Woah! Trippy Gear, dude!

So – After my initial success with both my mockup hammock chair and then my ultra-light version, I was out of “stuff” to make. However, I had a nice large piece of tie-dye fabric I intended to make a kilt from, that I bought from Trippy Gear on Facebook very cheap.

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The thing was, I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it. The picture below was taken inside with an iPhone, it looked a lot better than the lighting made it out to be. I thought of making a kilt with it, but after folding it in half and folding some sample pleats, I saw it totally ruined the Tie-Dye pattern and just looked awful. So, what to do with a hammock sized piece of cloth? Make a hammock, of course.

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Below you see the pattern outside in the sunlight. First thing was to sew up the sides. Like my other project, the selvege edge (the edge down the long sides) was left on, so I simply turned it over a half inch, then again. I ran two stitches along the edge, both to keep it from unravelling and to make the edges stronger, then I cut the hammock to length. I checked with ENO, they make their finished hammocks about 9 and a half feet. I figured I would make mine slightly longer, so I cut off about a foot and a half on one end, and started with 11 feet. I turned the end over 2 inches, then 2 inches again, and sewed two lines of stitching, leaving a wide hollow channel about an inch or so wide, for the suspension rope.

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Using a piece of the extra fabric, I sewed a bag to be used on the finished hammock. Its always nice to have a storage bag hanging off the side, for little things like headphones or eye drops or your bear bazooka. The bag also doubles as a hammock storage bag. I wasn’t sure the finished size of my hammock, so I made the bag a little large, about 7 inches wide and maybe a foot long. Double stitched all the edges and turned inside out, and sewed to the hem along the side of the hammock right in the middle.

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The hammock was pretty much done. Now it was on to the suspension. I elected to use a toggle-less suspension just like I had worked out for my hammock chair. Using a 6 foot piece of 2″ nylon webbing, I folded the ends over twice and sewed them down in a boxed-X pattern (visible below). I then made two sets of whoopie slings from green Amsteel rope. The fixed end I put through one end of the tree straps. Then I slipped the other end of the tree strap through the fixed loop and pulled tight. Now I had a square knot formed from the whoopie sling and one end of the tree strap. Its quick to throw the strap around the tree, pass the free end of the whoopie through the open end of the tree strap, and it’s secure. No toggles or knots required! The nice thing is, once you have the square knot tied, the whole thing can be stored like that in the hammock bag.

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The other end of the whoopie is the variable end, and I decided to use a whoopie hook there. It makes attaching the tree strap and whoopie to the hammock end REALLY easy. The little hooks are about $8 EACH, since they are custom cut from titanium. But, they don’t rust and they are super light and strong. I know those ropes will hold up to 2500 pounds. I don’t know what the hook is rated for. My hand is in the background to keep the damn iPhone from focusing on the grass. those ropes are only about 1/8″ diameter.

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The other end of the yellow cord is looped through the wide channel on the end of the hammock. It stays in there all the time, but comes out pretty easy for washing the hammock, if necessary. It’s just looped through twice and pulled through itself, nothing fancy. The bright green line is my Ridge line, which is adjustable and helps stabilize the hammock and give you the lay that you want. It also functions as a bass guitar string is you’re bored and musically inclined. Nothing like laying in the hammock and strumming the theme to “Jaws”.

IMG_0736So, the hammock tested fine in the back yard. I was really surprised at the overall feel and length of the thing. I could probably cut off another foot and be fine. The yellow cords were too long, just over 2 feet each. Given the extra long straps and how I made my whoopies, my normal idea for tree spacing started to get a little short. I swapped out the yellow loops for blue ones about half that size. I’m looking forward to being groovy in the woods this fall, once the skeeters die off.

 

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My friends, the great experiment.

Okay – so I decided to try an experiment. I was ordering some stuff from these guys:

1.0 oz HyperD

Because I wanted to try making some camping gear. I don’t really need anything right now, but it’s way too butt-hot for me to go hiking. And, with weird scheduling and mandatory weekend stuff coming up at work, I’m pretty screwed until September 3rd when our hiking group’s next AT trip comes up.

So I figured why not stay inside the nice cool A/C of the house and make some crap. I could always loan it out on noob hikes If it came down to it. I had previously improved on my hammock chair from a the great guys at Trippy Gear. Find them on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TripyHippyGear?fref=ts

By changing the suspension out, I cut their chair’s weight by 1/3. I figured I might be able to push the envelope a little more with a reduction in fabric weight, if only by a few ounces.

So when I ordered my stuff from the ripstop people, I got two yards of “robin egg blue”. I figured if the chair worked, I could send it over to trippy gear for a dye job. Its the closest thing they have to white in the 1 ounce fabric, and with such a light base color, it would probably handle dark colored dyes pretty well. Unfortunately, “robin egg blue” looks like a very light off-white color online. In real life it looks like a bad bridesmaid’s or prom dress in a sickly light blue-green. My wife asked me, “What the hell are you making? That’s the gayest color!” I told her it was an experiment, which might be the wrong thing to say, what with all the transgender stuff on TV right now.

No, not that kind of experiment. See, the first chair was made from 1.9 ounce fabric. This chair was to be made out of 1 ounce fabric. That’s 1 ounce per SQUARE YARD of fabric, some pretty light stuff. Take a Hefty bag out from under the counter and feel it. That’s sort of what this feels like. The experiment factor was whether or not it would even hold my fat ass off the ground without some seams ripping out, or the fabric ripping, and depositing me on the ground in an abrupt and inconsiderate way.

The worst part about making stuff is the measuring and sewing. I tend to eyeball stuff a lot. The nice thing about making hammock chairs is the fabric comes 5′ wide, which is about perfect. The long sides have a sort of doubled layer on the outside half-inch called the “selvedge” edge. (I learned that term when I was covering my airplane, the instructions always said to cut off the selvedge). That edge is great for making the outside hem – Roll over twice and stitch along the length. Nothing to measure, and it gives you a wide half inch ribbon to sew to parallel lines to help hold the sides. Most of the weight is off the sides and under your ass, but when sitting down or climbing out, the sides take a good weight load.

Unfortunately, The light fabric wants to bunch up in the damn machine, so you have to start away from the edge and let the stitch run out. In my first heavyweight green sewing test chair the fabric was dense and heavy and very easy to manipulate.

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But this blue stuff was NOT the same. It was more like trying to sew a kitchen garbage bag (although way tougher, it felt the same thickness).

I finally got the sides done, after much cursing and swearing. Then I made the end channels, which have to be wide enough for the whoopie sling to pass through. I measured 1.5 inches in, flipped it over, then measured 2 inches and flipped it again. Pin it and sew twice along the inside edge, leaving a 1-1.5″ wide channel depending on how crooked my stitches are. I took the cords off the green chair (it was twice as heavy and bulky as my Trippy Gear chair. Good for the back yard but NOT for hiking), and re-used them in my new chair.

It was now dark outside and I didn’t want to be assaulted by the bugs, so I waited until the morning.

Not wanting to fall onto sticks and pine cones in my home made gear test area, I elected to hang the hammock from my daughter’s swing set in the middle of the yard. I hung it just off the ground, in case of a catastrophic failure, and lowered myself into the thing. It held up! There was some very brief settling of the whoopie slings on the ends as they tightened around the channels, but the thing held up and didn’t rip through. There wasn’t a hint of cracking or seam popping, my thread held up just fine.

So, using the same weight and size measurements from my Trippy Gear chair, I think I shaved 3 ounces off the other fabric version. Unfortunately, thats without the cool tie-dye look, and I’d be embarrassed to pull the blue chair out in the woods. So, I may just mail it off for a hippy treatment.

I was really pleasantly surprised it worked out so well. Not only did it hold me up, but there was that slight weight savings, and a big difference in bulk. The 1 ounce fabric is maybe half the packed size of the 1.9 ounce fabric (which sort of makes sense, because 1 is almost half of 1.9).

No photos yet, because its just a blob of blue fabric at the moment. I’d need to take it apart and show you how it works, but that’s not happening right now. Its a pain to get the whoopie sling in and out of the end channel.

The nice thing is, in case the 1 ounce fabric didn’t hold up, I have some deep purple 1.6 ounce fabric that I KNEW would work. So now I have this other fabric to mess around with, but I don’t know what to make.

My biggest problem is I’m not a 13 year Vietnamese or Chinese sweat shop kid. Which means I can do some pretty good cutting and measuring, but when it comes time to put pins in and actually stitch stuff together, I’m pretty bad at it. My stitches look like I’ve had a few shots of whiskey before turning the damn machine on. I have several yards of tie-dyed fabric from Trippy Gear, and the stuff looks REALLY awesome. I was thinking of making a kilt out of it, but I hate to ruin it with my nasty stitches. I’ll have to think about it before I start cutting it up.

Summer Storms

Summer storms are the best. My wife and child worry about my sanity sometimes, I think. A veteran of way too many things that have been blown up or destroyed by lightning, I always unplug everything and switch off certain breakers when I hear a storm approaching. Then I rush outside with my camera on a metal tripod and stand out in it hoping for some really nice lightning.

Such was the case last night when I started seeing flashes outside the window not too long after dark. I look at the Radarscope app on my iPhone showed me that storms were quickly approaching, so I grabbed the camera and headed out.

Thankfully I could get a good view of some of the action right from my driveway and didn’t have to go far. If they are approaching from a different direction I can run a few hundred yards down the road and point out over my neighbor’s field. I probably would have had some better shots that way, but the wind kept whipping around and I didn’t want to get suddenly drenched.

So, here are the results:

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This last one was the scary one. It actually happened about the middle of the shoot. Most of the stuff was going off to the north, but in storms you never really can tell where something will happen. So this shot happened when lightning came out of the clouds almost directly over me. It spiderwebbed out in all directions, what you see is just a little bit of it. I just closed my eyes because I figured I was about to be toast. Thankfully it didn’t hit the ground, most everything I was seeing was cloud-to-cloud and “anvil crawlers” which just come out the cloud base and run along the bottoms of the clouds. So far it’s been a pretty slow season for storms with anything visible, I was glad to at least get this much.

The colors vary a lot in these shots because I take a little artistic license and play with the color temperature, contrast, highlights and shadows trying to bring out the lightning the best I can. When I’m letting the lightning make the picture, usually everything is black, the lightning is there for an instant, and everything is black again. There’s no real way for my eye to see what the sky actually looked like during that fraction of a second. Is it grey? Purple? Blue? Orange? When I used to shoot film, the brand of film had a big part to play in the final color, but with digital, just choosing a different white balance (flash, tungsten, sunlight, clouds) can change it a lot.

You may see some green/red/white specks in the pictures that resemble stars. The way I take these pictures is by pointing the camera in the general direction of a storm and using a cable with a button on it to hold the shutter open. I may hold it open for 15-20 seconds, and then let go and start over. Holding the shutter open like that for long exposures causes some parts of the sensor to get “confused” or register false positives, as I understand it, so some pixels light up when there’s nothing there. Hence the red and green spots.

The best shots happen right after the shutter opens, and then I can let go and start over. Less extraneous light. This storm was SO active, the sky kept lighting up to the side even when I couldn’t see any lightning. It makes for interesting storm watching, though. Different parts of a storm seem to react to the others. Lightning in one set of clouds may seem to set it off in other clouds. Watching for a while, you can even start to guess correctly where the next blast of lightning will come from. One of my favorites ever came from a cloud that was putting out little bolts from the bottom, and started flickering WAY up top. I moved the camera to that area and BANG, got one of my most impressive shots ever.

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It just goes to show you, there’s always a risk involved. But it’s exceptionally thrilling to watch. I’ve jumped up and down and shouted when I see an image like that pop up on the camera when I let the shutter go.

What’s the best backpack for me, and other mysteries.

A funny thing happened on the internet the other day…

No, seriously, for about three hours people stopped talking about gay marriage (now just called ‘marriage’), shark attacks (wait, sharks live in the ocean and might eat people sometimes?), and the Confederate Flag (actually, the Northern Virginia regimental battle flag, since it’s not really the flag of the Confederate States of America at all) and talked about stuff that might actually have a point in the every lives of average people. Unless your Average life involves getting married to someone of the same sex, while wearing Confederate Flag bikinis/swim trunks standing waist deep in the ocean off the coast of North Carolina.

I’m talking about hiking, of course.

Someone recently complained on one of the myriad hiking groups on Facebook about “snarky comments” that people use as replies to basic questions. Example:

“Hey what do you do if it starts raining?”

Within about 5 minutes there were several comments basically saying the same thing: “You get wet”.

Such is life on the Hiking groups. There were some complaints from the non-snarky commenters about “be nice to the people asking questions, we want to help them”. But sometimes you just can’t help it. Logging onto Facebook and scrolling through the groups, often you see the same questions OVER and OVER and OVER again. Facebook is a TERRIBLE medium for this type of information, simply because Facebook is designed to keep people updated with the latest goings-on in their friends lives, or the events surrounding whatever a particular company is promoting. Its not designed to be a wealth of information that is searchable.

So the same questions repeat over and over. Spend any time on a hiking group, like maybe a month, and you’ll know everything there is to know. Then watch it repeat itself.

Some of the top questions:

1. “What kind of stove should I buy?” Otherwise known as the YASD (yet another stove discussion). This is often the limit of information group members get. That’s like walking into a car dealership and asking a random person “what car should I buy?”

Hell if I know, dude. For stoves, like cars, what is your budget? You can buy really nice ones. You can also (unlike cars) build a simple one for 58 cents. Add $3 if you have to buy the hole punch. Subject the 58 cents if you know the neighborhood “crazy cat lady”. Are you cooking for just yourself, or a family of four? Do you want to just boil water or do you really want to cook stuff in a pot and simmer things? Is time important to you? Do you want to blast your water for thirty seconds and have it ready, or is it okay if you wait seven minutes for a full boil?

Even worse is the “What stove is best?” question. That’s like walking into a trailer park and saying, “Hey guys, what’s best, Ford or Chevy?” Shirts are coming off and someone’s going to lose some teeth. Or find some nerds and say, “What’s the best phone, iPhone or Android?” Odds are no one will lose teeth, but someone will probably walk off sulking after just a couple of minutes.

See the above discussion, and ask instead, “Here’s what I plan to use it for, what stove do you think might fit ME best?” After all, the best stove is the one you don’t have to carry, but instead borrow in camp. “Hey, you mind if I get some hot water for my coffee?”

2. “What size backpack do I need?”

For what? Even if someone adds a little info, like maybe, “I want to hike the appalachian trail”, generally this is a shit question. Sorry, but there’s no way else to put it. Thus begins a debate very similar to the “which is better, Ford or Chevy?” question. Answers are vastly different, from size “45 liters! 55 Liters! 65 Liters! 3300 cubic inches (there’s always the one weirdo in a crowd)”, to weight, “Get what fits! Go ultralight! Under 3 pounds! Under 4 pounds!” even to price, “Spend what you can afford, it needs to last! Get something cheap, you can always replace it! I have one for sale, buy mine!” to brand. “Get an Osprey, they’re the best! Go with cottage vendors, support the little guy! Kelty sucks! Kelty doesn’t suck, you suck! No you suck, I dare you to say that to my face!”

There’s usually one bright guy in the bunch. “Hey, take your crap to the store, and try stuff on”. Because there’s really only one way to know if a pack is right for you. Put it on with all the crap you plan on lugging through the woods for days on end. Of course, few stores let you lug a bunch of stuff in, so you might have to buy something, try it at home, and then take it back.

3. “What do you do when it rains?”

Get wet. Seriously, that’s what you do. Oh sure, you put on a rain jacket. Then you walk around in the rain carrying thirty pounds on your back in a coat designed to not let wet stuff in, consequently keeping your wet sweat from getting out. So unless you have somewhere to STOP and be STILL while it rains, you’re probably getting wet any way. Stop and put up a tarp or find a shelter if you’re lucky… but it still means staying put until the rain passes.

 

Yee Haw, we’re going to Nashville!

 

 

 

 

 

Not because we wanted to, of course. Kaylee happened to be in Beta Club this year, and unlike when I was in Beta Club in school, her group actually did stuff. I remember getting my little certificate and pin and that was about it. Now they do meetings and competitions and stuff. Their group won “Quiz Bowl” for my state, and qualified to go to Nationals, which was in Tennessee.

I’ve been to Tennessee before, most recently to Gatlinburg, which I don’t care to go back to, either, unless there’s more Moonshine tasting involved. Without Moonshine, Gatlinburg is a pretty dull place. I wouldn’t mind hiking through it, but staying there…no.

Nashville held little appeal to me. Sure, its the home of Country Music, but I don’t like country music. Still, it was an important trip for Kaylee and we couldn’t say no. On Thursday June 25 we stopped at the Welcome Center along I-40 and waved goodbye to North Carolina.

I tried briefly stopping at the border for a visit to the Appalachian Trail. All I could find was a white blaze on the underside of the I-40 overpass. That’s as close to the AT as I have been in a while, so I’ll have to let that one go until September.
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Seriously, the biggest Handicapped spot I’ve ever seen.

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One of our first places to visit in Nashville was the Opryland Mall behind the Gaylord Opryland resort, where this Beta Club thing was being held. I recently discovered Starbucks and their delicious Chai Lattes. I had to stop for one.

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Not a Starbucks brand:

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Outside the Grand Old Opry itself.

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We visited the inside of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and convention center. Its a beautiful place, worth staying at (we stayed up the street) just for the views inside.
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Competition day began with breakfast at the most interesting McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. There was all sorts of vintage radio and music stuff. It was part fast food, part museum. There was even an antenna tower on the roof with WMAC letters. Pretty nice theming for Nashville.

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After Kaylee’s team took their written test, we headed into downtown Nashville to try and see the sights. Of course there was a Hard Rock and Margaritaville. Because when I think Hard Rock and Margaritas, I think downtown Nashville.
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Down the street from “Honky Tonk Row” was the Walk of Fame for country music stars.
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Of course – we had to take the bus through some of the awful traffic and walk a couple of blocks to see the TN state capitol. The former hot weather was quickly turning cool, and when we hit the open hill by the statehouse, we saw why. A line of terrible blustery thunderstorms from hell was heading our way.

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Back downtown waiting on the bus, I came across the AT&T building. All it needs between the poles is Sauron’s Eye from the Lord of the Rings movies.
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Who doesn’t like to pose with a Giant Moonshine Jug – with the cops right next to it. Sort of killed the photo, Roscoe P Coltrane. IMG_0446

 

Speaking of Roscoe – we had time to hit Cooter’s Museum and store the following morning. Unfortunately, Kaylee’s team was not one of the top 8, and they didn’t qualify for the Quiz Bowl Tournament on site. So, we had to find something to do since the hotel was paid up until Sunday. Cooter was the tow driver on the Dukes of Hazard TV show in the 70s. As a former fan of the show as a kid, it was interesting to go in and see all the stuff they had from the show. IMG_0447 IMG_0448

The Duke Boy’s Car. And before people start licking glass and getting their panties in wads over the flag: Look. Stop it. It was a TV prop from the 70s. I don’t remember it as a racial thing. I don’t recall a single episode where Bo and Luke attended a Klan rally or beat up a black guy. They were a couple of troublesome young adults trying to get away from a goofy sheriff and a corrupt town manager who was always trying to take their uncle’s land. Sure, the uncle happened to run moonshine, which may have had something to do with their law enforcement troubles. So if you’re offended by the car, talk to the people who wrote the series in 1975.

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Daisy’s jeep. This was the jeep of the woman who INVENTED “Daisy Dukes”. If you’re into short shorts, thank Katherine Bach. And the producers of the show…

Leaving Cooter’s, we headed to Kentucky, home of Bluegrass, race horses, and Bourbon. Also Abraham Lincoln. I’ve never been to Kentucky, but I’m sure going to go back. It was a fun, beautiful place.
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On the way through Kentucky we stopped at Lincoln’s Boyhood home. The driveway and such were being refurbished, so this is as close as I could get, but still, to see Honest Abe’s boyhood house was pretty impressive. IMG_0454

After Lincoln, we hit the Maker’s Mark Distillery, for a tour that Angie said made us “Parents of the Year”. Kaylee got in Free, so I think that says something for them. The lines were really long, and it took us about 45 minutes to get started on a tour. IMG_0458

 

 

No cell phone service, but the liquor place had free WiFi!IMG_0459

Kaylee doesn’t like the smell of Mash in the air. Distillery Selfie! IMG_0460 Our friendly distillery guide, Ashley, showed us around. We saw the top of the still (most of it was in the basement), the corn grinders, and the mash tun for cooking the mash before fermentation. IMG_0461 The top of the still column. IMG_0464 Mash Tuns for cooking the corn/rye mix. IMG_0465 Fermentation tanks. This was pretty neat, they let us taste from the tanks themselves. The first was like a sweet cereal like an oatmeal. The second which was two days old tasked like a flat beer, and the last one which was three days old tasted like a bad wine. It was hot and smelled very strong in this room. This was just the tops of 8 vats which were at least twenty feet tall. We just happened to be on the second floor. IMG_0467 Their printing/cutting press from the 1930s for stamping out labels. IMG_0468 CSI: Kentucky. Maker’s Mark’s quality control lab. IMG_0470 IMG_0471 Where the magic comes together with glass. The bottling line. IMG_0472 IMG_0483 After bottling, TASTING. Makers white had a very strong corn flavor, a lot like moonshine. Not aged at all, just bottled right from the still. Maker’s 46 was very nice, put into special barrels for the last three months. Very smooth compared to their standard fare. I bought a bottle of Cask Strength, which comes out the barrel and right into the bottle without being diluted. Mine is 113 proof. IMG_0484 IMG_0485 IMG_0486 Their special Chihuly glass artwork in the barrel room right before the gift shop, “Spirit of the Maker”IMG_0488 IMG_0491

Leaving the whiskey distillery, we stopped at the Toll Gate Cafe, the only place to eat for miles. Not bad. IMG_0493 IMG_0494 IMG_0497 IMG_0498 IMG_0499 IMG_0500 IMG_0501 After getting back toward the interstate, we went through a little town near where Lincoln grew up, and then on to his Birthplace Memorial, a National Park. IMG_0504 IMG_0505 IMG_0508 IMG_0509 IMG_0511 IMG_0513

 

Thanks to Maker’s Mark being overly busy, and the stop at Lincoln’s Birthplace, we were too late to take the boat ride underground at the Lost River Cave and Valley site, but we did go gem mining for rocks. I like the ones in North Carolina a lot better. We walked a nature trail and saw a butterfly house and a natural spring. IMG_0517 IMG_0519 IMG_0520 IMG_0522 IMG_0524 IMG_0525 IMG_0527 IMG_0528 IMG_0529 IMG_0530 IMG_0532

That night we got back and had dinner at John A’s, a local restaurant/bar with a stage. There was live music when we arrived, and while we were there, two singers from the Grand Old Opry happened by and sang a few songs. I’m not into Country Music, but it was still interesting seeing people that actually sing at the Opry.

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Next time: Backpacking. I’m still putting together Cruise photos and video, its hard to Corrall 600 photos.