Arctic Circle

Monday morning drive from Akureyri to Dalvik to catch the 9:00 o’clock ferry to the island of Grimsey; the only place in Iceland that extends into the Arctic Circle.

Rough 3-hour ferry ride, not ideal for anyone prone to sea sickness. There were several such people on board. Did not envy the young woman in charge of clean-up.

Grimsey is situated 40 km north of the mainland. The island is small – just five square kilometers – with a population of 70-80 people. Birds outnumber the people by about 10,000 to one.

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Seydisfjordur Iceland

According to the guidebook: “If you explore only one town in the Eastfjords, Seydisfjordur should be it. Made up of multi-colored wooden houses and surrounded by snowcapped mountains and cascading waterfalls.”

On this day the surroundings were obscured by dense fog and the town was swarming with tourists. A nice side-trip nonetheless.

Canyoneering Karma

Be sure to check out and join our meetup group at:

Canyoneering Karma

La Canada Flintridge, CA
3,605 Canyoneers

Welcome to the Canyoneering Karma Meetup GroupOur group exists to serve; to help you learn, practice and hone technical canyoneering skills; to meet other canyoneers; and of …

Check out this Meetup Group →

Our group exists to serve; to help you learn, practice and hone technical canyoneering skills; to meet other canyoneers; and of course to have fun exploring canyons.

Canyoneering Karma is hosted by:

• Canyon Adventures, Los Angeles CA — www.canyonadventures.org

• Canyons & Crags, Cedar City UT — www.canyonsandcrags.com

This group is open to everyone, whether or not you have received any formal training, and regardless of where you may have received it. Ours is a big tent. We believe that bringing people together is good for the sport. It brings people into the community; encourages sharing of ideas, information and techniques; and improves safety and ethics.

Respect

“OMG! Can you believe that guy? He almost ran right into me!”

Actually, I couldn’t believe the woman who said that. I was stuck behind her group of around ten people, who were descending this section of trail three abreast. It would have been a simple matter for her to step aside and let the man pass, but she obviously felt he was the one who should yield to her. She even mumbled something about paying big money for this trek and expected the porters to show more respect to customers.

It was none of my business, but that minor detail didn’t stop me from ….

“First of all, lady, it is common protocol when hiking, backpacking or trekking for those going down to give way to those going up.”

“But even if you are not aware of that protocol, there is a matter of simple human decency and courtesy. That man is twice your age, carrying at least five times more weight than you, bent over so he couldn’t even see you.”

“And it is you who should be showing more respect to him and others like him. You are a guest in their country.”

 

Nepali porters are quite amazing. Small in stature with spindly legs, moving up and down the mountains carrying incredible loads, often equal to the loads being carried by burros and yaks on the same trails. Much of what they carry on the trekking routes are convenience goods that foreign trekkers expect to find along the way. That includes heavy cases of bottled water, juice, soft drinks, beer and hard spirits. There are no roads. Anything you see along the way was carried on the back of a man, burro or yak. I imagined that larger items and building materials would have been brought in by helicopter, until I witnessed porters carrying framing lumber, multiple sheets of 1/2 inch plywood, corrugated metal roofing panels, water and sewer pipe, and much more.

Of course they are also carrying gear for trekkers. A trekker need not carry any more than he needs for the day – clothing layers, water, snacks, camera. The balance of his gear is carried by porters or pack animals and will be waiting for him when he arrives at the tea house where he will spend the night.

I wondered how the math would work. One porter per trekker? But if a porter is carrying my backpack, how does he carry his own gear. No worries. It’s nothing to a porter to lash two backpacks together, then lash his own gear on top, carrying the gear of three people. And the fancy adjustable suspension systems and hip belts that add so much to the cost of a backpack are wasted. The porter is more likely to use a traditional Nepali system – supporting the load with a strap across his forehead.

That’s not my Sherpa; that’s my Tamang

That answer sounded odd coming out of my mouth when an Australian fellow I met in a tea house saw me with my guide, Sukram, and asked, “Is that your Sherpa?”

Nepal has a population of 26 million people made up of more than 40 different ethnic groups and tribes, including the Sherpas, Tamangs, Gurungs and others. When we think of the Himalayas we immediately think of Sherpas, but the term Sherpa applies to the ethic group; it is not a job title given to a person who carries gear for others. Job titles include: porter, trekking guide and climbing guide. You might find yourself with a porter, trekking guide or climbing guide who is Tamang or you might find yourself with a porter, trekking guide or climbing guide who is Sherpa.

I didn’t have a Sherpa. I had a trekking guide who is Tamang.

NOTE: Sukram appears in several of the photos carrying my black and green Osprey Exos 58 pack.

Dr Carlson?

It popped up on the kiosk when I was signing in for a flight from LAX to Hong Kong. DR CARLSON RICHAR. Somehow the D at the end of Richard and my middle initial – R – got moved to the front of the line. I brought it to the ticket agent’s attention, but she kinda blew it off.

I was also assured that my bags would be checked through all the way to Kathmandu. I wanted to double check when I landed in Hong Kong. When I explained I had a long layover in HK, then on to Kathmandu, I was told I needed to go to the transfers area to claim my bag, then drop it right back off again. But my two checked duffle bags didn’t arrive. When I went to customer service to inquire I was greeted with, “How are you today Dr. Carlson.” I should have just said, “I’m fine.” But instead I said, “I’m doing well, thank you, but I’m not a doctor.”

Can of worms now open.

I had plenty of time to burn today in the Hong Kong International Airport, but I really wasn’t expecting to spend a big part of it explaining that I am not really masquerading as a doctor. Ok, I’m exaggerating a little bit. The DR portion of the confusion was mostly humorous and only added 20-30 minutes to the hassle, at least directly. It did come up a couple more times as I was passed from person to person in search of my bags.

Never did see the bags, but I have been assured that they were located and should arrive in Kathmandu on my flight. Fingers crossed.

On to Nepal.

Canyon Rendezvous

The canyon rendezvous concept was started by the ACA in 2000. Here’s is a brief history.

Also just an excuse to wear my buckskins and show off my .50 caliber Hawken rifle. 🙂

Hong Kong to the Sierras to Baja

Some trips run like a well-oiled machine. Other trips … not so much.

Getting to Hong Kong for a 2-day Totem CRT Ultralight Rigging & Rescue training involved a 2.5-hour drive from home in Cedar City, Utah, to Las Vegas for a flight to San Francisco, then a connection to Hong Kong. Uneventful so far, except for that crazy woman on the flight into Hong Kong. I don’t understand much Chinese, but I knew she was cussing. There is a funny side of human nature on display between that time when the wheels touch the runway – “Please remain seated until we come to a complete stop” – and when it’s our turn to disembark – a couple hundred people in the aisle between us (row 42) and the exit, but she was climbing over people to get her bags out of the overhead compartment. Human nature is on display again as people press their shins up against the baggage carousel. They must know the very next bag coming down the chute will be theirs.

First night in Hong Kong was a long one. Long flight and jet lag. Dinner with students. Late to bed. Full day teaching. Dinner. Evening class. Repeat the next day. My third day in Hong Kong was a day off. Made plans to meet with a couple of my past students, but woke up feeling like a zombie. Spent most of the day sleeping.

Hong Kong to Beijing to Las Vegas. I’m getting spoiled with airport lounges. American Express Centurion, Priority Pass, United Club. Comfortable, wifi, good food, free drinks. Hard to imagine traveling without those perks. Unfortunately, the open-to-the-public-for-a-fee lounge in Beijing was just slightly better than spending six hours out in the terminal. There were other, more upscale lounges, but I wasn’t flying business class so I didn’t qualify.

Met my wife in Las Vegas and drove west toward the Sierras for some down-time camping and hiking. Then south to LA for a weekend of teaching at Stony Point. I had courses scheduled on two back-to-back weekends. We didn’t feel like driving seven hours back home, only to return a few days later. We could have spent those five days between courses hanging out around LA. Could have spent them in San Diego. Been there. Done that. Talked about taking a bus down to Ensenada where I had spent some time with my son years ago. But instead we decided to fly down to Cabo on the southern tip of Baja.

Spent our first night at the Hotel Tropicana in San Jose. I must have a nose for beer. It led us directly to the Baja Brewery. Drove from San Jose to Cabo San Lucas the next morning. Boat tour out to Lands End. Mandatory beach time. Bar hopping. Beautiful day. Then north to Todos Santos where we checked in at a cozy bed and breakfast called The Vibe.

The owner of the B&B asked if we planned to stay through Friday as we originally planned, considering the rain in the forecast. Not really sure why some rain would change our plans. Of course we planned to stay through Friday. The next day we started hearing news about Tropical Storm Lidia heading toward Baja. Shop keepers started boarding up windows and doors and we overheard people who wondered if the tropical storm would become a hurricane. Perhaps it was time we considered altering our plans after all.

Skies were still clear the next day. We stuck with our plan to drive to La Paz, but took every opportunity to attempt reaching the airline by phone. To no avail. When we found an opportunity to get online the airline’s website offered instructions on how to reschedule flights for anyone affected by the impending storm. We moved our reservation from Friday afternoon to Thursday morning, hoping to beat the storm. Unfortunately, when we woke up on Thursday we had messages telling us the Thursday morning flight was cancelled. The storm was already getting close to the airport in Los Cabos. It rained most of the day and overnight. Power and internet off and on all day. Off all night and into the morning.

The storm passed through Todos Santos overnight. Dark sky and the lack of power caused an eerie darkness. Looking out the front door it was difficult to make out the outline of houses just across the street. Without air conditioning it was an uncomfortable night. Strong winds rattled the doors and windows. Not much sleep and no way to make coffee in the morning.

Drove to Cabo San Lucas Friday morning, not certain when we would get a flight out, but we had no way to contact the airline. Perhaps best to go straight to the airport to talk with someone in person. We encountered much more rain between Todos Santos and Cabo. Arroyos that were bone dry on the drive up a couple days earlier were now raging with muddy water. Cars were half-buried from the flash floods and mud slides. Once in Cabo we learned that all roads leading to the airport were closed. Traffic was backed up for a couple miles.

Once we escaped the gridlock we stopped at the first hotel we encountered – Marina Fiesta Hotel. There was a chain and padlock on the gate. The guard wasn’t expecting any new guests at a time when everyone else was trying their best to leave.

We thought we had celebrated our last night in Baja on Wednesday. Then again on Thursday. Our Friday afternoon flight was cancelled a second time so we celebrated again Friday evening. Then received word from the airline that we wouldn’t be able to leave until Sunday. Celebrated our fourth last night in Baja on Saturday.

Sunday departure confirmed. Google Maps showed the road clear and anticipated a 35 minute drive. We left the hotel with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, Google Maps was clueless about which roads were open and which were closed. Hint: the open road was the one with the backed-up traffic. Made it on time, nonetheless. Witnessed much more devastation from the storm on our way to the airport. It was amazing how much progress was already made with the cleanup. People are resilient.

Second weekend of courses in LA was cancelled. Income lost. Travel expenses went over budget. But it’s only money. Compared to the disruption of lives caused by the storm, we experienced nothing more than a small inconvenience. There is so much to be grateful for in this life. The blessing count continues to rise.

 

Delano Peak

At 12,169 feet Delano Peak is the highest in the Tushar Range, the third highest range in the state of Utah.

Join Judy and me as we enjoy the magnificent views from the summit and encounter an unexpected bonus along the way.

Trekking Pole Mods

Turn your trekking pole into a selfie stick AND a monopod so you won’t lose any memories when hiking solo. These are the simple mods I made to one of my Black Diamond trekking poles for my 5-week backpacking adventure through sever southeastern states in January 2017.

StickPic

The StickPic is a simple yet ingenious tool that mounts on the end of a trekking pole and allows a solo hiker to capture memories on the trail. Uses standard 1/4 x 20 threads fir direct mounting of most compact cameras. Adapters are available that will allow use with smart phones and GoPro cameras as well.

Giottos Ball Head

The Giottos MH1004-320 Professional Mini Ball Head is the perfect accessory to add versatility to any tripod. Made from a lightweight aluminum alloy, this locking ball head makes adjusting your camera to nearly any position quick and easy. Installation on the trekking pole required drilling for a 1/4 x 20 threaded rod.

Zima in the Jug

The Jug is a short section of Salome Creek, an amazing oasis in the desert northeast of Phoenix. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when it was extremely rare to see anyone else in the Jug. There was no parking lot and no signs at the trail head. We had it all to ourselves.

Descending the canyon in the spring of 1994 with a writer and photographer from Outside Magazine, we were puzzled by the cheap black and orange hardware store rope we encountered dangling from the rim half-way through the canyon. There were no other vehicles parked along the road. Why would someone leave it hanging here?

Another hundred yards down the canyon I climbed up on a shelf on canyon left. In the side drainage below I saw a rather large man in his 20s sitting in front of a tent, drinking a bottle of Zima. There were several empty bottles laying beside him. I asked him about the rope and he confirmed it was his. He and two friends rappelled into the canyon on that rope the day before. He assured me that he had no concerns about the quality or strength of the rope. It said right on the label that it would hold 300 lbs. He was the heaviest in his group and only weighed 260.

I asked if he had any concerns about camping in the canyon with rain in the forecast. He had none. The stream would have to come up at least three feet before it poured over the shelf on which I was standing. I pointed out that it wouldn’t take much rain draining off Dutchwoman Butte behind him to start a pour-over directly into the drainage where he was camped. He shrugged his shoulders and took another swig of Zima.

While I was chatting with this fellow, my companions got my attention and pointed to two other guys climbing up the rock another hundred yards in front of us. We learned from the first guy that his friends were looking for another way out of the canyon. They had no ascending gear and had no way to keep their gear dry. The long pools past the waterfall down canyon are unavoidable.

As we continued our descent the conversation turned to the many different ways people could get themselves into trouble canyoneering. I already knew of several ways. On that day I learned a few more that had never occurred to me.

Attached is the article that appeared in Outside Magazine in June 1994. Some of the wording in the article were inspired by the guy we encountered drinking Zima in the Jug.

Save

Thierry Achmetoff

I only met Thierry in person once. He attended a rendezvous in Arizona with his girlfriend, Enrica and my friend, Koen. He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any French, but we communicated well nonetheless. I liked him a lot. He was a gendarme and had a good chuckle listening to me try to talk my way out of a speeding ticket. Loved watching him eat rattlesnake at the Point at South Mountain. I received an email from him on D-Day every year, just to remind me that no matter how strained relations might be between France and the U.S. the French people are always grateful. I wrote back to remind him that we (at least those of us who know history) will always be grateful to the French as well.

I regret passing on the invitation to Morocco. I regret not having that opportunity to see him again. I will go in October and know there will be a dark cast over the group with Thierry’s absence.

You will be missed. R.I.P.

My Doppelganger?

Several years ago I was training canyon guides in Costa Rica. During one of several canyon descents I met a travel writer who was working on a story. Early in the day he told me that I reminded him of someone, but he couldn’t think of the guy’s name. Several more times during the day he said the same thing, but still couldn’t remember the name. A few weeks later I received an email from the writer encouraging me to check out the article he wrote. In the article he said he descended a canyon in Costa Rica with an instructor who could have been Philip Seymour Hoffman’s twin brother.

Having no clue who Philip Seymour Hoffman was, I had to search on the internet. I don’t look anything like that guy. Not even close.

Philip Seymour Hoffman died on February 2, 2014 as a result of drug abuse. I was in Nepal at the time. Sitting at a table in the Rum Doodle I noticed everyone at another table staring at me. Staring at me and pointing. Staring at me and whispering. Staring. I checked my hair. Did I spill something on my shirt? Something stuck in my teeth. There was nothing behind me except a wall. Why were they staring?

As I got up to leave, two people from that table came over and asked me if I had only faked my death.

There have been many other occasions … “Do you know who you look like? Well, I know he’s dead now, but you really look like him.”

The Route

Back home now and already thinking about where to go next. I enjoyed my walkabout so much and met so many wonderful people that I wouldn’t mind going back to the south, but it is a big world with so much more to explore and experience.

I mentioned in a post early in the trip that my plans were evolving. This map shows the actual route that I covered walking, hitchhiking, by bus and by train.

Started with a flight to Houston on January 1st. Hiked a portion of the Lone Star Trail north of Houston until rain, mud and swamp forced me to make the first change to my plans. From Houston to Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Flew from New Orleans to Orlando to meet my wife and daughter. We drove from Orlando to Key West, then back to Orlando, stopping along the way in Miami and the Everglades.

I was on my own again hiking north of Orlando on the Florida Trail. The weather turned really bad after a few days with severe storm and tornado warnings throughout much of the south. Tornados did touch down, killing 16 people in southern Georgia. I took an Amtrak train into Jacksonville Florida to stay dry.

From Jacksonville I walked and hitchhiked north to Macon Georgia, then on to Atlanta.

Just before arriving in Atlanta I received a Facebook message from a friend, Nicole Miller, who I had not seen in quite some time. She invited me to Nashville to stay with her and her husband, Dutch. I rented a car in Atlanta and drove to Nashville. On the way back I stopped to visit the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg Tennessee, then down to Carrollton Georgia to visit friends at BlueWater Ropes.

Returned the rental car to Atlanta and took a bus to Tuscaloosa Alabama. From there I walked and hitchhiked south to Mobile to visit friends from Nepal who live there now.

From Mobile I walked and hitchhiked following the gulf coast back to New Orleans. One more night in New Orleans, then a flight home on a day that two more tornados touched down. What’s up with the tornados in the south? I thought that was hurricane territory and tornados occur in Kansas.

Conversations, Part Two

Random bits and pieces of conversations with people I’ve met along the way.

PR Police

Macon, Georgia. I was taking a photo when I heard a voice ask if I was an Allman Brothers fan. I turned around to see a parking enforcement officer standing next to his “patrol cart”. Stanley Honeycutt was his name. Retired police officer.

Stanley: “I’ve lived in Macon all my life and I can tell you a little something about the Allman Brothers that you won’t read in the brochure. They lived in another house before the Big House. It’s a vacant lot now, but Duane Allman drew a mushroom in the sidewalk when the cement was wet. That mushroom is still there. It’s over on College Street.”

Me: “Cool. I’ll be walking that direction later today, can you give me a specific location?”

Stanley: “I’ll do better than that. I’ll take you there. Hop in.”

Me: “Really? Are you combination parking enforcement and tour guide?”

Stanley: “Yep. I’m the PR Police.”

During the ride over to College Street, Stanley told me a story.

Stanley: “I became a police officer when I was a young man. The chief told me I was a likable kinda guy and he wanted me to serve on foot downtown so I could get to know all the business owners. He wanted good public relations. One day I was walking my beat and these two gals pull up next to me to ask for directions. I told them I would be happy to show them the way and I got in their car with them. At the end of the day the chief was a little upset. Said he was looking for me everywhere and couldn’t find me, so I told him about those two gals and how I was their tour guide for the day and showed them all over town. He wasn’t happy, but I reminded him that he wanted me to be the PR guy and I was out PR’ing with two lovely ladies just like he told me to do.”

I Can Make You Rich

The Greyhound station in Atlanta has a counter with a row of outlets for passengers to charge their electronics while waiting for their bus. I plugged in my iPhone and my backup battery to charge, then sat down about eight feet away. Within a few minutes a young man, who looked to be about 25, came over and sat beside me. 

Young Man (without introduction): “I can get you a job.”

Me: “I don’t need a job. I already have one.”

Young Man: “I can make you rich.”

Me: “I don’t want to be rich.”

Young Man: “Why, you don’t like money?”

Me: “There’s a lot more to life than money.”

Young Man: “Maybe, but we all need money. I can make you rich.”

Me: “Really? What do you do?”

Young Man: “Music producer.”

Me: “That’s cool. I wish you much success in your business.”

Young Man: “You should at least take my number. Get in touch with me and we can do some business.”

Me: “No thank you.”

I’m sure he was a little disappointed that I wasn’t making much eye contact with him when he talked, but I was keeping an eye on the guy who came into the station with him. They were talking when they came in, then separated. While one guy was talking to me, the other was hanging around the charging counter eyeing my iPhone. 

Blessings

It was cold and raining when the day started in Thomasville, Alabama. The day before had been rough. This day was primed to be even rougher. The rain stopped, but the clouds never cleared.

I walked less than a mile before I caught my first ride. 15 miles down the road felt like a ray of sunshine.

My next ride was with a guy named Rod. I saw his pickup go by heading south. Unmistakeable two-tone paint job; tan and purple. He told me later that Chevy only made three in that color. Several minutes later I saw him again heading north. He did a U-turn and pulled up beside me. He had driven nearly a mile south before deciding to give me a ride to Mobile.

Rod doesn’t drive a new truck. It’s a ’95 model; rough, inside and out. It is clear that Rod does not possess much material wealth. I have been noticing a pattern throughout this trip. Those who have the least are often the ones most willing to help others. 

Rod received a call and apologized for needing to make a quick stop. His dad is suffering from some medical problem. Rod agreed to come over to show a kitchen stove to a family friend who was interested in buying it. The conversation between father, son and friend expanded to a variety of topics beyond the stove. There was a common theme to many of the topics. Rod helping his dad. Rod helping neighbors. Rod helping friends. Rod helping.

As we drove down the street to get back on the highway, a neighbor waved Rod over. I don’t know the details of what they discussed, but I heard Rod say, “Yeah, I’ll do that for you.” I heard that line from Rod several more times during our drive as Rod talked on the phone.

Rod was going to Mobile to visit a friend in the hospital. An ex girlfriend who still benefits from his kindness. She has a son who lived with Rod for awhile, even after they broke up. Rod was married once, but lost his wife to an accident and doesn’t feel he will ever love another woman like he loved her. His wife had a son who Rod still thinks of as his own.

Someone called Rod and asked him for help with a vehicle. “Yeah, I’ll do that for you.” Someone called him about some bedroom furniture. Rod told the caller he would build a bed frame and headboard to save them some money. A woman called to ask for advice about a family problem. Rod was there for her. Another call. “Yeah, I’ll do that for you.” And another. And another. “Yeah, I’ll do that for you.”

As we approached Mobile, I checked the map on my phone to figure out the best place for Rod to drop me off. The hospital is on the west side of Mobile and I was heading to Fairhope on the east side of Mobile Bay. I asked Rod what he thought would be the best way for me to get to Fairhope. “In this truck. I’ll take you there.”

My destination was Yak Kathmandu Kitchen to visit some dear friends from Nepal. I convinced Rod to join me for lunch, but I was just postponing the inevitable goodbye. I feel blessed to have met this man; this kind soul who brings so much sunshine to the lives of those who know him.

Intimate with Litter

When I’m hiking I like to carry some hard candy in the waist belt pocket of my pack. Sometimes Jolly Ranchers. Worthers Originals on this trip. They come in such small wrappers; nobody would even notice them on the ground, let alone know it was me who discarded them. But I would know, and I never want to be someone who contributes even a tiny bit to the disgusting amount of trash along the road. So the wrappers go into a ziplock bag that I keep in my pocket to be discarded in a trash can the next time I see one.

Observing roadside litter at three miles per hour is much different than seeing it from the window of a car doing 60. Individual pieces come into view several minutes before you can even discern what they are. You have time to observe and ponder each piece.

It seems appropriate to make excuses for some of it. Car parts – tire tread, fan belts, timing belts, radiator caps, various hoses – pieces the driver likely didn’t know were lost until a bit farther down the road. Other items of value that likely fell from or blew out of a truck or trailer – furniture, mattresses, appliances, tools, hats, boots, toys. There was an economic loss to the owner (who nonetheless should have taken better care in securing the load). Some items observed were new or near new. Keepers, if I was willing to add the bulk and weight to my backpack.

The overwhelming majority of items are absolutely inexcusable. I often wonder what kind of thought process allows a person to toss trash out of their car window. Would it really be such a bother to hang on to that trash until they could find a trash can in the next town? Perhaps they have timed the process in the past – one minute to pull off the road, one minute to get out of the car and walk 10 feet to the trash can, another minute to walk back to the car, and a fourth minute to get back onto the road? Is their time so valuable they can’t spare that four minutes?

It is certainly possible that some items came out of vehicles accidentally. Loose items that blew out of the back of a pickup? Possible. But soiled diapers and feminine products? Unlikely either were removed accidentally by a strong gust of wind or a bump in the road. 

Glass and plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper and styrofoam cups. Paper and styrofoam fast food containers. Plastic and paper bags. Cigarette cartons and chewing tobacco cans. And cigarette butts by the thousands – literally one every few inches along miles and miles of road. Tons of trash tossed out the window of a vehicle. Disgusting amounts of roadside litter, the majority of which comes from “convenience items”. Single use disposable is convenient. Single use disposable anything should be banned, or at least boycotted.

Roadkill Addendum

The following statistics were not obtained scientifically. They are based entirely on my observations of roadkill in the south compared to roadkill back home in Utah.

  • The south has more possums and raccoons than Utah.
  • Utah and the south have roughly the same number of skunks.
  • The south has fewer deer than Utah (or the whitetails in the south are smarter than the mule deer in Utah and stay away from the roads).
  • The south has armadillos.

Trails, Tracks, Roads and Rivers

February 1st. I started this trek one month ago today. 

So far, my modes of transportation have included: hiking on trails and along roads, hitchhiking, bicycle, Greyhound bus, Amtrak train, rental car, canoe in a Louisiana swamp, water taxi, fan boat in the Everglades, paddlewheel on the Mississippi, a sailboat out of Key West, and flights from Las Vegas to Houston and New Orleans to Orlando.

Accommodations have included: camping, hostel, couch surfing, sleeping in rental car, cheap hotels and Hiltons.

Enjoyed it all, but I have a definite preference for hiking on trails and camping. Waking up today in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Heading south today on Hwy 82 to Centreville, then into the Talladega National Forest. Looking forward to a couple nights under the stars.

Florida – A Little SideTrip

My original plan was to travel from Houston to New Orleans to Pensacola to Atlanta. As I was finalizing my own plans, my wife was making plans to fly to Orlando to meet our daughter and drive down to Key West. Less than a week into my trip – encountering bitter cold and rain – the idea of spending a little time in southern Florida became quite appealing. So, once they assured me that my presence would not hinder their quality mother-daughter time I set out adjusting my plans to join them. New plan: Houston to New Orleans to Orlando (by air) to Key West to Orlando to Atlanta to Pensacola, then back to New Orleans.

My daughter works full time for Hilton Hotels and part time as a bartender for Toothsome Chocolate Emporium at Universal City Walk. Both jobs paid dividends during our time together – a room at the Waldorf Astoria in Key West, Hilton Downtown Miami, Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal, admission to Universal. It wasn’t cheap raising her; finally getting a return on that investment. 😉

We drove a rental car from Orlando directly to Key West, then worked our way back north. Highlight of our time in Key West was a wine-tasting, sunset-watching sailing cruise. 


We had hoped to visit Dry Tortugas National Park. Unfortunately, there is only one ferry company with a concession from the National Park Service and they were sold out a few days in advance. It became necessary to do some extra bar hopping in Key West to compensate for the disappointment.

Now that I have visited the southern-most point in the United States, seems only right to plan a trip to the northern-most point.


Our route back to Orlando followed the coast to Biscayne National Park, then Miami for two nights. We spent our one full day visiting Everglades National Park via the Shark Valley Visitor Center. Options for the loop trail included riding a tram or walking, but we opted to rent three bikes. That turned out to be a good decision as we were able to move at our own pace and stop whenever we wanted, while still making much better time than we could have walking. We started the day hoping to see alligators and excitedly snapped the first few photos. After awhile, we had seen so many alligators that many of them went un-photographed. I wasn’t fast enough with my camera to catch the water moccasin crossing the trail. The Everglades is certainly a paradise for bird watchers as well.


It didn’t seem like a trip to the Everglades would be complete without taking a fan boat tour, so we signed up with a commercial tour operator. The tour included stops at two “hammocks”, the term used for small islands in the swamps – places used by Native Americans for building their homes.


During the drive back to Miami at the end of the day I looked on the internet for things to do in Miami. Not far from our hotel is a place called Wynwood Walls – a place for graffiti artists to show off their talent. The area includes a “formal” gallery area, but the art has spread out into the surrounding neighborhood. Worth a visit if you ever find yourself in Miami.


Back in Orlanda, staying at the Portofino Bay Resort. Transportation from the hotel to Universal is by water taxi. We spent an evening at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. Chocolate whisky shot, chased by two chocolate beers. Mmmmm. Chocolate.


Last full day in Orlando wandering around Universal Islands of Adventure, followed by birthday dinner celebration for my daughter’s 23rd. Damn, kids grow up so fast. She’s practically an adult now. 

Allman Brothers Band

I can’t say that the Allman Brothers were ever my number one favorite band. As a kid in the 60s I loved the Beatles (of course). In the early 70s it was Creedence Clearwater Revival. In the mid to late 70s it was the Eagles. In the 80s, ZZ Top … What I can say is that the Allman Brothers have consistently been among my top three favorites for more than four decades. My LP, cassette, CD, iPod and iPhone collections have always included Allman Brothers albums and singles. No matter where I am or what I am doing, if “Whipping Post” comes on the stereo I will crank that sucker up.

Before I arrived in Macon I was searching the internet for things to do there. When I came across the Allman Brothers Band Museum in “The Big House”, it only took a millisecond for me to decide to stay in Macon longer than originally planned. I was fortunate to find a guy named Justin on couchsurfing.com who was willing to host me in his home, just four blocks from The Big House. As a Macon native, Justin is familiar with some of the band’s history and sites in town and proved to be a big asset in planning my Allman Brothers day.

My day of exploring started with breakfast at the H & H Restaurant. H & H was founded in 1959 by Inez Hill and Louise Hudson. The connection with the Allman Brothers started when the band was just getting started. They came into the restaurant to get something to eat, but couldn’t afford meals for every member of the band. They planned to share the few meals they could afford, but Mama Louise insisted on helping them out with a complete meal for every guy. The band became regulars in the restaurant and Mama Louise became a lifelong member of the band’s extended family, even joining them in their tour bus on the road in 1972. Both of the original restaurant owners have passed away. The current owners bought the restaurant to preserve the name, the character, and its special place in Macon’s history.


You can tell how much Macon loves their native sons by the streets and bridges named for members of the band. Just a few blocks from H & H, I was taking a photo of a sign when a police parking enforcement officer pulled up beside me and asked if I was an Allman Brothers fan. Stanley Honeycutt. In the conversation that followed, Stanley informed me that The Big House was not the first house occupied by the band. There is only a vacant lot where the original house once stood, but one of the band members had drawn a mushroom in wet cement in the sidewalk in front of the house. It was on College Street; a street I would be walking before the day was over, so I asked if he could be more specific about the location. Instead, Stanley told me to get into his little electric “patrol car” and he would take me there.

After seeing the sidewalk mushroom (and an extended conversation with Stanley about life in Macon), I realized I was only a few blocks from the Rose Hill Cemetary where Duane Allman is buried. Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971, just two years after the band was formed. Buried next to him is Berry Oakley, the band’s original bass player, who also died in a motorcycle a year later just a few blocks from where Duane was killed. The day before I visited Macon news came that band drummer, Butch Trucks, had died.

During the band’s early days in Macon, they would sometimes hang out in Rose Hill Cemetary writing songs, including “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. Elizabeth Reed Napier (1845-1935) is buried in Rose Hill.

I saved my visit to The Big House for last. A live performance video of “Whipping Post” was playing on a large screen television as I walked in. The museum was much as I expected it would be. Guitars, drums and keyboards used by the band. Costumes worn during concerts. Gold records, album covers, posters and other memorabilia. Waxing nostalgic. 

Riding Lori

I rode Lori hard that day. Well, at least as hard as I dared. She is obviously well-past her prime. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m a bit past my prime as well, so I needed to rest often. But after every break Lori let me climb back on top of her and ride her some more. 

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression about Lori. She’s not one of those “fast” girls, but she did put out for me and I loved her for it.

I named the bike Lori. After all, she is a girl’s bike. Lori in honor of the stranger named Lauren who gave her to me. Lauren had driven past me hitchhiking, but didn’t stop because he was getting close to his turn-off. It was a long stretch of highway and nobody was stopping to offer a ride. I thought I heard a voice shout, “Do you want a bicycle?” I had to wait for a few loud cars to go by to confirm what I heard. I asked if he had a bicycle he wanted to sell. No, he had a bicycle he wanted to give to me. He had already gone to the garage to get the bike and bring it out to the end of his driveway to be ready when I walked by. 

She wasn’t a pretty bike and she certainly wasn’t very young. Single speed. Pedal brake. I had no way to raise the seat so I couldn’t fully extend my legs as I pedaled. I can imagine what people were thinking as they drove past me. Some old guy wearing a backpack pedaling a girl’s bicycle that is too small for him. Fortunately, I don’t think anyone slowed down to take photos.

There are no big hills on that stretch of highway; but there are lots of little ones. Pedaling into a headwind took a lot of work going uphill. I found myself walking with the bike when the wind was too strong or the hill too steep. Riding when it was flat or downhill or the wind died down a bit. Walking, I average 2-3 miles per hour. With this combination of walking and riding I averaged 5-6 miles per hour. A definite improvement, but a pace that would not get me to my next destination before dark. Hitchhiking with a girl would normally increase one’s odds of catching a ride, but not with this girl. I had to give her up. I hope her new owner enjoys riding her like I did.


3 Days in New Orleans

Named after the Duke of Orleans who reigned as Regent for Louis XV from 1715 to 1723, the city was established by French colonists and strongly influenced by their old world culture. It is well known for its distinct French and Spanish Creole architecture, as well as its multi-cultural heritage. New Orleans is often referred to as the most unique city in the United States.

My three days in The Big Easy provided opportunities to explore the architecture, the history, the culture and the music – all personal passions.

Originally settled by the French, Louisiana was ceded to Spain in 1763. According to one tour guide, France gave the land to Spain just to make sure it would not go to the English. In 1803 Napoleon asked Spain to return it and, not wanting to have issues with Napoleon, Spain obliged. Later the same year Napoleon sold the land to the United States.

Spanish influence can be seen in the architecture of the French Quarter of New Orleans, but the balance of the culture remained French. Perhaps because Spain sent only men to settle there. The Spanish men found only French and Creole women to marry and tended to adopt their culture.

PLANTATIONS ALONG THE MISSISSIPPI

There was a time when both sides of the Mississippi River were lined with plantations. A few remain that are open to tours, which provide studies in both history and architecture.

Laura

The Laura Plantation was named for Laura Locoul Gore, who was born during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and died during John F Kennedy’s. In her later years she wrote a book, “Memories of the Old Plantation Home”, which gives a detailed account of life on the plantation after the Civil War. West African folktales of Compair Lapin, known in English as the legendary “Br’er Rabbit” were recorded at the Laura Plantation.

Laura includes 12 buildings on the National Register. The main house was built on a raised foundation to help with cooling in the summer and protect it from the ravages of Mississippi River flood waters in the spring. The main house at Magnolia Mound in Baton Rouge was built in a similar fashion.

Oak Alley
Seeing the Oak Alley Plantation on the internet made me want to visit, but it turned out to be my least favorite. Beautiful, but the most commercialized and crowded. The tour included 34 people, all competing for positions to take photos.

The plantation is named for the “Alley of Oaks” that lead from the bank of the Mississippi to the front entrance of the main house. The trees were planted by an unknown settler in the early 1700’s. 28 trees, 14 on each side of the alley.

The Greek Revival style of the main house did not seem as practical as the raised design of the other two I visited, but this one was built to impress. The house was a gift from Jacques Telesphore Roman, a wealthy Creole sugar planter in his 30s, to his bride Celina, age 18, who was apprehensive about leaving New Orleans society to live on a plantation.

RIVER BOAT TO CHALMETTE BATTLEFIELD

Took a ride on the Creole Queen Paddlewheel down the Mississippi River to the site of the Battle of New Orleans, the decisive battle in the War of 1812. The ride included narration by a guy named Charles who spoke with a theatrical voice and a great deal of passion. On our way to the battlefield, Charles covered the history of New Orleans, information about some of the ships docked along the river, and of course, the battle.

During the final campaign of the War of 1812, the British sent a force of 11,000 soldiers, marines, and sailors to capture New Orleans. Despite the odds against him, General Andrew Jackson (with support from the U.S. Navy on the river) managed to pull together a force that included militia from Louisiana and Mississippi, U.S. Army regulars, a large contingent of Tennessee state militia, Kentucky riflemen, Choctaw fighters, and local privateers (the latter led by the pirate, Jean Lafitte), and defeat the British troops decisively on January 8, 1815. I missed the anniversary, which included a reenactment of the battle, by two days.

On our way back from the battlefield, Charles spoke at length about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Hearing him relate the story confirmed my belief that the problems that followed the hurricane were caused or exacerbated by one bureaucratic blunder after another. Real progress was made once the 82nd Airborne stepped in to spearhead the operations.


SWAMP TOUR

Paddlewheel on the Mississippi in the morning; canoe through a swamp in the afternoon. Another very entertaining guide, this one named Bishop. Funny guy. There were some birders on the tour who appreciated Bishop’s knowledge of all the birds we saw. We also encountered a raccoon that Bishop called George. When George slipped into the water and swam toward us, it was clear he had been fed by people on tours before.


MUSIC – BLUES AND JAZZ

I love the blues and New Orleans did not disappoint. Clubs on Frenchmen Street and Bourbon Street provided numerous opportunities for me to enjoy my favorite genre, along with 3 for 1 drink deals. There were clubs playing jazz as well, but the best jazz was being played on the streets.

Elvis Cut My Hair

I went a few mornings without a mirror, walking around not knowing that my hair was a mess and sticking straight up. No wonder little kids and puppies were running away from me. LOL

What I needed was a good “low maintenance” (meaning short) haircut. Google search showed a place called the Rooster Club not far from where I was having coffee in the French Quartert. How could I not go to a place called the Rooster Club?

My hair was cut by barber-musician Johnny Angel. Johnny has an Elvis kinda vibe going. Search for him on YouTube with either of his two bands. Johnny Angel & the Swingin’ Demons plays big band music. Johnny Angel & Helldorado plays classic country.

Packing Light

Traveling over the years I have learned one key to packing light is selecting attire that meets these criteria: (1) high quality and performance, (2) versatility, and (3) easy maintenance. With these criteria in mind, my packing list for this trip includes:

BOTTOMS

1 pair quick dry nylon convertible pants, mocha (Ex Officio)

1 pair merino wool pants, black (Ice Breaker Escape)

1 pair quick dry nylon shorts, sage (Gramici)

TOPS

1 merino wool short sleeve t-shirt, light gray (Ice Breaker)

1 merino wool short sleeve t-shirt, mocha (Ice Breaker)

1 merino wool long sleeve henly shirt, dark blue (Ibex)

1 insulating layer, dark blue (Marmot DriClime Wind Shirt)

1 waterproof shell, dark blue (Marmot)

ACCESSORIES

2 pairs merino wool hiking socks (Darn Tough)

2 pairs underwear (Ex Officio Give-n-Go)

1 merino wool Buff, blue

1 extra large bandana, blue

1 pair UV protection sleeves, light grey

1 brimmed cap

1 fleece lined wool knit cap

1 pair lightweight fleece gloves

 

All of the items on the list are the highest quality I could afford. Taking fewer items means I need every item to be durable and they have to perform well in a variety of conditions. Not to mention, I want it to look good because I know I will be going from camp to hostel to hotel, cooking in the wilderness and eating in restaurants, taking tours and going to shows.

Versatility refers to both (a) the ability to layer and (b) the ability to mix and match. For example, I can wear either pair of pants alone or I can wear the wool pants under the nylon pants as leggings (long johns). Layering tops could include all four layers – short sleeve merino wool, long sleeve merino wool, insulating wind shirt, and rain shell – or a number of combinations of these.

The colors are intentionally kept within a very limited palette to make it easy to mix and match. Basically, I can wear any of the bottoms with any combination of the tops.

The UV sleeves can turn a short sleeve shirt into (what appears to be) a long sleeve shirt in an instant. They can also be worn under my long sleeve shirt for extra warmth.

I wear my Buff as a light-weight knit cap, a neck gaitor (scarf), or up over my face when it gets nippy.

Another characteristic common to all of the items is easy maintenance and quick drying. Laundry is done one piece at a time in the sink at hotel or hostel. Drying is a 3-step process — (1) wring out as much water as possible, (2) roll up in a towel to wring out a bit more moisture, (3) hand up to dry overnight. This is the process that makes it possible to bring only two pairs of underwear and two pairs of socks.

I often use the same packing list when I am traveling by air. All of the clothing, plus toiletries, laptop and other electronics fit easily in my Tom Bihn Synapse 25, which fits easily under the seat in front of me on the plane so I don’t have to scramble for overhead space.

On this trek I am carrying an Osprey Exos 58 with everything on the list fitting easily in a 10L Outdoor Research Ultralight Dry Sack.

 

Look for a separate blog post soon about my walking shoes.

 

New Orleans

I had my route planned out from Baton Rouge to New Orleans – walk down the River Road on river left. Visit Houmas House Plantation. Cross over the Mississippi River on Hwy 70 bridge to river right. Visit Oak Alley and Laura plantations. Then on to New Orleans. Google Maps says the distance is 82 miles. Sticking my thumb out I figured I could get to Houmas House by midday, visit the other two plantations on day two, and reach New Orleans sometime on the third day.

I don’t normally need an alarm clock; I’m up without one between 4:00 and 5:00 every morning. Except this particular morning. Slept in to 5:50. Sunrise coming just after 7:00 and I wanted to get an early start. Breakfast started at 6:00. A couple eggs and a cup of coffee. Check the weather. 36 frickin’ degrees and rain in the forecast. Back to the room to pack, looking out the window at the clouds and rain; just a light drizzle. Rain jacket, rain cover for my pack. This won’t be a problem.

I made it less than half a block from the hotel when the sky opened up and dumped down hard. Taking cover under a store awning I started considering my options. Step one: get back to the hotel lobby. Step two: get another cup of hot coffee. Step three: get on Greyhound’s website to check the bus schedule. Step four: check hostelworld.com to see what is available that night in New Orleans. Go!

The bus was scheduled to depart at 1:10 PM and we actually pulled out of the station two minutes early, but the bus stalled in the middle of the street. Personally, I think the newly-hired driving just didn’t give it enough gas, but she chose to return to the station to have it checked out.

Which is the greater adventure; hiking through the wilderness or taking a Greyhound bus?

Spending an extra hour in a bus station affords one the opportunity to observe people and try to guess “their story”. Remember George Carlin’s routine about playing spy in the airport? I’ve done it in airports around the world, but playing the game in a bus station adds a whole new twist. Pretty sure I didn’t see any spies though. Things I did notice included …

Pulling a cell phone out of your pocket will frequently attract someone who wants to borrow it to make one quick call. The first guy to borrow mine made two calls; the first to beg someone to go to Walmart to wire him $60 so he could find a place to stay and some food when he arrived, the second to beg someone else to pick him up at the station when he arrived. It was pretty obvious that both said no.

Despite the NO SMOKING signs and the diesel fuel warning signs, some passengers really really really need a cigarette. They will stand outside the bus, next to, but oblivious to the signs, to get every last drag they can out of that cigarette. And they will already have one in their mouth with lighter in hand as they exit the bus before they take that last step down to the pavement.

Kudos go out to the woman who manages the Greyhound station in Baton Rouge. She has the patience of a saint. I watched as one person after another approached her with petty problems, unable to make it through the simplest of life’s problems without assistance. To make matters worse, bus routes going north were being cancelled due to icy road conditions. People were starting to pile up in the station and this woman continued helping everyone she could with a warm and sincere smile.

Nonetheless, I was glad I was heading south to New Orleans. The ride was uneventful.

From the New Orleans Greyhound/Amtrak terminal I walked about a mile to catch a street car on Canal Street, which took me within a block of the India House Backpackers Hostel. An old converted mansion painted bright yellow. Not sure about its age, but I do know that it doesn’t have insulation or central heating. Very happy to have a warm sleeping bag.