A few things I learned while walking in the woods.

“How hard can it be? It’s just walking…”

Try just walking 18 miles carrying a forty pound child on your back. Then try putting the child on a diet, because forty pounds is way too much to carry. Over the weekend I attended a meetup.com event backpacking in North Carolina. I learned several things in addition to “don’t bring the kitchen sink” when you hike. After all, it was the ‘Backpacking 101″ group. We were supposed to learn something. I learned:

You can make a stove out of a cat food can. You can also make one out of the bottoms of two soda cans and a Heineken can, and an ounce of denatured alcohol. Both weigh less than my $50 stove and canister fuel.

Its not easy hiking barefoot, but it can be done. Its exactly the opposite of hiking with shoes. Squishy, goopy mud is your friend. Stream crossings are, too. Rocky and rooty trails, not so much. After a mile both days, I think I’ll be a part-time barefooter, only when the trail is more of a hazard to clean shoes, than it is to my feet. Oh, and mountain streams can be cold enough to hurt, even when it is 75 degrees outside.

Hammock tents, while fun, sleep cold. Really cold. Even when I am in a 20 degree sleeping bag, and it’s 40 degrees out. Insulation fixes that if you are smart enough to use it.

You will always, always throw your bear bag hanging rock sack and rope perfectly over the branch, if no one is around to see the astonishment on your face when it happens right the very first time.

When you carry the trowel, the alcohol hand rub, and a brand new heavy pack of biodegradable wet wipes, you will NOT have to do what bears do in the woods (also known as ‘walking the Brown Blazed Trail). However, it is almost certain that if you carry only four wet wipes, you’ll need five.

Leave the portable phone charging thing at home, or in the car. It may not weigh much, but the four AA batteries inside add up. Just turn the phone off until you need it. Likewise the spare batteries for the headlamp, just put in new ones before you leave. Use the old ones for the TV remote.

Do NOT put your bag of GORP in the top-hat of your pack, IF your GORP (Good Old Raisins and Peanuts) also contains M&Ms. M&Ms may not melt in your hand, but they will melt all over your peanuts and raisins, making a goopy unmanageable mess (that weighs 6 ounces and you can’t eat it, so you still have to lug it around).

When adjusting your shorts, watch the poles. There may be people right behind you. Sorry Paul and Wendy!

Watch out if you are pulling up on a piece of wood and someone jumps on the same piece to try and break it.

Being a gram-wienie is okay if you are first and foremost a pound-wienie. If you’re carrying a half-pound of spare batteries, breaking the back half off your folding toothbrush to save a gram makes no sense.

You can bring too much paracord. You can use too many little stuff sacks. You can carry too much water instead of filtering more when you need it, and not everyone walking off into a stand of trees is looking for firewood and needs your help.

So, other than that stuff, which should help me immensely in the future, I had a great time. I can’t wait to go somewhere else, once I drop my pack weight a bit. Below are mostly my pictures of the event, with a few from the group organizer thrown in. A review and story-telling of what we actually did will come later. I need to sleep.

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Toddlers and Tiaras and no f-ing way.

Against all our better judgment, we put our child in a beauty pageant.

Wait! Put down the torch and pitchforks, and turn off the burner under that vat of oil. You see, it was a school event, to raise money for the band kids to go to Hawaii. Living in South Carolina, you would think they would try for somewhere closer. St. Martin is fine. St. Thomas is beautiful, and a LOT closer. But no, they have to go to Hawaii.

Any way, one of the school teachers tells us, “You should enter your daughter, she’s cute and it’s fun, its not a real pageant.” After a few laughs and dirty looks we were convinced it wouldn’t be the standard child molester buffet of professional pageant girls and their ridiculous overdone dresses (and why do they wear those stupid things with the frills so far out that they can’t put their arms down? They look like overheated parrots with their wings out).

We were told, “Oh it will be regular church-type dresses. Just for fun.”

We did buy a dress and while it was pretty, school dance pretty, it would be slightly too much for church. Upon showing up at the event, we realized these other girls were more like the “toddlers and Tiaras” people, than they were ordinary “just for fun” never-did-a-pageant-before girls. Also – they weren’t wearing “just church dresses”. Only one other girl was new to the pageant world – and we felt completely out of place. Have you ever realized that you accidentally walked into a gay bar? Yeah, it was that sort of this-is-just-not-for-me, how did I get here, and where is the exit, feeling.

If you’ve never seen Toddlers and Tiaras, its worth a look. In fact it is freaking hilarious. The parents are insane, the children are completely spoiled and warped, and the whole pageant racket is completely awe inspiring in its craziness. Thousands of dollars for dresses, entry fees, professional photographs, hair and makeup, fake teeth, coaching, and hours wasted practicing routines, all for a few minutes in front of a cheesy hand-cut paper backdrop in the ballroom of the Holiday Inn Express. If these things are so prestigious, why can’t they spring for better props and locations? I want in on that scam. Pay me six hundred bucks, and I’ll hand you a hundred dollars, a thirty dollar plastic crown, a five dollar sash and a ten dollar “Little Miss Southern Darling” trophy, and we’ll call it even.

So most of the girls were obviously not pageant newbies. Except the babies. I’m sorry but if you can’t walk out on stage yourself and stand up, I’m not even watching you. I played “Where’s My Water?” until that part was over. The real (not baby) contestants all turned with practiced precision and smiled at the panel of judges and stopped at their marks. They had that perfect “toddlers and tiaras” look. It was crazy.

The judges weren’t just teachers or people from the area either, they had “real” pageant judges, one of them was on a Mrs. South Carolina “approved judges list”. But no, this event was supposed to just be for fun. I was just glad when the whole thing was over.

Any way, I’ve participated in my first and last pageant. It’s like getting your wisdom teeth pulled. It creates a lot of anxiety, maybe a little more costly than you thought at first, but after it’s over you can breathe a sigh of relief and say, “I’m glad I don’t have to do that ever again.”

Does anyone want to buy a slightly used “pageant” dress?

On the trail

Wow…. It’s been a week or two. I have neglected my audience. I apologize profusely to both of you.

Any way, first off, the celebration of Rabbit Day. It’s that time of year when the parents of juvenile primates hide the eggs of feathered dinosaurs, all because two thousand years ago Jesus’ pet rabbit mysteriously laid an egg, or something like that. Even though my child finally discovered that both the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus are both just threats to get kids to behave during certain times of the year, she still enjoys the egg hunt and hide. And honestly, who doesn’t like a good egg hunt? ONE good egg hunt. Not three or four… It’s a lot of work and the Mosquitos eat you. Unfortunately, grandma’s house doesn’t have many good hiding places, so when you hide fifty eggs, some of them wind up on top of the car tire.
An aside: we dye eggs, real ones. We HIDE plastic eggs, empty. Because nothing is quite as much fun as misplacing a real egg and finding it three months later, or having the ants beat you to the Hershey’s kisses.
Also, thankfully, Grandma takes care of the whole religious experience. That means I don’t find myself having to go to church, even on Easter and Christmas, which is expected of even the most heathen worshippers. As a lapsed Methodist, I was able to go commune with the divine by taking in the wonder he prepared for us, and walked a mile or so around the wildlife refuge near the house. Put on your Easter suit and sit in a building if you want, if I want to talk to a higher power I’ll go outside.
So, Rabbit Day being what it was, a good time was had by all. I was able to sneak a handful of Gummy Worms and a chocolate bar from the Easter basket, and that made me happy.

In other news, I went to a hiking meeting with some people from a meetup group. Meetup.com is a really interesting web site. The goal of the thing is to get people to use the Internet to get off the Internet. You can search about anything you like, and then go meet people who are interested in it, too. Trade books, have a beading party, go canoeing, birdwatching, shoot guns, race cars, or in my case, hike and such.
So I joined a group last month and they told me, “come to our class so you don’t go off in the woods and die”. It sounds perfectly reasonable. So I took my backpack and all its crap to the library meeting room. I was actually quite worried about that. Don’t libraries usually freak out and think people are going to steal books? I could quite literally stick a toddler in my pack, much less a few books.
But they were okay with it, kudos to the Richland County library.

Anyway, I called the man who quite ironically shares my first name and asked where they are, since the meeting area was empty. And evidently I missed the others going in, because now there are four others inside. By the time the class starts, 8 of 12 are there. We were presented with tips and hints and a good explanation of what we should and shouldn’t bring on the group expedition that will take place shortly. Three of the people in the class were experienced, then there was me with my stuff and no experience, and the young couple from my table with no stuff and no experience. So the group was quite varied. I have all my stuff, I just need to play around with organization and put together a few things around the house. Like benadryl. After you hike for miles, the last thing you want to do is lie awake while the a-hole in the next tent snores all night. So take two benadryl, and see you in the morning.
Also, we learned how to poop in the woods. It’s an amazing thing, really. To do what most animals do naturally. There are quite a few steps to take when you “walk the brown-blazed trail”. After all, no one wants the trail name “skid mark”.

The following day I was able to go on my 4 mile hike down golf course road. It was long enough, but flat. I have some treadmilling to get in before our big trip in a few weeks. We get to put our classroom stuff into practice. Hopefully I won’t make a complete doofus of myself.

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Wife dyed Easter eggs using Kool Aid this year. Pretty awesome, no vinegar needed. Score one for “Pinterest”.

We’re going WHERE for dinner?

Oh, the OAR House….

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I’ve always wanted to try the “Endangered Basket” but it’s too pricey for my taste.

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We walked on the beach today. It wasn’t raining or too cold, but it’s been windy during the day. I’m hoping the next two days are a bit clearer. The only problem with walking on the beach today was the thousands of jellyfish bodies

    Everywhere.

It was hard walking around them. They were all different sizes, and a lot had come apart and littered the waterline, shining like glass in the sun. Most looked clear and flat with no tentacles, very rubbery. They would bounce around in the wind when I tried to roll them with a stick. The others were mean, nasty-looking things. Blue on the top with dark interiors and large, long purple tentacles. I wouldn’t want to step on one of those. I tried digging a partially submerged one from the sand, but I was scared I would flip some tentacle on me or Angie, so I quit while I was ahead.

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That’s the tip of the bell. The tentacles are down in the little hole I dug. It was tough on the outside, like poking a water balloon.

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Angie had fun walking on the beach, despite the troubles with jellyfish.

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Don’t tread on me!

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While it was raining, we put together a puzzle. We had fun with it, I haven’t put together a puzzle in years.

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Only a couple more days and then it’s back to reality. Spring Break is pretty nice… No wonder the college kids all get such a kick out of it. All businesses should have one.

Here comes the sun (do do-do-do)

One of the best places to eat in Pensacola Beach is Peg Leg Pete’s. Unless you want to wait you have to get there Early! They have a drink, the Shipwreck, that is a also a good reason to make sure you are within walking distance of the place when you leave.

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I’ve never been disappointed at Peg Leg’s. Great food, open air dining if you wish, live music and good food. If you find yourself around Pensacola, it’s the place to go.

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Unfortunately, it rained today. Actually it rained last night. It rained terribly last night. Dallas evidently was hit by some tornados, and I was worried we were in for some, ourselves. It rained and clattered against the windows and howled through gaps in the doors. That’s one nice thing about being in a big ass building that’s built to hurricane standards. A little thunderstorm and small tornado, I’m not worried about.

Now a big ass tornado, still would suck.

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Thankfully the Sun came out in the afternoon, and we took the long drive to the Tanger Outlet in Foley, Alabama. Normally I look forward to an outlet mall trip like a second circumcision. Shopping for clothes is not my favorite activity. However, they have a NorthFace/Columbia store, and I was able to find a good shirt and shirts to hike in. I also got some sports socks at the TJ Maxx, and they have a self serve yogurt place, so my patience and time spent sitting on benches outside stores was well rewarded.

A few observations:
Spandex yoga pants are not a right. They are a privilege. If you want to wear them, please have the body to go with them. You should look like a yoga instructor. If not, wear a top that covers your waist/butt/thighs.

Daisy Dukes are evidently a big thing now. If you wear shorts that are very low riding, or very high legged, please stop pulling them up or down. You chose to wear shorts like that, stop fidgeting with them. And cut the pockets off, they look stupid hanging over the front of your thighs.

Don’t park like an asshole. If you drive the big boat car, learn where the hood ends, so you don’t stick over into the next spot, or worse, be against the opposite car (mine).

On the way back to Pensacola, We were able to stop at the Florida welcome center. We were five minutes late, and the doors were locked up. I was a bit upset I didn’t get my free Orange Juice, but I did get to see a great Blue Angels sculpture.

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It’s school picture time.

School pictures suck, let’s face it. Their only uses are filling the yearbook with pictures your friends will laugh at, bullies will scan to facebook and humiliate you with, and cops will show to victims (you know some cops buy yearbooks to use as mug shot books, right?).
But some people actually use school pictures as the only record of their child’s existence. Thankfully cheaper digital cameras make it easy for almost anyone to take a frame-worthy picture of their child, which often cannot be said of school pictures.

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I mean, look at the above gem. The kid looks like Lizzy Borden the evening she took a sudden liking to an axe. No one should look angry in school pictures.

Some of the blame lies with thieving parents. School takes picture, school sends proofs home, parents scan prints and don’t buy anything. Parents print pictures at CVS, since Wal-Mart asks too many questions. Now schools (and lots of other places- dance class, softball teams, gymnastics) make you pay in advance. What? Can you imagine any other artwork you have to pay for in advance before looking at? CDs? Nope. Wall Art? Nope…

How hard is it to print “proof” in big letters across the proofs? They could send those home.
And how hard is it to sell prints a la carte? If I want an 8×10 I have to buy the $50 package that also comes with a few 5x7s and three sheets of wallet sized pictures that wind up in the trash. Grandma is going to hijack the larger sheets. She doesn’t want a wallet sized photo, no one does. Who gives these out to random strangers? That’s creepy. If I want a picture of my kid to carry around and force on people, I can just take a photo of my 8×10 with the phone and show it to them.

20120404-081919.jpgCan you imagine paying $40 for this?

The other problem with school pictures is that stupid logo in the corner. Even if it is a really nice photo, it says “life touch” or “olan mills” in the corner in gold leaf. So everyone knows your only pictures of your child are school photos. So you only have a few choices, go back to CVS, scan it, crop the thing and blow it up a little to get rid of the logo, OR use a paper cutter to crop it the old fashioned way and get a special mat cut for the frame for your odd size photo.

20120404-082405.jpgOf course, would Olan Mills really want to claim this as one of their photos?

What other photographer forces you to put their ad on a photo? If I got pro pictures done and there was a logo on the thing, I’d stop payment on the check. That’s just wrong. You don’t buy a wedding cake where they write “Steve’s Bakery” across the front on bright red icing. That’s just wrong.

So, rebel against school pictures. You know they give a portion of their profits to the school, right? They aren’t that concerned with taking good pictures, just selling a LOT of them. Go somewhere else to take your child’s photo. Sears portrait studio, if you have to. Or take them yourself. The school will still take yearbook photos, after all, they have a duty to humiliate your child.

20120404-083123.jpg After all, what else says school pictures quite like a fringed jacket and a dirty, spotted background?