Love Lessons from the AT

I don’t claim to know everything about love and marriage, as Mr. Dirty could certainly confirm. I absolutely do not know everything about hiking (even if it is just walking which I have been doing for most of my life). I may not know it all, but I am willing to learn!

Life presents us with moments that mark our souls, and we learn so much about who we are and who we can be. If we open our eyes, even a trail in the woods can be a teacher.

Over Spring Break (yes, I realize that was almost 2 months ago!), Mr. Dirty & I took the Dirty Boy for a hike on the AT – from Cooper Gap to Neels Gap. Getting to the trail proved to be the biggest challenge: we were hit by drunk driver who fled the scene.

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Thankfully, the damage was minimal!

Lesson #1: Hiking isn’t THAT important. I know that might be earth shattering news, but it’s actually true. The safety of my family was the most important consideration. Hiking could wait… at least for a few days.

Lesson #2: Sharing the trials of the trail will make or break a relationship. I’ve read enough trail journals and watched enough documentaries from the trail to know that not every relationship survives the trail. Friends, relatives, and lovers find their relationships destroyed on the trail because you can’t hide your ugly bits on the trail. Fortunately, Mr. Dirty has long since learned to live with my ugly bits, so when I get unbearable, he still loves me.

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Lesson #3: Support comes in many forms. Mr. Dirty & I support each other along the trail in many ways. We share the workload by dividing camp chores. We encourage each other – genuinely, sarcastically, and competitively. We are fortunate that we both enjoy and are physically capable of hiking. Not every couple is that lucky. On the trail, we met Sherpa Mom. She was hiking the trail, and her husband was following in their RV to offer trail support. What love!

Lesson #3: You find out what your children are made of when you let them go. This is a hard lesson to learn (I say is rather than was because I haven’t quite got the hang of it). It was obvious that we were moving too slow for the Dirty Boy. He was like a dog pulling on the leash! So, we let him run wild and free. He ran – literally, not figuratively – up and down the trail and over the top of Blood Mountain… barefoot. He visited with other hikers, took pictures, and enjoyed the trail in ways that he never would have if he had remained shackled to his slothful parents. This should make letting go of the Dirty Offpring a little easier… so they say.

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Lesson #4: Its important to watch each other’s back. (This lesson goes out to Cousin Phil who said he couldn’t wait until I talked about poop… here ya go, Phil). Pooping on, er along… please don’t poop on the trail, can be risky business. There are all sorts of disasters that can befall you once you squat: bugs, snakes, poison ivy, bears… just to name a few! Mr. Dirty & I stand guard for each other at the privvies (composting type toilets at shelters, usually without doors). No one likes to be interrupted while on the throne, nor do you want to interrupt someone who is on the throne. When we are without a privvy, we’ve found it helpful to watch each other’s back (figuratively, not literally… that would be gross). The things you do for the one you love!!

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Why I Hike

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Borrowed from Pinterest

Pinterest is an addiction. With a click of the little red icon, you can find anything that can be found on the web… in picture form. Like what you see? Then you can follow the link, repin the pin, or *like* the picture. Need a recipe for crockpot beef stroganoff? It’s there. Need to know how to make a cool sprinkler for your kids out of pvc pipe? Yup, there too.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

Looking for a new hiking trail? Bam!! It will literally suck you in for hours. The ladies know this. Dirty Diva got a new phone for Christmas. The first app she downloaded? Pinterest.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

Last week I was down with a sinus infection for a few days. I spent three days on the couch in my pajamas perusing Pinterest. It was wasted time. I could have accomplished so much, but I couldn’t  pry my sick pj clad bottom off the oh so comfy couch. So I dove head first into the world of Pinterest – this wasn’t my first foray into the underworld of pins, just the only one of which I wish to speak.

What does Pinterest have to do with hiking? Not much really, at least not until you venture into the “Outdoor” board or do a search – which I frequently do – for hiking or backpacking. Try it. I’ll wait here while you see what you can find. It’s an amazing word, this Pinterest.

Back? So last week when I was permanently attached to the couch with Pinterest at my finger tips, I stumbled upon this:

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Borrowed from Pinterest

It wasn’t new to me; I had actually pinned it months before, but I had never really thought about it. When I originally pinned it, I just thought it was cute and funny. The last five miles of our AT section hike was completely motivated by the cheeseburgers we would eat at the NOC… so, yeah, hike for cheeseburgers!!

But I’ve been thinking… which is dangerous, I know. Why do I hike? I could get a cheeseburger without hiking. I can get dry clothes from the laundry room. So why do I hike? If you aren’t a backpacker, you will have a hard time understanding how strapping a 20-30 pound pack on your back to trudge up and down trails in the mountains – while wearing the same clothes for days at a time through rain, cold, and heat, sleeping on the ground in the dark with no electricity or running water – could possibly be relaxing. It totally is.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

Hiking has become an essential part of who we, the Dirty Duo, are. We need it. Life gets hectic and jumbled, and we begin to lose site of what is truly important – Faith, family, an  friends.

A good friend once told me that he’d spent too much of his time making a life that he forgot to actually enjoy his life. Are we defined by how much money we make or by the lives that we touch? When we start to lose focus, we head outside.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

The trail is a stress-free zone. No bills, no ringing phones (even if you have your cell with you, you probably won’t have service), no leaky roof, no emails to return, or errands to run. It’s you and the trees, the breeze, the birds, the snakes (yup, even them), and that heavenly scent that no candle company has ever quite captured.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

When we are home, we tend to get wrapped up in our own “stuff”. Right now, I’m working on this blog post (having just returned from a mall trip with the Dirty Boy & the Dirty Friend) and Mr. Dirty is doing his winter thing… watching football while reading gear reviews. It’s not always a pretty life. That’s the beauty of the trail. We ditch the gadgets and spend time together…

Why do you hike?

Four out of Four Butts Kicked at Cohutta Mountain

Back in October, the School Schedule Gods gifted us with a glorious and much needed Fall Break. It didn’t come a minute too soon and was very much appreciated. Too often school breaks do not coincide with an empty space on Mr. Dirty’s work calendar; however, on this particular weekend, the planet’s were aligned and a little fun was in order!!

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Mr. Dirty has done quite a bit of reading on the hiking trails buried deep in the Cohutta Mountain Wilderness  of North Georgia (at over 40,000 acres, the Cohutta Mountain Wilderness is the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi) and was eager to explore the area. This area is literally laced with trails – 13 trails for 87 miles of butt-kicking hikes – we had plenty of options. After looking over maps and our schedule, Mr. Dirty chose the 15.5 mile Cohutta Mountain Loop Trail.
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The Cohutta Mountain Loop Trail is comprised of three trails: Hickory Ridge Trail, Jacks River Trail, and Rough Ridge Trail. If you want specifics on how many miles we spent on each trail, I’m sure Mr. Dirty has them available. On most of the websites I have seen, all three trails are described as “moderately difficult to strenuous.” Yup. I think that’s what they say when what they really want to say is, “it’s a real butt kicker.” (I think I have a new rating system: 4 out of 4 butts kicked on this trail).

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On Friday evening, we made it in to Ellijay where we ate overly hyped barbeque and stayed in the skeeviest hotel room in the state of Georgia. Literally. We used duct tape to cover the hole that was once a peep hole in the door. It was the weekend of the Apple Festival so we were fortunate to have the room, even if we were too freaked out to take a shower in that bathroom!!

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Saturday dawned bright and crisp… it was unbelievably cold! The parking lot at the trailhead was completely full, thanks to the pop-up camper that took up three parking spaces, camp chairs taking up a space, and the trailer full of ATVs in another. Apparently, we were in someone’s private campground rather than a US Forest Service parking lot (snarky sarcasm)! As we were passing the “campground” for the trail, the happy campers let us know that they weren’t your average campers…. they were bear hunters! Not only were they bear hunters, but they were bear hunters who left an angry, injured bear in the woods that they had yet to find. Awesome. I suddenly became worried that the “Aue de Waffle House” scent I was sporting could double as bear bait. I’m almost positive a southern black bear could tear up some “Smothered, Covered, Diced, and Capped” hashbrowns. Positive.

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Fortunately, we were never attacked by an angry, hashbrown-craving bear. I’m sure that soothes your troubled minds 😉 Unfortunately, the attack came in a much smaller, much angrier package: yellow jackets!

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I don’t know what it is about the Dirties, but those stinking things love us!! (This past summer, the mister and I wound up with over 20 stings a piece when he disturbed a nest. Thanks, Hon!). This time, it was the boy and me running for our lives. Who knew you could run with a 25 pound pack down the side of a mountain?!

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There are several opportunities *read: you gotta do it* to cross the Jacks River – which I am sure is frigid on a nice summer day. Our river crossings were pretty stinking cold! Dirty Boy, being Dirty Boy, had a minor mishap that involved a gigantic bolder, his foot, and water. Needless to say, we took an extra long break on the opposite shore.

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And THAT is when the most curious thing happened!! Out of absolutely no where (ok, somewhere on the trail) came a virtual stampede of riders on horseback! Literally, at least a dozen horses and three dogs came  beebopping along the trail. It was the most unexpected, bizarre thing I’ve seen on the trail in quite some time. (Unfortunately, these horses did significant damage to the trail in the way of collapsing the trail for several yards in some places).
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On our second day, Mr. Dirty took Dirty Boy and Hiking Ninja to the waterfalls. By their account and the pictures they brought back, it was stunning.

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I stayed in camp to read the biography of Alison Arngrim, otherwise known as Nellie Olson. It was riveting! Truly. You should read it.
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ANYHOW. After they returned from the falls, we started out in an attempt to make it to the campsite at Crooked Dogwood Gap. It. Was. All. Up. Hill. Yeah. Remember I said it was a real butt kicker?!  We hiked until dark and still didn’t find the elusive campsite! Seeing as we were all hammocking – with the exception of the Dirty Boy who was in an OR bug bivy, we set up camp on the side of the trail in the middle of nowhere. We were THAT desperate for rest.
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As I set up my hammock in a growth of briars and poison ivy, all I could think about was snakes. I didn’t see any, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. I was positive they were hanging out with the Waffle House bear just waiting to eat me. I think I did a decent job of keeping my fears well hidden – even when I had to go deeper into the dark woods to poop. I just knew I was going to get jumped!

As I’m sure you’ve surmised, mainly because I’m able to write this today, neither bear nor snake had me for dinner while I was pooping or sleeping in my taffeta  cocoon. Surprisingly, I had the best night of my life…. which could be due to exhaustion. In the morning, we hiked about a quarter of a mile (during which I saw an honest to God rattlesnake. Good thing that was AFTER I slept) only to find THE campsite. And it was glorious. Huge water supply, private poop corner, lots of poison-ivy-free trees. We found it when it was too late to enjoy it. But we still found it!!

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The hike out was long and arduous. We rested, we hiked, we rested some more. It was amazing to see the difference in the fall colors over just a few days. Simply gorgeous.
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Four out of four butts were kicked, but four out of four butts had a great time!!

“Mountain” Biking

I love to ride my mountain bike on the trails. Most people would call this “mountain biking;” however, we don’t have mountains in thomson, Georgia. We’ve driven to the foothills to ride on the trails, but that’s still not the same as “mountain biking” like I know people enjoy in places like Colorado. It’s not scary or completely dangerous (unless you are a part of OUR family).

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Dirty Boy riding at Watson Mill Bridge State Park

We had plans to ride a local section of the Bartram Trail with our friend, Bearded Mary. I was so excited last night that I didn’t get to sleep until around two am. I haven’t been “mountain biking” since September. On our last ride, we went with a few of my coworkers… one a passionate biker. We were riding at the Augusta Canal (read: completely flat flat flat). It was a gorgeous morning – perfect day for a ride. Bad things always happen on “perfect” days. Just saying. Not even five minutes into our incredibly flat ride on this beautifully gorgeous morning, Dirty Boy hit a wash out on the trail, lost his front tire (as in it came OFF the bike), and skidded long the trail. He lost a chunk of meat about the size of a half dollar from his arm, but he was calm enough to ride back to the car… after we replaced his tire. Want to see the wound?

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Dirty Boy’s War Wound

We spent three hours in the emergency room – in our chamois diaper bike shorts – while his arm was cleaned and stitched. Mr. Dirty enjoyed hanging out in the emergency room a little too much.

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Emergency Room Entertainment

Dirty Boy made friends with the staff; he knew he would see them again sooner rather than later.

Woo! I got way off track. Before I tell you about today’s ride, I have to tell you that the kid gets it honestly. When we first started “mountain biking”, I crashed my bike & dislocated my shoulder. On that particular trip, it was just me and the boy. It was a painful ride back to the trailhead. I’ve had some rather spectacular crashes – one of which ripped my shorts from my body!! Thankfully, the Lovely Lisa was the only one around to experience THAT particular horror.

Back to today. Our plan was to enter the Bartram Trail at Petersburgh Campground, ride a few miles, and turn around. This would be the first trail ride for Bearded Mary, and we didn’t want to over do it. Not to mention that I haven’t been mountain biking since September! The weather this morning was perfect for riding (dum dum dum dum). We’ve had some really crappy weather lately,unless you love constant rain. The only benefit I see is that a certain band dude we know will no longer complain about the water level at the lake (We like the band dude, really, we do) and MUDDY TRAILS.

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After crossing Cliatt Creek at Mistletoe State Park

Muddy trails are the whole reason I love trail riding!! There is something totally cool about riding through a puddle on your bike. I grew up on a dirt road. We would take turns riding through the puddles. I love the feel of the mud flying up all over your legs. It’s priceless.

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Mrs. Dirty after riding Bartram Trail

This morning, there was spectacular amounts of mud on the trail. I was amused to watch Bearded Mary ride around the puddles. Who does that?! It’s probably not clear from the name, but Bearded Mary is not your typical Mary. He’s way too hairy to be typical.

 

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Dirty Boy & Bearded Mary on Bartram Trail

 

I had to explain that the objective was to get dirty. If you’re clean at the end, you did it wrong!

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Sweet Melissa & George – my favorite modes of transportation

Sweet Melissa (my trusty steed… a Scott Contessa mountain bike… who I adore!) & I barreled through more puddles than I imagined in only a few miles. It was awesome riding!! Until this happened:

That’s the view from Dirty Boy’s GoPro camera as he went down on a relatively flat (again with the flat) stretch of Trail. For the record: he is scary good when riding on the crazy steep trails… it’s the flat spots that trip him up.

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Dirty Boy Post-Crash

Actually, today it was a branch about as big around as my thumb; it stuck in his spoke and brought him down. He tweaked his knee pretty good – there was even blood shed. Luckily, my genius self brought a first aid kit. Could you imagine being dumb enough to leave that at home?!

We did have to end our trip sooner than we planned, but that meant I got to go back through the same puddles!! Guess what I hear right now? More rain falling on my tin roof (yes, it’s really a tin roof)!! Looks like we will be back on the trail on Thursday to get even dirtier!

“The best memories end with the dirtiest clothes.” – anonymous

Getting Dirty in the Florida Keys

Last night, we left Georgia bound for a place that makes me soul feel at rest. The Florida Keys. I grew up in Florida so I’m no stranger to fabulous beaches. I spent a year living within walking distance of Kalathas Beach in Crete, Greece.

Kalathas Beach, Crete, Greece

I I feel alive & reinvigorated on a crisp mountain morning, but I feel a sense of being at home when I’m on a beach.

Caluso Beach, Bahia Honda State Park

Caluso Beach, Bahia Honda State Park

The Florida Keys are different from any other beach or coastal community I have ever been to. Almost everyone has heard that time practically stands still in the Keys. Stress? Not in Monroe County. It could all be one huge, glorious act;however, I’ve never seen anyone who lives here act stressed. They seem to be the happiest, easy going folks EVER. And why wouldn’t they be?!

Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park

This is our second trip to the Keys. We stay Bahia Honda State Park – where we sleep in tents. Our first trip, we stayed in the Bayside campground…. no electricity…. in July. Never again. It was hotter than Hades!

Last August, I reserved our site in the Sandspur campground. Electricity!! You will never appreciate the luxury of a simple fan to circulate air in your tent  until you’ve spent a week in Florida without it!  (I’m actually writing this on my fully charged Kindle Fire on my inflated queen size air mattress with a lovely man-made breeze blowing in my hair. It’s a beautiful thing.) Morning report: excellent sleeping. Bonus points!!

My morning view

I don’t think what we are doing is true camping. This? This is glamping! It’s way too comfortable to be true camping. We even have a table cloth on our table!!

Key Largo Sunrise

Key Largo Sunrise

Anyhow, we left Saturday evening and drove (with Frodo & the Hiking Ninja in our car and the Dirty Diva & her boyfriend following in her car) through the night to get here Sunday morning. We were blessed with a stunning sunrise over Key Largo. It was a lovely welcome “home.”

Our only stressful part of the drive – other than the I95 parking lot through Jacksonville – was my new bike rack. For Mother’s Day, Mr. Dirty and the kids bought me a Yakima Doubledown Ace 4 bike rack for my Subaru, George. It’s one incredible bike rack!! The problem? It rode so low that it appeared to be falling off the car. Initially, Mr. Dirty thought I had incorrectly installed it. A perusal on the internet (what did I ever do without a smart phone?!) and a YouTube video later, and we learned that I did it right. It wasn’t until I found a Subaru forum (yes, they have those…. they have an internet forum to talk about just about anything you could dream of) that I learned you needed a Class II hitch to transport any more than two bikes. I have a Class I. Guess who will be getting a new hitch for their car??

When most people think about the Keys, they think about Key West. With over 660,000 people arriving via cruise ships per year and Jimmy Buffett ‘s Margaritaville, it’s understandable. We spend just a few hours in Key West, and that’s plenty.  There is so much more to do! On a previous trip, we took an eco-kayak tour & snorkled the Looe Key Reef. This year? We’re going to have all sorts of fun!!

(Now that we’re home & the fun is over, I can fill you in on all of the awesomeness that we found in the Keys!)

Pigeon Key
Pigeon Key is located at the mid-point of the 7 Mile Bridge. During the building of the Overseas Highway, Pigeon Key was a camp for the construction crew. Later, it housed the bridge tender and his family. Now, the island is home to a museum that pays tribute to Henry Flagler’s Overseas Highway and the families who sacrificed for the OH. I know, I know… who wants to go to a stinking museum on vacation?! Who cares about the museum?! Not me. But the island (and getting there) is amazing! We rode our bikes across the Old 7 Mile Bridge; it’s only 2 miles to Pigeon Key.

Old 7 Mile Bridge
Old 7 Mile Bridge
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Osprey

The tide was out as we rode the Old 7 so we saw loggerheads and needlefish swimming in the shallows. There is a gorgeous osprey who lives on the bridge; he looked so regal looking over his kingdom.

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Dock at Pigeon Key

On the gulf side of Pigeon Key is a boat dock and small beach where we enjoyed fine cuisine (pb&j from my backpack) and snorkeling. Snorkeling under the dock was pretty awesome. We swam with tons of fish – most notably toothy baracudas and colorfully quilted parrot fish.

Kayaking at Curry Hammock State ParkCurry Hammock State Park is located on Marathon Key (I believe) and has kayak rentals at a reasonable rate ($21 per 2 hours for double kayaks).  CHSP has a small “trail” that you can kayak which takes you through a mangrove (these are trees & not to be confused with the mango which is yummy when ripe) tunnel. Having only skirted the mangroves on our last trip, we were rather excited to go through the tunnel! We were warned the mosquitoes were bad through there there but only the sweet one (Hiking Ninja) from our crew had problems with being tasty. It was pretty surreal paddling through the tunnel:  we weren’t that far from civilization, but it felt like another planet.

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Kayaking the Mangrove Tunnel

Kayaking the Mangrove Tunnel

After the tunnel, we found a small beach that was a breading ground for horseshoe crabs and a sand bar that was teeming with life. It was amazing!
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Turtle Hospital on Marathon – This is the Dirty Diva’s favorite part of the trip. She loves turtles – especially sea turtles.
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The Turtle Hospital takes sick and injured turtles in from all over the US. On our first visit in 2011, we were able to observe a loggerhead by the name of George having tumors surgically removed. On this visit, we were reintroduced to George as Georgette.

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Georgette

Apparently, turtles don’t advertise their gender until they’re adolescents. Ahem. The hospital does amazing things for these turtles & is a highlight of our trip!

Islamorada’s Third Thursday Art Walk – On the third Thursday of every month, the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District sponsors the Third Thursday Art Walk. Local artists & musicians come out for the evening to show off their best work… which was incredible. The best part was meeting the local artists and hearing their stories (I loved talking to the retired teacher who left New York & loves that they know his name in the post office!).

Food? We did quite a bit of eating in camp (thanks to the Winn Dixie on Big Pine Key); however, our restaurant experiences were quite incredible… as always. I am not a seafood eater, but I tried the conch fritters in Key West.

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Conch Fritters on Duval Street

They were really… chewy. We enjoyed the Island Grill in Islamorada and Mangrove Mama’s  on Sugar Loaf Key (although the Island Grill was far superior to the more expensive Mangrove Mamas). Our top rated & most highly recommended eating? The No Name Pub on No Name Key.
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Always awesome. Always fun. Always delicious. The place is covered in dollar bills, one of which advertises for The Dirty Duo… just saying.
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There is so much more adventure to be found in the Florida Keys. We need more time! I’ve tried to convince Mr. Dirty to relocate, but I haven’t had much success. I think he’s scared of a little hurricane 😉

 

Trials and Tribulations of Trail Transportation

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When I, Mrs. Dirty, was sixteen, I received my driver’s license and the keys to my very own 1970 something Mustang II. It wasn’t shiny and new, but it was transportation! My bestie, BJ, and I drove that little car all over Panama City & Panama City Beach. Transportation provided us with the one thing we craved most: freedom! Of course, within a month of receiving my license, I received a speeding ticket & was in a slight fender bender. I guess I got carried away with the freedom.

As much as I love hiking, getting to and from the trail can sometimes be a challenge. Will your vehicle be safe at the trailhead for days? Weeks? Do you need one vehicle at the starting point and one at your ending point? (It’s for that reason that Mr. Dirty likes hiking loop trails.)

The Appalachian Trail hiking community has pretty much established a solid transportation framework that consists to shuttles – usually run by hostel owners (which means a ride, bed, food, and a shower!). These shuttles can be slightly expensive, thanks to those rising gas prices that I’m not even going to get into! If you came here looking for shuttle information, hold on. I’m getting there!

no fancy sports cars here

no fancy sports cars here

Most trailheads, at least the ones that are the most fun, are found within a maze of forestry service roads (read: dirty, gravel roads that are so washed out that you can’t really see the gravel). The type of vehicle you take (and how you baby it) is as important as having a map to the trail. When you survey the parking lot at the trailhead – especially the trailhead found on one of those long, winding forestry service roads – you don’t see many Mercedes or BMWs. Our outdoor adventures are the main reasons Mr. Dirty drives a truck, and I drive a Subaru (even though my friend Shawn says only hippies drive Subarus…. don’t even get me started on what the boss says about Subies!)

Mr. Dirty and I have had some rather unusual trail transportation trials (I’m sure that simply shocks you, right?). We can never do something the easy way; that would be, well, too easy. Are you ready for the Top 5 Fantastic Failures in Trail Transportation?!

#5: Leave Your Valuables at Home

Mr.B

Mr. B

When you are going to be leaving your vehicle unattended for days or weeks at a time, it makes no sense whatsoever to leave valuable electronics (or wallets, purses, etc.) in the car. On our AT adventure, we prepositioned vehicles at strategic locations along the trail (my Subie at Springer, Hinky Di-Di’s car at Nantahala, and Mr. Dirty’s truck at Fontana). As we were dropping the Subie at Springer, Mr. Dirty’s (autocorrect keeps changing Mr. Dirty to Mr. Society. Ha!!) friend, Mr. B – who we were transporting to Fontana for a section hike through the Smokies – decided to do a “walk around” to make sure the car wasn’t appealing to thieves… for any reason other than it’s an awesome Subie.

Thank God for Mr. B, because Frodo the dirty footed Hobbit had left his iPad, a backpack, and money on the back seat! If the hike would have gone as planned, George (that’s my Subie’s name) would have been sitting at the trailhead for SIXTEEN days. Not everyone who passes through trailhead parking lots are honest people. It is so common for cars to be broken into at trailhead that the Washington Trails Association regularly posts this blog: Keeping Your Car Safe at the Trailhead. Luckily, we had Mr. B along for the ride. George still has all of his Windows, and Frodo still has his iPad (hence the reason this is #5 and not #1).

#4: Shuttles Save Lives!
So. I told you we prepositioned those vehicles strategically along the trail. IF the hike had gone as planned, it would have been fabulous. So much thought and planning went into prepositioning those vehicles. Here is how it was supposed to work: Mr. Dirty would drop us at Fontana then pick up Hinky Di-Di and the Ninja Lumberjack at Nantahala. Together, we would hike the thirty miles from Fontana back to the NOC. The Ninja Lumberjack would shuttle Mr. Dirty back to Fontana to get his truck. Hinky Di-Di & I would continue hiking to George where he was waiting at Springer Mountain. Yeah, right.

We were running slightly behind schedule – which totally freaked out Mr. Dirty. The soldier inside doesn’t like for a schedule to NOT be adhered to. Schedules are made for a reason, right? At around 5am on the third day of hiking, Mr. Dirty scratched on the mosquito netting of my hammock to tell me he was hiking out ahead of us. He wanted to get to the NOC and take a shuttle back to Fontana to get his truck. His goal was to be waiting when we came off the trail at the NOC so that he could hit the highway.

When he reached the NOC, he arranged a shuttle through Jeff Hoch at The Hike Inn. Mr. Dirty has nothing but good stuff to say about Jeff – who, according to Mr. Dirty, knows everyone on the AT and has great stories to share. If you are in need of a shuttle in the Fontana Dam or Nantahala area, give Jeff & Nancy a call at (828-479-3677). Shuttles Save Lives,right? Jeff is probably unaware of the role he played in helping us get Hinky Di-Di off the trail safely!

Oblivious to the day’s drama (if you are unaware of the drama, read Dirty Disappointment), Mr. Dirty sent me a text to inform me that he was at his truck and heading back to Nantahala. According to my little pocket map, we were about two miles to Wright Gap. Luckily, I had purchased the AT Trail1 iPhone app. I highly recommended this app. It has a GPS that shows you where you are on the trail. The mileage wasn’t always correct, and it didn’t always have sufficient signal signal strength to update your location. It WAS only $1. The map on this app showed that there was a road crossing at Wright Gap. This, by the way, wasn’t on my little pocket map (you know, the one that I paid $19.99 for on Amazon).

We were able arrange for Mr. Dirty to meet us at the road crossing in order to get Hinky Di-Di safely off the trail. See? Shuttles Save Lives.

#3: Lead the Way… Don’t LEAVE!

Dirty George after Springer Mt.

Dirty George after Springer Mt.

Our little AT adventure wouldn’t end until we went back to Springer Mountain to rescue a stranded George – the beloved Subie. First, let me say that DRIVING to get George wasn’t part of my plan so it made me a little sad. Mr. Dirty grew up in Washington and is pretty skilled at driving those mountain roads. So skilled that as we drove to the trailhead to get George, I rode with my eyes closed. He was whipping around those twists and flying over those wash outs. Needless to say, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the way we got to the trail. Problem? Nah, I planned to follow Mr. Dirty home. Right? Wrong.

The drive down the mountain was good for a few minutes; those were the few minutes minutes when I could actually see Mr. Dirty’s dust trail. The dust trail didn’t last long, and before long, nothing looked familiar. Nothing. If you’ve been on the forestry service road to Springer, you know that there is a place in the road where you can turn one of four ways. Yeah, I took the wrong one. Smartly, I figured this out, turned around, and took another way. Yup, it was wrong, too. Mr. Dirty, of course, wasn’t answering his cell phone. When I finally reached Frodo, I was a bit hysterical. The boy’s eventually found me sitting at the crossroads acting like a blubbering fool.

Remember, if you are leading the way… don’t leave the way!!

#2: Battery Blunders, aka We’ll leave a light on for ya’

Summer 2004 - Panther Creek

Summer 2004 – Panther Creek

Summer 2012 - Panther Creek

Summer 2012 – Panther Creek

Over Spring Break, we took Frodo to Panther Creek to do a little hiking. We love Panther Creek, because it is such an amazingly beautiful place. It’s a 3.5 mile hike from the parking lot o one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the state of Georgia. The hike can be nerve racking in spots and the water is frigid… but is so worth it!

Panther Creek Falls

Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

On this particular trip, we drove George. The truck is great, because you can load lots of gear in the bed. My Subaru gets much better gas mileage. Much better. George just happens to be an Outback – which means he has a roomy cargo area. This cargo area is large enough to hold at least four fully loaded 65 liter backpacks (3 of which are from the Osprey family, just saying) and is well lit by an over head dome light. This little dome light has one of those nifty little sliding switches that has three settings: on, off, door. The on and off are pretty self-explanatory, right? Door means that the light only comes on when the door is open. Genius. This is where I like to keep it. This is where it makes sense for it to be. Right?

As we were unloading our gear, one of the fully loaded 65 liter bags (probably the non-Osprey variety) brushed against that little sliding switch, putting it into the ON position. For three days. Upon returning from our wonderfully fabulous hike, the key fob wouldn’t open the door. Whatever could be amiss? Hmmmm, why won’t the car start?

If I haven’t mentioned it yet, Panther Creek is a very popular hiking destination in Georgia. The parking lot was packed! Every parking spot as full, and cars were parked along the side of the road. That is typical or this trailhead. That’s what happens and. The destination is that amazing. It makes it rather difficult when trying to jumpstart a dead battery, unless the car parked in front of you happens to have the driver close by…. which was not the case in our situation, of course.

The Dirty Friend, Frodo, and Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

The Dirty Friend, Frodo, and Mr. Dirty at Panther Creek Falls

We were lucky to have have two very willing young ladies who were eager to exchange a jumpstart for our parking spot, but we had to first push George backwards out of his resting place. Normally, you would put the car in neutral and push. Right? Have you tried this lately? The stinking thing wouldn’t go into neutral. A quick perusal of the Owner’s Manual led to an answer: there is this little circle cover just North of the gear shift that that you have to remove and insert the Subaru screwdriver (which was, thankfully, in my glove box) in order to put the car in neutral. I’m certain this is some kind of safety feature. Mainly because I once had a friend whose son knocked her car into neutral, and it does through the neighbor’s front door.

We, eventually, pushed George to a position where he could get some juice from another vehicle, and we were on our merry way. A lesson was learned: always check to make sure all lights – both interior and exterior – are turned off before leaving the trailhead!

#1: Who Has the Keys??
Yeah, it’s happened… twice.
Our first key trouble was last summer at Panther Creek (our luck tends to not be so good there). We like to mountain bike as well as hike; therefore, I have a handy dandy bike rack attached to the rear of my Subie. It’s the kind that drops down to allow entrance to the roomie cargo area. As we were unloading our gear, someone – I really can’t remember who – sat the keys on top of the bike rack… which has an open, hollow tube that is about three feet long.

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The keys, of course, slid all the way to the bottom of the tube – inside of the bike rack. It took some scientific genius to use a magnet attached to the end of a hiking pole to retrieve the keys. Grrrrrr.

The second key incident was entirely Mr. Dirty’s fault. Really! Mr. Dirty and Frodo went for an overnight hike with our friend Brat and his son, the Ham Man. They prepositioned vehicles: Brat’s truck at Springer and Mr. Dirty’s truck at Three Forks (at least I think it was Three Forks). They set off hiking north in the rain, because it always rains on the AT. When they made it to where Mr.Dirty’s truck was waiting, he realized that his keys were… in Brat’s truck. Oh, Mr. Dirty, you rock.

Frodo, being an adventurous young lad, volunteered to run – literally – back to Springer to retrieve the keys. Along the Way (for some reason autocorrect insists that Way be capital… I guess it’s the Way it’s done), he met some kind hearted folks who shared some snacks with him. Thanks, kind hearted folks, whoever you were.

Shortly after Frodo took off for Springer, the always persuasive smooth talking Brat used his lawyerly skills to CONvince a young couple who were driving a small Yugo-ish vehicle to drive him to the trailhead. Apparently, and I’m going off hearsay on this, the young woman rode in the hatchback with her large dog so that Brat could have her seat. Yes, he’s that persuasive.

When Frodo finally made it to the parking lot to get the keys, Brat was waiting in the warm, dry cab of the truck for him. Now, every trip we take, Frodo carries a spare key to the vehicles. He doesn’t trust his parents to keep the keys!!

Down & Dirty from the AT

Just in case my last post was confusing, I suppose should clear the air about something pretty important:

AT @ Fontana Dam

Our hike was FABULOUS… with the exception of that last day.

Mr. Dirty, the Dirty Boy – hereafter known as Frodo, the Hiking Ninja, and I all made it to the Fontana Dam just about sunset. Sleeping in the shelter would have been the simplest sleeping arrangements; however, I wasn’t comfortable with having Hiking Ninja (Frodo’s sweet & courageous girlfriend) sleep in shelter with strange men. All of you strange men out there Sleeping in shelters, pay attention: don’t take it personally. She’s young, New to the hiking world, and someone I want to protect.

Since sleeping in the shelter wasn’t an option (much to the chagrin of Mr. Dirty), we set about hanging our hammocks among some trees along the trail. The hang sites weren’t ideal, but they gave us a much needed respite from the bugs that were circling in hopes of draining our blood and the rain that came later that night.

Hammocks

In the morning, we awoke to a glorious sunrise over the dam. We had several hours to wait for our hiking companions, Hinky Di-Di & Ninja Lumberjack, to make it so we set out exploring the dam-area. At the visitor’s center, I spent some time talking with the volunteer husband and wife team who travel from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, every year to work at the center for two weeks. We met a hiker who rode a greyhound bus for 28 hours just to hike through Smilies. We met a hiker in FULL Russian military uniform, who – even though he was a Russian-American – had never served in the Russian military. Just goes to show, hikers come in every shape, size, and background. So awesome!

DSCF5534 DSCF5531

Because we got a late start, we only made it two miles before setting up camp in the pouring rain. Setting up camp in the rain – with fading light – stinks, but it could have been much worse. The beautiful thing about sleeping in hammocks is that your hammock stays dry. When you set your tent up in the rain, the inside gets wet before you get your rain fly put put on. With the hammock, you can put the rain fly up first & everything stays dry. It’s a beautiful thing!

On the way to Cable Gap shelter

The hike to the Cable Gap shelter was pretty uneventful and did very little to prepare us for the climb to Brown Fork shelter. It wasn’t that hike was that difficult – just that it seemed to go on forever. It almost felt like hiking on a treadmill where you really aren’t going anywhere. Mr. Dirty kept saying, “It’s just around the corner.” The mild mannered Hiking Ninja probably felt like pushing him off the side of the mountain. I know that I did!! The view from the summit was an awesome site and a great reward for the long hike.

DSCF5551 summit

The next morning was all up hill, literally. From Brown Forks shelter to Sassafrass shelter, you gain about 1500 feet in elevation in nine miles. It’s not the most killer climb on the Appalachian Trail, but it was gruelling. In the middle of never ending switchbacks, Frodo decided to take a short cut and ended up entangled in a nest of thorns. He learned the hard way to respect the trail and that there are no short cuts!
All of the hard work paid off when we made it to the top of Cheoah Bald. Words can not describe the awesome and amazing sight that waited for us at the top. Even the exhaustion we felt from the climb was not enough to stifle the excitement from the view.

gap kids

As tempting as it was to camp right there on the summit, we hiked another mile to Sassafrass Gap shelter. That mile was perhaps the most joyous mile ever. Everyone was eager to settle into camp and eat. Hiking Ninja actually giggled,”I’m so happy I could jump up and down if my feet didn’t hurt!”

When you are struggling to climb a beast of a mountain, you almost forget to enjoy the views and the company.

The Gang at Cable Gap Shelter

Frodo hiked almost the whole trip in his bare Hobbit feet and never complained about them hurting. I was wowed (Is that a real word? Autocorrect says it is so it must be!) by his strength and tenacity… wonder where he gets that from?!

Frodo's Hobbit Feet feet

This girl… she is amazing.

kaitie smile

It didn’t matter what the trail through at her, she took it with a smile. A blister on her foot? Pssh. That’s nothing. Low on water? Low on food? Freezing cold? Rain? She still smiled.

Hinky Di-Di & Ninja Lumberjack

Hinky Di-Di & Ninja Lumberjack were great hiking partners. It’s great to see married couples enjoying a mutual hobby – especially one that exercises the body! They are new to the hiking world, and their excitement was contagious.

Mr. Dirty has always been my favorite hiking partner. Ten miles feels like two when I hike with him… unless it’s all up hill.

Mr. Dirty Mr. Dirty

I’d walk 2,000 miles – all up hill – as long as he was my partner.