X-ma$$ is coming, and so is the guilt.

The approach of Halloween can only mean one thing:

Christmas is right around the corner. And I MEAN right around the corner. Lowes has cleared out the grills and put up an inflatable Frankenstein or two, just to hold the floor space open until they can start assembling the fake x-mass tree racks. Usually by the first day of Fall, they have those things up already. Seriously, an entire SEASON dedicated to one holiday? Think about it, X-mass isn’t until December 25, which is a few days after the first day of winter. Fall starts on Mabon (September 22). Thats the WHOLE SEASON of Fall, dedicated to the approach of a single holiday. No wonder by the time x-mass is here, we are completely sick of it. There are more suicides around x-mass than any other time of year. Why? Because we’ve been looking at the same shit for three months, and being dead is preferable to hearing “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” another 5 times today.

Of course, there are people that enjoy it, specifically for the shopping aspect. I have read about people on Facebook that are already halfway through shopping.

Halfway through shopping? It’s THREE  MONTHS away. Those people could be dead before then. Think about it, all the sudden illnesses and accidents that come up… you could actually be sorting through presents before one of the 13 different visits you have to do between December 20 and New Years, and pick up a present you bought in September and say something like, “Wow, here’s one for Uncle Mort. I must have bought this before he started going to that snake-handling church. Anyone want a Tater Twister?”

And of course, if you live in a small town, you’re guaranteed to get a first class ticket on a guilt trip.

“Shop Local! Every dollar spent here stays here!” I’m so sick of the shop local mantra. At least get an online store or sell through Facebook so I don’t have to leave the house. Plus, if you’re like me, you CAN’T shop local all the time. They just don’t have the stores. Besides, when you’re relatives live three hours or more away, it’s hard to give them a gift card to “Greasy Gus’ Eatery and Backcountry Outfitters”. They’ll never spend it, so you just wasted $15 and your sister is mad at you.

So, in the spirit of, “They don’t have it here!” I present some of my more recent online purchases:

Rigid Collodion Scarring Liquid – it’s a halloween special effects makeup. To be fair, they have some within an hour drive or so, but it’s still not MY town.

“Becoming Odessa” and “The Appalachian Trail Guide 2015” – both books on hiking. To be fair, my local bookstore could order these for me. I might try going back there. The previous owners filled the store with greeting cards and religious crap, with just a few shelves of fiction. The new owners are improving the place and even selling used books. But when I go in a store and they always say, “We don’t have it but we can order it,” I get tired of going there. Why? Because I can order it! I went in the store because I wanted it NOW, not in a week.

Tennis Ball Novelty Craft Buttons – definitely an online item. We looked all over. No store within 50 miles had them. They have plenty of football, soccer, and baseball buttons, but no tennis. They even had cheerleading buttons, and come on, who really thinks cheerleading is a sport? Certainly tennis qualifies as a sport more than jumping up and down and shouting at people.

The BearVault 450 Bear Resistant Food Container – I got chastised for this one. I was told “Why didn’t you get the bigger one, in case the group is hiking and someone doesn’t have one?” Umm, because the bigger one is larger and heavier and; get your own damn bear proof food canister. I only got the damn thing because a few places we hike sometimes require them now. I don’t even want it, but of course in a town where the closest thing to a hunting store is a section of Ace Hardware, there were no Bear Vaults to be found.

Intel Pro 1000 network adapter – I even checked walmart for this. How often do network adapters go out? Almost never, it seems. But mine in my old PC died, and without it, I couldn’t copy my pirated movies over to my new computer, so I had to have one quick.

Powergen cell phone backup battery pack USB port – I own three of these. Everyone has to have their own for trips. And usually at home two are dead and one is nearly dead, because no one plugs their phone into the charger before going anywhere.

1.6 ounce ripstop nylon fabric, 4 yards – Try finding that ANYwhere. Wal-Mart doesn’t have it, JOAnn doesn’t have it (they have some ripstop but it’s nothing like the stuff I got online that feels like silk under you), it’s a very specialty shop style purchase.

The funny thing was, last year, the one lady who gave me the most crap about not shopping locally purchases gifts for people that are decidedly online-only purchases. You can’t even get them in our state.

So get ready, people. X-mass is coming to a mailbox near you.

Let there be light!

I have a love-hate relationship with outdoor lighting. For one, I like it to be rather dark outside when I’m trying to sleep. I don’t even like the full moon coming in my windows keeping me up.

I also like to go outside and look at the stars or take pictures of thunderstorms, and it’s hard to do that with streetlights and my neighbor’s floodlights on the corner of the house.

But sometimes I want a little light outside, whether I think it might be snowing, or raining, or that someone could be outside and up to no good and about to break in and get killed because he picked the wrong house to break into. My house used to have a lot of lights outside, including a security floodlight on the back corner of the house, a back porch light with a motion sensor, and a driveway floodlight.

The back corner light, I never used. There’s nothing back there, it’s on a corner with no windows so even if the light was on, the only way to see if someone is plotting my demise or the theft of my flat-screen TV, unless I go outside to look. And of course, that’s precisely the WRONG thing to do unless you’re armed. If some kids ever play ding-dong-ditch at MY house, they’re probably going to go home with soiled underwear. But the back corner light quit a while back. I changed the bulbs, nothing. I don’t know what happened to it.

The back porch light is mounted on the wall, and had a little sensor on it for motion activation. The sensor cover faced the morning sun, so in short order it yellowed and aged and cracked. I knew it was reaching end-of-life when it would come on 67 times a night for apparently no reason other than to scare the ever-loving shit out of us (since the back porch light is right outside the back bedroom door). Finally I noticed the sensor itself cracked and there was a hole into which rain could get, and I covered it with a piece of thick tape, effectively rendering it useless. Intending one day to replace the light, I put it off, finding much more interesting things to do, like watching grass grow…

But the straw finally broke on Saturday night. We had gone off somewhere, and returned to our driveway after dark. The driveway/carport light had been acting weird for months. Despite its programming, it would come on for about 8 seconds, and then turn off, seemingly with a mind of its own, and usually at the most inopportune times. It was easy to over-ride by switching the light off and then right back on, but it would then burn all night unless I flipped the switch off. Even then it’s effect was less than exciting. But now it refused to work at all. It was then I resolved to man up and replace the damn lights.

First of all, I went to Lowes for something totally different, on my lunch hour. The last thing I wanted to do was take the wife with me to Lowes. It takes her and my daughter 49 minutes to pick out a kind of shampoo, something as immensely important as exterior household illumination might require me to pack a lunch and have a drink. So I picked out three lights:

The first was my back porch light. Why there’ needs to be a motion sensor on it, I had no clue. So screw the motion sensor. I will maintain control over my own domain, and if I need to turn it on in the middle of the night, I’ll do it myself. I had bought a little wall-mounted light. If you’ve never removed a light and installed a new one, it’s not that hard. It requires four different kinds of screwdrivers, a roll of black tar-ry tape, a set of pliers, a larger set of pliers, and several swear words. Also, half a bottle of bug spray because you’ll attract every insect in the neighborhood, all which will buzz around you the moment you have a screwdriver between your teeth while holding the light fixture up in one hand while trying to screw on the wire nut with the other hand.

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The light went up with only 12 trips into and out of the house, and only produced enough garbage to fill one roll cart. It’s amazing how a box barely bigger than a bowling ball can produce so much waste. Those little 11 year olds packing these things in Mexico must be REALLY good at it. I was pleased with the results, and went back to work sweaty and out of swear words. Of course it rained an hour later, reducing the pliers to a pile of rusty junk in just a few days.

The driveway light was another beast entirely. First of all, I hate changing light bulbs, and when I was looking around in Lowes, I saw one of the lights featured LED lights instead of big bulbs. I also seemed bright enough, because strangely at Lowes all the security lights are programmed to come on when you walk down the aisle. So, someone trying to pick out a light is suddenly blinded by the light of a thousand suns. You have to stand really still and wait for the smell of burning skin to dissipate before opening your eyes and trying to read what shelf and bin the light fixture you want is sitting on. Once you figure it out, you have to make a flying leap, grab your light, and roll out of the way of the eyeball searing half-million watts of light bulbs now cracking the floor.

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So, I found one, and made it out with only three new types of skin cancer. I figured this would work under the driveway eaves just fine.

This was a bit more complex than the porch light, as I would have to get my old nemesis, the ladder.

I hate my ladder. It is a cheap aluminum extension ladder that I think I inherited. I don’t know if it came with the house or if it was given to me by someone who just had enough of it. It doesn’t want to extend. It doesn’t want to retract. I have to fight it every step of the way, and more often than not I wind up with two equal-sized ladders, both of them too short for the job at hand. Then I swear and go inside for a drink before returning a few days later to put them together and try again.

I got the ladders extended to their full length, got the new light parts set out on the driveway railing, and climbed the ladder. I hate heights, and climbing the ladder is one of my least favorite things to do. First I removed the old bulbs and through them out into the yard away from me. They hit the ground with a satisfying clunk, and even more surprising, they didn’t find the one tiny rock to break them, nor did they bounce together and smash into a million pieces.

Then I removed the screws holding the old light to the box and pulled down. A strange dusty substance and an odd honeycomb-shaped structure filled the box. If you’ve never experienced flat-out fear and excitement, and the desperate need to jump out of the way 15 feet off the ground, try finding a wasp nest in a utility box while you’re on a ladder. By some miracle of nature (or maybe the fact that I love to spray every flying insect with enough permethrin to choke a moose), the wasp nest was long deserted. All it did was give me a case of the heebie-jeebies and almost knock me off my ladder. I scraped the bee remains from the box and loosened the old fixture, tossing it into the yard where it shattered into 6 pieces.

The new fixture’s assembly was a bit tougher. You need four hands. Two to hold the fixture close to being in place, and two to connect wires and attache screws. Since I only had two, I tore off pieces of black electric tape, stuck them to the eaves, and held the wire nuts in my mouth. Black wire, connected, wire nut attached, and tape secured, all one handed. Same for white. Now the thing was dangling in mid air over the concrete by two wires and some hastily applied electric tape. Next was the ground wire (the bare wire). Since white is grounded in a 120v AC circuit, I don’t even KNOW why there’s a separate ground. The people who build electrical stuff also like to paint the ground screw green, apparently with some sort of super lock-tite paint, that holds well enough to defeat most modern screwdrivers. I tied the wires together with another wire nut, and wrapped them around the ground screw. To hell with it. Then by some other miracle I put the screw through the bottom of the unit and got it bolted to it’s little crossbar without dropping the screw.

Done. I adjust the lights, pointing one down the driveway and another into the back yard, and waited for the night. Finally it was dark and I could test the lights. The porch light was nice. It’s cute, in it’s little lantern-looking style with its fake stained glass looking plastic windows. It provides just enough light to see the back porch and into the yard a bit, with one of those fake high efficiency bulbs that says “equivalent to 60 watts” but runs at 28 watts. No, not one of the CFL Swirly bulbs, I don’t allow those in my house.

So then it was time to try the driveway lights. I cut them on and wandered outside into the motion sensor. The lights came on and I was struck by an odd thought. My neighbor’s corner motion light, which I always regarded as a nuisance, was nothing. It was a pitiful candle flame, a key fob light compared to this maniacal bastard light from hell. 40 LEDs the package said. 2200 lumens it said. First, who the Hell measures lights in lumens? Do you ever go in Wal-mart and say to the wife, “Hey get some of those 220 lumen bulbs, because the 185 lumen ones we got last week just don’t cut it.” Who measures in lumens? Scientists, not consumers. Consumers have been tricked for so many years into equating light brightness with watts, that we don’t know how to compare lumens.

But 2200 lumens is a shitload of them. The corner of the light catches the edge of my bay window and lights up the whole kitchen. I think it blinded the stray cat that hangs out in the yard (that damn thing has been there for two years. I’ve never provided a drop of water or scrap of food. It won’t leave, and won’t die. It’s like some sort of super stalker cat). Moths get too close and drop dead, bleached white by the power of this thing. I’m going to have to re-aim it to make sure it isn’t peeling paint from the neighbor’s siding, on his side of the road. I’m sure it would frighten away any ne’er-do-wells or scalawags coming up to the house at night.

I’m not sure either one of us would be able to see each other if that light came on, though.

One more to go. I have to replace the fixture in the back corner of the house, but right now I have some grass go watch grow.

 

Talk like a Pirate Day!

If you haven’t seen the Krispy Kreme ads on Facebook, you’re either not on there enough or you live up north where people don’t know what a good doughnut is. You can get a free doughnut for talking like a pirate, or a dozen doughnuts for dressing like a pirate.

But why? It’s “Talk like a pirate day”, of course.

What the hell is Talk Like a Pirate Day? Aside from being the most holy day to Pastafarians, It’s a day devoted to talking like a pirate. And that’s pretty much it. A couple of guys playing racquetball accidentally invented it, Dave Barry (comedian writer Dave barry, that guy) thought it was funny and wrote about it, and now it’s kind of a national fun thing to do.

So, It’s kind of funny that a national organization like Krispy Kreme would encourage the childish behavior of grown people running around, talking and dressing like pirates on September 19. It’s especially funny that September 19th has no great significance at all, it was a day chosen at random, simply because there wasn’t anything else going on.

Now it gets tricky, and I can’t wait for some churchy types with nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon than to protest things, to get all riled up because Talk Like A Pirate Day is also the holiest of days in Pastafarianism.

If you haven’t heard of THAT, then you are probably like 95% of America. What is Pastafarianism? For the most part, its a joke.

Without googling it, Pastafarianism is a spoof of religion, of Christianity mostly. This guy got kind of upset that the Kansas School Board wanted to introduce “Intelligent Design” in science classes, which as you know, is the idea the the universe in all its complexities and all the life in it, could not have formed without some guiding mind or creator. Its a sneaky way of getting around that whole church/state thing and saying, “We don’t know how it all happened, so God might have done it.” Pick the God of your choice. I like Thor, personally. A big burly guy with a spiked helmet and a magic hammer that can crush mountains is pretty cool, as far as deities go.

But – This guy, Bobby Henderson (hail to the prophet) didn’t like that too much, so he wrote to the Kansas School Board. He demanded that if Evolution and Intelligent Design were to be taught, then an equal share of time should be devoted to teaching that the universe was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a being much like God that Bobby created. He linked global warming to the decrease in the number of pirates (of the Caribbean type, not of the software, music, clothing, or Somali type), and proclaimed later that Pirates were therefore sacred and Talk Like a Pirate Day was quite important in the Canon of this new “church”. You can even be a minister for $40.

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So, here’s where the funny part comes in. When the churchy types finally figure out that the Pastafarians are having a big laugh at their expense, and that Krispy Kreme is unknowingly participating in this celebration, I expect there to be protests outside the doughnut shops everywhere. “Stop the Blasphemy!” that sort of thing.

The thing is; what started out as a joke is becoming something more, like a religion unto itself. Pastafarians are demanding religious exemptions of certain types. Some countries and even some states are allowing Pastafarians to wear their official religious headgear for driver’s license pictures. Of course, the religion being about spaghetti, the official headgear is a colander. That’s right, people are getting government ID’s made whilst wearing colanders on their heads. The idea stems from certain middle eastern religious folk being allowed to wear Burquas, Hajibs, or Turbans for the same photos. There’s even a book, The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which outlines the whole thing from conception to laying out basic rules. The FSM shows up in parades, popular culture, TV shows and movies. A lot of the “prayers” in this new religion are simply rewritten from mainstream religious texts.

Its mostly a pushback against some of the religious silliness that has started to take over the country lately.

I’m all for religious freedom. Look, go to church on Sunday, I’m fine with it. Pray to Allah in the corner at Disney World, I won’t step on your mat. Want to sacrifice a goat? Just don’t get blood on me, and clean up when you finish. But what made this country great is the fact that anyone can celebrate their religion however they want, so don’t tell me (or anyone else) that I have to join your religion, or that other people have to abide by the rules of your religion. Yes, the majority rules for the most part, but the Constitution is quite clear on the whole religion thing.

Some people get really upset by this, even violent. Muslims seem to be the worst offenders at the moment, cutting people’s heads off and shooting them. I have one thing to say if a Muslim ever threatens to cut my head off for being the infidel: “Which way is Mecca, what time is prayer, and can I have a mat because my knees get sore easily?” I don’t think you have to say the “Lalalalalalala Admiral Akbar!” thing unless you’re about to explode, but I’ll let them explain that while they are getting my mat.

I have Christian friends, and I have Atheist friends, which sometimes makes my Facebook page really freaking interesting. What people have started to do is use religion for all kinds of excuses not to do stuff. Take this freaky Kansas lady who won’t issue marriage licenses. I’m sorry, but its wrong for her to want a “religious exemption” from her job. Same thing with the muslim Flight Attendant that won’t serve alcohol. You don’t take jobs and use religion to get out of doing your job, that’s just bonkers. Letting someone take a driver’s license photo with a colander on his/her head is just plain silly. As silly as letting someone wear something that covers everything but the little slit for the eyes. Driving is a privilege, and part of the privilege is having a plastic card that the cops can use to say, “Yep, that’s you in that picture!” so you can’t get one ID and pass it around to all your friends. The Turban and Hajib, I’m fine with. They don’t really obscure facial features…

But somewhere this has to stop. I’m on the fence with the whole gay wedding cake thing. Part of me says someone should be able to decide who they will make a cake for. It’s your business, you want to turn away a paying customer, that’s your loss. The other side of me compares it to other people though. We would never let someone put a sign in their bakery that says, “no cakes for Asian people”, so letting them say “no cakes for gay people” seems just as wrong. But again, that’s a business decision that maybe the government should stay out of… I don’t know. But I’m not a baker, nor will I be buying a wedding cake of any sort for many years, so at this point it doesn’t really matter.

All in all, I just think I’ll take the opportunity tomorrow to get a few free doughnuts, Matey.

Walking it off

So, my last hike didn’t go as well as I hoped. One reason was the weather, another was that I didn’t get to see my friends, but one thing that really vexed me was the fact  my feet really didn’t behave like they should have.

On the hike before that one, which was WAY back in May, I didn’t have any feet problems. Same shoes, same pack, same stuff in the bag for the most part. In May, I walked 11 miles one day, then 14 the next, and like 8 the last day. My feet were sore, but not really bad off.

When I hiked the AT in September, I went a MUCH shorter distance, over similar landscapes, and the bottoms of my feet were really messed up. I didn’t get blisters, but it felt like they were trying to form along what I can only describe as the “balls” of my second, third and forth toes on both feet. The ball of my big toe was fine, it was just that middle section of toes that were giving me problems.

I can only guess that since I haven’t hiked much at all, I have become rather tender footed over the summer, that a life behind a desk and on the couch have left my feet a little wimpy, along with the rest of me.

So – facing a hike of nearly forty miles in less than two months, It’s back on the Dreadmill for me. I think I’ve come up with a way to whip my feet into shape, if not the rest of me.

First, I don’t run. If I’m running, and you see me running, start following. Keep up, because if I’m running, there’s a bad situation behind me, which I am trying to get away from. Either that, or I have to poop, so if I run into a bathroom, you can stop following me. Unless of course, you have to poop too, in that case, pick your own stall.

Running and hiking are two very different beasts (unless you are trail running, then you’re really confused). They say you use different muscle groups and such, so if you normally road run, you’re not really preparing for a hiking trip. Running is more efficient or something, and you step differently or something, I don’t know. Hiking is walking, not running. You see pictures taken of runners, and sometimes you get them with both feet in the air, because they push off with one foot before they hit the ground with the next foot. The only time hikers have both feet in the air is when they trip and are lying on their back.

So, after a long hiatus, me and the Dreadmill are spending quality time together again. First, the thing is broken, and is stuck in full “up” mode, so I can only walk uphill, which is good for me, since I seem to take trips where there is more up than down. Second, I try and keep the speed between 3 and 4mph. Its a good fast walk, which pushes me a bit more than my hiking pace, but makes up for the fact that I’m not carrying 28 pounds on my back. I try to keep up a heart rate similar to what I experience on the trail, which is just shy of a major Myocardial Infarction. I vary my walking style, and slightly crouching into it seems to put an extra burden into the whole experience, versus walking straight up.

Here’s the kicker though: Since I’m trying to toughen the feet, I walk the first 1.5 miles in socks, which rubs a little bit, but not too bad. Then I strip off the socks and walk the last mile with bare feet on the rubber mat. It hurts just a little when I finish, enough to let me know the bottoms of my feet aren’t that happy with me, but no blisters or anything. I’m hoping to build up some tough spots before long.

I don’t run outside. Heat, for one thing. I like walking in the air conditioning. I also like being able to flop off the Dreadmill any time I want to, and roll onto the carpet staring at the ceiling. If you do that on the side of the road, there might be fire ants, and the neighbors tend to call an ambulance. I hate bugs, for another thing. I can’t escape them when I’m hiking, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to voluntarily expose myself to them just so I can walk around the block. The Dreadmill is also pretty predictable. Nice, flat surface with no loose rocks, gravel, holes, weeds, etc. Lastly, there are no “surprises” on the Dreadmill.

The one time I walked around the neighborhood, every third house there were loose dogs running around. I like to run unmolested, and punting your neighbor’s wiener dog  back into their yard because it’s trying to bite your ankles generally doesn’t make your neighbors very friendly towards you. Then there’s the trouble with having to remember all the addresses so you can call animal control, later, just so you can walk along the road without getting attacked. Totally not worth all the trouble. You still have to worry about the moron drivers more concerned with the number of likes on their latest Facebook post, who probably wouldn’t even look up from texting when they ran you down.

So, I walk at home, where I can relax and be at peace with my sweat. The only downside: Farting. When you’re outside, you leave that stuff behind. When you’re running on the Dreadmill, that stuff stays right there with you. There needs to be a fan or something for that…

My first impressions of the AT

Friday I took my first steps on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve been hiking for a couple of years now, and this was the first time I’d been on the AT itself. Mechanically it’s the same as hiking any other trail. Pick foot up, move forward, put down. Repeat with other foot, continue until you:

  1. Reach your destination
  2. need to stop for food, water, lunch, bathroom, search for missing partners,
  3. Feel like you’re about to throw up, pass out, crap yourself, or any combination of those
  4. Decide “you know what, I’d rather just be home on the couch,” and head back to the car.

Every hike involves those same feelings. Sooner or later you reach all of them. But, at least at first, none of those thoughts are running through your mind. You’re just happy to be off on an adventure. Sometimes I feel a little like Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of the Hobbit book/movie, when he wakes up and looks around and all the Dwarves have gone. He was invited on an adventure, and turned them down, only to realize he was being left out of something great, and ran out the door with only the clothes on his back.

The Appalachian Trail is like that, a grand adventure that many people have undertaken and it was my turn to get just the barest glimpse of it. I say a glimpse, because I was only hiking a dozen miles or so. To do the whole thing takes months and 5,000,000 steps. I counted 100 steps, then I stopped and tried to imagine doing that 50,000 times. It’s an incredible number when you really think about it.

First, a little backstory: I live what my crackhead GPS says is about 4 hours from Roanoke, Virginia. Roanoke is just a hair’s breadth from Daleville, and the trail runs right through Daleville. This was using a lot of back roads and 4 lane divided highways, instead of the interstate. Screw that. Between construction and traffic, it took WAY longer than it should have to get to Daleville. I left after my wife went to work, and didn’t get on the trail until almost 2pm. Okay, I DID stop for three geocaches on the way up there, because I wanted to get my 600th cache right there ON the trail.

So I got started late, and it was also 93 degrees outside, and sunny. From the park-n-ride lot a few hundred yards down the road, it’s easy to get to the trail. I stopped just inside the wood line at the first White Blaze, and took an AT selfie. My pack was feeling really heavy, and I guess it was heavier than normal. I had three day’s worth of food in it. I also had two hammocks, because I wanted to test my new one, but I didn’t want to be without the one with the bug net, in case the bugs were terrible. I was also carrying more water than usual, because I was worried water would be an issue in the heat. I thought about leaving my under quilt in the car, because after all, the low was supposed to be around 75, and who needs an under quilt at 75?

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Afterward it was off and running into the woods. I was really amazed at the different landforms and environments present in short spaces of time. In a mile I would go from dense forest to open meadows and back to forests, through high dry areas and low wet spots. I know that other people hike the trails I go on, otherwise there would be no trail. But walking along the thin little footpath under my feet, I was awestruck. I’ve watched countless (okay maybe two dozen) YouTube videos made by thru and section hikers. They all trod this same path.

Much like seeing a city scene on a movie and saying, “Hey! I’ve been there!”, walking along the path gave me a feeling of reverence and awe. It was also very calming. Despite the troubles involved in getting there, within moments of stepping onto the path, it all washed away. It was just me and nature. And I say that with more emphasis than usual, because it WAS just Me and Nature. My friends were on the other end, so I was hitting this one solo. I walked up a ways, until I could look down on Troutville. I was sweating gallons by this point.

I said on Facebook I was a little disappointed in this first leg. That really wasn’t the right term, or the entire feeling. I was disappointed I was SO DAMN HOT. When one goes to Virginia in September, one does not expect sweat to be dripping from every pore. Add to that, maybe 3/4 of a mile of the trail uphill from Daleville lies a pretty good climb along a cut next to the interstate. The tall weeds keep out the cooling breezes, and their is an absence of trees to let in all the scorching rays of the sun. I was happy to cross under the interstate, if only for the brief respite from the blinding sun.

This is why I usually avoid summer hikes, and why I was tired and out of breath. I haven’t hiked since May.

Cow pasture
Cow pasture

The next interesting event was crossing a cow pasture. Cows look neat in the pens at the state fair, or sitting in the fields as you drive by at 80 miles per hour. But when you go into their habitat, and have to walk right by them, with no pen between you and them, it’s a little disconcerting. Cows are large beasts up close. The view from this hilltop was pretty incredible. The cows of course were all gathered in the shade right by the footbridge over the creek.

Going down that hill was a nice break from the woods, but not so nice the next day.

A few hours in, I was tired, hot, and hungry. I stopped along the trail and put up my hammock chair to relax and try and cool off. The breeze blowing under the thing really helps cool me off. So I’m laying in the hammock for about 5 minutes, eating my Cliff bar and drinking water, when I hear thunder in the distance. I say, rather ironically, “Gee, I hope it rains so it cools stuff off around here.” I got my wish. Almost before I could put the hammock chair away, it started raining. And it REALLY rained. Thunder, lightning, wind, the whole bit.

one stormy night...
one stormy night…

I had my raincoat on at first, then took it off because the rain slowed down and I was wet enough from sweating that it wasn’t making much difference. I really think the purpose of the raincoat is not so much to keep you dry, but to hold off some of the wind, so that the water against your skin warms up to body temp. You’re wet, but it is a warm wet. Less chance of hypothermia.

The rain came back with a vengeance about the same time that I thought I should be reaching the Fulhardt Knob Shelter. It was raining sideways and freezing cold. When I reached the top of the hill, I could hear air raid sirens coming from the town below. I’m guessing they were warning of severe thunderstorms, or maybe tornados. My friends said later they got hailed on, which is a good indication of tornadic-type activity. There was also this strange Klaxon that would go off occasionally, that sounded oddly like Azog the Defiler’s war trumpet in The Hobbit: Battle of 5 Armies. So I wasn’t sure if I was about to be carried away by a twister, or overrun by Orcs.

Thankfully the rain almost completely stopped when I got to the shelter, because after all, the one place you’re safe from rain is at the shelter (insert sarcastic tone here). I was also glad my GPS mileage and the AWOL’s guide mileage didn’t agree. During the rain, I had my glasses off and my head down. The book said it was 5.5 miles or so to the shelter from Daleville. I was almost at 6 and hadn’t seen it. I was worried I missed a sign, but there it was, suddenly in front of me.

Fulhardt Knob.

I sat down exhausted and cold, and looked at my map. I was still 4 miles at least from the next shelter, Wilson. It was after 6, and who knew if rain was going to continue to be a problem. So, I gave in to the fact that I would have to spend the night here instead. I would work out something in the morning. I fixed my food and sat eating and enjoying the quiet. The shelter was built in such a way that there was really no place to set up a hammock inside. About the time I decided I should set up camp, two guys arrived. I told them they would have the shelter to themselves, and put up my stuff about 50 yards away, where there were good trees.

It was amazing how cool it was, and it wasn’t long before I got the under quilt out, and   snuggled up in my now warm hammock. I wound up using my home made tie-dye hammock, although the foot end was lower than it should have been and I kept sliding a little during the night. I should have turned around the other way. It turned out I didn’t need the bug net, but after dark I started attracting moths while texting my friends and wife and trying to play a game, so I had to turn off the phone.

The next day I woke up and packed up, and the guys from the night before had left already. I headed out, thinking I was going the right way, and it was about 3 miles later I discovered I was headed south instead of north. I came across a fallen tree I knew I had passed the previous day. I sat down and looked at my map. My friends were going to stay at Wilson that night. There was no way for me to walk all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway like I wanted, then back to Wilson, and on to Fulhardt for a second night. I kept going, intending on going back to Daleville and on south. By the time I reached Daleville my feet were on fire and my knees were killing me. Rather than plunge headlong into the unknown I just gave up and left on a high note.

My video (music is “something new” by Axwell/Ingrosso):

What I learned:

Load your GPS with maps of the place you intend on going. Not that I really even used the GPS this trip, besides for geocaches. But I usually have the TOPO stuff on the GPS and it’s nice and easy to refer to, whereas I have to fight the map in and out of a “convenient” pocket.

White blazes are the same both ways. Pay attention when leaving the shelters.

When in doubt, use the interstate.

There’s no pleasing anyone. Some people hate that you are going somewhere at all. Others hate it when you don’t get to meet them somewhere. Sometimes you’re better just giving up on everything.

Exercise. Exercise. Especially in the off season. Hiking is more fun when you aren’t huffing and puffing.

Turn the phone off. Yes, I had signal here. Not great, but I did. Next time I go somewhere, I’m thinking of just leaving the phone at home.

My Walk in the Woods

This weekend a new movie came out about the Appalachian Trail, called “A walk in the woods”. It’s based on the book of the same name by Bill Bryson. The book is a mixture of his comedic trail adventures and some trail and natural history. The adventure part is funny and the history part is pretty depressing. Like a lot of National Geographic documentaries, it’s a mixture of, “Hey check out this beautiful stuff. By the way it’s all going to be destroyed soon.”

Rock Selfie!
Rock Selfie!

I knew the movie was coming out sometime this year, and it was pretty funny that a friend of mine planned an AT hike the same weekend. After all, I’ve been hiking for a couple of years now, and I’ve yet to set foot on the AT. Starting off in Virginia sounded fine to me. I wanted to start at the beginning, in Georiga. By a twist of fate and the strange facts of interstate planning, it turns out that while Springer Mountain is closer as the crow flies, you can’t get straight there. Virginia, however, is almost a straight shot up a series of four lane divided highways and interstate spurs. So It’s actually faster and easier to get to Virginia from where I live. Parts of North Carolina are even closer, but I’ve already got hikes planned for the fall around the Smokies.

Unfortunately my friends can go on a longer trip this time than me, so I looked at going a few other places, and finally decided to try and meet them while doing an out-and-back hike. I’m going to park my car, walk a certain distance, then turn around and walk back to the car, over three days, hoping to run into my friends Saturday afternoon. This means that my first AT hike is also my first “Solo” Hike.

I say that in quotes, because it’s Virginia on the AT along the Blue Ridge Parkway over Labor Day Weekend. So, I highly doubt I’ll really be totally alone at all, especially Saturday afternoon when I turn around to come back south. The AT isn’t like some other parks I have been to. I went to Gorges state park in January of 2013. Me and David walked 20 miles, and saw one other person over two days, and that was right at the end near the parking lot. The AT is much busier than that, so I’ll never truly be all alone.

But, it’s the first time for me being completely dependent on myself in the woods. When I go with a group, there’s always someone there in case the batteries crap out in my water purifier (happened first day of a three day trip), there’s a gear failure (raincoat turns out NOT to be waterproof – happened), or there’s a medical emergency (not yet, but I’m waiting). This time I’ll be parking the car, locking it up, and trekking off into the wilderness alone. I’ve come to terms with it – after all, I’m a grown man with a pack and some experience, I should be able to handle a little trip along one of the most well marked and famous trails in the US, right?

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While I’m out there, I plan on hitting another milestone. I’ve gotten to 595 geocache finds. So I plan on getting 4 before getting on the trail, and finding one on an overlook called “old fart’s knob” before getting to the Blue Ridge Parkway. That will put my 600th find on the Appalachian Trail.

 

A few things I haven’t decided.

  1. Water – I have two different methods of getting and drinking water. The first is a one liter bottle and my Steripen UV purifier (with the aforementioned one-time dead battery). New batteries will provide more than enough life for this trip, a single set is good for up to 150 liters. Maybe with a backup inline filter for when I inevitably drop the damn UV end on a rock (it’s a 2″ glass bulb sticking out of a 5 inch plastic housing). My other choice is my inline filter and camelback bladder. I like the camelback, it’s easier to drink from without fighting the bottle back into the side pocket of the pack. But with the bottle at least I know how much I have had to drink, and how much is left. With the bladder, I only know I’m out when I suck air through the tube.
  2. Hammock – I have three now. My full-bore summer hammock by Hennessy with a mosquito net and everything. My ENO with no net or frills of any kind. Lastly my new Tie-Dye ENO copy. I’m leaning towards the Hennessy, since it has the bug net, and it’s September in Virginia. I won’t be THAT high up (between 2000-4000 feet), and it’s not that cold yet, so I’m really worried about bugs. If it was only overnight, I would take both, but three days is a while to carry the extra hammock. I’d love to start out in the open hammock and then swap if the bugs were too bad. It wouldn’t take long. But I feel I need to choose.
  3. Food – I like to usually make some sort of meat product the first night, but I don’t think that would be wise all alone in the woods. Bear are my principal worry, and I’d rather stay away from smelling like a freshly cooked fish or steak. I have a dried dinner thing I bought at REI, I could divide it between two nights. Or I could go with Bagels and Beef Jerky, for my “Foothills Trail Hamburger”.

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By the time you read this, thanks to modern science and automatic schedules, I’ll be coming down into Daleville, so these choices will have been made and the results known. I’ll fill you in on the results. I might even get to post from the trail, since the AT has better cell coverage than places I usually go.

 

*Yes, I know these pictures are re-used ones from other posts. They don’t take up any more server space this way, and I don’t have any new pics to post yet.