A Forty Acre Hike

I have to say this weekend was a very enjoyable one.

First of all – it was time once again to make a trip to Charlotte, NC for the Cheesecake Factory and the REI store. Charlotte is slightly farther from my house than Columbia, SC, but not as far as Myrtle Beach. The drive gives me the fascinating chance to see some backwater middle-of-nowhere towns that time forgot. Its amazing when you see a new, nice home surrounded on all sides by ramshackle housing. It begs the point, why?  I guess some people don’t care about what their neighbors are like as long as they are happy. Who am I to judge?

It started with a trip to North Lake Mall. It’s a nice place to go, if you can handle malls. It’s always busy, too, and very…diverse. I didn’t know male cross dressers came in “Goth” style, but apparently they do. I tried to get pictures, but they wouldn’t come out of the purse store. There are also lots of foreign-speaking people. I’m not sure what draws this crowd to this area, but it never fails to surprise. After spending 12 hours on the couch outside the abercrombie store, my daughter emerged with a new wardrobe. We left for REI, seeing as how she spent the mall budget for the month.

REI is a great place. Everything you need for camping and hiking and fishing. A real outdoor shop, not like Dick’s that pretends to be an outdoor shop, but has golf and baseball clothes. My daughter has expressed an interest in hiking. However, before pulling out $130 for a backpack (she wants it because of the 50 cent plastic flower on the back, and the color is nice), and another $150 for a two-man tent, I’m strongly considering some “car camping” in a local state park. For those of you camping muggles, Car Camping is where you drive up to a campsite, set your tent up right next to the car, and stay within visual sight of it for most of the trip. This is opposed to backpacking or backcountry camping, where you are lucky if you can find your way back to the car the next day without a map. Car Camping allows for larger, heavier (read: cheaper) material and supplies to be utilized. My $60 two-man wal-mart dome tent could never be backpacked. It weighs more than my pack, is too large to fit in it, and I’m not sure it would hold up to a fierce rainstorm. Hence the car serves as backup. The car will also hold a cooler, which provides for cold drinks, cold meat products such as hamburgers or steaks, and an assortment of other camping luxuries.

So – I’ve put her backpack on hold until she gets a few car camps under her belt. I did pick up a windscreen for my cooker, and a sack of freeze-dried lasagna for myself. I thought it would come in handy the following day, but you must read on…

So we proceeded to South Park Mall. Its the expensive one… they have Tiffany’s and Neiman Marcus. The first one being an overpriced jewelry store where they never open the doors and sometimes have all the shades pulled. The second being an overpriced Dillards where all the clothes have ridiculous prices like $850 for a Hawaiian shirt, and $2500 for a little jacket. It’s fun to laugh at the prices. They were on more crack than Whitney Houston where their pricing was concerned.

We found a new store by Dick’s. “The Container Store”. It is just what it says it is. If you need something to put something in, go here. The size of a dollar tree, but full of containers for every possible need and desire.

Afterwards, it was Cheesecake Factory time. A great place to go… once in a while. Take your typical Outback meal… and double the price. So it’s not somewhere to go every weekend, but it is wonderful when you go.

The following morning, it being Sunday (my traditional hiking day because there’s nothing else interesting to do on Sunday and stuff is closed until 1:30 because our state still exists in the Stone Age), I planned a hiking trip. I was trying to get a little elevation change in my routine this time, so I went to 40 Acre Rock. It is a short walk, but provides for some pretty strenuous elevation changes in parts.

Like always, I invited Angie, and to my shock and awe she said “yes, I’ll go”. After she did CPR and revived me, we packed a lunch and headed up there. I told her it was about 2 miles round trip. I failed to mention the 200 foot walk up the side of the hill. Maybe on purpose.

So we got to the parking lot and she put on her pack, and I hoisted “the beast” onto my back with all my crap in it. The walk in wasn’t too bad, until we got to the hill. I got her to the top and we had lunch. Once there, we laid out and ate lunch, at which time Angie announced that she could check hiking off a list of experiences to have. She was done with this. Oh well. I tried.

After a rest we continued across the rock face, so much easier in the spring than in the boiling heat of mid summer like I’m used to. I could see so much more, too. We hurried on across and down to the waterfall, which was actually running. Its very temperamental and only runs during recent rain. I remember the falls being much more energetic as a kid. I wonder if somewhere upstream the water has been diverted or damned up, but unfortunately you can’t really go upstream very far before the brush is too thick. Although if you get above the falls you can see the old path the water took as it wore down the rock.

The hike out was easy as pie. After all, it’s all downhill from that point, following the stream. We stopped where I slid accidentally down the mountain some six or so years ago, to take one last picture before heading out.

It was too late before I realized you aren’t allowed to place geocaches here, so I will be returning sooner than I thought.

The Dryer’s Epic Fail

I don’t understand the dryer. It’s the most wasteful appliance in the house. Over the last 20 years phones have gone from huge things mounted and hard wired into your car, to a device a few ounces in weight and vastly more useful. In fact this was written on a phone, while I was forced to sit through a PTA meeting.
But the dryer hasn’t changed. Oh it’s prettier and electronic and smarter, but it’s the same noisy thrumming beast from the fifties.

Problem one, summer:
I pay to cool the air off so I don’t suffocate in my house. Then I have to pay to heat the air back up so the dryer can do its job. Makes no sense. Why can’t there be both an input vent and an output vent? After all, the air outside might be 100 degrees. The air in my attic could be as much as 140 degrees. Why can’t I use that? Let the dryer suck the hot air out of the attic, heat it a little, dry the clothes, and then pump it outside. This would help cool my attic too, by replacing the hot air with slightly less hotter air.

Problem Two, Winter:
Drying clothes in winter is no efficient use of power either. I pay to heat the air so we don’t freeze. Then what does the dryer do? Heats it up and Throws It Away! Yep, it spits perfectly good hot air outside. As it sucks air in to throw outside, that air has to be replaced. So the house gets colder as air is sucked in cracks around windows, under doors, etc.

Why can’t we use this air again? Take the air from in the house and exhaust it back into to the house somehow. The only problem I see is all that humidity. At the very least, if the machine could suck in outside air, heat it and spit it back outside, you wouldn’t be pulling the heated air fro
inside the house.

Am I the only one confused as to the why of this?

Charge of the Light Brigade

It’s time for a change. After years of looking up at the standard cheap four tube fluorescent light fixture over the kitchen island, we bough a new light. First I had to remove it, after we selected a replacement. This was easier said than done. There were two screws holding it to the ceiling, along with a strip of silicone running around the outside of the whole thing. Yes, it was glued to the ceiling.

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So it was removed and the new bracket put in place. Unfortunately, there was a rectangle of blank ceiling bits left behind. This required a second trip to Lowes.

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I neglected to photograph my use of the “popcorn ceiling repair kit in a can” for several reasons. One, there was glop everywhere. I was too busy cleaning up. Two, I was worried about the final outcome, and what I might construct to cover up the mess. I was pleased with the final result. Not completely, but pleased enough to hang the new light.

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So, there they hang. A few realizations. Four forty watt tubes give off more light than three sixty watt bulbs, even though the math makes it seem like the opposite would be true. The light is directional out of the globes, which means the island gets a lot of light, but the rest of the kitchen, not so much. I need some under cabinet lights now. Time for a trip to Lowes. The whole room is warmer now. Less industrial, more intimate and homey. I really like the change.

Went for another hike today. It was a wet, cold experience. There was some rain and wind to deal with. I came to the conclusion I need to pre-rig a line for my rain fly. I hung the rainfly (essentially the roof of my hammock tent) between two trees but had to mess with rope for way too long. If it was pouring rain I would have been soaked before getting it together. After it was up though, it was nice to sit out of the rain and heat my cappuccino. I only walked two miles, but with all the hills it was a lot more work than the four I’ve been doing. I need to find a better place to go.

After all, the dead hog is still at the gate, and it’s stinky now.

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Things that do not belong on your car.

There are a number of things people seem to be thinking deserve to be on cars nowadays. These items are really ridiculous, and should be removed at once. I’m not talking about giant rims and low profile tires, making your car look like some sort of comical video game car. I’m not talking about under-car lights, or plastic body pieces to make you car look like a low rider when it’s not. These are part of the car culture that most normal folks have given up for lost any way. When the accessories are worth more than the car, you need to rethink your priorities.

I once had a guy tell me his set of $3500 rims got stolen. I was in shock. I told him if he paid $3500 for something to attach tires to his car, he got ripped off twice.

But, there are some things that otherwise normal people feel necessary to post on their cars. Here are a few of them:

Your concealed carry weapons permit number. Yes, I know you’re happy about it, and maybe you want the cops to know you have a gun if you get pulled over, and maybe you even want some thug to think twice about messing with you in traffic.

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Here’s the thing, though. You can’t take your gun in a lot of places. Any place that tells you not to, by just putting a 50 cent sign on the door. Banks, courthouses, Wal-Mart, the mall, etc. So, your little “I have a gun!” sign becomes a “Hey there’s a gun in here if you want to steal it!” sign. Maybe you should list the model of gun, so the thief can decide if he really wants to risk cutting himself on your window glass as he reaches inside to unlock the door.

Window stickers. Look, no one really cares about your ridiculous phrase.

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The above phrase is popular with jeep drivers. If I see you upside down in your jeep, it’s probably because you did something stupid, and if I’m really lucky I saw you do it, now I’m laughing hysterically. Pay a tow truck, I’m not rolling you over. And the other one for convertibles, “Ride Topless!” oh I get it, you made some innuendo about women riding around showing their boobies. So they can get arrested. But the sheer silly variety of window stickers doesn’t end there. There is the “I have no clue what to put on my window so I’ll just put the name of the car across the window in six inch letters” crowd.

Oh really? It’s a Chevy? I never would have guessed, what with Chevrolet on the back, and the little bow tie logo, and the fact that it’s on the side of the road with the hood up. Thanks for putting the huge letters across your windshield. Maybe you should have spent the $100 on an oil change and radiator coolant.

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Even worse than those are the thug phrases. One in my town was Tupacalypse, after a dead rap star. Another was “All eyes on me”. But the eyes were made to look like eyes, like (.) (.)
Stop it. Of course all eyes are on you, we are reading the silly crap on your car and thinking bad things about you. That look we are giving you is not envy. Other people are trying not to laugh at you, because you might shoot us with the gun you took from the Concealed Weapons car.

Of course, all of this is good. When the guy in traffic hits you and takes off because he’s suspended or has no insurance, you can tell the cops “yeah he had a sticker on his window, it said “Imma bad ass Thug”. That way the cops can drag him to jail. If the bad guys wanted to confuse you, they would put “Honda” across the window of their Ford, in six inch letters.

The final stickers that should be banned are the “Someone died and I can’t think of anything better to do than turn my car into some sort of rolling gravestone” crowd.

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It started with one lady in my area. For years she drove around in this big truck. The back window said “Earth’s loss, Heaven’s gain, Emily’s sweet smile.” with birth/death dates and a cross. Full on tombstone pattern, seriously. The story goes her kid was sick and she gave her aspirin, and the kid died of rye syndrome. A horrible tale for sure, and if that is true I’m sure there is some remorse and guilt there, but the following rules should be followed:

Never, NEVER turn your car into a rolling monument. It’s dumb, it’s ridiculous, it’s trashy. While you’re at it go get the reclining naked lady mud flaps and a CB antenna with the tennis ball on it. The Emily thing at least carried a message (the message was ‘OOPS!’). Some of the newer ones just say “in memory of” with dates and a name, like t-dog or Sissy or Pop-Pop. In Memory of Pop-Pop, seriously? It sounds like your dad died and you went out and bought the car with your inheritance.

A note to family members: I love you, but I will never put your name and dates of death on my car. Sorry, not going to happen.

A few others: Family members in a row. Most people behind you at the red light don’t care how many times your birth control failed. They also don’t care that you are some sort of pet hoarder and have three dogs and two cats. I’m guilty of this one, but our family stickers are wearing Disney Mickey Ear hats. See, you already don’t care we like Disney World, right?

Your sexual persuasion. You don’t have to advertise you’re gay and proud, or straight and proud, or that you’re a virgin and proud (even worse that you’re a virgin and desperately trying to cure that affliction). It’s not something you need to shout at me from your car’s bumper. I don’t need to know that about you. It doesn’t affect me either way. People don’t walk into Barnes and Noble and yell “I’m gay!” or “Straight!” like some real life version of a chat room. Why are our cars subjected to this?

Your religious views. Jesus Saves! So does my daughter, and she earns 1.5%. George Carlin (hail the prophet!) once did a bit on the ten commandments. He boiled it down to 1. Always be faithful to the provider of your Nookie, and 2. Don’t steal. He added a third commandment: Keep Thy Religion to Thy Self.

Of course, most people have a religion, just like most people have opinions. If you dislike mine, just click the X in the corner. At least all of this is not on the back of a car. you would be holding up traffic by now reading it.

Cold weather gear

February finally woke up and said, “Hey I’m here! Don’t forget about me!”

I like faucet-drip ice sculptures.

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With a low of 20 degrees and a high of 45, compared to last week’s 70, it was a big difference. I’ve been happy, after all lower power bills are nice. Even burning enough firewood to stoke the Orient Express across Asia, sometimes those winter heating bills are a shock.

But it made for an interesting Sunday Hike.

I was on a time crunch anyway, what with having to spend the morning in WalMart. My tire decided to bring a nail home, and I had to get the tire replaced, as the tread was at the 3/32 limit. Thankfully church-nazi blue laws don’t apply to tire repair. No you can’t buy razors until 1:30, but you can get your tires fixed at ten a.m., and if you walk inside and get checked in before they open the bay doors, you get to be first, even though four people were already in line when you got there. Hahaha.

So I get home and the wife asks me if I’m going for my walk before we go out to eat. Yes! I thought I didn’t have time. I initially just put on a coat, hat and t-shirt. After loading the pack, and she looked at me funny, I took it outside and changed my mind. I added my ski gloves, sweater and my “felony hoodie”, a grey hood thing that closes over the face. I walked to the end of the Golf Course trail, two miles, and was hot enough to take off my gloves and hood. Hence:

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No good place to put the iPhone here, so my “cold weather gear” pic is from ground squirrel perspective. Bad choice in undershirts however. I have a synthetic wicking shirt, but in my haste to run outside, I wore cotton. Ugh. The hiker’s motto: Cotton is Rotten. Now I know why.

I sat down to eat my raisins, and my peanut butter sandwich, and heated water for cappuccino. I found some little drug-dealer size ziplock bags in the Walmart craft section. They are perfect for individual servings of powdered drink mix like instant coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate, etc. Warmed and fed I walked back. The four miles isn’t bad. I need a longer trail, or maybe something with a hill.

After a shower it was time to go Outback for the Valentines Special: two steaks, blooming onion, salad, and dessert. By the time the steaks came we were full, so we have dinner on Monday in the fridge. I haven’t been to the Outback in a while, they renovated it, and it looks great. Tasted damn good too. I think I ate back the four mile walk, and all the wood I cut and split yesterday.

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Mmmmmmm. Blooming onions are awesome.

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Valentines dinner is incomplete without a valentine to spend it with.

All in all it was a great weekend. Where’s the Skelaxin?

Memories of Belk

I was wandering through the Wal-Mart the other day, as is something I often do when needing to buy stuff. Say what you will about Wal-Mart but without them we would have to make seven stops all over town, and a lot of 10 year olds in Beijing would be out of work.

So I’m browsing through the camping section looking for something, when a long-ago memory popped through the surface. Most of my Junior High and High School memories have been repressed and firmly locked away for eternity, however, there are some childhood memories lacking such security and occasionally one pops through the thin barrier.

When I was a child there was no Wal-Mart that I remember. Oh, I’m sure there was one somewhere, and we may have even gone to it. But what I remember was instead going to Roses (which nowadays seems like a Ghetto version of Wal-Mart), Farmer Don’s (a grocery store which later became a Piggly Wiggly), and the Belk. Belk had the stuff too good for Roses to carry, but they didn’t have food.

One of the highlights of any trip to Belk was the Boy Scouts counter. Near the front door was a special jewelry-style counter dedicated to all the crap you have to buy for boy scouts outings. There was just one problem – I was never in Boy Scouts. I started as a cub scout, but don’t remember much about it. Oh I had the book with the merit badges in it, and even the subscription to “boy’s life” magazine. But all I remember was hanging out in the basement of the church building and making crafts. I got two or three of those yellow beads, whatever they were for. I may have earned a badge or two, I don’t recall, but mostly it was hanging out with the den mothers.

Where was the adventure? The canoeing, the campfires and hot dogs, the fishing? Actually I did go fishing with them once, I think. I learned how to remove a fishhook from my thumb, and then how to hide the bleeding so I didn’t wind up going to get a tetanus shot. What about shooting stuff, tying knots, using a map and compass? How does making a box from popsicle sticks prepare a young boy for a future life (unless you want your future life to involve making complex models from popsicle sticks)?

I remember making the car for the pine derby. My father and I worked hard with simple tools, drawing the shape, cutting with a hand saw, chiseling out parts, Weighting it carefully, and painting it. My car looked like what you would expect a cub scout using hand tools, sandpaper and leftover paint to look like. Then I got to the church basement and there was some kid with what looked like a formula one race car, carved from the same block of wood. Someone’s dad cheated. If it was today I would think he had it made on a CNC machine.

But the thing that reminded me of the Boy Scout counter was the toothbrush. I had a toothbrush that was collapsible – it came apart in the middle and the handle became a little case. It would be perfect for the backpacking trips where I will be out long enough to use a toothbrush, which might be any time I eat a Coleman meal-in-a-sack. Everything was the blue-and-yellow color that signified scouting, even the toothbrush, which I guess comes in handy in the woods. A group of blue and yellow kids wandering around lost is probably easier to find.

I have a compass now. I was supposed to go to a map and compass class recently, but was unable to. The only thing I know about maps and compasses is what I learned in JROTC in high school. We didn’t learn much navigation, but we did learn how to call in Artillery on a position. Actually I wish I could do that. Having artillery at your disposal could only be a good thing. I don’t remember ever actually owning a compass from the Boy Scout counter, but they were there, I’m sure.

All too often the Belk trip ended with a trip downstairs to the pattern room. Before we sent all our manufacturing jobs overseas to ten year olds, people in this country actually made stuff. The pattern room held sewing patterns and big books full of drawings and photos of what the clothes might look like provided you sew at least as good as a sweat shop laborer. For an eight year old, it could be very boring. I think. The toys were upstairs, however, alongside house wares, and all the other non-clothing related items, and provided a distraction whilst mothers picked through the Simplicity catalogue.

Those days are long gone. Now instead of running down to the Belk for my toothbrush, and since Wal-mart doesn’t have it, I guess I’ll have to order it from Ohio. Oh how the times have changed. First, though, I might check the Dollar Tree.

AWOL on the Golf Course Road Trail

Thanks to Global Warming (which mysteriously gets blamed for everything, whether it’s abnormal warmth or brutal cold) it was rather mild and warm this morning, and I took an opportunity to further my backpacking experience and walked the length of the Golf Course Road trail. It’s two miles end to end, which gave me an out and back hike of four miles, twice as long as my furthest jaunt to date.

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I liked the way the trees leaned over the trail. Of course, this trail was exceptionally flat, being an old rail bed. There were two small hills to go over, I think to keep cars off the trail, but otherwise it was uneventful. I walked the two miles to the end and turned around, stopping a few hundred yards back to cook lunch.

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If you’ve never made a Coleman Mac and cheese meal, it is an interesting backwoods experience. First you have to boil 12 ounces of water. Getting the water out of my water sack was trouble enough – because usually you just suck on the tube, I finally figured out the easy way to do it, put the cup on the ground and hold the tube low as possible and push the bite valve open. At least the metal cup has ounce markings stamped into it.
Then you find a flat spot and turn on the burner. In the daylight the flame is hard to see. Test with the hairs on the back of your hand. While the water heated, I tested out rigging my tent roof tarp over me, in case I was stuck in the rain or something. Briars love paracord, and really really hate letting it go. By the time my ridge line was rigged, the water was boiling.
I had to tear open the pouch, empty in the noodles and then dig the sock out of my pack. The sock is an old athletic sock that holds my pointy tent stakes, so they don’t punch holes in my water bladder. Using the sock I was able to pick up the titanium cup by it’s extremely heat-conductive handles and pour 12 ounces of boiling water into the equivalent of a ziplock bag, without spilling it everywhere (or worse, on me).
That done, I zipped the bag and took down my roof line, because I didn’t plan to stay there all day, and I was visible to the road. The last thing I wanted was those uppity Golf Course Road people calling the cops because I was setting up a tent like a homeless person (or worse, an Occupy Wall Street supporter).
Word of warning: the zip on the Coleman food pouch sucks. Don’t squish the noodles around making sure they don’t stick together, the top of the bag might pop open on you and spill scalding noodles and water down the palm of your hand and squirt noodle goosh all over the jacket you are sitting on.
After emptying in the cheese powder and stirring, it’s not bad food. Certainly edible, and I probably would have eaten it all if I hiked ten miles, but not after having had a half dozen doughnut holes before leaving the house. Everything stowed, I began the return trip. It turned out easier than I thought, and I even grabbed a Geocache on the way back.

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I was thoroughly satisfied with the fact I walked the distance without passing out, or phoning a friend to come get me, or having my Kidney rebel once again.

I seem to have suffered from a kidney stone relapse, that damn left one a second time. If anyone needs a kidney and I’m a match, they get the left one. Sorry but that’s how it is. My wife was very relieved that I hadn’t brought the poop n’ puke virus home, and maybe almost as relieved she didn’t food poison me on Friday. Saturday at midnight my left side was hurting, and I began to suspect something was wrong. I couldnt sleep, and wound up walking around the kitchen island for about an hour, because it was the only thing staging off the agony. I was avoiding waking the wife, as I have yet to pay the hospital off from my last trip, and didn’t plan to spend another weekend evening in the company of the money-grubbing hospital financial office buffoon.

See This Story from October for more details as to that event.

I finally woke my wife up in a deeply disturbing fashion when my pains reached a crescendo and finished off with the forceful expulsion of my salmon Ceasar salad. Projectile hurling would make a great alarm clock sound, because it gets her up every time. After that I felt a lot better, lending credence to my initial feeling I was food poisoned. I tried sleeping and woke up several times with my side in pain. The next day I felt better, and tried going to the mall. After a second relapse I figured it was Kidney Stone, the sequel, and almost went to Lexington Medical center, but knowing it would eventually pass (ha ha ha), I took it easy and by the end of the day I felt a LOT better. I guess I have to talk to my doctor sooner or later, because this sucks.

I took advantage of Sunday by spending too much on plants at Lowes, and a new kitchen light. I don’t know what you call a home improvement project where you wind up tearing stuff up, maybe a home unimprovement project. I did get a good picture of the day at the Dollar Tree, that hotbed of Haute Couture. I’m sure this is a top of the line test and is one of the most accurate you can buy:

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Now I have to go bring the plants in, because it’s going to be too cold. Damn Global Warming.

*incidentally the name of this post was taken from the book title “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail”, a story by a guy that quit his IT job to thru-hike the whole 2200 mile AT in five months. It’s a very good read, and happily they hired him back in October, when he finished the hike.