Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More About the Hike

I have had a night's sleep now, so I am remembering more I want to write about the hiking trip.

It was humbling on many levels. I have been around hiking, camping, and backpacking for many years. I just haven't actually backpacked for a couple of, uhh, decades. I felt like there were some things that I was pretty sure about, and some beliefs that I held dear. One thing that I was very sure about is that my current pack, which is over 25 years old, was way too heavy to meet the current weights that hikers carry once it was loaded. I had everything except a tent and a stove (well, and the things I forgot), and it only weighed 23 pounds. That was with my winter down sleeping bag, too. And 2 liters of water. I guess replacing my pack isn't quite the immediate concern I thought it was. Especially since it performed well on the trail.

Another thing I felt that I knew what I wanted to have, or not have, was one of these new single wall tents, especially the ones that are held up with the hiking poles to save weight. I figured there was a limit to what I was willing to do to save weight, and I wanted my free-standing conventional tent. I just would get the lightest weight one I could find. On this hike we used Stumpknocker's single wall tent (that uses his hiking poles...). He loves his tent. Won't even discuss the pros and cons of other tents, it is a conversation that doesn't interest him. Did I mention he loves this tent? After using the tent, I have to admit that it had plenty of room for 2 people, even with one of them being 6'5" (not me). It was sturdy even in the storm. The kicker for me was as he was breaking camp. He just folded the tent up and it went into this smallish pouch that would fit into one of my side pockets and leave room for a water bottle. Sigh. Ok, so I'm reconsidering this single wall tent thing.

His alcohol stove worked fine. It seemed to be a diifferent design than the one I want to make, but it looked home made. So, I think that will work for me, just gotta actually make the stove. He showed me his headlamp, which was a Petzel (I think) that was small and seemed to have a retractable headband and fit in the palm of his hand. I will be on the look out for that model. I can see that if I keep those kinds of things small and light it makes everything else easier. And, I might even remember to take it along.

Stumpknocker spent some time tellng me that I had everything with me I would have NEEDED. My tent was back at his RV so had I been hiking alone I would have had it, I could get by without a flashlight, the mug and a stove (he doesn't pack his stove on distance hikes), and that I had done fine.

As we came off the trail at the visitor's center and were walkng down the parking lot to the truck with our packs, Stumpknocker perked up and pointed to a guy walking out of the picnic shelter ahead. "Look! See what he has? A bucket of FRIED CHICKEN!" Stumpknocker has a thing for fried chicken. Luckily for the guy, he had his leftover chicken safely locked into his RV before we got down there. We dumped our packs into the back of Stumpknocker's truck and walked back to the visitor's center. I hit the restroom while he checked us out from the overnight parking. I was walking better without the pack, but still wobbly. As we passed the RV, he pointed to it and said "There's fried chicken in that RV." I pulled him away, and we drove up to the lodge. I didn't know what kind of food they had, but it was still open for lunch so we decided to try it. The lodge is beautiful, with a full wall of glass looking out over the valley and mountains beyond. The buffet looked wonderful, and there was fried chicken on it so that settled it. She sat us in a corner next to the wall of windows in the sun. I loaded up my plates, and the waitress kept my glass of sweet tea filled. I sucked down 4 or 5 glasses of tea since I knew I hadn't been drinking enough water while we hiked. As we finished our plates of food I moved over to the seat next to the window and kind of stretched out with my last glass of tea. Stumpknocker went back and got 2 deserts and finished them while I almost fell asleep in the sun.

Stumpknocker showed me how to do Sudoku, which I had never learned. He goes to a site in the internet. Trying to stay awake past 7 pm that evening, I was on my computer and decided to try my first sudoku puzzle. Stumpknocker was supportive, saying it took him 45 minutes his first one so I shouldn't feel badly if it went slow. I finished the puzzle in 28 minutes. For some reason, after that he jumped up to the most difficult level, Evil, to try his skill. Guess it's that alpha male thing :).

Monday, February 26, 2007

Not Catching Up

I don't post here when I have a lot of change going on cause I don't know how to talk about it yet. Then, as time goes by more change happens and I wonder how I can possibly catch this journal up, or even remember everything noteworthy that has happened. That is where I am now. Lots of change personally via new experiences, but I am not sure how to look back and process it.

Weekend before this past one I went to a computer con in Atlanta. I shared a room with others, which stretched my comfort zone. It turned out well, and I was around people more, which was what I was unhappy about at the last con, the lack of interaction. I had fun at the con and learned a lot. This time I went to the talks. I understood what they talked about. I learned. It felt good. I met new folks that I enjoy, and that are doing neat things.

I came home and had a week to get ready for my hiking trip. I spent 4 days just recovering from the con, the lack of sleep and generally not being on top of things here at home. Thursday night I threw together things for my pack, a suitcase with clothes to wear after I got off the trail, and put everything in the truck. Luckily with the truck I don't have to be efficient in my packing. After work I headed out to north GA.

I had not met the guy I was meeting to go hiking with, I had only read his hiking journals and emailed him back and forth for several weeks. As the sun was setting while I was driving I faced a couple of facts. First I was so hungry I was uncomfortable, and I knew I needed to have good food so that I could hike the next day. Second, the increasing darkness brought me to the reality that I was heading out to the middle of no-where to meet a guy I had never met before. So, I pulled off at the next exit that had a Cracker Barrel restaurant, parked and pulled out the email where he had sent me his cell phone number. I put it in my cell phone, and as I walked up to the restaurant I called him. It is always strange to suddenly have a real voice that is unfamiliar and try to talk with the familiarity that the email connection has fostered. But, this stranger is on the other end of the phone saying that yes, he is this person. I got past that, and made a connection with this stranger that I felt like I knew. I was glad that I had called because the unknown now at least had a more familiar voice. And, he seemed friendly. After a good dinner, I headed back out and the rest of the trip went fairly well. Oh, if you use Google Maps, verify the directions with a real printed map. As with MapQuest, there are some oddities. I almost got off on the wrong road twice, but felt a need to verify where I was going with my TN state road map. One time, a road was listed on the road signs with 2 numbers, the main one on the sign was not the one Google listed. The other time, it said to turn when I should go straight. I turned where there was a road that seemed to be in the right place and immediately stopped and asked directions at a gas station. Nothing like being in a small GA town in the late evening and having them say 'oh, you are way off'. I did finally make it where I needed to be.

Stumpknocker and I ended up staying up well after midnight talking. As a result, we didn't get going to the trail until a lot later than I had thought we would the next morning. After stopping to eat and to get the supplies I hadn't gotten beforehand, it was after 1pm when we got to the visitor's center at Amicalola Falls State Park. We ran into a friend of Stumpknocker's named Old Man as we were weighing my pack before starting out. Old Man looked at Stumpknocker, grinned and said 'Again?', thinking he was starting yet another through hike. After clarifying that we were just doing an overnight to break me in on the trail, I was introduced just like I was a real hiker. It felt strange to be here among the folks I've been reading about and being accepted so readily. In fact, when Stumpknocker told Old Man that I was planning to hike the trail in '09, Old Man said I should look up his wife, Navigator, because she wants to hike the trail and wants a partner to hike with. I was honored to be so accepted as a serious hiker, but then again I was with Stumpknocker who has done the trail 5 times. I was looking for the (I hoped) easy start to the trail up to Springer, which was our stated goal for the day. I was directed straight up some log steps immediately in front of me. I sighed. The ladies in the visitor center had told me, while smiling, that the trail to Springer was so tough that if I could do it I could make it to Maine. They meant to be reassuring...

As I hiked I was stopping a lot to just need to breathe. My pack only weighed 23 pounds, which amazed me considering how bulky my old pack looks even before it is loaded. As I hiked up the trail I started remembering some things I had forgotten. I had no flashlight, and we had pretty much decided that we would be hiking after dark since we started so late. I realized my coffee mug was still in Stumpknocker's truck console from my morning cup of coffee. He assured me we could share his mug. On and on as we climbed, as I was having trouble breathing with the pack on, much less walking, I was feeling like I was such a newbie, forgetting basic things and feeling awkward, beating myself up constantly in my head. Stumpknocker was supportive, and he was in his element. He loves the woods, and loves the trail. He would stop for a few minutes and talk to anyone on the trail who would talk back to him. It was interesting to watch him interact with folks. His excitement in just being out there that day was obvious.

At one point we met 3 folks, and one of the ladies looked at him and said 'are you Stumpknocker?' It turned out she had met him last year on one of his first hikes after breaking his arm. She was excited, and talked about reading his journals. He seemed a bit confused at her excitement in meeting him. I was smiling because she was just like me. At one point she looked at me expectantly and asked who I was, waiting to pin me to some person she had read about in his journal. He introduced me, and I kinda put my hands up as if to say 'I'm nobody'. I was on her side of the fence in reality. She asked him some of the questions I had wondered about, things that showed she knew him well from his writings, while he still seemed confused but amused by the attention. The she looked at me pointedly and said 'and how did you get to know him?' I knew what she meant. How did I go from just reading his journals like she was to actually out hiking with this person. I shrugged and said 'I signed his guestbook?' They wandered on past us and I told Stumpknocker 'you are a legend out here'. He shrugged it off and said 'I just like to hike'.

There was rain forecast for the evening. As we got to the part of the trail that wasn't so steep the wind picked up and felt damp so we put on rain gear. Even though the temperature seemed to drop as the wind and clouds picked up I was doing a lot better with the hiking, meaning I could actually walk more that a minute or two without stopping. The trail went through an area that was kind of open and less steep (it is a mountain, nothing is level). Stumpknocker suggested we camp here, stopping while it was light and before the rain. I just couldn't let myself stop yet. I mean, we had only gone maybe 4 miles of the 8.5 miles to the Springer Shelter on top. To stop after such a short distance, no matter how painfull the miles had been for me, was to admit defeat, that I was such a newbie and that I couldn't keep up. He didn't push the issue, and we hiked on. Almost immediately after that the trail started up steeply, and my legs just wouldn't do it. It hurt to move them, every muscle in them. I was totally done in. I turned around and told him that I guess he was right, and the only reason I wanted to push on against logic was my pride. He immediately started back and found a spot out of the wind to set up camp. All I could do was lean on my hiking poles and watch I was so out of it. He is used to hiking alone, so he had his routine in setting up his tent and didn't expect help, but I still felt totally useless. I mean, I'm an independent woman, and to just admit that I could not go further, and to not even help set up camp was difficult for me.

After getting into the tent and eating some of the gorp I had brought, I felt a bit better. The wind was really howling, and Stumpknocker kept saying that he was really glad we stopped down where it was calmer. He really liked the site, and the view out of the tent was nice, down a nice ravine. All I could think was that I hadn't made it to Springer. I had failed. I have a 'no whine' policy, though, so I tried not to say much about that. At some point after dark the rain started. Being in a tent in the rain is one of the reasons to be out on the trail. It is really neat, out in the woods away from everything listening to the rain hit the tent. I still wasn't sleeping well, though. In the morning after the rain quit it was foggy for awhile, and the woods looked really awesome in the fog. Slowly I was letting Stumpknocker's enthusiasm get to me. It was all good to him, being out in the woods, the rain, the views out the tent with the fog, he was happy just being there. He didn't care at all that we hadn't made some predetermined goal.

The sun came out as we broke camp. When I put on my pack to head out I was really happy I didn't have any further than I did to make it back to the truck. My legs were slowly giving out. I measured my energy and went slow. Going down is easier than going up, but it hurts my legs just as much, just different muscles. I went slow, all the while Stumpknocker is going on about what a beautiful day it is and how great it is to be out there. Finally we get to the visitor's center. He high-5's me and said 'You did it!'. I am still not sure I did 'it', but I do know that I need to learn his ability to enjoy what is and stop beating myself up because I don't meet some pre-determined goal. I went to the approach trail to the Appalachian Trail, learned what I needed to learn, met some cool people, learned some about what equipment an experienced AT hiker carries, and probably most important of all I saw the joy and love of the trail that Stumpknocker writes about in his journal in real life.

Monday, February 12, 2007


There is more activity on the Trail Journals site now. Some folks have already started hiking the Appalachian Trail this year, others are making final plans. You would think I would be excited reading the journals like I was last year. Especially since I am going to hike the approach trail to the beginning of the AT in a couple of weekends and may get to meet some of these same people. But tonight reading the journals depressed me. I feel so out of shape and generally out of that flow. So, I got up from my chair and packed my gym bag with clothes so I can go to the gym and work out again tomorrow after work. I then got out my backpack and emptied it of the things I had packed in it during the move and started laying out what I'll need for this coming weekend in Atlanta. I will take the backpack I think rather than a suitcase, and I'll definitely take my sleeping bag and sleeping pad so I can crash on the floor if necessary.

A few of the folks who's journals I read regularly aren't posting much lately. I know these things wax and wane. On one hand it is good to have routines jostled a bit to keep out of a rut, but it makes my internet cruising feel out of whack when my usual sites have nothing new to say.

Now, a bit of philosophy from my world... Henry David Thoreau distilled down the basic needs of man to the need to stay warm. Food, clothing and shelter exist primarily to keep us warm, keep the vital heat within us. George Carlin chimed in with the fact that a house is just a place to keep your shit. I decided after cleaning house the past two weekends that the vast majority of house cleaning is just taking out the trash from the processes of keeping warm and storing my shit. From doing dishes to emptying the wastebaskets of the packaging food arrived in, to doing laundry and sweeping, it is all just taking out the trash or waste products of staying warm and storing my shit. So, I obviously need to find more efficient ways to stay warm and store my shit so that I have more time and money to do fun stuff. Looked at this way, spending time figuring out how to reduce the packaging that food and other necessities come in will reduce the time needed to deal with the trash. Figuring out what really are necessities and not buying stuff that I don't need will (hopefully) reduce the size house I need to store all this shit and the time spent cleaning up after it. This is all still thoughts in progress so I haven't come up with much of an action plan. It is what made me decide to go with buying the water filters so I would stop buying individual bottled water, though. A tiny step here, and tiny step there.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More Catching Up

This morning I went and had new tires put on the truck. It was actually dangerous with the tires I did have. I had put it off long enough, especially since I'm heading to Atlanta next weekend for the con, and north GA the next weekend to hike. After that I filled the gas tank, and then went grocery shopping. I probably should have gone to Aldi's for it to be cheaper, but the super WalMart was next door and, well, I was hungry and I was tired of being hungry. So, I went in and bought an entire cart of groceries. This is what happens when I feel deprived for too long. I just decided that I'd live with the total, whatever it came to, and figured I'd see $100 leave on a cart of groceries. Amazingly, I had bought low on the food chain for the most part, and the total was around $60. Came home and ate some things and then took a nap. I have now started a roast in the crockpot along with onions, potatoes and carrots. I just ate a half package of flavored tuna and crackers. I think that is what I'll take hiking, a couple of packets of the flavored tuna and some pita bread. I have the ingredients for making humus set out, but I may wait till tomorrow to make that now, and I got my favorite type of pita bread to eat with it. I am finally not hungry now. It will be a couple of hours till the roast is done, and by then I'll be ready for another meal.

Earlier in the week I broke down and went to Sam's and got 6 Brita filters so I can filter my water rather than buy bottled water. This generates a tiny fraction of the trash, besides being eventually cheaper. Those 6 filters will last me a year. I have my 2 platypus water bottles to take with me to have water. So that, along with the CF bulbs I've been putting in the lights are two giant steps towards getting back to a smaller footprint in my living. I'm feeling better about it all.

I had a job interview yesterday. I don't feel very optimistic about it, but it did light a fire under me to start reading up on the modern technologies so I can get a better job. For once, reading about this stuff, I don't feel overwhelmed. Either I'm learning stuff just hanging with the geeks, or my mind is coming back from wherever the hell it took off to a few years ago. That is why I'm going to the con next weekend. I actually want to listen to the talks about computer security and such. I'm staying on a couch, and the con is donation only, so my major expense will be gas to get down there. I'll pitch in money for the room and the con as I should, but it won't cost me over $200 like phreaknic did, hopefully.

All in all, I'm feeling pretty good tonight.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Not Much Happening

I haven't posted in awhile. That's cause not a lot is going on. I am treading water, but that is a good thing right now. I made a lot of progress last weekend in cleaning this place up and making it more liveable. I am working on eating more, paying bills on time and generally getting back to getting my foundation activities back in order. It's difficult to make progress when I'm constantly having to backtrack and take care of overdue details and tripping over things that should have been finished already.

I have a job interview on Friday. I have called out from work that day. I have been out on the internet reading up on the technologies that I'm rusty in. I don't know that I will do very well, but I'll give it my best shot. It is lighting a fire under my butt to get back into reading geek stuff again. It is also lighting that fire to take care of taking care of myself so that I look my best at the interview. All good things, over and above whether I get the job or not.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

On The Up Swing

I hit a low point this past week. Since I started working out I have had no energy to work on the house or much of anything. All I do is sleep. I didn't work out for over a week, and the change in energy I had was amazing. I could get out of bed early every morning and was actually back in a good mood. I worked out Tuesday evening, just a very light workout. It put me in a grumpy, tired achy mood again. On top of that, the house was a total mess. I canceled my planned dinner here because there was no way I could do it.

I managed to get my energy back around Thursday sometime. I was taking my supplements and trying to eat more again. But, I just didn't know how to fit in getting into shape with everything else I want to do. I decided that I had to do something to feel like I am turning my life into what I want it to be. Friday after work I ended up dropping about $150 between Lowe's and WalMart. Yes, I shopped at the Evil Empire. Something had to give. I knew I could get the things I needed at those locations. I got 2 ceiling fixtures to fix ones that are broken here. I got a nice larger toaster oven. I came home and made my muffins that I had missed since the move. I got some cans of chunky type soups to have for dinner when I get home from work. I also got several of the newer, smaller CF light bulbs since my older ones don't fit the fixtures in this house. I got other odds and ends that I've tried to do without but that will make things easier around here.

Today I fixed one ceiling fixture and put one of the new CF bulbs in it. I put the new CF bulbs in the fan light in the great room that is the one I have on the most. Those bulbs not only use 1/4 the electricity (2 100W incandescent bulbs vs. 3 14W bulbs) but are brighter, too. I made the muffins, enjoying having a large enough oven again. I took my supplements. I also spent the day cleaning. I swept the floor and straightened and generally gave this place a face lift.

Mom is coming over tomorrow and bringing the friend she has found that goes shopping and does errands with her. She is a bit younger than Mom, but they seem to get along well. The house is almost clean enough to let them in. Mom needs one of my VCR's (yea! something out of the house that I'm not using!) and I'm going to borrow her queen-sized blow up bed. I just don't have the initiative right now to set up the water bed. My blowup mattress is just the mattress and would be so low on the floor that the dog would be trying to sleep with me. It's enough problem sharing with the cat. Mom's blowup mattress is one of the nice ones where the pump plugs into the wall and it is the height of a regular bed. Hopefully I will start sleeping better on it.

I'm feeling better. I even cooked a crock pot of split pea soup to use up some old herbs and spices. I cleaned out some more kitchen cabinets and put away the two storage cubes of spices that had been sitting out on my counters. You get the idea. I'm cleaning off flat spots that were cluttered and starting to actually make this a home.

I will maybe now stop feeling so defeated when I am here. Who knows, I may even start working on the office again. That is if the better food and taking my supplements will stop the loss of energy for days after working out. The jury is still out on that.