That’s Wintertainment!

One of the biggest issues in hiking that I face is the lack of stuff to do on Winter hikes. You hike until 5pm, then set your stuff up and eat (usually in the dark). After that it is cold, and hopefully you can hang out in the shelter or around a fire. But if the shelter is packed or it’s raining/snowing or you’re  in a place without sufficient firewood or a decent water supply to put out the fire, sometimes you’re in the tent by 6pm. And then you lay there for 12 hours.

Most of us don’t sleep for 12 hours, even after hiking, and if you go to bed at 7, you’re probably going to wake up at 4 with nothing to do. One of my favorite means of entertainment has been copying my DVDs and BluRays to itunes, and then dropping them into my phone so I could take them with me. I use SlySoft AnyDVD to do it, but it’s tough to get! They are in a foreign country and only accept BitCoin as payment, but the software is updated regularly to get around stuff the studios do to their discs to keep you from ripping them, so it’s really worth the price.

But you can only watch your movies so many times. How many hikes can you do and watch the same thing you’ve seen at home, over and over? YouTube is a good source for free entertainment on all sorts of stuff, but cell service is not always reliable. I’ve found it helpful to just download youtube videos and take them with me. The plus side is, once you download them, there are no in-video ads!

The easiest way around it is to install the youtube downloader add on for firefox. The bad thing is, YouTube is getting greedy. Not only do they push ads at the start of most videos, now they want you to upgrade and pay for the service, and they’ve started restricting HD videos and audio to those that pay extra. So Firefox may not be able to grab that concert in full HD, because of Greedy youtube. But there are other ways around it:

Up until recently I’ve used a free program called YouTube Downloader. I can’t recommend it any more. I only paste the screen shot here so you know what to avoid unless you just want one video every so often. 

It worked okay for a LONG time, but they are becoming more and more of a pain in the butt about making you pay for it. There’s a nag screen on startup begging you to pay, and they restrict you to one download and then throw up an Upgrade nag again. And since the internet is all about FREE stuff, I hate someone begging me for money. The program lets you copy and paste a youtube link, and download the mp4 file. But if you try to download a second link, it won’t let you, it tells you to pay for Pro. The only way around it, is to open the task manager, scroll down to YTD, and kill the process. Then restart the program and try again. So unless you want to pay $10 a year (which means giving someone your credit card number…) for a service that used to be free, then there are different options. One such option is 4K Video Downloader.

4K Video Downloader works even faster than YouTube Downloader, because they don’t throttle your download speed. I have given it a try and it seems to work okay so far. Someone online mentioned a trial period and then you have to pay, but upon install I didn’t see anything about a trial period. They do offer a one time $15 payment to unlock options. For example, if you have a youtube playlist you have made, it will download your entire playlist into separate movies or MP3 files. But since I’m just grabbing movies or music, I really don’t need anything else. Of course, sometimes the old way works best: Use the software for 30 days, and when the free trial is up, uninstall it and reinstall it, and see if it works for 30 more days. 90’s kids know all about manipulating calendars to get around shareware trials…

But what about non YouTube sources? What if you are watching a video on another service or even streaming a netflix series, and want to take that with you. OhSoft has a neat little recorder call OCam. It doesn’t require you to copy and paste links, it just records whatever is coming across the screen inside the green box that you set up, and records whatever audio that is coming out of the system.

The only downside – it gets EVERYTHING under the green box and EVERYTHING coming out of the speakers. So if you have system alerts or email dings or something else go off while recording, or even if you move the mouse past the recorded section, that’s going to be recorded. So basically make sure you don’t have a bunch of system sounds set up, and then hit record and back away. IF you try it with youtube, and there’s a mid-video ad, you’re going to record the ad. The simple solution is to click through the ads the first time really quickly, then restart the video. They usually only make you watch the ads once, so if you want to record an ad-free video, just click past them the first go-around. oCam is well suited for services that DON’T give you in-video ads.

Example: You want to take a netflix movie with you, but netflix won’t let you download it to your phone. Open netflix, make sure the window is small enough to fit both the stream and the Ocam software box on the monitor, set up the green record box, press Play on the netflix stream, then press Record on oCam. If you don’t want to watch the stream, set a timer on your phone and turn the monitor off and the speakers down. When the movie ends, press “stop” and then copy your mp4 file to itunes or your android phone.

So hopefully that will give you some things to work on, until March when the daylight is more camping friendly, right before the bugs come out in force and make you want to give up camping for good.

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Houndsbane, Part 1

Every sword has to have a good name, at least that’s what the Game of Thrones characters say. Actually, the characters on The Hobbit and LotR say it, too…

Since my sword will be mainly for defending me against marauding aggressive dogs and other beasts, Houndsbane seemed an appropriate name. But first I have to make it.

The first step was ordering steel. Thankfully there are many places online to order steel in small quantities for making knives and swords. I got a piece 3 feet long, 1/4 inch thick, and 1.5 inches wide from Jantz knife supply. The first step was to cut out the basic blade shape, starting at one width and tapering down towards the point. I started trying to grind it out with my bench grinder and quickly discovered There was no way in hell it was going to work. I would have ground down the whole stone first. Then I tried cutting the edges off with a hacksaw and after five minutes of making zero progress I called my friend. “Go to lowes, buy you a cheap angle grinder and a ton of cutting wheels.” If you’ve never used an angle grinder, you’re missing out. Theres something about quickly spinning discs shooting out sparks ten feet into the yard thats bad ass. I really want to take a long exposure photo at night where I’m using it.

So I cut the blade to its basic shape and left about two inches at the bottom after the taper ended, to make the point. I tried drawing it out with a sharpie  and duplicating it on the opposite side but eventually just said screw it, and took it back out to the grinder and slowly worked the taper into a point. I was really pleased with how symmetrical I got it in the end. After I was happy with that, I had to cut down the tang, the part of the sword that would go through the handle. I decided to make mine a hidden tang, meaning that the handle would wrap around the tang, and it would be invisible inside. I can shape wood easier than metal and figured if I messed up the handle I could sand it down easier without a strip of metal through it, and my pre-made sword guard had a smaller opening in it than I planned for the width of the tang. Back to the angle grinder.

Then I had to start beveling the edges. My knife making friend said I was going to have a very hard time with it. First, I had 4 bevels to do instead of 1 or 2 like on a regular knife. They also had to meet in the center of the blade and not wobble all over the place. I bought a 1×30″ belt grinder and a set of belts. Most serious and pro knife makers get a nice variable speed 2×72 belt grinder, but since I was just starting I didn’t have the funds to lay out for a $1500 belt grinder. I could have bough several movie-accurate combat ready swords for that, and just taken one hiking anyway.

Beveling is a slow process and throws iron shavings all over the place. The cool thing is, if you throw some in the fireplace, the burn up and crackle like little sparklers.

After a LOT of work on the belt grinder I came up with a halfway decent sword shaped object. My knife friend was pleased with my first project. The hardest part was the bevel along the taper. Because the end was thinner than the part nearest the hilt, The bevel had more of an angle to it. As I ground the sword I had to constantly twist it just a little to keep the bevel meeting in the middle.

After getting the sword blade to the right bevel and grinding the tang down to fit the guard, I started working on smoothing and polishing the guard and everything else. Its REALLY hard to sand 1084 steel with sandpaper but you have to get all the grinding scratches out to make it look halfway decent. I kept taking the sword blade to my mentor and he finally told me it was looking good enough to heat treat.

I left the blade along while I worked on setting up my heat treating forge, and worked on the handle. I had a couple of Sonoran Desert Ironwood blanks I had intended to use for something else. Desert Ironwood is a very dense, hard wood. I split a block in half with a miter saw and then routed out what would be the inside. I had started off with a hammer and chisel and was wearing myself out. I finally figure out how to best use the router on such a little piece of wood and got the center ground out in about two minutes of actual tool work. From there I super-glued the halves together in just a few spots, so I could crack them open later, and put the handle to the belt grinder.

So after a lot of grinding, then cutting and grinding the very end of the tang to a rod, I could drill the holes for the handle pins and slide on the brass pommel ball. There’s still some work to do on the handle, it is not completely even, but it’s starting to come together finally. I’m pleased with the brass handguard as well. Its basically the same shape it was, just rounded and polished, and I have cut a few little indents into the edges to make the round bits at the end resemble something more like beads than just round edges.

Next up: HEAT TREATING.

And now for something completely different…. swords.

A common question that causes instant freak-outs, mass bans, and general idiocy on several hiking groups involves discussions about hiking whilst armed. Most specifically: guns. Guns are a taboo subject on several hiking boards, mainly because they start fights over gun rights, they creep people out, and inevitably someone says something like “I’m not going to be anyone’s trail bitch, I’ll shoot someone” or “I’ll shoot someone’s dog if they mess with me”, followed by “My dog is a service dog, if you threaten it I’m legally able to shoot and kill you because I could die without it.”

Yeah, totally real conversations… but thankfully 99% of such boasts would never be uttered in public, because most people are Keyboard Kowards and wouldn’t have the nerve to hurl such insults in public. So people on the trail are generally much nicer than people in online hiking groups.

Guns on the trail make others nervous as well. Most non-gun types are concerned that someone with a gun will want to use the gun against them, much like when you give a kid a hatchet he’s going to look for something to chop. It’s most likely not the case, someone with a gun would be more likely to use the gun to defend you, than hurt you, but it’s still a hot topic. Plus, in many areas I hike, guns require permits, rules change from state to state, and you could easily get jailed and have your gun taken away. The best advice for hiking with guns is, like Gandolf told Frodo: Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe. The only time someone should ever know you have a gun on the trail is: When you pull it out to shoot something that is currently looking at you as food, or: When someone has the means, intent, and is currently approaching you to rape, maim, or kill you. In either case, it should be a total surprise to fellow hikers and to the thing that is intent on turning your insides into outsides.

Knives are generally more acceptable. Crossbows probably not, but I’d really respect someone who hiked through the woods with a good old fashioned English Longbow (not these silly modern things with pulleys and optic sights and balance rods, a real bow). But knives are short ranged and you really have to get in close to do the dirty work and you’re probably going to get cut up a bit yourself in the process. Knives are also sort of the “back alley thug” kind of offensive weapon, and can still be viewed as something threatening.

But swords…. hey swords are bad ass. For one thing, swords don’t get used much any more. Sure we watch movies and all with swords, and people use ceremonial swords in all kinds of proceedings, but how many times do you run across someone with a sword and think, “oh shit he’s going to steal my wallet and cut me up!” No, it’s more like, “Hey, dude, cool sword!” Swords have a longer reach, too, so you can still keep someone at arms length and cut them up if you need to.

But swords are expensive. Sure, you can get on Amazon or look in the back of a karate magazine and find swords all day long for $50 or $150. They look okay but they’re mass marketed, CNC milled sword-shaped objects with welded tangs. Who knows if they were properly heat treated and how they will hold up… Nope. If you want a good sword, you have to pay for it. But for what you would pay for a good, combat-ready sword, there’s no way you’re going to want to beat it up carrying it around in the woods. You’re going to want to hang it on the wall in your house and hope someone breaks bad at a dinner party.

So – I decided to make my own. A friend of mine at work has been making knives for years. For four years, in fact. See, I always thought that to make a sword you had to beat it out of a chunk of metal over a fire like they do in Conan the Barbarian. Turns out, modern folk have it much easier. You can forge a sword if you want. People still do it. But modern steelmaking makes it WAY easier. Instead of banging a block of iron into a blade shape, you can buy a strip of knife-appropriate steel, then cut and grind it to the right shape. No anvil required. After hours of grinding, sanding, and polishing, you’ve got a sword.

So, what for hiking? Well, the two-handed sword wielded by William Wallace in Braveheart would be right out. Way too long and heavy. Likewise Conan’s aforementioned sword. They didn’t even fight with real steel swords in the film! They had steel swords for closeup shots with all the fancy embellishments, but the battle swords were lightweight copies, aluminum I think, look it up.  So Crom’s sword would be out. Something like Sting from the Hobbit? Two short (15 inch blade) and too wide. Also too sharp. With a double edge, you risk cutting yourself as much as anything else, in the woods. A rapier or smallsword? Perfect.

Smallswords were all the rage right before people quit carrying swords all together in favor of firearms. Thin, slightly flexible blades, dull right up to the point, which was sharp. As Arya says in Game of Thrones: Stick ’em with the pointy end. In fact, Arya’s sword “Needle” is almost perfect for hiking. The blade is long enough to give you some reach, not sharp on the sides so you are less likely to cut yourself, and thin enough there’s not much weight. It’s also short enough that you could strap it to the pack and still be able to draw it out.

So, I modeled my sword on Arya’s “Needle”. Thankfully, with the popularity  of Game of Thrones, there are several replicas, including a direct prop copy. And guess what, they give the length on the web site. With a blade 22 inches long, and a guard, handle, and pommel about 8 inches long, it’s all I needed to start making my version. Although now this post has become WAY long… so I’ll delve into my trials and tribulations of actual sword-making in a second post.

 

Hiking into the Nantahala Outdoor Center….

In early November some friend of mine and I hiked north along the AT to the NOC (Nantahala Outdoor Center). Winter hiking has its challenges, not the least of which is picking a decent hike length to go along with the reduced amount of daylight in the winter. Oops.

We started out leaving Columbia, SC around 6am, got to the NOC before 10, and caught our shuttle rides. Ron and Craig drove us down to Winding Stair Gap and shoved us out of their cars, bidding us goodbye on a cold November morning. Our first day saw us going up over 1500 feet, not counting a down and some more ups in the middle, for a total elevation gain in one day of over 2000 feet. Our goal that day was 11 miles away at Wayah Bald shelter. The following day would only be 10.5 miles. Yeah…oops.

Normally I try and do three day hikes like this: Drive and short hike (under 10 miles). Day two long hike, up to 13 miles. Day Three, short hike (under 8 miles) and drive home. This hike didn’t work out, because of the shelter spacing. It was Long hike, slightly shorter hike, and really short hike.

I was having a tough go of it at first, doing all those ups after not hiking for a while. Also, I took a side trip up to Siler Bald, which was REALLY worth seeing, however it added half a mile to the trip and about 30 minutes on top of the slope. Several of the hikers were in front of me, and I met Christine at the top of the hill. As far as I knew, three of the others were behind me. Because of the detour, I would be at the back of the pack, but, I had a backup plan: Wine Spring.

Wine Spring was only 8.5 miles in, after Siler Bald, but 2.8 miles from our end goal of Wayah Bald. When I got to Wine Spring I estimated I was probably going to run out of daylight before reaching the Wayah Shelter. I got some water and looked around. It was a GREAT camping area. Flat ground, lots of good hammock trees, and a nice little stream.

But I was alone. Not that it was a problem, I’ve camped alone before, but I was really hoping to be with everyone else, AND I didn’t want to tack 2.8 miles on to tomorrow’s hike, starting out with an uphill climb. I figured I could just hike until dusk and find a little campsite somewhere off the trail. The AT is often bordered by small campsites. So, I headed on up towards Wayah Bald and its tower.

Wayah bald has a neat little stone tower you can drive up to along a paved and gravel road. It a nice place for sightseeing. Unfortunately as I arrived, it was fast becoming sunset. I also hadn’t seen a campsite in a couple of miles of hiking, which didn’t bode well for the future. I figured I might as well take a gander from the tower, and got a few sunset pictures. A lot of times in the mountains, what looks like sunset isn’t really. You might not be able to see it anymore, because of a ridge between you and the sun, but to the rest of the area on the other side of the ridge, the sun is still up. So “sunset” is really often dependent on altitude, and even if the Sun is gone, that sky overhead is still lit up.

But this was sunset. Pure, unadulterated, “uh oh it’s getting dark” kind of sunset. When I reached the top of the tower (little more than a single flight of stairs up about 20 feet), I was on the highest peak around, and the sun was GONE. The town in the valley below me was in darkness and the streetlights were all on. The horizon to the west was a little orange, but mostly grey and purple, with no bright star to be seen 92 million miles away (or 3000 miles away if you’re a Flat Earth type).

So I climbed back down and looked around. There were lots of suitable hammock hanging trees around the peak. But it was supposed to get cold with winds up to 20 miles per hour. Being on the peak would suck, PLUS there was lots of traffic in and out and I wasn’t sure if the peak was a popular drinking/drugs/intercourse spot for the locals and I didn’t want to get assailed, assaulted, or intercoursed against my will. So I started down the hill away from the tower and parking lot.

I crossed an old forest service road that looked possible as a campsite, but it was wet and muddy in the middle, and I was still pretty darn close to the tower. I headed on down the hill and got out my headlamp. At this point I was a mile from the shelter and going generally downhill. I had a severe case of “get home itis” and should have stopped at the first slightly open space and hung my stuff, but I wanted to get with the rest of the crew. Plus, I tried texting from Wayah Tower and didn’t get a response from the others, and I was sort of worried they would come back looking for me and waste their energy thinking I was dead.

Night hiking is its own unique experience. First of all, the trail is sometimes hard to find in the best and brightest of conditions, much less in the dark in early fall when leaves have covered everything with no regard for the weary traveller. But I managed to stay on the trail and follow the white blazes, and soon found my shelter mates spread out below, headlamps twinkling in the darkness. By now it was FULL ON DARK. Darker than the inside of a sack of buttholes… It was cold, but the promised 20mph wind never arrived. I was safe, I was with friends, and I was plain damn tired. I set up the hammock, ate my food, and just did beat hiker midnight as I pulled my covers up.

Today I did well and managed to drink a LOT. I had a bout with gout two weeks before the hike and had really cut back on everything but a cup of coffee in the morning and water all day, and it seemed to have worked so far. But… now I had to get up and pee twice in the freezing cold.

Day 2! Sunrise by the shelter.

After the screwup yesterday it was good to see everyone together. We even picked up a temporary new friend at the shelter, who happened to be a memeber of the hiking club that built the shelter. Is was dedicated to two people who were also hikers, a married couple that had been killed a year apart while riding bikes on mountain roads. Ouch. Sad way to start the day. So, we were all together briefly, and set our goal of meeting at Wesser Bald shelter. With less elevation gain here than the day before, it looked like a more promising hike. And with plenty of daylight to go, it also looked like a good easy day.

The problem was: the third day was supposed to be rainy. Even the best hiked can be made easily worse with rain. Rain and 40 degree temperatures can really, really suck. One of our group, Christine, told us she might not stop, but instead may just go ahead and head for rufus morgan shelter, giving her a 15.5 mile day. It would also mean hiking only 1 mile to the NOC in the rain in the morning. The rest of us headed off one by one. I was one of the last out, with Karen just behind me.

The day was pretty much just a normal hiking day with nothing special. Ups, downs, water, views. A brief stop at Cold Spring shelter for lunch, and onward and up. The group spread out quite a bit. Thomas, ever the fast hiker, got to Wesser Bald shelter before 2pm and hung out. I had a really tought haul up the last up. It was 900 feet from the valley up to Wesser Fire Tower. When I finally reached the peak, at the base of the fire tower, I collapsed at the base of a tree and gasped for breath. I ate a little and drank a lot, finally glad to be up the hill. I knew three of our group were behind me at that point, and I was hoping they would come along and put me out of my misery, or at least bring liquor. I never did go up the tower, but the view from the little overlooked I passed out on was pretty nice.

Wesser shelter was less than a mile and 600 feet of downhills, from the fire tower. It was a nice relaxing hike. Someone had the audacity to build the shelter in a holler on a steep slope, so I felt a little bad for the tenters. If you weren’t in the shelter itself, your tent was going to be at an angle. Thankfully with the hammock, I only had to pick which side of the hill to step into the thing.

Most everyone was at the shelter when I arrived, except for three of our group behind us. I went to the shelter and made my food after getting my hammock set up. There was wine that someone had carried in, so we shared wine on the trail as we counted heads. We picked up two strangers at the shelter, but we were missing Karen. Right about dusk someone wandered by and we called out, but the hiker kept on moving. No one had seen her since camp that morning, but she had gotten a text through to Jim and said she was fine and was also going to try and make Rufus Morgan with Christine.

The sleet and rain started right about dusk, and the quit, then picked up again once it was full on dark. It was nice to be in the hammock at a lower altitude, and to not be cold at all. Even preparing to get in the hammock, and then getting out to pee later, it wasn’t freezing like the night before. I fell asleep at 8, and woke up ready to be up at 4am.

Day 3: Home stretch. Six miles to go!

Day three started cold and raining. More of a drizzle than a pouring rain, but enough to be a pain in the butt. Most everyone was up early getting packed. I  woke up before the sun, and Paul next to me started packing before 530. When I got up at dawn Paul had left. The others were in various stages of packing, and I quickly ate a pack of crackers and a clif bar and was ready to go. No time to waste on hot foods in the rain.

Jim and I started off together and stuck together for about 4 miles. The start of the hike from the shelter was a few ups and downs, but after a mile it was all downhill, over some pretty technically challenging rock outcroppings, especially in the rain. I couldn’t imagine doing them in the dark in the sleet and rain the night before, as I’m sure the lone hiker had to do. There was just nowhere to camp. Even finding a spot for a hammock would have been tough.

The farther down we went, the colder and stronger the rain was. I totally missed the Rufus Morgan shelter and finally dropped into the NOC. I ran into Jim, Thomas, and Paul at the general store at 10:30, and we sat inside the warmth and had a cold coffee and snacks. We all changed in their bathroom, and it was nice to get out of wet clothes.

It turns out that Christine had made it to the Rufus Morgan shelter and stayed the night with another person. Karen totally missed it in the dark and walked all the way to the NOC in complete darkness. Unable to find a campground in the dark (and after 16 miles in one day she was exhausted and slept under the eaves of one of the buildings.

Karen is a BAD ASS hiker.

We were waiting on the last of the group to arrive when Jim really needed to get home, so he filled his van with the first crew and they took off. They didn’t make it far before the van broke down, and then the second adventure began:

The two drivers shuttled everyone back to the restaurant, then went for a rental car 25 minutes away. Between all the shuttling and eating and more shuttling we overstayed our welcome at the NOC restaurant, but it was a nice end to the hike, even with the breakdown.

 

A few things:

I didn’t take the Ham Radio. I’m glad I didn’t. See, the ionosphere doesn’t play nice with ham radio after dark on 7mhz. So winter radio time is pretty limited. The ham radio kit weighs 3.5 pounds, and the rest of my stuff was already at 31 pounds. So it was an easy choice to leave home. I did take the handheld radio, as it weighs 8 ounces. But the cold killed its battery the first night.

Pooping in the woods is REALLY hard in the winter. There are no bushes, its all just trees and wide open areas. Thankfully the trail is much less busy in the winter, so if you wind up having to dump your load behind a tree, odds are no one will catch you.

I need to update my hammock. I really need a few more pockets inside for stuff. I also need to trim some loose fuzz around the zippers, because they kept getting stuck. But I’m still really pleased with the Taco Wrap hammock system. Very little condensation the first night, and nothing the second night.

September AT Hike to Finish Georgia…almost

September 21, 2018 a group of us set out to hike from Deep Gap, NC down to Unicoi Gap, GA and finally knock out the last section of Georgia for our little group. We had previously done Neel Gap to Unicoi, and then Springer Mountain to Neel Gap. This was the last stage. It didn’t work out so well.

Our group started off (Left-Right) Dorothy, Jim, Sonya, Laura, Claudia, Thomas, Juila, Mark, Ron, and Karen, dropped by Tom Basemore at Deep Gap after a 45 minute drive.

The first part of the hike went rather well. It was hot but there was decent water supplies, except for one section where I wound up having to catch water running across the trail using my cooking pot’s windscreen. It was mostly downhill to plumorchard gap shelter. I was having a little trouble breathing.

A few weeks before this hike, in South Carolina we experienced Hurricane Florence. I live near the town it shared a name with, and we had three days of winds and rain, and then severe flooding in parts of the county two days later. During the storm I had two breathing issues so bad that I went to the doctor twice in a day. I had asthma as a child but it hadn’t bothered me probably since high school or college, 20 years ago.

The first night went easy, there was plenty of room at the shelter, even with a few people that weren’t in our group that were hanging around. One guy was walking around in what can only be described as a Batman Pajama Suit, complete with 1970s-era yellow logo on the chest.

Dinner on a hike is always a fun thing, and my food did not disappoint, although for the life of me I can’t remember what it was. Some sort of Alpine Aire meal I think. I usually divide them into two meals over two days, since one bag is way too much.

Night one passed with no issues, other than having to get up and pee at 5am. I hate getting up to pee. I always feel drunk in the woods, because there’s no frame of reference in the dark. If I use the headlamp then I risk waking others, but if I don’t I stagger through the trees a few yards from the hammock and try not to pee on my feet.

Day 2 was my issue. Right after Plumorchard Shelter, first thing the next day was a 350 foot climb, followed by a 600 foot downhill, a short but tough uphill, and then a gradual descent to the road. It was taking me a long time to do the ups, with a lot of stopping and huffing, and lots of resting. It was supposed to be a 15 mile day, and it wasn’t looking good. I stopped at the picnic table at Dicks Creek gap and ate a little food. By now almost everyone had passed me.

After Dick’s Creek was a punishing 1200 foot uphill. I started up the hill and in about 300 yards I ran into Thomas coming down. He said he felt nauseous, and was heading back down to the picnic area. I told him Sonya and Karen were still behind me, to let them know I was going on. The hill had a lot of steep uphill sections with a water stop about halfway up. I was breathing really hard and just unable to catch my breath. I sat for 10 minutes at the water stop after getting water, and then I finally reached the peak I felt like I was going to fall over. I stretched out the hammock chair and sat down.

Karen happened by about 15 minutes later and I told her I just couldn’t breathe right and there was no way I was doing 12 more miles to Trey Mountain before nightfall. She gave me four aspirin and asked me Nurse-y questions and sent me back down the hill. I got to the picnic table and sat there with Thomas and Sonya for a few minutes. Sonya said there was a Hostel down the road. We rested for a bit and walked half a mile downhill to the Hostel.

Thomas and Sonya stayed overnight in the Hostel and I sprung for a hotel in Hiawassee. After checking in the last room they had (because of a huge bass tournament), and probably being the ONLY man in the hotel in a kilt, I showered and walked a few blocks to meet Sonya and Thomas at a Mexican restaurant. There I made the mistake of ordering a Margarita, and made the second mistake of texting it to Jim at the campsite. They were quite jealous, and I’m surprised I could walk back to the hotel unaided. I don’t really remember the rest of the night.

Sunday morning I lounged around the hotel until right at 11:00, and having to check out, I left. I walked half a mile up the road to Ingles and got a Starbucks and waited on Ron. Ron picked up me, Thomas, and Sonya and we met Jim and crew down in Clarksville to have (you guessed in) Mexican food again. Karen was relieved I didn’t have a heart attack.

Jim told us that he was stung a few times by some wasps on the trail right before coming down the hill to Unicoi, so I decided to put off trying that section of trail at least until after the first frost.

So everyone but me and Sonya finished Georgia. Thomas had done that piece before, so he didn’t even need it. Now I’m stuck with a 17 mile section from Unicoi to Dicks Creek… but I’ll probably do that in spring right before the Thru-Hiker groups get there.

Springer to Neel Gap

Our hike from Springer to Neel Gap took us up 6000 feet and down over 7200 feet, over 31 miles through Georgia’s back woods. With this being prime Appalachian Trail hiking season, we were never really alone the whole time. We saw plenty of other hikers heading north and south, and more than a few day hikers doing Blood Mountain on Sunday.

We started out getting shuttled by Tom Basemore, a nice guy but his van reeked of dog. His van, his rules, but when you are in the transport business, it would be nice to keep the family pet stench out of the business vehicle. The ride to Springer was bumpy and curvy, but he finally dumped us at the trail.

Unfortunately, Springer Mountain is the wrong way from the closest drop off point. But one of our group had done the walk up several times, and watched the packs. So we walked a mile uphill to Springer unencumbered, and ran into a group of women out for the day hiking and birdwatching.

Pictures taken, we headed back downhill and began our Northward Journey with the full weight of three days of food and supplies on our backs. We spread out quickly, a few having gone on ahead, and a few lagging behind. 9 miles in we passed Hawk Mountain Shelter. Clay elected to stay at some tent sites, and the rest of us soldiered on. I had intended on staying a but farther than the shelter, and the other hikers apparently agreed. We found a site near the summit of Sassafras mountain wide enough for everyone, after a long 12 mile day with a good bit of uphills. I can see why people give up in Georgia who are attempting a thru-hike. Georgia is pretty tough. Temperatures were supposed to be in the mid 70s, but the sun was bright and the trees hadn’t fully leafed out yet, so there was little shade.

I tried my hand at doing some Ham radio stuff at sunset, but I couldn’t get anyone to call back. I’ve decided against taking my 2 meter walkie on any more trips. I’ve taken it on three now, with no answer. 2 meters seems to be more of a local hobbyist thing and repeater-user group anyway. Because of weather and so much poison ivy off the trails, I didn’t pull the HF set out again, but its battery was handy for charging the phone.

Day 2 was long and arduous much like day one. We covered about 12.5 miles going up and down a lot. It stayed a bit cloudy most of the day, which was a nice change. All in all, day 2 was great. I stopped at a shelter and boiled some water so I could scrub some grunge off myself and have a shave. It felt great having a “bandanna bath” and getting some of the crud off my body.

We finally found a place to camp, that evening, really at the intersection between two trails near Lance Creek. The whole group was back together by this point. There was a fire restriction and no streams nearby, so some people just sat around by the empty fire pit. I went to the hammock for a rest until near sundown. After a brief reappearance, I retreated once again to the hammock to watch Game of Thrones episodes I had copied to the phone. Right about 9pm I heard the first few raindrops hit my tarp. I was glad we were expecting the rain, because I had set my doors up for it. I will say the UGQ Winterdream tarp performed admirably in a good downpour for about 30 minutes.

The rain quit and I drifted off to sleep. I didn’t sleep as well the second night because the hammock was not even and I kept sliding downhill. My underquilt (I used the summer underquilt I made) was perfect. Temperatures were in the 50s and I wasn’t too hot or too cold.

The last day was one of the hardest. We had to go uphill over 1800 feet or so, up down up down up down, up to the top of Blood Mountain. The day was really breezy. Even though the thermometer said it was in the 60s, most of us were in jackets, even using gloves. The air whipped through the hollows and over the ridges. At the top of Blood mountain I ran completely out of food. I had timed it just right, carrying not an ounce too much. I had even eaten an offered bagel. Coming down from Blood Mountain was harder than going up. The North side was definitely a bigger struggle than the south side. But finally the store at Neel Gap was in view. I headed down to the car, and shuttled Pete to his.

It wasn’t long before the group was together again in the parking lot, and had to figure out where to eat lunch. We wound up at El Campesino in Cleveland, Ga., and then split off for home.

Our hike video:

Our hike on DailyMotion

Georgia’s on my mind. This weekend’s hike is almost over.

(Written Thursday before the trip. Thanks to Auto Scheduling this will pop up Sunday, because I don’t want you all knowing I’m gone!)

After a long debate I decided to take both my HF and my 2m radio this weekend on a hiking trip. It seems that the weather is going to be nice enough that I’ll be carrying a lighter load than usual, so I shouldn’t have any problems toting both the radios. The HF kit only weighs 3 pounds, and the little walkie weighs 10 ounces. 

I learned a lot from a few radio groups on Facebook that I hope will aid me in my travels. First thing is my antenna. I used a sloping antenna on my last trip, but it was pointed pretty much east, which from what I understand makes the area of greatest transmission/reception in that direction. Since I was in Georgia, the majority of my signal went across South Carolina and out to sea. This time I’ll have my compass, and point the antenna more northeast, so I should catch parts of NC, TN, WV, VA and PA with my little 10 watt radio. I also tuned the antenna I’ll be using, so it’s more efficient. The last time my antenna was tuned for 7.2mhz, and I spent a lit of time on 14.2mhz, which it wasn’t working as well on. 

I’ve also gone back to my LNR Precision Trail-Friendly antenna. Why? It weighs a heck of a lot less than anything else I have, and it’s easier to deploy than the dipole from my last post. No matter what I do, those damned pink wires get tangled up. The trail-friendly antenna packs up really neatly in the camera bag with the other radio parts, so nothing is outside the case. I found out one of the reasons it was causing such a headache – it wasn’t tuned! I just plugged it in and didn’t read the instructions, figuring a radio antenna I bought from a company would come cut to exactly the right length. Nope. It took about 30 minutes, but I go it clipped to a reasonable length, and even got instructions from a Facebook group how to point it the right way for maximum effectiveness.

Always check the antenna for every band you use. In addition, the little radio I’m carrying puts out more power on 7.2mhz than it does on 14.2mhz or 28mhz, although I’m not sure why, this was part of the design.

There are several decent POTA and SOTA spots to transmit from on this hike. We will be doing Springer Mountain to Neel Gap, and both Springer and Blood Mountains are designated Parks on the Air spots. There are a half dozen good spots to try Summit on the Air transmissions, which encourages people to get on the air from mountaintops which may not be parts of any park system. The AT runs close to a number of Mountaintops in Georgia, even right over a few designated spots. 

There’s a saying some people use: “If God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.”

On the AT, it is more like, “If the AT brings you to it, the AT will bring you over it.”

If you’re ever lost off the Appalachian Trail, just look for the tallest peak around and head that way. As you near the summit you’ll likely find the trail. 

There is a chance of thunderstorms so I hope that it’s clear enough for a while that I can put up an antenna. Throwing a 40 foot wire into a tree when there are thunderstorms in the area is generally considered a bad idea. Lightning is bad for radios and their operators, generally. Someone recently asked me in a hiking group about lightning, and how to deal with it. I told them not to worry about it. If lightning hits you, you either wake up, or you don’t. But you can avoid attracting it when possible, and staying off the air during a thunderstorm is considered good practice. Also, my home-made radio is NOT waterproof, so if it starts to rain I’ll have to take some steps to protect it. Thankfully the little walkie radio IS waterproof so I’m not worried about it getting wet. 

This weekend there are a few events on the air, so I’m hoping to find a clear spot where someone can hear me yelling into the ether. But either way, I’ll have a nice big battery to charge my iPhone with.

This section will be strenuous. Lots of people give up in Georgia, after thinking their hike will be more like a walk in the park. Georgia is tough, with lots of steep ups and downs. North Carolina in places is more gentle, with a steep up followed by lots of ridgeline walking. Georgia seems to have two attitudes: Up and Down, with not a lot of in between. I can see why lots of hikers give up before hitting NC and Virginia. If I thought the whole trail was like the first 60 miles, I probably would give up, too.