Friday, December 18, 2009

Mount Rogers Nat'l Recreation Area, VA, September 2008

Our Trail Crew

Back in the day of living in North Carolina, my friends and I tried to go backpacking at least once a month. Occasionally A-ha and I would squeeze an extra trip or two in each month, but as a group we'd go once. This month we went to the tried and true Grayson Highlands of Virginia. If you've never been, GO. The raw, natural beauty of this place could make a believer out of the most devout atheist. I've always felt closer to God out in woods. I don't know why. I feel out of place in a church, but in the wilderness its almost like He is there hiking with me. Ann got me a really nice compact Bible that I carried with me all summer on every trip I took. I would read it while relaxing in my hammock every night. Just thinking about it makes me miss it even more.
On to the trip! We had seven guys on this hike, my assistant scoutmaster Dennis, my good buddy Derek, then the usual Fat, A-ha, Grady, Puffy, and myself. We stopped in Chick-fil-a and grabbed a bite to eat before heading out, and as we left they were giving away free gallon sweet teas! They gave each of us one! SEVEN GALLONS OF SWEET TEA!!! It was awesome!!! We arrived up at Grayson Highlands State Park at night, as we always do on group trips, and this particular trip was exceptionally foggy. We set up shop just north of the Wise shelter. After setting up our shelters and making dinner, we hit the hay. We got up the next morning, heading to Scales where we ate lunch. From there we hiked up the Crest Trail to Rhodendron Gap and then on to Thomas Knob.
Up on Thomas Knob we dipped into Fat's "stash". Being a glutton for punishment, Fat always carries a sixty pound pack, regardless of how short the trip. On this particular hike, he carried out a half-gallon of Captain Morgan's spiced rum. This is probably going to sound a little disgusting, but Captain Morgan's and Crystal Lite makes for a pretty tasty drink. If you use freshly filtered water it is actually pretty cold and fairly refreshing. We built a fire, made dinner, worked on the rum, and had a good campfire conversation.
After a little reading and then some sleep, we got up, broke camp, and headed for our ritual destination after a Mount Rogers. The Log House restaurant for some LOG DOGS!!! These things are amazing! Quarter pound hotdog with chili, mustard, onions, and slaw....mmmm...mmmm...good! I've hiked in that park a million times and that is where we always finish! Check'em out!
After lunch we drove a little further up the rode, busted out the bibs and helmets, then headed below the surface into Robert's Cave. This cave has two entrances, one you can walk in and then there is the "mole hole", a small tunnel you have to crawl on your belly. Much better way to feed the need for adventure! After we crawled around the cave for an hour, we washed up in the creek across the road and headed home! This was probably one of my favorite trips, just given all the fun we had and the good group of guys we had go with us!
Fat heading in the "Mole Hole"
Derek and Puffy in the "Mole Hole"
Derek and I exploring the cave
Fat hanging on a stalagmite
Puffy crawling out of the "Mole Hole"
Derek, Puffy, and A-ha washing off the mud in the creek

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

National Camping School, May 2009

This past summer I was the High Adventure Director for a Boy Scout camp in North Carolina. Before I could do this, I had to get nationally certified as a trek leader. In order to do this, I had to spend a week out on the coast of North Carolina, sit in a classroom forever, but we got to go on a little trip. We originally planned on paddling from Harkers Island to Cape Lookout, camp there, then paddle up to Ocracoke, camp there, and then paddle back to Harkers.
We got out to Harkers and had 19 mph sustained winds with gusts up to 26 mph. This gave the sound 2-4 foot swells. Definitely not the ideal paddling conditions. Of our group of seventeen, four of us wanted to go out. A few of the guys in the course were from land-locked states, and did not want to chance tides and rough conditions. Two-thirds of the sound are less then three feet deep, but there was no convincing the rest of the group. Instead we went to lunch in the town of Beaufort, walked around a bit, saw a cemetary from the 1700s, then went to Fort Macon and took in a little more history. After scoping that out, we went to the Croatan National Forest and set up camp along the White Oak River. The next morning we got up packed everything into our kayaks and went for a leisurely paddle to the "sea".
Most of my experience kayaking is whitewater, small boats that turn quickly and fast, unforgiving water. This trip was my first experience in one of the big ol' bus-like touring kayaks. The first thing they asked our group was "who has paddling experience?" Then the next thing they said was "if it was whitewater, throw everything you think you know about paddling out the window, it won't save you here". For instance, whitewater boats have solid pegs to brace off of to aid in balance, but touring boats have pedals that turn a rudder to help steer the huge contraption they call a boat. Well this put a huge damper on balance, every swell we hit when trying out the boats in the bay, I would try to brace for it and just end up turning. Not cool. Very frustrating. Fortunately, we didn't have to worry about swells on the White Oak.
I love to help and lead, so getting started I helped everyone get in their boats, get their sprayskirts attached, and put them in the water. I was the last one in, then immediately paddled to the front to see what was going on. Then paddled to the rear to see how far we were spread out. The guys in the back were just floating, not wanting to waste energy, boring as could be, so I paddled back to the front. I started to get hot, so I took my PFD off to take my shirt off and it felt so good I didn't want to put my PFD back. I ended up paddling the last two miles topless, and it was amazing!

After we got off the White Oak, we went up to Emerald Isle, NC and put the boats in the ocean. Waaaaaaaaay harder than I expected. You have to time the waves (which come in threes, I learned) and paddle like hell. Only about eight of us tried, only two succeeded. My problem was my sprayskirt. It wasn't neoprene like my whitewater skirt, so when the breaker came over the boat, it would pop the skirt off. The next wave would fill the boat with water. This makes balance almost impossible. The next wave would flip you, if you hadn't flipped already. One of the guys from a land-locked state had never gone swimming in the ocean in his life. He had never heard of a rip current before. Needless to say, my younger brother and I went baywatch style out to get him. Now, you never, ever go out for someone if you're not properly trained. Fat and I were both in PFDs from playing in the boats and know a thing or two about the tides. I've never had anyone thank me so much in my life as this guy did. When we explained to him what was going on, he said "shouldn't the ocean come with some kind of a warning?" We spent a little more time playing in the ocean before heading to a steakhouse where our instructor bought everybody's dinner. Super nice guy! By the end of the trip, I was talking to the camp director (who is a personal friend of mine) about acquiring one of the camp's old boats. Definitely a good idea for the Charlotte area where there is a shortage of nearby whitewater. Even better for the Dallas area where there is lack of hills so there is NO whitewater. I think everyone should give a try. Hope you enjoy the pictures!

Monday, December 14, 2009

St. Augustine, FL, September 2006

A few days after getting a cast cut off my left leg, my family departed on a trip to Florida for our first family trip in five or six years. Our destination? Disneyworld! Yaaaaaaaaay, no. Unfortunately at the time, I was a little grumpy about my broken leg. I did not have time to stretch my achilles back out. My left calf was smaller than my forearms. Basically, I was not a happy camper. I very much prefer National Parks to theme parks. So to make the trip a little less miserable for me, on the way home we got to stop in St. Augustine!!! I was excited about this!
Founded in 1565, this is the oldest continually occupied European settlement and port in the continental United States. In this gem of a historic port, is the oldest man-made structure in the continental US, a fort by the name of Castillo de San Marcos. Its construction is pretty amazing. Instead of being built out of brick like many forts, the Castillo was built out of coquina. The word means "little shells", and this is because the "stones" used to build the fort are actually sea sediment mixed with concrete. Whenever a cannon ball would strike the fort, it would essentially absorb the ball instead of shatter like conventional brick. This enabled the fort to never exchange hands under seige. Anytime the fort went from one nation's occupation to another, it was always due to treaties. The Seminole chief Oceola was held prisoner here, briefly, before being taken to Fort Moultrie outside of Charleston, SC. Well, if you know me at all, you understand that I fully soak up the historical stuff. If you manage to stop by on a weekend day, the volunteers that help operate this historic landmark even perform a cannon firing drill. Let me tell you, makes one heck of a BOOM!

Visable across the bay from the fort is the St. Augustine
Lighthouse. The lighthouse is on Anastasia Island, and was built in 1874. When we were there I had a creepy feeling about the place. About a week later I saw it on the show "Ghost Hunters" and completely understood why it was creeping me out. It was a neat place to visit, though. Definitely recommend this town if you're ever passing through!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Uwharrie Nat'l Forest, Spring 2006

So for those of you who didn't know, I'm a bit of Jeep addict. The "country boy" side of me is really enthusiastic about working on 4x4s, finding a big ol' mud puddle and making as big a mess as possible. A short trip Northeast of my home in Union County is the Uwharrie National Forest. Here they have seventeen miles of Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails. Actually, this forest has way more to do then just play in the mud. There are horse trails, foot trails, campgrounds, shooting's pretty much a redneck wonderland. I love it!

This particular trip, we decided to go for a romp in the mud. I drove my 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee (probably my favorite car I've ever owned), my little brother drove his 1994 Jeep Wrangler (my Jeep from high school), and a friend drove down from Virgina Tech to go with us, driving a 1991 Jeep Wrangler. We loaded up a cooler and grill and headed off for a day of fun.

We were splashing through mud, crawling up rocks, just having a blasty blast! A few miles into the trails, we found a fun little rock to "flex" our suspensions on, and while Fat had his Jeep on it, his motor cut off. He tried to fire it off and it wouldn't go, so we decided to roll it down the next hill and try to pop the clutch. No go. So now we had a dead Jeep blocking the trail at the bottom of two fairly steep hills. While we tried to figure out what was wrong with it, one of the tires went flat. Several people passing by on ATVs told us one thing after another of what it may be. So we would drive 30 minutes to the nearest town, buy a part, drive back, try it, not work, go back to the store, exchange the part, try a new one, not work, and repeat the process. It was getting close to dark and Puffy needed to get back for work so we decided to tow it out ourselves and leave it in the parking lot over night.

We hooked Fat's Jeep to Tones's and started to long trip out. At the top of the hill, we unhooked the tow straps, Tones went down to the bottom and I was gonna roll forward and nudge Fat to get him rolling down. He motioned me forward and then yelled "STOP!" Then he and Puffy fastened their seat belts and motioned me on. "YEEEEEEEHAAAAAAAAAW!!!!" was yelled as they bounced down the rocky hill with no power steering or brakes. Fat was eating this up!

We got him to the parking lot and a guy walked over who knew exactly what was wrong. We didn't have time to go to the store again so we headed home. The next day Fat and Pops went up with a trailer and hauled the dead Jeep home. He put the part the guy said it was on and still no go. Fairly irritated Fat took the part back and the parts store employee told him that Wranglers built in early 94 still had leftover 93 parts on them. He exchanged the 94 part for the 93, took it home, bolted it on and the Jeep fired right off! He was so happy he started humping the back end of the Jeep and needless to say my mom was a little disturbed watching him from her bedroom window, haha.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Charleston, SC, April 2007

Back when I lived in North Carolina, I tried to visit Charleston semi-annually. It is quite possibly my favorite place in the United States, and up until I met ANN, the only place I would have considered living other than Charlotte. My best friend from childhood (who is also going to be my best man) moved to Charleston right after 10th grade. I spent my junior year spring break down there with my buddy, and have tried to go back at least once, if not twice, a year. If you've never been, I HIGHLY recommend you go.
(Puffy w/ cannon @ Battery Park)

The drive from Charlotte to Charleston is about 3 hours and 15 minutes. This makes for a long day trip, but always worth it. I usually take the back roads on the way down and the interstate on the way home. I have no idea why, it just seems to always work out that way. I love the back roads because they take you through small towns and past old plantation houses dotted along the Santee River. Plus Ryno's house is right off the main "highway" if you come into Charleston this way.

We started off by driving to Battery Park, which is situated right on the harbor. From here you can see the waterfront and looking out towards the Atlantic, Fort Sumter. This is where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired. (If you didn't know, I'm a sucker for history) Besides the beauty of the massive trees and murky harbor, there are some of the most beautiful and historic homes in the country lining the park. We walked amongst these massive houses along cobblestone streets, soaking up the atmosphere. There are usually basket-weavers on the sidewalks and an occasional musician or artist. On the other side of the historic district from Battery Park is the Slave Market. Of course, slaves aren't sold here anymore, but there is still a lot of bargaining going on. Where slaves were once put on display and haggled over, there are now many tables with novelty goods to haggle over. When we finished walking around the historic district, we hopped in the car and crossed the Cooper River.

On this side of the river is a place called Patriots Point. Docked here are the USS Yorktown, USS Clamagore, and the USS Laffey. At the time we visited, The Coast Guard Cutter Ingham was also docked here, but moved to Miami in 2009. We payed the entrance fee and get this...YOU GET TO RUN AROUND THESE SHIPS UNSUPERVISED!!! Naturally there are some parts of the ships that are off limits, but for the most part you get free roam of them. The Yorktown is a carrier, the Clamagore is a submarine, and the Laffey is a destroyer. Good times were had by all!

A brief history lesson on the Yorktown. The ship sitting in Charleston Harbor is not the original carrier named the Yorktown. The original is sitting on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, a casualty of the Battle of Midway in WWII. She was a flagship and the US did not want the Japanese to know that they sank one of our flagships, so they renamed the
Bon Homme Richard (which was being built at the time) the Yorktown.

I can't wait for my next opportunity to return to the "Holy City". I don't believe ANN has ever had the full experience, so maybe I can take her there and show her what all Charleston has to offer!

(Ryno on the Yorktown)
(Me on the flight deck of the Yorktown)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Linville Gorge, November 2008

(Left to right: A-ha, Gray-o, the Yankee, Puffy, and myself)

Oh what a trip this was! Linville Gorge, nick-named the "Grand Canyon of North Carolina", is 1400 feet deep and named for John and William Linville, two explorers who were scalped by the Cherokee Indians in 1766. We had decided to hike here because of its wilderness status and unrivaled landscape.
After adding people to our list of adventurers, then some backing out, I was getting a little flustered about the unknown head count. Then two of the guys who were planning on going wanted to bring the women in their lives. One of the girls had been backpacking once, and the other never had before and had ankle problems. I let them know that if they really wanted to go hiking with their girls, they could take them to Cold Mountain and the rest of us would go to the Gorge. Well that turned out to be a crime on my part. Next came accusations of being a sexist and having "issues with women" and blah, blah, blah. What was worse was the fact this slander wasn't even coming from the girls, but one of the guys who I considered to be a good friend. After explaining that the fact they were women had nothing to do with it, and I did not want them to tag along this trip was because of their lack of experience, physical condition, and the harsh, unforgiving terrain in the gorge, my friend felt rather dumb. Then he tried to turn it around on me and said "You should have said that to begin with." More like he "shouldn't have jumped to conclusions and gotten his panties in a wad."

Anyway, final head count ended up being five. We made it to the trailhead at about 11pm. We hiked in on the Pinch-In trail, a mile and a half along a ridge that drops 1200ft in that short distance. A pretty gnarly fog had rolled in and at the higher elevations you couldn't see farther than four feet around you. We were losing each other in the fog, only being able to see the floating orb of light that was a headlamp. About halfway down I took a step near the side of the trail, and a grouse flew out of the bush next to me and nearly took my head off. Scared me to death! Nearing the bottom, my quads were beginning to give out with every step I took. If I tried to step forward, my legs would want to sit down. When we arrived at the bottom, we reached what we thought was the flattest spot possible and set up for the night. Exhausted we ate some dinner (including Jiffy Pop as an appetizer), finished the beer we hiked in with us, and called it a night.

The next morning we got up and after a brief scouting, we found if we had hiked about twenty yards further, there was an actual flat spot to camp. We felt pretty dumb, haha. Everyone's legs were still pretty beat from the night before, so we decided rather than lug all of our gear up the other side of the gorge, we'd just set up camp on the flat ground and day hike. Then instead of day hiking, we opted to rock-hop up the Linville River. Good times were had by all, ha! We went up river until we got hungry, then climbed up on the bank and hiked back to camp. Saturday evening brought snow, which made me very thankful that I had brought a tent and not my hammock.

Sunday morning we got up, filtered some water, ate breakfast, broke camp, and then started our mile and half 14ooft climb up the western side of the gorge. This was by far, the most painful hike I've ever taken in my life. It was exceedingly hard to hike up, having to take a break every ten steps or so. Once we broke the tree-line, the trail's name was easy to understand. As it followed the crest of the slope, about three feet to either side of the trail (where the ridge "pinched in") was a 75 degree downhill slope, dropping 400 feet to the bottom of the Gorge. Needless to say, that stupid grouse could have killed me! This revelation made me completely re-think ever hiking after dark in a park I've never visited. Once we all made it to the top, we hopped in the cars, drove into town and hit up the first all-you-can-eat buffett would could find. I haven't been back to Linville Gorge since then, but I definitely plan on it someday.

Joining the Ranks

I gave blogging a shot back in the spring, but that was an attempt to be closer to the love of my life. After spending the summer with her and then marrying her in September, I did not feel the need to type anything 'cause she already knew what was going on in my life. She's asked me several times to blog again, and so now I've decided to give another try. Since I now live in Texas, I plan on writing about things I did when I lived back in the land of the pines. It may be camping trips, it could be random road trips, or even something as simple as what is going on now that I'm in the Lone Star state. Whatever it turns out to be, I hope it turns out to be entertaining!