Sunday, July 29, 2012
This camera can withstand most anything I will be tempted to throw at it. Not only is it small and compact enough to fit easily in a pocket, but it is water proof to 16ft, plenty deep enough for this snorkeler, not diver. It is shock proof in case I drop it. It is freezer proof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit--plenty cold enough for the kind of hiking and camping I do. It is also dust proof, so it is safe, even in the house that would get cleaned more if I didn't hike and bike ride so much! It also operates on a rechargeable camera battery which lasted for literally hundreds of shots and recharged in less than an hour. In reality I don't know how long the battery would have lasted because it never got anywhere close to running out of battery charge.
I bought this little gem right before the Clingman's Dome hike, and during the torrential rains which fell on us that day, I never worried that it might get wet. Shortly after that hike, we travelled to the Grand Caymans for our 25th wedding anniversary trip. We took it snorkeling along a barrier reef, it was drenched by spray from a catamaran, it endured extreme heat and humidity, it took close up shots of stingrays as they waved at us under the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, it captured our first saltwater fly-fishing venture, and the photos and videos that it took were amazingly sharp with colors that almost were as exquisitely beautiful as the real thing.
To top it all off, when I purchased it at Best Buy for only $179, I received a Shutterfly promotion for a free hardbound photo album which I have used to commemorate our anniversary trip. Now that's what I call a sweet little perk--kind of like icing on the cake!
Saturday, July 28, 2012
My husband and I hired a guide, Davin Ebanks, for a half-day trip to the turtle grass flats on the East End of the island. After ducking and dodging several times trying to get used to everyone driving on the left (wrong) side of the road, and being terribly glad that Davin had picked us up at our hotel so my husband didn't have to drive, we made our way to the spot Davin had chosen for us on this day. Davin, by the way, is a delightful young man, educated in the United States, but schooled in manners and congeniality on this most hospitable Caribbean island. Probably the best part of our vacation was how incredibly nice everyone on the island was, and Davin was no different.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
1. If you don't have time to do the preparation for a hike, don't do the hike! Never again will I assume that because I've been somewhere before, I know the territory. My usually strong sense of direction surely failed me on the Clingman's Dome hike. I still cannot make myself understand, unless I'm looking at the map, why you wouldn't turn left on the Appalachian Trail to head out for Newfound Gap. But you don't! If you attempt that trail, be sure to go right on the AT toward the Mount Collins shelter. There is NOT a sign that says Newfound Gap at this juncture, even though you'd think there would be. Trip preparation for me in the future will include on every hike what I usually do on hikes in areas that I have no previous experience. I usually make a list of every trail crossing or shelter or other notable feature in the order in which they should appear. Had I done that on this hike, I would have realized at the first crossing that we had gone the wrong way--only 2.2 miles into our hike.
2. Packing light does not mean assuming nothing will go wrong. As our hikes have gotten longer and more strenuous, I have switched to a smaller, lighter day pack. Thankfully it still holds the large water bladder that my larger pack holds or I would have been in trouble on Saturday. However, in the interest of limiting the weight I carried, I had taken out some equipment that I deemed unnecessary on a hike that should end by 2:00 in the afternoon. The most crucial piece of gear that I left at home was my flashlight. I will never go on another hike without it no matter what time I expect to finish. It was this lack of light that pushed me so hard to finish before dark, which we accomplished with a mere 15 minutes or so to spare. That, in my opinion, is too close for comfort!
3. Always leave an exact itinerary with someone who will worry about you if you aren't out on time. This is something I always do, but again, on this fateful day, things were different. My husband didn't really want me to go on this hike because we had a major vacation coming up soon after, so he went to bed mad at me on Friday night. I got up early on Saturday morning, cut out a small section of the map that covered the trail we were going to do, and went to meet my hiking buddies. I had told him it would be a short hike, but that's about all we talked about. When I was late coming home, he wasn't worried, he was just mad. He had to come to understand how scared I had been before he realized he should have been worried. Had he known exactly what time I expected to be out of the woods, he might have begun to be concerned and be aware that there were probably problems.
4. Conditioning, conditioning, conditioning! I realized during that 20-miler that I need to be in better shape. I need to be able to hike much further than I have scheduled. I did the 20-miler, but I was miserable the last 4 miles. The fact that the last 2.5 miles was almost straight up as it climbed the highest peak in the Smokies didn't help me any. I will be working on improving my conditioning, that's for sure.
5. Always carry a map. The little piece of a map that I had copied to carry with me was nowhere near enough. When we hiked the wrong direction on the Appalachian Trail, we quickly hiked right out of the map I carried. Thus, when we began to be concerned about our location, the trail crossings and shelters were unidentifiable. We also considered alternative routes, but without a full map, we had nothing to get our bearings with.
6. No boots are waterproof in a torrential rain. I love my Keen hiking boots, and they are waterproof under most circumstances. However, if you get caught in a downpour, the Keen-Dry fabric protector can't keep the water from running down your legs or pants and into the top of the boots. My socks and feet were soaked and I ended up with the worst blisters of my life--the only blisters I've ever had in Keen hiking boots. I'm still not sure what I can do in such conditions to prevent that type of blistering; maybe gaiters are the answer. I don't know, but I need to find out.
7. Hiking groups need to either stay close enough together to be in touch at all times, or we need to carry walkie talkies. We could have saved ourselves about 5 miles had we been able to hail the faster hikers in our group when we finally figured out how terribly wrong we had gone. As soon as we realized the error of our ways, we began to blow the emergency whistle and yell their names, but they were too far away to hear us. I understand the desire to hike at whatever speed is your best speed, but the need to be in contact with everyone in the group must be paramount for safety's sake if nothing else.
I blame myself for every aspect of this disastrous hike. I could have prevented the whole thing by simply having looked a little more closely at the map before leaving. I let my hiking buddies down; I disappointed myself; I put others in danger. But, in spite of my many mistakes and weaknesses, as a group we pulled together, supported each other, and made it out. That's what friends are for, and I've got great friends to hike with. I wouldn't trade them for anything! That realization along with our determination to just do what had to be done made this an experience that will not be a negative. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger! Yes, we are all stronger, in many ways!
Monday, July 16, 2012
|Turk's Cap Lilies near Clingman's Dome|
The hike began innocently enough. Although there was considerable fog surrounding this peak limiting the view, the early morning was pleasant and the air was cool. The AT is different from most of the trails in the Smokies--rougher, more challenging in spots. This section descends the face of the highest peak in the Smokies and does so using lots of log or rock steps with some steep drop-offs which were hard on my bad knees. With the help of my hiking sticks, I made it down fine and was busy enjoying the wildflowers that were growing along the trail. Since the views were obscured by cloud cover, I focused on the flowers. Turk's cap lilies were the surprise for me--they grew prolifically along the trail and because of the heavy humidity and literally being inside the clouds on this morning, they were dripping moisture from their anthers. Droplets of water clung precariously to the ends of these pollen production facilities surrounded by bright orange flower petals speckled with brown which recurved back away from the anthers exposing them to the pollinating insects that might pass by.
|Bee Balm and other wildflowers blooming at Double Spring Gap Shelter along the AT|
The AT through this area was an absolute obstacle course with roots, rocks, and dips that seemingly tried to trip you up. At several spots the foliage that surrounded the trail had completely overgrown the trail necessitating the use of our hiking sticks to push back blackberry vines and other vegetation out of our way. A machete would have been nice at a couple of spots! But we pushed on believing that we were nearing the end of our hike, approaching the spot where the AT would cross Newfound Gap Road and we would find our other vehicle waiting for us.
|Where we finally turned around! Not a happy moment!|
When we made it back to the smaller shelter, which turned out to be the shelter at Siler's Bald, we snacked and rested. There were two young guys there who had cleared out the brush and were carrying water up from the water source. Funny, this shelter no longer looked abandoned and desolate. After a short rest, we then trudged off to the next shelter which was approximately 2 miles on up the trail. From there we would have another 2.5 miles to the end of this nightmare. We kept telling ourselves that we could do this. I tried not to think about what those last couple of miles would be like trying to ascend Clingman's Dome as tired as I was. I remember looking up at one point when the slope of that mountain came into view and actually whimpering out of despair because it was so very high, and I was totally drained of energy.
|Views from the AT near Clingman's Dome|
At 8:43 pm we made it back to our car--dispirited, disheveled, and blistered, but thankful that this ordeal was over. We had spent 13 miserable hours on the AT instead of the 5 hours we had planned. Lessons had been learned the hard way but that will be another post. We had been severely tested, and I wasn't very proud of how I had responded, but we had survived.
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
No-Bake Energy Bites Recipe
- 1 cup (dry) oatmeal (I used old-fashioned oats)
- 2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup ground flaxseed or wheat germ
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (optional)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed. Let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour. Once chilled, roll into balls of whatever size you would like. (Mine were about 1″ in diameter.) Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Makes about 20-25 balls.
Substitution ideas can abound for just about any of these ingredients! Feel free to substitute in your favorite nut butter (almond butter, sunflower seed butter, etc.) for the peanut butter. And you could also add in some wheat germ in place of some or all of the flaxseed. I would caution, though, against substituting agave nectar for the honey, as the honey’s thickness helps hold things together.
Some other fun substitutions for the chocolate chips (or an addition to them) could include:
- chopped dried fruit (apricots, dates, raisins, etc.)
- dried berries (cranberries, cherries, etc.)
- chopped almonds, pecans, walnuts, or sunflower seeds
- other chips (butterscotch, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, M&Ms, etc.)
- other grains (different kinds of oatmeal, rice cereal, etc.)
Wildlife Safety Video
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
I remember how excited we were with our new purchase and the amenities that it provided. No longer would we have to carry buckets of water to drink or with which to wash dishes after dinner. This camper had a water tank that we filled up out of our water hose before leaving home. Then we simply had to pump the handle on the faucet in the sink inside to get water for whatever we needed. It also had four inch mattresses inside which promised to be luxurious after having slept on the ground all that time.
But most of what I remember about camping in Cade's Cove was the serenity and peace of this magical place! Even as a child I knew there was something very special about this Park. Something spoke to my soul here although I was too young to understand why. I wasn't too young to appreciate the way even my childish spirit could breath and relax here. There was nothing better than spending days playing in the dirt, hiding behind the rocks, frolicking in the creek until come nighttime we were so tired that sitting around the campfire was a welcome, restful respite.
Most exciting of my memories of Cade's Cove Campground involve the black bears. I don't remember if this was before the park installed bear-proof garbage containers, but seeing bear in the campground was not an unusual occurrence. In fact, one summer we knew the bears by name! My memory tells me there were two bear that visited the campground on a regular basis that year. The name of one I cannot recall, but one I remember vividly--in fact, I can still see him in my mind's eye. His name was Scarface, and he had earned that name with some unknown run-in with whatever creature might do battle with a bear. Scarface sauntered down the paved paths of the campground, but we were not afraid of him. Maybe we were too young to know that we should be afraid of him, but I remember waiting and excitedly watching for him to show up. I do know though that inside that Cox Camper sitting in my garage today there are two plastic washbasins that sport claw marks from a Cade's Cove bear. I don't know if those marks could have been made by Scarface or if that was a different trip and a different bear, but one of them no longer holds water.
On one other campfire night, I remember sitting in my mother's lap. We had popped popcorn on the fire and the adults were talking and telling stories. I remember an instantaneous silence and my mother squeezing me and warning me to be quiet and still. It took me a moment to see what everyone else saw and even then I didn't realize the danger, but a black, squirrel-like animal with a large white stripe on its back was creeping through our campsite, nonchalantly helping himself to the kernels of popcorn that we kids had carelessly dropped as we ate. No one spoke; no one moved. Everyone else knew what might happen at any second, but I just remember thinking how pretty it was. Luckily, the skunk enjoyed the popcorn and never felt threatened by any of us, moving on to someone else's site to see if others were as careless as we had been.
Memories like these are part of what drive me back to the Smokies as often as possible. We still camp in that 1966 Cox Camper sometimes, but not often enough and not usually in Cade's Cove Campground. Our campground of choice is now Elkmont because of the larger size of its sites and slightly fewer number of visitors. However, the serenity and peace that I found there as a child are so much more needed and appreciated today than back then. I think that's why I hike. It's hard to coordinate schedules today to carve out time for a camping trip, but my soul longs for the respite I find in my mountains. Through hiking I can snatch bits and pieces of that solitude and peace in just a few hours, hours that I relish more and more as the stresses of life build and threaten to overwhelm. So, for now at least, I spend hours at a time instead of days at a time in these mountains. But these times continue to be some of my most cherished memories, even the newest ones.
Saturday, July 7, 2012
I feel an intense personal sadness as I continue to learn of the loss of life and other injuries that happened during the storm which ravaged the part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park that I am most fond of on Thursday. To the families of those who were killed, I extend my condolences; for those injured and struggling to recover, I will continue to pray; especially for the little 7-yr old girl trapped under water in a swimming hole by a falling tree, I am thankful that others knew CPR and were able to revive you, and I pray for a continued miracle. May God wrap His loving arms around your entire family and bless you. To my Park, with your thousands of downed trees, closed roads and trails, damaged facilities, I know you will recover. You are resilient and no stranger to the power of nature. This will be but just another scar on your landscape that time will eventually cover over. However, the pain etched into the hearts of those affected by this storm will never really be wiped away by time. My heart aches, and, my dear Park, I think yours does too.
My hiking partners and I had entered Cade's Cove literally at daybreak and made the drive to the far end of the Cades Cove Loop Road to access Parson's Branch Road to leave one vehicle at the trailhead for Gregory's Ridge Trail. From there we continued down Parson's Branch Road to the trailhead for the Gregory's Bald Trail. Be warned, this road is not for vehicles with low clearance, as not only is it gravel, but it is not well maintained and is pocked with potholes and erosion ditches. The weather had been dry, so we didn't need four wheel drive, but that would have been a possibiity if it had been a rainy part of the year. On that part of the drive we were blessed to see a black bear foraging in the early morning light beginning his day as well, so we had a feeling this was going to be a great hike.
|Backcountry Campsite #13|
Because we had gotten such an early start, we were rewarded with having Gregory's Bald, in all it's splendor, all to ourselves. You forget how quiet and peaceful the world can be if you can just get away from all the people. This magical place will remind you. When we arrived at the top and were blown away by the views and the magnificent beauty, my hiking partners sat to eat their lunch, but I walked across the bald taking pictures and simply reveling in the serenity of this place. I did have cell service up there, so I sent a picture to my husband and let him know that this is a place I would like for him to come back to with me. It's the kind of place you want to share with those you love. Perhaps the solitude we experienced on this day was part of its allure for me. I liked this spot as well as I liked Mt. LeConte, partly perhaps because there have always been lots of people at the summit of LeConte and here, at least on this day, there was no one but us.
I learned a great deal about hiking and nutrition on this hike too. On the previous hike we took, I made the first four or five miles ok, but the last four were miserable. I felt like my body was simply not wanting to go another step. Our plan for this day was to do 14.3 miles--more than just the two Gregory's Bald trails. Because we are working on hiking all of the 900 miles of trails in this great park, we also decided we would hike the little spur that connects to the Appalachian Trail at Doe Knob. You can hike Gregory's Bald in just slightly over 10 miles, but this little spur was going to add 4 miles to our day. I knew I needed to do something different with nutrition to see if I could get my body to be a more willing partner with my mind on a hike this long. I read up a little on hiking and nutrition and fixed myself a healthy spaghetti dish on the night before the hike. Then on the morning of the hike, I had an English muffin with one egg and one piece of turkey bacon on it. Along the way up to the Bald, we all ate a banana, drank plenty of water, and nibbled on a little beef jerky. I have never felt better on a hike! I had also frozen one of those little packages of fruit, a Fruit Buddy, and by the time I ate it, it was no longer frozen, but still cold, sort of like a small fruit smoothie. I also packed a roll of the gummy-like Shot Bloks by Clif which did give me a boost on the last few miles of this trek. I really felt great all day long on this hike--much better than I have felt hiking in a while and I'm excited about that.
This was a fabulous hike and one that I cannot recommend enough. If at all possible try to do this hike in late June went the azaleas are blooming, but I'm sure that this hike is a great one in any time of year. I can especially envision these vistas draped in the splendor of reds, golds, and oranges that will paint the deciduous trees on the surrounding ridges in the fall. Hmmm, I think I see another hike to the top in my near future!
Follow this link to all the pictures from the hike to Gregory's Bald:
Monday, July 2, 2012
I did find this darling little baby bunny in my back yard last night. It's only about 4 inches long! There were actually two of then, but one was more shy and backed into its burrow when I tried to take a picture of it. This one didn't seem to mind much though!