Saturday, December 3, 2011

Its always colder in the mountains

Find a spot to park among the scattered ice and snow. It is nice and sunny down in town, but the hollers cut out by the river still have spots of snow hidden in all the shade.  I hit the trail running. Running to find the rhythm of the rocks, running to find the freedom of the trail, and mainly running to find the warmth as my blood starts pumping. The river to my left and the wet cold air burns my throat. The crunch and squish of the mix of frozen and wet thawed out leaves under my feet. The brown and orange leaf often giving way and betraying the hidden rocks and roots hiding underneath. Keep the steps light and fast to avoid the slip of a foot or the twist of an ankle.

I try to quiet my thoughts seeping through in the back of my mind. "Will the water be too high with the melting snow? Am I willing to put up with how cold this river is going to be?"  I get to the first crossing and brace myself. As my feet sink in and in an instant the bitter chill flashes up my body. I keep going. The water is higher than usual. I've had to turn back before, but it was higher and faster then. Over my mid-thigh this time and I let out the involuntary "Wooooo!  FuuUuuUUuuuck thats cold!" that your body screams when you have water crossings in December.

When I get to the other side I keep moving. Moving from the rush and moving to get the warm blood back to the stinging and numb toes.  By the time I warm up it'll be time to cross the river again. The comfort and odd warmth of wet feet welcomes you back to the chilling water. And so it goes. But I do so knowing that all this will be for me today. Not a person to be seen out this way this time of year.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Whatchu got in that bag?

I'm a gear guy. I value when my pack or something in it makes my time outside more enjoyable. But I have always purposely avoided talking about gear on this blog. There are plenty of bloggers out there that review fun junk made for you to carry. I find this can sometimes come off as materialistic and turn me off. Its a fine line and there will always be those people that care more about getting the gear than getting outside. Its neither good nor bad. I don't really read gear blogs and I have no intentions of turning this into one. I love reading about people's experiences and seeing photos of other parts of the world or sometimes seeing an outsider's point of view on a visit to the mountains on my corner of the Earth.

That being said I made a little crummy video of what I carried with me on my last trip (which I wrote a bit about in my previous entry). I had a baseweight of a little under 5 lbs. I ditched the stove and fuel in favor of carrying a book, which I fortunately was enjoying my time too much to read. A good idea on what you can get by with on a summer trip in the 4,000-6,000ft elevations of the NC/TN state line.

Untitled from Patrick S on Vimeo.

My camera can sure take nice photos, but awful videos. Plus lack of skills make it less than great.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Slow and Deliberate

This post is written for Dave's Summer Trip Report contest over at Bedrock and Paradox. The more people that enter the more fun trips we get to read about.

Breathing in, I'm breathing in. I feel the cool mountain winds in my lungs. Breathing out I'm breathing out. I feel the Sun's warmth on my body and the trail under my feet. 

         I've been here before a few times. I've been in the habitation of these mountains and my feet have blistered themselves on these worn trails. I've felt the presence of these very balds and gaps, but they've never felt my presence. Not like now.  I'm fully here. Each step is slow and deliberate. Each breath is equally so.

      "Fast and Light" is often a phrase used among my hiking peers. At least I have half of it right today. The lightness on my back enables the lightness on my mind. I am conscious of nothing beyond this moment. This moment is on these balds and this moment is among the grasses and flowers surrounding me and the vistas beyond them.  The evening light bathing everything in warm hues as our shadows collectively stretch out. I'm going at a snail's pace enabling me to enjoy every small step.

        I have no goals for this hike. No place to get to. I have nothing invested in this walk. No expectations. No ideals. I'm not thinking "This long climb up the mountain will be worth it and rewarded by the sights." I give myself permission to enjoy the walk up under the trees. The infamous (and underratedly beautiful) "green tunnel" of the Appalachians. I have nothing tied into this hike. I have no thoughts of "this will be enjoyable when..."

      My last trip had too much invested in it. I set out to thru-hike the Benton MacKaye Trail last month. Something I had wanted to do for a few years. Once again I could get out for more then just a night or two and get back to my love of a thru-hike. When I didn't enjoy any of the that trail it devastated me. I had too much riding on it for myself. I identified too much with the circumstance of being on a trail I had a big goal to do and spent years daydreaming about. I was finally doing it! But I hated the trail and I wasn't having any fun. It felt like it wasn't the right place for me so I got off after less than 50 miles. It broke me financially and emotionally. I had set many goals and expectations for the BMT and didn't live up to any of them. I didn't allow myself to not tie myself into the 'success' of that hike. I didn't allow myself to just enjoy my self and be present despite the way things turned out.

          I wake up to the sound of rain on my tarp overhead. I spent the early hours of morning drifting in and out of the waking world and sleep listening to the drops of water surrounding me. I hike out under cloud cover, and drop below the bald in to the trees. One thing I enjoy more than hiking through the woods in the rain is hiking through the woods on an early foggy morning directly after a good rain shower. The water running under my feet, the smells of the wet vegetation and the spaced out sound of the drops falling from the leaves and branches above.

       As I leave the trees behind for more balds the Sun breaks through the grey clouds. The light dances through the beads of water clinging to the tall grass. I slow my pace and I smile as I make my way back to the road back to the house, but knowing that I'm already home.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring has sprung!

There are some really good reasons why I live where I do. I live here because I want to. One of my favorite things about East Tennessee is that I can drive an hour or less in just about any direction and have top quality hiking. Its not the most majestic of places I've hiked, but there is something really special about the southern Appalachians.

I've done the Roan Highlands more times than I can count and every time I've been over the Hump Mountains I've had bad weather from fog to the sideways sleet and hail I got on my AT thru-hike. When I saw the forecast a few days ago I knew I had to finally see the view I knew was up there. I got a pretty great view and amazing weather, but more importantly I had 24 hours of amazing wild flowers.

Vasey's Trillium. This kept me guessing the entire time. I'd never encountered Trillium this color before even though its apparently everywhere around here.

Lousewort! This is my favorite wildflower and spotting it for the first time this year had me pretty happy. Welcome back old friend.

Spring creeping up the mountain with a little more green each day.

I think this is Spring Cress or maybe a type of violet? Someone please correct me on this one! (edit: I'm being told this is probably Spring Beauty.)

Yellow Trout Lilly. One beautiful flower.

Looking trail south. It felt so wrong hiking away from Katahdin.

I felt like a fool. I got more blisters in less than 20 miles than I did for the entire 2179 of the AT. I may have to start wearing socks again. yuck.

Another Trillium.

Once again I'm stumped. Any help from you guys? Come one I'm friends with botanists for a reason! (edit: I think people are agreeing this is probably Disporum.)

Spider hanging out some some Trillium.

Maybe a geranium of some sort?

Once again I'm stumped. I need to find a better wildflower resource apparently. (edit: also another geranium.)


Plenty of Fringed Phacelia popped up over night! I basically did about 10 miles out and then 10 back the next day. It was really amazing that over half of this flowers weren't there yesterday when I was hiking in and they were absolutely everywhere today!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What do you get from a walk?

Hiking centers me. Brings me peace. I've said this before on many occasion. The rhythm of the foot steps and  of my breath and the clear air often brings me to a meditative state. It helps me work through lots of things in my life. Usually when I stop for a snack or at a vista I break that and for a small moment of my day I become awake and aware of where I am and whats around me. The more I hike the more I'm aware. These days I'm very present on my hikes. Each flower, the temperature of the air, the feel and direction of the wind. The softness of the cool dark mud or the smell of the rain soaked lichen on the rocks. Before these moments were all temporary and fleeting. Now they are the walk. Every step is one of intent. Every look and touch is chosen and deliberate. Each breath I draw in brings me closer to the mountains underneath and all around.
I get more peace and more joy out of every walk I take. Now hiking doesn't help me work through my problems or help me clear my head of them. I'll let myself give them the attention they deserve, but right now my thoughts are in the moment. Exactly here they need to be.

What do you get from a walk?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Spreading the love

I haven't got around to getting the photos off my camera from my last few little hikes so this post will be without pictures. I just wanted to draw attention to my buddy Honey Du's blog from his summer on the Colorado Trail.

He's got some great photos and a love for wildflowers. But its his way of sharing life on the trail and in trail towns that is what really draws me in with his posts. I find when other people write about hikes it usually can be awfully boring, but thats not the case here.