The Crown of the Continent – Glacier NP

The Crown of the Continent – Glacier NP

IMG_4041.JPG

Forever. That’s how long I’ve wanted to visit Glacier National Park.

IMG_4036.JPG

When I, Mrs. Dirty, was in elementary school, I was a library assistant. Library assistants were allowed to leave class to help the librarian. (Normally, they chose the kids who finished their work early & disrupted the rest of the class.) Anyhow! I distinctly remember shelving a book about America’s National Parks. On the cover: Glacier National Park.

IMG_4066.JPG

When we started planning this road trip, Glacier was my first request. Please, please, please!!

IMG_4045.JPG

Sadly, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore. I could spend weeks exploring this park & I’d still be sad when it was time to leave. In fact, I’m totally down with moving to Montana. Just saying.

IMG_4042.JPG

We had a few hours (yes, that’s all – remember the main objective of this trip is to visit family in Washington; everything else is gravy) to spend in Glacier, so we spent it on “Going to the Sun” Road. The road has only been cleared a few weeks, and it’s only open to Logan’s Pass. That’s just over 30 miles of heavenly beauty.

Seriously. God was showing off when he made this place.

IMG_4063-0.JPG

I can’t even begin to describe how in awe I was of this majestic place. Way back in 1908, George Bird Grinnell (co-founder of the Audubon Society) named the area the “Crown of the Continent”. I agree.

IMG_4068-1.JPG

All I can say is, “I’ll be back.”

IMG_4059.JPG

IMG_4039-0.JPG

IMG_4049.JPG

IMG_4072.JPG

Mr. Valentino

I know it’s been awhile since Valentine’s Day, but life was a little too busy back then to tell you this story. It’s an important story – one that needs to be told. Today.

We didn’t have plans for Valentine’s Day this year – mainly because we needed the weekend to catch our breath; however, we wound up having one of the most memorable weekends EVER.

The Dirty Boy was going with the church youth group to Winter Place Ski Resort in West Virginia for the weekend. We were stoked to have a kid-free weekend (nap time!). You know what they say about hearing God laugh?! Dirty Boy had a late soccer game (did you know those get over at 10pm?!), and the ski trip bus left earlier that day. Guess who got an impromptu road trip to WV? The Dirty Duo!

Around midnight, we loaded George with the Dirty Boy & his friend, Ms. Not-so-Dirty. Everything was lovely until we neared the West Virgijia border. Just as we passed the Welcome Center, things got really interesting… George died. Literally.

In the middle of the Jefferson National Forest & among the Appalachian Mountains, George died. Right there in the side of the highway in 19 degree temps at 4 am, George died.

IMG_3974.PNG

Thanks to USAA roadside assistance & a fearless tow truck driver, we made it to Bill Cole Subaru in Bluefield, where we waited for 1) a fabulous youth leader who came to pick up the kids, 2) the light of day to diagnose George’s ailment (spoiler alert: he was dead).

IMG_3538.JPG

We piled on ALL of the clothes from our suitcase & used the heated seats to keep warm while waiting for Bill Cole (the dealership, not the person – assuming there IS a person) to come to our rescue. Looking like homeless people, we walked to a nearby gas station for a healthy breakfast of coffee & powdered donuts. Breakfast of champions, my friends.

With tears in his eyes, the mechanic delivered the bad news: busted crankshaft. Since we needed a car to get back home, we bought a new Subaru: Mr. Valentino, a Venetian Red Crosstrek XV.

IMG_3979.JPG

As we were finishing the paperwork to make Valentino a part of our family, it started to snow. And snow. And snow some more. By the time we left the dealership, it was a full-fledge blizzard (at least in my Florida-girl mind).

IMG_3543.JPG

Since it WAS Valentine’s Day, we decided to grab some dinner. Yeah. Nothing was open except the truck stop by our hotel. Our dinner? Pringles, bottled water, and gourmet truck stop fudge. Yum.

To top off our adventure, we were asleep for about an hour when the fire alarm went off in our hotel. Mrs. Dirty’s shower-wet hair froze solid before we know it was a false alarm (thanks, hotel DJ).

With the Dirty Duo, life is an adventure. Every day, especially Valentine’s Day.

Rest Stop

To anyone out there who still reads our blog: We’re back!!! I’m sorry for our absence. It was a hectic year! I’ve never been more grateful to see summer vacation!!

The very first day of summer break, I had the most interesting dream:

I woke from the best sleep ever. I was sleeping in my Grand Trunk Ultralight hammock – one end was tied to my car and the other to a large oak tree. Above me, the clearest blue sky was peaking through a green canopy of leaves. On the other side of the oak tree, a steady flow of traffic cruised the interstate. A roadside sign read, “Next Rest Stop 100 miles.”

Thank you, Lord, for summer break – the Rest Stop on the highway of life!!

IMG_3925-0.JPG

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!

image

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:

image

Than like this:

image

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.
image

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.

image

Our instructors – Hal Hallett & Alex Lampros

image

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

And the thunder rolls

I didn’t get much sleep last night – tossing & turning in anticipation of today’s trip. When we finally headed out, we had to go back. Why? I forgot my hiking shoes! Who does that?!

Mr. Dirty & the Dirty Boy dropped me at Neels Gap this afternoon. And here I sit, watching “Something About Mary”, listening to the rain fall on the Appalachian Mountains, and the thunder taunting me.

The forecast? More of the same. Looks like Mrs. Dirty is going to be playing in the mud this week!

20140605-202022.jpg

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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!!

image

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
image

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.

image

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.

image

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!
image

Turtle Hospital on Marathon – This is the Dirty Diva’s favorite part of the trip. She loves turtles – especially sea turtles.
image

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.

image
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.

image
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.
image

Always awesome. Always fun. Always delicious. The place is covered in dollar bills, one of which advertises for The Dirty Duo… just saying.
image

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

mustang2 mustang
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.

41JNK-JnoTL__SX385_

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.

 

Dirty Disappointment

In 2009, Colt McCoy became the winningest quarterback in NCAA history with 45 collegiate wins. That year, Colt led the University of Texas Longhorns to the BCS national championship against the University of Alabama. Can you imagine? The national championship! He had to have been preparing himself for that game since he first held a football!

colt-mccoy-browns

Unfortunately – for Colt & UT fans – he was injured in the FIRST offensive play of the FIRST quarter. He got a taste of the lights, the crowds, the glory… but just a taste. He spent the remainder of the game watching from the sidelines as a freshman quarterback stepped in to fill his shoes.

I don’t know Colt McCoy, personally; however, I can imagine what was going through his head as he went from participant to spectator. Would he have done anything differently? Would Texas have won the game if he weren’t injured? Was his future with the NFL trashed along with his shoulder? The down right suckiness of the situation has stayed with me since watching that game. How do you come back from that kind of disappointment?

Last week, I got a little taste of how it must have felt for Colt McCoy. I’ve been dreaming of hiking the Appalachian Trail for years. It’s always been more of a fantasy than reality until this past Thanksgiving. The weekend before, I made a decision to hike from Fontana to Springer – even if I had to go alone. Over turkey and pie, it was decided that my cousin, the Ninja Lumberjack, and his wife Hinky Di-Di would join me for the trip.

The plan for our Appalachian Trail adventure was for Mr. Dirty, the Ninja Lumberjack, the Dirty Boy (who earned the trail name Frodo by hiking in his bare Hobbit feet), and the Hiking Ninja, to hike with Hinky Di-Di & I from Fontana Dam to Nantahala Outdoor Center. Hinky Di-Di and I were to continue hiking south to Springer Mountain. At least, that was the plan.

The Gang at Cable Gap Shelter
“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns

On the third day, Hinky Di-Di began having some medical struggles. It was a scary afternoon, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I worry about what would have happened had her medical crisis occurred after the guys left the trail. Would I have had the mental clarity to successfully get her the help she needed? Would I have had the physical strength necessary to get her off the mountain?

I thank God that I didn’t have to find out the hard way. I like to think that I would have responded so well in the crisis that they would have given me an honorary Wilderness First Aid certificate. I’m grateful that Hinky Di-Di is going to be okay and that she didn’t have to rely solely on my abilities. I WILL be signing up for a wilderness first aid course so that I can be more confident in my ability to render first aid on the trail. During my time in the Air Force, I took Self Aid & Buddy Care. I’ve been hiking and backpacking for years, but I have never taken one of these courses. Now, I see just how important it is.

If you are someone who enjoys hiking – I assume there are some of you out there reading this, consider signing up for one of these courses. We really have no idea if or when someone will need us to step in and provide emergency care. It’s frightening to be on the side of a mountain with someone who is in medical distress and NOT be able to help. Wilderness First Aid Course Schedule

“When you find your path, you must not be afraid. You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses to show us the way.” – Paul Coelho

This last week has been pretty rough. I’ve felt a lot like how I assume Colt McCoy felt in 2010. I’ve questioned every decision I made. I’ve sat at home watching General Hospital mourning the fact that I wasn’t on the trail where I really wanted to be. I cried as I drove my car away from Springer Mountain; I never envisioned being driven to get my car… at least not driven by anything other than an intense desire & passion for the trail.

“Burning desire to be or do something gives us staying power – a reason to get up every morning or to pick ourselves up and start again after a disappointment.” – Marsha Sinetar

Cheoah Bald
The passion that I have for hiking the Appalachian Trail hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still there, pulling me back to the trailhead. As I type this, Mr. Dirty is repacking his pack and planning a section tor us to hike in early July. There are changes that we will make to our packing lists, because with experience comes wisdom.

In honor of those who have suffered disappointment with dignity & climbed back on the horse – especially Colt McCoy…..