Monday, May 13, 2019

The Hike That Must Not Be Repeated: Part 4 - Finding The Sheeter

There is one thing in this world that Paul and I are in total agreement about: the lust for some kind of lightweight energy food that our bodies could totally transform into enough power to climb mountains and not leave any waste. For me, this is a larger dream than it is for Paul, as I am one of those people that take a magazine with me to the bathroom...and not to use for toilet paper. On trips like this one, I constantly found myself in need of 'the facilities' when none were available. I know, some of you are thinking, hey, you're a guy, you're in the woods, what's the big deal? Just try sitting with your bare butt on an old log for 15 minutes, while you watch spiders crawling about and listen for strange sounds of a large furry animal sneaking up behind.
Thus it was, that I'd keep my eye on the map for the next available outhouse coming up on the trail as we were hiking. This day, we had just figured out that there was no way we could make it to the top of Standing Indian Mountain, and about 4pm in the afternoon, decided to turn around and hike back a couple of miles and find a good spot right around dark...soon we were dead tired and wearing our headlamps, hoping there was something flat we could pitch tents on, and me especially hoping that I wasn't going to have to find an old log to sit on after dark...I could feel it coming and knew pretty soon, it was going to be any old log, not something special. I was smart about one thing: most backpackers use special lightweight toilet paper for camping. It's expensive and you don't get very much, but it packs well...me? I bring a whole roll of the best regular toilet paper I can find. I will never run out of that again...ever.
All of this was a source of endless amusement for Paul..and you can now be assured that we are a couple of old guys, when how long it takes to poop becomes a competition.
You must now be getting close to understanding what 'trail crazy' is when two guys hike for days on end, talking about food, politics, the people you just met, where the next water supply is, and how long before we find another outhouse. 
Sitting in your chair in front of your phone or computer, it might be difficult to understand how funny it was, but after hiking all day and finding that somebody had gone to a lot of trouble to put up a sign for the sleeping shelter and then misspelled 'shelter'....had us laughing for a long time...


Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Hike That Must Not Be Repeated: Part 3 - The Woman On The Mount



There is something we both witnessed on top of a mountain on our last trip, that made me question what I know, and if my mind had somehow taken a vacation, perhaps, a true 'rocky mountain high'.
First, you must understand a few things about backpacking to see how one could get to this state of mind. Right off the bat, by leaving the parking lot and heading into the woods with just enough food to last a few days, and just enough clothing to perhaps keep you warm (if the weather forecasters got it right), you have joined the small fraternity of folks that don't really appreciate why we have automobiles and air conditioning. You've willingly left civilization, flushable toilets, tasty food, coffee that has real cream in it, beds with cushy mattresses, and nice big pillows. It's entirely possible that you weren't quite sane in the first place.
Although your lucidity of thought could be questioned, there is no shortage of fellow travelers on the Appalachian Trail, at least in April. They come in all sizes and shapes, but perhaps the most telling feature of how serious a hiker can be, is how they smell. I do not mean, lean in close and see what kind of cologne they are wearing, I'm speaking of a cloud of odor that lingers in a 3 foot radius around the persona. One thing that is quite surprising at first, is a strikingly attractive young woman with a backpack and smells like a homeless person on the street at home. The very next thought you would have would be, "I wonder if I smell that bad yet? Did the Vikings smell this bad? Did English Royalty smell this bad back in the middle ages?" You never quite get over it, but at some point, you learn not to get too close to anybody. Most backpackers wear the same clothes for days, hanging them out at night while sleeping in their 'base layer', which is lightweight long underwear.
As you can see, smelly people in wrinkled, soiled clothing is the norm and what we are judged by is our demeanor. Meeting a person at the top of a climb, one should have a large smile on their face, a bright 'good morning!' and maybe a short phrase of 'you have a nice downhill in front of you!'. No matter what, you do not want to come off  as 'I don't know if I can make it...please tell me it's all downhill from here on out!"
You meet all kinds of people out there, but the most shocking time was when we ran across a woman on top of a mountain in North Carolina recently. Paul and I came up short, and while Paul was winding up a good yarn to tell this lady about the time he 'kilt a bar with a bowie knife', my eyes were growing wide as I took in the sight in front of me.
She was somewhere around my age, in her sixties as least, blonde brushed hair in some kind of cut that a grandmother might have, full makeup, bright red lipstick, a large backpack..at least larger than mine, and clothing that looked like something a park ranger might wear. She had on a long sleeve cotton shirt, army colored, long matching cotton pants, and big boots. She was smiling, and glad to meet 2 youngsters out on a hike. As Paul completed his story with the part where he grabs the bear from behind, slashes his neck and then comforts the bear as he bleeds out, I was starting to realize just how crazy this was...no, not Paul's story, the lady in front of us.
As we marched on, we discussed the possibility that we were losing our minds. This lady had hiked 5-6 miles up a mountain with a large backpack, by herself, wearing clothes that I might be able to wear if I was sitting at a picnic table, playing cards. At this very point, I was wearing shorts, short sleeve shirt and I was wiping the sweat from my face frequently. All this, plus, she looked what we call 'fresh', meaning, she had not exerted herself at all to get where she was...and she was made up like she wasn't planning on exerting herself either.
This is when Paul came up with the idea that we decided had to be the truth, since nothing else fit....she wasn't human. She was some kind of alien predator, that relied on the blood of young women to keep her youthful appearance. By lunchtime, we were certain this is what we had witnessed and were relieved that we had survived the encounter by being too old to be of any use to her...Standing Indian Mountain was ahead of us, and we had 2 miles to go. Before long, it was getting dark, and we were still going uphill. I kept hearing funny noises and would occasionally check behind me, but apparently, she had kept going in the other direction. My current worry at this point, I was running out of energy and there was too many miles to go...we weren't going to make it after all....

Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Hike That Must Not Be Repeated: Part 2: The Ladies of the Trail

We finally reached the trailhead, a small gravel parking lot named "Dick's Creek  Gap". The parking lot was full to the point that I had to park my car on the side of the road, knowing that it would be sitting there for the next few days, freely available to marauding bands of mountain rednecks...yes, I didn't even have my pack on my back and the worrying had begun in earnest. Paul, on the other hand was quite excited. He had dealt with a few work issues on the phone during the trip and had now verified that he had no cell phone reception at all. He quickly buried the phone in the bottom of his pack and rubbed his hands together, seeing nothing ahead but a trail and fresh air.
It occurred to me a few hours later that our first point on this trip was ironically named, as we encountered more solo female backpackers on this trip than ever before. You probably have an image in your mind of what a Thru-hiker should look like, at least I did: a really skinny guy with a big bushy beard, that smells and doesn't make eye contact or talk very much. Now try to conjure of an image of a female Thru-hiker.
That's not what we saw on this trip. Our starting point was about 90 miles north of the beginning of the epic journey, so we were seeing people that were just finding out what they had gotten themselves into. Our first group of women were like that, a Mom, her young daughter and a friend they had met along the way, Simone. Right off, we were concerned that they weren't going to make it. They were struggling and even I couldn't hike as slow as Simone was having to go. She was in her early 20's and had Ace bandages all around her knees. Blue hair, nose ring, and full of stories about coming from a hick town in Northern Michigan...I was pretty sure she wasn't planning on going back there.
The more common version of the solo woman on the trail was a young Viking woman with 3 young men trailing behind her. She'd stop and talk to you, with a glow that showed she was truly in her element, while the young men behind competed for position in her favor.
It seemed like we were doing nothing but slowly hiking uphill forever. The brisk 46 degrees of the parking lot turned into low 70s and cobalt blue clear skies. There could be nothing better in this world, except that I was dog tired and it was halfway through the first day. My thoughts were of a lunch break and perhaps a nap.
Soon we came to a shelter and stopped there for lunch. Paul found a small crowd of newbie Thru-hikers and found himself with an eager group of listeners for some of his stories. I found a soft bit of lumber in the shelter to lay on and soon found that there is one time I can sleep on these trips...while Paul is telling stories. 
After a while, more and more women appeared, and finally Simone came up the last few steps to the shelter and sat down. She looked defeated, and folks gathered around and offered encouragement. Me? I kind of wondered if backpacking was good therapy for knee issues, but I kept this to myself.
Next came two women who had left their children behind for a section hike "girls weekend". One of them was short and heavy, but gave no indication that she would ever give up on anything, with a bright purple bandana and a swagger that indicated she probably knew more about the trail than Paul. Her tall, athletic friend with the wraparound sunglasses was a newbie hiker, but was up for anything...this I understood well.
The usual topic that came up, when I was involved was like this: "Why should I feel fear as a solo woman hiking on the trail!?"....:"uh, I guess because I would be afraid to do that, and I'm a big guy.."
"Can you believe that some man offered to help me put on my pack!?" "Yeah, that's messed up...can you help me with mine?"

But, there was one woman, that we are still trying to figure out. Paul thinks she was either a mirage or an alien...nobody else saw her but us. I'm hoping she was a mirage....

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Hike That Must Not Be Repeated: Part 1

At the North Carolina border
It was a simple thing, really. I thought I had this backpacking thing down. I had good gear and a body that could carry it all. I was mentally prepared for heat or cold and was really looking forward to getting back to nature. We waited until the weather was as good as it was going to get and then took off for North Georgia in my little car, hoping to pack as much excitement into our five day trip as we could. We ended up with near perfect weather, just missing a bad rain storm the day before and hiked through glorious blue skies, with 46 degree weather in the mornings, going up into the low 70's in the afternoon. We met many of the thru-hikers that were about 8 days into their northbound journey from Amicalola Falls to Mount Katahdin, Maine. As we met and passed many of them on the trail, I realized that Paul was an expert backpacker compared to most of  them and I would be considered a 'seasoned' hiker...but that would all change in the next few months as they attempted what I could not imagine; hiking that whole trail at once.
Paul had it all mapped out on paper for us from his 'database' and I had my trusty iPhone with the Guthook trail app, which could show our exact location at any time. I had my battery charger and a really cool new solar charger which would keep me in power for the whole trip. I had on my trusty Scotland boots and Paul was still swearing that hiking sandals were the next big thing.
Paul was admiring how I had managed to get technology on our side as we headed up I75 at the precise time he estimated it would take to avoid the Atlanta rush hour traffic. My maps app warned us as we approached Macon that there was a huge delay around Atlanta and offered an alternative shortcut....for some strange reason, I have learned nothing in my life from previous experiences, because soon it was 9 o'clock and dark and we were driving through corn fields, while a pleasant female voice tells me to drive 1/2 mile and turn left at the stop sign.
Soon we had driven over nine hours for our six hour drive and were searching for some place to spend the night in what appeared to be a small industrial town where perhaps everyone within fifty miles worked at 'the plant'. At this point, Paul was still conceding to my superior technical skills and I managed to book us the best rated hotel in town for under $100.
An hour later, we were laying on our beds at a crowded small hotel that was mostly filled with work pickup trucks, looking at the dingy room, wondering just how bad the other hotels must be, as Paul pulled out his paper maps, saying he was sticking to things that worked!
We got up the following morning to a woeful free breakfast and headed out in the freezing cold cloudless dawn to find the trailhead and wondering just what adventure was in store for us.

We soon found out why so many people dropped out of the thru-hike between Georgia and North Carolina.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Lump Versus Chaos - a Tribute To Lyle Snodgrass



This is actually for the  young woman Zoey will become someday. I watched Lyle grow from a baby into a talented athlete, capable fisherman, and the guy would always find a way to get where he going. I was there when he and Brandy held out the newborn Zoey to proudly show us their beautiful baby daughter. 


Sometimes I think there is some cosmic being looking down from outer space, nestled in a prone position with his Chaos sniper rifle, randomly choosing people on our planet to blow their lives apart. One shot, and he laughs while the innocent below staggers and finally falls under the weight of so much bad luck heaped on a single person. One day, he found Lyle, and thought this guy just has too much going for him. Everything is coming easy, and he seems to quickly master what others struggle to do. Our being lines up the crosshairs and takes the shot that will put a stop to all of that. But, strangely enough, after Lyle falls and is motionless on the ground for a while, there is movement and he shakes his head, and hobbles off.

It turns out that Lyle, nicknamed ‘Lump’ by his Dad when he was young, was born with the genes of a star football player. He quickly mastered any sport he tried, and had the survival skills of a swamp rat. In fact, of any one I know, he’d be the person I would expect to still be around after a zombie apocalypse. Everybody knew how tough Lyle was, except our cosmic being.

Needing a second shot to take out an earthling was unusual, but it was done, and soon Lyle is back down on the ground. There are others to pick off that day and it is not noticed that soon Lyle is once again moving, more slowly and unsteady, but he is not ruined yet.

Time passes, and there are so many people on this planet that Lyle goes unobserved, until that final time when Lyle is once again caught out in the open with no one around. The being goes, “What the hell”, and grabs the seldom-used golden bullet and decides that a headshot is necessary, because what he can’t have is somebody walking away from his work. This one takes Lyle down for good.

What the being didn’t know was that while he was busy elsewhere, Lyle managed to produce an offspring, one that was as tough as him, with protectors all around her. She has his brains, his easy athletic abilities, his good looks, and an uncanny memory. She will not be caught out in the open, and the being, knowing none of this, moves on, thinking he destroyed Lyle. He’s not quite right about that.

Note: no matter how tough you are the golden bullet is killing people almost every day where we live. Don’t get caught out in the open, find your family and friends and get protected.






Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Value of Priceless


Today was instructional...
I love to surf, but nobody really expects to get to do much surfing in the winter time, even in Florida. Windy, overcast days come along frequently...but every once in a while, we get a day like today. It started off with clear skies, and a forecast for small waves and light wind. A huge plus was the temperature was supposed to rise up to a springtime number around 80 degrees. That pretty much summed up an ideal beach day and I had the time.
The problem was, all of my friends were working and the surf forecast also allowed for the waves to be too small to ride. This causes the average surfer to start adding up what the trip will cost, and how you are going to feel about that 1 1/2 hour drive back if you get skunked and have no waves ridden at all.
I usually make this list in my head: $12 in gas, $7 in tolls, $10 in junk food and coffee (that I seem to get no matter how much I tell myself I won't do it next time), up to $7.50 in parking fees if you can't find a free spot, and finally there is the time you could have spent doing something else more fun that driving to the beach and back.
Today was one of those days where I got there, it looked too small to even put my toe in that cold water, so I drove even farther to see if a better spot had guys out surfing to get me excited about it, but that parking lot was TOTALLY empty, and it never is. I knew what the problem was, yesterday had been a good day, and today was to be something less than.
So, I drove back to the pier and then found that my secret parking spot...one of two hidden places where you can park for free, was under construction...and apparently the construction was to add parking meters. These meters are $2.50 an hour and I'm not sure what they do with the money, but I'd like to think some of it gets used to make sure cruise ships aren't dumping their septic tanks right offshore...I could be wrong and the money goes towards sending civic leaders on well-deserved cruises themselves.
I ended up paying $7.50 to park and spent most of the beautiful morning with 3 other surfers in the water. I was still keeping that tally in my head, wondering how many waves I needed to catch before my meter was up and before the wind started blowing. It was a good time and when I was done and packing up my stuff, I felt like it was a worthwhile use of a sunny Florida day.
Then, something very strange happened, and to truly explain it so the young folks that read this can understand, I have to remind you how much things have changed:
My age group loves to trade stories about how we collected bottles on the side of the road to buy gas to go to the beach. You'd drive, hoping there were waves, and if you saw a car coming the other way with surfboards on top, you'd stick your arm out the window and waggle your thumb to get an up or down....if you got a thumbs up, you and your friends in the car were excited the whole rest of the way to the beach. Nowadays, all of us just go look at a surfcam on our cellphone to see what the waves are like. If you have a photo of yourself surfing from back in those days, you were somebody famous, or somebody you knew had a very expensive camera, and that somebody wanted to sit in the sand with that camera and take pictures, hoping they would turn out when the film was developed some day in the future.
That stuff started changing back when video cameras came out. I probably have a handful of treasured photos of the time before that..but after the age of video? I have hundreds of hours of my son playing soccer, so much, that even he get bored after a few minutes. These kids nowadays, they have no idea of what it means that we can recall so much with so little effort.
But I do...

What changed the day from a positive balance on my internal ledger to priceless, was one solitary sentence from a stranger that walked up to me in the parking lot: "Hey, I saw you on the surf cam, and you were doing so well out there that I decided I needed to grab my board and go surfing!"

That, my friend, is the definition of priceless..






Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Lost City of Palataka and the Night Whistler


I came out of a deep sleep to a very insistent sound of someone blowing a whistle. As in many occasions in life, context was everything. If I were home in bed, it could have been many things, but I was deep in the woods, wrapped up in a mummy bag, inside a tent, enjoying the cool-enough but not cold evening after a long day of bicycling up and down the Palatka trail. The whistle trailed off, and I thought it must have been part of some strange dream of unknowable significance. About 15 minutes later, I heard the whistle again and opened my eyes wide. It was full dark, and according to my watch, about 4am in the morning. Was somebody lost in the woods and trying to call for help? Usually, our camping trips include me and my 2 brothers, but on this trip there was actually a decent-sized group of people camping near us. Could it be one of them lost while making a midnight trip to the latrine? I worried about them for a moment.
There seems to be an often-said thing: 'those millennials!' as if a generation of us is responsible for something wrong. Truthfully, we did not know how old those folks were that were camping near us, but they definitely wanted different things from the experience of tenting in the wild than us old dogs. They had pulled up in 3 fancy Jeeps with so many accessories that I was hard pressed to understand the functions of all of it. One had the fancy array of LED lights across the roof, a snorkel just in case it had to drive through deep water, and giant tire jack, capable of changing one of the huge mud tires that looked cleaner than the tires on my little car. And that was the more normal-looking jeep. The fancy one also had a tent on top, and this is where brother Steve decided that millennials didn't get everything wrong, because he liked those rooftop tents and had one on his Punisher truck. In fact, at one point during the previous day he was admiring the snorkel and wondering aloud if they made such a thing for his pickup truck. Aside from the jeeps, the group of friends had a really nice layout on their picnic table and were preparing a meal that seemed much more along the lines of healthy restaurant food than our hamburger and baked bean dinners. All of this was accompanied by board games, some kind of beanbag toss game and very loud 1940's big band music. I'm not sure who told them that camping was something other than long political discussions around a campfire, but that particular night, the politics at our fire seemed to swerve to about how little millennials were doing to fix the mess we had created in our lifetimes. I suggested at one point we might consider ourselves lucky if they don't invent some kind of ninja game for oldsters on television where if we win, we get to live, else we get to help fertilize the soil for future crops. We spoke a bit more quietly after that, to make sure we were not heard over the loud blare of the Glenn Miller orchestra.
Finally, at one point, we gave up and headed off to our tents to the sounds of our neighbors swing dancing around their campfire. I knew I would sleep well in spite of that, because of the hard biking done during the day, plus we had another long day coming up. Somehow I drifted off to sleep, in some kind of dream where I was the solitary French horn player in the Glenn Miller band, and counting 500 bars through the sheet music until I got to play my two notes in the piece, somehow knowing that I would get it wrong, and Glenn would stop the band and say 'let's hear just the French horn this time...'.
Suddenly, the whistle sounded again, and then again quickly. I was starting to get alarmed and got out my flashlight. I got out of the tent and saw another light on by Steve's truck and went over quickly to see who needed help. In the end, it turned out that my gadget-happy brother had gotten one too many electronic toys. Instead of the little sissy bell that most of us have on our bikes to warn someone that we are approaching, he had purchased an electronic version that could make many different sounds. And he loved to use the sounds, if we were coming up on a group of people walking abreast on the trail and oblivious to us, he'd treat them to the full range of sounds at his disposal. I think it included everything from an 'ah-ooga' model T horn to the sound of a bomb exploding (not sure why they included that, but Steve liked it a lot). Apparently he had been using it too much and the whistle sound was to let him know the battery was running low. He was really embarrassed about a piece of gear failing on his watch. He yanked it off his trike, pulled the battery and tossed the mess in the trashcan. He said that now he knew why people used the simple stupid bells.
All I know is that the next night, we didn't have any big band music...…..