Thursday, April 30, 2009

Teachable Moments?

Riding in the car to daycare a few days ago, the following conversation ensued:

[B] "Dad, Look at that big crane!"

[D] "That isn't a crane."

[B] "What is it?"

[D] "It is a concrete dispensing arm."

[B] "What is that?"

[D] "Concrete trucks can't fit into buildings and you can't always get it to where you need it from the truck.  Somebody found a way to pump it via those crane like arms and tubes into virtually anywhere you need it."

[B] "Cool."

[B] "Dad, I'm like the smartest kid in class, and over half of what I know I learn from you."

The future is going to be a scary scary place.  I'm so sorry for all of you and apologize profusely in advance.

"Until you forget what you think you know and what you think is possible, you will never know what is truly attainable."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

OBX (The Outer Banks of NC)

So, what's a crazy single (but in a serious relationship) dad supposed to do to follow up after a spring break like the one I just had?

Well, grab his son, The Neighbor's eldest son, strap a canoe to the top of the car, and head to Frisco in the OBX for a Lord of the Flies type weekend with his brother and some of his friends.

Before we left Friday night we stopped in to see Chris's eldest son perform in his Tae Kwon Do belt advancement test. He did awesome and I got some great pictures of him.

After that we sprinted to the outer banks. We got to the campground about 11:30pm. I set up the tent for the boys and I slept in my brother's tent (really it is the size of a medium sized house, but with the flimsy walls we'll call it a tent). The stars that night were the most magnificent I've seen since being in the desert in Nevada in 2002. I saw four shooting stars while talking to my brother before we finally went to sleep.

The boys were really extra excited.

We got up the next morning, had coffee, and had our own little version of Brad's Bacon Day (maybe I'll say more about this later, for now it is an inside joke). We had some healthy food, like Dr. Woo's All Bran (which really looked like he picked up a bunch of twigs off the ground). Mostly we had three to four different types of pork. Pop tarts too. There was a discussion I started about nut milk (Almond milk) for Dr. Woo, but that didn't get to far with that group. The Neighbor's eldest son (13, nearly 14) stepped on a piece of glass while fetching a football. We got him bandaged up and he was fine the rest of the trip.

We took our time getting ready in the morning, and about 10:30 am we were on the water in kayaks and my canoe. We decided to head into the wind going out to make it easier going back. If you think having one teen and one tween there to help paddle was an advantage then you've never taken a child canoeing before. That is ok, it is a common mistake. We'll call it a handicap and a team building exercise...leave it at that.

When the group finally picked a destination, a beach, we were the last to arrive. Upon arrival though, my brother was chasing down a water snake. It was a very feisty water snake. I hope to have pictures of it soon as Dr. Woo was taking some.

Once that excitement was over the boys proceeded to investigate and dissect anything and everything they found. They couldn't catch any fish, though they really really tried hard. We did catch a crab. There is also some kind of jelly/plant they had fun with. They found a ton of scallops too. The scallops are really quite active, almost aggressive. They would open and close their shells pretty rapidly. Maybe because they pulled them out of the water...sort of like airboarding (waterboarding for aquatic life?).

Around noon we pulled up anchor and set out to the next beach down before eating lunch. Once we started heading back, the boys really pulled together to paddle hard. We were the first ones back to camp. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the sound with a football, a frisbee, and an Aerobie.

This wasn't extreme camping, so we went to a local restaurant for dinner. We also went to the store for S'mores supplies. :-) The S'mores were excellent!

The next morning was more pork...and some fantastic coffee thanks to Jamie. The boys and I got packed up and headed back home by 10am.

We had a fantastic time. I really need to spend more time in the OBX.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Spring Break Part 6 - The Journey Home (and some plugs for equipment)

Getting up the next morning was no problem.

We boiled some water for some HORRIBLE coffee, then boiled more for some delicious rice and black beans. Everyone left camp. The through hikers left at staggered intervals to head north, and Mark went south. I watched everyone pack up to try and get some pointers. Chris and I took our time.

After we ate we gathered our things and re-packed it all. We then filtered some more water for the trip back. 3-4 miles all up hill. I'm not kidding. It was worth it and felt about just right for our first outing like that.

We got back to the car, unloaded, and headed to Wendy's! :-)

When we got back to Wilson's we showered, looked at pictures, played with the kids when they got home, and then headed out to a Mexican Restaurant for dinner. Dinner was delicious!

After dinner we headed home, about a 5 hour drive from Blacksburg. We arrived safe and sound. The weekend was spent unpacking, cleaning, and sleeping!!

Some terms we learned hike:

AYCE: All You Can Eat
nobo, sobo: NOrthBOund, SOuthBOund
Zeroing, Neroing: A zero mile day, presumably to stay at an AYCE, or a NEARLY zero mile day to get to and stay at an AYCE. :-)
Trailname: Like mi the name I call myself, fa a long long way to walk. Basically what you call yourself on the trail.
There may be more, I can't remember now...I'll add later if I do.

About some of the equipment we used....

Kelty Redcloud 6650 Backpack
- HUGE. 109L of storage capacity. Honestly, I don't need all that room. The pack has adjustable torso capability, and lots of ways to adjust the loading. I was carrying a lot of weight because most of my other gear is not really backpacking quality. The pack fit great and really helped me get the weight off my shoulders. It was comfortable the whole time. This was the first time I've taken it anywhere and I don't really have any complaints other than I have recently learned it is probably too big for the hiking I do. I don't mind that though.

Pinnacle Dualist Cook system
- I haven't had much luck with cooking sets in the past so for this trip I went to the local Blue Ridge Mountain Sports to ask about a decent one. They recommended this one. Having used it, all I can say is AWESOME. It was very easy to clean, nothing stuck to it. It is highly versatile having the utensiles, bowls, cups, fuel, stove, and pot all combine together. It really made cooking an enjoyable experience. It pours easy, no spillage, and did I mention it wasy easy to clean?!?!?!

MSR Pocket Rocket - The fuel and the stove for this set all fits into the cook system above for easy and protective packing. It is light, efficient, and very easy to use.

MSR WaterWorks Ex - A water filtration system. This was also very easy to use and we didn't get sick!

Blue Ridge Mountain Sports - The people at Blue Ridge have been fantastic. They are experienced hikers, climbers, and paddlers and they are extremely helpful. They also just started a class on Tuesday evenings at 7pm for backpacking and hiking. I am on my way there right now for my second class (On Sleeping Bags and Pads, last week was backpacks).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring Break Part 5 - Cascades and Mountain Lake Wilderness

So did we get out and going early?

Are you kidding me?

Instead of lashing the heavy packs to our backs right away, we thought we would do a warm up hike...about halfway through the Cascades trail in Pembroke, VA. There was still a chill in the air as the sun was just peeking it's head into the gorge there. The Cascades Trail is a nice easy trail that is just beautiful. We thought about doing the whole thing (about 4 miles) but decided to just do 2 miles and get over to the Mountain Lake Wilderness.


Mountain Lake Wilderness

It took us about 30 minutes to get to the trail head for the overnight hike in Mountain Lake Wilderness. We tried to make sure we didn't have anything that we didn't need, but our packs were still quite heavy. Mine is HUGE, 109 Liters. Chris's is about 50 Liters. Why is mine so big? I bought it on sale at REI about 2 years ago. I knew I wanted a nice pack, and a large volume pack. Until recently (more on this shortly) I didn't know that it was probably too big. Now I know. However it was fine for the trip.

You can see both of us in the pictures above.

One thing before we get going...We passed Mountain Lake Resort on the way to the trail head. Mountain Lake Resort is where Dirty Dancing was filmed. As we were going by we wondered where the lake went to. It's gone. I guess the lake sprung a leak and now there is just a small portion of it left. Should be called Mountain Meadow Resort now because that is what it looks like.

So back to the trail...

Once we were completely laden, we locked the truck and set off down the trail. We saw a splendid little wood pecker, but not much else. We took pictures at the War Spur overlook. The view is interesting because you will not see a power line, a home, a road, or any other sign of human habitation.

The trail heads down to the War Spur Creek from there and then up to the AT. We stopped for a bit at the AT intersection and then headed east/north on the AT from there. We saw a lizard, some twisted trees, a lot of moss, and some cool fungal patterns on some rocks. We were going downhill the whole time and it was really killing our knees. We were very happy when we reached our destination, the War Spur Hut.

We set down our packs, took off our hiking shoes, and rubbed our feet. Chris started reading through the log book in the hut. I started getting stuff out and figuring out where we would put the tent. There was a fire ring there, so we could have a fire if we wanted. It was around 4pm.

Just after we got the tent up and were really starting to relax, another hiker came up. Mark looked to be in his early 50's or so and he is a boy scout leader. He is doing sections of the AT and hopes to complete all of VA this year. That is no easy feat as VA has the longest stretch of the AT.

We cooked some chicken and pasta that came in a pouch from Wal-mart. It was ok. We drank the rest of our water too. We went down to War Spur Creek to wash our mess kit and refill our water. Soon after we were joined by three more hikers. These three didn't come in all at once. Padre was first, Blue was second, and Evergreen was third. Those are their trail names and it is all they gave us. Chris and I started brainstorming some names of our own. We came up with Ford Prefect and Trillian, Crazy Computer Dad (CCD), Hiker Mom, etc. We're still working on it.

Padre was a Religion/Philosophy major in college. Blue had red hair and wore blue. Evergreen died her hair partially green and wore green. I'm going to call them kids, even though they were in their early to mid twenties. So, these kids were amazing to talk to. They were through hikers on the AT and had started in Georgia in early March. They had a lot of stories about the trail thus far, and even more interesting stories about why they were doing it. It was inspiring really. :-) Now I'm thinking I will hike the AT through VA....or maybe WV first. I think the AT only goes through 13 miles of WV. I could do that in a day. :-) Then I could say, "I hiked the AT ALL the way through WV!"

Chris taught me how to play Rummy....and then she even let me win!

Mark got a fire going, and Blue kept it up. We expected the temperatures to drop...but didn't expect it get down to 34 degrees, but it did.

The stars were awesome to look at, and my gaze was constantly drawn upwards. I even spotted a few satellites.

We told stories into the night. I was reluctant to go to sleep because I was worried about keeping warm at this point. We did eventually retire.

We bought some light sleeping bags just before we left on the trip. They were rated for 30 degrees. Mine wasn't quite big enough. Chris had to really work to zip me up. Fortunately I had a few layers on and was fairly comfortable temperature-wise through the night.

I was really worried about Chris though. I would occassionally ask her how she was or put my arm over her to make sure she was ok. She kept responding with "I'm alive!" "I'm not frozen yet!" She said she wasn't getting any sleep...but less than three seconds after each check she was fast asleep again. Overall the night wasn't too bad and we didn't end up in the news for hypothermia. :-)


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spring Break Part 4 - The Journey to Blacksburg

Well, Wednesday started like all the other days. We took our time getting up and out. Middleton Place? Will have to wait for another time. The rest of Charleston too. Around noon we were finally packed up and eating lunch at an IHOP. We talked about trying to squeeze something else in, but decided it would be best to get on the road. We pulled into Blacksburg/Christiansburg around 7pm that evening at my friend's house. They had made reservations for a Japanese Steak House called Kabuki.

They eat there often and are very familiar and friendly with the staff. Our chef was fantastic and quite interesting. He told us he was from Nepal, and had climbed Mt Everest as a Sherpa twice.

We had a great time and were well rested for the beginning of our backpack adventure the next day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spring Break Part 3 - Bridges, Carriages, Markets, and Ghosts

So, day three began much like day two, leisurely waking up and enjoying the morning.

While we wanted to do a Carriage Tour of Charleston, we (well at least I did) wanted to walk the Cooper River Bridge. We parked at Patriot's Point and headed across the bridge. We took a lot of pictures along the way.

It was quite a windy day up on the bridge!

From the bridge you can see Patriot's Point in Mt. Pleasant with the USS Yorktown, the USS Lafey, a Coast Guard Cutter, and a WWII Diesel Submarine. Off in the distance you can see Shem Creek, Ft Sumter, Castle Pickney, James Island, The Battery, most of Charleston, the Carolina Aquarium, and more. You can almost see all the way to Goose Creek to the north.

It is quite a high point considering Charleston is part of the "Low Country" of South Carolina. Some parts of Charleston are at or below sea level. When it rains, parts of Charleston can flood quite dramatically.

The walk over the bridge was just awesome. The pictures say more about it really.

After the bridge we went into to Charleston to claim our Carriage Tour. We had a nice draft horse named Marty to take us around, and a great guide named Fred. The city actually licenses tour guides and you have to pass a test to be one. There are three routes and they are randomly assigned by the City to control the horse (or mule) traffic. In other words you don't know what you are going to get until after you get going.

There is so much to learn that it is exciting every time I go.

After the tour we wandered around the market looking for souvenirs for the boys. Chris got her boys some agate book ends while I got Brandon a carved dragon. The boys loved their gifts.

There is no shortage of good food in Charleston, but somehow we managed to get away with only a bowl of ice cream!

We booked the ghost tour for that evening and then headed back to the cabin for a spell.

On the way back into Charleston that night (because ghost tours have to happen at night...and after 9:30pm) I ducked in to get another Falafel. Delicious.

The ghost tours are walking tours that talk more about the history of the city, its graveyards and cemeteries, and the people that lived and died there. They are always fun and exciting. It was nice that they covered stories I hadn't already told Chris. :-)

We finished up about 11pm and headed back to the cabin.

We thought about getting up to head over to Middleton Place early in the morning...


Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring Break Part 2 - Who's in a rush?

Not us.

Already I'm forgetting things we have done.

The first night we were there (Part 1), we also went into downtown Charleston to walk around. I told Chris about the things I knew about Charleston, walked all the way down the Battery, and then up Church St. We were amazed at how old some of the buildings were. 100-200 years old. Most of them were homes people own and live in. I also gave Chris my version of the ghost tours of Charleston. Since it was dark and deserted, she was a little creeped out.

Coffee with a granola bar was breakfast next to the lake. The time was sometime before noon, but definitely not before 9am. :-)

We just watched the birds and squirrels and talked.

When we got motivated, we left. Today we weren't sure about everything on the agenda, but two things were certain, Ft. Sumter and BBQ. We improvised everything else along the way.

We found a very cool Mediterranean restaurant called Ali-Baba's. I got the Falafel. Hands down it was the best ever. They just off 17 in Mt. Pleasant, just after the bridge.

After our quick lunch we were ready for Ft. Sumter, where the Civil War began. We decided to purchase a combo ticket, one for Fort Sumter and one for a carriage tour of Charleston. It saved us a little money and we were going to do both anyway.

On the way out to Fort Sumter, they play a lot of history sound bites. Charleston is getting close to being 400 years old you know. It has a lot of History, and it has played some major roles in History. It doesn't seem like it today, but South Carolina was one of the wealthiest colonies and states up until just after the Civil War.

One of the highlights of the trip was the soon to be Ranger that gave us a great History lesson about the part the Fort played before and during the Civil War. It was both educational and entertaining. It is always amazing to me how much History we miss in school.

After the short History refresher, we wandered around the Fort taking pictures. We found three unexploded mortar shells in the north wall of the Fort. The Ranger said these were duds shot at the Fort during the Civil war from the south.

Fort Sumter sits right in the middle of Charleston Harbor. Charleston Harbor, even before Fort Sumter was built, has always been very well defended, and has never been taken by sea.

After Fort Sumter we went to a place that in my opinion serves the best BBQ of any place on the planet. Bessinger's BBQ. They cook their BBQ with a thick hickory flavor and a mustard based sauce. Everytime I go through Charleston or Columbia SC I get some of their BBQ. Chris has never had it before, and she has never had hash either. She got a little of both. :-) She asked what hash is. I honestly don't know, but I know it is good, and I know I probably shouldn't ask.

She also got what I call Grandma sweet tea. My Grandmother in SC used to make the sweetest tea on the planet. If you run out of syrup, you can pour the tea on your pancakes.

We thought about doing a ghost tour that night, but we just went back to the cabin instead.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. We sure enjoyed taking them. :-) Charleston is a beautiful place!


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring Break....Part 1 - The Journey South

While we were thinking of making big plans for Saturday...we packed instead. Backpacks for hiking and camping, other bags for our three days in Charleston, SC.

Why Charleston, SC?

It is warmer than Virginia Beach. Easy to get to. I know it VERY well. There is so much to do. There is a ton of History wrapped up in Charleston. There is a lot of Art in Charleston. And it is a great place to take pictures.

There is also some incredible food in Charleston.

We had some ideas about leaving early Sunday morning, but since we were on vacation we took our time. Being Easter Sunday, the traffic was actually very light.

We stayed at a KOA in Mt. Pleasant, SC. It was very clean, easy to get to, and very comfortable. After we got unpacked and settled in (see the pictures), we set off for Shem Creek.

Shem Creek is where the fishing trawlers come back into and dump their loads. There have been several restaurants built there on the water that serve very fresh seafood. We sat by the window in Waters Edge and enjoyed the Dolphins and Pelicans that had made their way up the creek. We laughed with the little girls behind us and ate a huge and impossibly delicious meal. If you get a chance, stone ground grits goes well with just about any seafood. You should try it. We drove around Patriot's Point too.

After dinner we headed back to the cabin to plan the next day's adventure!


Sunday, April 05, 2009

This time with the kids....Back Bay Bike Bonanza

It was a little windy. Not like a hurricane, but not exactly unlike it either. The winds were coming out of the South....Exactly where we were headed.

The idea was to park at the city parking lot in Sandbridge and then bike to False Cape. This would add about 2 miles on to the total bike ride each direction. It would not have been all that much of a problem if the wind had cooperated.

We did a quick cache across the street from the parking lot and then headed south.

We stopped at visitor's center for a little while and then headed south again.

About a mile before the cache we lost two of the party to the wind. Brandon, John, and I forged on. It really was a beautiful day, just windy. The spot very close to the cache we were going for was really nice as you can see by the pictures.

We hope to camp with the boys soon down in False Cape. It is right on the ocean, there is lots of wildlife (otters, boars, deers, horses, snakes, and more), and a lot of geocaches.

Total round trip was 9 miles. It was a lot easier going back. :-)


The next post is about spring break, spending some time in Charleston, SC, and hiking on part of the Appalachian Trail (AT). :-) It is going to take a little longer to write and I may have a guest author for parts of it. :-)