Dirty, Stinking Tree High-Fiver

I’ve never considered myself to be a tree hugger. A tree climber? Yes. A tree hugger? Nope. It’s funny how the older you get (I’m getting comfortable with the old-er label), the more you value life. So  I’ve become something of a tree high-fiver… They are friends who I couldn’t imagine living without, you know, since we really couldn’t. The best part (other than the oxygen) is that they never tell me when I stink!

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My simple story goes something like this:

Wow. That’s a beautiful mountain. It really stinks that people are dumping their trash out there.

Wow. That’s an amazing beach. It really stinks that people are destroying it with their four wheelers/condos/beer bottles.

Wow. Those sea turtles are beautiful creatures. It’s a shame that people are killing them by being careless.

I’ve learned that when we truly love something, we would do anything to protect it. It’s how parents – most, anyhow – feel about their children. It’s why I eat my key lime pie extra slow – I want it to last as long as possible. It’s the same reason we have fan clubs, PTA, health insurance, and charities. We want to preserve what we love so that we can continue to enjoy it & share it with others.

Call me a crazy tree hugger all you want, but I’d rather see a sea turtle looking like this:

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Than like this:

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Just in case you’re wondering, that’s the string from a balloon hanging out of the mouth of a Kemp Ridley. What goes up must come down. Balloons that come down over the ocean look like jelly fish to sea turtles. Turtles love jelly fish. Remember that when you are having a planned balloon release (it kills me that people still do this).

See. That’s the kicker. Did you KNOW that balloons kill sea turtles? I don’t know too many people who do. I didn’t, not until I visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida.
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I don’t know too many people who, when faced with the knowledge that their actions are endangering an entire species, would continue to plow on. But most people don’t know. I believe most people care & would be willing to change. I believe that we have to do what we can to protect this blue marble for future generations. I believe that children are the future – teach them well and let them lead the way. Ahem. Sorry, I got carried away.

Education is key to preserving our environment – the mountains, beaches, lakes, creeks, all of it – and the plants and animals that live there. So, I signed us (me & the mister) up for a Leave No Trace trainer course.

To be honest, I don’t think Mr. Dirty had any idea what I signed him up for, but like a good man, he did what his wife said to do 😉 If you are like Mr. Dirty and have no idea what LNT is, let me explain. Leave No Trace (LNT) is an outdoor ethic meant to preserve our wild spaces & wildlife. There are 7 principles:

– plan & prepare
– travel & camp on durable surfaces
– dispose of waste properly
– leave what you find
– minimize campfire impacts
– respect wildlife
– be considerate of other visitors

Simple, right? It’s so easy to protect what we love, but we have to be educated on how to do it. It’s the same reason the Dirty Duo took infant CPR before bringing home the Dirty Boy who had respiratory issues as a baby(He’ll kill me for this, but he ate poop! Not real poop, that meconium prepoop babies do in utero. Anyhow, it jacked him up – what do you expect from POOP?). We have to learn how to help.

Our class was held in Shenandoah National Park. We were blessed to be a part of a phenomenal group of outdoor enthusiasts; all of us learning at the feet of the BEST LNT master educators in the country. I was in awe of the knowledge & experience these two shared with us.

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Our instructors – Hal Hallett & Alex Lampros

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LNT Trainers Course, 2014, Shenandoah NP

Fear Not! I will share more on the LNT principles… one principle at a time (it’s less overwhelming that way & way more fun!).

– Mrs. Dirty: a dirty, stinking tree high-fiver

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Athletically Challenged?

I’ve never been one to play organized sports. When I was in the third grade, I played softball… sort of. By “played softball”, I mean I hung out in the outfield with my glove on my head and dandelions in my hands. When it was my turn to bat, I rarely actually hit the ball. In my defense, it wasn’t long after my foray into organized sports that I got my first pair of glasses. It’s hard to hit a ball – even one as large as a softball – when you can’t see it!
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Little Me

Because of my lack of success, I never truly considered myself athletic. I highly doubt anyone else did, either. I was gangly & awkward. I was never picked first in PE class, but I don’t think I was picked last. Maybe second to last? As a matter of fact, I know that I failed PE in high school at least once. I hated “dressing out” since there was this one girl (who shall remain nameless… for now) who always made fun of my legs. They were bony little bowed legs, and she teased me mercilessly from about the fourth grade until graduation. She made me hate PE.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that I am not necessarily athletically challenged!! I’m pretty decent in rock climbing gym & dying to transition those skills to the outdoors, improving significantly at mountain biking (not quite ready for anything too extreme but better than someone who doesn’t try), I run when I want to, and I rock at backpacking.

Somewhere around Tray Mountain, I realized that backpacking counts. It’s not a traditional sport because it’s not competing (unless you are trying to break a record or something… which I’m not). It’s really only walking, but it’s slightly more challenging when you add the altitude gains and pack weight.
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Mrs. Dirty being “athletic”

I spent almost 40 years believing I was athletically challenged. At 41, I learned an important lesson. A lesson that I hope to teach to as many kids as I can. Today, I will start spreading the word: labels suck.

You know you’ve heard it – or maybe even said it, “She’s the ______ one.” We add the labels to kids. The pretty one, the smart one, the athletic one, the mature one, the funny one. Guess what? You can be ALL of them at once! You can be pretty, smart, athletic, mature, and funny. Don’t settle for less. Don’t let your kids settle for less.

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I was blessed to hike with this smart, athletic group.

– Mrs. Dirty, a formerly athletically challenged kid.

Magic Beans

Jack, of Beanstalk fame, was sent to bed without supper by his furious mother when he brought home magic beans. According to the story, the beans grew into a beanstalk – a virtual staircase to “a land high in the sky”. Jack would climb the beanstalk and be rewarded with riches: a bag of coins, a goose that laid golden eggs, and a golden harp that played all by itself.

Remember this story? Good. Now, we can discuss the real magic beans!

One day, the Dirty Boy brought home magic beans. Don’t roll you eyes at me! He really did!! He was given magic beans by his cross country coach before a big match. They really do exist!

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Yeah, yeah. The good folks at Jelly Belly call these Sports Beans, but they don’t know. They actually call these jelly beans when we all know they should be called crack beans:
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I swear. They put a little crack in each bean. That’s why you (I’m assuming you are an addict like I am) can’t just eat one!

In that same way, they put a little bit of magic in each of those Sports Beans. No, I’m not joking. I couldn’t be more serious.

Imagine, if you will:

When the sun came peeking through the canopy, you packed all of your gear and hit the trail. It was a beautiful morning of easy hiking so you were able to breeze through three or four miles with only a protein bar for breakfast.
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At the bottom of the trail, you come to a clearing (called a Gap) where you can refill your water and have a little break. Life is good.

Break’s over.

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Yup, the rest of the day is ALL UP HILL. You decide the break can last a little bit longer. Long enough to eat a tortilla with peanut butter (a hiker staple) for lunch. Then, you are off.

Dang. Who put a stinking mountain on this mountain?! Ten steps. Break. Five steps. Break. What in the world were you thinking when you thought you could do this?!

It’s time for… Magic Beans. You pop a few and – whether it’s all in your head or not, and let’s face it, it’s ALL in your head – you have enough energy to conquer another mile or two.

Seriously. It really works that way. Just like Jack. You are transported to a land high in the sky where you are rewarded with a cool breeze and a beautiful mountain view.

According to the packaging, these Magic Beans are “scientifically formulated to maximize sports performance.” What good stuff did the wizards in the Jelly Belly labs put in these itty bitty beans? Carbohydrates for fuel, electrolytes for fluid balance, vitamins B1, B2 & B3 to help burn carbs and fat, and vitamin c to protect muscles and cells against oxidative damage. By the way, all that smart sounding stuff comes from the package 😉

Those geniuses did some clinical trials that they say prove these improve performance. I did some trail trials that prove they are magic.

Get them. Try them. Love them. You will thank me.

(For the record: I was NOT compensated for this by Jelly Belly. I bought these magic beans with my own non-milk producing cow from a man at Academy Sports.)

Mountain of Youth

Growing up in Florida, I learned in elementary school about how Ponce de Leon explored the Sunshine State in search of the Fountain of Youth. If you watch any daytime television (I’m partial to General Hospital, personally), you will see that – nearly five hundred years later – we are still obsessed with looking, acting, and feeling younger.

Can I get an amen from all of my ladies who use wrinkle creme? How about you guys who use “Just for Men” grey coverage? We fight to hold onto what we’ve got, and some of us don’t have much left (I’m talking to you, Mr. Comb Over).

Over the last two weeks, I was blessed to have met some pretty amazing people who seem to have found Ponce de Leon’ s Fountain of Youth… Only, it’s not a fountain. It’s a MOUNTAIN.

For every 20 something hiker who I met on the trail, I met at least three hikers who were over the age of 50. The older generation brought it to the trail every day, and I never once heard them complain! No matter what the trail or the weather threw at them, they were smiling & having a great time.

I was in awe of these people. Literally.

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(The Motley Crew from Virginia rocked the trail every day!)

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(This is Carol with her grandson, Daniel. I was in awe of  Carol’ s drive and with Daniel’s dedication to Carol.)

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(This is Marvin – trail name Ohio. He is 73 years old. When Mr. Dirty & I were taking a break because we were exhausted, he came strolling up the mountain like it was nothing! He said he walks seven days a week to “fight back the forces of darkness.”)

There is one photo missing. We met a Benton Makaye Trail Maintainer at the Siler Bald Shelter. He was 76 and had multiple bypass surgeries. And. He. Still. Backpacks.

Seriously. Apparently, there is something magical in the mountain air that keeps hikers young. Bottom line? I want to be like them when I grow up!

Want to stay young longer? Start hiking now! It’s never too late to start.

Fear Not!

I’ve learned a lot about fear this week:
– Fear can be debilitating.
– Fear can be motivating.
– Fear can be grounded in self-doubt.
– Fear can be grounded in knowledge & wisdom.
– Fear is universal… Everyone knows fear.

On my first morning out of Neels Gap on my solo adventure, I hit the trail at 6am. The sun was still struggling to climb the mountains, and a heavy fog clung to the ground in front of me. It made the trail look like it wound through a fairytale wood.
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Feeling a bit giddy with nervous apprehension, I pretended I was a young (told you it was pretend, right?) maiden out to conquer the beast at the top of the mountain.

Then I rounded a foggy bend in the trail to see two black rolls curled up in the middle of the trail. From a distance & with my over active imagination running wild, it looked like two smallish bears sleeping on the trail. I was paralyzed with fear! Seriously. Where there is a baby bear, there is mama bear.

I was cursing myself for thinking I could do this alone. Mister Dirty would surely know what to do. Should I call him & ask? No, he would think I couldn’t do this. So, I mustered all the courage I could find (reminding myself that Neal had just called me brave the day before) and tiptoed quietly up the trail to find this:
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An abandoned backpack!

Yes, I felt stupid for being afraid; however, I also felt courageous for going forward when I was scared. I later learned that other hikers were scared here because they thought it was a dead body!

A few days later, I was passing a scout group when the leader warned me about two copperheads on either side of the trail. “When the trail levels out and you see a downed tree that’s been cut for you to pass through,” he said. “They will be right there.”

For the next five miles – every time I passed a downed tree in a relatively level spot – I lifted my trekking poles in the air and prayed to not get bitten.

When I made it to my campsite, I laughed at how afraid I had been. My hiking buddy (Break Time, who I met on the trail) confessed that he had also been freaked out at the idea of walking through a virtual pit of vipers… Which made me feel less girly.

When I finally crossed the border into North Carolina, I was traveling with a motley crew of hikers. Legs of Steel found a really awesome campsite on the ridge line at Bly Gap. He swore it would have a great sunset, then he continued north to the next shelter. Break Time & I were the only ones planning to stop at Bly Gap, so we set up our hammocks & settled in for the night.
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(Twisted Oak at Bly Gap)

Little did we know, there was a storm brewing. Did I mention that I am terrified of lightning?? As soon as I had turned in, the sky went very dark, and gale force winds started blowing. Then came the rain. And the thunder. And the lightning. The normally-adequate stakes on my rain fly surrendered to the sheer strength of the storm.

We made a belated decision to move our camp to the site in the valley just below the ridge line. In the middle of the storm, we packed it all up and ran – praying the entire way. It turned out to be a wise decision: the storm didn’t die down until about 5am.

I’ve always been terrified of lightning. Because I am, I did research prior to my trip. Here’s the kicker: I knew setting up camp on that ridge line was dangerous. My fear when the storm blew in was grounded in the knowledge that it was as dangerous as the two copperheads.

Through it all – from the almost bears to the copperheads to the lightning – I knew I would be okay. Why? Because I am more valuable than many sparrows.

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!!