Friday, May 4, 2012
Tuesday, May 1, 2012
C. The third section recapitulates the initial theme in a more robust, vivid, climatic fashion -the Recapitulation.
I was anxious to get into town, as most any hiker usually is and I'd only been out 2 days. And most of these hikers hadn't seen a trail town for over a hundred miles. Unless they had shuttled or hitched into Gatlinburg, TN a week back in the Smokies -not exactly a trail town -they hadn't seen any town. There is Standing Bear Hostel near where I got on the trail that I hear kinda reminds you of civilization. Many or most hikers use hostels for resupply and a respite from the woods and weather. I just haven't been out there enough to use one. They provide vital services to the hiker -shuttles to a town, a roof, a kitchen, showers, laundry, little mini-vacations from the trail. Towns on the trail provide all the above plus US Postal Service, a full service grocery store (think ice cream), a vibrant nightlife as in saloons and women perhaps (let's face it -owls and fog just don't cut it for most young, unattached men after a few days), the occasional hiker-fed (oh yeah!) from a charitable organization, or even a music festival on a weekend perchance.
I packed, ate light, and headed down the ridge toward town after a drizzly, damp evening. It was an easy 4+ into Hot Springs.
As in Damascus, the trail goes right through the middle of town which is very practical for a pedestrian. I by-passed Smoky Mt. Diner in lieu of something perhaps more interesting down the street. I did hit the Dollar General right next door along with about a dozen other hikers. I had carried way more food than necessary because I'm new to this resupply, drop-box, bounce box game. I should have carried 2-3 days of food, sent a drop box to Bluff Mt Outfitters right down the street, on the trail even, and maybe grabbed a few things at the $Gen. As it was, I carried 8+ extra pounds of food across two mountains and 35 miles for no good reason except as a vaccination against future ignorance perhaps. Heck, the outfitter even had a nice little section of real, natural foods. That's almost too good.
So, I didn't need too much food even though the next trek was about 70 miles to Erwin, TN. I bought some sunflower seeds, raisins, a dozen eggs, and a pack of large tortillas. What I really needed was some thermals. I've misplaced my light merino shirt, and have not had any bottoms for a while. Of course there were more hikers in the outfitter than the $Gen. and the Canadian came in and told me "may be a little snow tonight according to the weather" I needed no convincing. Of course a little snow can be nice. It looks pretty in pictures and such. It was the side order of rain and sever wind that was supposed to be coming in with it that I sort of dreaded. Unfortunately, Jeff at MRO was out of the thermals I needed before I left, but BMO in Hot Springs had some nice 33Minus mid-weight. I also got an NGS map of the region mainly for night reading. The world famous white blazes are plenty enough to navigate by and I pulled my section out of AWOL's AT Guide book for an every so helpful almost mile by mile synopsis of the trail. If you're out for more than a day or two, you need it. The town maps, way point mileage, water sources, and elevation profiles are priceless. Maybe not perfect in every regard, but still priceless.
I hauled my loot across the street to the Spring City Grill for a hamburger, fries and pair of beers. And not no "who cares cause hikers will eat anything" burger and no big corporate beer neither. It was a burger with sprouts, avocado, provolone... (you get the picture) and a pair of Sweetwater 420 extra pale ales from the tap.
Plus, early Sunday PM live music. It's not much more than a hole in the wall with a porch by a creek, but put it on your list when you're in town. It's right across the street from the outfitter.
That didn't quite fill me to the top and the waitress suggested the coffee-sweet shop across the street. Meh. But as I was sitting there absorbing a brownie, I dodged a heavy rain shower. Afterwards, I bumped into Puddlejumper again who was out for a few days with knee pain and I bummed some duct tape for my feet. Then I repacked everything and headed out of town across the French Broad River back into the woods. T'was a gloomy day, but I was feeling fat and sassy.
Here's where the Development starts.
True, I sat out a rain at the sweet shop, and I hit the trail only slightly damp, but the weather was looking crappy with a forecast of crappier. It was warm enough at the moment, and you can boost you temp a bit by just picking up the pace if need be. But no matter how hard you walk, you can't make the sunshine. To live on the trail for very long, you have to make the sun shine from within. There was a little tent city on the trail by the river leaving town. On a fair day it might have had a more positive vibe. Not today though. It just made me think of people with few options. The trail soon turned up a cliff toward a promontory rock called Lover's Leap -about a 400' leap that would no doubt cure about any case of love sickness. From there the trail flowed gradually out of the river gorge into the woods and up. And up. Which is typical when leaving a gap or town of course. Not many people on the trail today. Thrus have a somewhat more flexible time window than a short sectioneer. Leaving a nice town on a bad day is kinda silly if you don't have to. Up behind me comes a stout gal, Darwin, I found out later. Looked like she could handle about anything headed her way. We were both toiling our way toward the Tanyard Gap area for the evening. The gap was only a few miles out of town by the highway and only 6 by the trail. If the weather did get too uncomfortable, it would be easy to bail, hitch back to town, dry out, and re-group. When I got there the cold and wind were starting to find their groove. It was starting to rain, the wind was whippin' and getting dark. Yeap, time to set up camp.
Wind is always an issue living out doors and more so when sleeping in a hammock You want to take every advantage you can squeeze from the terroir. I'm usually a good squeezer. I found a fair-sized, partially natural depression by the trail and road, good hanging trees, and almost no wind. Against the cold and rain -you do your best. I got in my bag and put on all my clothes. By morning, I could hear a little ice pelting my tarp. It was a rough night, but it never got really, really bad. 6.45 of 10 on the misery scale maybe.
Even when the rain and whatever stopped a little after daylight, it was hard to leave the relative warmth of my cocoon. When I did, I built a fire. Surprisingly,there was little trouble finding dry enough wood to get a good fire going quickly, although a little alcohol on the kindling helped. I built the fire on a rock about knee high up the side of the hill to cook on and warm by. The rock wasn't flat and I spilled 2 of the three eggs I put in my little skillet. I added one to what was left, cooked, wrapped and ate. My kilt was damp so I threaded the belt loops in a long pole and toasted it high above the flames. Warm clothes always feel good in the cold even if they are a little smoky. I packed and headed up the mountain.
It was less than a stellar day for me. My overall system had not adapted to trail life. Maybe I really wasn't getting all the calories I needed. I wasn't muscle sore but my energy and overall fitness just weren't what they once were. Maybe I was tired, and a little bummed about that. Mentally it wasn't turning out to be my day. The sun came out but the cold wind never stopped. I crept up Job Creator Mt (formerly Rich Mt) counting every 1/16 mile -one minute too hot, one minute too cold, one minute too hot and too cold at the same time. At the top, finally, I freakishly decided to blue-blaze (side trail) to the fire tower. Another guy and I climbed. There was still a little snow in the corners of the open cabin. We just couldn't stand the icy wind for any real time. But one thing stood out. A tall mountain ridge to the east with snow covering the top 500' of elevation. Wasn't sure which mountain it was, Big Bald maybe, but I was pretty sure we were headed for it. A compass and some gloves would have helped on the ID.
Up the trail, the Spring Mt shelter was packed at mid afternoon. I stopped to cook my standard fare -by now quinoa and dal. I gave some to Zephyr, a Siberian husky like my grand dawg only a male with a trail hardened look. I let him wash my cook pot too. I had no interest in staying at or even near the shelter. I could do a few miles to get lower and out of some of the wind maybe. On this leg I met up with Train and Big Bear. Amiable guys fun to hang out with. We all stayed at Deep Gap along with Smokehawk, his gal, and some others. In the gap, the wind wasn't too bad and I did one better. I dropped down a little further and eliminated the wind entirely from my camp space by hanging on the lea side of the slope. Found that hanging on a slight slope was also better for manipulating my gear while in my hammock.
Funny that it took me so long to figure this out, but the Hennessey I've hung in for years is a bottom enter/exit and sealed with a bug net above. My hammock for this trip is a home made rig by Bankheadboy. He gave me the hammock to try out 2 years ago and sadly I only recently got 'round to testing it. My bad. It has so much more room than a Hennessey, and an attached side pocket that I can fit half my pack into for easy access in the night, plus the ridge line can still be used for socks and stuff. For the tree ends, it has two, detached, heavy duty web straps that run through clinch rings and have you hanging in minutes -no knots. It lacks an integrated tarp but that's no biggy because for camping I like a little more room than Hennessey gives anyway and I usually put up a second tarp anyways. Lack of a bug fly may become an issue. We'll see. I borrowed Beth and Dan's under-quilt and it snugged to it naturally.
While I was out of the wind, it sounded like a train not too far up on the mountain behind us all night. I sat in my hammock the next morning and cooked a couple more eggs and found out alcohol fires are a little tricky to put out in leaves because the flames are almost invisible. So be careful out there, or carry a fire extinguisher.
I hit the trail slightly ahead of the others and the weather turned out pretty good for the day, an improvement at least. I stopped at Log Cabin Dr where a sort of backwoods hostel was aledged to exist. The others caught up and said they were going to walk the .6 miles to the hostel for a fried lunch. Their posted flyer said they were serving catfish hoagies. That was more than I could resist, plus I needed some water. I told them I would be along after I repacked my gear. So I'm walking up a little hill on a gravel road passing a log cabin about 30 yards off on the left. A man comes running out the door and says, "Hey, I have something for you." Sure enough, he gave me bamboo walking stitch that he had seasoned, stained and varnished. He said it was the first he'd given away that year. I don't usually use a stick unless I'm really tired, climbing steep, or in a rock scramble and need it for balance. At those times I just find one on trail that I can discard when finished. But this one is too nice to leave behind, I thanked him for it and I still have it. Never did find the hostel or the Train Gang, but returning to the trail, I met a big fellow who said he was getting off the trail at the hostel due to knee problems and he gave me his water and I thanked him profusely.
It was a long slow climb up into the Bald Mountains. I think there was a fire tower or observation tower on a blue-blaze, but I resisted the urge this time. But on Bald, I got into one of the prettiest rock scrambles I've been in. At the start of that section, there was a warning sign and and a blue-blazin', alternate route suggested in case of bad weather. That just made me curious. The trail snaked and crawled over half a mile along a razor sharp mountain ridge. One side flowed into a vast network of mountain hollers pretty much as God had made it and the other looked straight down onto a green patchwork of flat farmland about as far as you could see. It was pink possum awsum! I gotta go back there when I can. Maybe wait until the weather is a little more interesting. Actually, there was a pretty big dark cloud, flat bottomed like from Max Patch, that looked like it might be trying to stir up trouble down in the west. I didn't have time or desire to wait for trouble today so I kept moving.
The stick was a big help through here, but it didn't save all the eggs in my basket. Actually the eggs were in their styro-pac as I had bought them strapped to the back of my pack. As I was twisting through a particularly tight place in the rocks I heard that styro-pac rip. That couldn't be good. As soon as I came to a fair place, I set my pack off to assess the damage. When I did an intact egg roll out of its mooring, across the top of a good sized rock and over the edge with absolutely no hesitation. Without thinking, I grabbed it in mid-air, else I just don't think it would have survived the fall. There were two causalities though.
I walked out of the rocks back down into the trees with a slight hope of making it a bit closer to Jerry's Cabin shelter. Near darkness and the thought of that dark cloud coming across my ridge forced me to settle for hanging on a fairly steep lay about 30 yards down from the trail and ridge top. The rain poured all night long. By now though, rain hitting that tarp was little more than a lullaby.
At daylight the rain was gone. It was just elevation-appropriate cold and damp. I scrapped out a little flat spot with my machete for my stove on the mountainside and scrambled my last three eggs without incident. Slapped them on a big ol' white, trail-ragged tortilla with a generous dose of herbed -up Parmesan and had a birthday breakfast without having to exit my sleeping bag. If I'd had some greens and a tomato, I couldn't have done better in town.
Monday, April 30, 2012
|Looking back toward the Smokies from Snowbird and the lady from Cologne.|
She captured the relaxed and yet "alert" nature of the place never even having set foot there. Exquisite.
|Looking east from the east side|
|Looking back to the south from the east side|
A mossy burl.
A nice spring not far down for a fill-up.
End of part one.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Thought I'd better jot down a few notes on the fruit trees I'm putting in. We have a few acres of southern slope the has a natural gas transmission line across it. Two years ago they leased from me a 25' temporary easement to lay in a new line. Now that work is complete We're left with about 600' stripe of open area that I thought might be a good place to put in some fruit trees. I ask a friend and cidering expert, Tom Peterson about where to get some old varieties and he highly recommended Tim Hensley of Urban Homestead, practically in downtown Bristol. Sure enough, Tim was a great help and quite patient in helping me make selections for 17 trees. I ended up with 5 pear trees 1-Seckel, 2- Bartletts , 1-Moonglow, and 1 - Potomac. On the apple side (descriptions here), 3- Myers Royal Limbertwig, 1 - Calville Blanc D'hiver, 1-Arkansas Black, 1 - King David, 1 - Yellow Transparent, 1 -York Imperial, 2 - Goldrush, 1 - Winesap, and 1 - Grimes Golden. The weather has been unseasonably warm this winter and I hope this will give the bareroot stock time to catch up new root growth on what probably should have been a fall planting before the weather turns hot. Also as instructed, I pruned 1/3-1/2 last year's growth back to balanced the root stress of transplanting. Watering is of vital importance in their first year or two and I need to put in some time of drip system to help them along. I was unable to water them at planting, but we had a good soaking rain the day after and hope that will suffice. I have purchased 6" wove-wire fencing that I'm going to use to put a 5' hoop around each tree as deer are notorious fruit tree eaters.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Our good friend and ultrarunner Jenny hosted a wonderful dinner party for a few "Damascus-y types" just days before her BIG run at the Mountain Masochist Trail Run a few weeks ago. From hors d'oeuvres to dessert it was scumptious and matched only by her subsequent 9hr 45min finish time of those 53miles Masochist miles a couple of days later. Together -mind boggling, but she can tell that story.
Put into a pastry sack with a half inch nozzle and pipe out 3" lines of the foamy batter.
Bake 8-10 mins. They will be a little crisp and and little spongy.
Now the filling (recipe). Essentially it is a dalliance of whipping fat and sugar into a lather of ecstasy.
Let it cool slightly, add the mascarpone, and beat until smooth and creamy.
In another bowl. beat heavy cream until stiff. I used store-bought cream this time but plan to experiment. By hand with a spatula, folded these two together gently, until just barely of one color and consistency.
Back to the ladies. Put them all in a covered container larger than a quart jar, but smaller than a washing machine. A gallon jar is about right or slightly smaller. Add about a half a cup of some combination of coffee and chocolate liqueurs. I love coffee flavoring, but erring on the side of chocolate is a weakness of mine. Tumble them around until all the liquid is absorbed.
A 9" pan is too big for the volume these recipes produce. A 6" is probably too small. I'll have to experiment again on that also. You can drizzle in more liqueur if you think some are a little dry, but don't drowned them. Now carefully spoon about half the filling into the shell.
Dust the top with cocoa powder and put down another layer of ladies. (Yes, you can drizzle again.)
Spoon in the remaining filling, dust with cocoa powder again. Top the whole affair off with dark chocolate shaved off a bar with a vegetable peeler. You just made some of the best tiramisu on the planet.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Iron Mountain Trail Run
and Fall Camp-out 2011
Since our annual event was to begin on a Friday this year, I tried to pull things together at work as early as possible on the day of, but it was well past noon before I could actually head home. To exacerbate the rush and general giddiness of the day, I had done nary a smack of packing. Counting on my standing pack to be more or less camp & run ready, I dragged it out of the attic and quickly shifted seasonal gear and garb from spring straight into winter barely touching the clutch. According to the forecast, the trickster weather we've been tussling with all year it seems was about to deal off the bottom of the deck again with a forecast of light snow on the mountains that were still just beginning to try on some new fall outfits. Last weekend several of the group had got an early autumn baking the last few miles of our long run back into Damascus. Our transition and weather acclimatization this weekend was to be as subtle as a pie in the face.
Beth, our fearless leader for this event and most all of them really, made the arrangements for a more formal camping destination this year and booked our nebulous sized group for Grindstone campground. It proved to be a prophetically wise choice considering some of our prior venues that we might have revisited. Grindstone is a quiet, clean government facility at the foot of Mt Rogers near the divide of the Tennessee Valley and New River Valley watersheds. Since she lives just down the street, we carpool to as many events as we can. So within an hour of my hitting my doorstep, we had my vehicle packed to the gills with camping gear and runner chow to last a couple of days. We headed for Damascus and the mountain beyond.
After an hours drive, we checked in with campground management and were directed to campsite 40. We set up camp, scavenged firewood from a nearby tornado patch, and brought the stew to a boil. Rob showed up from N. Carolina, and before dark, Jason who has been to several if not all the fall camp-outs, rolled in from Tennessee with a good supply of dry seasoned firewood. Jason is a mountain biker and was hoping to find a new trek to explore leaving us to the running. Several runners couldn't make it until the next morning but the four of us indulged in non-stop runner chitchat and unabashed carbo-loading well into the unseasonably chilled night. The weather shamans had accurately envisioned rain by 10pm and with temps slicing down through the 40s who knew what we might wake to.
My average weekly milage has been below what I've done in past years since last winter. I've gotten back to a regular schedule of running this past month hoping to let consistency develop into runs of longer duration. I'm beginning to feel safe and confident with mid-teens distance if I take it easy. For the first day this weekend, I planned to make an early start after daylight, 60-90 minutes ahead of the group and given their speed over ground, anticipated them catching me 12-15 miles into the 20 or so planned miles. The second day, I'd do a lot less, 8-12 if I hadn't broken anything the day before.
I had a good night's sleep. Light rain and drizzle for at least a few minutes it seemed about every half hour. I started putting my run together about 7 am. With the weather change , clothing becomes an issue. It seemed way too early in the season to be thinking about tights, but tights and shorts felt good,especially when then first sleet shower began just after daylight. Our elevation at campsite was about 1700' lower than the highpoint of today's course and with temps already flirting with freezing and wind a given, things could get downright nasty up at the top. Also making a return to the wardrobe -a compression short-sleeve and plain technical long-sleeve under a Torrent shell. Socks were short wool Icebreakers and tall Darn Tough wools. Shoes were Montrail Masochists -well beyond prime, a knitted wool toboggan, 1 20 cent glove and one $7 glove rounded out the clothing. Since I knew some springs along the way, 2 hand-held water bottles would be adequate even though I'd be out there 6hrs or more.
I started out alone just after 8am. The trail leading out of the campground up to the Mt Rogers Trail had caution tape and blocked by an official sign saying simply “CLOSED”. “How Closed” it did not say. Really? Very Closed? Mildly Closed? Closed to tourists in sandals? I ducked through the tape and kept on jogging. In a tenth of a mile I had only encountered a small blow-down or two until I came to the tornado patch. Last April, our region was hit by several very powerful tornadoes -quite rare since mountains are decidedly not tornado-friendly topography. The trail was closed after all. VERY CLOSED. CLOSED with sugar on top. There was in front of me a half dozen acres of twisted, splintered and downed timber -enough to make a chainsaw faint. I picked my way around the upper edge of the ruin and found the main trail leading up the mountain in less than a quarter mile. It was an easy bushwhack – about Class 2 I'd say – No trail, but open woods, not very steep.
Once on the main trail, I began to make a little better time, but wasn't feeling as spry as I would have liked, plus I didn't want to push too much to soon so I jog-walked the steady moderate grade up to the ridge shelf where the Lewis Fork trail would spur to the east and continue up to the crest zone. By this point I was picking up patches of snow on trees still green with summer.
Somewhat spooky looking actually. We've had enough unusual aberrations in the local weather this year, high powered tornadoes, several more 90°+ days than usual and now and early snow even for this elevation. None by themselves would make you think much, but the frequency of these events at least is giving weathermen job security.
After a little bit of downhill from the ridge shelf, I get on the Lewis Fork Trial -primarily a horse trail but not too many muddy patches. It has a good grade and is not too technical. The weather begins to lean more toward snow flurries and less drizzle as I climb. As I finally break into the crest zone,
I'm greeted by a small herd of longhorns -half a dozen mommas most with calves on them. The calves were totally curious, but the mommas were skiddish and easily scared off the trail. I used some diplomacy as you don't want a momma to feel like her calf is threatened -especially if she has 18” horns growing out the sides of her head. I took a gel-break as I came to the intersection of the Pine Mt Trail a little ways further. Turning toward Scales, between the snack and the downhill,I began to feel more in the groove.
It was 2 miles into Scales and I expected some activity there, but of three camping trailers, all seemed to be empty. Without really slowing down I proceeded southbound on the AT up Stone Mt. The wind and snow while by no means severe, weren't conducive to standing around gaulking considering the open exposure.
It's only a short climb to the open ridge line and a very pleasant mile or so through open fields. The trail then ducked back into the woods, which blocks the wind and the snow dies down as I drop elevation.
After a few minutes the sun popped out. It lasts about 2 minutes.
By the time I came out into the little clearing, just before Wilson Creek the season and scenery looked more like fall than winter. Near Wise Shelter I refilled my water bottles and a little later bumped into a person backpacking. He was doing the same loop I was on in the opposite direction.
As I began the climb up Wilburn Ridge, I met 4 more backpackers and by the time I went through Massie Gap it was a regular traffic jam of hikers and packers headed in both directions. I figured I might see a soul or two out today, but I saw at least 2 dozen. Wilburn Ridge with a little weather is good place to put a little polish on your Bad-ass Badge. It's a rocky, rocky, climbing trail -highly exposed with wind in your face or from the left, but about as good a view as you'll find in the east.
By the time I hit the high point of the run around 5300', the wind was whippin' in the clouds and fog, and there was still a little snow and ice to keep things interesting. I had been expecting the gang to catch me somewhere along through here. They might have gotten a later start, but even a half hour late they would catch me somewhere down the north face of Rogers. I figured traveling at 4 miles an hour for them and 3 for me we'd meet at mile 12 with my one hour head start. But by mile 14, I had seen no sign of them following me up the ridge. I left a mark in the snow to show them I'd headed down into the laurel on the Pine Mt Trail from Rhododendron Gap.
I ended up eating all three gels, a handful of dates, and drained my second round of 50z of water before I made it back. That was about right, as I never felt especially tired anywhere along the way. I was comfortable most all the way.
My cheap glove did as well as the expensive one -after mile 15, both hands suddenly got cold, but were only cold for a mile or two and then my feet got cold for a short spell too even though they already had been wet for several hours without notice. As I came back down into the bushwhacking section, I took a different short cut, otherwise it would have been a full 20 miles. By the time the rest of the gang showed up, I was standing under a hot shower at the campground bath house. They intentionally had taken a left at Rhododendron Gap which added about 2 miles to their route. I was close to 7hrs on my feet and I still felt pretty good at the end. So taking it easy paid off and I feel a marathon or 50k is not too far out of reach at this point.
We ate and talked and laughed continuously until turning in for the night. The weather dried some, but stayed cold all night. Jason fixed a hearty breakfast (including bacon) the next day but we decided that yesterday's run had been so special, that running anything today would detract from that experience. So, we packed our gear and headed down the valley.