Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The End of the World, A love story

Some of you may recall my May 2011 rant/ blog post where I gave readers an invaluable list of items for the impending doomsday that was to have occurred in December of 2011.

"End of the World & Nothing to Wear"

As it were things didn’t quite go apocalyptic and the human race remains a vibrant fixture on planet Earth.

So is life, while our love affair with the end of the world continues.
2012 brings us a whole new perspective on the "end times" as we approach the end of the Mayan calendar
I- phone Photo taken by Hector Siliezar at Chichen Itza in 2009
December 21, 2012 is when the Mesoamerican (read Mayan)”long calendar” supposedly runs out. 
Now I am not an astrophysicist, nor am I an ancient civilization historian, but I do offer a simple observation to 2012’s impending end.
The Mayans checked out a long time ago, don’t believe me?  Travel down to Chichen Itza and poke around the pyramids until you find one, chances are you’re going to be there a while (bumping into a “Mayan ancestor” selling temple snow globes at the gift shop doesn’t count)  
So in a sense the Mayan’s calendar "ran out" quite some time ago.
But I digress…
The apocalypse and end times sells in a big way, “Google” zombie apocalypse and you’ll get 24,100,000 results in (0.22 seconds).
There are even reputable ammunition companies selling zombie ammo, as well as gun manufacturers making “limited edition” zombie killer firearms.

Another prime example of our love for the end times is the wildly popular "Nat-Geo" show “Doomsday Preppers” that has taken “reality” TV to an entirely new and bizzaro level.
David is a Doomsday Prepper  
Imagine my completely blank expression as I listened to a student in a public safety organization explain that these shows offer viable “tips and ideas” in preparation for worst case scenarios.
That’s the logical equivalent to the idea that jumping off a cliff into a freezing river to get to the other side is a good survival tactic because "Bear Grylls said so"….

Ever survival minded, our pragmatic host hurls himself off yet another cliff...
If this next part upsets you, I apologize in advance, but those shows with the “doomsayers” are more of a study in mental illness than disaster preparedness.
Oddities sell, normalcy does not.
I know guys that have bought enough guns to arm a small militia in north Georgia, (fundamental firearms rule #207; you can only effectively shoot 1 firearm at a time).

Your's truly on zombie overwatch...
You want to go buy something, go buy a camp stove, or a good bottle of bourbon.   
Besides, do you really want to be around after a nuclear holocaust or major world ending solar flare? 
“Only the strong survive Steve”, got it, then make room for me in your bunker.
There are so many real world things to be paranoid about, and yet we insist on creating even more phantoms to become pre-occupied over.
Maybe it’s just another form of escapism.
Or maybe "they" are right after all.
History certainly repeats itself and depending on where you look the world has been predicted to end anywhere from 15 to 264 times (unconfirmed).  
And yet here we are in our finite impossibly flawed human glory riding out both fictional and real life storms.(Tornadoes scare the hell out of me, the poles flip flopping not so much) …

And while the world isn't ending (at least not today) this is where I will conclude this post,  besides, I have to get back to my “TiVo ‘ed” episode of Chasing Bigfoot.  


Monday, April 9, 2012

Tar Jacket Ridge- George Washington National Forest

In an effort to keep the adventure buzz humming for spring break we loaded up the truck and headed to Amherst County and the GeorgeWashington National Forest for a weekend backpacking trip.

We have made Easter weekend a traditional jump off point for trips because of the elongated break it afforded us and this trip was no different in that it was designed around the idea of “getting away” from the hustle and bustle of normal work related stressors with the exception that this time our trip would have to be abbreviated due to prior work related responsibilities on my end. 

That being said, Ash had pre-planned and scouted a 15 mile “lollipop” route known as the “Tar Jacket Ridge” loop which is across the way from Mount Pleasant where we had previously backpacked in 2009.
The route map has specific detailed information about the hike & points of interest
~ Thanks Ash~
So once the logistics of packing and food prep were done in between work schedules, we were on our way.
Ramsey shows her enthusiasm for the hike  
The beginning of the hike starts off mellow enough in a vast green meadow at the foot of the first real climb just off of the forest road that you park on.  
Several primitive campsites dot the area and are readily accessible to car camping and backpackers alike with the Appalachian Trail meandering through the open field.
It didn’t take us log to be reminded that we were backpacking in the mountains as a short climb opened up to a panoramic view of the surrounding peaks; Mount Pleasant, Cardinal, Friar, and Little Friar to name a few.    

The trail then snaked it’s way back down hill switch backing into the forest and across one of several forest development/ fire roads that we would crisscross along the way.
This particular section was a mix of large rocks & boulders interspersed with thickets of thorns, so we identified few camp sites along the way.

The trail then opened up into large areas of mixed hardwoods and pine forests with little to no underbrush again with limited sites for camping because of the significant pitch of the land.
After 6 miles of steady hiking we came across a beautiful camp site nestled between two small creeks.

The site had a small fire ring in a flat area adjacent to a massive rock with a huge decayed tree growing from it making for a prominent focal point. 

A few hours later we were drinking Horton Eclipse red wine near a crackling camp fire as the sun slowly dipped behind the wooded hills.

The forecast called for seasonable temps and clear skies with a pronounced dip in the mercury at night, and I would suspect that it got into the 30’s but as anyone who has backpacked can attest to; the answer to the most common question of; “How can you stand to be out there in the cold”, is explained by the fact that a two person tent when paired with quality down sleeping bags can create a rather pleasant interior environment of 50 to 60 degrees for world class sleeping arrangements( sans the fact that our two pups haven’t quite grown accustomed to sleeping outside with  the cacophony of unusual sounds that go along with the backcountry in the stillness of the night).    

Once the dogs settled in our K-9 wrestle-fest turned into snoozing and we “slept in” to allow the morning chill to subside.
After several cups of Starbucks instant coffee packs (backpacking godsend) and some filtered water from the stream we were on our way towards the “Seeley Woodworth” shelter and our turn around point to head back.
Up one ridge and down the other we went, on & on through the woods.

We covered 6 miles on the first day and decided to press on for the second covering just over 9 miles to complete the circuit.   
Solitude abounded on this hike, granted we saw several backpackers and hikers along the way, but we would go for hours at a time without crossing into another human’s path.   
The jingling of the dog’s leashes kept wildlife at bay as we saw limited animals on our trek; although we did receive a serenade by what we believe was a winter wren at our campsite by the boulder & stream.       
To get away, to get in your car and just go, to make a plan and stick to that plan, to put perceived obligations on the shelf if only for a while, to go somewhere that manages to transport you even further, to places that make you feel further away than you actual are, the search continues…  


Monday, April 2, 2012

Jones Run Trail- Shenandoah National Park

My extended 40th B-day celebration continued this weekend with Saturday seeing us at several local Craft breweries; Hardywood Park & Legend Brewery and a day hike in Shenandoah National Park on Sunday.

The fog rolling across Afton Mountain slowed our progress but did not dampen our spirits as we were both excited about another adventure in "SNP", which you may recall we have had limited exposure to as we have opted to explore further locals in the past.

Our Route
We weren’t on the trail long before we had disappeared into the forest under a blanket of thick fog, and light rain, and I couldn’t help but think that any vistas would be shrouded in low lying clouds.
Ash being a keen observer assured me that Jones Run trail was not known for its scenic views of the mountains but for another enticing attribute, its waterfalls.

And Jones Run did not disappoint with one waterfall after another cascading down the mountain with thundering noise and constant concussion from the impact of the falls.

We spent around 4 hours on the hike taking our time and treating it as more of a getaway trek than a fitness hike.

I would classify the hike as moderate to easy depending on your fitness level with a brief climb that you could definitely feel.  
There are few (We saw one) camp/backpacking sites along the hike, but numerous swimming holes along the route that would be ideal for warmer days. Some reviews indicate that the trail becomes considerably overgrown with nettles in the warmer months but it was incredibly clear and well marked while we were there. 
We passed several groups of like minded folks with one large group of around 12 or so hikers traveling in the opposite direction.

Curiously one family who had obviously taken a short spur trail from one of the many parking areas off of Skyline Drive were not fans of our leashed dogs as the mother of the group went squealing off into the wood line as we passed them on a short uphill section. Really? (I will avoid any further commentary on the subject)…   
Jones Run winds back and forth across Skyline Drive with a short sampling of the Appalachian Trail, so should you be in the mood for solitude you may want to consider another hike as the last quarter of the trail runs along the road and its accompanying traffic a fact that had very little impact on the experience for us.    
It’s incredible that places like this still exists, places that are as old as time itself and remind us of just how insignificant we really are.

Grilled Buffalo wings in a Sriracha-honey glaze with an Anderson Valley "Boont" Amber Ale for post hike grub, perfect.