Published on June 7, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

Not long after we started the second day of our hike, we came upon an area where two tents were set up by the trail. It was well into the morning by then and we wondered why no one was about. Were the campers up late last night drinking and still sleeping it off, or was it just a base camp and they were out day hiking or fishing? It brought up an interesting topic about when you should see if someone needed help or be left alone to enjoy their solitude.

The trail was still muddy and slippery in places but the puddles were seldom deep enough to flow into our boots like it did in the bog. Mostly, we hiked along the steep banks of the reservoir except when an inlet would force the trail up a valley. While descending one ridge just before noon, we became hopelessly disorientated. Several trees had fallen over blocking the trail where it switchbacked down the slope. We could see a marker with an arrow pointing one way, but logically the trail should have gone the other. Karen scouted one way and I scouted the other, and eventually we figured out what had happened. One of the trees had fallen over with such force that it actually hit and twisted the tree with the arrow on it, changing its direction by 180 degrees. Karen wiggled the nails holding the marker to the trees and eventually got one of them out. We flipped the arrow over and tapped the nail back in with a stone. We felt proud that we had done a good deed for future hikers.

Through the trees across an inlet we could see a huge, flat rock by the shore. It looked like a perfect spot to take a break and have lunch. We weren’t sure the trail would go by there, but it did, and we made our way down to the shore. From the moment we sat down the Black Flies attacked us. They were in our eyes, in our ears, in our mouths, and the more you swung at them the more persistent they became. We both had on Deet but they just seemed to ignore that, so we surrendered our lunch spot to the bugs, grabbed our packs and retreated back into the woods.

Just before we reached Willow Bay Campground and the end of our hike, we walked through a beautiful section of hardwood trees. Cherry, maple, ash and oak spread their canopy high above the forest floor, blocking the sun and all growth except for a few ferns and hearty wildflowers. Once in a while there would be several trees that had toppled over, ripping huge bomb-creators with their roots. It always seems so sad that these giant creatures have to fall and die when they are so healthy. Karen asked me why they fall and I didn’t have a good answer for her. The area didn’t seem like a place where high winds would blow them over, and the ground where their roots held to wasn’t particularly soft. I guess it’s just a part of nature.

We could hear laughter and children playing as we got closer to the campground. The sound of cars whizzing by up ahead was proof that we had once again reached civilization. We were both pretty tired – Karen because she didn’t sleep very well, me because I am old. In the campground restroom we washed up and changed our clothes. I couldn’t believe how much mud had been flipped up on the back of my legs from the trail. It felt good to be relatively clean and walk without a pack.

We drove back to retrieve the other vehicle and on the way stopped at a back road restaurant for some greasy, fried food. The food was pretty awful but the waitress was nice. When I told her we were on one of our traditional Father/Daughter hikes, she became all misty and fawned over us like long lost family members. She kept saying things like: “Oh, my Dad and I used to do things together, too… I really miss him. That’s so nice what your doing…it gives me goosebumps.”

We said goodbye at the parking lot and I drove north while Karen drove south. For a little while we were in the world of nature, not worrying about jobs, bills or yard work. We survived rain, mud, insects, and even my little tent kept us secure and protected from bears and deranged mountain men. It was a good trip.

Published on June 3, 2010, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

Karen and I couldn’t sit around and watch it rain so we walked down by the water to explore for a while. I wanted to show her where an old blacktop road leads down to the waters edge and is swallowed up by the lake. In 1960 the Kinzu dam built on the Allegheny River for flood control changed the landscape of this region making a vast recreational area. On sunny summer days, speedboats, skiers, and jetskis whiz up and down the lake, but today the lake was quiet except for the tapping of light rain. As we explored along the shore, it stopped raining and we returned to the campground to set up our camp.
Karen called my rainhat "Wilson"
One of my favorite things to do while backpacking is build a campfire. Any firewood left by previous campers was completely soaked from the all day rain. It would have been nice to hold our boots up to a fire to dry a little, but at least now that the rain had stopped we could change into dry clothes.

We tidied up our camp and Karen spread some things out on the picnic table to dry. It was nearing dinnertime so we boiled water for our instant meal of macaroni and beef and ate it with some raw beans and carrots. We also had more coffee making sure it was decaffeinated this time. Karen went to get water and wash our cups while I set up the tent. When she got back and saw the tent for the first time, she had that doubting look in her eyes. “Are you sure that tent will be big enough for the two of us?”

I assured her that it was a two-person tent, however, I was always solo on other trips with it. I told her she could sleep on the picnic table under the tarp if she didn’t think there would be enough room in the tent. She didn’t like that idea either and informed me that I also had to sleep closest to the tent zipper. If something is going to get you in the night, it’s always best if you are the furthest away from the zipper. That’s where they always come in after you.

I was sliding in our air mats and sleeping bags when a lady from one of the camps came by to invite us over to their campfire. Somehow they had managed to gather and dry enough wood to get a nice fire started. We told her that we would try to stop by in a while after we got everything organized. Neither Karen nor I were enthusiastic about visiting but thought they might feel bad if we didn’t go. It was starting to get dark so we grabbed headlamps and walked to their campsite.

When we got to their camp, two more backpackers from another site had joined in and everyone was telling stories of their hikes. It was almost like a competition to see who had the story about the greatest backpacking adventure. One young lady told of hiking into the Grand Canyon – along the treacherous cliff face, through eighteen inches of snow – with such drama that we wondered how she made it out alive. They were nice enough and it was good to visit for a while, but we really didn’t come backpacking to meet other people, so after awhile we excused ourselves and headed back to our tent.

I slept well for the most part but Karen said she couldn’t get comfortable and tossed and turned continually through the night. The morning sky was of parting clouds and the hint of sun breaking through. It hadn’t rained at all during the night and that made it a lot easier to break camp and pack up. We breakfasted on dehydrated scrambled eggs and bacon and more Starbucks instant coffee, swung on our backpacks, and headed up the trail for our second day.

To be continued…

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.


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