.

North Carolina ended and Virginia began with a climb up the hills past beautiful Mount Airy and on into the highlands. We stopped at the VA Welcome center and grabbed a GeoCache (finally can check that one off the map) before moving on into the state.

Virginia Welcome Center
Mount Airy down below
Almost into the mountains
Our destination awaits!

Finally we got to our hotel (after a mere 5 and a half hours – including stopping for gas, geocaching and sitting down at the Golden Arches). Leaving SC in a t-shirt and jeans, it was a shock to arrive in WV in the 40s. Check in went very smoothly, and Kaylee immediately changed into her swimsuit. She played with a rather irritating and boisterous 5 year old at the pool until 15 of the teens showed up to whoop it up in the pool. Time to go. Dawn would come quickly, after all, and tomorrow would be a long day.

dawn in WV - on the way to Ghent
Kaylee waits on my boots and such.

After dropping Kaylee off at the SkiWee Ski School, it was time for me to once again strap over-sized Popsicle sticks to my feet and unleash the dogs of war. It was cold, and icy, with granular man-made snow on top of what little real snow there was. The conditions were brutal.

If you’ve never skied through snow-making machines, have someone fill an insect sprayer with ice water. Pump it up and have them spray you in the eyes from about six inches away. Now imagine how much worse it would feel if the water was frozen pellets. I guess that’s what goggle are for, I just didn’t have any and wasn’t paying resort prices. At the bottom of the hill I looked like Luke after escaping the Yeti on Hoth, completely coated in ice.

Morning at Winterplace. All blowers on full.
Top of the top of the mountain. I'll take the road for chickens, thank you very much.
long straight and brutal blowers - first run
Same run - looking down. How do I stop again?

So Kaylee eventually graduated Ski School Valedictorian, and was turned loose on the unsuspecting populace. She devised several ways to injure herself and others and finally told me about the “learning hill” where there was a conveyor lift, with no chairs. We set about to explore this wondrous thing.

Riding the conveyor.
Looking down the hill

A video of Kaylee’s episode. She learned the most important lesson in skiing; If you lean back, you will be ON your back. Don’t lean back, lean forward.

Kaylee on the learning hill at Winterplace, WV

After about 17 hours of practice, Kaylee got good enough to go on some other hills. We started at the lodge after having lunch (at 2. She had one pop tart for breakfast, and didnt want to eat lunch then, but I forced her.)

AWESOME BBQ sandwich. Nice and dry, the way it should be.
Not bad...better than McNuggets.
Lessons in the Chair Lift

More important lessons. Use the safety bar. Don’t butt-scootch too soon, or you will fall out. Don’t butt scootch too late, or you will fall out. Don’t let the chair hit you in the back of the head. When you fall out on the unloading area, do your best to jump, hop, skip, roll or crawl OUT OF THE WAY of the next chair load of people.

Fun shadow of me in my hat.
The hat collection. So you won't lose us in a crowd.
Brutal Cold
Fun stuff.

So, Kaylee skied down a longer run and finally mastered turning, and even stopping, somewhat. She surprised me more than I thought she would, going from a whiny “I can’t do it” to “You meet me at the bottom” of the learning hill, and finally, “You go ahead and show me where to go”. She even pushed me at the top of the hill in the video below, telling me to hurry up. This was her second run down this hill:

Kaylee after a lot of practice at Winterplace, WV

So all in all she had a lot of fun, and I was glad we could take the trip. We even survived the drive home, once we were completely exhausted and wet. See you next year, Winterplace!

Last run up as evening closed in.
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What’s for Dinner?

What’s for dinner?

An age old question, ever since language was invented, probably. One can picture a couple of hairy humans standing on the edge of a grassy plain, watching animals. One has a kid with him, and the kid says “what’s for dinner?” The cavemen look at each other. One says, “I don’t care, you pick”. The other says, “It doesn’t matter to me.”
The first one says, “Okay, Buffalo”, to which comes the reply, “We had Buffalo last week, pick something else”. They then club each other until one is unconscious, and the women fix root salad again.

Now that we are slightly more advanced, seeing as how food grows in stores in plastic packages, the question, “What’s for dinner?” can be answered in a thousand ways.

Except when you’re backpacking. You are somewhat limited to;

A. Things you can carry.
B. Things that don’t require refrigeration
C. Things that don’t require large ovens, microwaves, several big pots and tons of ingredients.

You might say, “But we go camping a lot, and we just keep the steaks in the cooler until it’s time to break out the two burner coleman stove and hook it up to the 20 pound tank.

That’s all well and good if you are car camping, where you have a place to store your crap. When you carry it in on your back for 5 miles, the options are a bit more limited.

Having done some research, I have come up with the following:

1. Freeze Dried or Dehydrated Mountain House or Coleman meals-in-a-sack.
I’ve never eaten these. I’ve been told they are good, too salty, and come in a large variety of meals. The thing is, they are somewhat expensive and packaged for two people in most cases. I am one people, not having a Siamese twin or a hiking partner. They also don’t seem that “kid friendly”, the definition of that being they don’t come in a paper sack with a toy, and there are several ingredients, like “four bean chili and pasta” instead of just “pasta”.

2. MREs. The army version of the above, with more food, more cost, and a LOT of extraneous packaging. Take a good sized hardback book off the shelf. Throw one in your pack for each day you plan on being in the woods. This is the size and weight of MREs.

3. Everything else.
I’ve come up with some stuff I can make around the house (or at least from wal-mart)

Instant Grits – for the southerner on the go.
Instant Oatmeal – one to try before leaving the house.
Instant Milk (I see a theme here). The thing with instant milk is, even cold its not so great. Warm, it’s like eating cereal out of yesterdays wash water, the water you put the dirty socks and underwear in. It’s pretty foul stuff. I’m looking for a cereal that cancels this out. Something with a lot of overpowering taste and sugar, like Cinnamon Toast Crunch or any other children’s Sugar Bomb cereal.

Bacon. Its meat candy as it is. They make bacon in a box, that doesn’t have to stay cold. But once you open it, that’s it, you have to eat all of it. I think I could handle it with some help from my kid. I just need a larger pot to heat it in, and maybe a prescription for Plavix.

Cereal – without the foot-water milk. Golden Grahams kick ass when they are dry, and so do fruit loops.

Instant cappuccino. For the mornings you don’t feel like eating the foot-water milk and sugar bombs, or it’s wet and misting rain and you just want to pack up and walk to get warm, without fiddling with mixing too many ingredients.

Lunch foods seem to involve smaller dinner portions, or California Salad (fruits and nuts mixed together). It’s hard to find little packets of peanut butter and jelly. I’ve been all over grocery stores and only see big jars. I’ll have to look up “restaurant supply” online…

For the evening meal there is a bit more variety, including several varieties of food-in-a-bowl. Although microwavable I see these as being convertible to camp cooking. Ramen Cup noodles (or any other Add Boiling Water bachelor meals) are easy and light.

None of which seem kid friendly. At least not to MY kid. I need a Happy Meal and a Dehydrator.

Oh the places you’ll go…

When it’s your birthday and the Cheesecake Factory is a two hour drive from the house.

Boredom sets in

It was the wife’s birthday recently, and by some quirk of nature, my child was born within ten days. Being so close to x-ma$$ it makes life interesting. After all – everyone just got presents. Seeing how my birthday is very close to Thanksgiving itself, we’re all done inside three months, then nothing for a year.

Our usual choice for dinner is the Melting Pot – a Fondue Restaurant. Its a great place to go, however this time we decided to switch it up a little. The Cheesecake Factory, in Charlotte, NC is a great place to eat, and it’s VERY busy. Its also inside a mall dedicated to conspicuous consumption. Its fun to browse through Neiman-Marcus and look in the windows at Tiffany’s, when the shades aren’t pulled, and maybe even browse the Peter Max collection at the art gallery.

Food Court!

Even better may be the fact the NorthLake Mall (a much more down-to-earth wallet friendly place) is barely twenty minutes away on the other side of Charlotte, and there is an REI store over there. REI is a place I could cheerfully spend five hundred bucks and not think twice about it. Kaylee tried on a pack with the help of a salesman ($125) and then we looked at sleeping bags ($100). She is suddenly into the whole hiking idea. Six months ago she hated the woods, so I don’t know what to think.

I’ve learned very little about the actual process of sleeping overnight in the woods. Sure I can pick a spot and hang a tent, and I’m working through the whole “Im old and out of shape” thing. Food is a big issue, especially with a kid whose idea of supper is anything microwaved or fried. I can’t see her sitting down with a sack of rehydrated lasagna, or waking up to a cup of hot oatmeal or instant grits. A pop tart or a bowl of coca-puffs isn’t something to sustain her hiking five miles.

Mmmmmm - steak diane and salmon. Love Cheesecake Factory.

So – after drooling over the stuff at the REI (including a Columbia Bugaboo Coat my wife later found for $30 less at Sierra Trading Post that will be perfect for skiing), and not buying anything but a First Aid Kit (hey – if there’s one thing I will need, it’s a first aid kit. Too bad it doesn’t come with a search and rescue homing beacon), we left and went to Cheesecake Factory.  All in all a good time was had, despite a rainy drive home.

CachePacking in the Sandhills

Logging my find

What is CachePacking you may ask? Simply, it is GeoCaching while wearing a backpack. I coined the term, you don’t have to use it. And no, I wasn’t on some overnight trip, I’m trying to work out and increase my distance and stamina until I can do up to ten miles in a day. Right now the farthest I’ve gone is about 1.5, but I keep running out of places to go. I would have gone farther today, but I was running out of daylight, trail, and GPS batteries.

This was ‘What “Other Mountain”?’ on the GeoCaching site. I had previously sought it out, but was unable to find it, and it’s a nice hike from the car in itself. I missed it last time, but after an email to the owner I was given a better hint. It turns out I was looking in the right place, just not close enough. It really blends in.

The nasty and scary part of the trip came first, when I tried to park, and thought someone left a Huge dead dog at the entrance. Turns out I was close – it was a HOG not a dog.

That's All, Folks!

This thing looked to be an easy 125-150 pounds. I think it was road kill, because noting had chowed down on it yet, but it was a little intimidating. I wouldn’t want to run into a live….that… in the woods. My little folding knife seemed grossly inadequate for self-preservation at that point, if needed in an emergency.

The pines, the pines are call-ing.

So after finding my stuff I had a nice walk up and down some hills which were tiring, and then I stuck to a rolling dirt road that fell into disuse, long enough ago it feels like a wide trail instead of a road. I was trying to make it to a pond, but got about 200 yards away when I hit the end of the road and really thick brush. So I gave up of course, not wanting to twist an ankle half a mile from the car.

The funny thing was, the whole time I had 3G on the iPhone, and set MotionX GPS to send updates to my wife via Facebook. At least if I got attacked by a boar, or ran into some moonshiners and got shot, the world would know where it all happened.

Now I just need to figure out where to put a car battery in my backpack, because the GPS just kills the iphone.