Monday, February 20, 2012

Running Buddy: Nick

I'm digging for rocks on the left
(which makes sense because that's generally a job I end up with).
Saturday I went to Bend of Ivy where Andrea and Tim have recently taken up residence and responsibilities. Andrea will start farming come spring, and she put a call out for help in building the hoop house where she’ll start all the plants that will grow, green, and nourish us all summer.
We used these drills to make tables where all the seedlings will get their start in this world.

The whole construction project came together so much easier this time around. This was the second time I helped put it together, and I think the experience of the first time made this assembly so much smoother, plus there was slightly less of a perfectionist approach.
A goodbye hug.
On my way home that afternoon I drove along Bailey Rd. As I passed by a church a runner was stretching beside his Jeep. Being gregarious and always on the prowl for running partners in Mars Hill, I turned around at the next available driveway and returned to the parking lot where I’d seen him. He was in his car by then and I thought I had missed my opportunity to talk up a new friend. I turned around to leave, and noticed his window down. I pulled in front of him, blocking his exit, rolled down my window and started a chat to see if he would be interesting in running together sometime.

He said he runs kind of slow – at an 8 minute pace – which made me wonder if he would feel comfortable at a 10 minute pace. I suggested that we try it once and see how it goes. He sent me a text and over the next couple hours we decided on a 9 a.m. run on Monday.

This morning I returned to the church parking lot where I met him a few days earlier; I was early so I got to take advantage of the time to stretch (which I really should do more of before runs anyway).

His footfall was heavy. I could imagine hearing the cartilage of his knees vibrating in the aftershock of the thuds as we started our run.

We couldn’t be more different and yet I think we seemed fairly well paired for the running. Ten years my junior Nick is just starting his law enforcement career, after lots of other employment – the military, car dealership, door-to-door insurance salesmen (who knew that job still exists!). He works in the Madison County Sherriff’s Office and is applying to join the ranks of the N.C. State Troopers. He 4-wheels his Jeep to remote areas of Forest Service roads. I walk to them.

We kept a brisk pace that was likely faster than a 10-minute mile for a three-mile loop on Bailey and Bruce roads. We carried on pleasant conversation and may well make good running buddies. I could at the very least use the sustained motivation of Monday morning runs with someone to hold me accountable.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Art Loeb Trail, part three

After breakfast on Sunday, we commenced with striking camp and stuffing our packs.

As I worked I noticed that unlike typical cold days when you exhale and watch the “smoke” float away; I exhaled and the air was so dense that my breath just hung in the air at my face, very slowly dissipating.

We tried to work in lockstep with our packing so we would be ready to leave at the same time so that neither of us would have to stand idle in the cold. At one point Marcus clutched his hands, put them between his thighs and said that his hands were so cold that he was going to cry. I’m no expert when it comes to men, but I do know that men never, ever confess they’re about to cry unless something is seriously wrong. Alarm bells were ringing for me now, so I jump to action. I offered Marcus my mitts to wear. He wouldn’t accept them no matter how much insistence I added as I shook them at him. I hadn’t even been using them and didn’t feel the need to, so it was beyond my belief why he wouldn’t take them.

At 7:45 we were ready to hike. When we reached the little forest road before Rich Mountain Marcus was still suffering from the pain of cold hands and cold feet. He described them as footballs. They ached. I offered my mitts again. This time he took them. We easily popped up and over Rich Mountain. By the time we descended to Gloucester Gap I had started asking questions about how much water Marcus drank the day before. He basically drank one liter for the ten-miles we walked on Saturday, and used a half liter to three-quarters of a liter the night before, largely to prepare dinner. Comparatively, I drank at least 2.5 liters for the hike on Saturday and drank most of another liter after we arrived at camp and throughout the night.

At Gloucester Gap I insisted that he drink water, but he argued that he was too cold to drink cold water. He said he just wanted to get to the shelter at Deep Gap and make a hot drink. I said I wasn’t going to move until he drank water. He still resisted. I told him to at least eat something, and knowing that he wouldn’t want to stop to eat any of his food, I gave him one of my bars. He ate it and said later I tricked him into drinking water by giving him such a dry bar. Nevertheless, the fuel and water did start to improve his condition. (I suspect he was approaching hypothermia, as dehydration will advance its onset.) As he realized he was feeling better he continued to drink his water as we climbed the steep tread of Pilot Mountain. His hands and feet started to regain feeling, too.

When we were at Gloucester Gap, I offered for the second time that day to bag the trip due to cold. I felt like I’d rather be smart than driven by ego or macho expectation to complete the trail we started. It’s also part of assessing the safety of any situation, like having an “emergency exit” when driving. Marcus declined turning back the two times I mentioned it.

We moved slowly as we progressed up Pilot. I knew it was a difficult climb. Andy had warned me. The guidebooks said the switchbacks get progressively steeper and shorter the closer you get to the top. They got shorter and steeper and I thought we had topped out. We dropped briefly in elevation and I thought we had reached Deep Gap (turns out we weren’t there yet). Marcus and I spent a little time scouting the gap for the shelter and spring here but never found either. We sat to eat an early lunch at 11:30. By noon we reassessed our situation. Marcus had no water. I was really low. The hikers the day before didn’t reliably tell us there was water at Deep Gap or farther north, and we started to question the reliability of water sources in the Shining Rock Wilderness. The kicker was that we had only traveled at a pace of one-mile-an-hour or less to our current location; yesterday we had traveled at a two-mile per hour pace. We weren’t making good time and there was no telling if that trend would persist as we muscled up toward the Parkway and the more remote sections of the trail. It felt sketchy to proceed. This time Marcus proposed returning the way we came. The decision was a double-edged sword. We would travel farther in the reverse direction to get water we were assured of than water ahead of us that we weren’t sure about. It would mean we wouldn’t get to hike the remainder of the Art Loeb on this trip which was disappointing to both of us. It also created a scenario where we weren’t hiking to a car but would have to rely on a hitch out of the trailhead at 276. We were also turning around a smidge beyond mid-way, so we would actually hike a mile further to return the way we came. Ultimately though, the decision took into consideration Marcus’ dehydration, and the safety of proceeding on the trip for both of us. This, we both felt good about.

We reversed course. Pilot Mountain. Gloucester Gap. Rich Mountain. Our camp spot. Chestnut Mountain. We arrived at Butter Gap Shelter around 3:30. We refreshed empty water bottles. We cooked hot food. We drank lots of hot liquids. It was really windy at the shelter, even on Sunday once the wind advisory had passed. The day was still as bitterly cold as the day before. After an hour we felt we had sufficiently refueled, we continued south on the trail at about a mile to the water source and campsite we recalled seeing the previous day.

We set up camp as night fell. We were close enough to the creek that it was more moist terrain. Moisture makes you colder. The highly impacted campsite was barren, so there was little insulation between our mats and the cold hard ground. Nevertheless, we were grateful that it wasn’t as windy as the night before. I had a more difficult time regulating my comfort in two sleeping bags throughout Sunday night. Most assuredly one wouldn’t have been enough, but two was almost too much. My sleep was a bit more restless than the colder previous night, but I still managed to sleep a good bit. When you go to bed with the sun and wake with it, especially in the winter, your apt to get lots of hours of rest.

Over breakfast I drank two cups of trail coffee, Starbuck’s VIA. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to decent coffee on the trail, and I’ve tried everything – seriously, everything! I’ve tried Folgers singles coffee bags, but they’re too weak. I’ve done the obligatory tests of standard freeze-dried coffees that don’t even taste like coffee. When I thru-hiked the A.T. I mixed ground espresso beans, hot cocoa powder and water in a small peanut butter jar with a lid so I could shake it to create a cold mocha-java thing; it was pretty good but it’s not hot. I don’t care to pack out the grounds to do a sit-on-top drip coffee or a French press, and my LNT ethics won’t let me bury them, so those options are off the table.

There’s just something sophisticated about a cup of hot coffee on the Trail – a good cup of hot coffee. A cup of hot tea is equally sophisticated, for that matter. My hiking buddy Morph is so routine with his morning Starbuck’s VIA – in his preparation of the cup, to the stir, and the tap of the spoon on the rim of his plastic travel cup before he takes his first sip. When we hiked the A.T. together he drank a cup of Stash Chai tea every night after dinner; the smell of that particular brand of Chai tea still brings me back to my trail memories.

The same year I hiked the A.T. there was a woman named Sheep Stuff who hiked, too. Wherever she was at 4 p.m. every day, she stopped to prepare a cup of tea. How sophisticated is that? I love the idea that nothing is as important as stopping to honor break time, teatime. It seems like a communion of sorts. Even though hiking seems like a relaxed and enjoyable activity, long distance backpacking can be hard work. It’s sweet to think that we can take a break from anything, enjoyable or challenging, to honor the quiet space of sitting.

These were the kinds of things we were talking about over breakfast at camp on Monday morning. I jokingly suggested that if we really want to hitch a ride when we get to 276 that we’ll take the sophisticated approach by pulling up to the wayside, getting out our camp stoves and making coffee. When someone approaches to ask what we’re up to we can simply invite him/her for a cup of coffee and ease our way into a ride home.

The laughter and stories over breakfast strung on late into the dawn as we avoided the inevitable of packing the warmth of our sleeping bags and deconstructing our temporary homes.

By 8:30 we had done the inevitable and were on our way toward Sandy Gap. Catpen Gap. Chestnut Knob. Stoney Knob. Neil Gap where we ate an early lunch. Past the junction with FS 5002 that I led us astray down on Saturday. Past the views of Brevard that you miss when you’re climbing the ridge instead of descending it. We walked right down to the Davidson River, and crossed the red bridge at 12:45, a minute after a man and his dog. Marcus and I had an unspoken agreement to hasten our pace to catch this man and ask for a ride to town. When we got to the wayside, the man had just put his dog in his car.

I greeted him “Good Morning”
“Good Morning”
“Could you give us a ride to town?”

He said he would but his dog is nippy. I quickly rescinded our interest in a ride due to the dog, and he suggested that he would go drop his dog at home, then come back and pick us up. He actually drove us the entire way back to Asheville. We had a great time talking to him, Lee Griffin, about music, hiking, technology, and growth in WNC, among other things. I tried to give him money at the end of our ride. He wouldn’t accept it. Instead he gave us an awesome CD of his music. It’s this kind of thing that reinstates your belief in humanity while you hike. Kindness of strangers. He went out of his way to help us, and that’s really precious.

It was a super satisfying backpacking trip. We didn’t reach our intended destination, but I enjoyed the hell out of being outside, surviving the elements, getting a bit of sun, and hustling through the woods with nothing but a pack on my back. I’m already ready to plan my next Art Loeb Trail hike. Soon. Soon.
Until next time, hikers!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Art Loeb Trail, part two

After my video documentary Marcus and I hiked together for a while talking about technology on trail. It seems like smart phones are becoming the norm for hikers to carry, and in a way it makes complete sense. You can have one tool that performs multiple actions – pictures, videos, audio memos, journaling, books for reading and reference, plus tools that make them really advanced – phone, email, and GPS. These latter tools can run in conflict to “getting away from it all” or creating a false sense of security in a wilderness environment.

We were having such a good time talking that when we reached a trail junction that we completely missed a turn. Oops! Almost three miles into the hike and we were suffering from disorientation for a second time. In fact, during this hike off our course, we probably added another half mile or so to our hike. This was my error. We turned right at the junction, as the sign indicated, but overlooked a subtle turn of the trail left up the slope on the opposite side of the road. Instead we looked straight ahead gabbing until we reached a second junction. This gave us pause, but Marcus couldn’t convince me that I’d led us astray. I thought we should continue further to see if evidence was presented to reinforce my hunch that we were on the right track. We walked further off course. During that time we walked through a whole heap of silver grass.
Silver Grass on our side trip. 

Under his constant nudging for me to pay attention to the facts he presented, I conceded that we must have missed a turn, somehow. What a rookie mistake. I didn’t want that to be true, but it was. We retraced our steps and found the trail leading up the ridge, just as it’s described in the guidebook. Rather than immediately jump on the trail, we ate lunch in the sun around the corner. After lunch I refilled my water bottle in a cold creek and we continued north.

Doh! This was the turn we missed. We went right (where my pole is pointing.) The trail goes up to the left.
Steadily we climbed the narrow trail through rhododendron to a saddle and another seeming intersection of unmarked trails. This time someone before us laid out big sticks in the shape of an arrow, pointing our way. I remarked aloud that we sure could have used such a clear symbol at the last intersection. We continued up to Stoney Knob, down to cross a forest service road, then up again to Chestnut Knob (the first of two mountains named after the tree that we’d cross today).

During our hike the weather showed its fickle nature. We would walk under bright, blue sunny skies, then a short while later clouds would force their way back and light flakes of snow would coast diagonally in the wind. The constant with both the sun and the clouds was the wind that increased with intensity as the day wore on.

As we descended toward Catpen Gap Marcus wanted to stop for a snack, but I was cold so I suggested that he eat something on the move. He only had food that he could sit and eat, like cheese, crackers, beef jerky, and almonds. I was carrying a lot of energy bars that make eating on the go much easier. I acquiesced for a break but insisted that we’d better stop where the foliage was thick to try and block as much wind from reaching us as possible. We hunkered there, on the trail. He sat atop a step, worn deep from water flowing fast down the trail, and I hunched in the trench that was the trail itself.

Refueled and energized we figuratively skipped down the trail, reaching Sandy Gap and the base of the impressive Cedar Rock Mountain just before 2 p.m. The trail stays close to the large slab of sloping rock as it traverses through the dry gap, and I wondered how many of the dry creek beds run wet in the summer because they were empty now despite the frequent winter rains we’ve had. There are several nice little campsites in this area that would be great to stay at if water more readily available.

Up and over a little rise, we dropped again in the shadow of Cedar Rock and encountered a creek. I was nearly out of water, so I filled up 1.5 liters of my 2.5-liter capacity. Marcus had just finished drinking a liter of water so he replaced it. Beyond our water stop there was a heavily used campsite that we hurried past on our way north. Over the next mile we passed over a number of sweet creeks before reaching Butter Gap Shelter.

At the shelter a group of four hikers and a dog from Asheville and two other guys in camo were there. They had a fire going and it looked super inviting. I could tell by Marcus’s body language that he had no interest in staying to visit; he didn’t take off his pack. As the extravert in our party, I’d jettisoned my pack upon arrival and immediately invited myself to warm up around the fire. I gathered information. The Ashevillians were just out for the night, hiking out tomorrow the way they arrived. It looked like they were there to have a good time and party in the woods. The two guys in camo were decidedly the quiet type. We learned they had been dropped off at the top of 215 near the parkway and planned to walk out to 276 the following day. We asked them about water ahead since they had come from where we’re going; they had nothing to report.

At this point in my hiking day, I wanted know what my goal was for reaching a place to set up camp. I grabbed the map and identified a relatively flat area just north of Chestnut Knob before Rich Mountain. I pointed it out to Marcus and we decided that we could make the 2 or 2.5 miles there before sunset. Before we left I drank another half liter of water, refilled it, and collected another liter of water, so that I carried my full capacity toward what I expected to be a dry camp.

Looking toward Cedar Rock on the climb over Chestnut Mountain.
Hiking Chestnut Mountain was challenging. It would have been challenging even at the start of the day, but it was the end of the day. Along the ridge there are awesome views east of Looking Glass Rock and south of Cedar Rock. I stopped to look around a lot. I stopped Marcus for this picture. Our hand symbols indicate we’re going over the second (2) Chestnut (C) of the day.

As we start descending Chestnut Mountain the wind picked up with increased severity. I hadn’t taken my rain jacket off since mid-morning and I was wearing gloves under my mitts. We knew that the wind would pick up as the sun set. We also knew that the temperatures would drop significantly once the sun disappeared behind the mountains. We were on high alert for a level place to camp, with enough surrounding trees to buffer the wind, and some place lower than other slopes. I idealistically hoped to find something out of the wind completely. We passed several descent places. None of them felt right to Marcus.

We descended further toward a gap just before Rich Mountain. There was a road there, and we knew we needed to camp before the road. As the terrain started to undulate, as if climbing, we stalled. The brush was fairly heavy in this area and the prospects for finding a place to pitch two tents looked bleak. We continued. The sun crept closer to escaping from the day. I point out a place that might work, near an identifiable downed tree, where the brush is lighter. We made a mental note of it and advance north on the trail a few hundred feet, but finding nothing ahead we returned to investigate the tiny enclave of slender deciduous trees and a few rhododendron. We decide to make it work. Marcus literally set up his tent in the narrowest spot between two trees. I set my tent up beside a tree, and conveniently my door faced Marcus’ tent because we would be here for a little while.

Marcus wedged between trees cooking breakfast on his porch.
As I set up my tent, I noted the prevailing wind coming from the north hitting my tent where my feet will be positioned. I fluffed up some of the leaves surrounding my tent to span the distance from the bottom of my rain fly to the ground; any extra buffer from the wind would benefit my night’s rest. The thick layer of leaves and duff of our campsite added extra insulation between us and hard topsoil. We actually chose a campsite that met most all of our requirements.

By nightfall, I was inside my two sleeping bags. I nested my synthetic bag inside my down bag so that the down wouldn’t be compressed and less effective. I had brought dry sleeping clothes, but my hiking clothes were relatively dry, too. I couldn’t fathom facing the cold to change out of my hiking clothes into my sleeping clothes; plus, a change tonight would mean a mandatory change in the morning and there was no telling what my tolerance for cold would be in the morning. I added my sleeping clothes on top of my hiking clothes. I wore two shirts, one fleece, my down jacket, long john bottoms, fleece pants, two pair of socks, something to cover my ears and a touché. I was still cold with the wind and my door open to begin cooking dinner off to the side of my tent, but it was manageable.

Marcus and I each had compressed gas cooking systems. The cold made it difficult for them to work, so it took longer to prepare dinner. Before I even started on food, I heated water for a cup of hot ginger tea. Then I started to cook dinner. Unfortunately, in all my shifting around, I lost one of my packets of macaroni and cheese packets. It slipped off the slippery surface of my sleeping bag and completely disappeared. When my water was ready I could only find one packet and my tuna. Panic set it and I freaked out a little bit because I knew I had brought two, but also because I knew that the more I could fuel my body the more calories I would have to burn through the night. Marcus witnessed my freak out but didn’t offer much encouragement toward finding my lost packet or offering me any of the gigantic box of Annie’s Mac & Cheese he had for dinner. I essentially ate 1/5 of the serving he had for dinner. I stowed a snack bar in my jacket pocket so it would be easy to find in the night if I needed it. Eventually as I layed down to sleep I found the missing packet of mac &; cheese that I had lost, but it was too late to cook it. I decided I could eat it the next day. I was beginning to feel I didn’t pack enough food for the weather and my appetite.

The up side of not finding my second packet of mac and cheese is that I drank the hot water unused for food in several more cups of hot tea.

By 6:30 p.m. we were finished eating and zipped in our respective sleeping bags. My toes were cold for just a little while. The situation seemed tense because of the cold and so I had trouble relaxing into sleep. I mulled my worry over having enough food, freezing to death, and how long I could wait before getting up to pee. My active mind jumped around with concern, and finally I gave in to entertain the fear the only way I know how – I said to myself “well, if I die out here, freeze to death or whatever, at least I’ve died doing something I love.” I topped it off with “plus, I’ve had a great life.” And with that, fear recessed and calm reigned as my body finished warming up the two sleeping bags and the double-wall tent. Soon, I slept.

I slept solidly through the night though the winds howled, the trees swayed, and branches fell. I was aware of all these things, as you are when you sleep anywhere new, and I was trying to stay aware enough not to instinctually burrow my head in my sleeping bags. I tried to keep my face pointed out the cinched hole of the sleeping bag since burrowing would put a lot of excess moisture in them making them wet and less effective. I was also sensitive to the fact that I had two water bottles and my stove fuel in my sleeping bags with me. One water bottle had a solid plastic construction. The other was a soft-shelled plastic platypus and I was afraid if I inadvertently rolled on it, I could puncture it.

At a certain point near dawn the winds calmed.

When Marcus got up at 6:30 I lobbied for us to rise and start packing to go. He was too cold after his bathroom break and wanted to get back in his sleeping bag. I understood that. When I fell asleep again I was so heavily consumed in dreams that I got too hot in my bags. I had monitored this situation throughout the night, modifying my system by unzipping or replacing layers as needed. This time, obliviously, I sweated into my clothes. Luckily, it wasn’t too much.

At 7 with the first light of the day conversation started between our tents. Marcus really wanted a hot breakfast before embarking on our hike for the day, and since he brought oatmeal for that purpose it made perfect sense. On the other hand, I only had cold food – bars – so there wasn’t really a reason for me to cook. I ate my energy bar and decided to open my door so we could at least talk face-to-face.

I opened the rain fly and door to my ice palace. The vapor from my exhalations throughout the night had come to rest on the mesh and the interior of the rain fly in fine, shimmering crystals. It was pretty in there.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Art Loeb Trail, part one

(Since it's easiest to eat an elephant one bite at a time, I'm taking the serial approach to telling my story of my recent hike on the Art Loeb Trail. I hope you'll stick around.)

Asheville has been unseasonably warm this year, with temperatures averaging 50s and 60s as daytime highs. I’ve been running a lot, but haven’t been backpacking as much as I’d like. A few weeks ago after an inspirational discussion with Sylvia about following passions, I returned home and contacted three people that I knew would have interest in backpacking – Viking, Marcus, and Sourdough. I made arrangements with all three to plan some upcoming trips.

Within a week Marcus called and said that he would soon have a couple days free from building his tiny house (from scratch!) while the blown insulation cured and off gassed. On Tuesday we decided to take a three-day, two-night hike on the nearby Art Loeb Trail. We decided this (as I decide on many of my trips) with impulse rather than research. I felt certain it could be done in 3 days but wasn’t quite sure of the mileage until I talked with Andy about it a few days later. Andy had hiked it last year in five days with four feet of snow over MLK weekend, and he assured me the 27-mile trail could easily be tackled in three days.

Thursday Marcus and I discussed arrangements to drop my car off at the northern terminus of the Art Loeb Trail at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp. Friday as we returned from leaving my car there we talked about the cold weather now forecast for our weekend of travel, the merits of each packing two sleeping bags, and whether to bring micro-spikes for our shoes.

I awoke to snow in Asheville on Saturday morning and a text from my friend Jay who was going to take us to the trailhead in Brevard. He was waiting for me and Marcus at Greenlife where we’d get stocked with coffee and muffins before the hike. I believe hikes should be punctuated with caffeine and sugar, and I’ve always liked the way Spanish adds exclamation marks to the beginning of sentences.

As we drove south the snow-cloud skies cleared and the sun began to shine. As I pointed this out to the guys I think I did a little dance in the seat of Jay’s Matrix. My enthusiasm for the weather to cooperate wasn’t dampened by the fact that earlier that morning I had checked the weather to learn that a Winter Weather Advisory had been issued for high winds and single-digit temperatures in the mountains. After all, the sun was shining! 

Marcus, Jay, me along 276
At the 276 wayside near the bridge over the Davidson River Jay’s Matrix idled while we borrowed a bit of duck tape. Marcus fiddled with his hiking poles, and I put on my gaiters. Gaiters are practical piece of hiking gear for keeping snow or debris out of your shoes, but I also think knee-high gaiters are kind of cute. It’s difficult to explain how I strive to be a sensible fashionista even on trail, but it relates to how looking good and feeling good are interconnected. I don’t think of it much once I leave a trailhead and embark on the journey; one’s relative distance from a mirror does impact one’s concern for appearances. The style of it doesn’t matter within a day, when my hair is matted and my nose is running constantly in the cold and it's red from being wiped by a bandana, but the gaiters would keep my legs a bit warmer on this winter hike. We thanked Jay for his generosity in driving us all this way to the trailhead. He wouldn’t even accept our contribution for gas!

We crossed the footbridge and turned right, heading toward the Davidson River Campground. We turned around when we got there and retraced our steps to the footbridge where the sign on the left side of the bridge clearly indicated the Art Loeb Trail. We had overlooked this in a flurry of talking and in the haste to warm our bodies in the chilling air. The wide, compact trail by the river led to a small wooden footbridge and a junction where the Art Loeb Trail begins its ascent of the ridge. We snapped a couple photos here. This felt like the start of our adventure.

As we climbed the ridge I never once begrudged my load. It was cold and I knew that I’d rather carry a bit of extra weight than suffer the misery of feeling frozen. I replayed in my head my familiarity with backpacking in the cold. I’ve hiked in the cold and snow throughout the Southern Appalachians, in Utah, on the PCT, and in British Columbia. As long as I’m prepared with adequate gear, I know temporary bouts of discomfort in the cold will be rewarded with spectacular views, the feeling of freedom, the spaciousness of breathing deeply in this world, and the physical and psychological “reset button” I compress when I just carry myself and what I need with me. I escape a fast-paced world to move quietly, under my own effort.

I replayed in my head important details for survival in cold temperatures. Drink plenty of water. It improves your circulation and helps you feel warmer. Remove layers as you warm up so you don’t soak all your clothes with sweat because as it evaporates you will be cold. If you’re cold in your sleeping bag at night, try eating something or doing some sit-ups to warm your insulated space by burning calories (your own or the food you consume). I recalled the symptoms of hypothermia, as much as I could remember, from my own experience (I think I’ve experienced mild hypothermia before), from stories I’ve heard from others, and from my Wilderness First Aid training of last year.

Getting out to explore new places is fun. Sometimes it gets easy to become complacent with where we hike because logistics are easier the more familiar we are with it (for me, returning to hike on the A.T. is always easy logistically). New places mean new or adjusted expectations; trails may not be as ardently maintained, signed or blazed as I’m accustomed. Water source reliability can be hard to assure. Extreme weather conditions, especially when they arrive suddenly, also create a sense of the heightened awareness to their potential dangers. With all the unknown elements of any adventure, I sometimes have to remind myself that I have the skills, knowledge and experience to excel and enjoy the experience ahead of me. That’s what this little video is about – trusting myself in the experience and welcoming the cold. It is as much a journal entry for me (since I forgot my to pack my journal in my thorough efforts to pack for every other cold-weather necessity) as it is a contemplation to share with you.

Open Letter to Ingles about Produce Waste

Dear Ingles: 

I'm writing to express disappointment in the amount of waste in your produce department, particularly in Mars Hill. I have several observations about my shopping experiences at that particular store. I hope this constructive criticism can help improve your service, reduce waste, and lead to improved pricing.

1. Last summer you were touting local lettuce with ASAP "get to know your grower" information posted with it. This lettuce wasn't stocked with other lettuce in the cooler area, which would have preserved it. Instead it was displayed (for more attention-getting, marketing purposes) up front in a stand-alone display - presented prettily at first. But it quickly wilts, resulting in undesirable lettuce, fewer sales (in this case for the local grower) and gives the grower a bad reputation by displaying a wilted produce. The long term result is a negative impact for local growers.

2. In my observation Mars Hill probably doesn’t sell as much local organic greens as some of your other stores (if you’re ordering the same quantity), or you’re simply over-ordering to fill the available space. If the latter is the case, that’s a shame. What I notice when I get to the area for organics is generally nothing but wilted, sad greens. When they look this way, I opt not to buy them. Can’t you just stock fewer greens and restock more frequently? I’m no supply-demand expert, but I do know that you’re setting a trend in which I don’t expect to ever get green produce from your store – in this case – leading to lost business. Your supply is actually driving down my demand.

When I was in the store yesterday I took a picture of such decrepit looking lettuce it had shrunk to half it’s original size (evidence by the original banded “packaging”) and was beginning to rot on the shelf.  

I did pick up a wilted bunch of chard to buy last night. I got to the register and it rang up at nearly $4 for the bunch. I asked her to remove it from my bill and I left it to wilt and rot more with the rest of the produce on your shelves. Will you at least consider half-pricing your produce when it begins to wilt – but before it rots?

3. Where did the organic sweet potatoes go?
Have you seen this video?

 4. Can you please be sure every item is appropriately signed and priced accurately near the item you're selling. Often it's difficult to see what the price is for the item I'm considering purchasing.

5. Why aren't all the herbs displayed together (plastic-packaged and bundled)? It's so hard to identify where they are when one goes looking for something specific. In this case, it would make sense for organic herbs to be displayed with non-organic since generally when you're cooking you need that item regardless of whether it's been sprayed with toxins (in my experience).

Thanks for your consideration and attention to reducing waste and improving quality. 


Friday, February 10, 2012

Moving Forward

I’ve been remiss in blogging in February. I’ve thought of a number of posts, but didn’t act on the impulse immediately for one reason or another. As time wore on I’ve focused more on the stories I haven’t written rather than the stories of today.

Today, as I anticipate an amazing and cold backpacking trip over the coming days, I look forward to posting a little trip report and pictures with it when I return.This means I must leave untold stories behind.

In looking forward, I release all that I haven’t written.

I do this in taking to heart what I recently read in my bathroom book Seven Steps on the Writer's Path. I need to let go, step five. In focusing on all the things I haven’t written, I’m blocking what it is that’s most interesting about today, this moment.

“But there’s no guarantee to this step [letting go]; there are no rules; there’s nothing to predict or to anticipate. There’s only the possibility that if you can experience the peace of fully letting go, you may receive the gift of what you need the most."-- Pickard and Lott from Seven Steps on the Writer's Path

In this case, releasing the stories I haven’t shared is also a way of forgiving myself for not blogging more.

So, here are the stories you won’t read here.

You won’t read how I found myself nostalgic for Charleston during my last visit. I found myself appreciating the hidden gardens behind gates and walls, clues about them dropped at my feet like camellia flowers. Then I remembered that visiting Charleston is so much more rewarding than living there.

The romantic notions of the architecture, horse drawn carriages, and history feel easier to appreciate when its not presented daily on the back of institutionalized racism, classism, old boy networks, and consumerist snobbery. The foundation of this city still exists, yes, but the fresh eyes I arrive with on my travel often clouds my vision – at least for the duration of my stay. 

I wonder what this church did to end up behind bars.

I also didn’t write about how incredibly difficult my race was on Folly Beach last weekend. I could have written a lengthy dissertation on the difficulties I faced. I could have mulled over my complications – dehydration, flat land, frequently revisiting the same terrain on the course, or two weeks without proper training due to a cold. I might have even publicly questioned why on earth I think I want to run a marathon, which was one of the precise things I asked myself as I ran. I also weighed the ethics of cutting through side streets to reach the finish line sooner to more quickly put an end to my pain.

I wanted to write about my first experience of going to the Story Slam at Magnetic Field. I felt inspired to write my own stories on their theme of 3 Little Words, Declarations of Love. I wanted to share what it felt like to be there, which stories appealed to me the most, and how inspired I felt afterward to let my stories take the stage during a future event.

Another story you won’t read:
I wandered into Downtown Books and News last Thursday, after happy hour with my ATC buddies and buying a beautiful handmade vintage dress at Vintage Moon (now temporarily closed). I have a theory about Downtown Books & News that sounds hokey to me even as I confess it, but I always find what I need when I go in there. I don’t go in with a mission to find something specific, generally, but I just know the right things will present themselves. 

During this visit I bought:
  • The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book (recommended to me ages ago by my last boss, and I’ve been looking for it ever since)  
  • Mary Oliver’s Rules for the Dance (as much for the title as for the tips on writing poetry),
  • the All New Square Foot Gardening book,
  • The Great Divide about walking the Continental Divide, and
  • Circling the Sacred Mountain: A Spiritual Adventure Through the Himalayas, 
This last one’s complete with notes and contemplations from the previous owner on stickies. I like to think that as I read it, it will be a bit like having a virtual book club conversation with the person who last held it. “Really, I found this part more interesting…”


Monday, February 6, 2012

Grapefruit, or What I Didn't Know

Growing up I ate grapefruit the way I was taught. I sliced it in half, through the central axis, creating a fruit face that displayed pie segments of bitter, light flesh or sweet, pink pearlesence. I would use a knife to cut along the edge of the pie-shaped wedges, along the membrane and the pith, then I would use my spoon to scoop the sliver out of its cell and deposit the morsel to my mouth. After all the pieces were eaten and the membranes and hull remain, I would pick up the fruit in my palm and squeeze it so the juices that ran out were caught by my spoon. In this way, spoonful by spoonful, I would slowly sip the remaining enjoyment from this citrus. With this approach, eating half a grapefruit is a commitment of time and energy. By the time you finish one half the fruit you decide you’re probably satisfied enough to put the other half away for a morning project on another day (because then grapefruit only occurred to me as a morning time food).

It wasn’t until I was 25 that I saw grapefruit in a different light. As I drove, I watched as a friend peeled away the skin of a grapefruit and divide it into segments. I had only ever seen this done with its sister fruit, the orange. My friend ate the grapefruit, and offered me a few slices, that we ate without the mess or the ritual of my previous and singularly known approach to grapefruit.

With this new way to eat it, I found that I had a fuller appreciation for the fruit. It became a viable snack. Eating it now was less about an intermittent morning ritual and more about enjoying a healthy, Vitamin C packed treat. I buy bags of grapefruit now, and peel and enjoy at work, in the park, on travel, and still for breakfast sometimes.

I didn’t realize I was missing this fruit in the first quarter of my life; I just didn’t have an appreciation for it. I didn’t know that I didn’t know how to better appreciate this slice of life. It’s these tiny discoveries – of learning what we didn’t even know we were missing – that can bring sweetness of into our daily existence.

Is there something you didn’t know you didn’t know that upon discovery has brought lightness to your days?