August fourth and fifth I took a vacation. It turned out not to be just a vacation from a place, but from a time. I took a vacation from Summer.
The meetup.com group I’m a member of planned a trip to Tennent Mountain in North Carolina. I had debated my sleep situation long and hard before going to this event. I made an underquilt, but it hasn’t been field tested. I have a sleeping bag, but I was scared it was going to be too hot. I also have a fleece blanket, but it was a little thin. Mark told me I could borrow his “Thermarest”, which is a ground pad, basically a thin inflatable mattress. After all, it was looking like I would have to sleep in my hammock on the ground. As I was packing Saturday morning I finally went with what I knew, and packed my sleeping bag and the fleece thing, as well as some plastic to put on the ground.
I arrived at the prescribed place and time and met the other group members. Our fearless leader Mark (other Mark, Mark H.) already had Pam, Jane and Rebecca with him. Introductions went all around, and Pam turned out to be a fellow geocacher. A second car arrived, and I met Pam I., and Alice. Since Mark’s car was full, Alice was gracious enough to allow me to ride with them. The trip up was rather uneventful. We found a cache near Brevard, I think, in a Bojangles parking lot (which made the muggles laugh). Even my cross-country directions to the Flat Rock Village Bakery went well, and I think the place was enjoyed by most folks. It was cool and comfortable outside, in contrast to the 90+ degrees we are used to at home.
Our first stop was Pisgah Mountain, along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was a short, but somewhat challenging upward trek. It just seemed to go on and on. I was surprised at the number of other people walking, including one kid who could be heard screaming from a few hundred yards off, “mommy I want to go down now!” I really wanted to tell him if he screamed like that, he was going to attract Bigfoot, but I wasn’t sure my brand of humor would be appreciated. We were rewarded at the top, however, with a spectacular view of the WLOS antenna tower. Other than that, there wasn’t much to see, as it was totally socked in with clouds and mist. Every now and again there was a brief break in the cloud cover, but not enough to see much. The cool mist and wind chilled us after the sweaty climb. The car thermometer said it was about 68 degrees, down in the parking lot. I need a little thermometer for hiking, I really wish I knew the temperature up top.
After going back down, we stopped briefly on the parkway and relaxed, trying to give the day-hikers and blueberry pickers at our final destination some time to get packed up and leave. We arrived at the Tennent Mountain parking area around 5, and some of us got to experience the joys of using a pit toilet. If you’ve never used a pit toilet, it is basically the modern equivalent of an outhouse, sort of a concrete port-a-john without the blue water.
Anyhow, after loading up and adding Mark’s thermarest to my pack, we walked into the woods. I guess we went about a mile and a half before finding our campsite. It was a raised, grassy section just off the trail with a fire ring and some scrub brush. I found a path leading into the brush and discovered a perfect set of hammock-hanging pine trees. It took me a little longer than anticipated to set up, with having to inflate the mattress and my little port-a-pillow. I initially rigged the tarp on an angle, leaving the sides open. I would readjust them later due to weather.
Dinner sucked, for me at least. Anticipating the lack of fire I brought mostly no-cook food. I had beef jerky, a granola bar, and an oatmeal cookie. Since I waited until Saturday morning to pack, due to circumstances beyond my control, I forgot my evening cocoa, and wasn’t about to drink coffee. More careful meal planning is needed. I’ve got some things in mind for Panthertown… but it’s a secret for now. I’m going to have to take my canister stove, however, because the alcohol stove is either on, or off, there’s no middle. Jane and Mark had the same Indian food, she even shared her “trail mix from Hell” with me. I don’t know what it was, but it was hot.
Pam I. and Alice had salad, a water bag full of wine, and cheese rounds with crackers. That’s the way to eat. I’m throwing out the old MRE meals today. Pam had a ramen noodle equivalent, which sounded good in theory but evidently wasn’t that tasty. It was once again interesting to see everyone’s cooking methods. They all differed somehow, from Mark’s cat can stove, to Pam’s little folding solid fuel stove.
I hung my bear bag after eating. This did not go anything like the first time. Alice jinxed me, because she walked up wile I was at it. I stuffed my food in the food/stove bag. Having no little rock sack (oops) I used a spare sock with a rock. The first tree I picked was a bad choice. I pulled the rope back and it got stuck. Finally freed, I found another tree. It took three tries to get the line in the right place, and my sock almost got stuck the second time. Finally happy, I pulled my bag up, tied the knot and freed my sock.
Once the food was gone and the dessert wine consumed, we sat around talking. The sky was pink in the west, but still bright. However, it was cold. With the constant chill wind and sixty-degree weather, everyone wanted some shelter. At first people had brought out all their clothes, and then blankets, and finally rain jackets or ponchos. But it was too much for us, and we had a long Sunday ahead, so we retired.
The first thing I did was lower my side flaps somewhat on the hammock. I crawled in and laid there. The trees and the rain fly helped cut some of the light, but it was obvious it was still daylight, and I wasn’t nearly ready for bed. I turned my phone on and searched for a signal, but like all the other times I tried, there was nothing. I played some angry birds and bejeweled to pass the time. At one point I heard some talking, and hoped against hope that maybe someone was up that would provide conversation until a later hour. I went back out to the main tenting area, only to find no one there. They were all safely warm in the tents. I retreated back into the trees like Sasquatch, took two benadryl, relieved my self and laid down.
Then I woke up. Surely it was 3 or even 4 in the morning? Nope. Ten Thirty; Benadryl, you suck. I’m taking melatonin next trip, I don’t care if a bear eats me, I’m tired of being awake all night. Anyway, I woke up and discovered a few things. The tent flaps were still open too far. The cold wind was blowing through the mosquito netting, freezing my face and arms. The second thing was, I was burning slap the Hell up on the bottom. The “thermarest” lives up to its name. So my face was cold and my back was really sweaty. Third thing – I REALLY had to pee. I found my head lamp and got out to do that… in my drugged-up benadryl state. I was so glad I was back by myself, I didn’t have to go far. While outside, I wrapped the flaps even tighter, and crawled back in. I slept on and off. The wind blew strong all night, but it really wasn’t that cold. It rained at one point, and dripped from the trees onto my roof all night. The moon shone through the clouds and trees, movng slowly across the hammock from left to right.
Finally, daybreak! I heard voices, and the sweet, sweet sound of tents unzipping. I gathered my food and jacket, and went out to see what the others were doing. Mark was up with his little stove running. After collecting my bear bag, which is much easier than hanging it. I learned a few things using my stove the first time in the back woods:
When boiling water for swiss mocha, DON’T just add the swiss mocha to cold water and try to boil it. The coffee glop cooks into charcoal on the sides of the cup above the water line, where it can only be removed with sandpaper (I love titanium cookware, try sandpaper on Analon or calphalon, see what happens…). Next time, boil water, remove from heat, THEN add powdered goodness. Bagels WILL warm on top of the lid for the mug while the water boils. The lid, however, will still be hot. Touch ONLY the bagel when removing it from the lid. Don’t remove the cup and try to set the lid on the cone on top of the stove for further bagel-heating. The fire is hot, and when you drop the lid onto the stove, there is momentarily fire everywhere. Thankfully no one noticed and after a single “poof”, the fire is gone. Breakfast was much nicier than dinner. A warm bagel with honey, along with mocha coffee, is still better than beef jerky and a cookie, even with burned swiss mocha bits.
I packed up my little stove and such, then returned to loner-land and packed my hammock after I shook out the water the best I could. A note here: The hammock performed admirably in the wet. The fly was wet, but the outside of the hammock was mostly dry. Some inside of parts of the hammock were a little damp. Remember, I closed in the fly against the cold, so basically I was in a nylon cocoon. My breath and sweat had to condense somewhere. The sleeping bag was dry, except a little where I sweat on it, and my fleece was dry. Everything got stuffed in sacks and readied for transport. My shoes, which I hang just outside the hammock entry under the fly? They were dry…
It was at this point someone suggested, “Hey lets leave the tents to dry in the sun!” Damn it, why didn’t I think of that? The clouds were mostly gone, and the sun was out, but it was still below 70.
Of course, being paranoid, I didn’t want to leave my hammock or pack laying around for someone to collect, and that tended to be the general feeling of most people. We hiked up to the top of Tennent Mountain, in a slightly roundabout way. For one, the trail around the mountain is pretty clear. The trail to the top is not, and is not marked. We missed it, and “bushwhacked” up the side after trying several alternate routes. Bogs can and will cling to the side of a mountain, impossible as it seems. Drought? What Drought?
Finally – the top! 6040 feet at the summit, or something like that. It was amazing looking down on the clouds, and seeing North Carolina spread out below us. We could see Pisgah Mountain (we think) off in the distance, some twelve miles away, along with a lot of plants, and a little of the Blue Ridge Parkway. There was still no cell phone signal.
We spent an hour picking little blueberries among thousands of the plants, only to get a pint or so each. It was slim pickins in the blueberry patch. Slogging back down through the bog, we made it to the trail, and back to our campsite. After all the walking it was nice to already have a full pack, with no further need to cajole my sleeping bag into its sack. We left along the same road/trail we came in on, only to more water thanks to the rain and mist all night. Once back to the cars, it was nice to drop packs and refill water and remove wet shoes, and not use the pit toilet.
The drive home was exciting (being the passenger on mountain roads always is), but depressing at the same time. The dashboard display of the outside temperature climbed fast, into the upper eighties by the time we were back to Columbia. No fair. Bitch-slapped by summer.
Fall will be here soon. Take that, Summer!