Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring Break 2013

We've never been accused of doing things the normal way, and for Adventure Chick and I spring break was no exception. While everyone else hightailed it to the Outer Banks for some balmy sunshine we drive north to a mountain cabin near Summersville Lake. With temperatures peaking in the mid 40's, our three days of canoeing and hiking certainly didn't feel like springtime. In fact, our second day of canoeing was during 21 degree weather. At least the sun was shining.

I could spend all day writing about clear mountain lake water and blue skies, about cool sand 18 feet below the normal water line and how my lunatic dog liked dragging his belly through it or magnificent rock formations. I could talk about sitting behind a waterfall that splashed down on ice-covered rocks and icicles hanging from the edges of the cliff above. I could tell you about rainbows caught in the mist.

I could type all those things here, but I won't. I will not waste your time or mine with some failed attempt to describe the magic of this wonderful place. Instead, I'll show you. It's simply beautiful up there in that mountain lake. Don't take my word for it. See for yourself.

Enjoying the view from behind the waterfall.

I named this place "Pirate Cave" or "Pirate Cove". The name changed every few minutes. There was no buried treasure but I'm pretty certain I saw a pirate sailing nearby.

You see the tree line? Way up there? Yeah, that's where the water usually is.

A miniature forest of ice crystals growing up from the ground.

One of the area's many waterfalls.

My Adventure Chick and Adventure Dog, cruising beside the cliffs.

Ice. One of the wonderful surprises Summersville Lake had to offer.

Frozen branch overhanging the waterfall.

Waterfall near Salmon Run boat launch.

Adventure Dog dragging his belly in the sand... again.

So glad we took this trip when it was still freezing cold.

I couldn't take outdoor photos without trying for at least one lens flare. Could I?

Caught the rainbow at the bottom.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I was recently approached by an editor from Beyond Limits Magazine and asked to write an article about my Walkabout. The most difficult part was keeping it around 1,000 words.

Here it is.



Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving/Black Friday Adventure

Every year the madness of Thanksgiving and Black Friday seems to increase exponentially. The traffic gets worse, the crowds grow larger, and the general aggression of people escalates as Thursday turns into Friday and none of that seems to recede one bit until January 3rd. Last year Adventure Chick and I found a very effective and fulfilling method of dealing with this problem, and it's a method I've always been told never solves anything.

We run away.

Last year for the frantic holiday we abandoned civilization for a backpacking trip in the Appalachian Mountains. The only people we saw were like-minded individuals seeking peace and enjoyment in the quiet places on this planet, immersing themselves in the stillness of mountain forests while the rest of the country went mad over sale items.

This year, we drove 950 miles to a magical area I can't seem to stay away from. Ponca, AR is a town of roughly 125 people (I've seen about 13. I guess the other are always been in hiding.) The town consists of a single road with the general store, gas station, cabin rental and canoe rental all inhabiting the same building. The peace and quiet associated with the town that is literally a wide spot in the road is only part of the magic that keeps drawing me back.

We set out early on Wednesday, around 3am, and drove almost nonstop. Pitstops and fuel were our only breaks during the entire drive. We checked into the quaint cabin located on the 'outskirts' of Ponca and collapsed into the already steaming hot tub just long enough to boil before showering and passing out for the night... at about 8pm. Then were were up before dawn, coffee brewing and both of us anxious to stretch our legs after an entire day of driving.

Thanksgiving saw us hiking first to Whitaker Point (known by outsiders as Hawk's Bill Crag). The fairly mild trail leads directly to the rocky point that juts out of the cliff a full 40 feet into the open air above the rocky valley, but we have trouble staying on the trail. Almost to the point, we were distracted by a rocky cliff and the next hour was spent descending, scrambling, and hiking down a couple hundred vertical feet. Our crazy dog loved every moment of it... except when he had to be picked up to be lifted or lowered over drops too high for him to jump.

After satisfying our curiosity, we climbed back up to the trail and continued on to the point, a rocky crag that protrudes straight out over the valley below. Rounding a bend in the trail, the point suddenly becomes visible about a hundred yards away, an imposing triangle of brown stone thrust into the empty air. Standing on the point is something else altogether. The earth drops away on every side and suddenly the only thing between the hiker and a two hundred foot fall is a narrow tip of rock. Wind threatens to disrupt your balance and a sense of emptiness floods into the vertigo as you stare around and the wide valley that stretches around you. Across the emptiness, a murder of crows torment some lone, white bird. Sitting on the rock, you can't help but feel alone in the world, even with the person you love most and a dog you love like a child right beside you.

I can't explain why I always feel alone and somewhat sad when I sit on Whitaker Point, perhaps it's because the rest of the world has fallen away and I'm stranded there in the emptiness that surrounds from all places visible when staring out. My only connection is the widening rock behind me. Perhaps it's the unseen but clearly felt emptiness beneath. Whatever it is, there's a solitude to be felt on Whitaker Point, but there is peace also. And that combination of emotions is tangible and magical. I miss it when I leave, but I know another place to find it.

Returning from Whitaker Point, we followed the highway north toward Ponca, turning off a mile and a half from our cabin into Lost Valley State Park. The short, crooked road leads to a small parking lot with a half dozen cars, and there, my cousin and his wife met us. Bringing gifts of excellent cigars, Mr. Cakes joined our adventure as we set off down the winding trail. The first half of the trail is rather boring, but it separates the beauty of the small valley from the parking lot. Near the halfway point, we departed the trail (because trails were meant to be left behind) and sought out the mouth of a small cave. With only two flashlights between us (and a dog who expressed his unease about crawling into the darkness of the cave) Adventure Chick and Mr. Cakes began the exploration, crawling on hands and knees into the cold rock hole.

The caves here have no markings or guides or hand rails, and that's just the way we like them. This particular cave is more of a misshapen culvert than a cave, a twisted, crooked tunnel that can only be crawled on hands and knees. Though I didn't crawl in this time, I have been there before. The tunnel is long and grows increasingly tighter as it bores deeper into the rock, terminating in a kidney-shaped chamber some distance back with only a small hole roughly the size of a basketball proceeding further. A narrow trickle of water runs along the uneven bottom, turning your toes to ice as you crawl sideways into the tunnel.

Adventure Chick and Mr. Cakes emerged several minutes after entering, breath hanging like smoke in the air while Mrs. Cakes and I sat at the mouth of the small cave with Rocco. Their clothes were filthy, as they were meant to be. One can't properly see a cave and remain clean... or dry. It's just not natural.

The climb up to Eden Falls Cave was steep, but after the relatively flat trail through the canyon, we were eager to tackle it. Scrambling up stone inclines and winding switchbacks, we arrived at the mouth of the cave. Roughly ten feet wide and about seven feet high, the entrance was a poor indication of what lay beyond. Walking the fifteen or twenty feet to the rear of that first chamber had us ducking our heads by the time we reached the back. Then, the cave became a narrow hallway, the bottom half perfectly vertical and the top half leaning at a near 45 degree angle to one side. In order to walk through, one had to step into the hallway sideways and lean forward, shuffling through the crooked path until the floor dropped out a dozen or so paces back. Then, Climbing down, we descended into the second portion of the path. Here, we were forced to crawl on hands and knees over rough and crooked rock beneath a wide stone ceiling.

Hands burning from the cold and the grit, we emerged into the vault at the rear of the cave where a tiny trickle of icy water fell from a domed ceiling and little bats lined the walls. The air was hazy from our condensing breath and cold from the chilled rock. Turning off the headlamps thrust us into a darkness so complete that opening or closing the eyes made no visible difference. Everything was black, totally black. Without the lights, in the stillness and void of that cavern, I felt that loneliness again, just as I had when I was surrounded by air in the bright morning light on Whitaker Point. There, in the cold rock and the darkness, the feeling was identical. Vertigo, emptiness, loneliness, and peace.

We had Thanksgiving dinner that night, consisting of a tur-duc-hen roast, green bean casserole, rolls, stuffing, and corn still in the husk. I drank strawberry milk from a wine glass, a Ponca tradition that began ten years ago on my first trip to the little town. Dessert was sweet potato pie. We finished up by smoking some fine tobacco from our pipes on the back deck of the cabin. I had great food, a happy girlfriend, and a happy pup. The three of us were exhausted from a day that had started before the sun had risen and ended after it had vanished again. Seeing the smiling, tired faces around me, I realized that no man has ever been happier than I was right then. There can be nothing greater to be thankful for than that.

I admit we are guilty of Black Friday shopping, stopping in at the general store for a few souvenirs and treats. The holiday madness had reached all the way to Ponca. The store was bustling with shoppers. There must have been eight or even ten of them in the half hour we were there.

We drove back on Saturday, crossing the 950 miles again in four hard driving sessions, and unloaded our two bits of luggage in one trip (a mini-fridge loaded with left-overs and a gray tote containing everything else).

The effects of the long drive have subsided along with the weariness. All that remains are the memories of a magical spot on the map and a desire to return sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Maiden Voyage of the Liberated Sturgeon

We talked to the guys at Great Outdoor Provision Co. in Charlotte about getting the canoe and told them what we needed it for. My worry was that the canoe would be the standard MSRP ($1600) plus about $700 for shipping. That's what most of the other places were quoting me. GOPC wasn't most other places. They were already placing an order from Old Town Canoe and so they just added my canoe to the order. Then they gave me last year's price. And they didn't charge me shipping.

My $1600 canoe cost me $1400, brand new, delivered to their Charlotte location where they were kind enough to load it onto the roof of the truck.

If you're in North Carolina and need some outdoor gear, check out the Great Outdoor Provision Company first. They deserve your business and you deserve their awesome treatment the extend to their customers.

Now, special thanks and mention to the retailer aside, I'll get on to the test voyage of the "Liberated Sturgeon".

We took the new canoe to Latta Plantation and got the hull wet. Unfortunately, we picked exactly the wrong time and rolled out to the launch just as the afternoon wind was kicking into high gear. We faced a 15 mph headwind from the start, which changed into a crosswind as soon as we got accustomed to it, and then became a crosswind from the other direction just as we were adapting to the first crosswind.

The result was lots of waves, lots of getting blown off course, lots of getting turned when we needed to go straight, going straight when we needed to turn, and even traveling at a forward-sideways angle no matter what we did. In short, it was frustrating.

But it was still fun. We got a good workout and saw how the canoe handles choppy water and high wind.

What came next was the real test. A few days later we put in at the same location in the early morning. This time the strong wind was a gentle breeze and the choppy lake was flat water. We cruised leisurely, crossing the lake and heading upriver for several hours. The view was spectacular, the weather was nice, and the new canoe sliced through the water like a blade.

On one of our brief land excursions, Tasha found an old bayonet in excellent condition which she plans to clean up and sharpen.

At the northern end of the lake, there's a sandbar just beneath the surface of the water that extends several hundred yards like a giant shelf. At its edge, the bottom drops sharply to unknown depths. Paddling over this drop-off that lies just beneath the clear surface is like walking on a plate of glass that extends over the edge of a cliff. You know you won't fall off, but that sense of vertigo seizes you nonetheless. It's frightening and exhilarating at the same time. I can't explain it better than that and you really can't understand what I mean until you paddle over the edge and feel that sensation for yourself. Just know that it will give you a chill every time you do it.

I'm not sure how long we spent on the lake, I didn't bring a phone or a watch. We had the sun to show us we had time to make it back before dark, and our bellies to tell us when to eat. I didn't want to know what time it was or how long we were there. Maybe it was five hours. Maybe it was forever. It was fun and I'll do it again next time I'm in town.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year. New Adventure.

2012. Year of the Apocalypse... if you believe the lunatics on the web misinterpreting the Mayan calendar. It's an election year, so my new home will be action-packed with people for the DNC... but I won't be there for that. I'll be a million miles away trying to fulfill a dream.

While the Democrats are trying to drum up support from Charlotte, North Carolina, my girlfriend and I, accompanied by my dog, will be paddling down the Mississippi River. I've always wanted to do something big, but I never knew what. Several years ago, I got the idea to go walkabout and thus this blog began.

While prepping for that trip I came up with a crazy idea... canoe the entire Mississippi River. I didn't think it would be possible, and part of me is still doubtful. And that's what makes it exciting.

I don't typically make resolutions but I do have a bucket list that I add to frequently. I know I'll never be able to complete everything on there, but that's fine. As long as I'm still adding to that list I know that I'm still dreaming and as long as the items on my list seem impossible, then I know I'm still ambitious.

Hopefully I'll die with a dozen big things still on my list and at least twice as many crossed out.

So the big adventure for 2012 is canoeing the entire Mississippi River. After that? Who knows? I have a whole list of adventures from which to choose, including hiking the Inca Trail and contracting malaria.

What's your list? What are your dreams? What would you like to do?

Make your list now, no matter how crazy it sounds.

Once you have your bucket list, do something about it.

I dare you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kick Fear In The Face

I'm afraid. Of lots of things. I missed a lot of opportunities, or didn't try hard enough and failed at too many things, so I'm afraid of failure. I want to succeed. More than ever. To make up for those past failures.

I'm afraid of heights. I fell out of a tree once and my vest snagged on a branch. It bunched up around my neck and I dangled there like a convict at the gallows in an old western movie. Now, climbing a ladder freaks me out. My hands start to shake as I get higher, but I still like climbing.

I'm afraid of water. I fell into a swimming pool when I was four and swallowed half the pool. My mom had to pump the water out of my lungs. I can't walk too far into the ocean before I start to feel nervous. If my feet can't touch the bottom I have to go back. I can't linger in the deep end of a pool even though I can swim. Canoeing terrifies me. But it's fun, so I do it anyway.

I'm afraid of things, things I shouldn't be afraid of, but I will not allow those fears to limit or define my life. When faced with an opportunity for adventure there's usually a situation that should inspire fear. I think it's a prerequisite for adventures. Those challenges can either be retreated from or passed through. You can either enjoy the adventure, or shy away from it. Have fun or play it safe.

You'll never risk getting hurt if you play it safe, but you'll never risk earning that sense of accomplishment either. When I found a narrow, damp, low-ceilinged cave in Arkansas, I started to hyperventilate while still sizing it up. It was no death-defying feat to squeeze through there and see where that cave led, but gasping for breath in that dark hole was a huge accomplishment for me, not in spite of my fear, but because of it. It's more meaningful if you're afraid of doing it because you not only conquered the challenge, but conquered your fear.

I hope to challenge myself with every adventure, great and small. I hope to learn from my fears and work through them rather than allow them to dissuade me from discovery and adventure. I hope to inspire others to do the same. And I hope to always find new things to be afraid of, so that I can kick that fear in the face and accomplish something anyway.

Things I'm Afraid of: Heights, Water, Enclosed Spaces, Large Groups of People, Failure, Public Speaking and Eating In Front of Strangers.

Things I'm Not Afraid Of: Bears, Alligators, Venomous Snakes, Spiders, Hurricanes, Fire, Being Alone In the Woods At Night, Camping In Swamps, Hopping Trains, Hitchhikers, Men With Chainsaws, Men With Guns and Getting Lost.

Funny. The most dangerous things don't worry me at all, but the trivial almost gives me panic attacks.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Get Off Your @$$...

...and do something worth telling the grandkids about."

I think that's going to be my official words of encouragement from here on. I think it's fitting. What about you?

You don't have to do something big. You don't have to do something dangerous. You don't have to do anything that will earn the praises or attention of your peers or family members. In fact, you might want to do something that will earn disapproval, as those are the deeds we're most likely to talk about at a later date.

Do something fun and exciting.
Do something unpredictable.
Do something that doesn't at all fit into your routine.

Go forth and explore. See what's in the woods behind that rest area. See what's under your house. See what's up in that tree.

Learn what it feels like to swim in a frigid river. Learn what it feels like to crawl in a cave. Learn what it feels like to jump out of an airplane.

One day, your kids and grandkids will be sorting through photos, trying to decide what to put in the slideshow at your funeral. Make their eyes bug out. Make their jaws drop. Make them jealous. But most of all, INSPIRE THEM. If you do, then one day their grandkids will look at the photos of your grandchildren and say "grandpa did that?"

Now doesn't that put a smile on your face?

What are you waiting for? Do something stupid. And do it with a smile on your face, because you have no idea who will be looking at the photos in fifty years.