Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holidays and the Approaching Adventure

I went to snowy New Hampshire for Christmas. This has been one of the best Christmas in recent memory. Then again, when does one have enough time off to do nothing for 10 days!

I have been good with my personal days this year, and even with this last expenditure I will be rolling some days over to next year. When I go on the Appalachian Trail I will have some days to give me that one last extra boost monetarily.

New Hampshire

Cara and I drove up after work and arrived fairly late on the 16th. Her parents own and operate a country inn called Lovette's Inn, in Franconia, just down the road from Franconia Notch and Canon Mountain, only a couple miles from the Appalachian Trail and within very easy driving distance of several other ski resorts, and the entire White Mountains region. I didn't realize how many trails this area has to offer... more on that later! Both of her brothers and Significant Others were there, as well as her older brother's 2 kids. The next day after getting there we visited and played with the kids, watched some Christmas movies and generally relaxed. What little snow was on the ground melted. I was hoping for a white Christmas but we still had lots of time until the guy in the red suit showed up.

Over the next several days we opened some presents, ate massive amounts of good food, drank excellent wine, and just generally enjoyed the downtime. Guests with their children came and enjoyed the Inn along with some of Cara's brother's friends that were in the area. The hustle and bustle, was counter-pointed by how homey it felt. One evening we took the kids over to the Polar Express on the Hobo Railroad in a nearby town. The program included getting on a train, getting hot coco and candy, and traveling to the North Pole to hangout with Santa and the elves. Very fun to see the joy and wonder on all these kids faces.

After Cara's brother's left it was just Cara, me, and her parents for a week. We did more of the same, Christmas movies, some light shopping in Littleton, hit a couple local restaurants. Cara and I drove to North Conway to the outlets, on our way across from Franconia we passed by the base of Mt. Washington, which was unfortunately mostly shrouded in clouds and the sky dropped rain onus that froze on the roads and made shopping treacherous - I needed some micro-spikes! The following day the sky cleared and the temperature dropped. The 4 of us went back to Mt. Washington and I was able to see the true sky-scrapper in all it's majestic glory.

We got snow! Enough to go on a short hike on snow-shoes on the cross-country trails behind Lovette's Inn. that evening we decided to open one Christmas present. The girls boxed up a map that I had been eying in a local store, they thought it was a semi-joke gift... I guess they didn't realize how much I love maps! I poured over it, imagining myself cresting this hill, following that stream. The White Mountains has enough trails scattered around it, some very densely interlaced, I could spend the next 20 summers trying to explore them all. I was always impressed by the amount of trails in Acadia when we visited in my childhood. Acadia has a fraction.

This area echoes in my mind with names that I have heard over and over in all the books on the AT I have read. I saw the AT cross the road in Crawford Notch, looked at the mountains surrounding the Notch, stared up at Mt. Washington and tried, really really tried to imagine myself on the Trail for 5 months. But I can't. I cannot fathom how I will feel, or if I will make it. I imagine that I will, but how can I not when I'm making a 6 month commitment to the AT. People ask me almost daily, relatives and friends, if I am ready for my trip. I always answer positively, but it is not an honest answer. I am filled with eager anticipation, tinged with fear of loneliness and knowing that I will miss Cara and everything "normal". The anticipation is great, I have not fully allowed myself to realize I am actually going to embark on this trip. It's all an idea right now. I see the silver thread of the tread-way skimming across the mountain tops, marching a steady march to Maine. I see images flash by in fast forward as if I was on the Trail. But it is all illusory, dream-like and ephemeral still. I am planning and studying maps, trying gear, and making food packets, but I can't comprehend 6 months. I can't grasp going to a post office for food week after week. It's like sitting on a beach gazing at the stars and you can't wrap your head around the vastness of all the stars above you or even all the grains of sand beneath you. I doubt I will get it while I'm out there immediately. We're programmed to always be looking to the next thing, the next drop off point, the next day, the next turn in the Trail or the next peak to bag. I'm hoping when I have 7 days food on my back and all I gotta do between now and the next post office is walk that I can be more in the NOW than I ever have been before.

Another walk in the snow with the three yellow labs playing in the snow with us, and a couple more days of delightful nothingness, work and the world called us back. Ten days gone so quickly, and with less adventure then I have had in years. But I feel recharged. My love grows ever stronger for Cara, and times like this of us just being for days with only quiet happiness confirms my feelings. Of course the drive back in traffic was completely trying to my state of euphoria, people are in such a hurry to get back from work and away from family. I surely won't miss traffic and brake lights while I am on the Appalachian Trail! We got back in time to see my Uncles and Aunts and cousins before finally getting home in Southern MD...


I have been putting together meal packets for the Appalachian Trail. I enjoy the preparation. Not only do I like searching Amazon for deals on food and getting package after package of Clif Bars in the mail, I also enjoy separating, organizing, and repacking. I try to imagine myself 6 months from now when I get to a post office and unbox my fuel for the next week. Will I curse myself for not enough diversity? Though I've tried for it. Will I berate myself for forgetting to put a packet of coffee one morning? Will it be too much or not enough? I feel I can't answer any of these basic questions until I have been out there for awhile. At first I think I will be wasting food, as 700 calories of rice, couscous, or other starch is a LOT, but later, when the hiker hunger creeps in I'm hoping it will be enough. Not to get bogged down into crunching numbers, but I have tried to make the meals fulfill what calorie expenditure I have researched. I do not want to lose much weight while I hike. I can't afford it. To that end I have lots of protein bars, nuts, dried fruits and meats, and tons of starches planned. I am trying to buy as much now while I have a pay check so while I am out there I won't need to spend my saved money on daily meals. I want the money put back to go for 'over-and-beyond' stuff; like an occasional hotel stay, an AYCE buffet, a shuttle ride for Cara to her car - whatever it takes for me to be happy out there, but not the base expense of the Trail.

The anticipation builds, as I think how fast the past year has already gone. Only 3 more months. Only 3 months to buy, build, organize test, address, label, check and double-check EVERYTHING. And all these checks and double checks could go awry if I hike faster than what I have planned (not slower, not in my vocab!). Also adding to the anticipation besides, the ticking of the clock, are the presents I received from all my loved ones. An awesome pair of boots, the Packa which I've spoken of before, hiking socks, a poncho, camp mug, MAPS!, a better funnel and pre-filter for the SteriPen, and a AT tee shirt! People know what I need!

The list grows shorter of what I still need to do. Some things must wait until last minute, like getting a cheaper cell phone, loading the licensing for the SPOT, discontinuing credit card use and switching to cash. Other things I need to ramp up on in a major way, like drying beef jerky and fruits, completing meal packaging, boxing meals into shipping containers. All the work is fulfilling and time consuming.

 *Other pics to be added soon

I have found a good resource for finding out where the AT crosses roads:
Google Maps also has a couple good publicly shared maps of Parking and Shelters, provided by the ATC:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011



Cara and I went to Cancun for a four day weekend a few weeks ago for a friends wedding. We grabbed a direct flight down to the resort outside of Cancun. Our time was short, and there were events for the wedding guests daily so we did not venture off the resort.

I liked the weather, I liked the resort - Moon Palace Sunrise. I relaxed and soaked up the calm ambiance. The resort was very nicely appointed with everything you could want, from swim up bars to a huge variety of good food and cheap booze (free to guests, cheap to them!).

The well manicured lawns, the maintained streams and fountains, the tractor that picks up sea-weed from the beach to keep it beautiful all gave the place a very unreal feeling. In the sense that it is an escape from reality, it did the trick. Most of the people that worked there knew English very well, I did dive into my mind and pull out quite a few Spanish words and phrase, all unnecessary. I want to begin re-learning sentence structure, I'd love to be able to have a solid conversation in Spanish by the time we go to Costa Rica next year. All of the employees being able to speak English made the place seem that much more unreal. Not a bad thing, just an observation.

We did see some wild-life. We saw iguanas,. and 1 lonely orange-billed gull surrounded by his drab brethren, and to top it off we saw a coati! The coati, also known as the snookum bear, looks kind of like a cross between a cat and a raccoon. Cara and I were going for one last stroll around, killing time before we headed to the airport. By a line of bushes I saw a tail float up from the shrubbery. The tail immediately made me do a double take, as it was much too long to be a cats tail. I skirted the bushes, and grubbing around in the dirt was this coati. He looked very smart and very hungry! He paid us no mind as we stalked him and watched him move down the bushes in search of his meal. A worker tossed us a muffin to feed to him. I always have reservations about feeding wildlife and getting them dependent on humans, I did appreciate the close up views though. My guilt is bearable, but still there.

The important part of this trip, the great part of this trip, the truly memorable part was the joining of two lives. The wedding of two friends, surrounded by family and friends supporting their decision to combine their lives to one. The ceremony was held in a pavilion over-looking the beach. As we walked along the path to the place of marriage, three planes dodged and wove above us, doing aerial maneuvers seen at airshows. The wedding party all made it under the pavilion before the sky opened up, before the bride made it there. The horse and carriage slowed nearly to a halt and then clopped away to shelter to wait out the passing shower. This gave everyone a good laugh and will be integral in the telling of their day forever - an occurrence that some may find horrifying they found funny and up-lifting. After the ceremony we all went to the reception with plenty of alcohol and dancing. I wish the newly weds all the best! They are a wonderful couple.

The trip was relaxing, the travel was easy. Cara is such a good traveling companion. Neither of us like to feel rushed so we arrive early and lounge waiting for the plane. We take it easy and enjoy all parts of the journey. I would want no one else to be with on these trips.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bridge Day

October 14th Friday

Planning was next to non-existent for this trip. I had diligently pre-paid and paid fully for the trip. I had checked the Meetup message boards for updates, but mostly it was just people getting rides lined up for themselves. I threw all my camping and back-packing items in a couple bags a few days before. I looked up the directions and tried to find out where we would be camping. I had planned on taking the day off, but had forgotten to put it on my calendar. Newman, the coordinator of the trip, called me at 11am to tell me that some family issues were going ot keep him from coming on the trip and that he was passing me the torch of leadership. I was not happy about this, but figured that I was going camping with a group of adults and the only real coordination would be to tell them to show up Sunday morning for the rafting trip, I assumed that the days festivities would occupy everyone. So, feeling frazzled, I left work a bit early - and honestly I felt like I was sneaking away, I felt guilty leaving when I left and felt like I could get in trouble if I got "caught". All these stressed feeling, in addition to some anxiety induced by that second Starbucks venti, I was just ready to unwind and forget my worries.
I met Cara, Kaya, and Jamie at the New Carrelton Metro station. We packed everything into my car and we left the lot around 2:30. We dodged the DC traffic, cruising around the Beltway and out 66 with barely a hitch. Jamie and Cara chatting amicably. I was on the quiet side, still feeling anxious, and checking my phone for work-related messages or calls. We made our way to 81 and south to 64 West, the sun slowly sinking, the darkness chasing away the day. After dark we got off of 64 and onto some secondary roads, all of us hungry, we passed through a small town that had half the population of the town at the high school football field, and stopped at the Taco Bell. I had no appetite, I had gotten an email from my boss, asking when I had gotten to and left work today. He never sends a message like that, my anxiety notched up and my phone died. I told Cara of my frustration and she said exactly the right thing and made me eat a bit. I felt much better from her words. The rest of the night I let it go and enjoyed no anxiety.
We soon arrived at the turn off to Class VI and the check-in for our campsite. The guy behind the desk gave us some funky directions and we got turned around, crossed the bridge, made a U-turn, made the incorrect right turn and finally found the group campsite! As we stepped from the car the coldness came as a shock. A few short hours ago the temperature was in the 70s and warm. Now it felt to be in the 50's, our breath coming out in puffs of steam. There was a group of 4 women from the Washington Backpackers already there with tents set up and a fire blazing, drinking some spirits and gabbing. We spoke with them and found a dry place slightly removed from them to pitch our tent by car head-light. We stowed all our gear and popped the top on a few beers. The cute little 10 oz Miller  Lites Cara had mistaken picked up. We stood around for an hour or two getting to know the 4 women, all of whom knew each other through the marriage of a sibling or relative. The other people from our group had yet to arrive, from reading their posts they were leaving Centreville at 7 or 8 so would not arrive until late (or rather early!). After the fire-wood burned down we climbed into our tents.

October 15th Saturday

Cara was extremely cold over the night and I got to (or was rather made to, but I liked it!) hold her all night. Kaya was cold too and eventually made it into the double sleeping bag as well. I was comfortable, but pushed around a bit! Sometime during the night other people arrived in the field we were staying. I didn't hear much noise while they set up their tents or any thing like that. After they set up though they stayed up for awhile and drank, which is also fine, the curfew was 1:30am and it was after that, and most were quiet - except one girl and a loud and carrying voice, and of course she liked to talk. I didn't know if she was part of our group or from some other group. I couldn't get back to sleep until she retired as well.
As the day replaced the night we got out of the bag so we could make it down to the lodge for breakfast. We drove down to the main campus and parked. There was wind that there was a payment issue, that some people hadn't shown up and that some people were trying to get a free ride. A couple of the 4 women were rather paranoid about it and were accusatory towards the rest of the group that had arrived after us. I think that the other group had woken them up setting up and they were kind of bitter towards them. I was getting a "group divided" feeling already. It felt like an episode of Survivor almost, the tribes were aligning - and I was trying to stay out of the middle of it, because the other "tribe" was taking the bait and puffing up and acting offended and not talking to Jamie, me, or Cara like we were with the 4 women.
People in the group were asking where I was leading a hike, after they got wind Newman pushed the lead on me. I went and got some free local maps and handed them out, pointing out where the trails were and where the Bridge Day festivities were located.

After the buffet style breakfast we went back to camp and put lunches and water in our backpacks and headed towards the Visitor Center to see about a better map. I did find a hiking map, but it was no better or more extensive than that which I'd already procured. Leading out the back of the Visitor Center was a boardwalk to views of the bridge. We walked down to a viewing platform and watched people BASE jumping from the bridge, repel from the top of the arch, and zip line off to one side. While standing there we saw a jumper go, and go, and go - I never saw his chute deploy, Cara said she saw something puff up right at the very end. Everyone gasped and surmised. Had he died? Someone said, "People have died before, and they kept right-on jumping" and before too long people started jumping again. Had we just seen a man jump to his death? Was it faulty equipment? Did he do it on purpose? Spoiler:The full story of the jumper.
We determined to ask around once we got on the bridge, surely people would know.

Walking towards the bridge we were told we could bring neither backpacks nor dogs on the bridge. Bummed, we began walking back towards the campsite to lock Kaya in for the day. Right by the entrance to the bridge I asked a uniformed officer just to be sure I wasn't getting fed a line by some random guy. The officer confirmed, but also pointed out a church table off to one side that was volunteering to hold bags and dogs for free. Thanks! That saved us a trip and it gave Kaya time to be outside and play with people and other dogs.
The New River Gorge Bridge is a single arch style bridge that is 3030 feet long, 876 feet high, and 70 feet wide. One side of the bridge is closed for the festival, West Virginia's biggest, with 100,000 people in attendance. This year 421 jumps happened off the bridge. Leading up to the bridge were a few vendors, but once on the bridge the only structure set up is the stage were the jumpers do their thing. On the far side of the bridge were more numerous vendors coming from Beckley.
After taking our time to walk the bridge and see all the vendors and watch some jumpers we headed back across. On our travels we heard the guy that appeared to fall to the river had lived, but we got no more details. Cara, Jamie, and myself saw no one else from the Meetup group, which is how I figured it would be. To try and keep up with any group at all in the throng of people was difficult, going with a 19 people would have been impossible and annoying. After collecting Kaya and heading back to camp we drank a bottle of wine and lounged in the warm sun for awhile, I dozed a bit. We decided to walk down to the main campus from our campsite again, about 3/4 of a mile road walk, but figured it would be easier than driving. Kaya came with us, we were planning on just figuring out the details on the rafting and going on a short hike to the gorge edge. By the time we got there and soaked in the view it was close enough to dinner time that we just got seated outside with Kaya.

I also settled our account so we were paid in full after I found out we had been told we owed more than what we already paid. There were two stories stemming from this. Newman told us we lost some of our discount because not enough people had paid. This didn't ring true, and he had never put his deposit down on this trip, nor paid the final piece. Class VI said that Newman had added meals and wet suit rental at the last minute which is what jacked the price. At diner the four older ladies sat at our table and the rest of the group sat away. I was getting some major vibes of tension between them. I really was at a loss for why there was such apparent loathing. Regardless, I enjoyed the spread. Everything was high quality and tasty including Prime Rib, Duck, Salmon, and Pork tenderloin as well as a good salad bar and accompanying vegetables. After paying for our beers we caught a shuttle back to camp to drop Kaya off and put on some warm clothes. And then we started walking back to the campus to hang out at the bar for awhile, in the warmth! A pickup truck pulled up and we got a quick ride back.
We went to the upstairs pub and drank some beers did a shot and chatted amongst the three of us, watching some TV and having a good time. Apparently there was another bar that also had live music but we didn't know about it until the next day. After we settled up we hopped the shuttle back to our campsite. Being frigid out and tired from the lack of sleep the night before we turned in early. There was some back ground noise, the sound of voices and laughter, the thunk of a bean bag being tossed back and forth from a game of corn-hole. The noises didn't bother me, but rather lulled me into slumber.

October 16th Sunday

Sometime in the dark hours before dawn, probably around 2:30 or 3am. I get woken up by three people conversating. Rather, one guy woke me, the other guy that was up was low toned, and the girl was quiet also. The conversation was very obviously alcohol induced, and had I heard it at any time other than the middle of the night I would've been rolling with laughter. Talking of self-defense, loud guy, "I'm a fighter, one time when I was ten I beat the crap out of a 14 year old, broke his nose and then started pounding on him!" That was his only self defense story. Talk about living in the past. I was waiting for his band-camp story. Next he loudly proclaimed, "my right leg is so powerful. It would launch me at someone." Wow. awesome. STFU. I was not the only one thinking this. One of the four ladies got out of the tent and said pretty much what I was thinking. Synopsis, you're loud. Shut up. Go to bed. Of course this wasn't taken kindly. The guys buttoned their lips, the girl though rose to the challenge and got into a verbal assault with the woman. Anyway, after a few minutes the altercation was over and everyone went to bed. All the children put away for the night, I slept soundly until the alarm.

We packed our gear and broke camp while the sky was still mostly dark. After getting everything down and in the car we drove over for breakfast and the rendezvous for rafting. After one final hitch with the bill and getting it cleared we ate and got our wet suits. The clammy rubber warmed quickly with a few layers over top. We went through the process of getting helmets and life-vests. Everyone seemed to be getting along, there were no more harsh comments. It seemed like the worst was over and we were coming together for white water without any lingering grumpiness.

Soon enough we piled on the bus and headed towards our put in spot. We divided into our rafting groups once there. In our group we had me, Cara, Jamie, Kate, Cameron, Toaha, Sean, and Corbin - the guide. We shoved off into the Upper Gauley river and onto the class V rapids just down river!
The Class V rapids were very fun, Corbin was very informative about each set of rapids and how we would go through them, and if we got knocked out of the raft which shore to swim towards. All the rapids had names, like 'The Tomb Stone", Softey, and Woody, most of the names escape me, I was concentrating on staying dry and alive!
After the second Class V the raft behind us flipped and dumped its passengers. We paddled in to the rescue. I pulled in a guy, grasping him by the shoulders and falling backwards into the boat to leverage him in. We were eye tot eye inches apart. The wide saucer-sized eyes full of fear and then gratitude. He thanked me profusely, and that look reinforced that I did not want to go in the drink! We loaded our rescued rafters back into their boat and continued down the river. We would paddle a few times and then rest. Corbin would weave us around kayaks and other rafts, set us at the top of some rapids, giving us some fun lines and keeping us dry mostly. We were very close to capsizing on several occasions but we were fortunate and stayed upright. The adrenaline rushed and we hooted and hollered as we flowed over and around pillows of raging water.
We talked to Corbin, and it turns out he was on the rescue boat that pulled the guy out of the river when his chute didn't deploy. He confirmed that the guy lived, but didn't give much detail beyond that.

As the day wore on and the miles grew further behind us, the sun past it's zenith and the number of rapids ahead of us grew less than the number behind our energy began to flag and thoughts of lunch became obsessive. Finally we came to our break spot and paddled one final push into calm water. We clambered out to a pavilion with a diverse spread. Nachos and cheese, crackers, mash potatoes, hot dogs and hamburgers. I ate my fill and drank some coffee, soaking in the warm sun and listening to the group say some snarky things about one another. Apparently the night before was gone, but not forgotten. The puerile behavior made me rethink about going on Meetups again.
Too soon, as I was just settling back for a nap, the boss- Redneck (aka Larry) called for us to get back in our rafts and head down stream. Around a bend a good spot to jump of a cliff presents itself, some opted to go up and jump off. I decided we had come this far with staying dry, I would try to go the day staying parched!

The day was perfect! In the 70's it was not too hot to paddle and stay comfortable with the splash jackets and life-vests on. The sun shone with gentle autumnal warmth and there wasn't a breeze to speak of. The leaves were changing to their brilliant fall colors, contrasting with the dark blue sky. Shadows were springing up around certain bends in the river with higher sides. With only two Class 2 or 3 rapids left, 'Uncle' Redneck called a storytime in the center of the river. Timing was everything and we were quickly rafted together.
The story of the drowned kittens:
"The rafting company wants me to tell you some history about these parts. On the left shore there used to be a mil town, it went from bustling activity to a ghost town around the time of the Great Depression. One guy lived there after most others had moved on. Well one day he was outside by railroad tracks when a Model T broke down in front of his house. The feller that drove the car came up to the man and asked for help. Being a nice guy the man went and got the missing part from one of his junked vehicles (he was country folk after all, and they always have junk cars sittin' around). The car fixed, the owner of the car asked what he could give to him in payment. The man looked in the back of the car and saw the most beautiful Siamese cats, he talked the man into letting him keep the cats for a spell and breed them, selling the kittens and then giving him the cats back in a year.  Settled the man agreed to come back and get his cats in a year.
The man bred the cats several times and made a penny on the gorgeous kittens. Towards the end of the year the female cat escaped and got pregnant from the meanest ugliest barn cat around. When these kittens were born they were twice as ugly and misshapen. The man put the kittens in a basket and chucked them in the river, right here.They floated down. Meow. Meow. Meow and around the bend of the river. Meow. Meow. and suddenly they went quiet. They hit the rapids and drowned.
To this very day, you gotta appease the spirits of the kittens or they will flip people in their rafts. They say a rapid that looks like a cats paw reaches up out of no-where and flips ya."
He looks us and says, "Corbin why don't you go first!"
We float down the river, everyone oblivious to what is about to happen. I have an inkling we are about to get wet. We all play along, meowing loudly trying to appease the cats. Around the bend there is one small rapid, easily avoidable. We headed right for it. Next thing we know, SPLASH!
We are all in the water, the frigid water shockingly cold, I gasped for air and drop the paddle immediately. I was completely buoyant and had no trouble finding the surface. Bodies and paddles were everywhere, some people calling out, but mostly just gasping for air. It happened so quick and even though expected it was still a shock. The river was flat there and it was easy to get back to the boat and hang on the side. We grabbed paddles and Corbin flipped right the boat. Cara pulled me in. Toaha had dislocated his shoulder, and Corbin calmly resets it. Toaha took it without a grimace, and that quick we were back in business. After the rapids all the rafts were close together. In the silence Cara shouted, "Hey Redneck, F you and you cats!" Redneck looks nonplussed and everyone else rolls with laughter. We float on singing the Meow Mix song and warming up.
There was only one rapid left, and people start 'Riding the Bull'. This is when a person sits on the front of the raft and tries to hang on without falling in or out through the rapids. Jamie was elected for bringing it up at the start of the trip. She does a fair job, but less then 7 seconds in she falls backwards into the boat.

Around a bend we paddled up to a sand beach and carried the rafts back to the awaiting trailer and jumped on the bus. Cold beer and lots of banter await on the hour bus ride back to the main campus. Once there we all hustle to get our dry clothes situated and hop in the shower for some much appreciated warmth.
We stuck around to watch our video, which wasn't terribly impressive, and definitely not worth the money. We left tired and sore with a 7 hour drive ahead of us and 7pm! What a long day! My head didn't hit the pillow until 2:30am.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Old Orchard Carvings

Thanks for taking a minute to read about something that doesn't directly relate to travel. But to tie it all together, my brother, Kevin, lives very close to the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) that is apart of the North Country Trail (NCT). I have on several occasions gone to his house and hiked the FLT in the surrounding area, I have also got him to come with me for a portion of it. Over time I'd like to piece together all part of that trail. The New York Finger Lakes Region is beautiful, a high plateau, punctuated by deep glacial lakes, gorges cut through shale rock, high waterfalls, and a good climate for wine. The FLT winds through protected forests, state parks and game lands, along roads, and over private lands with the blessing of the owner. The FLT seems to me what the Appalachian Trail was in days of yore, when no one thought it could be thru-hiked, when parts of the Trail were obscured and other parts more than rough. The romance of this is as nearly as drawing to me as the spell that the Appalachian Trail has for me.

I was excited when Sam Gardner from The Initiative passed through this area on his attempt to hike the four big long distance trails in the country. Unfortunately his attempt failed due to some physical problems. I wanted to get my brother to meet him out on the trail with a bag of cheese burgers! Hopefully Sam will re-attempt and make it through the area again so maybe that can happen!

Old Orchard Carvings

Big news for my big brother! Kevin is finally going digital to sell his hand made chainsaw carvings. I wouldn't normally post something concerning the selling of a product, but come on, he's my bro and I'd love to see him make some decent sales. I'd love to see a carving sitting on someone's front porch and wonder if it was one of his pieces.

The back story stretches over the past nine years. Cara and I were at his cabin in the Finger Lakes region of New York, when Cara asked what got him started on carving? What could possibly motivate a person to pick up a chainsaw and make a sculpture? My brother, the preeminent story-teller, was too happy to oblige with a yarn!

He was living in Nashville, NC at the time. He and I had been tooling around in the back-yard. His first craft was putting together blocks of firewood, like roughed out furniture, as practice he made a sledge hammer and some other things. Eventually he had the idea of carving a bunny rabbit and then a snail with nail eye-stalks. He set these aside and forgot about them. Weeks later, around Easter, he was selling some live rabbits when a customer asked how much for the carved rabbit. And thus it began!

The workshop

 Kevin began experimenting, learning his style, and which cuts worked better and what effects he wanted on the animals. Once he got enough inventory he went to some art shows. Most of these shows were very disheartening, barely paying for the gas or the site to setup on. After a time he figured he could sell himself to some events as a draw. For example, I visited him and he had a show at Montezuma Winery. He setup a net around himself and began carving right on the side of the road. People see him doing this and have another reason to stop and see the rest of the small festival (as an aside, that was also the first time I had Wine Slushies, I suggest you try them!)
One cute bear

He has been to many shows now, and has done substantially better in the NY venues than he did in North Carolina. I think in Western NC where people are possibly on vacation are more likely to have cabins and such he would have done better. But Eastern NC really isn't good for anything except for driving through to get somewhere else! I have been with him to Forksville, PA for a show, and to Frederick, MD. He's been to shows from here to Michigan! He was a regular at the Windmill, a craft and farmers market local to him. The problems with shows are they aren't steady, there is substantial cost to get to the show with the carvings and on a whim the event might have no draw (weather related or any number of factors). He has on occasion been stopped on his way to a show and sold carving right off his trailer to an interested driver, but driving around is a rather expensive way to get sales!

Cabin relief carving

Another of his avenues of sales is the consignment method at other people's store front. This is a method to get out there, however there are issues with this method also, including a large reduction in net money earned and possible issues with dishonest store owners. Another avenue that he did several times was to make a very large bulk order, in the neighborhood of 100 pieces, and deliver them to a guy in Tennessee. Of course selling bulk greatly reduces revenue, and delivering them 16 hours away at 7 miles to the gallon rather cuts into margins.

 He also does stump jobs - which are probably some of his most interesting pieces, as they are custom jobs. Recently someone had him carve dinosaurs into a stump they had in their back yard! One draw back to most of his work is that it is seasonal. All the shows occur during the spring, summer, fall months as do the custom stump jobs. This leaves a gap in his year that needs to be filled with not just carving, but selling some carvings too.

Kevin lives off-grid. He has solar panels to charge batteries for lights at night. He just recently got wireless internet access that he can connect to with his laptop while he has juice. A lot of his finishing for his carvings is done by hand or with the assist of a generator. This poses hardship and makes it that much more difficult for him do pretty much everything. I have wanted for years for him to attempt to get on EBay or make a website of his own. I don't live close enough or I would have pushed hard, taken more pictures of his product.
In progress Dinosaur custom stump carving

He found the website ETSY and it is perfect for him, it is cheap to host and they take care of a lot of the back-end details. He can easily upload photos and descriptions to his site. Also it's on a site where people go looking for hand-made crafts.

Kevin has talent, talent that I certainly don't have. I would like to see him do well in his chosen lifestyle of being off grid and independent. Of course he can't be totally off grid and run a business simultaneously, but it is certainly worthwhile to live off grid and work with a highly reduced footprint.

His website on ETSY is called Old Orchard Carvings. The story behind that name is that on his property is an apple orchard with trees that are probably over a hundred years old. These tree are twisted and hollow, but they still produce apples of a variety you will not find in any store or farmers market.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dolly Sods!

Saturday August 20th, 2011

Cara, Kaya, and I woke up and left from Lake Shore to head towards West Virginia. We stopped by NoVa to pick up our friend Tania and her dog Nyla.
The highway has been extended beyond Moorefield , so I took US 48 to the end and jumped over on to Rt 42 and State road 75 in short order. Going that way cut off a bit of time and mileage getting to Dolly Sods. Huge open highway that begins in no-where and ends in no-where! I like the lack of traffic and the speed in which I can get to my destination.
We followed the road up into the highlands, passing Bear Rocks to our destination, ready to begin the hike. I nosed the car into a spot across from Red Creek Campground. We climbed out, the dogs as excited to be out of the car as we were. We changed into our hiking shoes and put some last minute adjustments to our gear, finally extending our hiking poles and striking out down Blackbird Knob Trail. I had done this hike before, I had started in this location when I had solo hiked last October. The blue berry bushes looked to be beyond season, there were no more in evidence. This path starts on a wooden walk-way and quickly goes into a pine forest the coolness in the shadows reaching out to brush on my skin. Next the path opened into a meadow with views into the distance of the highlands.
The scenes change so quickly here. First the forest feels like the northeast. Close your eyes take a deep breathe and open your eyes and you are transported to Maine or New Hampshire - pine and birch abound. Around the next bend the meadow full of golden rod and purple and white wild-flowers nodding heads in the warm breeze. Marshes and established eastern forest, young new growth trees. All these biomes fly past in the course of just a few miles. Dolly Sods is similar to a arboretum things change as if designed.
We crossed a couple streams and arrived at the meadow where Upper Red Creek Trail comes in from the right; a few tenths of a mile later Red Creek Trail intersects on the left. We took a quick water break before descending into the top of the river valley where I know there are some good camp sites hidden down by the creek. After descending to Red Creek we came to the top of the creek and we began searching for a campsite, rather than following the trail down we followed the creek. The water and the trail diverge here for awhile, some of the best waterfalls and swimming holes are in this area, so it is well advised to check out the creek!
After skirting one likely campsite and bushwhacking a bit we found a spot that seemed like it could fit a couple tents. The site wasn't directly on the water but had a trail leading to the waters edge. We sat our gear around the campfire pit and unpacked some things before heading down to the creek to check it out. There stood a group of guys and girls trying to get a rope swing working over one pool, the rope was very thin and it seemed they had gotten the rope stuck in a spot they didn't want it. The whole thing looked like a broken head waiting to happen! Fortunately better sense took over and after a bit they got the rope unstuck and out of the tree! I did not want to have to carry an injured person out from this location, 3 miles up-hill to a road crossing or 4 miles down stream to Lanevill cabins - either way, not something that would be fun!
We went about setting up camp after not finding any better spots down stream, only waterfalls and lovely cascading water over the gray slick rocks. Cara and I found a spot to setup Maison du Noir... aka the 10 lbs 4-person Coleman tent I have for us. On weekend backpacking trips it's nice to have the room with Kaya, and I figure the extra weight is good cross training!
After our nights housing were erected, we elected to go exploring a bit. The dogs were antsy and needed some play time to be a bit more calm. Back down by the water Kaya happily chased the tennis ball. Nyla happily barked in Kaya's face as she was trying to extract herself from the creek. Meandering down the creek we came to a water fall with no easy way to climb down, we had to go up into the forest and do some climbing over roots and rocks and down a steep embankment to get under it. The climb was well worth it, a great swimming hole opened up below the falls. Kaya would run after the ball and fall head-long into the deeper part of the water. The falls itself had a deep shelf underneath. There was plenty of room to get behind the falling water and have a water-distorted view of the world. Tania got under the falls and let the water fall on her.
After exploring a bit further down the creek we returned to camp to continue the evening camp chores. The valley where the river resides is decidedly moist, nearly like a rain forest, the trees mostly river birch mixed with some pines. The popularity of the area in conjunction with the type of wood lying around made it very difficult to find any viable firewood. Most of the wood on the ground was spongy with rot and moisture, even the standing river birch were full of punky wood in a wrapper of white bark. The bark of the river birch is a great fire starter, even slightly damp - take a piece of the dry bark dunk it in water and hold to flame after dunking and it will still light and burn fiercely for a short time! Cara started and tended the fire as Tania and I went further and further up the steep hill behind camp, crossing the trail-proper and heading into the woods on the other side. After using the pocket chainsaw I got for my birthday a few times we collected enough good wood for the evening.
Firewood chore done, we sat and enjoyed a cup of Maryland Linganore Winecellars Mountain White wine from the Platypus wine preservation bladder. Cara and I had couscous with fried summer sausage for dinner, Tania enjoyed a Gluten-free stew of some type.
As the fire burned on, our eyes riveted to the dancing flames, we spoke of many things, as the campfire provides entertainment for the mind the conversation flows naturally from topic to topic. We speak of life, past experiences, present concerns, and hopes of the future. A fire as a centerpiece always brings out the most interesting talks.
It is with some regret that I plan on not making campfires regularly while hiking the Appalachian Trail next year. I am sure some other hikers will insist on the fire ritual, at which point I will feel an obligation to bring an arm-load of sticks to sacrifice to the inferno, my tithe to enjoy the fire alongside whomever created the warming chemical reaction having as much life as any living thing. I will not often make a fire for myself though. Between not having the energy or gumption after a full days hike, I do not need a fire to cook by or read by or even warm by. I will have my tent, sleeping bag, and stove. Drying boots after a wet slog may be a reason to lay some sticks. I will instead hike until I am tired and sleep and rise and hike on, leaving the dead and dried wood for the weekend camper, the ones whom need the fire ritual, the ones that have time to appreciate it, the ones that will sit around it having deep possibly life-changing conversations and revelations.
We hung some very lame bear bags, but hung they were, more to keep the skunks, opossums, raccoons, and mice out of them. Considering just up the creek I had brazen little mice running across the torso of my bivy, I knew how ignorant the creatures are in Dolly Sods! Bears, though, would have had a blast batting the swinging morsels this way and that spilling the contents in every direction... Fortunately that did not happen and our food stuffs remained intact. Cara and I retired to the Big Agnes double-wide sleeping bag she got me for my birthday. I am really a fan of this sleeping bag - it packs down to the same size as my cold weather sleeping bag, as a Big Agnes it has the integrated ground pad sheath, and pillow sack as well as 2 zippers that go down to the feet for ventilation. There was still plenty of room for us to sleep comfortably apart not requiring constant cuddling.

Sunday August 21th, 2011

We rose to a very leisurely morning. Eating breakfast slowly and just generally enjoying moving slowly. Cara offered to get some water from the creek. A few minutes later she comes back laughing at herself, and soaking wet. She fell in! She took it better than I would I think - I would laugh at myself, but my initial reaction probably would have been choice words... followed by kicking a tree or a rock, thus stubbing my toes followed by more choice words and THEN laughing at myself. Kaya of course jumped in to try and "save" her... and by save Kaya tries to drown anyone in the water with her by climbing on top of them.
After breakfast, coffee, and enjoying the campfire a bit more we broke camp and packed. Looking to the sky I decided to don my pack-cover just in case. We looked at the map and decided to take the long way back, going up Breathed Mountain Trail and then back across the top of the ridge to Blackbird Knob Trail back out to the car. Just as we began the ascent a peal of thunder gratingly rolled across the sky. It seemed the pack cover may have been a good call.
The ascent was not too tough, probably not as bad as the descent we had come down on Red Creek Trail the day before. As the trail began to level out we camp upon a large field, and in this field blue berry bushes on every square foot, and on these blueberry bushes a plethora of berries perfectly ripe! The berries were sweet and full of flavor. I could have eaten every berry in that field if given the chance. We stopped often under the gray nearly dripping sky, trying to move on but moving at a crawl. I dropped to the back so I could sneak more and then hurry to catch up. Even the dogs figured it out and cleared the lower bushes of the crop of tasty morsels.
At one of these clearing as we hiked along the splatter of rain began. Quickly becoming a deluge. I should have put my contacts in! And this is why I will bring contacts on the AT! I could hardly see where I was plodding as water ran off my face and landed on my lens, distorting everything including the ground in front of me. A bit further on my ankle turned and really hurt. That turning of the ankle, happened so fast, and not on a particularly rocky patch has made me re-think my shoe choice. I had my trail runners on and I have come to the conclusion that they do not provide enough ankle support. A twisted ankle could be a Trail ending injury of which I must be careful! Boots it is.
After the height of the storm the temperature went from warm to a slightly chill breeze back to warm. We stopped and ate a couple Clif bars and more berries, finding some taller huckleberries bushes also loaded with fruit. As we turned onto Blackbird Knob Trail, 4 miles into our days' hike, the rain stopped and the clouds began to break up. Over the next hour the sun came out, the breeze became pleasant, the sky blue. The world was apologizing for the thunderstorm and certainly making up for it! If we had decided to go out the same way we came in we would have arrived at the car about the time the rain had stopped! Many times the longer route has many unforeseen benefits, like a bounty of fruit and blue skies!
On the top of the ridge we passed some trees that had to be some kind of planted fruit tree. The regularity and spacing showed they were planted. I surmised by the unripe fruit and the bark and leaves that they were planted cherry trees. I would love to come back when those are ripe! There seems to be something for every season on this West Virginia Highland.
Cara set a brutal pace, averaging 3mph back to the car! My legs were definitely feeling the pace. She impressed the heck out of me, being that this is her second time backpacking, the first being a few weeks ago following the relatively flat trail next to Seneca Creek. Later she confessed that she was getting a blister on her heel that was painful and her feet were damp - she claims she was walking so fast to get back to the car and get out of those shoes and into flip-flops! That girl can move, even in discomfort.
We arrived in sunshine and dropped our packs with smiles. We loaded the packs and the dogs into the car, after a brief stop at Bear Rocks we headed back to civilization. All in all a fun trip with great companionship!

Friday, August 12, 2011


Legolas is a Lego lantern that found me on the clearance shelf at the REI in Rockville, MD over a year ago. He has since been on every backpacking trip that I have been on, as well as some other trips too!

I keep him around for several reasons. One he is a great conversation starter and ice-breaker with other people on the trail. Additionally he IS a lantern, so he works well to keep the tent lite up while reading at night. And lastly, I take pictures of him where ever I go, like the traveling gnome. Oh, and he's AWESOME!

Legolas has his own Facebook page too. However, the powers that be realized that Legolas is the same name as the elf in LotR so his name on FB is Ogel Legoman.

Places Legolas has been so far:
Spruce Knob, Dolly Sods, Zion, Bryce, San Francisco, Washington State, Cacapon, Bahamas, Trail Days, Cabin camping, winter hiking to Harpers Ferry, and Laurel Highlands!

He has been all over. And he is coming with me on the AT. He is my luxury item! Everyone needs one, and he is mine.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Volunteer Vacation Part 4: Finishing Work

Day 7 - Work day
June 23th Thursday

I pack my sleeping bag and roll my ground pad before getting out of the tent. I'm trying to practice so when it rains I can do it with a bit less pain inside the tent. When I get out of the tent I toss everything else out also so the tent is empty. I pack my back pack as I go about knocking down everything. Which leads me to a gear discussion! The Big Agnes down Grouse Mountain sleeping bag I'm using for the first time is great. I like that it doesn't waste filling on the bottom of the bag, as that area gets compacted anyway. My sleeping pad fits and stays in a pouch on the exterior of the bag. Inside the bag there is a sack that works as a pillow. I have been putting my liner and a sweat shirt and it works fine as a pillow that doesn't run away since it is attached to the bag. The bag is plenty warm and very comfortable.
I am also quite happy with my 1-person Mountain Hardware Sprite 1 tent. For a one person I have enough room for my boots and my back pack inside the tent with me. I can hang a rope inside for a clothes line and hang a light from for reading. It's easy to setup and just an all-around comfortable piece of gear.
I am also using Mountain Hardware gaiters. They are the smallest I could fine. The required adding a strip of Velcro to the back of the boot to hold it down. They effectively keep debris out of my boots and they are lower than my socks so there is no discomfort.
After everyone is packed up and has their bags loaded with divided group food we set off for Company Creek. I take the lead and Joni follows 20 or 30 yards behind. Josh takes up the rear to make sure everyone in between is okay. Looking at the ground, and taking short steps, using hiking poles, and going slow enough not to get over-heated and exhausted takes much concentration. Soon We arrive at the bench, well before everyone else. Howard comes puffing up, saying he always sounds like that. Shortly the rest are in view. Joni and I start again just as they stop. Mostly to get out of the way, but also to be able to go the pace we want to go without being alone. Joni gives me plenty of space for both of us to have solitude, but keeps me in view for safety. The hike seems to go very quickly, the pack taking my thoughts away. One of the first days I noticed Bill would take very tiny but fast steps as he got to very steep sections of trail. I decided to try that method and found that it made the hills much more bearable, the weight of myself and the pack never being exposed to only one leg for a long period of time. I think this way really is advantageous to reducing energy consumption.
The views, the meadow, the mountains, and streams flow quickly by, I keep my posture upright, glancing where my feet are to go so I don't trip. The hiking poles, as always, help tremendously to keep footing and to pull myself up the incline. Soon enough we roll into camp and toss off our packs. The colorful bear pinata survived unscathed! I was half expecting to see bits of plastic and parts of apples scattered about in some macabre scene of fruity destruction.
I pull out the food bag and take my pack over to where my tent site lays. My site is slightly separated from the others and more difficult to get to. My tent site is down the river bank, about splitting the difference to the river and camp. However closer to camp, there are a bunch of maples that are very difficult to navigate, and it is much easier to get to my site by going through the rest of the tent area.
Where I pitch my tent the ground is very soft. The loam is springy and makes for a very comfortable mattress. The sound of the river is loud, so I know I will sleep like a rock!

After all of us have put up and stowed and stashed our gear we eat a quick lunch before heading out to work up the trail or back to finish up the first meadow. For a few tenths up the trail is in good condition, under the cover of the forest only some woody shrubs show any sign of encroachment. Right before another meadow lies a huge 3 foot diameter tree across the trail. Howard begins working on it. Knowing that it cannot be removed without months of swinging a Pulaski or a type of tool (cross-cut saw or chain-saw) that we don't have, Howard takes his time to put a step into it so it is easier to traverse. The next meadow is even worse than the first! It is nearly totally obscured in some places, with over hanging maples sagging into it as well. The Crew with the weed whips attack the meadow with a vengeance. A bit further ahead, between two meadows Josh and I come upon a very long tree across the path. From the path one can look up into the woods and see the the trees shattered trunk is ~150 feet up. There will be several cuts to get this off the trail, but it is green wood so the Pulaski is the tool for the job!

Josh and I first take turns chopping into the log here.
Then here, balanced on another log.
We continue chopping into the log. After the second cut the log is still too big to move or even leverage out of the way. It will take one more cut to make it manageable. But this evening it is not going to happen! We knock off at 5:30 and save the rest for the next day.
Josh, the cook at heart, begins making a macaroni and spinach dish that Joni has been raving about all week. They scored the missing secret ingredient from the kitchen at the restaurant in Stehekin the evening before. Besides making way too much the meal was planned perfectly! It was such a great back country meal!
A merry little fire crackled in the fire ring, giving us heat as the day cooled off. Joni, in her now characteristic way was freezing and got too close to the fire, an ember puts a hole in her Patagonia down jacket and later her pants!
After food is eaten and wine is drank, dishes are washed and bear bags are hung. I gladly go lay down on my earthen mattress, cradled by the sound of the river I slip off into sleep quickly.

Day 8 - Work day
June 24th Friday

I wake to a chilly morning! The elevation gain makes a difference this early. Liz and Bette are already up, with a warming fire going and coffee brewing. After dropping the bear bags we get out food for breakfast and lunch, and we cut up apples - trying to get them gone! Neither Liz nor Bette slept very well, as their tents were on a slight incline so they kept sliding down hill all night.
This is our first full day of labor, in that there is no extended hike to get to the work site and our day bags and lunches are staying in camp. We grab our gloves, water, and I grab a couple snacks and we head out to where all of us left off.In Josh's and my case we get back to the log, both of us doing something a bit easier for about an hour to warm up. Liz and I walk to the end of the next terribly over grown meadow and each of us pick a side of the trail and lightly and quickly weed whip our way back - this makes it a bit easier and much less intimidating on the next time through to do the finishing work. After working back to the log Josh and I take a few hours to get through it and move it off the trail.

Forward on the trail again to yet another meadow Josh and Howard work on a blow down as I go yet further forward still to the end of the meadows and after a few tenths of a mile I come back and weed whip the last meadow twice quickly on each side of the trail. I don't know how far forward the polishing will get, but I wanted to be able to at least say we finished the meadows.
At lunch we have a coffee break and I half-fix the loppers with a stick and some rope. Howard's idea of pulling down the cross and using the nail doesn't go over well and causes minor tension in the Crew.
I use the loppers for a couple hours after lunch right beyond camp, working very very slowly. I must say I hate the loppers! After 20 minutes of work you look back and see you have come 60 feet on the trail. So annoyingly slow. The worst part is that I could go back and do the same area for the same amount of time and still miss things. As I finish the worst 2 hours of the entire holiday Sanya walks up behind me and startles me - I was away in my own mind mulling over Howard's dis-like for crosses and my dis-like for loppers and how I missed Cara and how much longer until I got to stop using the stupid loppers. Sanya and I chatted for a bit before heading up the trail to find Josh.
I finally got to my pre-determined stopping point - about 600 feet of trail lopped - and hiked forward to the rest of the Crew. They were all stopped just prior to the last meadow, most everything else looking fantastic, wide open, and clear of debris. The CCTC really know how to make a trail look good!

We sit and talk with Sanya for awhile, she leaves an extra walkie-talkie battery and more nutmeg! It was very nice of her to come up and check in on us! I'm also glad she got to get up on a trail she hadn't been on and see what we had done.
At this point I hike to the end of the trail that we have seen to get GPS coordinates from my camera to give to Bill. As I wait for the camera to find the satellites, as it was being slow, I jogged up the trail to see if I could find 5-mile campsite. After jogging a quarter-mile further up and still not finding it I turned and walked back to our furthest point. Upon getting the coordinates we all walked back to the campsite.
The normal evening campsite routine ensued. Cooking, and chatting, hand-warming around the fire, finally washing dishes, brushing teeth and hanging food. After a long day of working hard without the relative ease of some of the day hiking in we were all pretty tired. I was glad we were finishing the following day. I was ready to get back to the valley floor.

Day 9 - Last Work day
June 25th Saturday

I continue the routine this morning of packing before I exit the tent. I slept well, but woke a few times thinking something was around. The ladies are up again with a fire going. I enjoy the fire and some coffee. As everyone packs up I wander around the campsite trying to absorb as many memories and feelings as I can. I want to carry this wonderful place with me. I want to be able to close my eyes on a cold winters day and instantly recall the sound of the water and wind, the smell of the river and forest, the soft caress of sun light filtered through a screen of maples leaves. This place is special, and will hold a special place in my mind and my heart. I walk into the Cathedral, possibly for the last time in this life.
I notice the shallow pool by the camp is even shallower, possibly the cooler last couple days has impeded the melt of the snow capped peaks. I hope across from rock to rock, turning to get pictures of the comfortable little campsite nestled in it's glade.

On the sand bar on the other side of the pool I find bear tracks. The picture doesn't do it justice, the claw and pad prints were completely defined in the pebbles of the sand bar. Last night a large bear went nosing through the campsite, probably 20 feet away from my tent! She had no interest in me, however. I guess the smells of our cooking made her investigate, or perhaps she crosses through here regularly on her nightly rounds.

After breakfast we pack up everything, before heading out we cache tools for whenever the next Crew gets up to these parts. We get the GPS position for the cache and hang the tools in a tree covered in plastic. We jokingly said we wanted to make a pirate map for Bill to find them - I think that would be a brilliant idea!
The remainder of the tools we took in hand to do some polishing work on the way down. With hiking poles lashed to our packs and tools in hand we went as a group slowly down the trail. We stopped in a few places to rack or weed whip the areas we deemed unfit. Most of the trail was fine, but we wanted the trail to be better than fine!
As we hiked down, again I often paused and gazed and these gorgeous sights that I would never see exactly as I saw right then, and may never see again. I couldn't let the last opportunity slip by just so I could make it to the bottom of the hill in record time. All of us were a bit nostalgic already, our pace was slow and full of stopping to smell the roses and see the sights. After a near flawless week filled with hard work, good talks, laughter, and cheer it was sad to be passing out of that back into society. Even as the reality of the place, the laid back nature of Stehekin, was just setting in, we packed our gear and head out.

At the bottom of the trail we lined up for a group shot. I asked Josh to move the truck over so we could set the camera at a good height for us to be gathered around the trail-head sign. After he parked the truck in it's new position a tiny chipmunk tumbled out of the wheel, shook his head and ran clumsily off! I think he was already making a home of it, or at least taking a nap in there!

Having one more night here in the valley before leaving in the morning, we went back to Harlequin Camp to the same campsite, and to hang out with the same frisky mule deer. We pitched our tents and took our turns taking piping hot showers. The water felt marvelous on sore muscles and dirty skin after being in the back country for a few days. I can see now how much I will appreciate a hot shower when I hike the AT!
After we cleaned and smelled less like sweat and more like flowers, Bill came by. He had an offer for Josh to go to him to Walmart. The real Walmart. In Chelan. By plane! Bill also mentioned something about taking others of us up in the plane if there was enough day light. I didn't get my hopes up for the second part, I was just happy Josh got to go! Bill and Josh left for the errand.
The rest of us took a cruise down to the landing. We bought some knickknacks for loved ones, and beer for the BBQ we were invited to at Bill's house in a little while. We sat on the deck, soaking in a very pleasant afternoon, drinking a beer. The views across and down Lake Chelan looked like an oil painting - the lighting impossibly perfect. After awhile of enjoying the moment we headed to Bill's.
In Bill's yard I could see a fire going in a pit to the side. His wife, son, and dog were waiting for us. We gathered and gave her our thanks. The picnic spread covered two tables, all the fixings one could think of, even chocolate chip cookies and other desserts. This families hospitality was astounding! I felt like they were welcoming us as family with open arms! We sat around the fire talking and eating, enjoying the afternoon.
A plane was heard. It's always easy to know when Bill gets home! A few minutes later Bill and Josh drive up, Josh has a big smile on his face, obviously a good experience. Bill says, "Who's next?" We all look at each other, and I suggest Shortest Straw. Liz, Joni, and I throw our names in on it. Bette and Howard abstain. I pull the first straw, I can't tell it's size. Liz and Joni both pull theirs - and theirs is the same length, meaning: I WIN! Giddy I get in the truck to head over to the air strip.

Bill explains the Husky is the bush plane used a lot in Alaska for being able to land on sand bars and having enough guts to get up and out of short valleys. The plane is a two seater, and I sit behind Bill. I get all strapped in and we have a quick radio check and safety check. Bill starts the plane and slowly makes his way down the runway, he mentions he has seen a bear fairly often at the end of the runway hanging out. No bear tonight though! Bill turns the plane around and we pick up speed, soon rushing down the strip, and then.... we are free from the constraints of gravity! At first I am apprehensive, looking and taking pictures helping to keep my mind off of the fact the in a vehicle lighter than my car I am soaring through the sky. Higher and higher we go, up the valley we I'd rode a bike a few days ago. The sun was incredibly bright, blindingly. The mountains on either side of us reflecting the evening glow. Below the tree tops a sea of dark green, in the distance and quickly approaching a small lake became visible. Bill continued to pilot the plane up the valley, pointing out Agnes Creek and following that valley. Beyond where we hiked the mountain-sides became impossibly rugged looking, snow and glaciers creeping down the sides of the mountains. Dead end valleys with waterfalls tumbling trough them called out to me. My mind jumped from apprehension and wonder to thoughts of exploration and awe. How hard would it be to get to those secluded places? When was the last time a human explored those places? Since there is no reason and no pass to cross I expect not many people have been in those secret places. I want to be in every one. I want to see every leaf and rock. I want to hold my arms to the sky and soak in the majesty of this land! The ride is intoxicating!

The higher we climb, the more apparent the snow covered tops become. In the valley I see a snow peak in the distance. Up here, this world apart in the sky, surrounded by these flying castles of snow, it is so apparent that another world is lost upon me. We crest a pass and get into Company Creek valley. Bill points out where 5 mile campsite should be located. He also points out the pass where Company Creek turns into Devore Creek Trail. The pass looks so tough! It is up an incredibly steep incline! Several thousand feet in a few short miles, looks very very tough hike. OH! I want to come back and do it! I want to taste, even briefly, this world in the sky with my boots on the ground!
Bill makes a few circles over Company Creek. I can see our trail! I can see where we cleared the meadows! I can even pin-point the Cedar Cathedral - awesome! I do get to see them again. The perspective of seeing everything I hiked in seconds rather than minutes or hours makes me marvel at the power of flight. As we head back towards the landing strip we bank out over the Stehekin landing and I see Bucknard Orchard below, it's much larger than I thought. The valley spread out below is beautiful, as we sink lower I can pick out details I have seen from the ground, rushing closer. As we hit the runway and begin slowing down I take a video, and I see several deer grazing to the side of the air strip. Bill executes the landing perfectly and soon enough I am climbing out of the bush plane, I am giddy, and speechless, all I can do is grin and thank Bill for the opportunity.
Back around the campfire in Bill's backyard Bill offers to make one more trip into the sky. Liz and Joni flip a coin. Joni wins. As they walk back toward the plane Bill pauses and calls Liz over. After a brief talk all three leave for the air strip. Come to find out, together they were light enough to cram into the back of the plane. He took both of them up at the same time! I'm very glad they got to both experience it! The joys of flight has a much newer meaning to me.
We stayed up later this night than any other the entire week. After many confections and some drinks we sleepily went back to the campsite just down the road and went to bed here in Stehekin for the last time.

Day 10 - Travel day
June 26th Sunday

The story draws to an end. Reliving through telling has been very good for me. Having these thoughts and memories floating around inside my head, ready to be half forgotten had me worried. I am sure I have forgotten many of the specifics of the trip already. What I haven't forgotten was what I felt when I was there. I really tried to convey that here in this blog, so years from now on some low-day, or during a cold snow-day, I can look back and fondly remember the feel of the Washington sun on my face, hear the rushing waters, see the nodding plethora of wild flowers in my minds-eye, and smell the pine trees. I hope I've learned something, not only from living the experience, but from re-writing it and reviewing it, and trying to boil down all the inane memories into something enjoyable to read, something that not only I can identify. Life is about learning and love. I constantly strive (aka struggle) for both in all things!
This last day went pleasantly enough, with all the packing and hustle of leaving a place. We stopped by Bucknard Orchard and read it's history and stepped back in time. The property was gorgeous, as it was from the sky the evening before. We made a few other short stops at the Bakery and the craft store before boarding our boat.

One final story about the giving nature of the people in Stehekin. A woman was celebrating her 90th birthday and wanted to see some Petroglyphs on the other side of the lake. Her grand-daughter asked if there was anyway her grand-ma could get a ride over. A token act of volunteerism was required, and the grand-mother got to have a cruise over with us as we were on our way out. I'm glad she had the idea, I'm glad we were able to go with her! To see ancient history painted on a wall and to know others had been here before and loved these mountains too...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Volunteer Vacation Part 3: Day Off

Day 6 - Off day
June 22th Wednesday

I just can't sleep in! Going to bed as early as we do every night makes for lots of sleep and an early rise just to get out of the tent. Fortunately Bette and Liz are also early risers, so I have good company while we wait for the others to rouse - Josh and Joni typically the last two to roll out by 15 minutes to 45 later. I don't mind though, I like relaxing over several cups of coffee and don't like to feel rushed.
This morning, being our day off, is especially relaxing. We have talked about what we wanted to do today. At first I thought about trying to do a strenuous solo hike, possibly hiking the Company Creek to Devore Creek loop, but after seeing how the trail is, knowing that the elevation gain would triple what we had already climbed, and knowing the mileage of 25 miles is as the crow flies - not including elevation (making it more like a 30 mile loop), I ditched the idea. I want to come back and do that loop... over the course of several days!
The evening before everyone had mentioned wanting to rent bikes. I had seen some bikes by the yurts that looked available to the trail crews, so we decided to check those out instead of renting a bike for $25 for the day.
Josh and Joni get up soon enough. We walk over to the yurts and check out the bikes. We find six that are in good enough condition to ride... but only just! Several don't change gears. Mine has only front brakes. Howard says he hasn't rode a bike in 30 years, and was a bit apprehensive about riding. He was going to take the truck and meet us where ever we were going if he didn't feel comfortable. But, as the sayings goes, he didn't forget. We all climbed on our bikes and biked across the trestle bridge and down valley towards the bakery. Since this was a free day no food was scheduled for the day, so I suggested we go to the bakery to pick up something for breakfast and lunch.

 The couple miles down valley to the bakery are incredibly pleasant. The morning air is crisp in the shade, and chilly when we pass by a creek - the glacial run-off water locally cools the area around the rushing of the water. We pass a sign for Bucknard Orchard on the right and Rainbow Falls on the left, the waterfalls is viewable as we pedal by it. We bike past the old school and the new before reaching the Bakery.
The experience of biking by the same things already driven by is very enjoyable. The breeze rushing by, the scents and closeness to surroundings brings everything in more focus. The old trucks, flower beds, lives and history of the people all become more apparent.
We park our bikes in front of the bakery and go inside. The sweet smell of baking goods fills the air in the shop. The display case has a large selection of huge delicious pastries covered in nuts, glazed in sugar, covered in fruit. All scream that they are the most delicious - I tend to believe them all! I settle on a sticky bun larger than a brick and coffee to wash it down. I also get two slices of cold pizza for lunch.
After we all leisurely eat we saddle back up. We have planned to cycle to Agnes Creek for an out and back hike once we get there, and a chance to see the PCT briefly. At breakfast we also decided to stop at the school house and Rainbow falls, since they were right off the road.
The old school house is unlocked and we walk in. There are historical displays inside, as well as pictures of classes past and a very old map of the world. Reading the history of Stehekin is very interesting. It doesn't take us long to read through the displays in the small schoolhouse.

A short ride later we take the cut-off to Rainbow Falls. The falls can be heard as a loud roar as we pedal to the trail head. The trail is very short to get to the viewing area for the falls. Later Bill explains that this trail was just completed a few months ago, allowing people to view the falls much closer up and in more of it's grandeur. The lower viewing area is gorgeous, and the temperature drops immediately by 10 degrees. As I take the trail to the higher viewing area, the trees begin dripping slightly then pouring like they are raining. The mist from the falls is thick, and drenching the trees. It becomes very cold! The view is gorgeous but so mist drenched I cannot linger! I snap a few pictures and even take a small video, but a few minutes is all I can take before I'm hurrying back to the warmth of the sun. The bracing coldness makes me feel wonderful! The warm sun dries me and my mind expands! I feel so ALIVE!!!

I pedal back down to the main road with a huge smile on my face. The ride back to Company Creek road goes quickly on the blacktop. Once there we continue up Stehekin Road, the road turning to gravel. Going up stream we go up hill slightly a lot. It doesn't seem like it, as the road goes up steeply and then has some descents. But we are constantly gaining elevation. Sometimes I ride in the front, and pedal hard to get in front and take pictures as the rest of the Crew catches up; at other times I ride in the back, slowly going and enjoying the surroundings and the day.
The road follows the river passing fewer and fewer homes and cottages as we go further. We pass beautiful sun-lite fields framed beyond in mountains, more wild-flowers by the roadside grassy swales and fields fill the view and complete the relaxation. Very little traffic passes a couple cars and the Park Service bus, everyone slowing and waving. We ride by the Ranch that we have heard about. There is supposed to be a restaurant there. The place looks great, cottages behind a field with the lodge behind.

The road passes through dark green forest bordering the river, and more open pine forest at slightly higher elevation. The road begins a more steep ascent, the river going from broad and winding to more narrow and much more swift. After some hard pedaling I arrive at High Bridge. This is where the Park Service bus makes it's last stop. We are also close to Agnes Creek Gorge Trail. Sanya is said to live at the Park Service cabin here. Very secluded, and very nice. I see a small water pump down in the river to bring water up to the cabin.
The bridge is very cool looking, over a high rocky part in the river. Here the river is noisy and has huge swells from the rocks just below the surface. After all arrive we decide to stop here for lunch and a few moments of relaxation after the stiff hill to get here.

After eating we cross the bridge and immediately run into a very steep hill. I know the trail should be very close, so I gear down and work hard to get the bike up the hill. Soon enough I cross the PCT and find the Agnes Gorge Trail. Happily, I get off the bike. A couple minutes later (the smart ones) Joni and Bette walk up the hill, "one look at the hill and that was it". Brilliant!
Bette didn't wear her hiking boots, so she has no plans to hike fast. So her and Liz hang back, Joni Josh and myself hiking off quickly in the front. The trail doesn't gain much elevation, mostly following the hillside elevation profile making for an easy trail. The 2.5 mile trail goes quickly - occasionally in old forest, other times the view opened up, leading around cliffs, crossing a few streams, and occasionally through hot meadows. In no time we get to the main attraction. The river goes through a squeeze, swirling and foaming over rocks, the other side of the gorge very steep. I climb down next to it and take many pictures. I climb over rocks and trees, looking down the river, beyond a few waterfalls and rapids, a waterfall streams down the cliff face joining the river. This marvelous glade is totally enchanting. Plenty of things to see and climb on over and around. Totally worth the hike out here!

 We stay for awhile enjoying the sights and sounds. Soon enough we head back down the trail. We stick together, I hang back to snap some pictures of the group. The hike is quick, enjoying the easy walking and light conversation.

 Back at the trail head we head back towards camp. Considering how long it took us to get there, we are expecting it to take as long. We are very surprised at how quick we get back. There was a lot more uphill to get to High Bridge. The uphill was deceptive though, and we didn't even realize it. Going back was smooth and easy. I got out front and tried to pedal as hard as I could, first to get photos of everyone, then just to go. I wanted to pedal hard and work my butt off for the fun of it. Liz kept up the entire way, neither of us were killing ourselves, just pedaling hard. I feel if she wanted to she could have passed me at anytime and left me in the dust!
Back at camp much quicker than expected, everyone but Liz and I took showers. We were just hungry and didn't mind going to dinner as dirt-balls! Once everyone was ready we climbed into the truck and drove to the Landing. Once there we met Bill's wife, whom works at the restaurant. Our server was a very nice woman by the name of Melissa. She mentioned her boy friend was hiking the PCT and I started asking a bunch of questions, "Where's he at on the Trail?", "Is this his first time?", "Did he meet you here while he was doing the Trail previously?". Bill was saying Stehekin is the last resupply stop for the final push to the termination of the PCT at the Canadian border.
We drank a few beers and had an excellent dinner. It was so nice to be served and not have to clean up dishes!
As we climbed back into the truck I got behind the drivers wheel and everyone else jumped into the bed of the truck, I got to chauffeur them all! Next time we used the truck I jokingly demanded that they all ride in the cab so I could have the back to myself!!
Back at camp I packed up as much as possible, transferring the gear I didn't want to carry into the back country into the duffel bag I planned on leaving in the truck. Tomorrow we backpack into the back country! I hit the pillow quickly, tired and content!

Next: Finishing Work