Monday, August 30, 2010

PICTURES!!!

Pictures:

From Leaving Home

From Kisatchie and The Natchez Trace

From Mississippi State Parks

From Corinth and Shiloh

From Tennessee Outdoors

From Northern Georgia Appalachian Trail

From Black Rock Mountain and Foxfire Museum

From GSM Hike Day 1

From GSM Hike Day 2

From GSM Hike Days 3 and 4

 Words:
    I hope these pictures serve as enough evidence that I’m not making all this stuff up from my parent’s basement (yes, a Louisiana basement).  I try to get a few nice photographs along the way, but my current photograph philosophy is as follows: point and click (with the camera settings adjusting automatically as they see fit) as I happen to come upon scenes that appear photograph worthy.  I don’t crop, touch up or edit the pictures in any way.  I hope to improve on my photography skills as I go, but currently find that I take my best pictures when I wait for scenic views to come to me.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Bum Leaves Lynchburg

    The next morning, Great Aunt P and I joined one her daughter’s and her husband Mr. M and headed to downtown Lynchburg to have breakfast at a local restaurant.  I had sweet potato pancakes (I like to try new things when I can and when I’m in a somewhat adventurous mood) with lots of syrup and butter on them.  While we were eating, I discussed the lack of luck I was having with finding a place to couch surf in DC, speculating that my lack of any previous couch surfing experiences may have caused some potential hosts to be uneasy about letting a lone male stay at their place.  In a continuation of extraordinary family generosity, Great Aunt P’s daughter said her old college roommate lived in the area and offered to give her a call.  She did, and I had a place to stay.  Along with saving me money, this combination of generosity and luck probably saved me from a boat load of stress as I had plans to drive deep into the city to stay at a place (hostel, motel, or couch surfing host) to be within walking distance of the sites I wanted to visit.
       After breakfast, we drove past the location where local crazy, The Kind of Germany, hangs out when he’s not in jail (the only evidence of his previous presence were long strips of seemingly random numbers written on white tape attached to a pole).  We also toured Mr. M’s art studio and I flipped through this really cool book he had put together containing pictures and stories from his entire life.
    We drove past the shoe factory where Great Aunt P’s father worked (and she worked over a couple summers).  She told me of how, on occasion, a man and a woman would dance the dance of extramarital foolin’ around in this area beneath where they stored some leather.  It turns out that they weren’t exactly hidden because my great grandfather and other he worked with could see (And apparently watched in silence. Who says the world was entertainment deficient prior to the invention of television and the internet?)
    Back at Great Aunt P’s, I collected all my now clean and dry camping gear, unpacked all the piles of unorganized clutter stacked up in my car, and packed everything up in a bit more of an unorganized manner (my organizational methods have a minor flaw in that I’m currently using my ice chest to store all of my cooking equipment).
    My stay in Lynchburg was great.  The family members I met were very entertaining and generous.  It was wonderful to not have to drive everywhere and to be able to communicate with people throughout the day.  Lynchburg is a nice little town.  A bit off the beaten path, but because of it’s Civil War history, nice local restaurants, and proximity to other attractions in the area, I’d recommend stopping by if you’re close.
       After saying goodbye, I headed out of Lynchburg at a much later hour than desired, and got to Appomattox an hour before it closed.  I still managed to see the old court house (where I watched a short film on the history of the place during the Civil War), see the house where the treaty was signed (only, by the way, a treaty between Virginia’s army directly under Lee’s command and the army directly under Grant’s control in that area), the area where the last cannon blasts of the civil war were fired, and where all the passes were printed for confederates so that they could return home with proof that they had surrendered.
    I ate dinner at a local restaurant in Farmville where college students appeared to be arriving for the fall semester.  Something about seeing college aged kids (especially girls) walking around makes me feel like an old man.  What a tragedy.
    I drove into the $22/night (to rent a bed of rocks!) Twin Lakes State Park.  The idea that I was somewhere different from the Deep South was completely squashed when I drove past the RVs, every other one of which had a Confederate flag flying from it.  There was only one other tent in the campground which was occupied by a young woman with a bandana on her head, a book in her hands, and kayak on her car.  I should have gone over to talk to her, but didn’t (file it under chump out record number 22,432).  Although, on a more positive note, it’s probably best that I didn’t because something about my current state (whether being alone, being tall, being bearded, being a vagabond, never smiling or some combination of these) seems to make people fear me quite often.  It’s possible that I would have been pepper sprayed before I even got within conversation range.  Didn’t he say positive?  The next day, I planned to head to Hopewell where my mother grew up (daughter of the exceptional rabbit breeder).

The Spacecraft Design Engineer Tours Lynchburg

    One of the many technologies I took advantage of during my stay at Great Aunt P’s was the scale.  I had stepped on the scale the first evening I was there and discovered I had joined the large percentage of American’s with a weight problem.  I had lost around five pounds since the start of my trip and had definitely fallen into the category of underweight for someone my height.  There are many healthy ways to gain weight, but none of them are very fun.  For breakfast I had a large serving of breakfast casserole, a slice of sourdough bread and a large cream filled pastry.
    Great Aunt P and I decided to head to Natural Bridge, about thirty miles from Lynchburg.  I think it used to be one of the natural wonders of the world, but there were no signs indicating so when we got there (I suppose it was degraded at some point when man discovered more intriguing natural wonders).
    On my walk down to the bridge, I ran into a professor who works in the mechanical engineering department of the university I attended.  I talked with him some and told him about my plans.
    The natural bridge was much larger than I expected.  George Washington ran into the bridge on a surveying trip when he was a young man.  He climbed about twenty to thirty feet up one of the walls and chiseled in his initials.  Later, at the wax museum (yes, I know), I found out that a college kid from a local university had scaled the wall to carve his initials higher than Washington’s.  He succeeded, but couldn’t climb back down.  He climbed to the top, and, at the point of utter exhaustion, his friends pulled him onto the upper ledge.  That’s what he gets for trying to one up GW.
    There was a small Native American village mockup past the bridge, and I walked in to check it out.  There were many huts set up in the fenced in village and one early colonialist dressed man standing next to a rack of furs.  After he finished talking with some children about what animals furs he had on display, I asked a time-period related accusatory question while pointing to a metal pot above a small fire.  He politely explained that he was representing an eighteenth century English fur trader, so the metal pot was appropriate (I didn’t bother to ask why an English fur trader would be the only person in the Native American village or, more directly, what he had done with all the bodies of the Indians he had slaughtered).  He was actually quite informative in explaining things about the early years of Jamestowne and the colonizing of Virginia.
    On our way back to Lynchburg, Great Aunt P remembered a story about my grandfather.  When he was a teenager, he decided to make money by selling rabbits (intersting family pattern of raising animals gone wrong), but he had trouble finding any buyers.  The rabbits began breeding like…well, rabbits, and eventually the situation got so out of control that he let them all go.  The rabbits went wild eating vegetables in all the neighborhood gardens and everyone wanted to know where the f all the rabbits came from.  Anyway, hope nobody reads this and comes running to my family to collect reimbursements for eaten vegetables from fifty years ago.
    Great Aunt P and I checked out a couple of civil war sites in town.  This time it was the Union that attacked the Confederacy and the Confederacy’s reinforcements that caused the Union to have to retreat (opposite of Shiloh).  I believe this was right before Lee attacked Washington which was quite a surprise to the Union.
    After having an alcoholic beverage at Great Aunt P’s house, we had dinner with Great Aunt P’s rocket scientist idolizing daughters and a few of their friends at a nice local restaurant.  I talked with one gentleman who was some sort of Dean at a local university about his trips to Yellowstone.  He was a fan of driving places and had plans to visit Glacier National Park and some parks along the west coast.  I guess being in the profession of teaching provides more time for travel (though not as much as the profession of traveling bum).  I found out from Great Aunt P that when she was growing up, their family used to take trips every Sunday afternoon (in their 1936 Chevy truck) to various places around Virginia.  I think that is a very cool idea.  After stuffing my face with a giant dessert that Great Aunt P recommended called a Baked Alaskan, we headed back to her place where I continued the process of getting re-spoiled on modern conveniences.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Rocket Scientist Comes To Lychburg

       I arrived at my Grandfather’s sister’s house (let’s call her Great Aunt P) at around 4pm and took a walk around her block.  Her neighborhood was as close to what I’ll call Middle America as I have ever seen.  Cozy houses with medium sized lots laid out along a sea of grassy hills.  When she arrived, we talked briefly, and, to my surprise, she proposed we immediately set out to tour the area where she grew up.
       We drove through a commercial sector of the city and onto Candler Mountain Road (one of those words is my middle name).  Candler Mountain is the southeastern backdrop of Lynchburg and is where my grandfather, great grandfather and great, great grandfather lived and grew up.  Aunt P told me that recently a local university tried to rename the mountain to their university’s name.  The Candlers united and the university backed down although somehow the mountain currently bares the giant, distasteful letters “LU” which hundreds of trees were cut down to create.  Perhaps someone should suggest they use dynamite to blast holes in the mountain, simultaneously deepening their university’s letters and disrespect for Mother Nature.
       She drove me up the mountain and showed me where my great, great grandfather raised my great grandfather.  Despite his father dying in an accident involving dynamite, my great grandfather (age 9 I think when his father died) grew up into a man with an outgoing, humorous personality.  He worked in a shoe factory starting at age 16 until he was in his sixties I believe.  He also had a few acres of land where he raised corn and other crops and also had cows, pigs and chickens.
       I tried to pry some interesting stories about my grandfather from her, but she was over a decade younger than him, and by the time she was almost 10, he was off to WWII and then college.  I did hear quite a few stories about my great grandfather though.  Here is one story that really helps illustrate the type of man he was:
       It was Christmas Day.  He was with his wife and daughter, and his wife was going to visit an old school teacher.  The county prison was across the street from the teacher, and he decided that while his wife was visiting her old teacher, he would take his daughter (around age 10 at the time I believe) to visit the prison (anyone could apparently go inside and talk to the inmates at the time).  There was one sixteen year old inmate who had killed a man and then threw him down a well.  My great grandfather, along with his daughter, walked up to his cell and began a conversation with him about why he threw the man down the well.  Merry Christmas sweetheart.
       Another curious tale about this man was when he caught a bunch of baby skunks and, after de-stinking them, sold all but one, which he planned to train.  He didn’t have much time to train it, so it was left in a cage for quite a while, and when he put it on a leash and took it outside to begin the training process, it ran up him, scratching him to hell before fleeing to the woods.  That was the beginning and end of his skunk training days.
    There are quite a few more, but this is a blog, not a book.  We ate dinner at a local Italian place that evening with one of Great Aunt P’s daughters and her daughter’s husband.  Her daughter’s husband, let’s call him Mr. M, told me about some of the traveling he did when he was younger.  He took a five week trip along the Appalachians on a motorcycle and spent a lot of time camping.  His trip included a few bear encounters and eventually extended into Europe where he met up with some Canadians who had plans to live out of a van (I was glad to hear this because I like the idea of doing a road trip in Europe – we’ll see).  I didn’t ask permission to share some of the highlights of his trip, but let’s just say if you’re looking for complementary marijuana and co-ed showers, it sounds like Europe is the place to go.
    When we got back to Great Aunt P’s, we were met by another of her daughters and the daughter’s husband and teenage boy.  To my dismay, there was much ogling at the family “rocket scientist” (a term I really don’t like because it usually comes with usually unearned respect).  I didn’t know I was such a family celebrity, but it seems much bragging about “my cousin, the rocket scientist” had occurred.  As usual, the distinction between spacecraft design engineer and rocket scientist was too difficult to convey to those outside the technical world, so I did my best to live with the original title.  Although now I guess I’m just an ex-rocket scientist even though I’m quite sure that’s not what I’ll be referred to when my family speaks of me to their friends.  All in all, it was a great day of meeting family I’d never seen before and hearing stories that are too good to be made up.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Entering Virginia (the state)

    After downing my pile o’ grease, I aired up my tires.  There were lots of people wandering around the Cherokee Reservation tourist vacuum (complete with giant Harrah’s casino and stands set up that allow you to interact with Native Americans in every way you could possibly imagine – well maybe except one, as far as advertised stands go anyway).  I felt different as I looked at people walking by.  I had gained new perspective on fear.  No matter how tough a gang of motorcyclists looked when they walked by, I knew that last night they were sleeping on cushy beds in a motel room and I was sleeping on the ground in the middle of bear country alone.  “If I can handle that, I can handle a lot”, I thought.
    I drove north on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It was quite foggy, and the “overlooks” that weren’t fronted by brush that hadn’t been trimmed in decades were covered in a stew of gray mist.  Despite my new sense of invulnerability (slightly exaggerated), I decided to take a break from camping and headed for an inn which I had stayed February of this year in the small town of Little Switzerland.  The owner is very accommodating and offered (to have his son) whip up a burger for me when I declined the $20 steak dinner he was cooking for some of the other guests.  I met a man in the parking lot who was spraying down his motorcycle and talked with him some.  He had hiked the AT from Springer Mountain to the Smokies when he was younger and said he always wanted to hike the whole thing, but that his body couldn’t handle it now even though he had the time.  He pointed to his motorcycle and said, “This is by backpack now.”
    In the morning, I hopped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway and it was a little less foggy.  I was originally going to take it quite a ways, but had to hop off at a random highway (there are very few places to hop off the parkway and no commercial zones along it) to hunt for a gas station.  I had a club sandwich at a local diner and ended up going so long down 421 that I decided to reroute my day’s journey.  It worked out well though because, after passing through many small towns with a whole lot of nothing in them, I ended up at Hanging Rock State Park (still in North Carolina).
    Another thing that was changed by my backwoods camping experience was my perspective on frontwoods camping.  When I rolled into the park, set up my tent and looked around, I felt like I was in civilization.  There were other campers, running water, sinks, showers, my car.  I didn’t feel like I was roughing it.  I felt like being in my tent was my nominal state of living which is a huge plus.  It’s sort of what I was hoping when I set out for seven days of camping in a row.  The backwoods really finished it off though.  I think I will be able to make it only two or so nights in a motel per month (at least until the cold arrives).  My current view on showers when I’m camping is: “Why would I need to shower today – I showered yesterday.”
    As part of my new view of car camping, I decided there was no reason to deprive myself of decent food.  I cooked my first realish meal of the trip: pasta and tomato sauce seasoned with Italian herbs.  It was quite good.  I plan on doing more cooking while car camping later on.  I started reading On The Road by Jack Kerouac.  I cleaned all my wet, filthy gear that was really stinking up my car and hung it up only to have it pour down rain all night.  When I woke, it was still raining pretty hard.  So much for my morning hike.  I took down the tent as quick as I could and tossed all my wet gear in my car.
    I was still in a pretty rural area, but was quite hungry and stopped to eat at the first place I could find.  It was a gas station that had a local restaurant inside.  I ordered eggs and toast.  The “eggs” were probably the most disgusting thing that has been labeled eggs I’ve ever eaten.  I don’t even know how they got them that way.  They had the appearance of hash browns, but were very dry.  I managed to down them and then got back on the road.  As I was approaching Virginia, I almost felt like I was about to go into a new country (my brain even tried to remember where my passport was).  I think it’s because I’ve only been to Virginia once and it was when I was less than one year of age.  I was hoping for an entirely new culture and environment.  There were some new brands of gas stations and restaurants, but after a little while, it pretty much felt the same.  I drove through downtown Danville (wouldn’t recommend) to find a library and then headed to Lynchburg, Virginia to meet my Grandfather’s sister and explore the area where they grew up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Great Smoky Mountains Days 3 and 4

    The next morning me and the two guys from Clarksville, Tennessee got up at around 7am.  We had breakfast and coffee, and, after they looked over this really detailed trail book one of the guys had and realized they would be hiking uphill all day if they proceeded down their initially determined path (the way I had come from), they decided to change course and hike in the direction I was hiking.  They planned to hike for a few miles, camp and then go back the way they came the next day.
    The first part of the trail that day was on relatively flat terrain which is hard to come by in the Smokeys.  They hiked at a fairly quick pace, but took a break every half hour or so…to smoke.  Before we started, Mr. Map said that we would be crossing a stream seven times.  Seven times!  I could barely see we were going to cross it once on my POS map.  Luckily, we were able to cross the stream without taking our shoes off all times.
    During one of their backwoods smoke breaks, we all had our backs off and were standing on some rocks at the edge of a stream.  I heard a sound something like “RAAAWWWRRR” from about 30-40 yards away.  I looked toward the sound, didn’t see anything, and turned to Mr. Map.  Mr. Map had heard the sound, the other hadn’t.  Mr. Map turned to the other guy and said, “You didn’t hear that?”  “Huh,” says the other.  “I heard this RAWWWRRR sound.  That was definitely a bear.”  We yelled some (human growling) to scare the bear, put on our packs, and got the hell out of there.
    We passed a few campsites on our way and lunched at one of them.  They were taking their time, but I didn’t mind because I enjoyed hiking with people much more than alone.  We moved on after eating, and, at around 1:30pm, got to a campsite where we were going different ways.  They were headed to a campsite half a mile away, and I was headed to a campsite over five miles away.  Seems to be a pattern here.
    As soon as we parted, I started hiking uphill.  I was getting my payback from hiking downhill for four hours the previous day.  I saw one group of people and a teenager in their group said, “It’s a long way up.”  Thanks for the inspiration kid.  About an hour into my hike, I turned onto a trail that started the last five miles of my day.  It started raining soon after I got on it, so I put on my rain jacket (I decided I didn’t need to put on my pants because my feet were already wet – mistake – wetter is indeed worse than wet).  As soon as I put on my pack and started hiking, a large deer with a huge set of antlers bolts around a curve in the trail and heads right for me.  You never know how you’ll react in a situation like that until it happens.  I yelled out, “OHHHHHHHHH.”  Perhaps one would expect an expletive to follow, but just the oh this time.  Guess I didn’t feel there was time for more than one syllable.  When the deer heard/saw me, it slid to a stop and sprinted in the other direction.  Alone in the forest, exhausted, wet in the pouring rain, and a large animal sprinting right for me.  It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
      The rain slowed and eventually stopped. I didn’t see anyone on the rest of my hike.  I was sure there was going to be someone at the campsite.  But there wasn’t.  I got to the site at around 5:30pm and set up my tent.  I made dinner (spaghetti and sauce), hung up my bag, and felt the things one feels when camping in bear country alone and it’s about to get dark.  I decided I need to make some noise as complete silence with the smell of recently cooked dinner didn’t seem like a good combination for keeping bears away.  At first I thought I’d do my usual singing every so often, but that seemed ridiculous, so I started talking to myself.  I told the story of my hiking trip up to that point out loud.  It provided sound and helped me remember details of the trip.  If you’re ever alone in the woods at night, I would recommend this approach (I would not recommend hiking or camping alone though).  Day three start elevation: 3000’.  Day two end elevation: 5000’.  ~12 miles.
    I slept fairly well for the situation I was in.  I woke up a few times and made some noises because I thought I heard something.  In the morning, I made some coffee, ate some breakfast bars, filtered some filthy water, and began hiking downhill.  I thought I was going to be able to make it through the whole trip without going #2.  I was wrong.
    I made it back to my initial camp at around 11am.  I passed some horses at the half mile of the trail, so I officially began and ended my trip staring at a horse’s ass.  I drove to a fast food burger chain (it’s becoming a tradition for me to eat a pile of grease after a backwoods experience).  I thought it was going to be one of the best tasting meals ever for me since I’d been so long eating backwoods mush.  It was good, but not mind blowing.  I reflected on what I had accomplished the last few days.  Usually I don’t give myself credit for anything, but, thinking back on it then, I thought maybe, just maybe, I had accomplished something pretty cool.  And I definitely earned my beard.  Bout time.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Great Smoky Mountains Day 2

    One interesting thing about the shelters that I forgot to mention was that they used to be enclosed in cages.  The cages are no longer there so any man, woman or bear can come and go as they please.  The rumored reason for this cage removal was that people used to feed bears through the cage.  “Let’s see you feed them now,” taunts the ranger.  Just for other’s general knowledge: feeding animals like crocodiles and bears in the wild is the worst thing you can do for an animal because it teaches them that humans have food and makes them more aggressive towards humans which often means they have to be put down (hence the crazed ducks a few nights ago).
    I was one of the last ones to get up and ate a couple breakfast bars and made some coffee.  I had hung my socks up the night before, but they were still soaked.  The German girls were going the same direction I was (AT southbound), so we decided to hike together.  I hiked behind them and, despite how sore they said they were, they moved at a swift pace (they were around my age).
    We saw quite a few people on the AT including runners, people with only day packs and other backwoods campers like ourselves.  The hike was mostly uphill and, despite claiming to be out of shape, the girls didn’t break much at all.  I think the first time we put down our packs was two hours into the trail.  As we approached Newfound Gap (a central parking area alongside one of the main highways that runs through the park, one of the German girls turned around and asked if I was ready for civilization.  I said yes.  But I was wrong.
    My greeting to civilization was a puff of cigarette smoke right off the trail from a girl who had a clear plastic cup in her hand that probably didn’t have apple juice in it.  There were probably close to a hundred cars parked in the lot and three times that many people.  It was overwhelming for someone who had only seen a few people and no cars the last few days.  I asked one of the girls how many people drove into the park, snapped a few pictures at this spot and then drove out, checking the park off their list.  She thought probably a lot.  Mother Nature is fun to look at from afar, but the real adventures happen when you go inside her.
    The girls used the facilities (isn’t it strange how much more women like using flushing toilets and how much more men like going in the woods – at least I do) and then we quickly headed out because all three of us were ready to get back to nature.  A little ways down the trail, the girl in front (an engineer, btw) starting yelling bear, bear.  The girl between us starting making loud noises to scare it, and I tried to run up ahead and see it.  It was gone by the time I got there, but apparently she saw it quite close to the trail (~20-30’).
    The girls were fascinated by and took lots of pictures of downed trees and fungus.  “What’s the English word for tree mushroom?” one asked.  I need to learn more about nature as I go.  We lunched at around 1pm at Indian gap.  We ate near a sign that gave some description of the areas history and one car drove near it and glanced at it, but then drove away.  One of the girls joked, “Do you want me to read the sign to you so you don’t even have to get out of your car?”  The girls were quite funny.  I think at one point one of them made a “that’s what she said” joke.
    Unfortunately, we got to the point where their shelter was north and my campsite was south.  Even more unfortunately, it was 3pm and they had half a mile to go and I had 5 miles.  We parted ways and I began the (thankfully) long winding journey downhill.  I passed two groups of guys who had been headed uphill all day.  One of the groups had been hiking for five hours and had left from near the place I was trying to go.  I was very tired from going uphill a lot of the day and slipped a few times on the trail.  Once I fell on my butt and once I fell so hard one of my walked sticks snapped on a branch which helped me catch my balance.
    I had guessed I’d make it to the campsite at around 5:30pm, but didn’t make it there until 6:30pm.  I had to cross a stream to get there and heard noises in the campsite which I thought might have been an animal.  Luckily, it turned out to be two guys from Tennessee.  I was very relieved to see them as I was not looking forward to camping alone.  This was only their third backwoods camping experience and they had a huge 4 season tent which took them awhile to set up.  They were friendly and seemed excited to finally meet someone else on one of their camping trips.  It was dark by the time we started cooking our food.  I had rice and chicken teriyaki and it wasn’t very good.
    One of them made a small fire which was in the center of our larger circular grassy campground and we talked some about our previous camping experiences.  Apparently, one of their first backwoods camping experiences was in the Smokies in winter when it got down to about 8 degrees.  They had on everything they had and were freezing in there (at the time) Walmart tent.  I guess I’d splurge on a 4 season tent if I had that experience too.  Not sure why they brought it in summer though.
    When I mentioned I was hiking with girls from Germany that day, we shared some typical guy - shoulda banged em’ – type talk.  There were a couple bats flying in the area and one of the guys threw rocks in the area to see if the they would use their sonar to come try to grab it (apparently that worked when he was in Afghanistan).  When the fire died down, we talked mostly in the complete dark without our lights on and I asked if they could imagine camping here alone.  It was a terrifying thing to imagine being completely alone in the middle of the woods at night and one that might come to reality for me soon.  I had hiked all day in my wet socks and was glad to get them off.  Day two start elevation: 5920’.  Day two end elevation: 3000’.  ~12 miles.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Great Smoky Mountains Day 1

    One thing I forgot to mention last post is something that happened last Saturday morning before I hit the trail.  Right when I woke up, I thought that maybe I should make my trip a one or two night trip instead of a three.  Three might be too much, and I was getting plagued with the feeling I often get on the road that I needed to keep moving.  I made some coffee and took a little walk around the campsite to think things over.  I passed a boy and his father on my walk.  They had quite a fire going for it being so early (only a small portion of the campers were even awake).  I said good morning to the father who was getting a stove ready and then looked down at the boy who was looking at me with a certain wonder and curiosity.  From his wheelchair.  He appeared to have some sort of permanent physical disability and wasn’t wearing a cast.  Many people choose not to go on hikes like the one I was planning.  The idea that this kid who appeared to be a fan of the outdoors and probably would love to go on a long hike like mine, but would never be able to choked me up a little.  Three days it was.
    About one hundred yards into the trial, I ran into a group of horses at a trail intersection and let them pass me.  Had I known they would go the same pace as me and I’d be staring at a horse’s ass the next half mile, I may have made a different decision.  The first few miles of the trail ran along a rocky stream and only had a slight uphill to it.  I snapped many pictures of the stream (pictures coming soon btw…no promises on date though…but I know your desire to see them is almost as HOT as a drawing release date).  I took two short breaks during the first four miles and was starting to worry whether or not I was really going to earn the distinction of being a legit backwoods mountain hiker or if I was going to get lucky and end up on some flat trail the whole time.  The start of the fifth mile was the last time on the trip I worried about this.
    The steep uphill hiking started and didn’t stop.  I had to start breaking every half hour and was getting very tired.  It was quite steep and almost felt like climbing stairs with a monkey on your back (no personal experience, just speculation).  I passed two groups of hikers who said hello on their way down.  I saw a dog by itself walking towards me.  It was fairly oblivious for a dog as it didn’t seem to notice me until it was about fifteen feet away when it looked up with a startled expression, turned and then trotted away.  I never saw it or the owner.
    It started raining early in the afternoon.  Then it started pouring.  Completely exhausted, I put on my rain gear.  I had picked up a couple of hiking sticks early on in the trail and was very glad I had done so as the uphill trail became very slippery.  For a while, there was a muddy stream of water running down the mountain between my feet in the middle of the trail.  I remember that moment fairly well: utterly exhausted, hiking a steep uphill slope, pouring down rain, my socks wet, all the while singing loudly (no clapping with sticks) rhythms like TA DEE DEE TA DEE DA to make sure on top of all the other crap I was dealing with I didn’t run into a bear.
    I finally made it to a sign that said the AT was only a mile away.  The slope got a little shallower, but the brush much thicker (some sections I couldn’t even see the ground at my feet) and still very slippery.  I slipped a few times, but didn’t fall thanks to my sticks.
    At the intersection of this trail with the AT I ran into a couple in their thirties taking a break.  I ate some of my trail mixed and talked with them.  They said they had seen bear droppings and heard a bear earlier in the day.  They also said they heard at one of the shelters nearby, a bear had come in during the night every single night the past few days.  This wasn’t particularly good news as I was staying in a shelter that I was told was under some sort of bear warning by the person I made the reservation with over the phone.
    I hiked with this couple toward the shelter I was staying at.  It was nice hiking with people.  I hiked behind them, so didn’t really have to worry about running directly into a bear and I had someone to help slow my pace so I could enjoy the scenery a bit.  Not that there was much to see: it was very foggy that afternoon.  Despite going slower, I almost sprained my ankle on a large rock in the trail.  The rain slowed some and soon we got to the “spring” of Icewater Spring shelter.  I filled up my gravity filter with the water flowing out of this pipe sticking out of the side of this hill and headed down to the shelter.  As I was walking toward the shelter (a small stone carport shaped structure with a tin roof), I passed two girls who were headed back to the spring.  I let out a sigh of relief and one of them said, “Made it.”  She understood.
    The shelter was split between a top and bottom “bunk” (a long wooden platform).  I chose the top bunk where the girls had already put their sleeping pads.  After they got back from the spring and I laid down for a few minutes, I found out they were from Germany and were visiting friends in the States.  They were very nice and spoke great English although occasionally switched back to German.
    I had lasagna with meat sauce and cheese for dinner and it tasted excellent at the time.  After dinner, the girls shared some marshmallows with me which we roasted over a backpacking stove.  We hung up our food and other “smell things” on these cables with pulleys that are rigged up all over the park and then hopped in the bunk.  I found out a bear had followed them all morning.  It was a small one and no matter how much they yelled, threw things at it or rang the bear bell, the thing wouldn’t leave them alone.  They ended up hiking as fast as they could to get away from it.  They were pretty relieved that I had some bear spray.
    After dark, one guy showed up who had taken his gear out of storage where it had been for ten years.  Apparently he had started hiking at 7pm (it was around 8:45pm at the time).  Two more guys showed up and one of them set up his stove inside the shelter.  One of the German girls told him in a very polite way that he should, “Get that fucking stove out of here you dumbass we were chased by a bear this morning.”  He complied.
    After everyone had lain down to go to sleep, I had to pee, but didn’t want to startle the others.  Eventually, it got to the point where I had to go.  I went and no one panicked.  I had the bear spray by my side the whole night and actually slept pretty well.  First day hiking in mountains with full pack.  Day 1 start elevation: 2198’.  Day 1 end elevation: 5920’.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Trying New Things

    I guess a week was a little long to go without an update.  I’ve gotten word of rumors that I fell off a cliff, was eaten by a bear, and was kidnapped by the Chinese space program.  I intended those to be separate rumored fates, but I suppose I could have been kidnapped by the Chinese, thrown off a cliff when they found out how little I knew and then eaten by a bear at the bottom of the cliff.  Regardless, I am alive and well.
    Something happened early last Tuesday morning that happens often to me when I’m sleeping in a tent – I get my dreams and reality confused (perhaps I need some object to keep in my pocket that I can hold to know for sure).  I dreamt that I was walking around the woods performing some task that I needed to do before I left (that’s not code for something – I just can’t remember what the task was).
    On my drive from Tennessee to northern Georgia, I stopped at a public beach in the Cherokee National Forest.  There were a few families there and the cool water felt nice after so many nights of sweating myself to sleep.
    Along the drive, I had been using my fancy phone to try to find a place that sells bear spray (basically pepper spray on steroids).  It’s something I really, really wanted to have before I set up camp in bear country.  After a couple failed attempts, I found a place in Blue Ridge, GA that had it, but by the time I called them they had closed.  Luckily, they were staying after hours doing some remodeling and let me in to buy some.  They were quite nice: they offered me a beer and gave me directions to some local campgrounds.  I’m starting to learn that hikers are very trusting of and very generous to each other.
    It was pouring down rain when I left the store, but I had set a goal to tent camp for a week straight before I got a motel to sort of get me adjusted to the low budget road life, so I set out toward Morganton campground in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  I camped on a small, forested peninsula surrounded by a rock and clay beach.
       I awoke the next morning to see two dogs looking at me through my mesh tent door.  I wasn’t happy to see them, but they didn’t stick around very long.  The real animal show of the morning was the ducks.  As I was packing up camp, this mother duck and 7 or 8 baby ducklings cautiously approached me.  Because their tactics were less aggressive than the kitten, I was okay with them.  Anytime I got close to them in packing stuff up, the mother would call back the group.  They moved as an organized unit when following me back to my car.  After I was packed, I threw them a piece of bread and they turned into a different group of ducks.  All of them rushed to grab the piece and when a duckling grabbed it and sprinted off with it, the others rushed after him.  I threw a few more pieces and chaos ensued as all of them fought each other for a piece, mother ripping a piece away from her offspring.  I was glad all my stuff was packed because I was afraid these ducks were about to turn on me.  After I made sure each greedy duck had a piece, I got in my car and left.
       I had breakfast at one of a few places in the sparsely populated areas of Georgia and Tennessee that I think I would be afraid of were I not from the South.  Really country places with only a few beat up pickup trucks in the parking lot.  The food is always good (taste wise, not for you) and the conversations interesting: “I’ll tell you what they should do when they catch em’ crossin’ (one man in the restaurant said as a Fox News program was talking about illegal immigration in Arizona).  They should put em’ to work for five years for free and then throw em’ back.”
       Later that morning I drove to Woody Gap which is one about 27 miles from the Appalachian Trail start point.  I saw it was 3.5 miles to the next gap, so I decided to go there and back to get a taste of what hiking the AT in the mountains was like.  Before I left, I chatted three guys in their early twenties who were in the middle of a two week AT hike.  Apparently one of them almost stepped on a three foot rattlesnake earlier in the day.
       At the start of the trail was a big warning sign of the bears in the area.  My plan was to make a lot of noise as I hiked and keep the bear spray in my right front pocket.  My initial noise plan was humming, but when that interfered with breathing, I switched to clapping.  I thought of it as applauding nature for being so beautiful while at the same time letting bears know I was in the area.
       The first part of the trail didn’t have much elevation change and I was getting a little cocky at how easy it was (I had ~10lb pack on).  The first big uphill section was very steep and very hard on me.  After the second big uphill, I was bending over huffing and puffing and decided to take a snack break at an overlook.  I made it to Gooch Gap and back in about 4 hours.  Only saw a few squirrels.
       After some dinner of pizza and my first road trip beer (Sam Adams) at an Italian place I had been to on a road trip in February, I drove to the top of Black Rock Mountain State Park.  This was the first place I went where more than half the tent campsites were full.  It started pouring down rain after I had set up my tent, and I thought I was golden since it was set up, so I hung out under a porch near the bathroom.  About an hour later when the rain softened, I found that I had left the rain fly open on one of the doors, so that side was soaking wet.  I slept without wiping it up.
       The next morning I hiked a 2.5 mile loop in the park that lead to the top of the mountain and what I believe is the highest elevation in Georgia (I’ll have to check pictures).  When I started my car to leave, a warning beep sounded and a light flashed on dashboard.  Low coolant.  I would have suspected a leak had I not run out of washer fluid a couple days ago.  Somehow I get the feeling that some of the steps on the 29 point inspection I got done on my car before the trip turned into the mechanics picking each other’s noses (I G-rated that one, but no promises for the future).
       I spent late morning and early afternoon at Foxfire Museum which is on the mountain.  The whole Foxfire thing started back in like the 50s or 60s or so when this high school English teacher was trying to get his kids to want to learn.  He gave them an assignment to interview their grandparents to find out how life was back when they were young (all around the southern Appalachian area).  It worked.  The kids turned their interviews into a magazine which turned into a book which is currently on like edition 15 or so.  The museum is sort of an outdoor self guided walking tour where you can see buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s and some of the tools that were used then.  Things like blacksmith shops, hog butchering stations, churches/schools (one building for both – apparently the church used to be the first building built in every town), meat storage, and a linen making room where there’s a lady making scarves and blankets.  As usual, I found reading the quotes at the end of the tour the most interesting.  Things that stand out in my mind were people saying that they would never live in the city even if someone gave them the whole city (even though they never lived in the city), that back then people would talk to you for half a day if they ran into you and you wanted to talk, and that if you got sick, people would take care of you better.  Lesson of the day: talk to your grandparents about how things were when they were younger!
       Since I’d made my 7 nights of camping in a row, I stayed in a motel in Bryson City, NC.  You plannermaniacs would be proud of me: to find somewhere to whitewater raft, I picked up a few brochures, made some phones calls to get start times, prices and even the location of the place I wanted to go!  Because of this, of course, I was a nervous wreck the next day making sure I got there on time.
       I ended up doing a guide-assisted rafting trip.  Everybody else in my group was in a raft with a guide, but I was in a single person “funyak”.  I didn’t want to be in a six person raft with a guide doing all the steering and didn’t want to go totally unguided and end up in a class 5 rapid (this was my first white water rafting experience).  The lady on the phone indicated I would probably fall out a lot if I chose this option.  It worked out well though.  I really enjoyed it and didn’t fall out (even in the short class III rapid section at the end).  The one time I did hop out to swim, it was icy cold (like 47 degrees) and I got right back in.  I spent a lot of time laying down and coasting along (much easier than a calm river where you have to provide power and steering).  Perhaps my next rafting adventure will be down a class III-IV – we’ll see.
       After I dried off and ate lunch at the local burger basket where I got to see a live hillbilly catfight in the parking lot, I headed to Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  I wanted to do some backwoods camping, perhaps a 1-2 night loop.  After talking to one of the guys at the visitor’s center and looking over the (non-topological) trail map, the route that best fit my needs (full loop from parking area that didn’t involve hiking down roads or backtracking down same trail and included hiking some part of the AT) was a 3 night, ~40 mile hike.
       I had only backwoods camped once by myself and the trip did not go well (it was in De Soto National Forest, MS).  Camping and hiking alone can be terrifying at times.  I spent around 2-3 hours laying out all my backpacking gear on the picnic table at my campsite at Smokemont campground which was at the start of my hike.  I planned to leave early the next morning, but knew I would need all evening to sort out all my gear.  I had used my stove a few times and only tested my water filter (never used it in order to survive).  I had never hiked in the mountains with a full sized backpack (mine weighed ~45lbs).  My route called for about 10-12 miles of hiking each day which I remembered was about what an (experienced) AT through hiker did in a day.  I did not study what elevation changes I’d be experiencing (possible foreshadowing here), only glancing at the model of the mountains in the visitor’s center to see that I would indeed be going uphill at some point (I wanted to experience some good uphill hiking).
       That night I walked around the campgrounds with my loaded backpack on to test how the straps were set.  There were dozens of groups camping – mostly families with tons and tons of gear.  I couldn’t believe how many people brought crates and crates of gear.  The guy next to me had a big trailer for all his gear.  Air mattresses, barbeque pits, giant tarps that blanked whole campsites, shelters just for picnic tables.  I felt kind of out of place.  I saw one group of a man and two teenage boys with some backpacking tents and asked if they had backwoods camping plans.  The man said they did, but got soaked today.  They were going over some maps.
       I was pretty scared about my hike before I had organized my gear because I knew I was undertaking a fairly large challenge, especially for a beginner.  I felt better once I laid out all my gear and double checked to made sure I had everything and my pack felt good.  I slept fairly well that night, got up early, ate a quick breakfast and headed to the start of the trail.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Trip detour

     Before I recount my adventures during the previous few days, I have a confession to make.  I stink.  I haven’t seen anyone coughing and gasping for fresh air after I walk by yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming.  I’m not sure there’s a lot I can do about it though.  I only have two shirts, but they’re both of the quick drying type, so I should be able to rotate them out.  My washing clothes in the sink plan is going so-so.  I think the main problem is that I’m in 90+ heat most of the time, including at night.  I can get clean, but it’s hard to stay clean for very long.
    Okay, back to the adventure.  Saturday morning, I did a quick hike on a trail near my campsite in Roosevelt State Park and then headed north because I wanted to get to hillier areas sooner.  I got to Wall Doxey State Park at around 6pm which is a much nicer time to arrive at a camping destination than fifteen minutes before dark.  I set my tent up in a grassy area on this long, unoccupied stretch of primitive (no monkeys this time – note to reader: MS Word assumes you mean primate if you misspell primitive) camping spots.
    I drove down to try to find a showering facility and saw a long dock that lead out to a large lake.  I walked out onto the dock, took a few pictures and was finally starting to relax some when I heard this buzzing sound around me.  This happens all the time outdoors, so I ignored it.  The buzzing sound grew louder, and I turned to see a pair of inspects which for some reason gave me cause for alarm (I think it was their size, their aggressiveness and that they seemed to work as a team).  I then felt a slight prick on my arm and realized I was in the wrong place to reflect on my journey and sprinted down the dock.  I only got a couple pricks from what I later determined to be hornets.  I guess it was a good lesson for me to always be on my guard in the outdoors.  I took my first shower of the trip and washed my clothes in the sink (I’m only using two shirts and two shorts for summer clothing).
    The next morning I hiked a trail around the lake a kept a towel over my shoulder for swatting if necessary.  After the hike, I drove west with plans to go to Alabama, and ended up in the city of Corinth.  In my attempt to find a local restaurant, I stumbled up on a place called Huddle House which is apparently a chained clone of Waffle House – pretty much the opposite of the type of place I wanted to end up.  My diet has really done downhill since I’ve started this trip.
    I saw on my Atlas that there was a Civil War Interpretive Center nearby.  I was in the mood for something other than getting chased by hornets, so I stopped in to check it out.  I was only planning to stay there for 20-30 minutes, but I ended up staying there for around 2-3 hours.  Corinth was a strategic military location because it was at the intersection of two major railroads.  The Confederacy stacked up troops there and Union under Grant was preparing an attack from the Northeast, but the Confederacy struck first.  A two day battle began involving tens of thousands of men on both sides (it was one of the first real bloodbaths of the war).  The Confederacy (who had the benefit of surprise) won the first day, but that night the Union got two big waves of reinforcements and the following day they chased the Confederates back to Corinth.
My favorite part of the interpretive center was reading quotes of soldiers, nurses and former slaves.  The former slave quotes really put some perspective on my trip and slowed my pace.  It’s crazy to think that was only 150 years ago.  Makes me wonder what people 150 years from now will think of us.
Because I enjoyed the center so much and because I don’t have an itinerary, I decided to drive into Tennessee to the Shiloh Military Park to see where the battle took place.  The park is huge and there are about 20 different stops on the self guided tour where you can see where different groups of soldiers were at what time during the battle.  It was about 97 degrees out, but I saw almost half the tour on that day.   
     There was a privately owned camp ground a down the road from the park, and I was going to stay there, but as soon as I parked, I was assaulted with by a one man kitten army who would not go away.  Now, I’m as much of a fan of cute little kittens as the next grown man is, but I had a really bad feeling about what would happen when I was inside my mesh backpacking tent and this kitten wanted to get inside.
     I drove down to Pickwick Landing State Park which was only a few miles away and set up my tent at around 9pm.  I decided to only use the mesh part of my tent and not the rain tarp that went over it since it was so hot out.  I was awakened at 5:55am with a light rain which quickly turned into a heavier rain.  I grabbed a few things in my tent and ran to my car.  About half an hour later, I packed up my soaking wet tent into my ice chest and headed back to Shiloh.
     There were several deer out and about in the park that morning.  They were pretty tame too.  I drove within fifteen feet of one.  I saw the rest of the park including the Indian Mounds where a small village used to be around 800 years ago.
     After the park, I decided to keep driving west through Tennessee instead of going through Alabama.  There are some pretty scenic drives in southern Tennessee.  Last night, I made another bad restaurant choice and then set up camp in Tims Ford State Park.  Three things I didn’t like about the park: it cost $18 per night, all the boxes for tents were filled with small sharp rocks (apparently the wrong material was delivered, but was installed anyway) and there’s a sign with a bear on it at the park entrance.  Picture should be coming next post.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Adventure Begins

    I think it was about 10pm Wednesday night that I was in my old bedroom at my parent’s house looking both at my ‘to do before leave’ list and at all the things I still had to box up.  I had decided on Monday that I would definitely be ready to leave by Thursday, four days after August 1st, the arbitrary initial planned leaving date I set a couple months before.  Setting that initial date (a date that I was confident in, at the time anyway) was the biggest key into getting this whole thing rolling.  I knew from talking to others that setting the date was huge.  Some days and one days can be forgotten too easily.
    So, anyway, as I was looking at all this mess, I decided that the best thing to get me motivated to do all the stuff I needed to do was to email a bunch of people my blog address and tell them I was going to leave the next day.  It worked.  I stayed up until 1am (spending a lot of my time ripping cds to my laptop while drinking tea)  and woke up at 6am the Thursday morning.  There was so much stuff to do that by noon I still hadn’t packed one thing into my car.  By 2 pm, I had gone through all the gear I was going to bring and began boxing the rest of my belongings up to store.  By 3pm, all the gear was loaded in my car, my bedroom was clean and my allocated storage closet was full.  Finally, at approximately 3:30pm, I was on the road.
    My trip “planning” that morning had consisted of looking over my Atlas (while on the, ahem, in the bathroom) and figuring that I probably wouldn’t be able to make it to the state parks in central Mississippi that day, so I decided to head toward Kisatchie National Forest in central Louisiana, a place I’ve always wanted to go, but never did because of how far it was from New Orleans.
    Taking some back highways out of Lafayette, I got a chance to pass through lots of small towns that I had only heard of but never visited.  Towns like Rayne, Crowley, Eunice and Mamou.  Most of them were dumps, but at least I can say I’ve been there (I kid, I kid).
    At around 7pm I was approaching the Kisatchie area.  I knew, in theory, that there was camping there…somewhere…I just didn’t no where.  Turns out though, there is no apparent central office.  The only thing I saw was a sign indicating I had indeed reached Kistachie National Forest, but it wasn’t next to a road or a trail.  I went up and down this highway for a few minutes, anxiously looking to see where the sun was.  I didn’t really care what time it was - I just needed to know how much daylight was left.  I saw a couple of forest service dirt roads, but instead of taking one of those, I ended up going down this road, away from the forest, that lead to something called Indian Creek Recreation Area.  I had no idea if they had camping, but it was my only solid lead.
    The front office was closed, but they did have primate camping.  I drove around and saw that the camping area was in a pretty cool nook by this lake.  I put my $8 in an envelope and slid it into the overnight drop slot (no, I really did, scouts honor) and then set up camp about fifteen minutes before dark.
    The next morning I woke up and hiked a couple miles of the Wild Azalea Trail.  It’s a 24 mile trail, some parts of which area apparently hilly (for Louisiana anyway).  The only creature I saw was a deer prancing a hundred or so yards away from the trail.
    At 10ish, I headed through Alexandria and toward Natchez, MS.  I ended up on the Natchez Trace Parkway because it was the most direct route I saw to go through Jackson on my way to Roosevelt State Park in Bienville National Forest.
    I didn’t know much (or anything) about Natchez before I took this road.  Apparently Natchez used to be a pretty big deal back in the day (today, though, it still holds the honorable title of “one of the coolest places in Mississippi you can’t get to by interstate).  Seriously though, it was a major route for people going from Nashville to New Orleans/Natchez.  People would boat down the Mississippi River, deliver their goods, and then walk (yes, walk) back to Nashville because their back in the day boats couldn’t go upstream.  The Old Trace was so used that it sunk some 20 feet below sea level.  The two coolest spots I saw along the very scenic drive were Emerald Mound (2nd tallest Indian Mound in the country; btw how come we don’t make man made hills anymore – surely some rich guy living in the South could afford to have people truck in big mounds of dirt if Native Americans made these big mounds by hand) and some Inn that is the only Inn still standing that was used when the Old Trace was still being actively used (peak use in early 1800s).  This inn was essentially the equivalent of a five star resort back then because it was more than a one room log cabin (it had a living room, a couple bedrooms and a kitchen!).  25 cents to stay.
    My initial plan had been to just drive down the Natchez Parkway instead of stop every ten minutes to check something out, so when I passed by a place to camp at 4:30pm, I thought about stopping.  I was at least 60-70 miles from my initially planned destination though (see the problem with planning!) and had no phone connection, so I pressed on.  I drove past a field where Grant was ambushed by some confederate soldiers in Raymond on his was to Vicksburg.  At around 5:30pm, I had reception and called park I planned to stay only to get a message saying the park office closed at 5.  Wonderful.
    I passed up the I-20 exit and took a highway a couple miles down that lead into Jackson.  I thought about staying at a state park that is pretty much in the city, but the road that I thought lead to the park brought me to an interstate where I was basically three options: drive north on the interstate, drive south on the interstate, or drive off the road and do something stupid and illegal to avoid taking the interstate.  I went south.  It probably turned out for the best because I was way behind on time (it was 6:30ish and I was 40 miles or so from the park).  I got lucky and someone was filling out some paper work at the front office, so I got a map and headed to this secluded area next to a lake to set up camp.
    I’ve adapted pretty well to everything about this trip except the blogging part.  In the mornings, I like drink coffee and then explore the forest I barely made it to the night before.  In the afternoon, I go on random road trip adventures.  In the evenings, I’m pretty tired by the time it’s dark and my tent is set up and definitely don’t feel like pulling out my laptop and trying to be creative with my words.  I may just post every few days when I just want to chill out…we’ll see.  This morning this couple pulled into the camping are in Roosevelt State Park hoping to find a secluded peaceful area to fish and I’m sitting there in my camping chair with my laptop, phone and camera on my ice chest typing away and then suddenly grabbing everything and throwing it in my car in an attempt to reconnect my laptop before it ran out of batteries (I was downloading something).
    Also, some bad news.  I forgot the USB cable to connect my camera to my laptop, so there won’t be any pictures for a few days.  Well, time to go hiking.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Welcome!

Hello!  Welcome to my blog.  A little over a week ago I quit my job in the aerospace industry to pursue my dream of traveling.  My travel plans are so vague that they would not be recognizable as plans to most people.  The truth is that I don’t want to have a plan (for possibly the first time in my life … or maybe second).  My theory (only partially tested so far) is that if I come up with a detailed itinerary, I’ll be focused so much on keeping to my schedule that I will miss out on the things right in front of me.  I suppose I could say that my idea, which will be turning into reality in the near future, is to go on a US/Canadian road trip starting from Louisiana and going counterclockwise around the perimeter states.  I want to focus on national and state parks, historical and cultural areas and maybe see a few of those large collections of steel, glass and concrete that some people call cities.

Another aspect of this trip that should create a fuller adventure is that I plan to do it on a very tight budget: no hotels, lots of camping, possibly hostels in big cities, possibly some couch surfing, no nice restaurants (not that they would let me in after I turn into a scruffy looking backwoodsman who “appears” to live out of his car).

Due to unforeseen circumstances (poor planning), moving out of my apartment took a week instead of two days.  My vision of having plenty of time to think through what I want to keep, deciding what I can donate or try to sell and then packing everything efficiently for long term storage turned into haphazardly stuffing things in boxes at the last minute.  Now that I am fully out of my old apartment in Uptown New Orleans, I need to reorganize everything so I can get closer to my initial estimate of 6-8 boxes (that would easily fit in one of my parents’ closets) instead of the 20+ that currently takes up two rooms.  I figure it will take about two days to accomplish this and then do some last minute trip preparing, so I guess I’ll be posting real travel stories in about a week.