Improving my Trippy Gear

A few months ago I bought a tie-dyed hammock chair from Trippy Gear, a cottage vendor on Facebook. It worked very well on its first hiking trip, but I felt it could use a few improvements in its weight and packed bulk. 11136266_10206556778028623_1895232708441179473_o-2 First of all was the bulk of the straps. The suspension system included 2 15 foot tree straps and cinch buckles. The webbing straps worked pretty good, but rolled up in the sack they took up a good bit of space, and seemed very heavy for what they were. The entire chair with straps weighs 439 grams, or .97 pounds, with the current strap and suspension system. The straps attach to two cinch buckles, which were aluminum, and unless the strap was aligned correctly, they would slip a little when you sat in the chair.

The chair itself was perfect, the suspension was just a little bulky for my taste. So, I endeavored to improve it. A side note: The suspension sold with the chair only adds $15 to the price of the chair, making the total price $60. Once you start talking whoopie slings and dutch hooks, the price of the suspension at least doubles, and that’s still making your own, not paying for someone to do it for you.

Sold as is, the suspension is a good compromise between weight and price. But backpackers are never satisfied, and a lot of us just like to tinker with anything we can. IMG_5957 The first step was to draw out what I wanted. I knew I wanted to keep some tree straps to protect the trees, and I wanted a lighter, more secure method of hanging the chair, which was also less bulky. First to go was the cinch buckles, opting instead for something called a “dutch hook”, a little hook made by a hammock enthusiast called “dutch”. I ordered a set of Amsteel ropes and some hooks. IMG_5958 The cinch buckles were pretty easy to remove. I untied the Lark’s Head knot, slipped the whole assembly out of the hammock chair, unwrapped the cinch buckle, then put the Amsteel loops back through before redoing the Lark’s Head. These Amsteel continuous loops are pretty awesome. They are basically a piece of rope threaded into itself; it’s a circle of rope with no knot and no apparent beginning or end. Its also stiff enough in the doubled-up section, that I could easily slip it back into the hammock chair without finding a tool to help me do it. IMG_5959   My next step was to modify the tree straps. From my experience, 4 or 5 feet is usually plenty to protect a tree, and even if the tree is HUGE, its enough to provide protection around the back of the tree, the part that takes most of the load. So I chose one of the 15 foot straps, and cut it down to two sections just a little over 5 feet long. I then sewed another loop in one end of the piece without a loop.

Now I had to start making my whoopie slings. Amsteel is a bit larger in diameter than the dynaglide I worked with last time, but just as finicky with trying to pass it back through itself. It took me a few tries to get the right tool to do it. I straightened one of my daughter’s hair pins, and used the pink tape in the picture below to tape the end of the line to the hair pin. Hair pins (or “bobby pins”) have a little plastic bulb on the end that slips right through the middle of the Amsteel without snagging.

I just bunched the line up on one end of the pin, and spread it out on the back side, inchworming my way through the middle and popping out where needed. It was tough to get right at first, but finally I was able to make a decent loop in the end, with the right length bury. I sewed down the length of the bury with the sewing machine to help lock the loop into place. This rope is capable of holding up about 1500 pounds or so, pretty incredible for such a tiny rope. IMG_5952   Now I had to repeat the process, and hook the rope to the tree straps. Instead of using toggles or metal hardware or something else heavy and bulky, I decided to just permanently attach one end of the whoopies to the tree straps. I took the loop I had made, put it against the flat end of the strap, and folded and sewed another loop into the end of the tree strap. Repeat, and two tree straps are ready to go. IMG_5954The strongest thread I had happened to be a bright silver, so thats what I used, creating the same double-boxes with X’s in the middle, as were on the original strap. Everything was double-stitched for safety. So, now I just loop the strap around the tree, pull the free end of the whoopie sling through the other tree strap loop, and clip the end to the hammock chair.

The bad part is I ordered the wrong hooks from Dutch, and now I’m waiting on the right ones to come before I can complete the whoopie slings. I’m still debating whether to use true whoopies or the UCR method. I want to cut out some rope (and weight), but at the same time have a system I can count on to not fail on me when I’m relaxing in my hammock chair. From my previous experience, fifteen feet of straps was way longer than what I really needed. I had lots of strap material left over. In the interest of cutting down on some of the bulk of the whoopie slings, I cut the total length of the straps and whoopies to 12 feet.

That’s 5 feet of tree strap and seven feet of whoopie sling. I wound up choosing the traditional slings instead of the single piece UCR rope, because the UCR rope can slip loose easier, not something you want to happen when you’re relaxing in the hammock chair. This means a little more weight and rope bulk as part of the sling.

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My hammock chair in its original form. You can see the cinch buckle and extra strap behind my head.

Not having my dutch hooks yet, I still wanted to check my new weight, and took it to work to weigh. Modifications so far have removed almost a third of a pound, and a lot of stiff bulk. I was pretty impressed with the difference. Down to .67 from .97 was a big difference, a third of the TOTAL weight was in the straps I removed! Even though the ropes don’t pack as neatly as the straps, they stuff in the bag a lot better, and have some give. The dutch hooks will only add a few grams, as they are very tiny and made of titanium. I’m looking forward to finishing the chair and putting it to some use.

I found the easiest way to use the hammock chair on the trail was not to even pack it back up. I would string it up to the trees, get a snack, and take a rest. When it was time to go, I would unhook it, roll it up into a bundle commonly called a “wad”, and then just jam it into the top of the pack. That made it much easier to get out at the next rest stop. My hammock chair was cut “wrong” – it was cut at 6’x6′ instead of 5’x6′. The manufacturer asked me if that was fine and I said yes. Your chair may be slightly lighter. I like the big size, and I’m glad he asked me. You can see above that I could curl up in it, and even turn sideways and take a nap.

I like supporting cottage vendors, and even more when everything is made in ‘Murica!

Find Trippy Gear here:

https://www.facebook.com/TripyHippyGear

Memorial Day with the Mouse

I said a couple of years ago – after my first Thanksgiving trip to Disney World that I would never go back when it was hot. Going to Florida for “fun” when it’s 95% humidity and 97 degrees in the shade is just beyond ridiculous. There’s not much fun  getting sunburned and sweating like Josh Duggar during a Girl Scout sleepover. I much prefer long sleeves and jeans weather in central Florida. But over Memorial Day I broke that resolution and returned to the sun and heat. The timing was just right: it was a long weekend for one thing, and Disney discounted several hotels. So months ago when the deal came open, the wife and I booked a weekend trip and planned to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

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Animal Kingdom Lodge Lobby

The day before the trip, I read that this Memorial Day was supposed to be one of the busiest travel days in the previous 10 years, due to a falsely propped-up economy and low gas prices. Great. It made me almost want to drop a large weight on my ankle, because my Thanksgiving I-95 driving experience had made me want to turn around and come home, and completely ruined the trip to the point all I could think about the whole time was leaving.

Traffic this trip was surprisingly light. We left about 4pm and hit I-95, anticipating being at WDW by 11:00pm. The first thing that happened, of course, was my daughter started complaining about her phone being dead.  What is it with kids? She steals every iPhone cord I have in the house. I buy them by the gross, and they’re always going missing, yet her roadway entertainment (in the form of her phone and iPad) are ALWAYS on the verge of dying. If I knew I was going on an 8 hour road trip, I’d charge my crap the night before. So here we are thirty minutes into an 8 hour trip, and her stuff is dead, and the power outlet in the car isn’t working.

Our first gas stop is in Santee, SC, and I go into the store that sells fishing rods, live bait, canned jams and jellies, and finally find the one pack of micro blade fuses and replace the one that will supply power and happiness to my child’s life. Problem solved. 7 easy hours later we’re checking into the most awesome hotel I’ve stayed at on a Disney trip. Of course, a few hours of the trip were driving at night. That was more terrifying than anything Disney has to offer, since I’m currently having a neurological issue that makes driving at night a bit of a challenge and requires all of my concentration.

First, we normally stay in the “Disney Ghetto” known as All Star Sports or Pop Century. They aren’t bad hotels, but they’re the cheapest things on property where you don’t have to bring your room with you (i.e. a camper or a tent), and thus attract a lot of the crowds that would want or need the cheapest things on property. You get lots of parents with large families, tour groups from foreign countries, tour groups from this country, school chorus groups with not enough chaperones to go around, and rambunctious drunks.

The Animal Kingdom lodge is a “deluxe” resort, one of the top tier places on property. Other deluxe resorts include Fort Wilderness Lodge, the Polynesian, The Contemporary, and the Grand Floridian (the last three which circle the lake south of the Magic Kingdom and have monorail service). So this was a big upgrade for us. I have to say I’m a little spoiled. Interior hallways are nice, much like moving up from a Comfort Inn to a DoubleTree resort. The restaurants were better, even though we didn’t eat there, and they even had guys that would come to your room with a luggage cart and help move your suitcases. At Pop Century, you’re kind of on your own.

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Animal Kingdom Bunks next to Queen bed.

Owing to the fact that it was going to be 90 degrees in the shade, I elected to go a lot lighter than usual. I have a nice big SLR camera that I take some places, and its cushioned camera bag backpack that I put snacks and water and a raincoat into. This trip – I ditched it for my new Deuter day pack, which has no cushions and is made of lightweight nylon instead of heavy fabric, and took a pocket camera, small water bottle, raincoat, and a few snacks. It was a big weight off the back and worked pretty well.This was also my first trip with the FitBit.

The first day we got up and went to Epcot. I like EPCOT, but it’s in serious need of an upgrade. First of all, the middle section (past the big golf ball ride) used to be called “Innoventions”. It was an area dedicated to education and new technology. I remember being young and walking through displays of jet engines and rockets, and using computers to create virtual roller coaster rides (big stuff in the early 80s), make the computers speak, use light pens to draw, and all sorts of other cool stuff.

Innoventions has been gutted and turned into restaurants, gift shops, and “character spots”, long lines where you stand and wait to get your picture taken with Donald, Daisy and Pluto. The spirit of “the community of tomorrow” is gone. Now there’s just some shops with a Starbucks outside. But the back part of EPCOT is still fun, seven countries are represented, and wandering through there is always nice.  One of my goals was to dispel a rumor I had heard that the America Pavilion had actually started selling moonshine. EPCOT is a more adult park, and as such all the countries have local forms of booze, and I have said for the past several years that America really needed to ditch the beer crap and sell the drink than made this country what it is.

Well, they do. And I was glad to see that my state was represented. America Pavilion sells Firefly Moonshine, distilled right here in South Carolina. Go Palmetto State! It’s not some watered down fake WalMart moonshine either which is just a malted beverage like a strong beer. No, I bought a jar of 100 proof Blackberry Flavored moonshine. Of course, they wouldn’t just give it to me. They had to send it to the front of the park and I had to carry it out to the car. So after lunch, thats what I did.

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Kaylee at EPCOT

A side note here: We ALWAYS drive to the parks. Yes, Disney offers bus transportation, but the buses are like any other bus. They run on their own schedule, they get crowded, they take a while to get where they are going, and you suffer at the whims of the driver and the bus stops. So I walked to the front of the park, grabbed my hooch, and stashed the ‘shine in the car, protectively wrapped in its bubble wrap and tissue paper, to enjoy at a later time. IMG_5889 The remainder of the day went well, except the wife’s feet finally gave out on her around what I guessed was mile 10 of the day, and we left around 8 to go back to the hotel and take it easy. We rested a bit before going, and people watched on the bench outside of the Japan area.

People watching at Disney is always fun, and we noticed a new trend: Ass Cheek Shorts. If you thought Yoga Pants were bad enough, the new trend is even more revealing. Its now the thing to cut the back of jean shorts all the way to the bottom of the pockets, so when girls walk, the bottom of the ass cheek is a clearly visible fold of skin. Unfortunately I was using my pocket camera, which is way more obvious than my SLR, and I didn’t get any informative shots for you to enjoy and chuckle at.

Butt trust me, the trend is there. Of course, when we got back to the room I had to get some ice and open the jar for some adult beverage. An ounce of South Carolina Stumphole over ice was very, very good, and I was soon asleep. 16.7 miles or so walked today. Disney is rough!

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The Tea Cups

The following day we enjoyed the Magic Kingdom, which to most people is what they think of when you say “I’m going to Disney World”. They think Dumbo and Space Mountain and Prince Charming’s castle. We slept in a little while longer, but still got there around 9 and rode a few rides. By 11 it was time for Casey’s hot dogs. I had a BBQ dog, which was a giant hot dog bun with a pile of BBQ on top. Excellent stuff, and since I REALLY wanted Pecos Bills, it was a worthy compromise. More Ass Cheek Shorts to go around, and plenty of rude foreigners.

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Casey’s hot dogs

I’m not racist, I’m xenophobic. I don’t think I’m superior to foreigners or that we should keep other races or peoples down. Jesus, people, try to have some courtesy and respect others, and if you can’t understand English well enough to abide by the rules, learn the language or stay the heck home. We watched foreigners cut lines (okay, technically it wasn’t out and out cutting, but you’re still not allowed to have a person hold your place in line, then have the other five of your duck under ropes and push past people in line to get to be with your group), we were pushed out of the way at the last minute at parades, and we even had some guy try and put his children directly in front of my wife on top of the trash can she had been standing by for twenty minutes waiting on the fireworks. I gave him a look and told him “no” in a way that could be understood in any language, and it helped that a cast member told him “hey you moron you can’t stand a two year old on a trash can, they’ll fall”, or words to that effect.

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Line cutting – always a good way to save ten minutes.

After the evening parade and fireworks, my wife left to return to the room, and my daughter and I figured we would go ride Space Mountain, since we hadn’t go to do that yet. We went to ride with everyone else in the park, and it took over an hour to get through the line. We were stuck there with six obnoxious kids from a middle school chorus group, and their uncaring chaperone. The Chaperone got picked by the load guy as a single rider, and left us alone with the six kids who got more irritating by the minute. After a worthwhile ride around Space Mountain, we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel. We did ten miles according to FitBit, putting our total for the weekend at 27 miles. We walked a marathon at Disney in a weekend!

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Port Orleans after the river boat ride.

As much as I dreaded the ride down, the ride back was a bigger fear. People go south at varying times, but everyone has to work Tuesday, so we would all be heading back together. We drove over to the Port Orleans resort before coming home, and took a riverboat to Downtown Disney so the wife and daughter could buy stuff at the BASIN store, sort of a fancy Bath and Body Works.

BASIN charges like crazy for shipping, so it was easier to shop there at the place. I really enjoyed the boat ride back, and we hit the interstate. The drive from Disney World to I-95 was pretty hectic, but afterwards it smoothed out and was an easy 7 hours home. Unfortunately, the Air Conditioning on the car quit on the way home for a little while. I had it checked before the trip because it was acting up, and Honda couldn’t find anything wrong. It would randomly quit working and come back on, on it’s own schedule. After having replaced the Evaporator Coil and several other parts when the car was 3 years old (a good faith repair of $300, instead of the $1800 they were planning to charge me), we decided to go ahead and trade the damn thing on a newer car before it totally crapped out. Car shopping is even more fun than a busy trip to Florida in the Summer, so that’s another post.

Updates to the Hennessy Hammock

My Hennessy Hammock was one of the first things I bought when I decided to get into backpacking and camping. It’s been a steadfast and go-to friend for my adventures. It’s also something I love to hate.

See – I really like hiking. I like walking in the woods and spending multiple days in the woods, but I don’t really like sleeping in the woods. I’m comfortable, but its still sort of a weird experience. I’d much rather be in a bed for the most part. Nights in the woods are often a little too warm or too cold, and there’s the ever-present feeling that I might have to wake up and deal with something like rain or having to pee. Then in the morning I have to pack it all up, carry it 10-15 miles, and drag it all back out to do over again. Add to it that my normal bed time is around midnight, and I wake up around six. Getting into the hammock at 8 or 9 is a little early and I just don’t feel like sleeping, usually. But, its part of the whole experience, and sleeping in the woods is a very small price to pay for spending a few days away from civilization with some friends.

The Hennessy needed a few updates, however. First was the tie out lines. It originally came with black bungee lines about four feet long, which stretch out to tent pegs and keep the mosquito net off of you. After having tripped over them many times, it was time to change them out. Black lines only show up during the middle of a very bright sunny day, which is seldom the time your hammock is hanging up. So I replaced them with some neon yellow bungees of the same diameter. The neon should be pretty visible in the daytime, at night when the headlamp hits it, and at dusk. Dusk is always a problem, because there is a time in the woods when it’s not quite dark enough to use a headlamp, but its not light enough to see clearly, either.

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Hammock neon bungee tie out – about 1/8″ diameter.

The second was the ridge line. The hammock originally came with fixed ropes for suspension, and a fixed length of rope running end to end. I replaced the ropes the second year I had the hammock, putting Whoopie Slings on it instead. This threw off the measurement of the fixed ridge line by about two inches, because the whoopies hung slightly different. So I bought an adjustable ridge line, which is basically a smaller diameter whoopee sling.

Now, if you don’t know how a whoopee sling works, one end is a fixed loop, and the other is a variable loop that will get bigger or smaller, making the rope a different length.

The Whoopie Sling!
The Whoopie Sling!
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My whoopee sling. I bought it, I didn’t make it.

The fixed loop worked great, it looped around one end of the hammock suspension, ran inside under the bug net, and then to the other end. The other end was the issue. Once the variable loop was in place and under tension around the suspension rope, it buried itself down in the hammock end, and was REALLY HARD to actually adjust. So on a recent hike when the mosquito net was resting against my face, I couldn’t tighten the ridge line. I made all the adjustments I could with the tie outs, and shoved my fleece jacket against the side of the hammock.

So it was time for an improvement. I disassembled the ridge line (quite a trick to do, since it threads through the hammocks gathered ends, so you have to pull a “place holding rope” into place when you remove it). Then I watched a few youtube videos, and took the ridge line apart until I had one long length of dynaglide. Dynaglide is awesome rope. It has an outer braid and hollow core, so it works like a Chinese finger trap. Connect two pieces of rope together by threading one through the other, pull tight, and the thing holds. Push one end, and they slip apart.

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The entrance of my hammock and my UCR cord adjustable ridge line.

Check out this guy’s youtube video at 5:25 for exactly what I’m talking about

So, I made a fixed loop on a short rope, and a fixed loop on a long rope, and put those on the suspension ends. Then I ran the long rope through the short rope, so down by the foot opening of the hammock theres an easily adjustable ridge line.

It was a new and difficult skill to get right, I have lots of little scrap rope bits around. The hardest part was making a tool to get the ropes through each other, yet be small enough and stiff enough to slip through the hollow core with ease. Dynaglide is smaller diameter than your average iPhone charging plug. Its larger cousin, Amsteel, is 7/64 in diameter. I just purchased some of the larger stuff for updating the hammock chair that I recently bought. Its straps are too big and heavy for backpacking, but that’s another post.

While I was updating the hammock, I decided to give the rainfly tarp a little TLC too. First I bought some new toggles that were about 1/3 the size and weight of my old ones. They are 1/2″ tent pole splicers, intended to be used, of course, if your tent pole breaks. I got two 4″ tubes at REI and already tested them. My old ones were 1″ by 4″ with a 1/16″ wall thickness.

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I had the same concerns about reflectivity and being able to see the tie-out straps on the rainfly that I did on the hammock. I had already purchased and tied on some dark green reflective cord from Nite-Eyz. That cord did a decent job at night when using a headlamp. It also worked really well in the middle of the day when you can see the dark green. It didn’t do so well around dusk when you don’t need a headlamp yet, and the dark green blends in.

So, I bought some thin bright yellow-green cord with a reflective strip in it. Not only will it show up during the day, but at night with a headlamp, and the ugly yellow color should show up just fine on it’s own at dusk. Knowing me, I’ll still find a way to trip over it.

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Reflective hammock tie-out line under tungsten light. Yes, I still use regular bulbs. Screw you and your CFL bulbs.
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Reflective tie-out line under darkness with iPhone “flash”

I used the same line to retie the tarp’s ridge line. The previous line was 550 paracord, and there shouldn’t be anywhere near 550 pounds of load on my rainfly. So, I went with the lighter and smaller cord to help save a little weight and bulk. I also ditched the tarp tree straps that I had previously made. They were just too big and cumbersome for my newer, lighter, smaller pack. I saved my tarp hooks and just tied them to the ends of the tarp rope. With the right lashing, the tarp hooks should work fine by themselves without any additional straps or other weight.

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Reflectve tarp line and tree hooks in the light.
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Reflective line in semi darkness with iPhone “flash”

Personally I like the fact some of the reflective stuff fell on the bed and now the bed sparkles like it has stripper dust on it. It will be a while before I get to try out my new stuff. Thanks to family trips and work stuff, I can’t go hiking until mid July at the earliest. I’m anxious to go on some trips this fall though, and finally put some miles down on the Appalachian Trail.

The unfortunate thing about do-it-yourself is when your ideas outpace your brain. I have two yards of dark green fabric in my closet. For the life of me I can’t remember what I wanted to make with it. Maybe a lightweight top quilt or something for summer, I’m not sure. I’ll remember some time, in the mean time I have a hammock chair to fix, as soon as my amsteel and clips come in.

*UPDATE*

After trying to get the ridge line right, I was dismayed how easily the UCR connection for the ridge line would come loose. After all, once you get your hammock set up perfectly, the last thing you need to do is bump the ridge line and have to reset it.

So – I pulled the UCR thing apart and made a fixed loop in the shorter rope. Then I fed the longer rope through the loop and made it into a traditional whoopie sling. So I have a whoopie sling again, but the variable loop is right over my feet instead of being buried into the gathered end. Very easy to adjust, but after a few tries in the yard I’m very pleased with it. The key to it is getting that moving loop out where you can reach it. It has about 2 inches of rope I can add or subtract, which is plenty for a ridge line if you have it set pretty close to 83% to begin with.

What I still find amazing is how much that mosquito net cuts the wind. There was a slight breeze, and yet instead of coming through the hammock, the mosquito net would billow up and prevent most of the breeze from getting through.

People are rude.

I continue to lose faith in humanity as a whole. Actually, humanity is a pretty good hole, if you’re talking a-hole.

So last night as usual for this time of year, I attended the first of three dance recitals I will be at this weekend. My daughter has been taking dance for several years. I like the fact the she’s in dance. Please don’t compare your average small-town dance event to those crazy morons on TV, it’s usually not like that. If your dance teacher is like the one on Lifetime, find a new one.

I like dance because: Theres only one weekend a year to go to. Other than lessons, there’s not much to do. I hear about these poor softball parents that spend three days a week wasting away in bleachers for hours, or soccer moms that spend half the summer watching matches and I think, “God Im so glad that isn’t me”. I hate sports, and certainly don’t want to spend hours and days watching sports that I’m really not interested in. Dance is also inside, in the Air Conditioning. If my daughter wants to take up a sport, I guess gymnastics would be fine, after all, that’s inside.

So I’m at the dance recital and people file in like normal. All around I hear little mutterings “No, these seats are saved.” Seven seats. In a row. One old granny parked on each end of a row of seats. They’re saving seats like it’s the junior high lunch room and they’re waiting on the popular kids.

No. You don’t do shit like that. A family of four walked past you, the theater is getting full, there aren’t a whole lot of seats left, and you have the audacity to tell someone, “You can’t sit here, even though you are here already and the lazy group of jerks I am waiting on haven’t bothered to show up yet.” Thats what you are saying, to another grown, adult person standing there in front of you. As if that’s not bad enough, people accept this, as if these two women somehow have the right to do that. If someone told me and my group, “Oh no, you can’t sit here because we’re saving this row”, it would take everything I have not to just give them a hearty “fuck you”, and plop down any way. Yes, I would sit down, but cursing is out, because after all, its a theater, and you don’t want to get tossed out. People actually have to get security involved over seat conflicts. Simple rule: If it’s empty, sit in it. Sure, leave a seat for the husband that may be in the bathroom or the wife parking the car, but if there are six seats in a row empty? Take four of them and have a seat. Grandma’s buddies should have gotten there sooner.

Electronics rule the world. Big announcement right before the show: No recording the show (because after all, DVDs are available for purchase), that’s pretty easy to understand. No texting during performances. Also pretty easy. The dance performances are short 2-3 minute events with a minute or so between them while they reset props and get out the next group of kids. Plenty of time to text if you need to. Please put away all electronics. Again, simple. No flash photography.

So…what happens? People just basically ignore all of that. The lights go down and it’s like a candlelight vigil in the audience from all the phones that are on. The audience is glowing. Ushers and security have to run around telling people, “Hey dumbass, put up your phone, there are actual people to watch on the stage now”. Well, they were nicer about it, but that’s pretty much what goes on. Look, I know people have to text and check their Facebook pages every four minutes or they start having withdrawals. But not during the dances, especially the opening number.

Worse than that are the parents who bring little kids with their iPads or tablets. The lights go out, and there are sections of the theatre bright enough to see from space, because these little darlings are too young or uninterested enough to spend three hours waiting on their sister to dance for two minutes. So, they have their own entertainment brought in, with the express purpose of pissing off the people who are there to actually Watch. The. Show. Again, it’s ushers to the rescue. “You’re going to have to have your child turn that off”

“What’s he supposed to do for fun?”

“I don’t know miss, maybe WATCH THE DANCE?”

So this one kid has an absolute fit when mom turns off his iPad. In the vernacular, he “flips a bitch” and loses it. Mom finally takes him in the lobby and does nothing effective, because he still cries and whines (I guess he’s not used to being taken away from the Apple Babysitter). The ultimate solution? Take him upstairs where there’s not much of a crowd, sit him in the balcony section, and leave him by himself with his teddy bear and his iPad in the corner where he won’t bother anyone. Look, hire a babysitter, leave the kid with grandma or your baby daddy for the evening. I get it, seven year olds don’t care to watch their five year old sister falling all over the stage. I feel his pain. But just because you couldn’t come up with something better to DO with him, doesn’t mean it’s okay for him to bring the light of a thousand suns into a dark theater.

And of course comes the “I just want to record MY kid” parent. Every act, here come the camera phones. Because nothing looks as good as your child through a tiny 3 inch screen, instead of you looking at the stage and enjoying the show. And nothing quite pisses people off behind you while they try to watch their own kid, but instead have this light in their face because you’re too cheap to buy the show DVD. At least learn how your phone works. Turn down the brightness to its minimum level. The video will still be bright when you put it on Facebook, watch it three times and never look at it again. Turn OFF the “flash”. Yeah, that little LED light 75 feet away from the stage is really improving your child’s video… Seriously though, it’s not doing a damn thing but acting like a laser beam in the eyes of the people immediately around you. The dancers are lit up by several thousand watts of light. You know what that means? You DON’T NEED A FLASH!

At least there were no crying babies.

My Peregrine Award!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI get a special award…

Not for being that kind of special, mind you. But I do get an award. This weekend I punished my body in new and exciting ways. And, I had to take a dump in the woods. More on that later. I know you cant wait.

As a long time follower of mine, you should know that I have been working on hiking the Foothills Trail in sections. The Foothills Trail, for those of you with ADHD or other blogs to read, is a 77 mile (they claim, I think its more like 98, but they just don’t want to scare you) trail that runs from Table Rock State Park in South Carolina, up into North Carolina, and then back down along the Chattooga River (have you seen “Deliverance”?) and south to the Oconee State Park in South Carolina. If you hike the whole thing and join the Foothills Trail Conference, you can get the “Peregrine Award”.

This weekend, I finally finished. I hiked the Chattooga section in the spring of 2014, and intended to do the middle section right afterwards, which I didn’t get to do. In November of 2014 we hiked overnight from Sassafras mountain to Table Rock State Park.

The Chattooga River section was so popular in spring of 2014, our meetup group wanted to do it again, so we set up two trips in 2015: Oconee to Bad Creek Access (about 33 miles, a lot of it along the Chattooga River) in March, and Bad Creek to Laurel Valley in April. The Chattooga River section is still my favorite, and that section went off without a problem in March 2015.

See it here:

https://theosus1.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/the-foothills-trail-redux/

For medical reasons I had to delay the middle section again, and finally on the first of May, 2015, we started off on a three day journey to conquer the Foothills Trail.

I had ordered a new piece of gear for the trip. A lot of people like bringing camp chairs or pads to sit on logs. The pads are okay and the chairs are often sort of heavy or bulky. I wanted something comfortable yet light. I happened across a guy on Facebook that makes hiking gear out of tie-dyed nylon, and bought a Hammock Chair. Its light, not very bulky, and uses the trees in the woods to hold it up. It can be set up and taken down in less than five minutes, even quicker if you just jam the thing in your pack without trying to make it all neat.

With perfect weather for hiking in the south forecast all weekend, including 0% chance of rain and temperatures ranging from a low of 45 to a high of 79, we were all looking forward to it.

Friday – May 1:

The group of us met at our usual spot, divided into two cars, and drove up to the Bad Creek Reservoir in the upstate of South Carolina. After we dropped the first car, we drove around to the Laurel Valley access area, a little parking lot just off of Highway 178, and left the other car. After a quick gear check, we headed into the woods.

The bugs were about what I expected, but they really didn’t bother us too much. My big fear was ticks, but I had treated my clothes with permethrin which is supposed to kill them if they get on you. The weather was nice and cool. I found a surprise GeoCache right along the side of the trail, and logged it.

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Our lunch stop went rather well. I pulled out the hammock chair for the first time, and strung it up, so I could relax and eat lunch. It worked surprisingly well, and I didn’t fall off or anything. At this point, four other people showed up on the trail, and told us they were from Augusta, and were doing the same route we were. After the lunch break we headed off and I made a tactical error. I tried keeping up with the faster guys in front of me. Thomas, Jim, and Paul all hike faster than me, despite Paul’s usual statement of “I’m going to take it easy today and take lots of pictures”. Paul takes phenomenal pictures using a small camera, but he’s still ahead of me most of the time. Me and Kim were at the back of the group. After several miles we ran into Virginia Hawkins falls, stopped for a rest and to look at the falls. The rest of the day I tried to take it a little easier, but my over exertion already put me at a disadvantage, and I think it made me a bit dehydrated.

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After the falls we continued on to Rock Creek. My original intent was to stop for the night at Rock Creek campsite, which is just on the South Carolina state line of the Foothills Trail. In the morning we were going to tackle “heartbreak ridge” and go on around to Bear Camp River. The problem was, we had about three hours of daylight left, and the three guys in front really wanted to get heartbreak ridge behind them. So, Kim and I rested for a minute at Rock Creek (which was where the Augusta guys also intended to stop, I think – so it was good that we went on) and then headed up the hill.

“Heartbreak Ridge” is named that way for a reason. There are over 300 wooden steps on the northern slope, simple 4×4 posts about 18″ wide held in place across the trail with rebar, because the slope is steep and they help with erosion. It takes more than 300 physical steps to go up the slope, that’s just the wooden ones. We were coming up from the south side, with had a heck of a lot of steps. As soon as we thought it was over with, we would round a bend, or top a hill and there would be a downhill and then more up. We finally reached the top, where a wooden bench was constructed. I couldn’t go on, and Kim headed on down. I rested, drank some water, and ate a snack, then headed down the 300 steps to Lake Jocassee. I stopped to filter water.

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Normally I am not very bee friendly. I tend to back away from them or swish something at them so they will move on. But sitting on a little wooden bridge across a creek at the lakeside drinking water, a bee landed on my knee. I was so exhausted I couldn’t freak out or back away. So I watched him. He crawled around on my knee and I felt a tickling sensation, maybe from it walking on my leg hairs or sucking up sweat beads, I don’t know. But it did what it wanted and flew off. I walked half dead into camp and set my stuff up. I ate and the rested in my hammock chair for a little bit before going to Sleep. We were right by the Toxaway River in North Carolina, 14 miles down.

Day 2 – May 2.

Morning comes early on spring hikes, and around 6am we were up and eating, and packing up. I was soon thankful we had Heartbreak Ridge behind us. We crossed the Toxaway River bridge, and would spend the next 5 miles in the Gorges State Park. Our first mile was along the shores of Lake Jocasee, and then up another ridge equally as high as Heartbreak, but without all the wooden steps. Now 700 feet above the lake, the remainder of the day was spent going up and down ridges and valleys, and winding through the back woods.

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We spread out again, with Thomas and Paul once again taking the lead, with Me, Jim and Kim in the back. With instructions to stop at Hilliard Falls, We only saw the front two at break stops. It is good to stop and see each other during certain points of the day – as it makes sure everyone is progressing, and the people in front get to rest for a while. Our lunch stop was at Bear Creek, where I had camped a few years back on a Gorges State Park Loop, which was good timing since a bee got stuck in my shirt and stung me three different times before I could get him out.

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In general the second day was more difficult, with a lot more ups and downs than the first day, so by the time we were around 13 miles in, and reached Hilliard Falls, we were done for the day. It was only around 5pm, so we took our time setting up camp, went to the falls and back, and I spent a LOT of time just lounging around in my hammock chair. It swings with the slightest input, even laying on your side and breathing will set it in motion.

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It finally got dark enough to get in the tent and relax. I hadn’t had a cell signal in two days, although I tried a few times on ridge lines. I wanted to send a message home saying I was alive, but it would have to wait. I didn’t even listen to music or anything, just went to sleep.

Day 3 – The mystery day

I had my little hammock tarp set up in “porch mode” – that is, instead of being tent shaped, I had tied it off so it was relatively flat across the top. At 6am I looked out through the netting and saw Thomas up and around and getting a fire going. He said during the night something had run through camp, and even moved his pack a little. Kim would later get up and say something had knocked her trekking poles over. They were convinced it was a raccoon or something a little larger. I’m thinking Sasquatch, despite not hearing any howls or wood knocks, or having any other evidence at all.

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The final day of a trip is sort of a relief. On other mornings, you have to pack up carefully, knowing you will be using all your stuff again. On the last morning though, you’re free to just jam stuff in however you want, as long as whatever you might use (like food, water filter and rain jacket) wind up on top.

Today was the hardest day of all. The whole day we were either going up forever, or going down steep inclines to rivers. Steep downs are just as bad as steep ups, since you are wearing 20-30 pounds on your back and trying not to fall over.

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It was only 6 miles out, but took just over 3 hours. I made sure to drink lots of water and rest breaks. After thinking that I was getting out of the trip without having to take a real “bathroom break” in the woods, my body treated me to that lovely event pretty early in the morning. This got me behind everyone else. I stopped to make howls in the woods every so often. I never heard a ‘Squatch, but at one point I heard Kim. I rushed to catch up to the group as we went down to the Thompson River, but evidently she thought I was ahead of her, and rushed ahead to catch up to me. So we arrived exhausted at the river side camping area where Thomas, Paul and Jim were waiting.

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You can count on a few things backpacking, and one is generally: When you go downhill to get to a river, you’ll have to go uphill an equal or greater amount on the other side, which is what we had to do.

When we finally made it to the Whitewater Falls Area, we started seeing more people, including day hikers out for an easy trip to the falls and back. I stepped up to the falls information sign, and I was done. Sure, I had .5 miles to go to the parking lot, but I had done everything else on the trail at least once. We stopped to wait on everyone to get together, and took a group picture before beginning the last climb up to the parking lot. It says .5 miles but feels like a lot more, since its uphill almost the whole way.

Then it was back in the truck, grab the other car, and off to the best BBQ place in the world, BBQ and More, a little RV food stand on the side of Highway 11 near Jones Gap State Park. On the way home we stopped at REI so we could get a few things.

I got:

A prepackaged Pepper Beef and Rice meal. My frozen swordfish steak was an AWESOME first night meal. My beef jerky and mashed potatoes the second night? Not so much. I need to expand my food choices.

Tent pole splices. They are 4 inch by 1/2 inch diameter aluminum tubes, meant for someone to use to temporarily fix a bent or broken tent pole. I intend to use them to replace the 4 inch by 1 inch diameter toggles I have now. Smaller and lighter. I already tested them at home with both the Marlin Spike Hitch knot, and just looping them through the straps. They perform pretty well, although a small strip of duck tape around the ends will help keep them from sliding out of place accidentally.

A new titanium Spork. My old one works fine, but its dull, boring grey like every other spork. So my new one is purple.

A ZRest sitting pad. When I take a quick break or go to eat by the fire away from where my hammock chair is, it’s nice to have something padded and dry to sit on. My old sit pad I made from a piece of double-bubble cloth (basically two layers of bubble wrap with mylar on the outside) was beat. It kept my butt dry on wet ground, but it offered no comfort.

What I learned from this trip:

Take more TP. My one bathroom incident used most of what I had. I thought there was more there… if I had a repeat event, I would have had to sacrifice my bandanna. Gross.

Drink more water. My first day left me nauseous, exhausted, and dehydrated. There was enough water around; drink it and treat more when possible. I like taking the water bottle when I know there will be lots of water, but its hard to drink from because once it’s out of the pack’s holder, it doesn’t want to go back in. My water bladder system is easier to drink from, so I drink more, but takes up space inside and I wind up carrying too much water sometimes.

Don’t try to keep up with the speed demons. It’s nice to see if you can hike fast, but when the hike becomes The Siberian Death March, slow down and enjoy yourself. If I wanted to sweat and be miserable, I would run half-marathons against other people. That’s not my thing.

So, now that I’m done, I get to write up a hiking log (which I sort of just did) and send in my $20 to join the FHT Conference and get a peregrine award patch for my pack. Woo Hoo!

Enjoy my hiking video if you wish:

FHT Laurel Valley to Bad Creek from Markus Amoungus on Vimeo.