Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cold Mountain and the Shining Rock Wilderness Area

Every year, I try to make at least 3 major hikes. One in the spring, because I enjoy the new greenness while still enjoying the brisk evenings, one with an old friend of mine, because we just love talking about everything and anything, and one in late October, because you still get color in the lower altitudes, but the peaks have dropped all or most of their leaves, and the views are amazing, when they are otherwise hard to see in the summer.

This year, I was able to drag along two friends with me, one who had never hiked backcountry in quite some time and one that had never hiked backcountry at all. I wanted a decent challenge for myself, a peak with views, a good taste of backcountry hiking for my friends and someplace completely new to me. After some researching, I finally decided on the Shining Rock Wilderness area with its famous peak, Cold Mountain. This area of the Blue Ridge Mountains has great views plus some reasonably high peaks for the area. The challenge was the unmarked trails and having to rely on maps, compass and my smart phone (yeah, not a wild stretch). The peak was obviously Cold Mountain, the Art Loeb trail would provide a wonderful up and down trail over balds on the way to the mountain and I had never visited this area at all, despite having heard plenty about it.

 Our trip began on Wednesday evening, as I rocketed through Coats, NC to pick up Thomas, then a quick shuttle to Raleigh to pick up Mike and then heading out towards Asheville where we would crash that night right at the exit on the eastern side of Asheville next to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We learned all about Thomas’ problems, probably more than he intended to talk about, but he just kept on talking and talking (this is a recurring theme on this trip). Thursday morning, we got on the Blue Ridge Parkway
and headed up the mountains through countless tunnels up past Mount Pisgah and that homely inn up there I had never noticed before (marked for future checking out). A few miles past Wagon Gap, we came across the turn off for Black Balsam Knob and the Art Loeb trail. Parking at the trail head, we picked up the Iverson Gap trail, a trail that paralleled the Art Loeb trail along the western side of the mountains.

It was a far flatter trail that allowed us to get used to our packs. It routinely intersected with the Art Loeb trail that was going up the tops of the balds in the direction Cold Mountain. It probably functions as a really good service road for rangers if needed. We followed that trail for about 4 miles. It intersected the Art Loeb one more time before it turned into a nice narrow trail following the side of the mountain. The view towards the west was amazing. In lower levels, the color was vivid. The ultra clear sky (this was gonna change) allowed us to see far beyond the initial mountains in front of us. The temperature was a wonderful 60, allowing for the best hike I had had in a long time. We took a time, in the section of the Iverson Gap trail that narrowed to sit down for a bit, take pictures, talk, snack and it was so relaxing we all nearly fell asleep. Of course, we were then attacked by a bumble bee (another theme, attacks by wild animals). It never bothered me but it kept going back and forth between Thomas and Mike. Continuing our hike, we reached the end of the Iverson Gap trail, ending at the Art Loeb trail once again.

This intersection at Flower Gap had what appeared to be nearly seven trails coming in and out of that little area. This area was also a well used campsite. It was just underneath shining rock and seeing that it was nearly lunch, we hiked the short yet very tight and cramped trail up the Shining Rock. At this point, the brush around the trail was extremely thick. My pack was packed rather high and kept getting caught in the branches above me. I had to nearly crawl many times. Shining Rock was a great climb though, and once again, the views did not disappoint. We had our lunch here and enjoyed the view, and the quickly changing weather. Clouds came up and over us and the sun vanished into gray skies. We knew we’d want to get as close to Cold Mountain as we could because there were calls for rain the next day. After cleaning up our lunch we hit the trail. This is where the fun began.

The trail got incredibly thin, although still very clear. The brush was thick and sharp and I have several scratches and rips on my pants. At one point, the brush got caught on a zipper, opened a small pocket and stuff spilled out. The trail continued though, opening up over the top of a few balds to allow for great views. Then, as we started down the second bald, the trail vanished, just stopped. There simply was no clear path onwards. Our backcountry experience became something else. I fired up the smart phone to see just where we were and tried unsuccessfully to find the trail. At one point, with the brush being so thick, Mike and I stood up on some rock formations we had found and let Thomas walk around the brush with his hiking stick held high to see if we could find the trail. We didn't. I fired up the smart phone again after about 2 hours of hunting for the trail and began to hack our way through the brush just following the map. We came upon a very clear campsite but no clear trail off after this. Once again, we began going through the thick brush in the direction of the trail marked on my phone. At one point, we were nearly scuttling along on our stomachs through the thick brush. Then, we heard it. At least Thomas and I did. A low growl. We both looked at each other and I said “its time to go back”. We high tailed it out of there back to that campsite we had found earlier.

(Edit 11/21/2011. Look below in the comments for a website that shows how to find the trail.)

We debated staying there and going on the next day, as it was already almost 5, but after looking around, we could find no water source. So we hiked out of there back to the campsite at the end of the Iverson Gap trail at Flower Gap. There was a stream nearby and a really good covered area with plenty of space to camp. We were quite disappointed. We were still a good 4 miles from Cold Mountain with no idea where that trail was, a day of rain on the way and time running out. We were scratched up, sore and beat up. We camped, set up our tents and hammocks, ate some good hot food and sat around to enjoy the darkening skies, smoke our pipes and enjoy the talks. That is, of course, till we were attacked by wild forest creatures (a mouse). It attacked Mike first, attempted to bite off his entire hand (it walked over its hand), then a few minutes later, it came bounding at me trying to cut my jugular (it jumped towards where I was sitting). We were terrified, debated setting up traps to capture this monstrosity, but settled with just going to bed.

 The next morning greeted us with a strong fog. I was able to pull a smidge of reception to see that the radar was bringing rain. We decided to hike on out of there back to the car, regroup, and find another way up to Cold Mountain. We packed up quickly and this time took the Art Loeb trail back towards the car. Unfortunately, there would be no views this day. The fog gave us possibly ten feet of visibility, making for an eerie hike through the balds. On the top of each bald, the trail got tricky. Was it the trail or a washed out section? You could never know. After the second bald, the rain began picking up. Even with rain gear on, you got cold and wet and hypothermia was an instant concern. I kept the guys going and we decided to forfeit the last section of the Art Loeb and just take the quick Iverson Gap trail back to the car.

Just as we got on that trail, the wind and rain came in a fury. All I could do was put my head down and keep walking. Thankfully, at this point, the path was nice and wide, so I just looked down and kept on going. After a few miles, the rain stopped long enough for me to get out some dry clothes, change my shirt and at least get some dry clothes underneath it all. My pants were ultra water resistant, but I was sweating so much that it was chilling me there anyways. We met a pair of older hikers who were, in their own words “out here just screwing around”. They picked an awful day to do that. We made it back to the car just as the rain was really coming down even harder. We crawled into the car, cranked the heat and headed back down into Asheville.

 After a bit of research, I found another way up to Cold Mountain that we could do in one day. We camped out at a Comfort Inn, dried all of our gear, ate Mexican….and then ordered a pizza and got ready for the next day.

That Saturday, we headed out towards the Daniel Boone Boy Scout camp just underneath Cold Mountain. The Art Loeb trail ends (or begins) there and goes up to the ridge that leads up to Cold Mountain. It was a very brisk (freezing) morning, ice on everything, clouds over everything. We were determined to get up to the top to at least say that we did. We did ditch a lot of our gear and only took essentials, water, snack, camera and a lunch, cold and rain gear, and off we went.

 The way up can be divided into three segments. The first segment is the initial climb from the camp. It goes up very quickly over very rocky terrain. The climb did warm us up quickly though and we were out of the wind. The trail continued like this for about one mile, going up steeply as we gained about 2000 feet. Then, we went around one bend and the mountain was in view, albeit covered in clouds. And then the wind hit us.

This was the cold side of the mountain. The wind hit us with ice. Granted that it was cold, ice at least bounces off rain gear and doesn’t get anything wet. We got our gloves on and kept going. The trail was very rocky, and covered by leaves to hide those slippery rocks, but there was no hiding where the trail was here. This segment continued for about two miles, sometimes picking up what appeared to be really old roads no longer used and at times getting very thin, mountain on one side, a good fall on the other. We did find a good stream where we refilled and knew wed have water on the way down.

 We ran into a couple that was on their way down who were woefully underdressed. She had his gloves on and tights and they both were red and looked miserable. We traded quick stories but they clearly wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible.

We took the Art Loeb trail up to a ridge that is next to Cold Mountain and met another group there, these dressed for the weather. They had spent the night up on Cold Mountain (we were jealous) but it had been a cold one and they had no views as the peak was still covered in clouds. At this point we got off the Art Loeb and took the Cold Mountain trail. The trail was covered in ice, but the views began to open up. We could easily see the peak from the trail now, as the sun was now shining clearly and the clouds were gone. We were estatic; we were a mile away and we were going to get our views. We took a quick break to snack up and Thomas continued telling us all about himself (this had gone on pretty much non-stop all the way up so far).

The last final mile up to the top followed the southern side of the mountain up around the west, but when it reached the northern side and we followed the ridge up the top, we were attacked by wind and ice. It was bitter on the northern side, but when the trail dipped into the southern side, the sun warmed us up quickly. The views opened up routinely, with amazing views in every direction. We followed the thin trail all the way up to the geological marker and found an amazing view point facing south (and in the warm side).

The view was great. I can really only let the pictures do the talking.

We stayed up there for about 30 minutes, just talking, enjoying, and smoking pipes. Mike let us know that he did have a heights issue and Thomas broke out the camera and went crazy. The pictures of the views from up here are all his. We had seen a very small stream and some wonderful rocks to sit on just on the southern side of the mountain on the way up, and Mike and I headed back down to cook up some rice to eat there before we headed back down. Thomas stayed behind a bit to take more pictures.

The way down was eventful because we ran into many people that were on their way up to camp at the top. Then, the final animal attack. A bear. Yes, a bear. Well no, it was actually a really big fluffy dog that really looked like a bear coming around the trail for a split moment. My breath was certainly taken away for a few moments until I realized that this “bear” was wearing a collar and carrying a pack of his own. We joked with his owners for a bit. We encountered another couple headed up. I envied their night on the peak and the possible clear sky view of Asheville and our universe.

The race was on to get to the bottom. We didn’t have much time left with sun light left so we upped the speed a bit, all the time staying careful of slippery rocks. Going downhill is no fun when you have to watch every single step you take. I managed to slip on one and really scrape up my shin and Mike nearly went off the edge once when he stepped on a false pile of leaves (there was nothing underneath). (Michelle, I debated putting this in lest you not allow your husband to do this again with me). About 40 minutes from the bottom, the sun dipped down behind the mountains in front of us. We had about that much time left. Thomas also suddenly was very quiet. I took one look at him and could tell that he wasn’t doing well at all. From that point on, no one said a thing until we could smell people cooking down below us and we could hear kids. We made it back down in time, crawled into the car, Thomas holding on to his stomach contents the entire time.

Once on the road, we commiserated on the whole trip, the wonderful first day, the misery of losing the trail, the rain and wind, but the amazing hike up to the peak and the wonderful views. We stopped at a Crackel Barrel (my official post hike restaurant of choice) and we destroyed a large meal each. We then decided to actually go home that night, with my final destination in Fayetteville being reached at 2 AM.

The trip was an amazing one. I’ve had many difficulties in trips before, but never with others with me. I was truly disappointed in not being able to find that trail and have already vowed to return there and complete that trail in its entirety. Cold Mountain of course, was a special treat. The hike was challenging, yet very rewarding. The views were amazing. I was disappointed that I didn’t find Nicole Kidman, but I am overall very satisfied.

And now, I await the spring. Next year I have trips planned in the Rockies, the Clingman’s dome from Deep Creek campground, Mt Mitchell from the very bottom, and some section of the AT I have yet to plan. I hope Mike and Thomas enjoyed themselves and are willing to go with me again.

The winter comes, and Id love to do snow hike, but, my wife is due any day now, and I believe I will stay home this winter and enjoy the addition of a new hiker to my family.

Cheers for 2011 and happy hiking in 2012.

That's me, if anyone is curious.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Morrow Mountain (And those things that annoy me at campsites)

On the weekend of October the 15th and 16th, my family and I, along with our friends Mike, Michelle and Greyson, from Raleigh,

hooked up at Morrow Mountain state park to enjoy some time together. It was my wife's last potential time away from home (we are expecting any day now)

and it got Mike to get his gear out of storage and make sure everything was there before our Shining Rock Wilderness hike the following week.

Morrow Mountain (barely a mountain really) is a really nice state park located in Central NC, near Albermarle. Its based around these three mounts at the very edge of Uwharrie NF. For what's around there, its a great place to go if you want a taste of mountains without the really long drive out west. For this reason, its quite the popular place during the summer and we have never attempted to stay then because reservations are hard to come by. But, this chilly weekend, we were surprised by the park hosting a wedding....AND....all the people who had come to attend were staying the night in the park. We got off really lucky in finding a spot that a guy had cancelled on that very last minute.

We enjoyed ourselves, cooked various foods over a fire and talked into the night while the next day, Mike and I hiked up Morrow Mountain itself in a nice, brisk 3.4 mile hike. We met the families at the top, enjoyed the view and then drove home.

Now, just a typical weekend outing in the popup. But what got to me, while we sat around that evening and watched the unusually packed campsite mostly filled with people who maybe only camped once in a big while, is the odd things people do when at a campsite. Some are funny, some are annoying, and some are downright dangerous.

Many people were there with large vans with what seemed like every single object in their own homes. They then proceeded to set up tents that might be larger than my house. I don't mind tents, but these "tents" had porches, satellite TV, separate rooms, beds, maid and butlers, second stories and backyards with swimming pools. Personally, I go camping or hiking because I want to get away from home, not bring it with me.

Annoying though, is at night. I'm used to all kinds of creepy sounds, growls, hoots and screeches in the middle of the night. Whats worse than any of these? The sound of dozens of people snoring and this sound traveling through all the paper thin tent walls. I'm sure what few beasts were around were terrified of the noise. One or two hiking buddies snoring I can deal with, but the Morrow Mountain Snoring Orchestra doing a rendition of Mozart's 5th Snoring Movement did not help the sleeping abilities.

Dangerous though, are those that seem to have absolutely no common sense when it comes to fires, especially starting them. On more than several occasions did the night light suddenly light up bright when some crazy person was throwing gas or some other flammable liquid onto what they deemed a small fire, because, if those five big chunks of wood aren't going up in flames as easy as a piece of paper, just throw explosive liquids on it.

Would love to hear what other horror stories you all have with camping trips with the less outdoor inclined.

Enjoy the pictures.

Next week, Shining Rock Wilderness hike, wind, rain, ice and snow.

Happy Hiking

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A little ink for the trail...

What a busy summer this was? Finished a History degree by August and I was rewarded with a little more ink on my body. My inking has always been really significant to my life, so I figured this was quite appropriate. Enjoy.
Happy Hiking.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park

A good friend of mine (we’ve known each other since before high school, long story) and I take a yearly trip where we try to do something different each year. Last year we hiked the Smokies since he had never been here. This year, we went up to his home state to check out the Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park and get him out on a canoe for his first water trip. I hadn’t been on a canoe trip in over a decade, so I was looking forward to the water.

The Trip

I got up early on Tuesday the 23rd of August and took off to Greensboro from my hometown in Fayetteville to catch a flight out from there to the Twin Cities (via Detroit). The first leg of my trip was in a tiny 34 person plane and we were all crammed in pretty tight. I took the time in that hour trip to watch the Blue Ridge Mountains go by below me and plan my food for the trip. The Detroit airport was ultra cool, with an tunnel in between concourses that had an interactive wall that changed colors and sounds as you walked by and had a really high tech metro in the inside of the main concourse. I still walked.

The second leg of the trip put me in a far bigger plane with plenty of people and space. At the Twin Cities airport, I watched crazy drivers picking up people at the worst airport curbside pickup I have ever seen. Within a few minutes, Ben picked me up and we were headed north...
We had to stop at the REI first to pick up our canoe and some fuel. That went smooth and then we headed over to the first Wal-Mart we saw to buy our food, but instead walked around until we discovered that they were remodeling their grocery section. So on we traveled north to the next closest available Wal-Mart. After purchasing up what we needed, we realized we wouldn’t make it to the park till too late to get on the water and find a spot, so we chose to find a small county park along the way to crash for the night.

We dumped out all of our food on the table and began organizing, breaking down and putting into Ziploc bags.

I was sporting my new waterproof bag. I didn’t want to take any chances out on the water. Ben also got his newly purchased campers hammock. I had been using mine almost exclusively for hiking, and he wanted to try it out too. He was just going to rent one, but decided on buying one anyways. We picked a spot that had three trees with almost the perfect range to set them up for the night.

My only worry about this trip was a concern for mosquitoes. My fears turned to nightmares as we were relentlessly assaulted in wave after wave of kamikaze blood suckers. I had a really bad feeling for the week. For this matter, we finished our packing, had a quick pipe smoke (a tradition for our trips) and quickly crawled into our hammocks and crashed for the night.

Day 1

Our drive up to the park was quick, full of talk, laughs, and a hunt for a hardware store in order to find tent spikes, or something similar (garden stakes) to use for our hammocks rain covers.

As we headed north though, the sky kept turning darker and greyer. As we turned into the last stretch of road leading up to the park, I could tell the trees were swaying; there was a lot of wind out there. This was not very promising.

As we pulled into the parking lot completely filled with people’s boat trailers, we took a quick look at the ranger station and then headed down to the canoe dock. The wind and water hit us right away. This was going to be rough. The lake looked more like the ocean, with 3-4 foot waves crashing on the shores. We got our canoe ready, got in and took off for about 30 seconds before the waves were crashing over the canoe and filling us up very quickly. We quickly made for shore, soaked already. Obviously, we would not be putting out today. As it turns out, the winds were 30 mph with gusts up to 60 mph.

So instead, we decided to hike some of the trails they had nearby. Turns out this was a great idea, for a four mile trail they had starting there led us to a spot where you could see the lakes from a high point. It was a wonderful, windy, amazing sight. Along the way, I learned firsthand of a fellow animal that would be with us the entire trip, some noisy territorial squirrel that howled every time we got near his land. We also saw a tiny snake and many butterflies.

This hike made up for the really bad initial outcome we had with our trip. My dear friend, who had never before been on a canoe, was certain that our trip was doomed. I had to encourage him, let him know that was only a one day setback. It was not going to be this windy every day here. The next day, he’d see, the lake would be just as placid as we imagined.

That night we camped at a small city park right next to one of the many rivers that feed this area. We had our food, rice with our own flavoring, smoked our pipes and had our first good look at the Milky Way, which we could see clearly. We also believe we heard wolves howling in the night. If it was, it was quite far off and we couldn’t be too certain of it.

Day 2

The day was obviously calmer although my friend still worried about condition on the lake. We drove back up the ranger station and we were greeted by a crystal clear lake. We put off again, this time with ease and we were on our way.

I must first say, while this trip was absolutely awesome, there was one thing that really put a downer on things, and that was everyone in their motorboats. I had read that the park was a zero wake area, but apparently, no one follows this, as we were constantly fighting against all the wakes being made by all the motorboats. In my whole time there, only two, out of the hundreds of boats I saw, actually slowed down near us. Some even came super close to us. We were the only people on canoe there, with a few kayakers. That aspect was very disappointing. It will come into play later.

Already that morning, I got my first ever view of a bear in the wild. After a decade of hiking the Smoky’s and never seeing a single bear, here on my first day, we saw a bear thinking about swimming across a small strait we were coming upon. It took a few looks and headed back into the woods, but not before I managed to get my high zoom lens on and get a few pictures.

On a small break on yet another island, I saw an enormous turtle that vanished under the water before I could get the water out. On this same island I found a bald eagle feather, probably one of the coolest mementos I have ever gotten from any of my trips.

We had lunch on another island that had a large campground. There was a large buoy just out of the island, and as we found out, this was a high traffic area. Boats came flying around the corner following the numbered buoys. As we ate lunch, we wondered just how many accidents had happened on that blind corner.

By 4 we reached a smaller campsite (nearly all the campsites are on islands, a super cool feature) which was occupied by another party, but we just required a few trees (those there were plenty). Apparently, the motor boaters head out really early in the mornings, find a campsite, set up for the week or days, and then head out. We unfortunate slow canoers didn’t have this luxury. When the other party arrived later that evening, they eyed us suspiciously, and one of them asked us how long we would be staying. I mentioned only the night and they seemed relieved.
We were exhausted from the paddling (new muscles) and my friends back was aching (eh oh). We ate, smoked, gazed at tons of shooting stars, then crashed for the night.

Day 3

The next morning, the fishermen were gone early and we, with aches and sore muscles, took our time eating and getting out of there. Before we left, a ranger (btw, the absolutely cutest female ranger I have EVER seen) who was there cleaning up the fire rings gave us some good locations where we would avoid the motor boat fishers. So we headed off, for about a 5 mile paddle.

That day we went off the “beaten” path and went behind the islands parallel the main waterway. It was much nicer. No wakes and plenty of smooth water. We eventually discovered a completely empty campsite which sat about 20 above the water with a fantastic view of the lake. It was wide open, plenty of choice trees, fire ring on the rocks and a table.

I took a lake bath that evening, cleaning up good and after managing to get enough wood for a fire, threw a butternut squash wrapped in foil into the coals. After about 45 minutes, and plenty of turning, I had myself probably one of the best hiking meals I have ever had. I ate the whole thing with gusto (and a touch of butter and salt).

That night, with an amazing view of the lake, we watched the sun go down (something we had done every night as well) and had ourselves a super (and I mean insanely) quiet night. Not a single bug, cricket or frog. It was, odd, making my ears buzz. The only sound was the occasional loon call and answer. A rather creepy call when it’s totally silent.

We also attempted to fish off that rock. We had tried fishing all trip long, but were having no luck. Our bad luck continued here. I actually had two bites, but my friend Ben, had nothing but a lost lure.

That night we smoked our pipes and talked for hours before crashing.

Day 4

We plotted a trip that would allow us to go by as many campsites as possible, slowly working our way back to the ranger station. If all else failed, we would end up at the first campsite we had enjoyed lunch in the first day.

That morning, while Ben was still sleeping, and as I ate pancakes with real maple syrup on the rock, I heard the bald eagles crying. Already on this trip, we had seen many and learned their very unique calls. From the trees behind me I could hear one and I thought to myself, I really need to get my camera out.

Within a few moments, from across the bay, another bald eagle came gliding and I sat there entranced, watching it. As it flew over me, I realized I hadn’t made a single move for my camera. Woops.

This day would prove to be our longest day. Every single campsite was taken as we came up to them. On one, we arrived just as a large boat house full of college age kids, laughing loudly, rammed that huge boat right onto the beach and got it stuck in the sand. They cursed, then laughed, then someone jumped in the water. Spring Break, Hikers Edition. Sigh.

We paddled approximately 12 miles that day, taking an hour to eat lunch and rest a bit before finally making it back to that larger campsite, which was only inhabited by another duo, older men who had a kayak with a sail on it. SUPER COOL (I want one now). We had plenty of space and had ourselves a large meal, thinking of finishing our food, but found out that we were less hungry than we assumed.

That evening we got a great view of the sun coming down on the lakes.

I must point out that, after that first night of mosquito hell, I don’t think I saw a single one after that. Our nights on the lakes were bugless, cool and very comfortable. There were always an abundance of great tree locations and as I have since I purchased it, slept in amazing comfort in my hammock.

Also, while the motor boaters were loud and annoying, at about 5 o’clock, they all seemed to disappear, and our whole evenings were wonderfully quiet.

That evening, we were joined for a brief moment by a border patrol boat that was, get this, a JET BOAT. Yes, a boat that gets around on a jet. The rangers joked that it got less than a mile a gallon, but it could go upwards of 100 mph, useful I guess, if you really need to get somewhere on the lakes. It was flat bottomed, so I can see a small wave sending that boat flying. As they left, it sounded like a jet plane.

Day 5

That morning we were greeted by bald eagles calling on an island across from us and a wonderfully foggy morning on an absolutely crystal clear lake.

Since I had enjoyed my pancakes the morning before, I repeated that on my menu, adding in some bacon bits I had. Super good.
Our paddling trip was only 3 miles back to the ranger station. We were there by 10:30 that morning, unloaded, loaded up the canoe and headed back to his house in New Ulm, MN, where Id spend a few days before heading back home. We smelled awful, were tired, but had a great long talk all the way to his home covering politics, science (were made out of carbon), arguing, family, God and who knows what else.

All Done

I spent a couple of great days with him and his family, introduced them to Carolina BBQ, hushpuppies and homemade onion rings as well as other of my cooking skills. We played games, watched movies, talked a ton and had a great time.

Regardless, I was quite homesick for my Carolina. The last leg of the trip from Cincinnati to Greensboro, I was one of 7 people in a 34 person plane. That part was nice. My rental car (thanks to my wife) was waiting for me at the airport. I drove home and joined my fam for a night out at some southern restaurant.

My Thoughts.

Despite the setback of the first day, I think Ben was finally getting comfortable with the canoeing, the way it moved and rocked, by the last day. The motor boating was really a pain. Having to constantly change course in order to deal with the many wakes was troublesome, although, thankfully, never dangerous. If there is a next time, Ben suggested the Boundary Waters outside of the park, where motorboats of any kind of completely illegal.
Fishing, which was something we really wanted to try (and eat), turned out badly. Maybe the Boundary Waters, where we wouldn’t have to worry about wakes, will allow us to fish from the canoe with more confidence.

Otherwise, this was a great trip. I saw my first bear, saw more bald eagles than I had ever seen before, plenty of loons, turtles, beavers, otters and those pesky squirrels. Remember those? In each campsite, there was one. He would sit on high branches, scream at us, then circle back around the camp, and scream at us from somewhere else. He would also peel apart pine cones and eat the seeds, throwing the cone peels in a nice pile under whatever tree.
The nights were clear, the Milky Way visible every single night, with plenty of shooting stars, some quite dramatic. Many hours were spent talking about so many things with my good friend. Some new muscles were broken in and thankfully, Ben’s back was not broken in the end.
Who knows what we will do next year? Ive suggested the Redwoods in CA.