Urban Adventures

(NOTE:  This post is out-of-order when compared to other posts, but the other posts were more time-sensitive… )

On a recent weekend, I was not able to get into the woods.  Instead, I visited my sister and her family in New York City.  As much of a “country boy” as I feel, I completely love the NYC.  There is such an energy there, with something to see or do pretty much 24-7.  I know the city is not for everyone, and I am not saying I want to live there permanently, but there is a huge part of me that likes being there from time to time, and could even see myself living there for a few years.  But not yet…

To those that scoff that I traded a weekend in the woods for a weekend in the city, I tell you this.  First and foremost – family comes first.  And chasing a two year old niece is the absolute best way to spend your weekend!  Secondly, if you think I did not “get my workout” for the weekend, you had better BITE YOUR TONGUE!  Chasing said niece for 36 hours was more energy-depriving than ANY hike I have ever done.  Believe me, I got my workout in.

I enjoy walking through the city, too.  Camera in hand, I know I look like a tourist (which I am…) but I do not care.  The beautiful skyscrapers set against a cloudless sky; Architectural details screaming to be viewed and admired; masses of people streaming up and down the streets; the fire trucks and ambulances making their presence known.  No matter where you go or what you are interested in, there is always something worth seeing, worth photographing.  I think that is why I enjoy the city so much – every time I go, there is something new to see.

NYC

Our Plugged-In Lives

Ever look around when you are out in public?  It is sad to see how many people are glued to their cell phones, tablets and laptops.  Walking through a beautiful park this weekend, with flowers blooming, the birds chirping, and kids playing in the sun, there were benches of parents with their heads down, thumbs typing away.  When did we decide the online world was more important than what adventures our children were having right in front of our noses?  I was happy to put my smartphone in my pocket and keep chasing the niece around.  And I know that she was happy that I did – her smile and the laughter pouring out of her was way better than any text or email I might have been reading.  Take my advice, put the electronics down and live in the present.

I have a few more posts “in the works” and hope to get them finished up soon, so keep an eye out.  I am also working on setting up my social media sites to better broadcast new posts and such.  Correction:  They are set up; they just need to be refined.  If you care to look, I have Facebook and Twitter accounts set up – use the Follow Me links up top.  If you have any comments, advice, or topic suggestions, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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Trail Days

Were you there?  I was!

Trail Days 2014_band_small

Last weekend, I was able to attend Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia, with a friend, Becki, and her three year old son, Will.  For those that are unfamiliar, Trail Days is a giant festival, with vendors on site to repair or replace equipment, lots of food, a bunch of giveaways, an auction, a hiker talent show, the famous Hiker Parade, and a bunch of other things I am forgetting about.  It may not be completely “Appalachian Trail”, but it is certainly a lot of fun.  If you have never been, I highly suggest checking it out.

Our adventure actually started on Friday evening, when we began the nearly six hour drive south.  I knew we would not make it all the way to Damascus on Friday, but figured if we could get an hour or two away, then the drive on Saturday would not be too bad.  Driving with a three year old is an adventure unto itself, but I quickly found that a big jug of animal crackers goes a long way toward keeping said child happy.  And quiet.  Sort of.  My truck will never be clean again.  But once he fell asleep, he was an angel, though!

We pulled off the highway about 90 miles from Damascus.  It was late, and I was not sure how plentiful hotels would be as we drove south.  Note to self #1 – make sure to verify if any large colleges in the area are having graduation the same weekend, since finding a hotel can be difficult when all of those moms and dads are in town.  Alas, we did find a place to sleep for a few hours.

Saturday dawned as a sunny, but cool, morning.  We had planned to use Will as an alarm clock, because “he is always awake by 6:30”.  Well, apparently Will had a power outage overnight, because the alarm clock did not go off until after 8!  Oh well.  Once showers and morning routines were accomplished, which included a not-so-brief hide and seek game (hide and seek in a hotel room is hard!), we were on the road again, getting to Damascus about 10:30.

Hide and Seek in the tent section.  Will won. Twice.

Hide and Seek in the tent section. Will won. Twice.

Vendor Row

Once there, I made a bee-line for the vendor area, as that was one of the main reasons I was there.  I had a list of gear items I wanted to check out first-hand before I start purchasing stuff.

I have to admit, I am not sure what I was expecting, but it was not what I found.  It seemed that a lot of the vendors were there displaying a few items, but were not really selling anything themselves.  More than once, I was told I could order the item, or walk across town to one of the outfitters to purchase it.  Guess I am used to motorcycle events, where everything is for sale at the actual vendor table.  That said, though, the vendors were extremely friendly and informative.

I was able to get a good look at one of the tents I have been considering.  The Lightheart Gear SoLong 6 was set up, and I was able to climb in and see how I liked it.  It was a bit shorter than I thought it would be, and I am pretty sure that my sleeping bag would touch at one end, but the construction was top-notch.  One of the owners came over and gave a quick demonstration of the three-way fly, which allows for different configurations to match the weather.  They had a good deal on the tent there, but I was not completely sold.  I still have a couple other tents I want to look at first.

One thing I saw that I thought was noteworthy was the “AWOL AT Guide” booth.  AWOL himself was there, representing his creation, a wealth of information in a compact book.  What was notable was that he had taken a copy of his book and taped up every page of it so that everyone currently hiking could put a sticky arrow pointing to where on the trail they currently are.  What a great concept!  I cannot wait until I can put my own arrow up next year.

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We made our way down the row of vendors, stopping here and there to take a closer look at a few items.  Will had a lot of fun at the hammock vendors, and most of the booths that had stickers were ransacked as he turned himself into a walking billboard.  We made one pass down and then walked into town for some lunch and to watch the Hiker Parade.

???????????????????????????????After lunch at the Blue Blaze Café, we stopped at Mt. Rogers Outfitters.  What an amazing store.  Had they not been over the Fire Code’s max capacity, we would have spent more time in there.  I already have plans to visit again in a few weeks, once they have restocked from the weekend.

We walked back through the vendors on the way back to the truck.  While Becki took Will to the playground, I stopped to meet Zach Davis of Appalachian Trials fame.  It was great to finally meet him.  He signed my copy of his book, and introduced me to a group of current hikers whose names I have regrettably forgotten.  (Note to self #2 – Always carry a notepad to jot down names.  If it is not written down, it is forgotten.  Note to self #3 – Take more pictures!)  I was able to ask a few questions of the other bloggers, but they were quickly and easily distracted when a pizza showed up.  Do not worry, I made sure I still had all my fingers before wandering off.  It was great to feel like a part of the community, and I cannot wait to start writing for Zach’s website next summer.

I wandered down to the playground and found Becki and Will, who was getting a monster truck painted on his face.  “Don’t mess with the monster truck.”  Cute kid.  After a quick ice cream stop, we headed back towards Tent City, for the Backpacker Magazine giveaway.  They were giving away a ton of items and something like a dozen full “kits”, including backpack, socks, water filter, stove, gift certificate for boots, and who knows what else.  Not me, for sure, because I did not win.  But it was festive to watch the winners get excited when their names were called.

Will takes his ice cream seriously! (Notice the abundance of stickers…)

Will takes his ice cream seriously! (Notice the abundance of stickers…)

The crowd gathering for one of the many giveaways.

The crowd gathering for one of the many giveaways.

Unfortunately, due to some prior commitments on Sunday, we had to head home and were not able to spend the evening in Tent City with all of the hikers who had gathered.  Looking back, I would have liked to have at least walked through and talked to a few people, to get tips on gear selection and just see what everyone was using.  While I have a fairly decent background in backpacking, I still feel like a rookie, especially with regards to all of the gear advances that have been made while I was absent from the sport.

Only at Trail Days do you find a limo with a bike rack…

Only at Trail Days do you find a limo with a bike rack…

As I mentioned, I already have plans to revisit Damascus in the near future.  And I will plan it better, bringing some Trail Magic with me.  Hopefully, there will still be hikers in town that I can talk to.  And soon enough, those NOBOs will be reaching Harper’s Ferry.  Hmm… may have to start planning a pizza party on the trail or something equally appetizing.

REI

After a late night of driving, for some reason I was wide awake early Sunday morning.  So what do I do?  I grab the iPad and start surfing the vendor websites.  While checking my email, I noticed that I had one from REI announcing their Anniversary Sale.  An hour later, I was driving down to the store to check the sale out.  As is usual for this area, there were lots of customers and only a few workers, so everyone was irritated with the service.  Or lack thereof.  But eventually I got (some of) my questions answered.

I received some contradictory advice about a pack, which immediately seemed like an off-the-wall suggestion.  Every other time I have mentioned about doing a Thru Hike, whether at REI or elsewhere, I have been directed towards a certain size of packs.  This time, I was pointed to a pack that was easily 20L/1,200 ci larger than any previous time.  Maybe I am wrong about needs, but I really do not want to carry an 88L pack.  So I will keep looking.

They did have the other tent I was considering on sale.  A really good sale.  There was not really space to set it up in the store, and certainly not enough staff members to assist, so I bought it.  I figure I can take it home, set it up, and if I do not like it, I can return it.  REI membership rocks in that respect.  I will most likely be back before the sale is over, looking at boots and sleeping pads, among a few other items.

So as you can see, it was a very busy, information-intense weekend.  And I loved every second of it, being immersed in the A.T. like that.  I would love to hear your thoughts or gear recommendations.  Please use the comment box below or the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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My Library

While I have been busy with non-hiking aspects of life, I wanted to get a few things with this blog site situated.  One thing I have wanted to put into place is a collection of my hiking-related books.  As such, I have created a new page up top, titled “Library.”  I will do my best to keep the page updated as I buy new books, but there are times when that might not be practical – I do tend to go on book store shopping sprees from time to time.  But I will try.  As I write reviews, I will update that page with direct links to the review posts, as well.  I hope you will forgive the short post this week, take a look at what is there and maybe even enjoy a new read or two.

I welcome any comments or topic suggestions you may have and invite you to feel free to use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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North or South

I have started some of my initial planning for my Thru Hike.  You know, how far to hike each day, where to stay, mail drop lists, and such.  But one question is still hanging out there for me – North or South?  It seems a lot of people randomly pick it, or it is based on whatever is more convenient for them.  For me, I am not sure which I would rather do.  My initial reaction is that I want to hike South, which always leads to the famous toddler response of “why?”.  Honestly, I have no real clue… it is just the direction my northern blood inspired me to pick.  So let me discuss with myself a little.  And yes, I do talk to myself… that does not mean anything.

NOBO

Source:  http://millinocketconnections.com/wp-content/uploads/Mt.Katahdin-3wr.jpg

Source: http://millinocketconnections.com/wp-content/uploads/Mt.Katahdin-3wr.jpg

The argument for going Northbound is simple – you can start sooner and (hopefully) finish sooner.  Most NOBOs tend to leave Springer in March or April.  From everything I have read, it also seems to be a little easier to go north as the terrain starts a tad simpler and gets gradually more difficult.  This would allow you to find your hiking legs while the terrain is less harsh, and be physically ready (or spent??) for the harder stuff.  I also like that your first few days or weeks are not immediately taking you deep into secluded forests, far from help, pizza and electricity.  This seems practical if you are not too sure of your backpacking skills and want that safety net to fall back on, or think you might need outfitters nearby where you can adjust, swap, or downright start over when it comes to your gear selections.  I am not sure that will be a consideration for me, though.

The negative side of this direction is that it seems to be the more popular choice – and therefore, the more crowded.  I am actually looking forward to SOME solitude on the trail, and having to fight for a spot in the shelter between two snoring bunkmates every night does not sound too appealing to me.  Also, due to Baxter State Park closing for the winter season on October 15, there is a definitive deadline, and any illness, injury, or lollygagging can wreak havoc on your plans to actually finish a Thru Hike.

SOBO

Source: http://www.cnyhiking.com/ATinGA-ApproachArch32.jpg

Source: http://www.cnyhiking.com/ATinGA-ApproachArch32.jpg

Traveling Southbound has its merits, too.  The obvious is that there is no set-in-stone deadline to finish.  Sure, weather in the southern mountains can be just as harsh, but Amicalola Falls State Park does not close its gates for the winter.  I like this flexibility.  I also somewhat like the punishing thought of having what seems to be some of the harshest and most secluded parts of the trail in the first month!  See, I told you I was insane.  As stated above, I like the somewhat more solo nature of a southbound trip, too.  What can I say, I have always been an introvert and enjoy my alone time.

The downside of heading south is that you have to wait longer to start… Baxter State Park does not open until after May 31, and patience is not one of my fortes.  Not being able to start until June or later to start might drive me crazy!  Then again, sometimes leaving at the year’s half way point may be easier than taking the middle half of the year off.  One thing about going south that I am not sure is even an issue is that it seems, as far as I can tell from my readings, the southern terminus is a bit anticlimactic, whereas northbound hikers have Mt. Katahdin as an inspirational finishing point that they can physically focus on miles ahead of reaching.  Maybe I am wrong, though, as I have never seen Springer Mountain myself.

Personal Considerations

Source:  Unknown

Source: Unknown

As is always the case, there are some personal considerations that must be taken into account, as well.  The first is my desire to attend the National Police Week event my bike club hosts every May.  I suppose I could start hiking and then get off the trail for the long weekend, if I needed to, but ultimately, I want to be in the D.C. area for Mother’s Day weekend.  I also plan to get off the trail for about a week in July, to attend the bike club’s annual rendezvous event, and I am not sure I want to get off the trail twice like that.  If I go Southbound, I would still be in town for the May event, and would then only need to get off trail for the July event.  The second consideration, which may be more of a convenience than anything else, is that it would seem easier to take a leave of absence from work starting at the half-way point of the year, instead of taking off the middle portion of the year.  However, there is also the chance I will not have a job to come back to – I have not broached that subject yet.  That brings up another possible issue, though – October, November and December tend to not be great hiring months for full-time work, at least in this area.  Maybe the New Year would be a better time to start that process.

And if I am honest with myself, there is a part of me that likes the idea of finishing atop Mt. Katahdin, with the iconic peak sign and the fabulous views offered.  It just seems to be a more highlighted finishing point, as opposed to the top of a hill surrounded by trees.

Luckily for me, I have over a year to figure this out.  It is certainly something I will have to spend some time thinking about, though.  I wonder what thought processes other Thru Hikers have had with regard to deciding which direction to go.  I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so if you have any input, please use the comment box below.

I welcome any comments or topic suggestions you may have, and as such, invite you to feel free to use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”

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