Published on June 1, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

This is a story I wrote last week about two adventurers who go on a hike in the wilds of Pennsylvania. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to post it here because it is quite long, but on the other hand, I haven’t written anything for some time and this should make up for it. I broke it into three parts, kind of like what Dick did with his journal of Big Bend, in an attempt not to exhaust the reader. I will post the second part soon.

The North Country National Scenic Trail is a continuous footpath stretching over 4600 miles from the Adirondacks in New York to the Grasslands of North Dakota. Passing through seven States, 10 National Forests, and numerous State Parks, the NCT is a hiking trail that traverses some of the most beautiful areas in Northern United States. Forests of stately hardwoods, waterfalls, glens, and mammoth rock formations, are scattered along the trail throughout New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Scenic vistas of the Great Lakes and colorful cliffs along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior greet the hiker through Michigan and Minnesota. And who can say “Cheyenne River” or “National Grasslands’ and not be tempted to do some wandering in North Dakota.
The NCT is within easy driving distance from several metropolitan areas, making it a great recreational opportunity for many people. Few people, however, have hiked the whole thing. Imagine my surprise when Karen called and said, “Dad, do you want to go hiking next weekend?”
“Oh, I would love to! Do you have any ideas where we could hike?”
She thought for a minute, “Why don’t we backpack the North Country Trail?”
“What? That’s over 4500 miles!”
“No, no silly, just the part that runs through the Allegheny National Forest. It’s about 90 miles. We could do it in sections over 4 or 5 weekends. After each hike,” she added, “you could blog about it.”
I didn’t have to think for long – several weekends of hiking, backpacking along the Kinzu Reservoir amidst scenic hills and vistas, walking on a famous National Scenic Trail, and spending time with my daughter. There was nothing I would rather do.
We made plans to drive up early on Saturday, May 22, and meet at Willow Bay campground on the PA/NY border. From there we would drive one vehicle south to strategically place ourselves a distance of two days hiking. I voted to make this first hike relatively short because of a winter of city-soft inactivity, and build up to greater miles as I optimistically became more in shape. The weather was predicted to be warm but with a chance of showers all day Saturday.
I arrived at the campground shortly before 9:00 am. The last time I talked with Karen – there is no cell signal in most of the Allegheny National Forest – she planned on reaching the campground around 9:00 am also. I parked and read some of the literature and maps by the check in gate as a lady opened the booth to collect camping fees. After about a half-hour I sensed that something was wrong. Karen should have been there. I started to worry and explained the situation to the collector. She was kind enough to let me use her landline phone and I was relieved when Karen answered almost immediately. Sure enough, Karen’s GPS had taken her to the wrong location and she was now over half an hour away. I was more relieved that she was OK than I cared about loosing a little time hiking.
When she finally arrived at the campground she said, “All I could think about as I drove here was…great! This is going to totally be in the blog!”
It was only a short while after that that she was waiting for me as I struggled with adjusting a broken hiking pole. Ironically though, the pole was fine, I was just turning it the wrong way. We finally entered the woods and began hiking north at about 11:00am. It was raining lightly but the temperature was warm. We put covers over our packs, donned rain jackets, and tried unsuccessfully to walk around most of the muddy parts on the trail. After a while, our shoes gave up the will to be dry and we walked with the squish, squish of wet socks.
Throughout most of the day the skies were cloudy and it would rain periodically. There were also long stretches when it wouldn’t rain. Sometimes it was hard to tell if it was raining or not because of the thick canopy of leaves. The trees would shed the rain for a while until they couldn’t hold back anymore, and then drip long after the rain had stopped. Most of the trail was well marked but once in a while we would lose track of where exactly it was. It was common for us to be talking and not paying attention and suddenly realize we had not seen a blaze marking the trail for some time. Then we would have to scout around until we found the markings again. Eventually it became a catch phrase to turn around and ask: “Have you seen a blaze lately?”
We hiked through a boggy section for a couple of miles and then ascended a long hill on an old logging path. Now and then we came to oil or gas pumps (we were not sure which) scattered along the hillside, and once in a while we could see remains of abandoned pipes. Most of the trail, however, was located deep within the heart of the forest with no trace of human touch. It was nice to hike in these areas of pure wilderness.
As we descended the ridge on the other side of the hill, the Kinzu Reservoir came into view through the trees. We were looking for a place to stop and have lunch when Karen stopped short and exclaimed, “Oh how cute! Don’t step on him! Look Dad, it’s a newt!”
I couldn’t see anything until Karen actually pointed him out to me. Apparently, they are bright orange, which to me – and I’m guessing my brother Dick – look like a green leaf, but to non-colorblind people they are quite easy to spot. All the rest of the day Karen would point out the newts so that I would not step on them. She took several pictures of the little lizards along the way, but just like the wildflowers and pink apple blossoms she photographed, I imagine my perception of their beauty is different from hers.
We stopped by the shore of the Kinzu and had some lunch. For some reason I had a desire for a cup of coffee. Karen had brought a couple of packets of rich instant coffee from Starbucks and we both drank a cup of the strong brew with our meal. Not long after that we were hiking up the trail like the machines in Ironman2. Were not sure how much caffeine was in that coffee but we joked that if one of us tripped and sprained an ankle, the healthy one would be able to carry the other out.
In the afternoon we entered Tracy Ridge hiking area. I had hiked here several times before so I knew we were getting close to the camping area where we planned to stay the night. We met one hiker – the only other person we would meet on the trail – as we descended to Handsome Lake camping area. We could see a couple of tents set up but it was raining quite steady by then and the hikers were hunkered down under tarps. We choose a site, rigged a makeshift tarp over the picnic table and unpacked things we would need for our dinner.
To be continued…

Published on April 20, 2010, by admin in More Stuff.

I bought an Apple iPhone this last weekend. Before you Droid owners think I have been converted to the dark side, there are a couple of things you should know. The decision was 95% monetary and 20% I want one of those phones. Now, that might not seem to add up to 100% by many of you, but that’s how the phone company calculates my bill when I asked how much it was to add another line. Still, my bill from Verizon was getting way out of hand, so I took the modem back to the store and, after 20 years with their company, canceled my wireless contract.

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing through a mall near here and on impulse walked into an AT&T store. I knew I was going to terminate my Verizon data account and I was looking for options for the least expensive way to stay connected. There was some literature on family plans and I was surprised at how much of a discount it was to add another line. All wireless companies offer great deals to loyal customers. If they can keep your whole family and all of your friends signing up and buying phones from them, their company will remain strong. It was why I was with Verizon for so long.

Now that all the kids have grown and they have migrated to other wireless providers, I figured it was time to go too. Dave and Lisa were gracious enough to let me join their family plan. My share will be less than half of what I was paying before. We even found out that by putting the account in Lisa’s name, because she is a teacher, we get another discount and they will waive the activation fee. That’s good news to me; I’m getting tired of paying activation fees.

There are some drawbacks, however: I thought I could use the phone as a modem to connect my laptop. Apple really frowns on that, and if you try to do it illegally and they find out, they can cancel your service. I wouldn’t subject Dave and Lisa to that chance. Verizon also has a little better coverage in the rural areas around here and sometimes I may hit a dead spot where the phone won’t work. As of this writing I haven’t been able to configure my web email through any app or even bring it up on, but my gmail account works fine and I will have to get Daryl to help me figure out what’s going on.

With all the WiFi hotspots around and the phone to fill in in-between, I’m hoping that I can get back on that there interweb.

Published on April 8, 2010, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

This is a true story Karen told me on my last visit to Pittsburgh. I thought it was so hilarious that I had to write it down. As she told me the story, I could see the irony of the way men sometimes act on an all too personal level. Just read on and you will see what I mean.

Karen’s boys are always involved in sports either through school or within the community. As it is difficult to find enough money to finance sports for kids, booster clubs will hold various fundraisers. 15 year old Nate’s baseball team boosters were organizing a spaghetti dinner/bake sale. Each family was asked to help work the spaghetti dinner as well as to donate baked goods for the bake sale. As Karen had planned to be out of town the day of the spaghetti dinner and the boys would be with their dad, she called Terry and asked if he would be able to work the dinner with Nate. She assured him she would do the baking for the bake sale and he would just have to pick the goodies up when he picked the boys up on Sunday morning. He and Nate could deliver them to the bake sale Sunday evening. He agreed.

Karen spent the day before the bake sale making peanut butter cup cookies and a delicious tray of caramel apple bars. She packaged and arranged everything in individual bags, set them in a low cardboard tray, covered the tray with clear wrap, and fearing her cats might find the goodies, placed everything inside the oven for safekeeping.

Before going to bed Saturday night, she told Nate, “The cookies are in the oven. When your Dad gets here, make sure you get them out and take them with you.” He replied “ok”. She texted Terry to remind him to take the baked goods when he picked up the boys. The next morning she also left a note taped to the front door that said, “Grab the cookies (in the oven) when you leave”. She left the house before the boys awoke confident that all was in order.

Monday, as she drove home from work Karen was thinking how good a piece of those apple caramel bars would taste. She had thrown some of the ends/duds of the caramel apple bars into a plastic baggie when she was packaging everything else up for the sale. As she walked into the kitchen to retrieve the baggie of apple caramel bar crusts she was puzzled by the fact that the baggie was gone, as was the baggie of overcooked peanut butter cup cookies. The boys had returned home earlier from school so she thought that maybe they had nabbed them and were upstairs snacking on them. She called up to the boys but they hadn’t seen any baggies. As she walked back toward the kitchen she began to feel an underlying dread – like that feeling you get when you know you’ve locked your keys in the car, or when you go on vacation and are pretty sure you left the coffeepot on. Sure enough when she reached down and pulled the oven door open… there, just as she had left them, was the tray of cookies.

She said she yelled for Nate who came running down stairs sure that his mom was seriously injured or something was terribly wrong. He stood there dumbfounded as she just pointed at the beautifully arranged baked goods resting in their protected spot. Unable to articulate the anger, confusion, and growing panic that she was feeling she said, “What exactly did you take to the bake sale Nate?” He said, “I took those two bags of cookies you had on the counter, why?” To say that Karen was mortified would be a vast understatement, all she kept saying was “no….no, no, no….” Nate, sensing her distress, tried to help by saying, “Mom, I’m pretty sure someone bought them because they weren’t there when the bake sale was over.” Karen hissed, “The only person who would have bought two bags of crumbs at a bake sale would be a strung-out junkie with the munchies!” Nate wandered away completely baffled as to why his normally sane mom had gone off the deep end.

I’m not going to tell you what Karen said to Terry on the phone when she called to ask how it was possible that after all of the years they were married, he could think that she would ever send a bag of cookie bits and a bag of gooey apple pieces which had congealed into a ball by the time it arrived (as reported by Nate), to a bake sale. He responded, “Well, I thought it was a little odd.” And to add insult to injury, Karen had been in contact with the chair of the bake sale prior to the event. She had emailed her what she was sending and also that Terry would be there in her place. The idea of what the women who were organizing the bake sale must have thought when Nate waltzed in and plopped two baggies of yuck on their lovely bake sale table….well, it was a few hours….ok maybe days…before Karen was able to see the humor in the situation. Once she had gained a bit of perspective she sent a quick email to the chair apologizing for the mistake and explaining what had happened. The chair responded back cordially, but Karen is pretty sure that the boosters club won’t be asking her to organize any bake sales any time soon. She figures that she’ll be relegated to clean-up duty for eternity, which might not be such a bad thing.

Disclaimer: I want to give credit to Karen for “cleaning up” and editing much of this story. I tried to write it with a personal perspective of how men function differently than women and she expertly conveyed my thoughts as I originally wrote them. As she told me the story, I could see myself…not listening or paying attention…making the same crazy mistake. From time to time, even though not the same scenario, I’m pretty sure I’ve been there, done that.

Published on March 31, 2010, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about commenting on the comment. At the end of every post there is a section devoted to the purpose of capturing a few thoughts by the reader. It is a place where we express our impressions, offer up an opinion, and often ask a question that probes deeper into the story. There is nothing that compliments a good post more than a few well thought-out comments by the reader. But on the other hand, bad judgment and incompetence from the commentator can ruin a post, leaving an embarrassing place no one wants to return to.

Sometimes you can tell by the comment how much we enjoy renewing connections with each other. I think most of the time family members are just hungry for news and we tend to ask a lot of questions in order to keep the dialog going. Especially for me, having lost so much time from the family, I enjoy reading your posts more than I can tell you.

For the writer, feedback we get from a comment can be encouraging. Everyone likes to think that his or her stories and essays are interesting for the reader. Those of us who are beginning bloggers have that deep-down fear that what we write isn’t very good, and it always makes us feel better after an encouraging comment or two. Writing becomes easier when we know the reader cares enough to respond to our thoughts.

Once in a while the comment section turns into a forum of debate. This usually happens when politics enter the discussion, but it can also involve preferences for various electronic devices and mobile phones in particular. It’s usually lighthearted and takes the form of kidding more than anything else. (Did I hear today that Apple will soon release the iPhone to Verizon?)

For me, the art of commenting is not my strong suit. All too often my comments have taken an underlying twist of meaning. I try to be cute and it comes out degrading; I try to be funny and it has undertones of sarcasm; I try to be witty and it turns out silly. Honestly, it’s never my intention to say anything that would hurt anybody’s feelings; it just comes out of me and I can’t control it. I know I should never write anything late at night and hit the send button before I’ve had a chance to proof read in the morning. To show you how twisted and warped my sense of humor is – I was thinking of posting this with comments closed!

Published on March 11, 2010, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

I just purchased a Verizon wireless USB760 modem for my laptop. It is super fast, portable, and easy to use. When I had the browser on my Blackberry it seemed to be slower than dial-up at times, occasionally it would sit and wait for what seemed like an eternity before it would catch again. I was a little bit reluctant to go this configuration after a disappointing experience with the phone, but I’m very pleased with the performance I’m getting on my laptop.

It actually runs faster than DSL and I can attest that it is far superior to the wireless performance I was using previously. The only drawback is the access fees: $39/mo for 250 megs, $59/mo unlimited. I thought I could get away with 250 megs but they were gone in two days so I switched up. Streaming movies gobbles up bits by the carload, and if you go over, the fees are astronomical. The lady that called from Verizon said that at the rate I was going, I could end up with a bill of $600.

I’m not sure how this would compare to a satellite connection. If you are way out in the desert in some remote area between Arizona and California, you may not get a good signal, but it sure would be easier to set up!


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