The Foothills Trail – redux

???????????????????????????????Last year a group of us did a few portions of the foothills trail in South and North Carolina. It was a fun trip, although a little cold and rainy in parts. Someone in our hiking group a few months back mentioned doing this piece again, and we said, “well shit, why not?”

Instead of filling up my blog with lots of pictures, feel free to watch the movie below, after you read the description. After all, I only have so much space on this site since I don’t pay for it, and pictures are taking up quite a bit of room, whereas links to videos are space-free!

Friday – Day 1

The six of us started out from Columbia SC and dropped a car off at Oconee State Park. From there we hit the Sloan Bridge access point and picked up a seventh member, leaving his car there. We piled into an overly large truck and headed around to the Bad Creek Reservoir trail access point. We cheated there: we only took water and snacks in little “day packs”, which was enough to get us the ten miles from the parking lot, over whitewater falls area and down to sloan bridge. I was upset at this point, because my FitBit evidently got a little squished in my pack and wasn’t working. There went my “work week challenge”. I figured walking 11 miles might put me near the top!

Upper Whitewater falls is pretty nice. Its just inside North Carolina from South Carolina, and is pretty impressive as the highest American waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains.

http://www.blueridgeheritage.com/attractions-destinations/whitewater-falls

The weather was overcast, and a fine fog and mist covered the valley, so the walk in was cool and the views were limited, and everything was damp. From the falls we headed over a ridge line and climbed pretty quickly. The nice thing was, once on top of the ridge, the ground was rather flat and even slightly downhill for a long way. Then it dropped pretty fast back down to highway 107 back in South Carolina. It was only 3pm, but we were done, thanks to the lack of backpacks and being fresh on the trail. Last time, this trip took longer, as it was the third day, and negotiating wet boulders in the rain with 25 pounds on your back and chafed thighs is painful and exhausting.

The fastest two hikers took the spare car from Sloan Bridge, and went and got the truck from Bad Creek with all of our gear. When the rest of us arrived, someone mentioned driving into Cashiers for a steak dinner. Those of us wanting a more pure nature experience (and who brought our own meat), scoffed at the idea, maybe because we didn’t think of that earlier.

We made camp less than a quarter mile in from the road, at a campsite barely large enough for the seven of us. Despite the damp, cool conditions, we were able to get a fire going, cook our food, and have a good time. I had taken frozen swordfish with me, which had mostly thawed out by this point.

My titanium plate and cat food can stove is the perfect thing to cook a piece of meat on, especially with some aluminum foil protecting the meat and plate. I filled the can with alcohol, and let one side cook until the stove went out. Flip the meat, fill the stove again, and cook the other side. Then it’s done. The fish was AWESOME. Slightly overcooked, the way I like it (not mushy inside like some restaurants do it, but cooked through to where you can pull off individual flakes and eat them), and seasoned nicely with a little old bay on either side. While the fish cooked, I got my FitBit fixed. I finally found something to open the back (my Tick Key tick remover fit perfectly). I used my emergency sewing needle to remove the battery, and bend out the battery prongs. It fixed the problem, and I put the thing back together. I was a bit disappointed I apparently left my little cooking knife at home, and somehow I lost my fire starter, which I make from dryer lint and wax.

After dinner and a little Chai Latte, we watched the fire dying and looked at the stars, and went to sleep. Hiker midnight is 9pm. Not only is it dark outside, but there’s not much else to do and we’re usually tired. It was colder than expected, down in the mid to low 40s, and the damp air helped hold in the chill. I didn’t want to get up in the morning, but we had a long way to go.

Saturday – Day 2

We had about 14 miles to walk today, and it started well enough with packing up. Cowboy had relit the fire (he sleeps outside, is usually the first one up, and has a thing with fire), and it was nice to get up and sit by the warmth and have breakfast before breaking down camp. Packing on the middle day of a three day trip is always a challenge. Nothing goes back exactly right, and you have to be careful because you need it all again. On the last day you can just jam it in and walk out.

While packing, Sunshine said, “Who the hell put some weird matches and a moldy cookie-looking thing in my pack?” I looked at it. She had my fire starters! Our packs were side by side next to a tree, and apparently I dropped them in the wrong pack.

Our first walk was to the Fish Hatchery road. While we waited on everyone to regroup, Jim asked, “Is anyone missing a knife?” and held up my black knife. I said it was mine, and he said, “I found it in my crocs”. I guess it fell out of my unzipped pack side pouch and wound up in his croc, while in the truck. What are the odds? I like that knife and would hate to lose it.

Several miles later, we had spread out, and unfortunately the fastest guy in the group didn’t know exactly where we stopped last year. We described the place and the approximate milage, and he was off. After trailing a stream for a bit, we went over and around a few mountains and finally came down along the mighty Chattooga River, which you may have seen in the movie “Deliverance”. Yes, it was set in West Virginia, but the river scenes were filmed right here between South Carolina and Georgia. Along the way we passed King’s Creek Falls, one of my favorites, and in the movie I made, you can see me standing at the base of where the false plunge into the stream.

On many hiking trips, I suffer from an affliction we call “vacation bowel”, where your body doesn’t want to go to the bathroom for some reason. This was not one of those trips. It being early spring, and walking along ridge lines, I was having trouble finding a suitable spot with enough cover and privacy to avoid an inadvertent show of an intimate sort. Thankfully we came upon a backwoods parking lot and trail access point with a pit toilet. I’ve never been so happy to see one.

If you’ve never used a pit toilet, count yourself lucky. Its one small step above digging a hole in the ground and pooping in it. Imagine a large concrete box in the ground with a shed built over it. Cut a hole in the concrete box as big around as a toilet seat and install a metal cone over it, just the right size for the toilet seat and lid. That’s it. The best way to use these things is to walk in, slightly lift the lid to make sure nothing nasty is on the seat, then back onto it. Do not, for the love of God, look down into the pit of Hell that is beneath you. Do your business and wipe, and don’t let the lid hit you on the ass on the way out. They are truly horrid things.

But, for all their bad points, you’re at least enclosed in a shed and not exposed to the world. And, it being cool and early spring, the smell wasn’t bad, and there were no bugs to speak of. August brings another whole level of awfulness to these things.

So back to the trail, and we were treated with some magnificent views along the Chattooga. You can almost point your camera anywhere and just take awesome pictures. After about 14 miles total, we come upon a perfect site. Sandy beach right beside the river, some giant washed-up logs to sit on, a fire ring already there, and plenty of trees for hammock hanging. Right next to us was the rushing river, with just enough rocks upstream to cause a nice roaring background to sleep to. Paradise.

Rudy claimed the spot right before a load of scouts downstream at our spot from last year could claim it for their own personal paintball war. Seriously, who packs in paintball guns? They had BAGS of paintballs with them. We set about making camp, taking pictures, gather firewood, and generally enjoying the awesomeness of the river itself.

Our fire attempt wasn’t quite as good as the previous night. The fire was almost dead by around nine. All the wood we found was either rotten or wet or too green to burn well. It sufficed for burning the day’s trash of food wrappers and such, but other than that it provided only a little heat and excitement.

However, what did provide some excitement was the Toadaly Awesome, Toadus Amoungus frog mating frenzy in the nearby pool in a sheltered rocky area by the river. The frogs were singing like crazy and didn’t care that the humans were walking among them with flash cameras and headlamps. You could walk right up on them and they were croaking and swimming around and mating right there within arms reach. It was crazy, they weren’t even afraid. We left the frogs alone to get their groove on, and went to bed.

Sunday – Day 3

I didn’t sleep well overnight. I’m not sure why not. The campsite was perfect, we were worn slap out, and the temperature was nice, not even really cold. But I didn’t go to sleep well until about 2am, and woke up at 545. I started packing inside the hammock and got up to pee and eat. By 700 most of us were done with our morning chores and some were walking out. I got as good a head start as I could, and wound up being third from last walking out of camp.

I’ve never spent the whole day walking alone. It was a new experience, and kind of interesting. I set my own pace, played around with taking pictures, stopped to filter water when I wanted, stopped at the falls, and had snacks where I wanted. It was really sort of nice to have the peace and quiet of the woods all to myself.

Until I had to poop again. Great. No bathrooms this time… it was time to man up and go like a bear. I found a decent spot up the hill off the trail behind a big ass pine tree and did what I had too.

Then I got lost. I picked probably the WORST spot to get off the trail, since the trail cut back on itself at this point. I tried my best, but couldn’t find the trail. Keeping the poop tree in site, I began exploring the best I could, trying the direction I THOUGHT the trail was in, but to no avail. I took out the GPS, and scrolled my little arrow over to a point where I knew I was on trail, and had it lead me back. I had to force my way through scratchy underbrush and up a hill I didn’t remember, but I came out on the trail, finally, and headed on my merry way. From now on I clip my bright orange bandanna to the tree right next to the trail when it’s time for a bathroom break, and pick a straight section instead of a point.

I saw a few people on the trail on the way out, most of them heading in or near road crossings, but I didn’t see any of our party the rest of the day, and finally got back to the parking lot. The fast guys had gone for the cars, and somehow David had passed me, so we waited on Sunshine to bring up the rear. Our hike had come to an end. I was tired, smelly, and my feet were hot and felt blistered (they weren’t), but 12 miles had gone by pretty quickly.

Next hike, Finish the darn foothills trail so I can get my Peregrine award!

My trail video – make sure you click on the HD version, which will take you to the vimeo site. But it’s better in HD. It’s even better on my computer, but Vimeo only lets me upload 500mb at a time, so you get the crappier version.

 

The FitBitch

That’s what I call my newest gadget. Technically it’s known as the FitBit Zip.

fitbit-zip-140321Mine is the blue bastard on the far right. All it really does is mock my laziness. I have a friend that puts in over 13,000 steps a DAY, I’m lucky to break 9,000, even running on the damn Dreadmill for 2.5 miles.

My running friends irk me with their “I ran 6 miles in 45 minutes!” posts on Facebook, especially the ones that put up their little tracks of the route they ran. I only do the Dreadmill thing, which sucks. You know when you’re walking or running outside, and you fart, you sort of leave it behind. When you’re trudging along on the treadmill, and let one loose, it stays right there with you. You’re walking like crazy, but you sit there enveloped in your own cloud of stink until the air conditioning vent catches it and whisks it away.

I do 2.5 miles in 45 minutes. That sounds like nothing, I’m sure, but always leaves me sweaty and miserable and ready to say “screw this, where’s the bacon?” I can tell it’s getting better though. I start at 2 miles per hour, and increase it up to around 3.8 miles per hour. I try to mimic the way I feel hiking up hill with a pack on. I set the thing on an incline (actually it is always up, it broke on full up) and try and take long walking strides. By getting fast enough that I ALMOST want to break into a run, I can really feel myself get tired.

But the FitBitch has been a fun little toy. I can compare to others in my little group and see how we are doing. If you want to join my fitbit group, just let me know in an email to theosus at gmail dot com. I’ll add you to my circle of friends who torture themselves with exercise.

On a lighter note – I’m finally returning to an actual hike. I’ve been camping twice this year, once hiking for a ways and cheating by camping right next to the car. The other by pretty much avoiding the hiking part of the hike and just doing the camping part. It’s easy to get spoiled car camping (or just camping near the cars). When camping involves the trunk load of wood you brought, and a chain saw, you’ve really sort of let yourself go.

Thus comes the two night Foothills Trail Adventure. Last year we did this, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done to my body. I’m hoping this time I’m in better shape and that I’ve taken a it less weight with me (both on my body and in my pack) and that I won’t be so miserable by the end of day 3. We are cheating a LITTLE by not carrying the full packs most of day one, but still, there are two nights in the woods ahead of us and 35 miles to walk over a weekend.

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Take that, FitBitch, you smiling mockery.

 

Begging for Money time!

If you’ve ever looked through GoFundMe, its an interesting site with LOTS of weird stuff. There are people who have asked for all sorts of strange and rather unnecessary things.

One of the funniest and most laughed at on the Disney Facebook groups is “Please send my kid to Disney World!” Seriously, you want the rest of us hard working people to send you and you family to Disney World? Its a vacation, for Christ’s sake. And, here’s the funny part: My wife and I can never figure out exactly why they need so much money. Theres always a huge disparity between what Disney says a moderate vacation resort would cost and what they are asking for. Hey, if I’m asking the public to fund my vacation, you better believe I would do it as cheap as possible. Stay in a Value resort, take some of my own food, drive or fly (whichever is cheaper from where I live), and don’t do any “extras” (like the Bass Fishing excursion or Keys to the Kingdom tour).

But the site does do a lot of good. People have received medical help, new cars, apartments, furniture, even had help rebuilding houses and stuff after fires.

Of course, then there was the kid that got $10,000 to make mashed potatoes for a school project, so not everyone really thinks before clicking “donate”.

So, it’s my turn to beg for dollars. I need about $3000 of them.

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In January of this year my child’s Beta Club team won some regional events. Now six of them need to go to the National Convention in Nashville Tennessee. It’s an 8 hour drive (which we can handle), and three nights in a hotel plus food and expenses.

This is not a rich school district, and the school can’t afford to send them. They are helping with the registration fees and throwing in a little for lodging, but most everything falls on the parents. They aren’t even sending a bus, it’s up to the parents to drive and pay for pretty much everything. I hesitate to think about how different it would be if it was a sports team going somewhere, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway, if you would please spread the word, post this on your Facebook site, reblog it, even Tweet it or send out an Instakikagram or whatever you kids use these days… I would appreciate it. Of course, if you can donate anything, that would be a big help, but at least put the word out. After all, I spend a lot of time trying to write fun and informative material for you people, and I don’t get paid for it.

We aren’t asking for much for the kids. They won’t even attend the whole conference, just the days they need to compete. We are asking for help with lodging and gas money, and that’s all. Food is on the parents, as is entertainment during down time. the site is:

http://www.gofundme.com/kq8914

You can stay anonymous if you wish, and if (I’m really hoping here!) we get too much money, the extras will go to the school for expenditures on academic programs like this.

 

 

The anti-birthday party ski trip – 2015

Life with a child is always interesting, and no time is quite as interesting and regularly spaced as the Birthday Party. For kids, Birthdays are extremely important. Birthdays, with a capital B on purpose, because the annual Birthday is as important as Christmas – all the presents and fun without the requirement to get dressed up in uncomfortable clothes and waste half a weekend day being tortured with boredom at some religious ceremony, and none of the requirements for older children to pretend to believe in a mythical being (Not Jesus, the other one, in the red suit) in order to receive presents. Yes, there are parents that threaten kids with, “if you don’t believe, you don’t receive”.  Generally those are the type of families highlighted on TLC, but I digress…

But, for some reason we put a great emphasis on surviving another year. I guess in ancient times that was very important, what with the ever-present fear of death by terrible disease and invading hordes, starvation and famine. In modern times, it just seems sort of silly, heaping gifts on someone just for staying alive.

Parents often try to out-do each other with lavish parties, decorations, professionally decorated cakes, and even “goody bags” (yes – this is a thing, some parents send home treat bags for the attendees, despite the fact that in three months, they’ll have to attend the other kids party and give him a present, anyway) that sometimes costs more than the gift the other kid brought.

And the birthday cycle never seems to end. You’re invited to ten birthday parties during the year, and then you have to put on one of your own, and the cycle starts again. For the parents of young children, It seems every other weekend there’s a party to go to, none of which involve alcohol (at least during the party – afterwards, yes).

Several years ago, about the time my child was 6, I went skiing with a co-worker of mine. It had been years since I had been skiing. That event was chronicled on Facebook, and was a lot of fun, despite me winding up sliding downhill head first on my back for a significant portion of one of the runs. Of course, Kaylee decided “Hey dad, I want to go skiing too!” So I told her “Next year you can go, you’re a bit young”.

She remembered the next year, despite my notions to the contrary. Christmas rolled around and she said, “I want to go skiing like you said we could, last year”. Thankfully she has a January birthday. I told her, “You can either go Skiing, which is expensive, or you can have a birthday party with your friends and cake and ice cream and all of that”. She chose skiing, and a wonderful, magical, beautiful, thing happened. We got off the birthday carousel.

See, when she decided to go skiing, on her own, “just with me and dad!”… she didn’t have a birthday party. Subsequently, I’m not sure if the overactive moms got offended or what, but suddenly the endless invitations kind of stopped coming. “What? No Party!”. She might have attended one or two that year, at people’s houses, but gone was the endless stream of parties. Sure, the ski trip cost around $450 for the hotel and equipment rental, but add up the cost of not only what you spend on your own kid’s party, but all the presents you have to buy to support the Birthday Welfare Machine all year long, and suddenly a ski trip may just be the way to go.

Look at it this way, too: Your kid gets to see all these other kids five days a week in school. If you force your child to suffer through church on Sunday, they probably see another group on Sundays, maybe even some of the same ones. So what are they really getting out of yet another day with the same kids? Not much. As a parent sitting around at a party ignoring the other parents, playing on your smartphone praying the battery holds out for two hours, and that the hostess didn’t cheap out on the cake and get the nasty whipped icing, AND that the ice cream isn’t a half-melted blob of greasy goo because they chose the one with 90% more fat than any other flavor, are you really getting anything out of that? No – not even two hours to yourself, because they expect you to hang out at the party, not just drop the kid off so you can go catch a movie or enjoy some reproduction practice while you have two hours to yourself.

But – what if you could replace that experience of horror and wasted time and money and stress with something else? Who remembers the details of most parties ten or fifteen years down the road. You might remember something like “hey one year we had a superman cake”, or “remember that time we sent up the Wish Lanterns and set the neighbors barn on fire?”, but if you could take that and turn it all into something positive, an experience that you and your kid will remember forever, THAT’s worth getting off the birthday train. It’s not written anywhere that, “thou shalt have cake and ice cream and invite the whole class over to the house and destroy it, and risk getting sued because you have a trampoline without the pads and net”, that’s just what people do. If a birthday is a celebration of making it through another year without getting run over by a bus or catching smallpox because one of the invitee’s parents is an idiot who believes talk show hosts over doctors and doesn’t vaccinate their child, then why not celebrate it they way you want?

Skiing is easy for us, its a five hour drive. Disney World is a 7 hour drive the other way. But surely for those of you in less geographically suitable places, there are things your kid would love to do, that are both easier and more memorable than another party.

So – this year, we went skiing again. I let her take over – it was all about what she wanted. She picked the slopes to get on, she picked when to eat and what, and we had a blast together. Unfortunately my wife is picking up on this, and wants to go to Disney World for HER birthday party…

This is our video – there’s no music because we talk a lot… and it just got aggravating trying to figure out the music thing on iMovie.

Kaylee Skis from Markus Amoungus on Vimeo.