Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
U.S. Southern States road trip - 5000 miles from April through May, 2005
Here's my journal entries as mailed to the Travels and Trails group along the way but then edited for spelling, grammar, and clarity.
The first few days of reports seem like running errand to errand. But, some are fun errands and others are just necessary errands. When I get further south, I hope to have more interesting reports as I do more travel and tourism and less driving to get to a certain destination. But, I'll be sending these reports out for those people who are just trying to keep track of me, anyway.
On Wednesday, Weathercarrot (WC), a friend from the long-distance hiking community, arrived in Boston from Maine. He'll be accompanying me all the way to Asheville, NC. It'll be really nice to have company for such a long, albeit interrupted, portion of the trip.
Thursday, March 31 - Boston to Pleasant Valley, NY
We woke up, loaded the car, and were on our way by 8:00am. With four stops to make, we weren't actually leaving Boston until almost 9:00. Then, we drove most of the way to East Hartford and ran a few more errands before finally arriving at my mother's house. We met my Mom and my sister there. The four of us went for lunch. It was great to see them and I took the opportunity to have some of my favorite pizza. The style of pizza in the area is nothing like what I've had elsewhere.
We said good-bye, kept going, and stopped in Danbury to try to see a friend of WC's (and acquaintance of mine) there. But, while he wasn't there, another friend of WC was so we had a nice, though short visit with her.
While WC was paying close attention to the snow situation en route, I was noting a plethora of hawks as we drove. I spotted at least a few in the sky, and some on branches.
We finally arrived at my friend Skeeter's place in Pleasant Valley, NY. We hung out there and stopped at the local library for a quick email check. The library in this small town is also small with four internet capable computers. It's also the kind of library where librarians and patrons are on a first name basis. It's housed in an old house and has almost a homey feeling to it. It's quite nice, everyone was friendly, and the studious avoidance of eye contact was absent amongst the other internet users.
Dinner at a Chinese Restaurant was great. Dessert at McDonald's was, well, McDonalds.
We spent the evening swapping trail stories. I think all three of us were nursing cases of Springer Fever by the time we went to bed.
Friday, April 1 - Pleasant Valley, NY to Gettysburg, PA (en route to the Blackburn Trail Center)
Another day with many errands en route to the Blackburn center. Once again, snow and hawks seemed to capture our attention as we drove. There are still many hawks in the area including at least two within a short distance of each other sitting in the grassy median strip between northbound and southbound lanes of I-81. WC was happy to see quite a bit of snow on the ground on the higher plateaus in PA.
We've run a bunch of errands today. The latest of which is a stop here in Gettysburg to find the library and use the computer.
Here in Gettysburg, in the midst of many older buildings, this library is quite large and housed in a modern brick building. IDs were required to get access to the computers but each user is given an hour of time. I have two kids no either side of me, one playing games, the other, I have no idea, but it might just be email.
We still have a few more errands to run today on the way to the Blackburn Center. On this trip, I will not be spending time exploring the historic parts of Gettysburg.
I know I will not have internet access tomorrow. Stay tuned to Sunday or beyond for more.
I'm sitting in the Erwin train station that has been converted into a library. I'm sure trains have gone by on the active tracks right outside the window but I haven't noticed. It's either well insulated or I've been completely absorbed while replying to some emails.
Anyway, since last Friday...
Friday, April 1 (continued)
We left Gettysburg, stopped for yet more errands, drove past Harper's Ferry, and finally arrived at the Blackburn Trail Center at about 5:30. As usual with any collection of hikers, it was a great reunion. Dinner was spent catching up with friends and discussing new business in an informal manner.
Saturday, April 2 - Blackburn Center. Steady rain and thunderstorms.
Spent the entire day in the ALDHA Spring Steering Committee Meeting. It was a really good day for a meeting. For the most part, it was pouring out the whole day. Thunder and lightning also contributed here and there. The meeting went well and ended before 4:00. A nice surprise.
After dinner, once we could get the equipment up the hill (a flooded road blocked the car's passage), Weathercarrot's PCT video made quite the impact on the group. I think half the room was ready to take off for Campo.
Spent time working with Ginny on recovering a lost file from JohnO's laptop which turned into a really nice way to sit, talk and catch up with each other.
Sunday, April 3 - Blackburn Center to Kincorra.
Lost an hour's sleep last night but had a nice relaxed breakfast with everyone. Said our good-byes and hit the road at the crack of 10:30. (But, really, it was only 9:30 ;-). It was snowing as we left. As we drove out, the road that had been flooded the night before was still flooded but easily forded even with my front wheel drive wagon.
We stopped in the Clover/Trout/Dale/Ville area but saw no hikers and the outfitter there was closed on Sundays, too.
Our next stop in Atkins was fun. We were there just to look for hikers. It's always fun doing trail magic. So, we surprised two hikers when we pulled up right in front of the motel where they were hanging out and offered some home baked cookies. Early Bird and Indy were there. Indy staying the night and Early Bird just hanging out until she left for the next shelter, just three miles out of town.
Our next stop, in Damascus, was great. Weathercarrot ended up with a new sleeping pad, we met up with Lone Wolf at Dot's, did some trail magic for a few hikers at the Place, and found yet another 2004 PCT hiker for WC to add to his list.
From there, we went to Kincorra to spend the night. It was great to finally see the hostel. I hadn't stayed there during my thruhike in 1999. The place was almost fully packed. It was also fun to meet Bob and Pat Peoples. Turns out they had grown up in the Boston area and for Pat, even more specifically in both Medford (where I live now) and Worcester (where I went to college).
I wasn't hungry enough to finish my dinner but when you're with thruhikers, nothing goes to waste.
It was a lot of fun hanging out with the hikers but it really made me want to hop on the trail. I just have to keep reminding myself that I will be on the trail, albeit, the Pinhoti Trail, on Thursday.
Monday, April 4 - Kincorra to Hot Springs
I guess I'm really not on a hiker's schedule. Even being in the big bunkroom, I was still one of the last ones up.
Packing up and breakfast was easy given that I have to bring so little into the hostel itself. Having my car there can really simplify things.
From Kincorra, it was a quick trip to visit Fred and Dixie. They are friends of WC who hiked the trail in 1995. They have a beautiful house just off the ridge from the AT that they designed and built just five years ago. We hung out a bit so they could catch up with each other. There were a bunch of deer at the edge of the meadow across from their home.
From there, we headed to Erwin. It was where I earned my trail name, Stitches, during my thruhike in 1999. Just before we got to town, we had to brake hard to let a deer cross the road. Thankfully, we left no skid marks on the road, and the deer left no fur on my grill. Phew!
In town, we stopped first at Miss Janet's house. It was my first visit there. Miss Janet was a trail angel in Erwin in 1999 but she didn't have her hostel yet.
When we went in Heald was there but Miss Janet wasn't. Janet was out shuttling hikers but she soon came in so we were able to say 'hi'. But, she was heading out for another shuttle so we decided on a library stop.
Headed for lunch at the burrito place now...
This is likely my last email for a week or so. I'm scheduled to start an 82 mile or so portion of the Pinhoti Trail tomorrow. There is a town stop along the way but I'm not sure if I'll be finding internet access while there.
Right now, I'm just off the highway, headed towards Talladega National Forest in northeastern Alabama. The library is in a community center in a long pink building.
There are four computers here but with people waiting to get on, I'm not sure how long I'll be able to stay to type this. So, if this ends abruptly, you'll know why.
I left off in Erwin as I was headed for lunch with Weathercarrot. We picked up Heald at Miss Janet's along the way. It turns out we have quite a few mutual friends, mostly from the 2001, thruhiker pool. Heald, with scheduling limitations, has hiked the whole trail a few times but by heading south from Katahdin in the fall and then skipping south to head north in the spring. He works during the summer so is constrained to miss most of the most popular thruhiker season.
After lunch, we headed south to Hot Springs, NC.
We met up with Baltimore Jack, currently working at the outfitter's there. We were soon set up with a campsite for the evening and then started wandering the town looking for hikers and stopping to say 'hi' to other friends we had in town.
I had gotten an email from a friend of mine, Tony, on the trail this year and knew he might be in town so we kept a lookout for him. Our first stop was at Elmer's. There, we ran into Caroline who just happened to be hosting my friend and his hiking partner, Fraggle. The chances we would run into Caroline were slim so we just got lucky. We were soon accompanying her back to her apartment where we had a great reunion with Tony and got to meet Fraggle for the first time. It was great to meet him as I could get some ideas for more things to do in AL, his home state. I finally learned Tony's trail name. It's "Unknown". Yeah, it's sure to cause some confusion for him along the trail. LOL Kind of like "who's on first", etc.
Today, for the first time since October or some such, I'm wearing a t-shirt outdoors without a jacket. It's warm down here.
We stopped at the Cody House, a small, seasonal, hostel, and then hung out at the Ducket House talking with Brian and Frank for a while. If I didn't already have free tenting lined up, I might have sprung for staying there. The house is beautiful and the people great.
Stopped to talk with Jack at the Cody house before setting up our tents just as dusk was ending at 8:00PM! So late!
Tuesday, April 5 - Hot Springs, NC to McDonald, TN
Hung out at the outfitters in the morning.
Looked the scenic route (209 to 63) to Asheville to meet up with Waterfall for lunch. WC's parents soon showed up to pick him up so it was time to say 'good-bye' to WC and head out on my own. It was nice having company along the way. It wasn't long before I was missing the running commentary on which mountains we were looking at, their elevations, etc. The snow also ran out. The weekend's storm had dumped quite a bit of snow as far south as into Georgia but now, days later, it had warmed significantly and melted everything within sight.
My next stop was in Wesser at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). It would be the last time I would be crossing the Appalachian Trail until I start back to Virginia in May.
The first person I ran into was Mala, a friend from the trail from years ago. He and his therapy dog, Tucker, were on the trail again doing sections. NOC was crawling with hikers who left Springer right about the same date (or a couple of days later) than I had in '99. I was able to do a bit of trail magic with the last of the home baked cookies I had with me and a 12 pack of Mountain Dew.
Then it was time to head back to TN.
On the way to McDonald, I drove a wonderful route along both 74 and 64. It took me along the Ocoee River where the 1996 Olympics had their whitewater events. It was a beautiful drive.
I spent the night crashed at Bruce and Rogene's place, people I know both from on-line and from various hiker events we've all attending over the years. The fireflies were just starting to flash in the backyard.
Wedensday, April 6
Up and out around 8:00. Being a trombone player (ex), and a swing dancer, I had to stop at the one place in Chattanooga that had popped into my mind when I realized I was going through the area.
Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo Choo" came into my head so I had to stop and see the train.
Then, I drove up and around Lookout Mountain but didn't bother with the train going up, supposedly one of the steepest and it certainly looked it. Of course, I have no idea how it really compares to many of the steepest trains I've been on in Switzerland, Australia, Norway, and even others in the US.
With rain coming in, I hit the highway today instead of taking back roads. I've got some repacking and shopping to do before I hit the trail tomorrow.
The state line coming into Alabama was very well marked not just with a welcome sign, but a convenient sign reminding that we're now on Central time, So, after losing an hour just a few days ago, I've gained it back again. I need that extra hour today.
I found a convenient library to stop and type this up. Got a few more things to do on-line so signing off for now...
I'm back from a five-day stint on the Pinhoti trail.
Before I get into the actual journaling from the trail, here's some housekeeping:
To date, my emails have all been off-the-cuff as I typed in the libraries, having had no time to sit and hand-write my journals. Usually, I write first and then transcribe. Now, at 8:00pm in my tent, I have time to write about a few missing items:
On an amusing note, WC and I passed a road on the way into Asheville cleverly named "LAWYER CT".
On a personal note... Should I ever be so incapacitated that I am no longer able to communicate my own wishes for more than a week or two, I want NO further efforts, extraordinary or otherwise, to keep me alive. No feeding tubes, no liquid hydration, no ventilator. I don't suppose this serves as any sort of legal living will, though. Sigh. If nothing else, then my friends and family who read this may feel better (or worse, ugh!) with whatever happens.
On a papal note... I do believe the church should honor the pope. I also believe the US should honor his passing in the same way we honor the passing of other heads of state. (The pope was the head of state of Vatican City, after all.) But flying US flags at half staff? And for how many days? Consider my eyebrow raised.
On a literary note... There was the passing of Saul Bellow, a fellow Massachusetts resident. Fictional books that didn't shy away from the reality of his characters. Reading his books made me think. Then made me think again.
And I think I'm missing the passing of another great person. Hmm... Too much death in the news and I don't even read the paper when I'm away from home.
[Now that I'm off the trail again, a bit of research turned up the one I had known about - and one I hadn't...]
On a regal note... the passing of Prince Rainier who put Monaco on the map.
And on a poultry note... the passing of Frank Purdue. 'Nuff said.
To continue from the Gasdsen library...
I then drove to Anniston, a sort of gateway to Talladega National Forest. I stopped in a parking lot for a quick nap, then to pack for my backpacking trip, and to assess my food situation for the trail. I knew I still needed to shop for a few things and Anniston was to be my last opportunity. I needed to make sure I had enough food for a four day, 55-mile stretch of trail. After one last supermarket trip, I was on my way to Cheaha State Park. Unfortunately, they didn't have one of the three maps I would need for my hike. So, I made my way to Talladega only to find the ranger station there had closed an hour earlier. Uh oh! I needed those maps before my 7:00am shuttle ride the next morning.
Having passed the road where my hosts for the night lived on the way down the mountain, it was easy to find them. Imagine my delight to discover them owning a ranch or "Gentleman's Farm" with emu, llama, turkeys, guinea fowl, cattle, and three dogs including a Great Pyrenees, Chow, and Border Collie.
My hosts, Sylvia and Jim, were wonderful when they realized I needed a bit of help to get in touch with my shuttle driver. For some reason, his was the one phone number I hadn't printed in advance so I had to get on-line to get it. In short order, I called and touched base. He had an extra set of maps for me so my original plans were back on, forecasts of thunderstorms notwithstanding.
Finally, I was able to concentrate on my hosts. It was my first night in Alabama and they made it memorable. Not only did they offer me a place to stay, but they also cooked me a crawfish stew dinner with homemade pecan pie for dessert. Yum! Crawfish didn't have to wait for Louisiana. It turns out I was their first Hospitality Club visitor and they my first host. We found much to talk about. Just some of the coincidences is they had, at one time, lived in Peabody, MA, not far from where I live, and one of their sons is exactly four days younger than me.
All afternoon, I had been listening to weather reports on the radio. Mississippi had some bad tornadoes and there were warnings and watches extending into portions of Alabama. Thankfully, they didn't extend to the northeast though we did have rain, wind, and thunderstorms.
This evening, we had the weather channel on. It was interesting to figure out when to hike. Starting Thursday meant showers and maybe thunderstorms. Waiting a day meant more rain next week. It seemed showers were a better option than steady rain. With an early alarm, I went to sleep early.
That's all for now folks... I have much of the rest of my journal typed in but the transfer to hotmail didn't work all that well and after mailing it to myself, it was annoying to read so I'll fix it tonight and send it out either later tonight or tomorrow.
So news from the Pinhoti trail will just have to wait.
Thursday, April 7 - High Point Trailhead (US 278) to North Dugger Flats. Miles 10.1 Ė 26.4, 16.3 total. 70s with sun, showers, rain, and thunderstorms.
Here's my Pinhoti Trail journal. I spent five days doing 55 miles on the trail.
This morning, I met Hugh Hickman, aka Solo, at 7:00am. Cheaha Mountain was shrouded in fog. I did one quick repacking, got the back of Hughís pickup loaded, and did the best to make the contents of my look unattractive to potential thieves. I really hope nobody breaks into steal my dirty laundry.
After having exchanged so many emails, it was nice to finally meet Hugh and have time to chat as he drove me to my starting point. As we drove north, he gave me a bit of a tour so I could see some of the trail crossings I was to eventually come to. Most specifically, the trailhead at route 78 where I was planning on hitching into Heflin to resupply for the remaining stretch to Cheaha Mtn. We also stopped so I could pick up the one remaining piece of gear I needed Ė a lighter.
From the trailhead, he accompanied me for the first few minutes until we stopped to chat at an old concrete dam. It was about 10:00 when I was finally on my own. Almost immediately, I thought I was faced with my first ford, but a quick look downstream yielded a rock hop crossing.
My first wildlife encounter was a ring-finger sized centipede. Yuck! It was black with pink edges delineating the segments. It was the stuff Alfred Hitchcock movies are made of.
A passing shower had come through in the morning but didnít cause any problems. At 1:45, I was glad to be in a low flat area (along a rail trail) when I heard the first rumble of thunder. From then on, I would hear thunder every ten to fifteen minutes or so, hike in an out of showers, and walk in and out of bright sunshine, sometimes while still being rained upon. Of course, the trial isnít all flat so with infrequent rumblings of thunder, I did climb higher into the mountains during the storm. For hours, the thunder seemed a distant rumble with no discernable lightning.
I took a nap at one point, hoping it would give the passing thunderstorm a chance to pass. But, a centipede rustling leaves right near my ear gave me the creepy crawlies and woke me up enough to keep moving. Now, theyíre the stuff my next nightmares are likely to be made of.
It was 4:00 before I saw my first bolt of lightning. It was just as I was approaching a ridgeline and I didnít know whether to stay, go down, or keep going. With plenty of forested peaks higher than the ridgeline I was aiming for, I let me adrenaline rush carry me up and over the ridge and start down the other side in no time flat.
So far, the trail has been almost all easy to traverse sidehill. Slopes are gentle and the cruising easy. Occasionally, my ankles would pipe in with a complaint where the sidehill was a bit worn and sloped too much for comfort. There was only one significant tree down on the trail that required climbing onto the tree and walking along the trunk for a length before climbing down the other side to continue along the trail. Today, I saw two of the black variety centipedes and one smaller burnt sienna (does anyone else remember that color from Crayola crayons?) with peach segmentations. They are cool to look at but still give me the creeps.
At 5:00, I hit a campsite at the 14-mile mark but decided to go another 2.5 miles. Big mistake!
The storm finally let loose for the first time all day. The light shower didnít end after 10 minutes but rather got stronger and I was soon soaked from head to toe, and sloshing in my shoes. Lightning was more frequent but I had to keep going.
I finally got to my campsite which was a bit closer to the road than I had anticipated, and a surprisingly frequently used road at that.. The rain let up enough for me to get my tent up. I shoved my stuff inside and then crawled in afterwards to assess the situation.
It was in the 60s so hypothermia was not imminent. I surveyed the stuff in my pack and while some got a bit damp, most everything was dry. Taking advantage of the continuing lull in the storm, I got enough water out of the stream for the evening and the next morning.
Back at the tent, I was soon cooking dinner and changing into dry clothes. I had the wet stuff spread out at one end of the tent and the dry at the other. Soon I was warm, dry, and eating my ďheavyĒ meal of a tasty Bite Indian dinner.
I journaled a bit and was happy to see clear skies and lots of stars when I made a trip to a tree at 9:00pm before turning in for the night. I was now hoping for morning sun to help dry everything off before tomorrowís hike.
Friday, April 8 Ė North Dugger Flats to Choccolocco Creek Watershed (dam). Miles 26.4-36.6, 10.2 miles, 26.5 total. Low 70s with morning fog giving way to partly sunny skies in the afternoon.
After having, for the first time, successfully set up my tent last night with plenty of ventilation, headroom, and a taut vestibule, I was awakened at 3:45 with the unnerving feeling of rain on my face. Sure enough, it was raining inside the tent. It was raining again outside and my first thought was that the drops on the outside were knocking the condensation on the inside onto my face. Only this time, wiping down the tent walls didnít really reduce the mist on the inside of the tent. It took a while, but I finally did determine that rain really did seem to be pushing into the tent when the drops hit the wall. It wasnít much but it was enough to ensure that everything inside the tent got wet. I did what I could to keep stuff dry, puling my remaining dry clothes into my sleeping bag and then I did my best to bury my head so as not to be woken up by more raindrops. I was just hoping the Pertex shell on my sleeping bag would hold up to the mist overnight.
In retrospect, I wasnít using the groundsheet under the tent and could have put that on top of stuff in the tent to keep the mist off, but the fog of waking up at 3:45 in the morning left that bright idea for 20/20 hindsight.
There was no sun to be seen in the morning. I waited and waited; then waited some more. I finally packed up and with all my wet stuff dangling from the back of my pack, hit the trail at the crack of 9:45. Just a bit on the late side for me. I had spent 15 hours in my tent. Now, I was wearing my ďdryĒ clothes to hike in and was counting on the sun to finally make an appearance. Every now and then, it would poke through the clouds but never last very long. Finally, after hiking a few hours, I found a place with a good breeze and lack of sun notwithstanding, set up a clothesline, hung all my wet stuff to dry. It didnít matter how long it took to dry or how few miles I ended up hiking today, it was important to get everything dry or else bail off the trail. At least with dry gear, I could continue on until I ran out of food or got to Heflin, whichever came first.
OK, some more about the trailÖ Itís spring and the flowers are blooming. Dogwoods, red buds, irises, Indian paintbrush, trout lily, spring beauties, trillium, and many more I canít identify. There are ďCousin itĒ trees. The are some sort of long-needle pine tree that look like lollipop topiary when small, Cousin It as they grow bigger, and then even more weird as they grow bigger and start branching out. The rest of the trees are just beginning to leaf out so I still have views from these forested hills. Other than centipedes, Iíve seen four turkeys, a few other random birds, heard a whippoorwill, been crawled on my many an ant (mostly while writing this), and now that itís sunny, the butterflies are out.
(Continued from this afternoon)
After my extended break, putting on my pack felt a lot better. It must have weighed a good 2-3 pounds lighter. I managed to dry everything except my shoes and socks and even they were considerably drier than they had been. Unfortunately, my feet donít take well to hiking while wet and the damage was already done. It was now rather painful to hike. With such a late start and such an extended break, it was a short day. Iím going to wait and see how it goes tomorrow but I may take an extra day to get to Heflin. Iím not eating as much as planned so I have enough food. If I do that, I may just hitch back to my car at Cheaha S.P. and either skip or postpone the section I had planned. Itís supposed to rain again on Monday or Tuesday Ė last I heard.
Iím now camped on top of a dam. Thereís water far below me but none handy so Iím considering this a dry camp. Iím rationing the last bit of water until morning. Iím listening to the peepers and crickets, and wouldnít you know it, another whippoorwill.
Saturday, April 9 Ė Choccolocco Dam to Laurel Shelter. Miles 36.6 to 46.7, 10.1 miles, 36.6 total. Sunny and 80s.
I was happy to sleep soundly for nine hours. Usually I never make it past eight hours. At 5:00, I looked up to see a very bright star Ė but it was moving so it was a satellite. But it was so bright. AS it moved, it faded to the usual little point of light. I can only imagine it was the space station. Anyone out there feel like confirming a 5:00AM pass over northeast Alabama for todayís date? While that sparked a question, something else I heard confirmed an answer. I had been seeing some rather large scat full of fur. While I know there are bears here, they are to few and too far between so I didnít think it was bear scat. My thoughts were more on the canine end so this morning, when I heard the yips and howls of a pack of coyote, my suspicions were confirmed. A bit later, a heron winged by Ė then a duck Ė then a couple of Canada geese. I guess thatís what you get for camping on top of a dam, I suppose.
I had tried camping as far off the dam as possible at the edge under the trees but it was still very dewy ion the morning. I had camped at the very north end of the dam on what was probably the forest service road access road. Even though it was around hills and 1.5 miles from the last road crossing, I could still hear the occasional rumble of a vehicle on a nearby road. As I crossed to the far end of the dam, I found a fire circle. I use a camp stove to cook but still, I was surprised.
This morning, I had my first ford. So far, Iíve been able to rock hop all of the other creeks Iíve come to. The water wasnít deep, but after changing into my sandals, I braced myself for the shock of cold water. Well, the water was cool but not at all shockingly cold. As a matter of fact, it was so nice that I stood in it for a couple of extra minutes to soak my feet. I have to remember that not all water is as cold as the rivers in Maine.
Moving on, I passed a few more campsites at a bunch of rock hop crossings. At the last of the crossings, there was a beautifully calm pool under a gorgeous cascade. Even though it was a rock hop, I couldnít pass it up. After crossing, I dumped my stuff and stripped. It was still a bit too cold for me to completely immerse myself but I dunked my head and managed to rinse off all my other body parts. After having gone three days without having seen anyone else on the trail, I really didnít expect anyone else to come along. This stop turned into yet another rather long and lazy break for me.
By now, I have reassessed my situation. I have enough food for five days as Iím not eating as much as I had expected. The day of hiking with wet feet really hurt my feet and while they are feeling a lot better, theyíre still not great. So, now Iím just planning on ~10 mile days. When I get to the road to Heflin, Iíll have to decide whether to go to town for resupply or hitch back to my car.
Moving on, I soon identified the upcoming situation by odor. I could smell the acrid area before I could see it. It was a burn area. As I crossed the fire roads, I knew they were prescribed burns. Each one got older as I kept walking. It turns out the Forest Service is restoring the forest to its original grassland and pine trees from the hardwood trees the Europeans had planted. These pines, described yesterday, are long leaf pines, inhabited at 70-80 years old by red-cockaded woodpeckers. With the forest being restored, the woodpeckers are successfully being restored even if only to artificially created holes in somewhat younger trees.
Unfortunately, the sparse pines with grassland below make for very hot hiking. I recommend hiking the Pinhoti now before the whole thing is restored. For that matter, the Pinhoti is a three-season trail; fall, winter, and spring. I canít imagine being out here in the summer with high heat, dwindling water supplies, ticks, chiggers, overgrown blackberries, and mature poison ivy. Right now, Iím just glad the ivy has recognizable leaves. Oh yeah, and with no snow to mash the leaves, last years leaves are still blowing around making it seem somewhat like autumn.
Letís see, so far I have yet to encounter anyone on the trail. The same holds true for today. I did see people at Coleman Lake but they didnít see me. At Shoal Creek Church, I got off the trail to visit one of six remaining rough-hewn log churches in Alabama. There, I talked with some horseback riders but forgot to ask about the forecast. Oh well.
Itís now 6:00. Iíve eaten, journaled, and didnít think to bring a book. Time to watch the birds. Oh yeah,. Pinhoti is the Creek Indian word meaning turkey home. I havenít seen any turkeys since the four I saw on day one. And the only tracks Iíve seen are the old blazes. New blazes are blue but there is an old sign that tells people to follow turkey tracks blazes.
P.S. With nothing else to do, I finally looked at the maps. What a waste! The maps are fine but would fit on paper 1.4 the size with more judicious use of appropriate typeface and less white space. Argh!
While I have seen their scat and heard the baying of coyotes, I have yet to see any sort of mammalian critter. No chipmunks, no squirrels, no sign of mice in the shelter. The coyote scat had fur so I know the critters exist, I just havenít seen then. The things I do see that scurry around here are all lizards. Oh, and I saw a 3Ē snake today Ė probably garter. So where are all the other critters?
Note to Solo - I recommend adding and entry for the creek near the Laurel shelter. Itís one of the ones you have to ford, after all. Also, I had a laugh at the trail shelter sign. Itís just a bit ďoverbuiltĒ. LOL
Sunday, April 10 Ė Laurel Shelter to Lower Shoal Shelter. Miles 46.7 to 57.2, 10.5 miles. 47.1 total. High 80s, sunny with afternoon pop-up clouds.
It was 70 at 7:30 when I went to sleep last night. It was 50 when I got up this morning. I didnít sleep well last night but I think that was a function more of how early I went to sleep and how long the night was. Shelter life makes packing so easy. Nothing gets wet overnight. Thereís room to spread everything out, especially in a shelter as large as these 8-10 person shelters.
I was ready to start hiking at 7:20 but there was this matter of a ford before I could really get going. It was a cool morning and my feet felt a little cold as I put my sandals on in the shelter. As I walked from the shelter to the creek, I braced myself for the cold water. Lo and behold. The water felt almost warm. Even just starting out, it wasnít bad just dipping my feet in and I dawdled as I crossed.
By the time I dried my feet and put my last pair of clean socks on (try announcing, ďItís a clean sock dayĒ at work sometime. LOL ) it was after 7:30 and I was finally on my way. For the first time since day one, my feet didnít hurt nor did any other body parts. This portion of the trail was beautiful, easy, and followed the creek most of the way. I saw some campers at Sweetwater Lake but kept going, only once again kicking myself for not asking if they had a more recent forecast.. An hour and 40 minutes later and nearly five miles down the trail, I took a break at Pine Glen campground. It was nice to use pit toilets with toilet paper provided. I also took the opportunity to discard my trash. Finally, I talked with people there and was told rain was in the forecast.
Moving on, I slowed down considerably. With no clouds and temps in the 80s, the sun and heat were beginning to get to me. A stop for water at a small creek and then another stop to ford a creek and apply sunscreen slowed me eve more. Then it was two more miles through burn area with no shelter from the sun before finally arriving the shelter. I wasnít moving nearly as fast as the morning but still got here at 1:30. With only 8 miles to the trailhead, I could keep going, but Iím in no rush and the shelter area is beautiful.
I started off with my chores. I swept out the shelter and loaded up my water bag. Loading up the water was a great excuse for once again, soaking my feet. Then it was time to crawl into the shelter and get out of the sun. My arms are a bit pink and my face and neck must be, too. Oops!
Thereís lots of wildlife to report on today. On the trail this morning, I saw two more turkeys. I think theyíre more skittish here than in New England. In New England, they wait until youíre close before taking off and being near a turkey taking flight when youíre not expecting it requires a strong heart and lots of adrenaline. Here, they take off so far away itís never an adrenaline producing experience. I also saw a broad winged hawk of some sort, my first toad, just 1Ē long, my first mammal of the hike in the form of a gray squirrel. I continue to hear woodpeckers though the only one Iíve seen so far looked to be the size of a downy rather than one producing the loud knocks I keep hearing.
Twice today Iíve been warned about rattlesnakes. Once by a man proud that he had killed one just four days earlier. I expressed dismay at the senseless killing but I donít think heíll think twice before killing another should the opportunity ever come up again. In any case, I like snakes and am hoping to see one but doubt I will. They would prefer to get out of the way and if a rattler, warn you if they canít.
The shelter area is teeming with wildlife. Iíve seen at least four lizards and one black skink with gold stripes. There are lots of birds including a goldfinch or other yellow warbler type and a hummingbird. There are more snails than can be counted in the stream and from what Iíve read in the register, a couple of crawfish named Fred and Wilma. If I find them, I might have considered renaming them ďdinnerĒ but then I just had some crawfish a few days ago. LOL. Not a single rodent or sign of rodent in sight.
Itís now 7:15. I managed to find about five excuses to go soak my feet since Iíve been here. While thereís no good bathing ďpoolĒ at this stream, I did manage to rinse off some of the accumulated sweat and grime. After four days on the trail, Iíve never felt so clean. I just wish my clothes were as clean as my body.
With an eight-mile hike tomorrow, this looks to be my last significant water. The rush of water over the cascades will soon put me to sleep.
This afternoonís pop-up clouds have given way to the high thin clouds that are often precursors to rain. Usually, they give one or two dayís notice before a storm. Letís hope the rain holds off until I manage to get to my car tomorrow.
Once again, thereís no visible moon. I havenít seen it at all this trip so I have come to assume I picked the time right around the new moon for my hike.
Iíve also been plagued by pollen. Not only has the pine pollen turned everything including my shoes and even parts of my pack green, but my nose has been running almost non-stop while on the trail since it dried out after the first dayís rain. In the shelters, Iíve been able to sweep the pollen out when Iíve gotten here and have mostly managed to dry up and sleep without dealing with bad allergies. Another plus for shelters.
As Iím enjoying the last light of dusk, itís getting louder. Some insect is buzzing with ferocity. Another is chirping (cricket?). At least thereís no whippoorwill trying to keep me up tonight. Oh, and I caught no sight of Fred and Wilma. They are either safe or someone or something else already ate them. Itís almost dark. Goodnight.
Monday, April 11 Ė Lower Shoal Shelter to Rt. 78. Miles 57.2 Ė 65.2. 8 miles. 55.1 total. 702 Partly sunny.
An early morning. Once again, shelter life makes packing easy. I slept a bit better last night and was up and walking by 6:45. With no morning ford, I made immediate progress. Once again, I moved at a three mile per hour pace for the first 1.5 hours or so. Now Iím trying to figure out if my 60-75 minute NordicTrack workouts have me in shape for the first hour or two each day before my body gives out. The reality is that both yesterday and today, the terrain has gone from easy cruising for the first few miles to significantly rougher terrain with more ups and downs and trickier footing. Today, in particular, I was surprised at how steep some of the sidehill had been cut. I was even a bit uncomfortable on some of it as it was covered with slick long-leaf pine needles in some places, and blown leaves over rough surfaces at other places. I also slowed down to take some pictures. Most of my pictures will be from the last day but I got shots of Cheaha, Sister Ridge,, and some lollipop pines. All of the seasonal streams were running. There was a tease at the end when I had to parallel the road that I knew I had to cross for about a mile. Finally, I crossed the road and soon found myself at the trailhead.
It was a quick walk to the overpass from where I could hitch back to my car. Instead of hitching the busy road to Heflin, I was now faced with a long hitch on a mostly deserted road. In 45 minutes, three cars had gone past in the wrong direction. One car passed in the right direction but didnít stop. Finally, a hunter stopped so I dumped my stuff in the pickup bed and crawled into the front seat with the rifle. The best aspect of the wait for the ride was that I finally got a good look at the red-cockaded woodpecker I had been hearing.
I had a great conversation with the hunter as he drove me all the way back to Cheaha SP entrance. Oh, and the first thing he did as I got in the car was reach back into his cooler and hand me a well-chilled Coke. Ok, so itís my least favorite soda, but I wasnít going to turn down a cold soda after five days on the trail.
Back at the park, my car was in good order so I hopped in, paid the $1 fee to enter Cheaha SP, and drove to the top of the Mountain, at 2400', the highest point in Alabama. The top was crowded with tanks and antennae. The original stone observatory tower was unmanned but open to the public so I took the stairs to the top to get a look over the treetops.
I then drove a short distance to a nearby Pinhoti Trail trailhead to revisit the archway Hugh and pointed out to me. Upon closer examination, it really was a wonderful work of art. Many of the native tree species were documented by having their leaves pressed in clay panels with their common and Latin names. The walkway underneath similarly had footprints embedded representing people, raccoon, turkeys, and other woodland creatures. Looking up under the arch was an indicator pointing north with the pointer being fashioned in the form of a lizard. Panels documented the supporters who made the arch possible, a contour map of the area, a hiker guy on the trail, and more. It is an amazing gateway.
I then drove down Cheaha road to Sylvia and Jim's place but nobody was home. So I drove to Talladega, had lunch, found the library and for the first time ever in all of my travels, they wouldn't let me sit down to use internet access. Only those with Talladega library cards could sit down at the computers but they had one I could stand at for 15 minutes right by the entrance. Finally, I stopped so my car could get a much needed oil change. I had run out of time before I left Boston.
The folks at the 10-minute oil change place were great. They did much more than just my oil including finding a hole in some vacuum connector piece and replacing it free of charge and without asking. They did tell me what they were doing in case I had any problems with it and even showed me the worn piece. They also checked all my lights, horn, etc.
Back at Sylvia and Jim's, I found Jim there and was soon settling in again. A shower, change of clothes and a couple of loads of laundry had me feeling great. We took a trip up to their mountain cottage where I had the option of spending the night. With rain expected and the long dirt road in, I opted to stay in the house. I treated us all to a pizza dinner and stopped by a local vegetable stand to pick up some tomatoes for the salad Sylvia was preparing.
Tuesday, April 12 - Munford, AL. ~70 with changeable conditions including rain, wind, and sun.Hi all,
A rare occurrence indeed... Two messages in a single day.
This time from Sylacauga, a town just south of Talladega. The library here is a wonderfully large, modern facility with good internet access. I had to fill out a form but there are more computers than people here and I'm working with a 21-inch monitor. Love the real estate.
I'm taking a day off here at the Mann's. They've made me feel right at home. I spent most of the day on and off the computer typing in my journal from the Pinhoti Trail. In the afternoon, I took a couple of hours to go back to Anniston, just for a break.
I stopped in the library there and drove up the main "modern" drag with all the chain stores and then down the old main drag with wonderful construction and old storefronts. The library was a nice library but had a few problems with the computer. I couldn't tell if my files were good or if the computers just had display problems. So, I waited to send my journal out.
A stop at a store for some supplies and it was time to head back to Munford.
Sylvia outdid herself yet again for dinner. Steak, dumplings, cauliflower, hash browns, bread, salad, etc. Yum!
Spent the evening talking about everything from chickens, to travel in Belgium, to whatever else came up. I pored over some tourist materials and lined up my next plan of attack. Rather than going west to Birmingham, I'll be going a bit south first. The Blue Bell Creamery is nearby (gotta sample the ice cream), the site of a huge impact crater from a meteor not too far off, and I hope to make it to Tuskeegee, as well. I'll probably head west from there.
I'm sitting here in a big modern library in Montgomery, Alabama. They're open late (8:30) giving me something to do in the evening. Plus, the computers are fast. I'll have to write about today, tomorrow.
OK, yesterday's entry about the day before was off the cuff and missed a lot. Here's more about Tuesday and all about yesterday, as well.
Woke up at 3:45 to howling windstorm. Steady winds in the 30-40 mph range with gusts that went considerably higher. With rain in the forecast, I was surprised it was dry. I watched out the window for a while, wondering how all the animals were faring. Soon however, I went back to sleep.
In the morning, while considerably calmer, the wind was still blowing. I attempted to sit on the porch to write in my journal but soon gave up. While there, however, I noticed one goat limping. My concern was allayed when I found out it was already being treated.
I canít believe how much Iíve learned about farm life. Yesterday, I collected eggs and believe it or not, some of them were truly green. Thatís right, the shells had an unmistakable green tinge to them. Kind of gives new meaning to green eggs and ham. I held a turkey chick that had just been hatched that day by a chicken (if you put a turkey egg under a sitting chicken, she sit till it hatches). And I found out that chickens lay a number of eggs over a period of days before starting to sit on the whole clutch. Only when she starts sitting does the incubation period start. Chickens take 21 days. Turkeys 28 days.
I also watched Tumbling Pigeons which flew straight up and then seemed to fall in a tumble of feathers almost to the ground. They donít look all that different from our garden-variety city pigeon but Iíve never seen a city pigeon tumble like that.
The ranch land used to be Indian land and quite a number of artifacts have turned up including quite a collection of arrowheads, potsherds, and even an intact pot.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mentionÖ During my visit to Anniston, one of the streets was rather interesting. I found an office chair. It was outside an office furniture store. It was about 20 feet high. And it was rather rusty. LOL
Wednesday, April 13 Ė Munford to Tuskegee National Forest. 60s and mostly sunny with animal shaped clouds.
I said my good-byes to the Manns this morning. I certainly hope, and would not be at all surprised, if our paths did not cross again sometime.
Following Jimís directions, I took some wonderful back roads heading south, passing yet another Pinhoti trailhead, on my way to Sylacauga.
On my way into Alabama, I had stopped at the Tourist Center on the interstate and picked up some flyers, brochures, etc. One is a National Geographic Geotourism MapGuide to Appalachia. I finally took a look at it and think Iíll be referring to it quite frequently.
Anyway, I noticed it showed the Blue Bell Creameries in Sylacauga. Well, Iíve been told Blue bell is the best so I had to go try it. Tours have to be arranged in advance so I missed out there, but I did manage to get a moderately sized two-scoop cup for just $1. I tried both the Triple Chocolate and the Triple Caramel. While the flavor concepts were good and the ice cream was tasty, I have to admit, it wasnít nearly as rich or creamy as even Ben and Jerryís, much less my local Boston area favorite, Toscaniniís. I wasnít at all surprised even if I was a bit disappointed.
From Sylacauga, I made my way south to Wetumpka. It was only as recently as 2002 recognized and internationally confirmed as an area where an impact crater from a meteor that hit 83 million years ago exists. I managed to find my way up to the rim of the crater with the help from the local librarian. Other than being a high point and being able to see a somewhat circular ridge through the forest, there wasnít much to see. But, itís still cool to know I was standing on the rim of an impact crater.
Another interesting noteÖ The default license plate in Alabama is ďStars Fell on AlabamaĒ but thatís in reference to a particularly large Perseid meteor shower that inspired a song in a Broadway musical (or something like that). It was only later that it was determined that one of those ďstarsĒ really did fall on Alabama, albeit long before Alabama was inhabited.
Moving on, I made my way through Tuskegee to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field. The story of the airmen and how they proved African Americans are just as capable as whites in all areas of flying was incredibly important. Because of what they proved at Tuskegee and while flying in WW II, they are largely credited with the desegregation of the U.S. military forces.
Right now, Moton airfield is still there but most of the buildings are long gone. The National Park Service currently has a temporary building there. Within months, however, the field and its buildings are going to be rebuilt, including the hangar. People visiting in a year or two will be in for a treat. Iím hoping the few airmen still alive in the area will still be around to see it rebuilt. What an honor.
As I had pulled into the parking lot by the NPS building, I noticed smoke it the not-too-distant forest. I reported is as soon as I walked in and the helpful NPS worker called the Forest Service. Sure enough, it was a prescribed burn and nothing to worry about Ė especially with it threatening to rain.
I took my time, read what there was to read, watched the video, and asked some questions. Then, I took my time trying to wait out the showers that sprang up in the area.
Soon, I was thinking about finding a place to camp for the night. It turns out the friendly NPS worker that I had reported the fire to had worked for the National Forest Service and knew that the nearby National Forest had free camping. She had me on the phone in a moment talking with the NFS rangers so I could line up a permit. It was late in the afternoon and there was no way I could get to the Ranger Station before it closed for the day. The rangers left a permit outside the ranger station door for me.
Driving to the Ranger Station was interesting. I had to drive right through the prescribed burn area. The burn, a ground fire designed to burn brush, was well contained but smoky. There was no danger driving through. Even the area right around the Ranger station was burning. I took a picture.
The Tuskegee National Forests may be the smallest of all national Forests. Itís only 4 miles by 8 miles or so. But, they did their best to assign me to a campsite as far from the burn area as possible so I wouldnít have to deal with smoke all night.
My assigned site was nice but without a high clearance vehicle, I couldnít get my car off the road. So having been told while on the phone that I was going to be the only one with a camping permit in the entire national forest that night, I moved to the next closest site. The site wasnít quite as nice but it was quiet, secluded, and I could practically get my car out of site of the road.
Rather than set up my tent, tonight Iím sleeping in the back of my car. Itís a 1995 Ford Taurus station wagon. When the back seat folds forward, it leaves more than 6.5 feet of flat surface area for me to spread out. With my cushy sleeping pad, it's a very comfortable place to sleep.
As Iím writing this, Iíve been here almost three hours and only one other vehicle has gone by. With dusk settling in, Iím unlikely to see any more ďtraffic.Ē
A few more random thoughtsÖ
Iíve come across one head-scratching piece of local vernacular. Where I come from, a ďdead endĒ on a road means you canít go anywhere except to turn around and go back the way you came. Here, people keep giving me directions that include ďgo to the dead end and turn left/right/whatever.Ē It means go to the end of the road, almost always at a T intersection, and then turn left/right/whatever. The first time I saw it, I thought it was a personal peculiarity. The second time made me wonder. The third confirmed itís local usage.
Letís seeÖ Eric Rudolph is in the news. He was still being hunted near the Appalachian Trail while I was hiking in 1999. Now, heís pleaded guilty and will spend the rest of his life in jail with no chance for parole. Weird to know he was in Birmingham when I was so close.
Ah yeahÖ another ďsouthernĒ sighting. This was last week on my way to Alabama or just after I got hereÖ. ďHillbilly MallÖ Flea Market, turn leftĒ
I was following a large truck yesterday. It was marked ďOversized LoadĒ and the brand of truck? ďTrail KingĒ Somehow, I see a couple of trail names there.
Iíve been in and around Coosa County and River. Coosa is a trail name from someone I know in the AT community. Coosa, Iíve been thinking about you.
Thursday, April 14 - Tuskegee National Forest to Montgomery. 60s - a cool day, but sunny.
I didnít go far today. I spent the morning mostly on the campus of Tuskegee University, formerly known as Tuskegee Institute. Arriving early, I started looking around campus. There were many plaques explaining the history of the buildings I was looking at. When I asked a passing student, Sandrea, where the library was, she ended up walking me most of the way there. Only when she could point out the actual building for me, did she leave me on my own. I used the library to catch up on email and do a bit of research.
Once the NPS opened the Carver Museum, I had a chance to go in, look around, and learn about both Booker T. Washington, the man who created the school, and George Washington Carver, who had taught there. I was disappointed I would not be able to tour ďThe OaksĒ, the house Booker T. had built.
As I wandered around the campus and later, as I went through town, something slowly dawned on me. For the entire time I was in Tuskegee with the exception of some tourists I had seen at Moton Field the day before, I didnít see any other white people. It didnít matter but it was just an observation I wanted to point out. Iíve been the obviously odd one out on many occasions so in a way, Iím used to it. Iíve been the only westerner amongst Chinese or Nepalese. Iíve been the only woman in groups of men. The only Jew amongst (name a religion). And, the only really tall woman in almost every crowd.
I also felt strangely out of place at one point after I left Tuskegee and headed east towards Montgomery. I was driving through a town named ďShorter.Ē (For those who havenít met me in person, Iím 6í1Ē and itís a rare person that ever calls me shorter.) LOL. It was later, in Montgomery, that I passed the house occupied by John Gill Shorter, a governor of Alabama in the 1860s. Iím guessing the town was named after him.
During the day, I visited the First White House of the Confederacy, saw the Alabama State House, and contemplated Maya Linís Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The area around the memorial is currently under (re)construction. Sadly, itís the only place Iíve visited so far that had a conspicuous guard.
After all this, I hopped one of the tourist trolleys (25 cents) and took both tours of the capitol offered by the tourist center. Among other areas of interest we passed were the Federal courthouse of the recent ď10 CommandmentsĒ scandal, the church where Martin Luther King preached, MLKís house, the Empire Theater where Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on the bus. The Empire Theater is also where Hank Williams won his first contest at the age of 15.
Coming from an area rich with Revolutionary history, itís interesting to visit a place rich with both Civil War and Civil Rights history Ė all much more recent than the American Revolution.
I found the library in Montgomery with its fast, modern computers, largely unrestricted, so I spent some of the afternoon there before taking a long break for dinner at Overlook Park. This park overlooks the Alabama River. Always with a dearth of stuff to do in the evening, I returned to the library after dinner to transcribe my journal. I even thought to look for a dance or other interesting venue in which to kill this evening. Nothing doing. Oh well.
Once the library closed, I looked around, unsuccessfully for some sort of coffee shop in which to hang out in. No such luck.
So, here I am, parked at a Wal-Mart for the night, behind two huge, almost matching RVs, each towing a small SUV. I parked strategically so my head would be shaded from the worst of the lights in the parking lot. Time to read Ė and sleep.
Friday, April 15 Ė Montgomery to Paul Grist State Park. 70s and sunny.
Itís nice to have access to flush toilets in the morning. After a surprisingly good nightís sleep in the parking lot, it was a quick stroll to the restrooms in the store. Those RVs I was parked near, as it turned out, were owned by a pair of brothers and their wives. One got his setup and liked it so much, the other went out and bought the same.
I went back to the Visitorís Center only to find that a previously mentioned pass to visit the Air Force Base where the Wrights taught was no longer available. So, I toured the State Capitol and then drove west.
I took the route of the Selma to Montgomery march that happened 40 years ago. In Selma, I took the self-guided walking tour of the sites where important events leading up to the march took place. I then visited Cahawba, Alabamaís first state capitol, now a ghost town of archaeological significance. Back in Selma, I took a driving tour of haunted houses which was mostly just a driving tour of beautiful old houses. Then, it was time to head for the State Park. For $8, I could get a primitive campsite and a much needed shower.
The campground is in a much nicer natural setting than Wal-Mart but with the group of loud kids running around, itís not necessarily quieter. And it definitely has more bugs. Ugh. With all the well-defined campsites taken, and most of the others on a bit too much of a slope, Iím electing once again to sleep in my car. Itís easier and, to be perfectly honest, quieter than a tent.
Saturday, April 16 Ė Paul Grist State Park to Vernon, Alabama. Gorgeous day with temps in the high 70s but dry so felt much cooler in the shade.
It's Monday and the libraries are open again. I'm in Meridian, MS where library users are not able to use email. Weird. But, I can post directly from my group. I'll probably stop at another library this afternoon to check email.
What a day! Sometimes when you least expect it, everything just comes together in the best possible way.
I awoke to the honking of geese but it was the stirring of the campers around me that finally got me up after yet another great night in the back of my car. (I think I'm really beginning to like it back there.) By the time I got back from my walk to the bathrooms which were probably a good 5-10 minute walk each way, most of the other campers were stirring as well. Some had fires raging, the kids were playing already, and one group had their generator going and it wasn't even 7:00am. The generator folks were the same ones who were throwing cigarette butts in the lake the evening before. No accounting for taste Ė or whatever Ė I suppose. Anyway, I had no reason to stick around so I was out of the park before 7:00 having spent just 12 hours there.
The drive to Tuscaloosa was non-eventful and easy. Once there, I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do. Was it worth it to pay admission to the Natural History museum on the campus of the University of Alabama? This museum's main claim to fame is being the home of the only documented meteorite to actually hit a human when it fell to earth. I wasn't convinced but I was still going to drive through campus. I saw the sign to the museum and even though I knew it was too early for it to be open, I turned the corner. Something then grabbed my attentionÖ
When you see someone throwing a Frisbee to a dog, they're just playing. When you see three different people throwing three different Frisbees to three different dogs, something's going on. I stopped to investigate and was soon caught up in Pet PAW'loosa. It was a day of disc dog competition with Hot Zone, Distance, and Freestyle competition. I had seen a bit of this on TV and knew I might be in for a treat. As it turned out, this was a qualifying competition for the ESPN Greater Outdoor Games.
Check out http://www.al.skydogz.20m.com/ and http://www.iddha.com/ for more info on disc dog stuff.
I was there early and wandered around a bit. It was clear that there was a lot more than just the whole competition. There was a whole fair going on, most of it doggy related. There was a band, a radio station, lots of rescue groups, and more dogs than I've ever seen in one place before.
With the start being slow, I took some time in the library. When I came out, things were just starting. I watched the Hot Zone competition which is as much about the accuracy of the disc toss by the handler as the catching ability of the dog. It was a tricky day with lots of squirrelly wind causing havoc on the field. I think only one contestant made it through all six of the zones within the time limit.
With my allergies being quite the problem today (and it wasn't the dogs that were the problem), I took another library break between the Hot Zone and Freestyle competitions. When I came out, the freestyle was just getting underway. It's amazing what some of these dogs and handlers do together.
The dogs in the competitions were mostly Border Collies but there were an incredible variety of dogs wandering around with their owners. Some were pocket-sized pooches in purses and on the other end of the scale, there were Great Danes, Mastiffs, and Newfies. I found that Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mixes are called Baussies (or is that Bossies?).
I made it through the competition, but my sneezing and sniffling was driving me crazy so I sought refuge in my car. I rolled up the windows and cranked the A/C. It helped Ė even if just a bit. Driving through town, I almost wished I were staying a bit longer. I managed to find that bit of college town, eclectic feel going on down the street from campus. Some of the cafes looked like the kind that would be open to all hours where you could sit and read without feeling conspicuous. Some of the restaurants were of ethnicities I hadn't seen much of in the south.
But, it was time to move on to my final destination of the day. Once again, I found something of interest on that National Geographic map. For the most part, there's been a dearth of stuff for me to do in the evenings. While I'm expecting that to change in Louisiana, I was happy to find something in Alabama, too. On Saturday nights, in the tiny town of Vernon, there's a concert in the old Lamar Theater. It's called the Backstreet Opry. And, it's free. In the library, I checked on-line and found it was still a going concern. But, there was still no idea of what types of music I would findÖ Country, Gospel, folk, etc? Who knows?
So I found my way there (it's about an hour northwest of Tuscaloosa) and quickly oriented myself. It was 5:30 and I had just an hour to eat before things got underway at 6:30. Well, I had just passed a BBQ place in town. Half the sign was missing and the lot had plenty of cars in it. It looked good to me.
I ordered the BBQ sandwich with tater tots (don't see them on menus in the northeast much). The food was great but the company even better. I found the lone woman at the next table, Ruby Bell, was also headed for the theater. And when she left a bit earlier than me, the guys at another table let on that not only was she going to the theater, she would be one of the performers, too. And, she ended up being one of my favorites Ė perhaps because she was a bit more irreverent than most of the others. The whole evening was like a big jam session where each of the performers was featured at one point and when not being featured, played backup for the others. They bantered amongst themselves and even with individuals in the audience. There was a young couple that played one 15-20 minute set that seemed to be the "featured" performers for the night. After 2.5 hours, I got up to take a break and partake of the refreshments (also free) they had in the lobby. The concert was still going strong as I schmoozed a bit with the locals and organizers (Tom Ė or is it Ted Ė and Grace).
My name and hometown had been announced at the beginning of the show and my picture taken as well. Having been told it would make the local paper, I caught the newspaper guy leaving the building and gave him my card so he could send me a copy Ė and maybe spell my name correctly. It could make an interesting souvenir Ė or good tinder. LOL
At someone's suggestion earlier in the evening, I went to the police station to inquire about where I might be able to park overnight to get some sleep. I soon had permission to park right there, in the police station lot. There was a convenient picnic table under a light on which to write for a while and a space to park my car so the light wouldn't bother me.
Sunday, April 17 Ė Vernon, Alabama to Tombigbee National Forest. Partly cloudy, low 80s.
After a surprisingly good sleep in the Police station parking lot, I went back to the same restaurant where I had dinner for breakfast. My ham and egg biscuit sandwich was dripping with butter Ė and delicious. While I was there, I came to the slow realization that once again, I was the odd one out in the group. Everyone else in there was a guy and it seemed like they all knew each other. Looking around the parking lot, my car was the only vehicle that wasn't a pickup truck. I guess I had stumbled onto some bastion of male breakfast bonding.
I didn't stick around Vernon for long and was soon driving to Columbus, Mississippi. The only sign I had crossed the state line was the change in route numbers and a nightclub named ALA MISS.
In Columbus, I followed a driving tour route of historic homes. These were amazing homes of primarily but not exclusively antebellum construction. A flyer I had picked up gave a bit of history about each home and a bit of explanation of the architectural elements common to many of them. Being Sunday in the Bible belt, a lot of places are closed. That, coupled with the fact that I wasn't feeling all that great (maybe a holdover from the Benadryl I took at bedtime yesterday?) had me giving up on more sightseeing today.
So, I found my way to Tombigbee National Forest, found a nice, private, primitive campsite, and made excellent headway into "South." At this point, I'm pretty convinced I've read it before. But, it's definitely worth another read.
As evening, came around, the mosquitoes forced me back into my car. But, I'm now able to rig the back window open but completely covered with mosquito netting. So, I get fresh air and no bugs in the car.
A couple of things I forgot to mention previouslyÖ A crop duster had buzzed me as I was driving from Montgomery to Selma. I though for sure the car was going to get dusted, but he stopped dropping the fertilizer just at the road's edge. I was amazed at the precision. Cool!
Monday, April 18 - Tombigbee National Forest to Brandon. Partly cloudy, highs in the 70s.
I'm sitting here in the Natchez library. It was busy when I got here but has quieted down. Good easy access here and no need to even show ID. How cool is that? I just wish these libraries would leave just one of their computers with no keyboard tray. They are all too low for me and bang up my knees and legs. Give me normal table height keyboard any day of the week.
Well, today was interesting. I started out heading east to go to a Mennonite Bakery listed on the National Geographic map I keep referencing. Once again, it didnít steer me wrong. I had a ham and cheese biscuit, somewhat disappointingly reheated in the microwave. Though still delicious, it wasnít nearly as buttery and flaky as the previous dayís freshly prepared biscuit sandwich. I also bought a 6Ē sandwich of country chicken to go for lunch, and a couple of treats to have along the way. All were quite good and a really nice change of pace from the cooler fare Iíve mostly been eating along the way. Right now, Iím not keeping as much food in the car as Iím expecting to find all sorts of goodies along the way once I hit Cajun country in a day or two.
My next stop was an hour south in Meridian. I had a few things planned there but with some things only open on weekends and others closed on Mondays, I ended up just doing a walking tour around town to see the painted carousel horses. They were done in much the same spirit as the Cow Parade cows I saw in Aukland, New Zealand but without quite as much thought going into the puns.
With plenty of time to spare, I sought out the library. The library was a large spacious building. They had an exhibit of beautiful quits hanging from the second floor railings. Imagine my surprise to find that while they allowed internet access, they do not allow any email access and block access to hotmail, gmail, and any other web based email applications. That has to be a first. They didnít block access to Yahoo groups so I transcribed a couple of day's worth of entries and posted from there. Email would have to wait.
I took the opportunity to look up the next likely library on-line and got directions to the library in Newton. For the second time ever, they also prevented access to email. Now, I was beginning to wonder. Was this going to be a Mississippi thing? I couldnít imagine a library that wouldnít do what it could to encourage writing and communication. But, there they were, two in a row. Sigh. Even the librarians at the Meridian library were frustrated. In Newton, she didnít seem to think it weird and was truly surprised to find out that these were the only libraries Iíve ever encountered with this particular restriction.
From Newton, I looked up the next couple of libraries and the Newton librarian was kind enough to phone them for me. The next one was open and would allow me to access email. Phew! It wasnít a Mississippi thing.
So, I was soon on my way to the town of Lake. There, I found a tiny, one room library that was only open two afternoons a week. The connection was dial up so paging through emails was a bit slow, but then again, Iím not in a rush. Iím just glad I didnít have to do any graphics intensive surfing from there. Serena, the librarian, was very helpful. After I was done, I went to use the bathroom only to find the light out. So, not having seen a single person come in to peruse the stacks all afternoon, Serena volunteered to run interference if necessary and I just left the door open a crack to get a bit of light. Then, we talked for a half an hour or so before I finally left for Brandon. I took the ďslowĒ route, 80 to get there.
When I arrived at my hostís house in Brandon at 4:30, about 30 minutes before they were expecting me, they had left a note saying they would be back by 7:00. So, I drove around and when I saw a brown sign, followed it. Brown signs usually lead to interesting places like museums and natural parks. This one lead to the Ross R Barnett Reservoir. I found a beautiful park after crossing the causeway and settled in to write, bird watch, and eventually, chat with some of the disc golf players there.
I had seen one disc golf course in Massachusetts, seen a couple on my travels already, and have read about more in some of the pamphlets Iíve collected. I knew you needed multiple discs and like golf, there are putters designed to catch the chains betters, and a variety of drivers. Who knows? I donít like golf but I do like tossing a Frisbee around so maybe I could have a bit of fun with disc golf.
The time passed quickly and I was soon heading back to my hostís house. From the direction of the reservoir, I knew I could take a different route based on my hand drawn map but I left the name of one road off. The one person I saw to ask was deaf but I had a pen handy. Wouldnít you know it, she couldnít remember the name. I completely understand. I know how to drive to many places without knowing the actual names of the streets Iím driving on. So after thanking her anyway (I actually remembered the ASL sign for thanks), I continued anyway, and it turns out it was the only likely turn and I was soon at my friend's house.
Ember, a lurker on AT-L, the Appalachian Trail mailing list, had offered me a place to stay in an email after she read my post describing my travels and rough route. Being quite central, I took her up on the offer. It was great to hang out with her, her Mom, and her son. Once again, simple things like a shower, load of laundry, and most importantly, some company to pass the time made my day. And the spaghetti sauce was delicious, too. ;-)
Tuesday, April 19 Ė Brandon to Natchez State Park, Mostly cloudy and 70s.
I said my goodbyes in the morning knowing thereís a good chance Iíll be back in the neighborhood in a few weeks.
I spent the morning at the Agriculture and Forestry, and National Agricultural Aviation Museum. After getting past the mostly surly folks at the front desk, the rest of the museum was rather nice. The agricultural and forestry sections, while still a great intro, were a bit dated. For example, there was a display on the fire fighting lookouts but no mention of how fighting fires ended up changing the forest over time by preventing the cleanup offered by natural fires. It was primarily geared to a younger crowd than the aviation section.
For anyone who has followed me in my travels, youíve probably noticed I have an interest in aviation. So, especially having just been buzzed by a working crop duster between Montgomery and Selma, I wanted to learn a bit more about the history and use of crop dusters and crop dusting. This part of the museum, while small, was quite interesting. It contained a 23-minute video and included quite a few aircraft.
Outside the museum, was a consolidated village and farm. Walking from building to building, you could get a sense of what it might be like to live in a small southern town in the mid-1800s. There was a doctorís office, veterinary clinic, blacksmith, and more, all stocked with period items. The women minding the General Store, which had shelves lined with both period items and modern day souvenirs and snacks, were wonderful and all but made up for the reception in the Museum.
The farm was largely moved here from a true working farm of the era. They also had a collection of barnyard animals including such creatively named ones such as Charlotte, the pig, and Tom, the turkey.
On my way out, I stopped at the Chimneyville Crafts Gallery. I thought it was going to be another touristy shop filled with scented candles and kitschy souvenirs. I was pleasantly surprised when I wandered in. Like the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, itís a shop that offers only in-state, juried craftsmen a place to sell their art. And the art was beautiful. Itís definitely worth a stop if youíre in the neighborhood. It is outside the museumís fee area so there's no need to pay admission to go to the shop.
From there, I made my way to the Natchez Trace Parkway, about to celebrate its completion (or nearly so), in May. My current plan is to travel from Jackson south to Natchez on my way to Louisiana, and from Jackson north to Nashville on my way back from Louisiana and the Gulf coast. The Trace is a beautiful parkway administered by the National Park Service. It largely follows or parallels the route of the original Trace. With excellent road conditions and a speed limit of 50mph, cruise control is recommended. The one car that sped past me ended up getting pulled over and ticketed.
Here and there, there are places to pull of the parkway to view the original footbed and other areas of interest. Surprisingly, the campgrounds at this time do not charge any fees. Of course, the one I passed was too far north for me to stop.
So, Iím now sitting at a beautiful picnic pavilion at Natchez State Park. Iíve eaten dinner and done some bird watching. I canít figure out what the fee is for primitive camping so unless a ranger stops by (the office was closed when I got there), I may end up with another free night of camping.
Some of the birds I saw: Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, a pair of loud Canada Geese, Black Vultures, Brown thrasher (maybe?), Summer tanager (female). There were more but it was getting too dark to identify them.
Wednesday, April 20 - Natchez Trace State Park to Baton Rouge. 70s and humid.
No journal updates today but just a quick update to let you know where I am and what I'm up to...
I've been in Louisiana for about 48 hours and already, I've had crawfish three times (boudin, etouffe, and boiled), shrimp (jambalaya) once, and catfish (fried under the etouffe) once. LOL
This is the weekend of the Festival International de Louisiane (free!). I attended last night and will go to more of it tonight and over the weekend. I've got a Zydeco breakfast planned for Saturday morning, a swamp tour in the works, a day of paddling, and some general sightseeing. Next Thursday and Friday, I plan to be at the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans (not free) and then I'll likely do some backpacking over the weekend.
It's kind of nice being out of the bible belt. Things just feel so much more relaxed here than they had in much of Alabama and Mississippi. Conformity isn't quite as expected here. Then again, it's festival season here so with all the tourists from all over the place, that could also affect my perception.
Ah well. I don't know when I'll have time to keep up with the journaling and transcribing but at some point, if my feet give out, I may find time to squeeze some of it in. In the meantime, I still hope to check email occasionally so keep in touch.
Take care, Mara
Well, I was supposed to hike this past weekend but I've been sick so things have changed a bit. That's given me some time to start catching up on my transcribing. Mara
Up early without any sign of rangers. Did the last few miles of the trace and then went back for the 8:30 opening of the Locust Inn Stand, the last remaining stand on the Natchez Trace. Stands are Inns and this last one has been restored to its 1810 state. This one, a wood framed building shows some of the typical features of inns of the period. The front was painted but only as high as the top of the doors. Anything higher was a waste because people donít see it under the eaves. This house has outbuildings consisting of a kitchen facility. Kitchen facilities are often separate in order to prevent fires from taking the living quarters.
In Natchez, I toured the grounds of the Melrose House and visited the Forks, where much of the areaís slave trade took place. The library was great and didnít even look at ID to let me sit down.
From there, I started to Louisiana. At the visitorís center, I collected a bunch of brochures. As I was leaving, I stopped to talk with a Swiss guy traveling around. He was getting stuck paying high motel prices for the weekend in New Orleans and while it was too late for now, I told him about couchsurfing.com and hospitalityclub.org. I think thatís more up his alley than expensive hotel rooms.
One of the things I picked up was a freebie ďCountry RoadsĒ magazine with an article about Louisiana hiking and hikers. Mentioned in there was the ď50 Hikes in LouisianaĒ book that Waterfall wrote. Not only that, but she was quoted, too. It was kind of cool seeing her mentioned. [I saw Nina again at Trail Days on my way home and was able to give her my copy of the newsletter which she had heard about but hadnít seen.]
Finally, in Baton Rouge, I found my way to Marsanneís place. Sheís yet another friend from the on-line world of hiking. She lives in this great neighborhood called Spanishtown. We took a walk and saw a great many huge pink flamingoes made out of plywood. They are a Mardi Gras tradition in the area. Downtown, we stopped by the rooftop terrace of the new arts center for a wonderful view of the river. There were barges going up and down, a destroyer in dock, a riverboat casino, and more. Finally, we went to Parrainís for a great seafood dinner. Fried catfish with crawfish etouffe. Yum!
Thursday, April 21 - Baton Rouge to Lafayette. Mostly sunny and 70s.
With a fog bank on the far side of the river and no way for me to know whether it was coming across or burning off, I decided to visit the state capitol before the view from the top could be obscured. At 450 feet, itís the tallest state capitol building in the U.S. It was built in the 30s and is a classic art deco style building. There is a lot of symbolism built into the building with its octagonal upper section with allegorical figures and 48 steps representing the states in order of their admittance into the union. The views from the top encompassed town, gardens, river, and chemical plants.
By the time I was done, I was hungry so I visited Tonyís, a huge seafood market where you can get your seafood raw to cook at home or already cooked. While not quite breakfast food, I had my first crawfish boudin there. Boudin is meat, rice, and spices stuffed into a sausage-like link. Traditionally itís made of pork and/or beef, but I like the crawfish. Break open one end and squeeze the stuffing out.
I then drove across the Atchafalaya (emphasis on the second syllable) on the engineering feat known as I-10. The Atchafalaya section was the last section of this interstate built because the engineers couldnít figure out how to build the highway through the swamp. The I-10 visitorís center is worth a stop, especially for kids to see the talking turtle and Egret that encourage you to see the four-minute movie about the swamp.
Moving on to Lafayette, I stopped at the visitorís center there, as well. I had heard about that one from so many people and with good reason. This one, just south of I-10 between the north and southbound Evangeline Highways, it has a wonderful boardwalk through its own little swamp. There, fish and turtles abound along with ducks and other waterfowl. Apparently, an alligator even tried to make it home at one point.
I stopped at the library to check email before heading to my next hostís house. The library was yet another nicely appointed library. There, the monitors were sunken into the desks so you didnít have to look up to see.
I then made my way to Geneís house. He lives on the edge of town with forest, not more subdivision surrounding him. His house a wood (almost log) home is set in an amazingly gardened lot. I was greeted by his three dogs, all friendly and sized the same though one looked like a cross between a fox and a setter (red), one was white, and one was black. So cute. The dogs were just the start of the menagerie. A pet snake and pet mouse lived in cages in the back yard. Unfortunately, a few uninvited guests of the incredibly large and crunchy six-legged variety were also trying to make a home of his house.
Gene and I visited a while before I grabbed a shower and changed for the Festival International de Louisiane in town. This free festival takes over town for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings as well as all weekend. The music was great but I was surprised at how few people were dancing. How can anyone sit and listen to Cuban music without even tapping a toe? The highlights tonight were the Cuban group and a group from Ghana. Dinner of shrimp jambalaya was delicious.
Back at the house, I let myself in and was not only greeted by the dogs, but by a trio of rather large cockroaches in the bathroom. It was a bit much for me so I used the downstairs bathroom and slept in my car in the driveway. To be honest, I'm so comfortable in there now. In many ways it's just easier than moving in and out of people's houses. I can now see why RVers also stay in their RVs when visiting people.
Friday, April 22 - Lafayette. Sunny and high 70s.
Spent some time yakking with Gene this morning. Then headed out for the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park, Acadian Cultural Center. There, in two films and a museum, was related the story of the Acadians exile from Nova Scotia and their long journey to Louisiana. It wasnít nearly as direct a migration as I had previously thought. Some were settled up and down the eastern seaboard while others were actually forced to go back to France before immigrating to Louisiana.
It took a while, but I finally found a highly recommended place to have boiled crawfish for lunch. The Boiling Point in Broussard (just south on 90) was a typical boiled crawfish place. Right in the middle of the dining room are a couple of sinks to wash up. So, I had a couple of pounds of well-spiced crawfish. Yum! Dessert was a piece of cake from a group of folks obviously associated with the people running the place. They were celebrating someoneís birthday and had given me a piece of cake while I was waiting for my meal. How nice!
Back in Lafayette, Bordenís, a 1950s era shop selling Bordenís ice cream was also on the docket for dessert (the piece of cake was rather small). Even the servers in this art deco shop were from the 50s, or so it seemed. Then, it was another library stop to check email before the festival got going again this evening.
Good parking karma set in again and just like last night, I got a place to park right on Jefferson Ave, the main drag through town and in the heart of the Festival.
Tonight, being Friday, was a bit more crowded. But, finally, the crowd finally got into the mood and started dancing. I even met a guy who had once upon a time been a competitive ballroom dancer and we ended up having a few great dances together. Everything from salsa to cha cha.
The first set was ending when I heard ďMara!Ē being called out. I turned to find Hummingbird and Dutch Treat, friends from the hiking community were also enjoying the show. We hung out a bit during those times I wasnít dancing and needed to rest my feet. It was fun to talk with them as theyíre also traveling for months on end. Dinner was a crawfish Po boy.
That night, I parked back at Geneís but didnít need to go back into the house at all. It was great having a nice, dark, quiet place to park overnight. I did note the Wal-Mart lot did have at least ten RVs and other assorted vehicles obviously spending the night.
Saturday, April 23 Ė Lafayette. Low 70s and sunny.
I was up early to get to Breaux Bridge before 7:30am. I was there by 7:20, as I drove up, the line was already forming outside of Cafť des Amis. At 7:30, when the doors opened and they started seating people, I expressed willingness to sit with others or share my table. They put me at a table for two and not two minutes later, they were seating another solo traveler with me. It was Raymond, a single guy from Philadelphia, also in town for the Festival and for the Saturday morning breakfast and dancing at Breaux Bridge.
The breakfast choices looked great and I chose a biscuit topped with crawfish au gratin and two eggs over easy served with cheese grits. Breakfast was served while we were still waiting for them to get the sound system under control. The food was delicious. Even the grits which arenít usually anything I enjoy were pretty tasty as long as I ate them while still hot. The band started playing while we were still eating breakfast. It was frustrating to hear some great swing music knowing I had someone to dance with sitting right at my table. But, I wanted to finish breakfast and change into my dance shoes. I was also surprised to hear swing. I was expecting zydeco. But, they were just starting with that as a warm up.
We finally finished breakfast and hopped up to dance. Raymond and I got in one great swing dance before they shifted to zydeco. We kept dancing a couple of more dances and then started dancing with others in the hall. The floor was small but the dancing and music were great. I stayed until noon. For anyone coming to this area, this place is not to be missed if you like good food, music, and dance. If youíre not into the dance, the food is worthwhile and the place is open on Sundays if not everyday. Itís just Saturday that has the zydeco dance with the breakfast. While there were still quite a few locals present, I did get the feeling that some stayed away during the Festival weekends when us out-of-towners take over. Most of the people I met were not from the Lafayette area.
Afterwards, I made my way back to Lafayette and caught a few more hours of great music and dance. At the zydeco tent, I recognized quite a few people from that morning. I also recognized a couple of Boston area dancers.
Later that afternoon, back at my car I pulled out my skirt only to discover it had a three-inch section where the skirt had pulled away from the waistband. So, I pulled out my needle and thread and affected a quick repair. I then changed and started towards my evening obligation. Along the way, I realized my watch was an hour fast. Actually, it was in the wrong mode so I had an hour to kill. So, I found a nice park and had some quiet time before heading out.
Tonight was the first night of Passover. I was invited over Edye and Kenís house for the seder. Once there, I met Ari (Ariel), a woman from the Boston area in her last couple of years of rabbinical school. She comes to Lafayette every other week to intern as their rabbi. I also met the rest of their large group of family and friends. There must have been 20 people there. They made me feel right at home. Their seder was much more similar than different than what I am used to. They also put me up for the night.
Sunday, April 24 Ė Lafayette to Lake Martin. Low 70s.OK - a rare day of more than one email. But, in this smallest of libraries, the connection is a dialup connection and I don't want to take any chances on losing any of this.
I went to Lake Martin this morning for a couple of hours. I had heard about it both at the Breaux Bridge Visitorís Center where they had actually handed me a bird list and some other material and from a few other people as well. What I didnít know until I got there was that the lake is now owned by the Nature Conservancy. Instead of spending a couple of hours, I spent all day.
In the morning, I parked at the 353 end of the road and walked in on the levy for almost two hours. I thought the bird life there was fantastic and flushed an indigo bunting, amongst other birds. On the way out, the sun had hit the levy and it was teeming Ė with snakes. In addition to the one I saw on the way in, I saw three more on the way out. Two seemed to be a pair. I also saw lots of evidence of many other snakes but just couldnít see them in the tall grass bordering the trail. It only took 30 minutes to walk out.
I then drove along the road portion of the levy and was flabbergasted by the size of the rookery. Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Anhingas, and lots more all nest here. Also below the rookery, in the swamp, I saw three very large alligators Ė on the order of 10 to 15 feet long.
I was getting hungry as I hadnít planned on staying for so long so I took a quick trip into Breaux Bridge for a bite to eat and then came right back. After lunch, I parked at the other end of the road and walked the levy in the other direction. Some materials I had indicated this is where painted Bunting nest but I didnít really expect to see any. I took my time walking in and could hear many more birds than I could see. I also spied a smaller alligator, on the order of three feet, in the swamp and many turtles. At this point, my allergies got the best of me and with a sneezing fit, I had to turn around. It was on my out that I spotted a bird streaking along in front of me. It flashed red and as I watched, it perched on a branch that was visible from where I was standing. It was too small to be a cardinal so I thought tanager. I was quite surprised when the binoculars I was using resolved the bird into a Painted Bunting. With a blue head, green back, and red belly, the males are impossible to misidentify. It was striking!
I drove the road adjacent to the rookery back to 353 on my way back to Lafayette. Once again, I was amazed at the rookery. I could actually see some of the downy chicks in their nests.
Back in Lafayette, I went to the second seder at Judy and Markís place. I had met them the previous evening at Edye and Kenís. This seder took on a somewhat different timbre with no small children present. Once again, I was reminded more of the similarities rather than the differences between their seder and my familyís.
Afterwards, I drove back to Lake Martin to spend the night. There didnít seem to be any restrictions against spending the night there and with a nice dark parking lot with nobody else there, it was perfect. This is just the kind of place I try to find to park and spend the night.
Monday, April 25 Ė Lake Martin to New Iberia. Low 70s with morning clouds giving way to rain.
Up with the birds this morning. Literally. Once again, I was reminded never to wait to take pictures. I didnít take any yesterday morning and now Iím a bit sorry. This morningís gray dark skies are not conducive to taking pictures. Yesterdayís sun, during the morning, would have been great. Sigh. Well, I still have the memories.
There were just two of us birders on the road this morning. Everyone else, including an ďoversized loadĒ truck that kept rumbling back and forth, were using the road for commuting purposes. It was nice to have the place to ourselves but the commuters travel fast and raise a lot of dust. Cough. Hack! I can only imagine what it does to all the optics of the binoculars and cameras being used in the area.
Half of the secret to bird watching here is to not get too focused on the rookery here. Itís very easy to get caught up in watching the big majestic birds. But, if you look on the other side of the road, or past the ends of the road, youíre more likely to see the plethora of smaller birds that also inhabit the area. This morning, I saw a pair of Barred Owls and when I saw a piper, it took a while, but I finally identified as a bird not on the 130+ strong bird list I had been given. I knew from talking with people that the list should now be nearly 200 strong so Iím probably not the first to have spotted the Western Sandpiper. But for me to be able to figure it out myself was kind of neat.
At 9:30, I headed back to the boat landing for my 10:00 swamp tour in the lake. I was a bit dismayed at the size of the boat and the number of people but it was still a great tour. Unfortunately, I do have mixed feelings about it. The locals arenít so happy with the way the Nature Conservancy is running things and flaunt the posted signs by taking the boats right into the rookery during nesting season. That said, neither parents nor chicks seemed at all upset at our intrusion into the swamp.
Our tour was basically given twice as we went; once in English and once in French. We had a bunch of people from both Belgium and France with us. One other group of three on the tour were birders so we had fun pointing out a lot of birds to each other. They were much better at spotting and identifying the smaller birds but Iím the one that ďfoundĒ the Osprey.
With the changing weather, we saw no alligators but did see a red fox squirrel and a nutria. Nutria, the second largest rodent in the world after the Australian capybara, were introduced into the area for their fur but have since become an invasive and unwanted pest. Given that the levies prevent seasonal flooding and drying in the swamps of Lake Martin, no new cypress trees grow there. But, evidence of the nutrias is everywhere as they gnaw on the cypress and cause damage to those that remain.
After the tour, I finally tore myself away from Lake Martin and headed south. At this point, it started raining. When it started to get bad, I stopped for a while to check email in a local library. When the rain abated, I continued on. I stopped for an oyster Po boy at Duffyís Diner, a local 50s era diner. I forgot to order the ď1/2Ē and got the whole thing. I also got a generous helping of sweet potato fries with it. It was delicious but as it was almost 3:00, my lunch turned into lunch and dinner. It was enough.
By the time I left and got to Avery Island, it was just about to close for the day so I decided to go back tomorrow. I took some time to drive around town. The northbound route through town was the historic district with its beautiful antebellum homes. I also found the library for a stop the next morning.
Tuesday, April 26 Ė New Iberia to Grand Isle. Cloudy but clearing. 70s.
It was early so I stopped in Mecheís donut shop for some breakfast and to sit and write my journal. This place is definitely a localís hangout so I talked to quite a few people as they came, sat for coffee and a donut, and then left. Most thought I was crazy but ďadmiredĒ me all the same for what Iím doing. I also got into some interesting conversations about social issues, both local and otherwise.
The library opened at 8:30 so I checked email before heading to Avery Island and Jungle Garden. Avery Island is where Tabasco is made. Itís now $1 to get on the property though the ďtourĒ is free. The tour consists of a guide who gives you an introduction, leads you to an auditorium to see a movie, and then leaves you on your own to finish the tour. To be honest, I donít think they even need the guide. When done with the tour, they encourage you to visit the country store. Itís somewhat overpriced.
I wasnít really sure if I wanted to go to Jungle Gardens but I had heard so many people raving about it. At $6.50, I had hoped it would be good. Jungle Gardens is where a member of the McIlhenny family (of Tabasco fame) set up a rookery for the then, endangered, Snowy Egret. If you like beautifully landscaped gardens, the landscaping is truly fantastic. If youíre going for the birds, go to Lake Martin instead. Lake Martinís natural rookery is so much nicer than the bamboo built one at Jungle Garden. The birds and nests are closer to the road and easier to view. And, I saw Snowy Egrets there. I didnít see any Snowy Egrets at Jungle Garden, only Great Egrets. They may have been there but I just never saw them.
Needless to say, even though I saw a few alligators and turtles, I wasnít impressed with the area. Maybe my expectations were set too high by everyone else who had talked about it, but if I were to visit the area again, I would give it a miss.
From there, I headed east and south. I stopped in Houma to check email. The library there was large and modern and had been voted library of the year in Louisiana. It really was nice.
Continuing from there, the drive was fantastic. I went from fresh water bayou to briny mix to salt water estuary, and finally, the Gulf. The bayous and estuaries along the way were lined with shrimp and other boats. With water everywhere, big boxy drawbridges were everywhere. As were high fixed bridges from which the views were great. I crossed the Intracoastal Waterway as I headed south. The road was also so close to the water. It was easy to see how any storm surge would overtake the area.
Once out in Grand Isle, I was surprised to find such a large community. It felt like area on the New England coast. Every building built up on pilings at least one story high. This included stores, post offices, libraries, and even the building part of the gas stations. The only real exceptions I could see were some of the restaurants.
I made my way to the Grand Isle State park where for $10 I get to sleep on the beach. I started my visit at the observation tower and pier. With the storm just clearing out, the surf was dramatic. As I walked out the long pier I could feel the power of the waves crashing underfoot. The brown pelicans were skimming the waves but the real bird action was in the scrub along the shore. There was lots of bird life there but I was anxious to find a place to camp. For the first time since I had driven on the beach on the west coast two years earlier, I realized from the pier, that the beach camping here also meant driving on the beach.
While I could see the cars along the beach from the pier, I hadnít seen any tents. With good reason. The actual tent sites were nestled in the beach scrub and were nearly invisible from the beach. I found an unoccupied site but was happy to just park in front of it and camp in my car.
I was even happier to feel the wind. I had brought my stunt kite with me but had so far had no opportunities to use it. Here, the wind was steady and strong, but not too strong. In no time, I was flying and having a great time. The conditions were about as perfect as they could get with steady winds I had complete control over almost the entire range of the kite strings. I flew a long time before crashing.
I set up again and while waiting for one passersby to get past the ďdecapitationĒ zone, he approached me and we talked. He ended up watching as I flew again but with the storm passing, the wind was getting squirrelly so I soon stopped and put my kite away. The whole time, I had been talking with Jaap, a guy from Antwerp. We just talked and talked. He, too, was traveling for a while and lacked for company. Finally, I went off to find dinner in town. Seafood gumbo. Yum!
Wednesday, April 27 - Grand Isle to Harahan (New Orleans). Sunny and humid in the 80s.Happy Cinco de Mayo!
Trying to catch up still... Sitting here in Jackson, Mississippi at the only library I've been to (I think) with Macs. What would Bill Gates say? LOL
This morning, Jaap and I hung out for a while. I was sitting at his picnic table when I saw something big jump out of the water. We ran to the waterís edge and realized there were porpoises hanging around. I must have seen one or both jump. Cool!
It turns out, we watched then patrol the shore all morning. At one point, I went back to the observation tower to try birding for a bit but was disappointed. I could hear the birds in the scrub but couldnít see them. They were much less active than they had been the previous afternoon.
I grabbed a shower but still had a couple of hours before I had to leave so I strolled the beach. When I realized how warm the water was and how sandy the bottom was with no rocks or shells causing pain underfoot, I quickly changed into my bathing suit. As I approached the waterís edge, I realized the porpoises were now inside the jetties that parallel the beach. I figured I might have company when I was swimming.
I was surprised to realize the bit of surf ended as I got in above my knees. Wading out towards the jetties never got more than chest deep and even began to get shallower for a bit. I did swim a bit but never saw the porpoises when I was in the water. I then took another shower to wash off all the salt water. Iíve barely gotten two showers in a week and today, I got two showers and a swim in the course of just a few hours.
Finally, I said good-bye to Jaap and headed north. I stopped for shrimp and corn soup at the Leeville Seafood restaurant. Also delicious.
I got to Shane and Andreaís place at just about 5:30. I knew Shane from on-line from years of testing gear on BackpackGearTest.org. It was great to meet him in person. He cooked up some fantastic fried catfish. We hung out and finally crashed.
Thursday, April 28 - New Orleans. Sunny and 80s.
I started the day by moving a bunch of stuff out of my car and into the house for safekeeping. Being a bit late, I took a ďshorterĒ route towards City Park only to get waylaid by no fewer than four trains crossing at grade. I could swear it was the same train at all the crossings. LOL. Finally, at City Park, I found a parking spot very close to the Fairgrounds-Racetrack where the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival takes place. Just a block away, some people were charging $20 or more to park. Not having any idea where the festival entrance was, I just followed the thin but growing crowd. Along the way, I passed a cemetery. Here, below sea level (or thereabouts), nobody is buried. Rather, family groups have tombs. Tour buses were stopping and disgorging their passengers to go tour the cemetery. I kept going.
At the gates, it wasnít long before they started to search bags. Finally at 11:00, the gates opened. They now use barcode readers to check tickets and then they took the WHOLE ticket. They wouldnít even let me keep the stub. Pout.
Once in, it was Jambalaya for breakfast and then the food, music, and dance never stopped. Sweet potato pie, crawfish sacks, crawfish marcela, sweet potato cookies, crawfish beignets, and more. Of the music, all were good or great but the special ones were Clarence ďGatemouthĒ Brown, in his eighties, and in ill-health. Not expected to make it to another festival, his venue was packed. To close the day, B.B. King was there. The music was great but I have to wonder if the One Step (diabetes testing tool) product placement was just a bit out of place.
I had hoped to make it to the Thursday night Zydeco dance at the Rock and Bowl but was too beat to go out again after I had gone home to shower and change.
Friday, April 29 - New Orleans. Partly cloudy and 70s.
A repeat of yesterday except that I wasnít feeling very well. By the middle of the day, I knew I was getting sick. I had little energy, wasnít all that hungry (though you wouldnít know it from all the food I just had to sample), and was very tired. For the most part, I spent more time in the venues with tents (they have seating) than the outdoor venues where you have to stand in the sun. I didnít dance much and even fell asleep for a few minutes during one of the concerts.
And unfortunately, this isnít just an allergy attack. Iíve had quite a few of those on this trip but this is worse. Much worse. On my swamp tour, I think I scared away some of the wildlife with all my sneezing. My runny nose was why I even cut my afternoon walk short the day before the tour. Perhaps sleeping at Lake Martin wasnít the best move but the area was so beautiful and teeming with wildlife, I was willing to put up with the discomfort knowing it was temporary. But getting sick isnít the same. I just feel bad. And going into an air-conditioned building or car doesnít solve the problem.
So now, when I got back to the house, I had to tell Shane, with whom I was supposed to be leaving on a weekend backpack this evening, that I was in no condition to hike. It was to be his last backpack before his wife, Andrea, has child number two in a few weeks. I think we were both disappointed. We were supposed to leave tonight and do a short night hike to a campsite but now weíll have to wait until morning on the off chance I do feel up for the hike come morning. Knowing the usual progression of my illnesses however, I think Iíll be out of it for the next few days. Argh! I hate being sick and I hate it even more when Iím traveling. Sigh.
Letís seeÖ more random observations. The live oak trees which are all over Louisiana are beautiful with their limbs spread wide and covered with Spanish Moss.
Perhaps more so than any other area Iíve driven, people here just do not use their turn signals. New Orleans. Just driving through and parking there was a treat. I did that both days.
Walking out of Jazz Fest, I felt like I was in a parade with the spectators being all the people who live in the houses along the way. They come sit out on their porches or stairs watching the procession. Some enterprising entrepreneurs sell water, soda, and/or beer to the passersby. There are no open container laws here in Louisiana.
Shane and Andrea have beautiful fish and a 21-year-old cat that likes to stay in the bathroom while I shower.
Saturday, April 30; New Orleans. Stormy with thunder and lightning, then pouring rain giving way to cloudy weather in the low 70s. Windy.
Woke up still feeling sick so suggested Shane go hiking without me. At this point, the thunder and lightning hadnít been accompanied by any rain. After Shane left, I hung out for a while only to find the skies getting darker and darker. They finally dumped and it poured with the occasional thunder and lightning mixed in. I was hoping it would move off and I could go downtown for breakfast of beignets and hot chocolate at Cafť du Monde. But, it just kept raining. I took a nap and surprised myself when I slept another two hours. After my nap, the rain finally let up so I changed and got out of the house. While it still looked threatening, I heard a forecast that said it was gone for good Ė at least for today.
I drove down Magazine Street. I took a detour through the Audubon Zoo to drive on top of the levee. Itís one of the few places where you can drive along the river and see it. Most of the time, the levee is between you and the river. This road also took me to a huge live oak near the zoo. [11/26/05 Ė The Boston Globe reported that the Zoo just reopened having lost hundreds of Live Oaks but only three animals to the hurricane.] There were also some sort of green and gray escapee type parrots living there.
I also drove down Bourbon and Decatur Streets in the French Quarter. Magazine Street is full of funky shops that reminded me of Harvard Sq from years ago or perhaps, Davis Sq, now. Bourbon Street bars were blaring loud music trying to get those tourists not at the festival to come into their establishments. I rolled down the windows on both sides of my car to hear the cacophony as I drove by. There was rock and roll, Dixieland, jazz, Zydeco, and more. Things were a little less loud on Decatur but no fewer pedestrians. I tend to have good parking karma (or is that ďcarĒma?) and today was no exception. I found a M-F loading zone spot on Decatur right across from the brewing company. That meant I could park all day and not have to worry about feeding a parking meter. I wish I were feeling better so I could enjoy the area more.
But, my immediate goal was just two blocks behind where I parked. Cafť du Monde, where the worldís best beignets were made was calling to me. Beignets are doughnut-like, fried-dough treats smothered in powdered sugar. Iím no fan of powdered sugar but after one bite, the mass of sugar just seemed right on the beignet and I found myself trying to pick up the sugar that had fallen off the treat onto the plate, too.
I had lucked into a table right near the fence so I could people watch as I waited and then ate. It also meant that the wind, still fresh from the storm, was blowing sugar everywhere. Thankfully, it was blowing in from the side so I didnít end up wearing any of it but most people in the cafť did end up with powdered sugar just about everywhere. Also thrown into the mix was the mass of pigeons flying around going after the leftovers before the waiters could clear the tables. They were a disgusting looking, scraggly bunch with missing feathers and a gross appearance. Iím guessing their diet isnít all that great and they must fight over scraps, too. Blech!
After my ~2:30 brunch of beignets and hot chocolate (also delicious), I walked around a bit but wasnít up for following any of the self-guided walking tours of the area. Having seen the Preservation Hall Jazz Band playing in Boston in the late 80s, I walked by the hall which is, perhaps, in need of preservation itself. Had I been up for it, I would have come by for a $5 night of jazz. I think Iíll just have to come back to Louisiana sometime. I eventually found my way to the park to sit for a bit, then to the brewery building for the public bathrooms. Finally, even though I wasnít hungry, I wasnít going to leave the French Quarter without having eaten a good meal there. I went to the Gumbo Shop for a reasonably priced Creole Combination Platter of Rice and Beans, jambalaya, and Shrimp Creole. It was all good and served with a pretty good little French bread and butter. The only thing I left on the plate was the garnish. It looked like a Scotch Bonnet pepper. Hot!
I was beat so I made my way back to the car and back to the house.
Just after I got back, Shane called. The area where he was hiking was flooding and he just managed to get out without a major detour. How frustrating. First I get sick and then the flood. He was back less than an hour later.
Sunday, May 1 - New Orleans to Tickfaw State Park. Sunny and 70s.Running out of time but I am feeling better... remember, I'm still behind on transcribing these journal entries.
Woke up feeling crappy as ever but surprised I'm not actually feeling worse. I got all my stuff packed, took a shower, and finally got on the road. I picked up a few things at Winn Dixie and headed north.
I crossed Lake Pontchartrain on the causeway, yet another major engineering feat. I believe, at 24 miles, it's the longest road built over water.
Being on a road trip with few time restrictions, getting "stuck" at railroad crossings or drawbridges can be interesting. I seem to be lucky when getting stuck in that I'm usually one of the first few vehicles waiting so at least I can see what's going on. Today, I had to wait for a swing bridge to cross a river. It was pretty cool to watch.
Immediately on the other side of the river (note to Shane: there's no light there), I stopped at Morton's seafood restaurant for lunch. I got the platter and after making a good effort, I took a doggie bag wiht me that made for a great dinner, too. The bridge was out again as I was leaving the restaurant so I watched as the river traffic went by, the bridge closed, and then the road traffic cleared out before getting back on the road myself.
I was exhausted by the time I pulled into Tickfaw State Park. I paid my tenting fee, drove to my site, and immediately crashed in the back of my car and slept for a couple of hours. I've been sleeping nine hours at night and two hours during the day for the last couple of days. This cold is really knocking me out.
At the time I drove in, I was the only tenter (as opposed to RVer) in the park and since I wasn't feeling well, I chose a spot near the restrooms. Once again, this Louisiana State Park has great restrooms (except the toilets which run continuously). The showers look nice, too. There's a convenient pay phone and washers and dryers for just $1 each.
I drove around the park to check out the trailheads and pavilions. One of the picnic areas has a great water feature. There are lots of fountains of various designs to play under. One of them, has upturned cones which, as they slowly fill with water, become top heavy and turn over to dump their contents on the suspecting Ė or more likely Ė unsuspecting below. Being a rather cool day, at least in the shade, nobody was playing there but I can see the park filling up on a hot day.
The Nature Center closed at 5:00. I'll have to go back tomorrow. They also have canoe rentals. If I'm up for it tomorrow, I might rent one as they drop you upstream and you get to float and paddle down.
In the meantime, my cold is following its usual progression and is getting worse. The body aches have started and the cold has also moved to my head. Sniffle, sneeze, wheeze, cough.
Not having any energy, I started Thor Heyerdahl's "Kon Tiki". I had seen the raft during my first visit to Oslo in 1987 but had never read the book. For some reason, I was surprised to find it copyrighted 1950 with the expedition having taken place in the 40s. I thought the expedition happened in the 60s. Live and learn.
Monday, May 2 - Tickfaw State Park. Sunny and 70s.
I had a terrible night's sleep. I was up repeatedly, tossing and turning. Everything hurt as the body aches have just gotten worse. No surprise to me but still unwelcome. It got cold, too with temps in the 40s. I couldn't sleep anymore so I sat wrapped in my blanket and sleeping bag in the car as I read. I finished "Kon Tiki," the book I had just started yesterday. I finally took some antihistamines, decongestants, and painkillers to try to jump-start the day.
I made it to the nature center as it was opening. And after looking at the displays inside, forced myself to slowly meander the boardwalk outside. It seemed very long but I'm not sure if it was truly long or if it was just my physical state that made it seem that way. I was surprised to see a deer inside the boardwalked area. While most of the boardwalk is fenced, a good chunk has no railing or fence so animals like deer can freely wander in and out with ease. I finished the boardwalk just as a school group was expected to pull up. Somehow I don't think they'll be quiet enough to see the deer.
With zero energy, I headed for the tiny town of Springfield to find internet access. I figured I might as well transcribe some journal entries. There, I found the smallest library yet of all my travels. In a tiny, one room building, they had two computers with dialup access. That was good enough for me as I was mostly just going to be typing. I use Word to type when possible and then copy and paste directly into Hotmail or Yahoo. The only drawback to this library? The librarian. I have never heard such a loud, talkative librarian who was totally out of touch with her patrons. While I could understand her talking when her friends and family members visited, I couldn't believe how much she talked when they weren't there. And, I wasn't the only one trying to get some work done. I mostly ignored her with the occasional grunt of acknowledgement so I wouldn't appear rude. Once again, I ended up helping another patron. I frequently find myself helping other computer users when the knowledge of the library staff runs out. I'm not at all surprised this happens in these smaller libraries, but I'm often surprised at the lack of knowledge amongst the staff in some of the larger, modern libraries.
After typing a couple of day's worth of entries, I took a break, had a Subway sandwich for lunch, and then typed a few more days worth of entries. I had expected to want to crash by now but was still feeling quite awake. So, I took a bit of a driving tour. I drove south along 51, then drove along the Mississippi river for a while. You can't see the river except when crossing on the huge bridges, but the roads meander past old plantations. They also go past modern, and not so modern, chemical plants, and subdivisions of a variety of ages. I drove a loop that ended up back at Tickfaw with a stop for a Gumbo dinner along the way.
Tonight, I'll start Peter Jenkins "Across China." I suspect it'll take me more than one day to read.
Tuesday, May 3 - Tickfaw State Park (LA) to Shepherd State Park (MS). Sunny and 70s.
Hallelujah! Iím not better by any means, but I woke up this morning quite refreshed after having slept pain free for a solid eight hours without waking up once. While not really energetic, I managed to shower, do a load of laundry, and meander another one the park's boardwalks, all before 8:30 am. At that point, it was time to leave the park.
I hit the interstate just to get out of Louisiana and back to Mississippi. There, just inside the Mississippi border, I wanted to stop at the Welcome Center and see what I could of the Stennis Space Center. I was surprised to find that the tour of the center leaves directly from the Welcome Center. How convenient.
The Stennis Space Center is a facility where they test rocket engines used by NASA. None were being tested today or else I could have watched. The tour of the facility (on the bus from the welcome center), and the StenniSphere, the museum and interpretive center are both free and well worth a couple of hours of time. If you have more than a passing interest in any of their programs which not only includes the NASA testing, but NOAA, and the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, you can easily spend even more time here. Being sick, I have little patience for reading the interpretive placards so I only spent two hours. If I ever go back, Iíll plan to spend at least half a day. I didnít eat there but I did check out the cafeteria known as the Rocketeria. It not only serves the tourists, but the workers, too and has a reasonable selection of food at reasonable prices.
Back at the Welcome Center, the grounds were beautiful so I found a place to park and had my lunch there.
Moving on, I drove the coastal route along the Gulf. By the time I got to Pass Christian (yes, thatís the name of the town), I was exhausted. Someone at the Chamber of Commerce directed my to a wonderful little tree-shaded city park where I stopped and napped in my car for a while. Perfect! While there was plenty of parking along the beach, there was no shade there and I would have baked if I had tried to nap in my car there. After napping, I stopped in the local library to catch up on email. Then I scouted the Ship Island Ferry for tomorrow. Finally, I stopped at the Gulf Island National Seashore but continued to the State Park where camping is cheaper.
Once again, Mississippi does disc golf a great service. Thereís an 18-hole course here.
I did pass a Wal-Mart on my way here but since Iím feeling lousy once again, I wanted a dark quiet place to crash.
At the library today, I picked up a bookmark with a listing of all 50 states. The ones I havenít been to include Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma. Hmm, seems like a Midwest road trip and an Alaskan Adventure might be in the works.
Wednesday, May 4 - Shepherd State Park to Janice Landing, DeSoto National Forest. Partly cloudy and 70s.OK, so yet another day with more than one email, but hey, now I'm only one day behind! I would keep going, but my hands are tired so it'll have to wait until the next time I get on-line.
For the second day in a row, I slept great and woke up feeling much better than when I had gone to sleep. Iím still sick but trying not to let it grind this trip to a complete halt. So, I found a good, fairly low-energy, side trip for today.
Ship Island, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, is a one-hour passenger ferry ride south of Gulfport. On the way out, I stayed largely on the bow, not minding the relatively warm spray in order to watch for all the blue-nosed dolphins in the sound. There were a lot of them. Rarely did two minutes pass without seeing some of them surface or jump.
Once on the island, National Park Service volunteers give talks and tours of Fort Massachusetts (no, I didnít really feel like I was going home). The fort, like so many others, was built as a result of the 1812 War. It was only partially completed when the civil war broke out. At one point, when the Confederates occupied it, there was an eleven-minute battle between them and a Union ship enforcing the embargo in nearby waters. Both sides fired cannon at each other. Neither side was hit by the otherís cannon, nobody was killed, and nobody was injured. Both sides claimed victory. Later when the Confederates abandoned the island, the same Union ship took control of the island. It was the USS Massachusetts. The ship name lent its name to the fort. Eventually, the island was used as a prison for Confederate soldiers.
The island also has a lot of marshland and beach. After crawling all over the fort, I crossed the island on the 1/3-mile long boardwalk, and flew my kite a couple of times. Itís a stunt kite so takes no significant energy to fly. Thereís no running involved. Once the kite is positioned on the sand, to launch, all it takes is to stand there and pull back on the control strings.
After flying a couple of times, I put the kite away and pulled out my binoculars. The bird life on the island was quite active. I identified quite a few of the birds I saw around but was eluded by a some of the smaller pipers/terns/plovers on the beach.
After returning to Gulfport from Ship Island, I pulled over to ask someone where the local library was. But, I didnít get around to asking before I realized the sign where I pulled over read, ďLibrary Parking Only Ė All other will be towedĒ. I guess I found it on my own.
Then, it was on to Janice Landing, a free camping area in the DeSoto National Forest. It was also the first place Iíve been where mosquitoes have truly been a nuisance. With bug spray, I could cook and eat outside, but as soon as it started getting dark, they chased me back into my car. Iím so glad I brought a large sheet of mosquito netting with me. I open the rear window of my car and cover the opening with the netting. I get plenty of fresh air in the car and can sit inside with the lights on and not worry about all the bugs coming in after being attracted to the light.
[11/26/05 Ė Rereading this for the first time since Hurricane Katrina got me curious. Since the hurricane, I have felt somewhat fortunate to have visited the area before such a storm devastated the area. Iíve known ever since the hurricane, that many of the areas I had visited would never be the same and have felt horrible for those who must live through not only the storm, but the aftermath. Now, rereading this, I started doing a bit of research and found the following web site:
While pictures from the communities all along the coast from Pass Christian to Biloxi were upsetting, one that hit me hard was number 68 of the Gulfport series. The rotary pictured there is at the entrance to the dock where I caught the ferry to Ship Island. That rotary is also where I noticed a link to the hiking community, a plaque dedicated to William Bartram. The ferry to Ship Island is no longer running and won't be for some time. Not too unexpectedly, Ship Island was rearranged by Hurricane Katrina. One aerial picture I saw now has the fort surrounded by water.
Thursday, May 5 - Janice Landing to Jeff Busby Site, Natchez Trace Site. Sunny and 70s.
I woke up feeling like this cold is finally starting to get better. I still have all the same symptoms but they just donít seem as bad. It was early when I got up but I had no love of the mosquito-infested campground so I hit the road before 7:00. My map showed a small road leading out with no name or number. I had passed ďNew York RdĒ on my way in so figured that must have been it. I wasnít in a rush so I decided to try it. When I check the map and realized that the town at the other end was Brooklyn, I figured it must be the right road. Well, not only that, but detour signs that I ended up following said ďJanice to Brooklyn.Ē LOL I also wanted to check out Moody Landing, another National Forest Service area. I found a shooting range but no landing.
Back on the main road, when I started north, I passed Camp Shelby, a military facility with a museum. But, it was too early for the museum and I didnít feel like waiting for two hours. I found no other reasons to stop along route 49 and soon got to Jackson. I almost stumbled across the library. When I asked where it was, it was only 1/2 block away. So close! Being downtown, near the capitol, it was a large well-appointed library with upwards of 30 Macs providing internet access. I think itís the only Mac library Iíve been to. I have to wonder how that came to be. Iím guessing it was funding from somewhere other than the Gates Foundation.
I transcribed a bunch of my journal entries, looked up the Mississippi state high point, and read email. Realizing it was Cinco de Mayo, I signed my email as such and developed a sudden craving for Mexican food. I inquired at the Reference desk (where else?) and was promptly directed to Conzuelaís, a busy place nearby. I donít know if itís always busy or just today, being the holiday.
After lunch, I stopped at the local AAA office to pick up Tennessee maps and tourbooks. I hadnít really planned on spending much time in TN so hadnít brought them with me from the get go. Now, Iíll have the better part of the week in the state if I choose to use it. Then I found a used bookstore. It figures it would have to be a ďBook RackĒ. They are the same franchise with whom I have a $200+ credit at home but they donít share their credit lists. I bought a couple of books to make sure I made it through the trace.
Finally, I hit the Trace again only to be almost immediately detoured. But, the detour was short and I was soon on my way with my cruise control set to 50mph. One of the stops I made this afternoon was the town of Kosciuszko, if only because I climbed the mountain of its namesake two years earlier in Australia.
I was a bit disappointed when I pulled into the Jeff Busby campground. Itís a lot rougher and a lot less private than the Rocky Springs campground I had visited but not stayed at during the southern portion of the trip. But, beggars canít be choosers and it wasnít all that bad.
I ate dinner, finished my book, and took the trail that went to the summit of Little Mountain. I was surprised that I didnít have any problems with the climbing. No coughing! Iím tired and though I still cough occasionally, my head cold is largely gone and Iím feeing a lot better. Time for a quick stroll to the campstore (closed) before running in to start a new book.
Friday, May 6 - Jeff Busby Site (MS) to Meriwether Lewis Site (TN), Natchex Trace Parkway. Sunny and 70s.
I woke up feeling almost better. Yeah! Just a bit of a cough and hoarse voice left to deal with. I didnít even feel like taking any of the antihistamines, decongestants, or ibuprofen I had been taking regularly. I left the campground where I had been feeling ďsqueezedĒ in. For the first hour or so, it was nice to have the road basically to myself. As it got to be rush hour and I was approaching Tupelo, it was obvious that not all the cars on the road were sightseers.
In Tupelo, I got gas, took care of some business, both personal and ALDHA, and did some shopping. I skipped Elvis Presleyís birthplace. Back on the Trace, I had two more side trips in mind.
First, in the northeast corner of Mississippi, I went to Woodall Mountain. At 806 feet, itís the 47th lowest, high point in the US. While not really a serious highpointer, I was so close, it seemed a shame to miss it . For any highpointers who might be wondering, the route to the top is now well marked off route 25 and the road is in very good condition with only a few potholes and shallow ruts. Anyone in a two-wheel drive vehicle should make it without a hitch. That said, the road is not paved and the condition could change. Just drive carefully and know you and your vehicles limitations.
From there, I crossed back over the Trace and went to Muscle Shoals, AL. There, I visited the birthplace of Helen Keller. By bypassing Presleyís birthplace in favor of Kellerís, I guess you can see where my priorities lie. Then again, Iíve admired Keller since I was a child and first read about her. The grounds and garden are quite nice but there were two large busloads of children there and when I tried to go into the house to pay, it was completely overrun so I gave up. It was late and the house wouldnít be open much longer so I didnít even try to wait. The garden has contributions from a variety of organizations and countries. What struck me about them were the ones that were tactile and could be touched. It seemed appropriate for a garden honoring Keller. Many however, were behind glass and inaccessible to anyone with the same limitations Keller had.
Finally, it was back to the Trace and the Meriwether Lewis Site for camping. This site had more elbow room, like the Rocky Springs site, but was designed more like the Jeff Busby site. Iíll explore the historic elements and trails in the area tomorrow morning.
Saturday, May 7 - Meriwether Lewis Site. Sunny and 80s.
I spent the morning hiking on some of the trails in this area. I had hopes to hit a large portion of the original trace but missed the unmarked turn at one point. So, I visited the Pioneer Cemetery and the broken shaft monument erected over Lewisí grave. It was built as a broken shaft to represent Lewisí life, cut short at the age of 35. He died from two gunshot wounds and it was never determined whether it was by his own hand or if he was murdered.
I stopped at an overlook to have the picnic lunch I was carrying. It took me a while to figure out why I wanted to have lunch at this otherwise unremarkable overlook. As Iíve been moving along the trace, the flat lands have slowly been giving way to hillier terrain. I think I just enjoy seeing this tiny valley with the small ridge opposite. The change in topography is so different than the flatlands of the Gulf coast and Louisiana Bayous.
Back at the car, I finished a book and took a nap. A 2.5 hour nap. Once again, Iím reminded that my cold is not quite completely gone.
Later in the afternoon, I got into a conversation with a couple as they passed by. Talking with other in campgrounds is not at all unusual. But, when they walked past again, they stopped and asked my over for dinner and told me to bring stuff and plan on taking a shower while there. How delightful!
They were traveling with a fifth wheel, a pickup pulling a large RV with sections that popped out of the sides. I had been in smaller ones but this was positively spacious. Iíve been in apartments smaller than their RV. It felt marvelous to get clean again. And, as I told Sharon and Roland, my hosts, what was even nicer than the great dinner, was having company while eating dinner.
Sunday, May 8 - Meriwether Lewis Site to Nashville, TN. Sunny and 80s.
Woohoo!!! I'm all caught up with transcribing.
Now you know where I was as recently as yesterday. I'm going to be heading into Damascus, VA and Trail Days as early as tomorrow so for the weekend, I'm not sure how much I'll be keeping up with writing and transcribing. I hope to catch up again sometime during the first half of next week.
I started the day perusing maps with Sharon and Roland. We all had suggestions for each other on our future travels. Then, we had an impromptu hiking poles session. It brought to mind another potential workshop session for a future ALDHA Gathering.
From there, I toured the last picnic area that I hadnít visited in the Meriwether Lewis Site. As I was headed out, I realized there was an exhibit I hadnít seen the day before at the old house. While there, I ran into a couple of cyclists. She, from Maine, and he from Bethel, NH, right near the AT. I was great to chat with them and find out about the great camping opportunities for cyclists along the Trace that arenít available to those of us in motorized vehicles.
They also mentioned meeting Bart Smith the day before while on the old Trace stretch of road. Bart is in the process of photographing all of the National Scenic byways and is planning on completing his Natchez Trace series in time to pull something together for the dedication on May 21. Bart has previously completed books on the Appalachian Trail and I believe, the PCT (not sure about the CDT). I had met him and his wife at an ALDHA Gathering a couple of years ago.
Finally, back on the t race, I stopped at a couple of pull-outs to walk to waterfalls. The terrain is getting hillier to the point where the speed limit on the parkway has been reduced from 50 to 40mph. I finished my journey on the trace when I hit route 100. I turned right to head into Nashville.
Almost immediately, I pulled into a beautiful park with a lot of trails and a Nature Center. The area was the Edwin Warner Park and the adjacent Percy Warner Park. The Nature Center was closed on Sunday but the grounds were open. Trail guides were available for the taking near the Nature Center. There was a little pond there with all sorts of appropriate animals. Lots of tadpoles, tiny fish, and for the first time, I saw a lizard (salamander?) swimming. The largest animal I saw in there was a huge tadpole. I imagine itíll be a bullfrog.
My next stop was to be the Parthenon, a full sized reproduction of the Parthenon in Greece. Itís in a park in Nashville. As I pulled up, I found a huge craft fair in full swing. I got in the line of cars trying to park and my good parking karma set in and I got a very convenient spot almost immediately.
I circled the crafts area twice to ensure I got to see both the outer and inner rings. While doing so, I stopped to check out the Parthenon (very impressive but I still want to go to Greece) and stopped to listen to Nashville Weather, Weather or Not, a folk group playing music I felt like dancing to (sounded like a contra dance).
On my way out, I stopped for the third time at this one booth (uh oh!) and bought a tree. This artist makes beautiful trees out of batches of wire, twisted together, and then pulled apart to make the branches. Iíve never been much into ďflatĒ art (paintings, prints, and photographs), and sure enough, this is now being protected in my car in an approximately 8x8Ē cake box. Iím going to have to keep it uncrushed for the remaining two weeks of travel.
From the Parthenon Centennial Park, I drove around downtown and as I had seen carousel horses gracing the streets of Columbia, MS, and catfish on the streets of Jackson, here and there along the streets of Nashville were oversized guitars. At 4:30, I finally realized the libraries were open to 5:00 Ė even on a Sunday. I had just enough time to get a temporary library card and find the location of the nearest Wal-Mart before being kicked off.
On the way to the Wal-Mart, I found dinner. Iím back in the land of the Jack-in-the-Box restaurant. They make my favorite fast food salad, their Southwest Chicken salad. Not quite ready for dinner, I decided to check out the Wal-Mart first. On the way there, I stopped at a park with a reproduction house in it and then realized it was immediately adjacent and shared the parking lot with the Metro police department. I knocked on the door to try to get permission to spend the night there (darker and quieter than Wal-Mart), but was directed to the Wal-Mart. But, the park didnít close until 11:00 so I knew where to hang out that evening. Finally, when I got to Wal-Mart, I didnít even have to ask where to sleep, there were already a couple of RVs in the lot.
Monday, May 9 - Nashville to Jamestown. Partly sunny giving way to threatening skies for thunderstorms that did not materialize. There were a few sprinkles and temps around 80 though.
I intended to spend some of the morning at Fort Nashborough but my guidebook indicated it was closed on Mondays so I found a library (they all seem to be in parks in Nashville) and spent the morning transcribing all but one day of my journal. It feels good to be caught up or nearly so.
After that, I went to the riverside park to eat lunch only to find the Fort was open for self-guided tours, after all. I parked and walked around for a while. I was surprised at how fast the seemingly placid river was running. I also like the ďparking metersĒ they have set up to help fund services for the homeless. They put these up with signs encouraging you to give there rather than pander to the panhandlers. A good idea, I think.
I couldnít resist an ice cream at a funky cafť. There are so few ice cream shops, independent or otherwise, when you leave New England. Recently, I started seeing some Baskin Robbins and the craft fair had a Ben and Jerryís truck but other than Dairy Queen, thatís about it.
Moving on, I took route 70 out of the city rather than the interstate. Itís always interesting to watch such roads go from urban, to commercial, to subdivisions, and finally to rural farms and fields.
My National Geographic map showed an area with the Muddy Pond Mennonite Community. Strangely enough, unlike the other ďattractionsĒ on the map, this gave no other description as to why it was listed and the town didnít even show up on either my AAA map or my Tennessee State Highway map. But, I managed to find it anyway. It was on a twisty, windy, back road with lots of agriculture, furniture makers, and sorghum producers. It being Monday, the bakery was closed. Argh! But, the other shops and General Store were open and fun to poke around.
Driving out, I went north to Jamestown where I got permission to park in the Wal-Mart lot. This store isnít a supercenter and isnít open 24 hours a day. Iíll have to be sure not to need their services (ie. Bathroom) between 10pm and 8am.
Then, I drove further north to check out the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area as well as Picket State Park. I first followed assigns for the Twin Arches Hostel in the NRRA only to realize itís a backcountry facility and I have no permit and its threatening to pour and its requires a ford to get there and I wouldnít get to the ford until after dark and well, there were any number of reasons why it wasnít going to work out.
Then, I found the state park but at $14 to camp, I decided to pass. I did stop at one of the pullouts to hike into an amazing natural feature called the Stone House (I think). Itís a huge overhang similar to Alum Cave in the Smokeys, only bigger. Water was streaming down into clear pools. It was nearly dark so Iím sure I missed some of it and I didnít dawdle too long before heading back to my car.
Then, it was back to Wal-Mart. It was after 8:00 and I hadnít eaten dinner but I wasnít really hungry. Finally, I got a soup and egg roll from a local Chinese restaurant. That hit the spot. Now Iím exhausted. Itís almost 10:00 and just about time to go to sleep.
Tuesday, May 10 - Jamestown, TN to Middlesboro, KY. Rain giving way to partly sunny skies. 70s.
Awoke to gray and dreary skies that only got worse and turned to rain as I drove east. Jamestown to Rugby is only 17 miles and even though it took about half an hour to get there, I still got there an hour and a half after I left Jamestown. That is, I crossed back into the Eastern Time zone and lost an hour.
Historic Rugby, according to my National Geographic map, was a Victorian era, class free, cooperative founded by Thomas Hughes, author of ďTom Browns School Days.Ē I could see some of the building as I drove by but the rain was steady and even if I waited long enough for a tour to start, the weather wasnít conducive to spending time looking at these buildings.
Continuing on, my next stop was Oak Ridge. The library there was charging a fee and since I really wasnít planning on doing much, I just skipped it. Like Los Alamos that I had visited on my New Mexico road trip last year, Oak Ridge was also a WW II era town built for atomic research and known as the Secret City. I was home of the famed Manhattan Project. I took time to explore the American Museum of Science and Energy which, in many ways, was similar to the Los Alamos National Labs Museum. There was a lot of really good information about energy and the history of the town. There was also a fair bit of Oak Ridge National Labs propaganda.
Afterwards, I turned north towards Cumberland Gap with a stop at the Jacksboro library to finally catch up on my journal entries. By the time I got to Cumberland Gap, it was just after 5:00pm and the tourist center closed, of course, at 5:00. With plenty of daylight until after 7:00pm, itís always a bit frustrating to get somewhere with good light and not be able to find out what to do or how to find out about the local area without waiting until 8:00 or 9:00 the next morning. Anyway, I was able to find my best camping option on the gap for $12 so I decided on yet another night in the local Wal-Mart lot. I stopped first at the picnic area near the campground to make dinner. There was a lot of poison ivy along the trace and itís no different here. Gotta watch for those three leafed menaces.
A mall next to the Wal-Mart not only had a little midway, but a theater. I notice that ďHitchhikers Guide to the GalaxyĒ was playing and realized it might be a good night to take in a movie. When I got to the theater, it was only 15 minutes before the movie started. What amazed me was the price. Just $1.50 for a movie starting at 7:30pm. Cool!
After the movie, I noticed all the trailers parked in the mall lot. There were a few private cars and a bunch of RVs. It was where all the folks from the midway were staying. I had a fleeting thought that this looked like a better place to park overnight than the Wal-Mart lot. Then, I got to the Wal-Mart lot and found a sign saying ďno overnight parking.Ē This is the first Wal-Mart Iíve encountered on this trip where overnight parking for RVs was prohibited. My immediate thought was that I could go back to the campground assuming the gate was still open. Then, I thought back to the carnival folks. So, I drove back to the mall (the Wal-Mart and mall parking lots are attached), found some people milling around, and got permission to park near the end of their entourage. Worked for me.
Wednesday, May 11 - Middlesboro to Damascus, VA. Dense fog giving way to sunny skies and temps in the 80s.
I woke up this morning thinking my morning plans might be ruined. An extremely dense, pea-soup fog blanketed the area. I could barely see the Wal-Mart from where I was parked and couldnít see the midway at all. But, I went about my morning routine anyway. I used the restrooms at Wal-Mart, bought some fruit, ate breakfast, and changed. Then, I made my way to the visitorís center and had the time to view the outdoors exhibit before the center opened at 8:00. By then, the fog had started to burn off but was still quite thick but one of the employees indicated that it might be clear at the elevation of the Pinnacle, my original destination for the morning. I passed three deer on my way up to the Pinnacle and found her assessment of the fog to be true. There was no fog on the Pinnacle or in the gap itself. However, both the Kentucky and Tennessee sides of the gap remained blanketed in fog except for the surrounding hilltops. It was beautiful. On the way down the mountain, I visited a cannon and earthworks from the civil war era. The area had changed sides four times before it was decided that it was indefensible and no longer of significant strategic value. Back at the visitorís center, I stopped to watch a video on Daniel Boone. Once again, Iím getting a history lesson on this visit.
Then I left for the Wilderness Road State Park, a very new state park where Martin Station had recently been rebuilt. But, the park was preparing for a big weekend and there seemed little reason to stick around. Perhaps another time.
Continuing on, I made my way back through the mountains to Kentucky. Big Black Mountain, the highest point in Kentucky was my goal. Being on private land, the coal mining company that owns the land now requires a waiver. I passed the entrance to the peak on my way to Benham to go to the Kentucky Coal Mine Museum where I could sign the waiver. Then, I drove back up the mountain. The private road is paved all the way to the FAA beacon near the summit. Then, itís a short drive on a dirt road and another short walk up to the summit. The fire tower on the summit no longer has the enclosure on the top and the bottom set of stairs has been removed. I looked but could not find the survey marker under the tower.
I drove back into Virginia and made my way to Damascus along first the Country Music road, then the Crooked Road, Virginiaís Heritage Music Trail, and finally the Daniel Boone highway in Damascus.
Once here, it fun hanging around with the hikers, having reunions with friends, and just seeing everyone as they arrived in town by foot or vehicle. All of the people who have parts of the ALDHA booth are here, taking a bit of a load off my mind. And, I found a quiet dark place to park overnight in town to get some sleep.
Thursday, May 12 - Damascus. Sunny and 70s.
I'll be home later today but managed to get a few more days typed in. I should be able to get the rest out within a couple of days.
I was up early enough to take a shower at the Place, a hostel owned by a church here in town, before everyone there really started waking up. Then it was over to the laundramat for the ultimate individual hiker convergence - clean clothes and clean body all at once. Woohoo!
Later in the morning, I spent some time at the library catching up on email and transcribing. Mostly, the bulk of the day was spent hanging out and relaxing, largely holding down a chair at Mount Rogers Outfitters (MRO). At 4:00, the non-profit booth holders converged on the park to set up our booths. Florida Trails, ALDHA, and ATC all set up in a row past the end of the last vendor. Plenty of volunteers showed up and we all helped ensure all of the booths were up enough so we would have relatively quick setup the next morning.
My late lunch at the Baja Cafť with their three-pound burritos had me put off dinner until late. I finally just grabbed a Subway sandwich when nothing else in town really appealed to me. I spent some time at the campground, then walked to town and found Leapfrog outside the cafť. Then out walks Isis and Jackrabbit, the Barefoot Sisters, along with Sleepy the Arab. We all stood there talking and talking until it started raining and then moved back inside the cafť, waiting for the rain to let up. It didnít. Isis gave up first and ran to get their car. I was still there when she got back so grabbed the offered ride back to my car, parked behind the ALDHA booth in the park.
Friday, May 13 - Damascus. Mostly cloudy with rain. 70s.
The ALDHA booth setup went well in the spacious sun-shade awning. I spent all day there with a break for lunch. Returning from my lunch break, one look at the sky had me immediately concerned. We started packing up and it didnít take long before the first rain of the day hit. We had just enough time to get everything in the car and under a small tarp before it would have gotten drenched. It was immediately obvious that the sun-shade wasnít going to keep us dry. Mrs. Gorp went to explore the possibility of getting a tarp to cover the whole shebang and came back with a wall panel from a vendor down the park. He wasnít going to need it until covering up for the evening. We spread it side to side just in time for the second deluge to hit. We still needed to pack stuff up to protect it from the wind driven rain but it bought us some time and then kept us a lot drier.
At the end of the day, Jojo, Nomad, Mule, and I had dinner at Sicilyís, the local pizza/Italian joint. I spent some time at the campground before walking back to town. As I headed towards the park, I found Camo so we talked a bit before I finally got back to my car. It was a late night.
Saturday, May 14 - Damascus. Mostly cloudy, 70s, and rain.
I woke up with a migraine today. Wouldnít you know it, I must have finished my Excedrin earlier on the road trip and had to drive to the supermarket first thing in the morning to get more before I could even think about setting up the booth again. Thankfully, the combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine really does work much better than ibuprofen or any of the other individual ingredients, alone.
Mule was waiting for me when I got back. He had a waterproof 12x12' awning with him that ALDHA was able to use. Knowing the forecast, we moved the sun-shade back over my car and move his awning into place to use for the day. There seemed to be many more volunteers helping out at the booth today so I had more time to wander amongst the vendors and talk with my friends at the other booths. With all of my participation, past and present, with lightweight backpacking forums and gear testing, I knew quite a few of them.
After lunch, we realized the sunshade was dry so we started dismantling it. We left the poles and PVC corners out to more thoroughly dry but within half and hour, decided they needed to be packed as well. The sky looked ominous once again. Then, we got the waterproof awning into downpour mode, just in time. We still had to pack up a lot of stuff and put it in the car because the wind turns the rain sideways, but Camo and I were largely able to stay dry under the awning while Jojo and Nomad took shelter in their car. They would periodically run their wipers just to see if we were still there and see how everything was holding up. Camo and I joked with the folks at the ATC booth who were dealing with their own issues under their awning.
After the rain passed, we put the booth back together. Eventually, I took off to present the ďAll About ALDHAĒ talk at the Rock School auditorium. Being so late in the day, 5-6pm, there were only ~11 in the audience but participation from the two long-term ALDHA members was good and the talk went well.
After the talk, I went immediately back to the park to help break down the booth. While doing so, we sold our last membership of the day to one of the audience from my talk. We also sold the last patch we had in our inventory. What timing!
Mule and I started heading towards the campground for the hiker feed. When we parked the car, however, we took one look at the sky and neither of us liked what we saw. We decided prudence, in this case dinner at the Baja Cafť, would be the better part of valor, getting drenched in yet another impending downpour.
We waited in line to order and then couldnít find seats. But, Sly and Cheryl were there so we hung out with them while they finished eating. It still wasnít raining when they finished so they relinquished their seats to us when they finished. Mule and I were sitting down before our meals came. I wasnít crazy about the loud entertainment (two guys with guitars had set up and started playing as we ate), but they were a great excuse for staying at our table for longer than planned. Once again, the rains came again. It poured and poured, and kept pouring. We were very glad to be in the cafť.
I saw Brian Vargo and friends from the Equinox booth ordering food. After they ordered, I invited them to come over to our table. Last year, I had had fun hanging out with Brian and Karen (from Equinox) in the cafť. As their meals were eventually delivered, we relinquished our seats so they could sit down and eat. We hung around until the rains let up and we could make our way to the campground.
Renaissance Billville and their castle was a fun theme, especially the costumed folks wandering around. Jester in a duct tape knights' armor and at least one woman in a duct taped dress. Bag O Tricks dressed as Friar Tuck. All fun.
Sunday, May 15 - Damascus. Rainy and 60s.
I woke up to gloomy weather and knew immediately that I didnít want to go see the ponies at Grayson Highlands in the rain. When Mule came by, he concurred.
Having packed up the ALDHA booth the night before, I hung out at the ATC booth off and on during the morning and managed to get one last ALDHA membership while there. It rained on and off all morning. During those time when it wasnít raining, I would move from booth to booth. When it started raining again, I would just hang out at whatever sheltered booth I ended up at. When it stopped, it was time to move on again.
After lunch, things started drying out. Leapfrog and I hung out, wandered around, broke down her camp when it looked like she could get it dry before packing it or having it rain again, and eventually had dinner at Sicilyís. We went back to the B&B where she was staying so she and Ten Kids could pack their backpacks for their upcoming backpack. I somehow managed to stay awake long enough to hear Leapfrog pull out her guitar and play.
Monday, May 16 - Damascus, VA to Harperís Ferry, WV. Sunny and 60s.
After spending so long in the south, these 60-degree temperatures seem so cool to me.
I meant to leave town early this morning to visit the ponies at Grayson Highlands, but I got distracted talking with Hunter and friend for a couple of hours and even missed the opportunity of a shower at the Place. While I was there, they posted a sign on the door asking people to vacate so they could clean and even break down tents so they could mow. Realizing how late it was, I hopped on the interstate but stopped at a truck stop within an hour to nap for 30 minutes. When I woke up, I bought gas at only $1.92 before getting back on the highway. I saw it for $1.91 at the next exit, but for the most part, prices were over $2.00/gallon. I stopped at ATC headquarters at Harperís Ferry and ended up going out for a great Chinese dinner with Laurie and Dick Potteiger. Then, I slept in my car in their driveway.
If I havenít mentioned this before, I finally understand RVers who visit friends and family but still prefer to sleep in their vehicles. At this point, I find it easier to sleep in my car, even when visiting people and it really is just as comfortable as a bed in someoneís home. I suppose I might feel different if their driveway was busy or brightly lit, but most arenít and I sleep well in my car.
Tuesday, May 17 - Harperís Ferry, WV to King of Prussia, PA. Sunny and 60s.
Iíve been home since Monday but with this noríeaster stalled off the coast of New England, it hasnít stopped raining since Iíve been here. Weíve also been experiencing record low, high temperatures in the 40s since Iíve been back. This weather is more typical of March than May. Canít wait to see the sun again or at least have the rain stop so I can finish unpacking the car.
Iím still getting used to sleeping in my bed again. I think I slept better in my car than I have in my bed since Iíve been home. Iím sure things will equal out soon enough. Iím also kind of sorry I put the flat sheets on my bed when I left instead of the cozy flannel ones I use in the winter.
Iíve had to run various errands since Iíve been back. Driving around town, Iím still surprised at all the cars with Massachusettsís license plates I see.
Anyway, hereís the last of my journal entries for the road trip.
Thanks for sticking with me.
Leaving Harperís Ferry, I was reminded that I was back in eastern seaboard style traffic. Even yesterday on the highway, traffic was routinely going 10mph above the limit, a distinct change from ďthe southĒ where most drove at or below the limit with an occasional speedy mcgreedy going faster.
I couldnít resist a stop at Snyderís of Hanover when I passed the factory in Hanover, PA and noticed the store was open. It turns out, it was exactly 9:00am and thatís when the store opened. One minute sooner and I would have missed it. I picked up some kosher dill potato chips, pumpernickel-onion pretzels, plain old pretzel rods, and more. Then, I stopped in the Sugar Grove library to check email and get pointers on my upcoming drive through Pennsylvania Dutch country. I was considering a stop at one of the farms for lunch but then realized that I didnít really want that big a meal. I ended up stopping for a sandwich at a cafť and then had some ice cream made from the milk of local cows.
Driving through the area was interesting not only for seeing the Amish and their buggies, but also for looking out over the fields and seeing so many farms. Vistas of similar sizes in other farming communities would be one large field dominating over one homestead. Here, the farms are large enough to grow what they need and maybe a bit more. Using animals to plow, they wouldnít be able to farm larger tracts. The town names are also interesting along the route I tookÖ I drove through or near ďBird in HandĒ, ďGapĒ, and ďIntercourseĒ.
I finally made my way east to King of Prussia. There, I was visiting Camo Jack and his wife Kelly who was working into the evening. Jack and I watched the last episode of Enterprise and both agreed it was rather a lame way to end the series. Then we went for a Thai dinner near where Kelly worked so I got to meet her at that point.
After dinner, we took a driving tour through Valley Forge. The deer come out in the evening and the herds numbered in the hundreds. There are so many, they are a problem. Like many other areas though, there are no more natural predators and thereís resistance to culling. We also saw a fox that was either sick or very habituated to humans. We didnít leave the car but pulled up to within 10 feet of the fox. It didnít startle and run as it should have and at one point started to approach the car. That is not good behavior for a fox.
Wednesday, May 18 - King of Prussia. 70s and sunny.
My few quick errands turned into an all morning foray when I found a womanís tall shop in town. With only one womenís tall shop in all of New England that Iím aware of, and others few and far between, I never pass one if I have the time to stop. I hate shopping but at least at a tall shop, I might have a chance of finding something that fits and truly is long enough. Two pairs of pants later, it was well after 11:00 when I started back towards Valley Forge.
At Valley Forge, I stopped at the Visitorís Center. There, I reported the fox and location where we had seen it to the rangers. Then, I took the time to watch the film explaining the Revolutionary War history of the area. It felt familiar, in a way, to be back in a place where Revolutionary history rather than civil war and civil rights history predominates.
I retraced the driving tour stopping here and there to look at interpretive displays and to take a look inside one of the representative huts theyíve built to show what the winter quarters of the army had looked like during the third winter of the war. I stopped for a quick picnic and to take a nap. The large herds of deer from the previous evening were absent, having melted back into the woods for the day. I did see one small group in a field of scrub as I was leaving the park. The fox was nowhere to be seen.
I was to meet Jack back at his place at 3:00. When I got there, he was still sleeping so I caught up on my journal writing. At 5:30, the phone woke him up. Car problems had kept him up until 1:00 so Iím glad I hadnít woken him up earlier. I watched a few more episode of Enterprise that I had missed during my trip while he went back to sleep. I woke him up at 8:00 so we could get some dinner. I had to have a cheesesteak while in Philadelphia so we went out to a pizza place for really good cheesesteak and delicious fries.
Thursday, May 19 - King of Prussia to Quakerstown. Mostly sunny and around 70.
In the most fun and best sense of the word, this was a day of firsts for me.
Since yesterday had put Jack on a ďlateĒ schedule, we planned a morning hike for today. The question was how to get there. Should we take my car or ride his Harley? I had never been on a Harley before and was a bit nervous but when opportunity knocks, I try not to ignore it.
I quickly hopped on the bike Ė OK, I carefully stepped over the passenger seat and settled in Ė and we were off. It turns out the going part is really easy and a lot of fun. Itís the stopping part thatís a bit more difficult. Without handlebars in front of me, I really had to hold on to the grab bars on the side of the seat to keep from sliding forward when we stopped. This was not particularly fun in city traffic. My arms got a workout.
I felt rather exposed on the bike Ė not in the sense that I wasnít in an enclosed vehicle, but in the sense that people along the streets and in passing cars look right at your face not the vehicle. So, what were they seeing when they looked at me? For the most part, I think I had a huge ear to ear grin on my face the whole time.
It was a perfect day for a hike in the Wissahickon Gorge, within the Philadelphia city limits. There, we walked on both an easy, wide gravel road that followed the water as well as on trails leading up into the hills bordering the creek. We probably walked close to 10 miles. It was my longest hike since the Pinhoti Trail.
After we got back, we headed out (in my car) to Michaelís Restaurant. I was surprised to find that it was a Jewish style (not kosher) deli Ė albeit run by an Italian. It was hard to choose, but I finally settled in the corned beef and tongue on rye with a potato knish. That meant I didnít have lox, or whitefish, or blintzes, or latkes, or even scrapple for that matter. Hmm, thereís no such thing as Jewish style scrapple but itís still on the menu. LOL.
Afterwards, quick stop at the Nor-View Dairy for homemade ice cream satisfied a craving of mine. Back at the house, the Internet connection was down so I took my leave and headed out to the local library. For the first time on this trip, I paid to get on-line. I needed to look up the address of my next stop and use Mapquest to figure out how to get there. While only 30 miles away, it was a slow, cross-country trip to Quakerstown.
My friend Mule was working on the grounds of a friendís house. When I got there, he was using a front loader to move earth. When he finished what he was doing, he started giving me the grand tour. First, it was to garage (well, more like a warehouse) where I squeezed into his friendís Viper. No, I did not drive it. Iím not even sure I could have moved my legs enough to drive it if I wanted to.
Next, it was back out to the front loader. Not only did I get in, but I drove the thing, and picked up and dumped dirt. Cool. Now I can say I know how to operate a front loader.
Then, it was a tour of the dirt tracks and grounds while riding on the back of a four-wheeler. The second time around, I drove while Mule rode. The third time around, I drove alone while Mule took cameras to document the occasion as I drove through the muddiest swampiest area. For the most part, we avoided the motocross jumps. Believe it or not, this wasnít the last of my ďnewĒ experiences for the day.
After dinner, Mule and I went to his brotherís business, ďCooleyís House of ThunderĒ. There, I got to drive adult style go-karts. These are not the things we drove around on tracks as kids but they were a lot of fun. The track is slick and so are the tires. To get around the tiny track, you really have to purposefully skid around the corners. I think years of driving on slippery roads in New England winters really helped me.
Friday, May 20 - Quakertown. Rainy and 50s.
The weather conspired to keep us indoors today but I think we both appreciated having a ďdownĒ day. We ran errands, watched TV, napped, and played with Tigger, a chocolate lab with the most expressive face and body language. Not only could we tell exactly what the dog was thinking, he could tell what we were saying Ė or so it seemed. He would bring a ball for us to toss. If he dropped it too far away for us to pick up, we would just tell him and he would bring it closer. If we were watching TV and didnít want to play, we would just say ďnot right nowĒ and he would curl up and nap or watch TV with us. He was so cute.
We watched Vertical Limits, the K2 climbing movie from a few years ago. OK, while some of the mountain and climbing footage was great, even I had to laugh at some of the renditions of climbing and rescue circumstances. When I got home, I found the following list of "Twenty things Vertical Limit taught me about climbing."
Itís in cached form here: http://tinyurl.com/79btw
Saturday, May 21 - Quakertown, PA to Westport, CT. Partly cloudy and 60s to evening rain and thunderstorms.
Mule and I went out for breakfast before I left for New York City. Getting to the tolls to get off the New Jersey thruway was easy but then it took over an hour just to get from there to the toll to go through the Lincoln Tunnel. Argh! Still, I managed to get to Central Park by about 3:00 or so. Then, even better, I managed to find a parking spot within a block of the park. Good parking karma strikes again.
My friend Jen was celebrating her birthday in the park and it was perfect timing for me to join her and her friends as I headed northeast. It was a great day in the park though the forecast was for potential thundershowers. When a big thunderhead started forming overhead, we packed up and made our way back to Jenís place. Just as we finished the tour of her apartment, the rains came. Thunder, lightning, and heavy rain were the order of the evening. Our timing for getting indoors could not have been better. I had a few hours before I was to meet my friends in CT so I hung out at Jenís until the worst of the storm had passed.
Then, with the exception of a long delay on the West Side Highway due to a nasty accident (storm related, if not just wet road related is my guess), it was an easy ride to my friends place in Westport.
Sunday, May 22 - Westport. Rainy and 50s.
Found a great little Greek diner for breakfast. Ran a bunch of errands and hung out at the house a lot. Got to see Michele and Neilís house in Fairfield that they just bought. Homemade lasagna for dinner. A visit to Stew Leonardís afterwards for the experience and some soft-serve ice cream. Once again, rain turns visits into lazy stay at home kind of days.
Monday, May 23 - Westport, CT to Medford, MA. Sunny and 60s.
Hung out with Michele in the morning and then made my way to East Hartford to have lunch with my Mom and sister. I had last seen them the day I left home to head south.
Then, it was an easy drive back to Boston with the rain only threatening during the last few miles of the drive. By the time I got home, however, it was raining hard enough that I only bothered to bring in the perishables and whatever else I could grab easily, figuring I would get the rest once the rain stopped.
It was nice walking into my familiar apartment.
The week I got home, it was unseasonably cold with temps setting record low high temperatures in the 40s. Spring, having been mostly well past down south, was still in full swing when I got home. Trees were not yet fully leafed out. The heat was on, and I was lamenting having put away my flannel sheets before I had left in March. It rained all week.
Within a week, temperatures skyrocketed and were well above normal in the high 80s and over 90 on occasion.
Now, in mid June, we've had an abrupt change back to a cold rainy pattern. Can't believe temps have fallen into the 40s again although now its only at night. But still 50s during the day is cold for this time of year.
Well, this is New England. I should expect nothing less.
Last updated, November 27, 2005.
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