Everyone ready for Slutoween?

While I’m all for a slinky costume here and there, it seems like Halloween has morphed from an excuse for the kids to dress up and get free candy, into an excuse for adults to dress sleazy without consequences. It’s a night to let out the inner slut.

See, people complain left and right about X-Mass being too commercial, that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. The same hypocrites will stand in line for seven hours at WalMart on Thanksgiving afternoon, just to get a TV. I don’t think Jesus meant for you to abandon your family on the one day a year when there are no presents required – just eating turkey and watching football.

I feel sort of the same way about Halloween. Whatever happened to the ghosts and goblins and scary stuff (and no, those “Hell House” alternatives are not what I’m talking about – being scared by make believe stuff is fun, convincing kids that the make believe stuff is real is just mental abuse)? Not every demon costume should show more ass than not… And yes, I know not all witches are hags but why not scare it up a bit? A black bikini, some fishnet, a wand and a hat is not necessarily a witch costume.

Show the season some respect. It’s about the old gods, nature spirits, things that go bump in the night, not to mention – the fear that the nights are longer and if the harvest sucked that there’s a chance some of your family might starve to death before spring.

So while on October 31, “Demons are the reason for the season” (yeah I know demons are no more real than elves… But they are fun), how about take a minute to think about the ghouls and ghosts and frights that make it so frightfully entertaining.

Then put on your slutware and prance around the neighborhood pushing the stroller, knowing you’ve at least given the old gods some thought, and the reason for the season isn’t totally lost on you.

And take 30% of your kid’s candy, because nothing readies them for the real world like learning about the horrors of taxation.

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Want some underwear with that hike?

So fall Backpacking 101 occurred a bit later than usual, but it was still Fall, so it counts. Over the weekend 11 intrepid and slightly crazy adventurers headed off from Columbia, SC to Panthertown Valley. We would pick up two more in North Carolina.

First of all – it was supposed to be cold. That was expected. Friday night at our destination it was down to around 25 degrees. The high Saturday was supposed to be around 48, and then back down to 35 overnight. When I left the house to make the 75 minute drive to the meeting spot, I was cold, and I mentally prepared myself for being cold for two days.

After dividing into three cars, we took off to Caesar’s Head for a brief (very brief) stop, then hit the Subway for lunch-to-go (very to-go, because lunch wouldn’t occur for another three hours). We stopped at the outfitter’s we usually stop at (which will remain nameless, because they fussed at someone for being down by the river – they charge a fee for “access” – so no free ads here!), and one of the group asked me, “Do you think I should go ahead and take off my underpants?”

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First of all, I didn’t know it was that kind of hike. Then she realized how it sounded, and said, “Not those!  My leggings! It’s not that cold anymore.”

Oh! Whew.

I should have paid more attention to the GPS, because Carol has the same model as I do, and Emily is known for being a crackhead. I think she was searching for a fix, because the other cars got a bit ahead, and we wound up way the heck out in the middle of Deliverance-Land and had to turn around.

Thankfully, new backpackers take a while to get fully ready, so even though we were thirty minutes late to the party, no one had left us, and we weren’t even getting dirty looks for being late. Although there had been discussion about splitting into groups, we began our trek into the wilderness, staying together as one long train of people.

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Up from schoolhouse falls

Our first stop was schoolhouse falls. Despite the cold, a yellow jacket or two was hanging around as we were trying to eat our snacks. Damn. I hate wasps, and here they were to interfere with our hike. I was hoping they were dead. To hell with Bear Spray, I’m bringing Raid on my next hike.

We did the little loop around the underside of the falls, and cries of “Watch the ice!” came from ahead of us. Ice! So it WAS cold overnight. Icicles and round ice bits were clinging to the rocks in various places, and the rock was slick with flat “black ice” that you had to really look for. After people had a brief lunch while the rest of us were playing around the falls, some other people arrived with some loud, obnoxious dogs.

I’m not a dog person. I never claimed to be. I think I have come to realize that it’s not dogs I dislike, but irresponsible dog owners. Some dogs are well behaved. Many are not. The ones that are not have tainted the species as a whole for me, and I just prefer to avoid them. And no, I don’t need a dog, that’s another post.

As we headed up the hill to Little Green, dogs baying and barking in the background, someone related a story about a hike. This was, of course, before the hill got steep enough to render talking impossible through the panting and heaving breathing. Generally this person is also very easy going and relaxed, so to hear it coming from him was funny: He was hiking along solo when some other people came up behind him with a dog. The dog kept bumping up against him and even nipped at his legs. After several nips and several requests to control their dog, he said “If you don’t stop this dog from biting me, I’m going to ram this trekking pole down his gullet, and out of his butt, and hand you your dog on a stick!”

Well played, but it would set the canine tone for the trip.

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Granny Burrell Falls downstream

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On top of little green we normally eat lunch. Having eaten lunch already, we took in the view for a shorter amount of time than usual. Coming up the hill most of us had shed clothes (some clothes! Not all of them, it was NOT that kind of hike). Now that we were resting again, slightly sweaty, and getting cold, so we had to put warmer things on. By this time I had a severe case of “hat head”.
We did better getting off Little Green this time than last, and didn’t have to push through the Rhododendrons That Time Forgot. We also seemed to have left the persistent yellow jacket behind. Down is always more fun, and we reached the valley making good time. Carol kept getting in front and leading us with a quickness. As we passed an old growth of tall trees with sparse underbrush, it started looking more like something you see in a fantasy film (not that kind of fantasy, the ones with dwarves and elves and such). If I was barefoot I would have felt like Bilbo looking for the Last Lonely Mountain. However, my GPS had other ideas, and sent me looking for a geocache off the side of the trail. Everyone else continued on, and I spent about ten minutes poking through pollen-covered pinestraw and grasses and found the cache.
I was asked later, “What exactly is geocaching? What do you do?” When I explained, the reply was, “When you put it that way, it sounds kind of dorky.”
Well, it sort of is, so you have to put it like this: “I use billion dollar military defense satellites to find things in the woods. What’s your hobby?” That, at least, doesn’t sound as nerdy.

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Looking over Little Green
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Snack Break! 
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Macs Gap trail near my geocache find
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Found it! First to find new log…
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Barbie rests after climbing up Little Green
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Carol’s making miles!
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some random hillside
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Tent City
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Relax, you’re Two Tents!
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More tents around camp… big variety!

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When I caught up, everyone was at Granny Burrell falls. As I stepped out onto the rock, again came the warning “Watch the ice!” Okay…ice again. Wandering around in my bare feet on the ice was an experience. The falls were much calmer than last time, but still a bit much for wandering around on. Leaving the falls, we walked through the wet woody rhodo forest to the shelter area. I elected to go barefoot, just to save my shoes. It was an experience in pain that normally one would have to pay for. Roots suck on bare feet.

The shelter area was nice to see, but then we found some sites  already occupied. We did our best to spread out and stay away from other tents, but it was clear we would be sharing the space with others. We didn’t know how many others until later, when the tent owners returned with four dogs. Not one dog, but four. I didn’t have enough trekking poles. You had to watch where you stepped, less you walk in your drop your pack on something nasty. My normal hammock tree had been claimed, so I found a different one back in what was the “women’s area” on a previous trip. We didn’t divide as much by gender this time, and wound up all interspersed with each other.

This was my trial run with my “winter hammock”. Normally I take my Hennessy with its bug net and all, but I had bought an ENO Single Nest with my REI member refund. It is half the packed size and about half the weight of my Hennessy, and has no bug net. Hence the “winter” part of it. The nice thing is, it was pretty cheap, because I had the rest of my stuff – the tree straps and tarp from the Hennessy can be used with the ENO too. It took me a while to set it up, I was having issues with the tree strap on the small tree.  Mike mentioned that I had tied up to a dead tree, but hey, the bark was solid and the tree looked good, and half the trees seem to be dead, so you use what’s there.  Once it was set up, I had a warm drink and headed off to help others.

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I must have been getting good at the whole bear bagging thing, because it went off without a hitch. First toss over the limb and it was done. I showed someone else how to do it, and how to tie the clove hitch. I need to bring a pulley next time. We could do a modified PCT hang with a pulley. When one person successfully hangs a bag, everyone comes running. It quickly becomes very hard to pull it all over the limbs. Pulleys would be such an improvement.

Most of us elected to complete the sunset hike to the top of Big Green. Later, some would say that they were glad they did it, because they knew what they would face the next day with the pack on. Hiking up the long hill is always a challenge, pack or no. We reached the summit with enough time to sit back and relax and enjoy the sun going down. It was then that I was offered some Kangaroo Jerky. I never had Kangaroo, and found it to be very similar to beef jerky. I also had some weird peas, which tasted like nasty eggs at first, but improved in taste over several seconds of chewing. I’ve not often had food that involved being gross at first and then improving only after it’s completely chewed. Barbie offered everyone glow bracelets, which we cracked open and shook to light.

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going down!
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Sunset, finally!

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The “sunset” complete (we only stay until the sun goes behind the mountain, it’s generally not officially sunset), we headed off down the mountain, and by the time we hit flat ground again, it was full-on dark. Headlamps were nice, and we picked up firewood as we approached the camping area. It was nice to sit around and eat near the fire, and to warm up. The temperature seemed to be dropping pretty rapidly, and just stepping away from the fire for a few minutes caused some shivers. I had instant mashed potatoes and some cereal bars, and tried to rehydrate peas. The peas sucked, I didn’t give them enough cooking time. My bad.

Thus began the night in the hammock. I hung my glow bracelet from the tarp ridgeline, which, honesty, was VERY cool. It provided enough light to see minimally, and gave me a reference point in the darkness. I can see maybe having one on the hammock tie out as well, as a reference in the dark as one goes to pee or to visit the fire. I wound up in the completely wrong camp group trying to go to bed the first time.

The night was fraught with danger. Well, actually, it was just cold as shit. Having a pee right before bed, I assured myself I would be fine until morning. I climbed into my fully dressed out hammock for the first time, got my blankets situated, and tried to start warming up. Then the wind started blowing, so I had to un-ass my hammock, adjust the tarp until it was closer in, and re-ass the hammock to start over on the warming process. I suffered from cold butt syndrome for a little while, and finally it started to warm up. Laying with my fleece liner under me and open at the top helped a lot, especially with my top quilt snugged up on top of me. I started to get warm, then dropped my headphones over the side trying to plug them into the phone. Thankfully they landed right under me and with my headlamp I could see them, and just reach my swinging the hammock back and forth.

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The alien hikers after coming back

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So about 10pm I was in the hammock playing Grand Theft Auto (Vice City!) on my phone, until my hands got cold and dry and the phone became sluggish to respond to touch. So I set the music to playing and closed my eyes. At midnight I woke up and turned the music off, and snugged up my head mask. I slept on and off until 4am, when I noticed the moon had come up. It was really bright, and I thought it was daylight. Nope, just the moon. I lay back down and slept a solid two and a half hours, until I heard Mark up and cooking. I knew it was Mark, because no one else would get up that damn early and cook breakfast by the headlight. Breakfast was grits and a special K bar, which was quite tasty, and some dried fruits.

It was not as cold as expected, and I packed my stuff while the others started moving, so by the time we were supposed to go to wilderness falls, my packing was done, and the dog mess was cleaned off my shoe (the hazards of walking around in the dark with 4 head of dog on the hoof running loose). Only five of us went on the round trip around Wilderness falls, and by the time we got back, most of the people were ready to go.

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Me and Wilderness Falls

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Sunrise at Salt Rock
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Sunrise in camp
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My favorite trail “doorway”

 

The climb out Big Green was fun as usual, even more so with the packs on. Donna and I (having stayed back so she could make coffee) eventually caught up with the rest, and the group proceeded on to Greenland Creek Falls. Greenland creek is my favorite. I could stay there all day. I barefooted it to the falls, an experience that should not be missed. It takes a while to get used to the pain and to remember “hey wait, I don’t have shoes on, I can’t step anywhere I want.” At least when you step on a dog turd, you have quite a ways to walk down the trail and five different creek crossings in which to wash the grunge off your feet. Damn dogs. The world is NOT your toilet. The CENTER of the trail is wrong.

So – after the fun of climbing around the rocks and staring at the water for a bit, it was time to head on out and face the real world once again. The trip up Mac’s Gap was relatively uneventful. One of those pesky bees was at the car waiting on us when we got back, but three bees on a trip? I’ll take that.

 

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Donna discovers the creek is cold
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Almost back to the cars

 

 

Hiking with noobs.

First of all, I’m not writing “noobs” to be derogatory. Everyone is a noob at something sometime. We’re all noobs the first time we get behind the wheel, the first time we use ebay or amazon, or try our hand at grilling meat. So being a noob isn’t a bad thing.

I’ve seen this on a wall in a hangar somewhere:

“You start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck. Good judgment comes from experience. Unfortunately, the experience usually comes from bad judgment.”

Backpacking is like that. Sometimes you get lucky and learn from it. The time you almost step on a snake, or your water filter breaks and you have to drink from that mountain stream, or you slip and twist an ankle five miles from the car. The trouble with backpacking, is much like flying, you can have a lot of experience and still run into a problem with luck. Illness and injury being big issues; a hiker told me the tale of being two days from the car on the A.T. – and waking up in the middle of the night with a kidney stone. Excruciating at the best of times (according to science people, having a kidney stone lodged in your kidney ureter is the most terrible natural pain your body can experience) I can’t imagine running out of luck in the middle of the woods, and having to walk off a kidney stone for twenty miles. I had one in a mall, and under the influence of Loricet is was still horrible.

But part of our hiking group’s goal is to pair noobs with experienced people and help them gain experience without using up their luck. I think we are in for it tomorrow. By the time this gets published, I will be back in the woods leading my group of seven (I love the auto-publish timer on here…it’s freaky).

See, our leader has fourteen people lined up to go, and has decided that groups of 7 are much more manageable, so I get to be group leader B (Go Team B!) and take our little fellowship of no rings around the loop one way, and he will go the other way. I am hoping that we will be going the normal way, and he goes backwards, otherwise I’m liable to get really lost and confused.

But that’s okay, because we are intrepid backpackers and can spend the night anywhere. Much like a snail, anywhere we drop packs and pull out tents becomes “camp” whether it was the spot we picked on the map, or not.

This noob trip is a bit different for several reasons:

1. It is later in the year than normal. Usually we go in mid September. Mark decided to give the conference attendees a bit more time to get stuff together.

2. It’s butt ass cold. There’s no way around it. Thanks to Global Warming, winter has come early (I don’t understand it either, just play along with Al Gore, he knows what he’s doing, he’s getting rich off this thing after all). So, instead of lows of 45, we are staring down the barrel of 34 or so, which promises to be interesting.

I’ve hiked in the cold before. It’s interesting that you can hike in near freezing temperatures and still be sweating. But; I’ve not crossed a thigh-high stream the day after the temperature drops to 25 degrees. I’m seriously expecting there to be ice chunks floating through it. If there was another trail around it, I would lead them down a different path.

So  – I’m hoping no one hurts themselves or causes poisonous critters to attack us. I don’t know much about first aid, and what do you do when you’re in a group? Point back to the cars and say, “Go that way, I have six others to care for – I’m not letting a little copperhead bite ruin it for everyone”?

I’m also hoping no one freezes. Hopefully everyone will have plenty of insulation for night time, and that they don’t think they need the huge winter coat while they are walking. You’ll know Sunday evening of course… because I’ll be publishing pictures.

I like eating pi

Okay, so I’m not a big pie fan. I’m not even really a big pi fan… damn irrational numbers. Right? 3.14etc… that’s irrational, right? Anyway, I’m not a big fan of that either.

However, I was poking around at a few things earlier on the internet, and ran across this:

Rasberry PI supercomputer

Well, I found it quite intriguing. I remember reading about the raspberry pi computer months ago. It is a self contained computer, no bigger than an iphone. Sure, it doesn’t have a lot of power, but for something that has the power of a pentium 2, 300mhz, complete with the video quality of the original xbox, all in a package costing $35, that’s pretty incredible.

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Of course, it requires an SD card to hold the programming, but will connect to an external USB hard drive or even an ethernet hub. I thought that was pretty incredible. I did a fair amount of electronics crap when I was younger. Of course, it was mostly analog stuff, a few transistors here and there, some timer ICs, coils, capacitors, etc., and nothing really involving programming. Sure, I could do a little BASIC programming on the computer, but my electronics didn’t require it, they were mainly a “switch it on and let it run” sort of thing.

My biggest projects usually involved radio. I wanted to be a radio pirate at one time. I loved listening to shortwave, and always hoped to hear pirates, but it was years later when I happened across one. I wanted to broadcast my own music and thoughts over the air. Of course, thanks to the internet and social media, anyone can really be a “broadcaster” now. Anyone can respond. And it’s all legal, which means it’s not nearly as fun.

Of course, any serious radio broadcaster needs a radio transmitter. At the time I was around 18, I was NOT interested in getting a HAM license or spending hundreds on antennas and transmitters and such. I did eventually put together the funds to buy a decent CB transmitter.

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The RCI 2950 was a combination CB unit/HAM 10 meter transmitter. 10 meters is down around 28mhz (You probably listen to radio stations which are all between 88-108mhz)  The guy I bought it from tweaked it so it would do 8 watts instead of the legal limit of 5. Of course, everyone in my area was running at least a few hundred watts through linear amplifiers. My goal was to eventually build a 40 meter transmitter so I could talk down around 7.5mhz. Funny thing about radio: the lower the frequency, the easier it bounces around the planet. So sitting in your car, you might be able to tune in a decent commercial channel at 100mhz somewhere around seventy miles away, running close to 100,000watts of power. Meanwhile, you could also tune in a decent amateur signal at 7.5mhz, running 100watts of power, from 3000 miles away.

So, before I built or bought a transmitter, I figured I better learn to build a decent amplifier, which at the time was cheaper and easier to do with tubes than transistors. Below is an old tube-based audio amplifier, which essentially works the same way. Using high voltage and some vacuum tubes, a weak signal is made stronger.

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Sourcing parts before the internet was always tedious. Even then, Radio Shack (You’ve got questions? We’ve got blank stares!) didn’t have everything, and I had to pour over catalogs from companies that are now vanished, looking up things like RF chokes and coils and variable capacitors. Military surplus was always fun. I ran across an old AM amplifier in the attic the other day. It has a serious roller inductor inside, probably worth more for the copper than I paid for the unit.

Anyhow, amplifiers were cool, because they involved tubes and high voltage. Tubes have a little heater inside, so they warm up and glow nicely. And high voltage, well Hell, what teenage boy doesn’t want to play with high voltage? A friend of mine built a Tesla Coil once. Coolest toy ever. I still have plans around here for it, somewhere.

Tube amplifier experiments were cruelly subjected on the local radio group, though. I would test something, change it a bit, tune it up, and test it again, all while annoying some of the local hicks with my questions. Louder or Softer? Better or worse? It was the radio equivalent of an eye test by an eye doctor that really doesn’t know what he is doing.

Of course, sometimes it was dangerous. The scariest moment of my life involved one of those damn amplifiers. It wasn’t running, mainly because I couldn’t find a few of the stranger parts, and had to keep trying different things. It’s plate voltage came from a big ass transformer weighing in at over 10 pounds. It took the wall current (120v for you non-US people), and boosted it to 1200 volts, and put out an amp of current. It was a scary beast. The thing was, It was plugged into the wall next to something else, with a very similar plug. I of course, unplugged the wrong one, and in a moment of foolishness, grabbed the wrong wire coming from the transformer.

Now, I’ve been shocked with a TASER gun, three or four times (in the course of events at work, not because I’m a dirtbag that needs to get zapped). That hurts. Seriously, it’s uncomfortable.

Grabbing a 1200v, 1 amp source should kill you, and is unbelievably painful.

It made me stand up out of the chair, and thankfully my fingers came loose from the terminal at that point, whereupon I fell over backwards, and lay prostrate upon the floor. Several seconds went by as I stared at the ceiling, and finally breathed again.  When I could move once more and my scrambled brain realized what I did, I unplugged the thing and put it in the corner. It never did work like it was supposed to, those RF Chokes and coils were unobtainable, and I couldn’t tune the thing right. I gave up my radio toys when I went away to college, and never really got into it afterwards. After all, I bought my first computer (an intel 386 with a whopping 40 Megabyte hard drive!). I can’t even find a photo of it on Google – it was a slim case by WYSE, a model called the Decision (get it, Wise Decision?). It looked like something you would see under a cash register terminal, but it worked, and I learned to use the internet (My first modem was a 7400 baud model – DialUp topped out at 56,000 baud, if you didn’t know).

So – Back to Raspberry Pi.

The idea of a $35 computer toy to play with sounds very intriguing. I don’t know about learning a new programming language. I struggle enough with the little bit of HTML I know, and I remember a few phrases of BASIC. I can recognize C++ when I see it, but I could never understand it (I had a book… I couldn’t get past chapter 2). I sure as hell don’t like the looks of learning Python or Java. A Python is a snake, and Java is coffee. What happened to the really geeky-sounding languages? Fortran and Cobol and Linux… those were names.

But at least I’m not playing with voltages that come close to what’s in the electric chair… which I have sat in. Some of my co-workers were very disturbed at the fact that I have sat in our state’s electric chair. 263 men and women (and one 14 year old) have sat down in that chair and never got up. I felt a little humbled and honored to be able to sit in it and walk out with my soul intact.

But that’s another post.