You know what really grinds my boots?

With Apologies to Peter Griffin…Also, please enjoy another selection of pictures from last weekend’s event while you read.

So I discovered a few things over the weekend while unpacking my pack and de-funkifying it. First, I know where my batteries went.

See, I don’t like to wait until a few days before hiking before putting my stuff together. Often right after a hike I’ll take out everything and clean the bag, and hang stuff up to dry and whatnot. But within a week everything is aired out and I’m tired of looking at under quilts and hammocks hanging about, and I’ll start to clean things up a bit. I usually toss some things right back in the pack if I’m going somewhere in less than a month or so. If not, they just hang in the closet, but I’m always sort of preparing for a future expedition.

Take my GPS. Its fun, its a great tool, and it lets me track myself and even find geocaches where I don’t have cell service. But it’s sort of battery hungry, and I have to buy lithium batteries for it. Why lithium? They last longer, and they weigh half what regular batteries weigh. So imagine my disgust right before my last trip, when I just KNEW I had a 4-pack of Lithium batteries in my hiking supplies, but I couldn’t find them. The DAY before I went hiking, I went to Wal-Mart for last minute supplies. Evidently someone was making a big batch of meth, because they were completely out of lithium batteries. I bought some good old ray-o-vacs and went home.

Finally, a sign that's NOT stolen
Finally, a sign that’s NOT stolen

So, I carried 4 ray-o-vac batteries around with me all weekend, and used two of them. Imagine my disgust when I was cleaning my pack and sewing on a patch, and I found my pack of lithium batteries at the bottom. So I carried around 4 batteries I didn’t know I had, and would have been no use to me (had I needed them, since I didn’t know they were in there). That kind of made me grit my teeth. Not only did I waste six dollars on shitty alkaline batteries, but I carried extra weight for nothing.

6 miles to home
6 miles to home

Another thing was my hammock chair. I really like it, but it weighs over half a pound. I’m really going to have to come up with something else to do with it. I only used it twice in three days, and I had to lug that half a puns for 36 miles. Half a pound doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when you use something twice and carry it for 36 miles, it becomes a big deal. I probably would have used it more if I was alone, but I was kind of on a forced-march schedule there especially the third day, and didn’t rest much other than at the shelters.

Sunset at Walnut Mountain
Sunset at Walnut Mountain

Here’s my thought – since the hammock chair and the hammock both use the same type of suspension, I’m just going to leave the hammock chair’s ropes at home, and use a single pair of straps and ropes for both the chair AND the hammock. Since I only use one at the time, that should save a little weight. Maybe whatever the difference is between 1/2 and 1/3 of a pound. That’s .17 pounds? 3 ounces? Maybe it’s not that big a deal after all, but little things add up to big things. A few ounces of straps, a few ounces of batteries… stuff adds up to pounds before you know it.

Day 1 on the trail
Day 1 on the trail

Fuel – I take too much. Every time I go hiking I wind up carrying half my fuel back with me. I even used some to start a fire in the fire pit. Sure, it’s not that much, but it’s liquid weight, and liquid adds up just like everything else. I probably could have hiked 5 more days on what I had, especially since I tend to overfill my Fancy Feast stove. The nice thing about denatured alcohol though, is it all evaporates. I could squirt a bunch in a dead fire pit or on a rock, and it would just go back into the air. But at $6 a can I don’t like to waste much. My bigger fear is running out on a cold night when we are trying to start a fire. Also, this time, I cooked differently.

Day 2 on the trail
Day 2 on the trail

See – usually on the Foothills Trail or in Panthertown (my other hiking haunts before I discovered the AT) I take a steak of fish on the first night. Freeze it, stick it in the pack, hike all day and then cook it at night. Typically cooking steak requires two stove fill-ups. Fill the stove, cook steak side A. Then when the stove is out, fill the stove, flip steak, and cook side B. Since my titanium plate doesn’t seal as well to the lip of the stove, some of the fuel burns off a little faster. After steak is done, I then usually fill the stove halfway yet again, and make my hot evening beverage. So the first night uses a lot of fuel.

But on the AT, with worries about bears, I wanted to keep spattering meat juices to a minimum. I wound up only boiling some water for rice and my Chai Latte, and in the morning boiling a little water for my Cappuccino and potatoes. If you haven’t discovered those Keurig pre-pack cups, you should really look into them. Its great having some awesome powdered drink mixes for dinner and breakfast. With my reduced fuel usage, I wound up using SO much less on the AT than I’m used to.

Day 3 - its mostly downhill from here. Day 3 – its mostly downhill from here.

I’m going to work a little bit and maybe drop a pound from my pack before next trip. Unfortunately I have been enjoying sewing patches onto my pack, So I’ll probably gain an ounce. I never sewed a patch on my first pack, because it was lined inside with some sort of water-resistant coating and I didn’t want to poke a bunch of holes in it. This pack, however has a lot of plain nylon for the top and sides, and I figured, what’s a few needle holes covered by a patch?

My first patch was my geocaching travel bug patch (yes, my pack is a travelbug, but please don’t take it if you see me out and about). I decided I needed a bit of reflectivity on it, especially at night, and sewed on a patch someone gave me. Its a very nice silver embroidered patch from the GLOCK people, so I’m not sure if it sends the right message on the trail or not, but it should light up in someone’s headlamp if I’m out early or late. The third one was a little “Hot Springs, NC” patch I picked up on my last trip. The final one was my favorite though. Someone from Germany had a reason to correspond with us at work, and sent me an old police shirt patch from his township. It’s green with a griffin on it and it says “Polizei”, and it matches the color of my pack pretty well. I’m looking forward to picking up a few more AT-related patches in the future.

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Back to the AT

On Thursday my meetup group headed out again to tackle another section of the Appalachian Trail. I had a few goals this time, one was to spend three nights in the woods, my longest yet. Another was to get a few more Geocaches, pushing me to a total of 600.

Neither worked. However, I did learn a few things which I will describe herewith.

Video is here:

AT Hike Hot Springs from Markus Amoungus on Vimeo.

 

Originally we had 6 people going, but one bailed on us the last minute due to illness. I mean, what’s more fun? Laying in bed with terrible headaches and a fever, or walking through cold winds up strenuous mountains for ten-thirteen miles a day for 3 days… You’re sick either way, right?

So, it wound up being 5 of us. Which was good, because the guy taking us to the drop off point only had a van capable of taking 5 people (I’m not sure why he said he could take 6 when I called. Were we supposed to sit in each other’s laps or something?)

We started early in the freaking morning from our usual spot, and drove to Hot Springs, North Carolina. Hot Springs is one of those unique trail towns where the Appalachian Trail comes out of the woods, runs right through town, and goes back into the woods. We started at Bluff Mountain Outfitters, which is on the same sidewalk with these AT Symbols

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You can literally step off the Appalachian Trail right into the store. Location, Location. After an hour’s drive down to the AT Crossing under the I-40 overpass at the TN/NC state line, Dan dropped us off and we said goodbye to civilization.

Our first few minutes took us up and over a hill and back down to the same road we were just on. As we adjusted our packs and took off some outer clothing layers, a van drove by and we were encouraged to walk up to Standing Bear Hostel for pizza. We declined, needing to get under way and reach our shelter stop for the night on time, and some of the group had eaten a bit already. So it was up the hill again.

The first day, we had to climb a steady rate over 6 miles up 2500 feet. Quite tiring, to say the least. The view from Snowbird mountain was nice, and the mountain itself was pretty, with colorful flowers and an really interesting FAA VOR station on top.

On the ascent to Snowbird, we ran into another hiker named Raven, who had been on the trail over a month and had started in Georgia at Springer Mountain. We would hike with him for the next two days. After Snowbird, we descended 1200 feet over 2 miles or so to Deep Gap, and camped at the Groundhog Creek Shelter. Groundhog Creek was an old stonework shelter, and had a few groups there already. Thankfully there was plenty of open land around the shelter and we all found campsites. Myself, Paul and Scott camped down the hill away from the shelter, Cowboy (not being true to his name this time) stayed in the shelter with a few others, and Jim hung his hammock out back behind the shelter.

Paul and I cooked our food at our camping area, which had its own fire ring. After eating we burned our trash and some that was already in the fire pit that some slob hadn’t burned up. Our trash mainly consisted of paper towels and Clif Bar wrappers, things of that nature. It was my first time building a fire in the woods by myself.

I tried a new meal for supper. Normally I have some bagel or other bread, some mashed potatoes and maybe some beef jerky or something for protein, but this time I had brought an AlpineFaire meal, pre-divided into 3 portions using my kitchen scale. The Honey Lime chicken was GOOD. I would eat that at home.

There were a few smaller logs in a triangle already, and I put down a stick of fat lighter, a paper towel soaked in alcohol, and a bunch of twigs. Over that I stacked smaller sticks in layers going two different directions. I through a match at it and it went up with a whoosh, and kept burning for a little while, maybe 20-30 minutes. We let it go out and then poured water over it before bed. About the time I went to bed, I heard this god-awful noise like someone had opened a portal to hell and the demons were calling for us.

It turned out to be the bear cable pulleys. There was a rope and cable system for hanging food bags by the shelter, to keep food away from bears. The pulleys were a little rusty, and were screeching like banshees. Of course, everyone had to put up their food at different times so the screeching went on for a while. Since the night was supposed to be clear all night, I pitched my tarp really wide, and even used my trekking poles to hold up one side in “porch mode”. Hanging there I felt really exposed. Something could just walk right up to me. It was a bit unnerving, but then I started thinking that the whole sense of security is an illusion. Anything could rip right through tent fabric with almost no effort. Then the exhaustion of not sleeping the night before (I can never sleep before a trip), all the walking, and half a Percocet suddenly kicked in, and I fell asleep at 9. For the first time, EVER, I slept all the way through the night with no problem.

Night comes early for hikers, but day comes even earlier. Headlamps were on around 5:30 in the morning, and by 6 I was out and moving around. I untied my bag from the tree (I avoided using the cables), made my water run (the water at the shelter was way off to one side), and fixed breakfast. I looked down at my selection, and decided to go a different way.

Normally I make grits, but the idea of eating grits didn’t fit well. I made some of the Garlic Mashed Potatoes I brought in case I hated my supper, and had some of the Fruit Loops I brought (because fruit loops are pure awesomeness). By 7:15 or so people were starting to pull out on their own. Paul left first, and I followed soon behind, although I didn’t see him the rest of the day.

That made me feel badly, too, because Paul likes to say stuff like, “I’m tired, I’ll be taking it easy today so don’t worry if I fall behind.” Then he disappears around the corner and the next place I see him is the shelter where we are sleeping. I followed the trail up 1500 feet to Hawk’s Roost, then down into Brown Gap a steep 500 feet, and right back up 1000 feet to Max Patch.

The fall colors at the higher points were just beautiful. We started at 1500 feet when we left I40, and by the time we hit Max Patch we were over 4500 feet. It sounds like a good bit on it’s own, but by the time we had walked up the equivalent of a 500 story building if you added all the “ups” together.

Somewhere in here Cowboy, Raven and Jim caught up with me, as they typically hike faster than I do, and we made it to Max Patch all at the same time. I really wasn’t that excited about going to Max Patch. The descriptions made it sounds boring. a big flat open bald top of a hill at 4500 feet or so. Whoopie do, right? Well, the first thing is, when you come at it from the south, there’s a gradual slope that suddenly turns steep, and you go up a set of water bar logs set in the trail like steps, and there’s this imposing hill in front of you. Then you see the land laid out around you as everything opens up and there are no more trees in the way. You think you’re on top and it just keeps going. Then you walk out to the crest of the hill and can see what seems like forever in all directions.

For us, there was the added thrill of a cold day amplified by a chilling blast of freezing wind and dark clouds from what looked like an approaching storm. It never rained on us, but it felt like we were going to be blown off the mountain. Raven took a picture of Jim, Cowboy and me, and we headed down out of the wind. After Max Patch, we had a 1200 foot descent over 5 miles to lemon gap (which I’m really not sure where it was, since there were no signs, just a spot on a map).

At Lemon Gap, we took off our outer layers and prepared for the next mile and a half. Back up, 1200 feet to Walnut Mountain Shelter. If you’re keeping count, since we woke up that morning, that’s a total of about 3750 feet of ups or so. Walnut Mountain Shelter was in a great spot. It was just below the tip of a semi-bald mountain, like a smaller version of max-patch. In the center of the hill was a lone apple tree. It was covered in apples but there were absolutely no leaves. Someone had thrown a bear bag rope over a limb, and by shaking it, you could get apples to drop and have fresh apples right there in the woods.

Unfortunately, the wind was bad here as well, and would whip over the hilltop and along the ridge where the shelter was. There were also some tents and another group of Boy Scouts already claiming some of the spots around the shelter. Jim had arrived before I did, having outpaced me on the clim up from Lemon Gap, and took a hammock site down the hill on the leeward side of the ridge, out of the wind. I followed suit and pitched near him. Paul, who came out of nowhere, put his tent right next to my hammock on one of the few good flat spots. Normally I like to be out and away from people in case they snore, I snore, or someone has to get up and pee or something. Later I would be glad to have the guys there.

Everyone walked to the top of the hill a few hundred yards away to watch the sunset. It was one of those magical trail moments. There was no cell reception, so there was no one on the phone. No one texting, no one even playing music. Someone had started a little fire on the hill (which we didn’t think was smart, due to the wind, but it was really small and everything was still pretty damp from recent rains), and we had a decent view. So there we were, mostly a bunch of strangers, all gathered together like primitive tribesmen to watch the sun set. Of course, we all had cameras or phone cameras and everyone was taking pictures. Because of the trees at the edge of the clearing, we all were pretty close together, but everyone was nice and civil and quiet. It was really a sort of a spiritual feeling, not in a religious way but just something out of the ordinary.

After the sunset, we retired to the tents to eat or rest for a bit, and around 9pm some of use ventured back up to the top of the hill to look at the stars. You could see city lights far off in the distance, to the north and northeast, but the stars were incredibly bright and clear so far out in the middle of nowhere. The swash of brightness across the sky known as the Milky Way was clearly visible out here. I could never pick it out very well before. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera with me capable of taking long exposures for stars, so I just had to look at them. But it was cold and windy so I went to the hammock for bed.

This was where things got scary. Again, pitching the hammock tarp in Porch Mode on the side away from the wind, and leaving the windward side down, I felt pretty exposed. Jim, Paul and I were down the ridge sort of by ourselves away from the main group. My bear Bag was hanging in a tree a hundred yards or so from me, even farther away. Something started moving around in the darkness down in the valley below us. At first I thought it was a small animal, but it seemed there were regular steps through the leaves for a while. I called out to Paul, in the tent next to me.

“Paul, you hear that?”

“Yes I do. I wonder what it is?”

“I hope we don’t find out, or that it walks the other way.”

Probably within an hour it stopped making noise and I fell into a fitful sleep. I woke up having to pee, and found out it was only 11:30. I peed quickly close to the hammock and got back in. Nothing had messed with my Ursack, and I looked around with my headlamp and didn’t see any eyes shining. In the morning everyone was still accounted for, and the food was untouched. It was the first time I was ever afraid of something in the woods.

I’m pretty sure it was a ‘squatch, but I’m not discounting a Bear, either.

Last Morning.

Up at dawn, check the food, and start packing. I heard Paul unzipping his sleeping bag, and checked the clock. 6:15. A bit later than yesterday, but it works. Up at the top of the hill I can hear wood popping and smell the smoke drifting down on the breeze. Raven would later tell us how cold it was up top and that the Boy Scouts huddled together with their “cuddle buddies” to keep warm. Jim and I told him how much nicer it was down the ridge out of the wind. Scott would later confirm he heard the noises too, although Jim must have slept well because he heard nothing.

Right before leaving I had the sudden (and about time, too – it had been two days since walking the Brown Blazed Trail) and necessary urge to use the privy. The privy itself was a scary thing. Picture a good, old timey phone-booth sized outhouse. Now, take off the door (just face it away from the shelter). Remove all the wood on the sides between the floor and about a foot off the ground (like in a typical bathroom stall). Next remove all the wood from about chest high, up to the little roof. Chest high, from a seated position of course. You could probably side one of these things with a single sheet of 4×8 plywood and have wood left over. So its a challenge to crouch halfway down, lower your pants, and then sit and do your business, then crouch midway to a standing position, and pull them up, without someone seeing ALL of your ass. But, on the plus side, you can turn your head back towards the shelter and have a conversation with someone while you take a dump into a hole dug in the ground. Oh, well, google provided this, so there you go.

The final march was a 750 foot downhill over a mile, followed immediately by a 1200 foot climb right back up to the top of Bluff Mountain. The walk down was good, the sunlight coming through the trees was beautiful, and the walk limbered us up for the ascent.

I felt good keeping up with Jim for a little while. We would each take breaks and finally we reached the top together after leapfrogging each other a few times. There was no really good view from the top, no grassy bald, no placard or even a survey marker. The trail’s uphills just sort of petered out and then it started back down. A mile and a half later, We made it to Big Rock Spring and I went for water and Jim went on ahead. I wouldn’t see him until lunch.

Soon after Big Rock Spring, I felt another urgent need for a rather intimate bodily function. The privy was not enough, and two days worth of cliff bars, oatmeal granola, and beef jerky were wanting out. The problem was, I was walking downhill on the side of a mountain on a trail that kept switching back on itself. Plus, the ground was at a 20 degree angle in some places. I find it hard enough to squat and do my thing on level ground, much less throw in some extreme angles. Things were getting desperate until I finally found a flat spot about 100 yards down the hill, and ran pell mell through the briars and scrub brush, dumping pack and poles as I went. Sweat was beading up on me as I tried my best to dig a hole in rooty ground.

I’ll spare you further details but it was epic and when it was over I was exhausted and had to tighten my pack belt another inch. I collected my stuff and wandered in a dazed exhaustion back up the hill and found the trail. It was another punishing downhill mile and a half to Garenflo Gap. I passed an old logging road and sat down with the last of my water to have a snack. Finally I heard someone else coming and thought it would be the last member of our crew, Scott. It was a 20-ish woman in the brightest, shiniest blue/purple spandex leggings I’ve ever seen, with a large pack. She looked at me sitting alone on a log and glanced around at the strange oddity of a four-way intersection of overgrown formerly dirt roads in the middle of nowhere.

“Where’s the trail?” She wondered aloud. I pointed to a little gap in the trees across from me, she thanked me and headed off. I started hearing what sounded like hunting dogs off in the distance, and was just finished packing up when Scott came out of the woods. Now firmly in last place, I headed off with him. He asked if I saw spandex girl and I said, “She’s like five minutes in front of us”. He nodded and said they were trail buddies for about a mile and then added, “If I were younger, I’d marry her.”

He said they talked as they walked, and she had come from the shelter before the one we spent the night, at Roaring Fork. She had really made some miles since morning, and was already out of sight. We roller-Coastered up and down some hills and I was alone again by the time I got to Deer Park shelter. I passed Spandex Girl once more as she was now taking a break to eat, and I was the one looking for the trail as it passed through a large cleared area with a campsite in the middle. Seeing my confusion, she pointed to my right and I wandered off up the hill. I made Deer Park shelter just as Jim and Cowboy were leaving from lunch. They said they would be at the van behind the outfitters when I arrived, and I nodded in hunger and exhaustion. I went for water and was very disappointed.

The water at Deer Park isn’t really AT deer park, but about 1/4 mile away in the wrong direction. It was flowing through a fetid ditch of moldering leaves and smelled like B.O. and butthole, but I was almost out and couldn’t make it another 3.5 miles on nothing. So I filtered it and hoped for the best. It still smelled, but I was at least comfortable that it wouldn’t contain bacteria. As I got back to the trail, Spandex Girl came by. I told her if she needed water that they made you work for it and it wasn’t the best. She said she would just try for town.

I went up to the shelter to rest a bit and eat lunch, and Raven was there. He said he was spending the night there instead of heading to town. He was expecting a package in a few days that would help him make it to Virginia, and he wanted to rest for a day or two and wash clothes. His attention drifted and he stopped in mid sentence and stared off into the distance, eyes glazing over. “Dammmmmn” he said.

I turned around. It turned out that spandex girl had NOT gone into town, but had come to the shelter and was walking off towards the Privy. “I passed her a few times,” I said. “She said something about going to town, I thought she had gone on.” When she came back, he struck up a conversation with her. It turns out that she had been hiking since July, had gone from Virginia to the Northern end, in Maine. Then she had gone back to Springer, the Southern end, and started North. No wonder she hiked so fast, she was REALLY in shape after all those miles and months.

I finished my lunch, filtering my water, and had packed up. I had 3.2 miles to go, so I said goodbye to Raven and wished him luck. It was fun meeting someone new on the trail, but I wonder about them now. Will he finish it all? Will he make it to Virginia? What about Spandex Girl (whose trail name I never got)? So close to the end… how will her hike play out? They are out there right now, in fact, somewhere near Hot Springs. I don’t think I could ever do the whole trail like them. I enjoy my time in the woods, the views are great, the people are interesting. But the day to day pains and troubles and the pure exhaustion… I don’t think I could do that for a few weeks, much less months. The people that do it really have my respect. After all, they don’t have to. They can quit any time.

There was a final punishing 500 foot climb out from Deer Park, and then it was downhill the rest of the way. The long downhills were just as bad as the uphills, it was a constant fight not to go too fast or fall over. By the time I saw Hot Springs, it was WAY down into the valley. I stopped and stared. “I have to walk all the way down THERE! Shit!” I said to the birds. Pounding step after pounding step, my feet hit the ground in front of me. I was tired, my feet were burning, and every time I went around a corner I either sweated in the sun or froze in the cold blast of wind on the other side. Down I went and finally came out of the brush onto pavement. I was done in the woods.

Now here I was, a smelly, sweaty guy in a backpack and a kilt, with three days facial hair growth and greasy hair, walking down main street alone in a strange town. I made it back to the van and found that somewhere along the way Scott got in front of me, and I was the last to arrive. The trip was over. After a quick sort-of-supper at the BBQ place behind the parking lot, we were on our way back home.

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Disney and the Great Flood

October was once again upon us, and thus began the descent into the worst possible time of the year. Yes, the Christmas Season has started. However, before November 1st when we start hearing “Rocking Around the x-mass tree” five times a day, there is time for one Glorious, Wonderful holiday that is Halloween. And we aren’t talking about cutting holes in an old sheet and wandering the neighborhood for last year’s leftover candy type of Halloween, either.

This year, we did Halloween at Disney World. Of course, we did it last year too, and the year before. I love Disney Halloween. You get to dress up, get candy, the lines are shorter, and they have a special parade and fireworks.

First, though, was the food and wine festival at Epcot. Unfortunately, most people seem to go for the adult beverages, and Disney encourages this with shirts like the ones below. “Drink around the world” they say. Sure, so a dozen or more foreign cultures will know what jerks drunken american tourists can be.

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One of our first stops was the Festival Center, and if you went to Disney in the early 90s you might remember this as the Wonders of Life Pavilion. The only good attraction here was the Body Wars flight simulator, sort of a “fantastic voyage” type ride into the human body. Not quite as good as Star Tours, but still an interesting ride. The only other thing I remember from here was “The Making of Me” movie, which sounds exactly like what it really was… a film that maybe your 6 year old shouldn’t see at Disney World. Now it hosts the Food and Wine festival and the Flower and Garden festival with a large domed exhibition space.

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Of course, no food and wine festival would be complete without plenty of food. We sampled strange stuff from several countries, but Kaylee’s favorite was definitely our old standby, Boulangerie Patisserie, in France. The cookie was mine…

 

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If you’ve never done the Food and Wine thing, it’s worth it, even if you don’t go to the Halloween Party the next night at the Magic Kingdom. Its a lot of fun. But as the evening wore on and dusk approached, people became more and more rambunctious, and the park got very crowded. The party crowd shows up later and everyone wanders back to the lake for the fireworks at 9, so we decided to skip the rest and head back to the hotel.

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A word here about the Hotel. We stayed this time at the Port Orleans French Quarter, which I really liked. We used the online check-in and room notification. I only had to go to the front desk to pick up our parking pass, but that was AFTER we parked and walked right to the room. Very convenient driving down I-4 and being texted by WDW that “Your room is ready, it is number XXXX”

I’m not telling you what our room was, but we were in throwing distance of the food court, and a short walk to the car, pool, and boat ramp. Definitely going back to this place. I don’t know if I could go back and stay in the “Disney Ghetto” at Pop Century again.

One other thing I learned on this trip, which should help weary travelers:

Air Conditioning Over Rides. One of the most AWESOME things EVER on YouTube.

Disney, like a lot of Hotels, has motion sensors on their thermostats. Once you leave the room for the day, or go to sleep, after 30 minutes or so of you not moving, the thermostat shuts off. So if you’re like me and like a fan running so the place won’t get stuffy, or if you don’t want the room hot or cold when you come back after a day in the parks, having the A/C shut off (the A/C you PAID for!) is kind of a pain in the ass. So I looked up how to disable the Thermostat on YouTube, and with a couple of button pushes, my A/C was running how I wanted it to. Welcome to VIP mode!

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Watch it HERE

So – after disabling the sensor we had a grand time. The one thing on our mind at this point was South Carolina. It’s where we live, and while we were enjoying a nice mostly sunny time in mid-Florida, my home state was getting pounded by a thousand-year flood event. People in my town were reporting heavy rain but no flooding to speak of, while the coast and the center of the state were getting washed away. It was a bit nerve-wracking for a vacation.

The following day, it was time for dress-up. After a quick jaunt to Downtown Disney, we ate lunch, put on our costumes, and headed to the Magic Kingdom. Along with 100,000 other people. The traffic was bad, the monorail was packed, and thanks to my wife getting blisters from hell, I wound up rolling her in a wheelchair until we could get on the monorail. Thanks to Lunch and the trip back taking a bit longer than expected, I had about 45 minutes to do halloween makeup for me and my daughter, and thanks to it being 85 degrees outside, some of mine started sweating off and peeling pretty quickly. I was sort of a zombie pirate with a bullet hole in my forehead. Halloween makeup is fun…

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Of course the park was decorated like usual, with all the trimmings and details that make Disney World fun.

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But Nature put on the real show at dusk. With a front moving through that left half the sky bright and the other dark and red as fire, Disney couldn’t have been any more perfectly decorated for a ghoulish evening.

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We even danced with Monsters (2319!) before seeing the parade.

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After the fireworks, the last part of the evening was the Boo to You “not so scary” parade. There are some scary parts interspersed with characters, so it doesn’t frighten the little kids too much, but it’s a nice different parade than the normal one.

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With that over with, we hightailed it back to the Hotel and checked the conditions back home. Interstates were shut down all over the state, and the Broad River even crested over the I-20 bridge near downtown Columbia, something I never thought I would see it do.

We were now Disney Refugees. We even contemplated staying another day and hoping the flood waters would subside. Instead, we decided to head towards home. We live near Florence, South Carolina, in the northeast corner of the state, and normally its a nice 7-8 hour drive from WDW right up I-95. But since that was closed, I put out a plea to the Facebook people to give me better directions based on what my friends knew.

We wound up seeing a lot of backwoods towns and new parts of Florida and Georgia. My father was able to make me a reservation at a hotel in Greenville, SC while I was driving, and After going through Lake City, Florida and Athens Georgia, we finally made it around dusk. The following morning we crossed through Spartanburg, saw the Peachoid in Gaffney SC, and then headed across the state off the interstate. After a total of about 14 hours over two days, we were home.

Although saddened by the damage to our state, it was nice to be home where it was mostly drying out. There’s always next year for Disney World.