Monday, August 29, 2011

Come on Irene!

I have deleted more hurricane-related emails over the past few days than I ever have before.  Last Friday, we got a company wide email with a helpful FEMA publication on how to prepare for a hurricane.  But I also got the same email at least four times later as people felt the need to "reply all" to the whole company with their two cents.  I can only imagine that the Rochester, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Tampa, Houston, and all the other non-northeastern coastal office folks were more annoyed.

Aside from that, the advice is generally just common sense.  Things like buying ice and filling the bathtub for toilet water and bringing in your patio furniture.  I got back to the house and found Adam in full swing, caulking sealer on the roof and tying down the trash cans, among other things.

I took a different approach and broke my stuff before the hurricane could get to it.  I was attempting to squeeze an outdoor table through the doorway when I discovered that the decorative tiles which make up the top are not, in fact, glued in place.  They crashed to the concrete floor and shattered.  For good measure, I picked up the pieces that were unbroken, but I was still pinned in the doorway by the table, so I didn't place them far.  I am not sure how, but they took a dive as well, and one of them broke into two pieces.

At that point I felt obligated to swear.  It wasn't pretty.

I checked out the weather report and for the first time ever, we had a 100 percent chance of rain.  Even with gigantic storm clouds that have lightening bolts shooting all around with static energy, directly over the weather station building, I think they say 70 percent chance of rain, tops.

Sadly, we did not get to play out scenes from "Storm Chasers" or that movie about twisters. 

We went to West Virginia for a wedding and enjoyed really beautiful weather.

Before leaving, I gave the neighbors our numbers and told them to call if there were any issues.  They never called, so naturally, I assumed they were dead.

I also assumed we would be driving back into, well, a storm - after all, the forecast for Sunday was giving 70 percent chance of rain.  But, it was perfect outside.  Skies were blue and humidity was low.  We saw a few downed sticks but no downed trees as we made our way across the Maryland panhandle.

As we neared the house, there were a few more signs that we'd missed some action.  Eventually, we were detoured where a tree rested against a power line.  However, we were able to drive through the State park on our regular unpaved road to home.  It turns out, the neighbors were fine, and the cat was her normal oblivious self.  The power was out, but after our winter storm power outage, we are perpetually prepared for such events.  I picked up sticks from the yard while Adam rescued what food he could from the freezer and fridge.

I surveyed his garbage bag containing melted ice cream and eggs, and noticed the ratatouille that I had made the previous morning, still cold.  It used all the veggies from the farm as of late:  eggplant, zucchini, leeks, and tomatoes.  I planned to eat it for lunch all week.

"That stuff smells TERRIBLE," he said, "I don't even think the container can be saved."

I pulled it out (still cold) and sniffed it.  It smelled exactly the same as it had yesterday, when I made it.  "Geesh, man," I exclaimed, "It's still good!"

After assuring him that yes, eggplant smells like that, and no, he doesn't have to eat it, I rescued the container and put it in the deep freeze.

I went outside to lounge in the yard and read a book, where I got sleepy.  I took my glasses off for a nap, but when I got up, I folded up the chair and forgot the glasses.  For the next hour or two, I searched for them in stages:

Stage One:  "The Thelma" aka, the "Brainy Smurf":  While squinting, get down on all fours and sweep the grass blindly, hoping that you will not crawl on your glasses.

Stage Two:  "The Scan":  Go into the house and insert contacts onto eyeballs.  Return to yard and walk slowly while sweeping the eyes back and forth, hoping that you will not step on your glasses.

Stage Three:  "The Partner": Solicit a partner and insist, numerous times, that you are sure that you took your glasses outside.  Once he is convinced, or at least willing to take part in your futile exercise, both people can participate in "The Scan", hoping that you and your buddy will not step on your glasses.

Stage Four:  "The Rake": After a brief search in the house and on your head due to repeated accusations that you did not take your glasses outside, resume search with a rake.  Go back to area of alleged loss, and begin raking the yard, hoping that you will not scratch, or step on, your glasses.

I never found them.

Lets look at the scoreboard:

Hurricane Irene:  one gallon of ice cream, a few condiments, and some fishsticks.

Nicki:  One $300 table and a pair of glasses.

And people think hurricanes are destructive.

Excuse me, I have some emails to delete.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Engineer to the Rescue!

This economy has really taken a toll on my industry.  I heard some statistic the other day that a huge percentage of architects (I forget how much, and frankly, I am not in the mood for....

...ok, ok, so I think the overall percentage of unemployment right now is 9.3, but percentage of unemployed architects is 9.8.  Apparently, this is hard to measure due to people entering/leaving said occupation, but my point is, that its rough out there.  Architects aren't designing things, and sadly, engineers work for architects, so where does that leave us?

Well, that has temporarily changed.  The other day, I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business and working (for lack of actual work) on a proposal to get work.  Then, some ginormous dude and two of his dinosaur friends started walking down the aisle between cubes.  And then the landscaping guys outside hit the building with a tank-sized lawn mower, and the building was swaying back and forth for like three seconds before I realized this was an earthquake.

Suddenly, structural engineers are like superstars.  Only, they are extremely nervous superstars as they realize that all the hundreds of buildings they've designed over the last ten years have just been tested.  The drywall right next to my window was audibly cracking and I was not sure if I should run outside.  But, then it stopped.

I was on the USGS website even before the event was recorded, and hit refresh until a little red box popped up in Virginia.  Shortly after, I got an email from a project contractor, building a structure just 45 miles or so from the epicenter.  The email was flagged with a little red exclamation point meaning "high importance," and says one word:  "Earthquake".  Shit, man.  Like...shit.  What if something happened?  Did my building fail?  Then I thought about how that particular building was designed to withstand a LOT more than an earthquake, and it seemed really unlikely.

I called the guy and got a busy signal.  Not good.

So, I play it cool, and email back: "You were a lot closer to the epicenter than we were, any issues?"   That's cool right?  Not like what's in my brain, which is more along the lines of "OH MY GOD I HOPE YOU"RE NOT DEAD and ifyouareIhopeitsnotmyfault."  A minute later, he called me.  "I just wanted you to know that everything's fine."

Seriously, I was so relieved he wasn't dead that I wanted to kill him.  "Don't you EVER high importance your email on me without an explanation!!"  I nearly shouted.

About 10 minutes after that, I got a call from the owner on another job.  He had someone walk the building, and its all good.  But he wanted me to go there (3 hour drive) and let the 500 people standing outside back in.  You know, cause I'm a superstar.  Oh, and I fly faster than the speed of light and therefore will have no problem getting around Washington DC right after a natural disaster.  Oh, and also, I can apparently fight fires because the fire alarm was pulled and the fire department hadn't shown up. 

"Is there a fire?" I asked. 
"I don't think so," he says, "I think someone pulled the alarm." 
"But how do we, um, know that it wasn't pulled for a fire?"

So, after I convinced him that he should maybe wait for the fire department, I told him someone would be out tomorrow to check for damage. 

Today, I went to three schools, tomorrow a parking garage, and probably another garage next week.  So far, I haven't found much to be concerned about, and thank goodness, all my buildings are still standing.  But I'm up to my eyeballs in reports to write.  (Which is why I am blogging, thank you very much.  I'll write them....later.)

Hurricane, you say?  Pfft.  No sweat.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Life Support

I's over.  I have had this houseplant since college, and it has dealt with a lot of neglect and abuse over the years.  When I first moved to Baltimore, ten years ago (eek!), I had to put all of my things into storage because my apartment wasn't available until September.  I left my houseplants with my father, thinking they were in good hands, but he put them in a cooler and let them sit outside.  This would have been fine, but when I went to pick them up, I found the cooler nearly full of water, and my plants were drowning inside.  I lost one plant, but this guy, and a few of his buddies, survived.

When I finally did move to my apartment, there wasn't much light.  But, this plant did just fine in a dimly lit hallway.

Seems it is time for a eulogy.

This was a plant I got from my friends Josh and Joanne, when they decided to sell or give away everything they owned, except for what could fit in a Volkswagon Golf.  They moved across the country to Portland, Oregon and before they left, they gave me this plant, which they never watered.  They just let it sit on their balcony, and it seemed to happily exist (but not in a cooler).  I have enjoyed the company of the plant much more than the few REM and Sonic Youth CD's that they hadn't been able to sell.  Come to think of it, I supposed I enjoyed the company of this plant in place of its previous owners.  Josh and Joanne were on their way.  I got one postcard.  They made it to Oregon, but the VW didn't.  They didn't have a permanent address yet, but they were enjoying the ride.  And then I never heard from them again.  I just loved that idea, of going off into the world without a plan, and seeing what happened.  But I was never brave enough to really try it.  I stayed with the plants and acted semi-responsible until said plants were submerged in 15 inches of water.

Anyway, this plant doesn't look like much anymore, but it had quite a life.  It was the only plant that seemed to like the new house.  Most other plants have been dying off, one by one, due to a lack of light.  There are beautiful trees near the house in the yard.  Unfortunately, they shade a lot of the sunlight that would otherwise pour through the windows.  I still have four plants left...but my army has been significantly decreased since we moved here.

The other plants were surviving but this plant had been thriving.  So much so that it grew another shoot that got pretty tall.  And when we returned from vacation, I found it just slumped over.  It was as though some cat or something had broken it.  But the cat wasn't home.  She was on vacation too.  Mystery.

Well, I tied it up to a dowel rod, which is the equivalent of being hooked up to those machines that boop and beep at the hospital.  I hoped it would repair itself, but I knew it probably wouldn't be the case when a few days later, it slumped over again, just above the twist ties.  I moved the ties up, but poor thing.  It's quality of life was not good, and I guess it was just maybe it's time to go.

Poor little plant.  It will be missed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Fought the Yard and the Yard Won

I dismantled my garden.

Let me back up.  Last year, when we moved into this house, I was excited to plant a garden.  I had a caveat - it would be on MY TERMS, and RELAXING.  It would not be the loads of work I remembered from my childhood.  Many a summer was spent picking things - peas, beans, more peas, lima beans, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, cherries, plums, apples.  Freezing things - broccoli, beans, corn, peas, peppers.  Canning things - peach jelly, blackberry jelly, blueberry jelly, plums, tomatoes, applesauce. 

I did not want this.

I wanted a peaceful garden, like this one:

"What is paradise, but, a garden, an orchard of trees and herbs, full of pleasure and nothing there but delights."...William Lawson

I wanted a wonderful hobby, like this guy had:

"No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden."-- Thomas Jefferson

Probably, I should have listened to this guy:

"Gardening requires lots of water - most of it in the form of perspiration."...Lou Erictson

I did accomplish significant abundance compared to last year:

Strawberries in 2010: 0.
Strawberries in 2011: 2.

Peppers in 2010: 0.
Peppers in 2011: 8.

Additional crops in 2010:  0.
Additional crops in 2011: 0.

At this rate, I may be able to make a pie when I am 60.  But, the deer and slugs are well fed.

Sometimes, I have to try things before I realize that I hate them.  Case in point - I willingly stood in line for that "Free Fall" ride at Cedars Point.  You know, its the one where they lift a carload of people to the top of a tall tower, and then drop them?  That one?  I did not realize that I was ABSOLUTELY terrified of the ride until we got to the top, just before the loud screechy noise that signified the brakes had been released.  I have NEVER screamed like that, EVER.

Case #2 - I climbed all the way up to the top of the 10 meter platform at Penn State pool when they let us try it one day.  I looked down at that water, 30 feet below, and only then did I realize, I was scared sh*tless.  I unceremoniously climbed back down.

I bought a slew of art supplies and drawing pads before I realized that I do not enjoy making art.  I have canning supplies in the basement, but no longer desire to can things.  And now, I have a plot of land that is being overrun by grass with absolutely no effort, despite hours of time spent trying to kill the grass.  

Do I regret doing these things?  Not at all.  How else will I know I hate something, unless I try it?

Friday, August 19, 2011

How i sPent me Sumer Vacayshun

It's me! Your old pal Daisy!  Well, I went on vacation too, you know.  You did not think my Adam and my Nicki would leave me all alone for a whole week by myself, do you?  And I am sure you know them well enough to know that they would not pay $26 a day for me to go to the yucky old vet, right?  That's why I got to go to beeutiful, historic, Westminster, Maryland, where my aminal friends, Basil and Sage, live.

I was a wee bit confused at first, you see.  Adam and Nicki left on a Friday, but only with enough food and stuff for the weekend, so I figured I had the house just for a day or two.  I called all my cat friends like usual, and we had our normal "the peeps is outta town" kegger.  The house was all cleaned up in time for them to get back, and then, in walks my Aunt Tiff.

She picked me up and tried to stuff me in my Kat Karrier, and I just HATE that thing.  I didn't know why Aunt Tiff, whose normally not so pushy, was tryin to take me to the vet, so I peed on her leg.  (Like I said, she really confused me, and I guess I am a little sorry, but really I hate the Kat Karrier, you know?  You probly woulda done the same thing.)

Anyway, after a super long and windy car ride, I ended up at her new apartment in Westminster.  The first thing I checked out was under the bed, and that's where my new friend, Sage the Cat stays.  Sage is a tall, dark, and handsome man-cat, I must say.  Meee-yow!  I figured I better growl and hiss at him a lot, just sose he'd know I was totally gonna play hard to get.  (It's a trick we gals have, it really drives a Tom wild.)  He was nice enough to let me stay in his place for a bit, but I figured I better let him have his space.  Besides, I really like lookin' out windowsills, and I'd never been to Westminster, so I wanted to check out all the cool old buildings and stuff.

I know, I know.  I was such a tourist.

Anyway, the service was pretty good.  Aunt Tiff still made me take a pill, and I tried to smack her around a bit, but you know, gosh darn it, I think she's actually pretty nice.  So I didn't use my claws or nuthin.  My meals got put right up there on the windowsill for me, and I really liked that.  One day I got a little tipsy, you know, and I sorta accidentally jumped on my food dish.  You know how it is on vacation.  But, like I said, the service was real good, and it got cleaned up.  Aunt Tiff never even said a word about it, so when I had to puke later - look, I was on vacation and livin it up - I decided to try this thing Nicki's always tryin to get me to do, and I puked in the litter box.  I don't know.  Aunt Tiff seemed to think that was cool, but I'll probably go back to puking in the hallway, or maybe right in the doorway.  I think Adam likes to clean it with his socks.  Why, as soon as he does it, he goes and gets a second pair so he can do it again!

Mostly my trip was spent sight seeing on the window sill, and at night, I got to run around and play with Basil and Sage.  They do this thing where they jump on the bed with Auntie T and Uncle E, and they play all night long!  It is so much fun!  I tried getting Nicki to play with me when I got back but she just rolled over and kept sleeping.  Humans don't seem to realize that the best sleeping time is in the afternoon with the sun to keep you warm.  Their loss, I say.

When it came time to come home, I had to ride in that icky Kat Karrier again.  Only this time, Uncle Eric put me inside.  I didn't pee on him, cause I was hoping to get a chance to pee and poop in his car.  Then he'd really understand not to put me in the carrier again.  Alas, I couldn't muster up a good poo, so I just puked.  Uncle Eric got the best of me though, he is one smart cookie.  He gave me a bath!!  Can you believe that!  Cats don't take baths! 

I am plotting my revenge.  I hope he gets white carpets in that new house of his.

But...I did have a fun summer vacation!  I can't wait until next year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

This Other Old House

July 30, our last (sniff, sniff) day of vacation.  We had seen Monticello, but we decided on a whim to check out a nearby historic home, Montpelier.  I had heard about this on a radio show a few months back.  It was once the home of James and Dolly Madison, but they had very little money towards the end, and the house was sold over the years to six different families before it was finally sold to the DuPont family.  The DuPonts had gobs of money, and they added a horse track to the property, among other things.  They also added a few levels and 32 room to the house, and it really wasn't the same.

At least one DuPont realized that the home was important to American history (James Madison, you may recall, is considered the "Father of the Constitution", and his wife Dolly coined the term "First Lady".)  In 1985, Ms. DuPont left the house to the National Historic Trust, and they have been restoring it ever since.  In 2008, the house was finally back to the state it had been in around 1815.  They removed the extra rooms and the stucco finish from the exterior.  They carbon-dated the wall coverings through 32 layers of paint to find the colors used by the Madisons.

There is not much furniture or anything - they are working on that - but it was really interesting how meticulous this restoration has been.  They are working on the grounds with just as much effort, and they are currently building the slave quarters to match what they may have looked like in Madison's time.  Slaves were a tricky subject for Mr. Madison.  As a southerner, he relied on this labor source to allow him to sell his product  - usually tobacco, but later wheat - at a competitive price.  As a person, he knew it was morally wrong to force a person to work without pay.  He was very torn, and wrote a lot about the subject.  I do not think they tried to sugar coat the issue, but sadly, there is more written on the topic by Madison than by his slaves.  (Though there is one book by a slave, Paul Jennings, which they read from during the tour.)

We toured the house, and then the grounds, on a very hot day.  We walked through Madison's gardens, but there were no trees.  Adam, a red-head, was burning to a near crisp, so we ducked into the old growth forest which is part of the grounds.  As if we hadn't hiked enough, we went along a trail, thankful for a bit of shade, but with bugs helping themselves to the buffet of fresh human.  Soon we came to a beautiful spiderweb across the trail, glittering in the sun that filtered through the trees.  (I tried to take a picture, but this was one that didn't make it with the blind shot.)

We skittered around that, then got immediately entangled in another web.  For the next half of the trail, we had to walk with sticks, sweeping the air ahead to break the spiderwebs.  I still ended up obsessively sweeping my hair for spiders for most of the day.  It was hot, and now a tad sticky with spiderwebs, but I will say, the bug population appeared to be reduced.

I still wanted to check out the Madison family graveyard, and they also had a slave cemetery which sounded intriguing.   Adam was tired of cooking himself, so he waited in the visitor center.  The Madison graves were interesting, but (and I guess I should have expected this) the slave cemetery was just woods.  They know there are graves there by the depressions that form in the soil as it compacts, and these are visible mainly in winter, when snow lingers in the holes.  In summer?  It is just trees.

We finished the last leg of our journey, and arrived home to an 87 degree house.  Turns out, the air conditioner went kaput while we were gone.  For two days, we had seen how people lived over 100 years ago, without air conditioning, heat, running water, or electricity, and I'd love to say we just took this in stride.  But I gotta say, when you look forward to sleeping in your own bed for the first time in 9 days, you do not usually envision pools of sweat.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

This Old House

Ha, so you thought I was done with vacation posts, but you were wrong!  July 28 was our last day in Tennessee, but there was a whole state in the way on the trip back to Maryland.  Yes, Virginia.

As we did waaaay long ago on our trip south, we also made a pit stop on the trip north, just to break up the monotony of the interstate.  This particular pit stop had been on my list of places to go while I was in the neighborhood, but I never quite made it.  The picture above (taken blind, of course) is from none other than the Dome Room of Monticello.  This was the home of Thomas Jefferson, and I am sure you recognize it, for it is also featured on the nickel.  (For my younger readers - the nickel is a "coin" which is a form of "cash".  This was used to purchase things before "credit cards".)

Monticello was built in the late 1700's and has remained pretty much in tact since.  It is restored to its state in about 1815, when "TJ" was retired.  He's a pretty smart guy, that TJ. He took interest in gardening, architecture, science, and the arts.  He also had a few nutty habits like sleeping in these "alcove beds" which are only like 5 feet long and crammed between walls.  He slept sitting up on pillows, and then he put his feet in a bowl of water every day.  He claimed this kept him from catching cold.

After the tour, we walked around the grounds and saw some unusual flowers in a horseshoe shaped garden.  Most of them were marked "TJ" to indicate that Jefferson had grown them back in his day.  Though the house was mostly original (with a few additional steel beams for support - it was a tad rickety), there were also a lot of reproductions of things Jefferson owned.  For instance, he gave all his books to the Library of Congress after the British torched DC in the war of 1812, so there were only a few volumes that he actually owned in the house. There were also a lot of reproductions of the paintings he owned, though they did have one of the original Gilbert Stuart paintings of Mr. Jefferson.  (I do think it is a little odd that he had a huge picture of himself hanging...but I guess that was the thing to do back in the day.)

How do they know what he owned and planted?  Well, he was a bit of a "Type A" person and he kept detailed records of just about everything.  Interestingly, he also owned the Natural Bridge, and there was a picture of it hanging in the dining room.  I wonder if that makes us groupies?

Anyway, after Monticello, we headed to nearby Charlottesville, VA - home of Jefferson's school, the University of Virginia.  The same architect did many of the buildings, and the campus was very nice.  Of course, the main attraction was the few breweries in town.  And the ability to get a burger after 10pm.

We checked out the South Street Brewery, which was a bit of a hike from our hotel.  Looked a lot closer on the map.  Ahh, well, it was all worth it for a tasty brew!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cades Cove

Our last day in the Great Smoky National Park was Thursday, July 28.  We chose a driving loop which features views up at the mountains from the meadows, rather than views to valleys far below.  Alas many of my pictures are of things right next to the things I wanted pictures of, because the screen was destroyed during the previous day's exploits on "Chimney Tops" aka "Shale of Doom".  Digital cameras do not even feature viewfinders anymore, and there was no way to tell how far I was zoomed in, whether the flash was on, what mode I was in, or what, exactly, I was picturing.  However, taking "point and shoot" quite literally, one can still get a few good photos.

 Cades Cove - during spring, this is covered with wildflowers.

The Cades Cove Loop is an "Auto Tour" with lots of stopping points for looks at historic structures.  After all, the meadows only really exist because white settlers came to the area in the 1820's and 30's and chopped down all the trees.  The area was once home to as many as 271 (white) families.  (The native people, generally Cherokee, had lived in the area for centuries and I guess no one knows how many of them there were because it was not listed in my official "Self-Guided Auto Tour" booklet.)

Cades Cove is rumored to be a good place to see wildlife, including bears.  More on that in a moment.  First stop was a Baptist Church, established in 1827.

 The biggest appeal to me in stopping here was not the church itself, but the cemetery behind it.  I love cemeteries,  and after a PBS special which toured a bunch of them as scenic and serene parks, I am not afraid to admit it anymore.  Lots of people love cemeteries.  Really.  I am not weird.

OK, OK, so I'm weird.  I especially love the oldest tombstones.  I like to see how old people were, who their family members were, what sort of epitaphs they may have.  I like to look at the years, and try to imagine what life had been like for them.  I mourn a bit for those whose tombstone inscriptions have faded.

This cemetery had a number of old and interesting stones, including one guy who was "murdered by North Carolina Rebels" and another with an arched stone.  There were many whose lettering had washed away, and a number of infants and children.

It was also stinking hot!  And no shade!  So we continued past a homestead and two more churches without stopping.  We did stop for a short hike to Abrams Falls, and I don't think I would have taken such a nice picture if I could see the screen:

I do, however, have a few pictures of the rocks next to the falls, and about 8 pictures of ground because  I tried to photograph two beautiful butterflies that were opening and closing their wings.  I missed for every shot.  I did not even try to shoot a picture of the otter I saw later on.

The final historical stop is the Cable Grist Mill.  According to my booklet, this would feature about 10 old structures which were moved from various park locations to simulate a typical homestead with a mill.  One structure was to be a "Tennessee Cantilever Barn" and I was sort of surprised to see the use of a structural engineering term such as "cantilever" in the description.  When we got to the barn, we saw this:

 This.  Is not a cantilever.  An example of a cantilever is a diving board - something that freely overhangs on one end, with the other end fixed.  I thought perhaps they had screwed up their terms.

But then we saw this one:

Tricky.  There were two barns.

Anyway, we walked around the mill area a bit and then continued the drive.  Unfortunately, there was a bit of a traffic jam.  People were pulling off to the side to look at wildlife, but when the pull off areas filled up, they just parked themselves right there on the road.  We were patient, thinking this must be the bear we hoped to see.  So we get to the area, and we look, to find....


Yes, deer.  Not reindeer, or elk, or any interesting species of deer either. These were the same freaking critters that eat the shrubbery in front of my house.  The ones I practically dodge on the street on a daily basis.  And looking at the license plates, it was clear that these people would be equally familiar with this "rodent with hooves".  Very confusing.

We made our way around the deer-gawkers, and found the bear-gawkers - outside their cars, and into the woods about half a mile.  According to a woman just outside our vehicle, people were looking at a mama bear and her two cubs.


This is EXACTLY what the park rangers advise us NOT to do.  Not so much because the bear will maul you (though it could, if you get too close), but because the bear will get used to you, and then attempt to steal someone's "pickinic" basket, and then maul some other random jackass.  And then it will be killed without a trial.

Sorry, I just get frustrated by the masses who seem to care for nothing but their own enjoyment, regardless of the circumstances of their actions.

We opted to leave the bear be, though I was sad not to see it.  We saw only two bears on our trip - in both cases they were frantically crossing busy streets in Gatlinburg.  Kind of like these deer things we have up here...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Better Than Most?

After a day in the car, we went back to hiking on foot.  I had picked two hikes, just in case.  We were very ambitious.  The first hike, called "Chimney Tops" was considered moderate in difficulty for most of the hike, but ends with 800 feet of elevation change in the last mile.  The last hundred feet or so are actually a "scramble" meaning hands and feet are needed to get up, but it is easy to do without true climbing gear.  It sounded fun, and the hike was relatively short - the one we did on Monday (that would have been July 25th) was 7.0 miles round trip, but this one (which we did on July 27th) was only 4.0.  I figured we could do this in about 2 hours, despite the signs at the trail head noting that most people take 3 to 4 hours.  It also said most people don't make it to the top.

"Pfft!" I thought, "MOST people is not me and Adam!"

Well, that may be true, but this hike took us about 3 hours, maybe a bit more.

We had stopped at a gas station deli and brought a few sandwiches to eat in the woods.  We missed the turn for the picnic area, so we just went to the river and ate on some large rocks.  The stupid people who only yesterday were walking in front of cars while eating ice cream cones were playing in the rapids without shoes.  One little boy in particular was clearly unaware of the potential dangers of this, and his father was equally clueless.  As a former lifeguard, I assessed the surroundings and imagined how I would rescue this boy.  Despite the drama of Baywatch, it is actually a last resort to go into the water for a rescue, and I eyed up a good stick which I would reach out to the kid.

Meanwhile, he came closer and closer to this rapid in front of us, and I wrestled with whether I should say something, because his father was right there watching him.  Just like that, the kid, who was about 10 and weighed all of 70 pounds, started to get caught.

He gets this panicked look on his face, and his dad tells him to "Stand up" which is not only hard for him to do, but like, the worst advice ever.  You see, when you stand up in water that is strongly pulling you in one direction, you will stand on rocks spaced closely together.  The water will still pull, and more than likely, you will get a foot stuck between rocks and either drown, or break a bone.  Or both.  Luckily, the kid was not able to follow this advice, and tried swimming.

I made a move for that stick as he struggled, and then thankfully, he got his hands around a rock and was able to pull himself out.  He ran, stricken, to his stupid father who told him he should be more careful and actually kind of made fun of hm for being so skinny.  Luckily, I think the kid is smarter than the dad, and he looked like he may have learned a lesson about swimming near rapids.

Meanwhile, we finished our meals and began our hike.  It was totally as advertised, and we reached the "scramble" section as a family with two teenagers was coming down.  Both boy and girl teen paused to tell us how cool the summit is, and wished us luck.

I started out just fine, and Adam quickly rushed ahead of me.  We have both done lots of indoor climbing, and this was easier than most of those.  However, it was much more of a sheer rock than I had initially imagined.  I guess I pictured a hike much like the one we did a few years back at Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.  It required the use of hands, but the trail was through a narrow passageway.  It had higher rocks around us for most of the time.

This was just bare rock face, and I was climbing it.  On Monday, the body strongly opposed the brain.  This day, the brain was strongly opposing the body.  Believe me, this was decidedly NOT HARD.  My body was like, "Dude, I got this.  Piece of cake."

But my brain kept pointing out key differences between this, and indoor climbing.  Little things, like how I have always had a harness while climbing before, how I didn't bring my climbing shoes, how I might slip and fall to my death, and the most troubling point, how I normally do not climb back down.  In indoor climbing, you reach the top, and you let go, while your partner lowers you safely to the ground on a rope.  I highly doubted there would be one of those skyline rides on the other side of the summit.

Somewhere about mid-way, I froze.  Actually, no, I could not go up or down, true, but I was shaking like a leaf.  Arms, legs, hands, all of me.  Meanwhile, Adam nearly walked up the thing like stairs.  He marveled at the view, and told me to get up there.  I did make the choice to continue up, despite extreme concerns about getting back down.  If for no other reason, than to not be lumped in with "most people" who were currently shouting from swimming holes to add more lighter fluid to the campfire (or so I surmised).

A view of Adam about half way up.

Me, as close to the top as I could get.  It counts!

The view from the peak - Adam had to take this blind because I broke the fluid in the camera screen while clinging to a rock for dear life with the camera in my pocket...

By the way, we did not get to do the second hike because it was about 5pm when we finished this one.  I did manage to get down, thanks to my Hero (aka Adam) who told me exactly where to put my hands and feet on the descent.  Getting down was not as hard as I expected!

We instead went to the Newfound Gap by car, and hiked about a mile of the Appalachian Trail, just for kicks.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

What Happens in Gatlinurg Stays in Gatlinburg

After the "trek" to the peak of Clingman's Dome, we headed for our hotel on the Tennessee side of the park.  In reading my pamphlets on the area, I knew that the Bryson City area, and the North Carolina side in general, was the quieter, less popular side of the park.  The center, right there at Clingman's Dome, is the Appalachian Trail, which is the border between states.  Based on the hundreds of ads I had gotten with my "Great Smokies Trip Planner", I expected Gatlinburg, Tennessee to be something like Ocean City here in Maryland.  Basically, a tourist trap - only here there would be woods instead of sand.

This was beyond a tourist trap - it was like Vegas for families.  As soon as we left the serene park borders, we were met with pure chaos:  Haunted Houses, Mini-Golf, Dig for your Own Gold, Zip Line Tours, Live Bear Acts, and at least Six "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" attractions.  (Adam called them, Ripley's "I Can't Believe I Paid That Much" museums.)  Along the mayhem, were pedestrians.  Inexplicably, they were all paying more attention to their ice cream cones or funnel cakes, and grown adults were walking into traffic without even a glance at the cars.

It was pure insanity, especially compared to the peaceful whips of clouds we had photographed just minutes earlier.  I held fast to the reviews of our hotel, which said it was "off the strip" and "quiet", but "close enough to walk to the town".  Thank goodness, these were right on the money.

A few scenes from our hotel room:

Yep, that's the Roaring Fork Creek, which runs right behind every room at this hotel.  It is loud enough to drown out any noise, but the hotel truly is located a bit away from the mayhem.  Also, they featured "wine and cheese" followed by "milk and cookies" every day (though we stayed in the park until sunset each day, and we missed them).  And the pool and hot tub were open 24 hours.  And there was a parrot in the lobby.  (His name is Cesar, and, according to the sign on his cage, he bites.  Good to know.)

The only complaint I had was the free Wi-Fi.  It was set up a bit funky, so every web page featured a banner with flashing coupons at the top.  It was either this, or the million other set-up issues Adam noted in their code, that made it impossible to load pictures to my posts.  So, yes, I have been back for full-on a week now, but will continue to bore you every few days with stories about my vacation.  You're welcome!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Clingman's Dome

Some pictures from Clingman's Dome, which is the highest point along the Appalachian Trail at 6,643 feet above sea level.  Only one other mountain, Mt Mitchell, is higher.  On a clear day, one can see Mount Mitchell, which is in Mitchell State Park in North Carolina.  We were there on a decidedly UN-clear day.  But the air was refreshing and cool at about 67 degrees, so we hung out on top of the man made tower that emanates from the dome, and eventually, the clouds rolled away a bit.

 The spiral walkway leading to the tower.

 View of some clouds rolling in.

 The long awaited southern view, with layers of mountains.

 The observation tower.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Contact with the Trail

The tires are the things on the car that make contact with the trail!

After yesterday's hike, we needed time to dry out.  We decided on a driving loop that would take us partially on unpaved road.  The drive started in the lower elevations on a hot and humid day, but the higher we drove, the cooler and less humid the weather.  At elevation 3000 or so, we put the windows all the way down, and at 4160 ft, we made our first stop at Big Witch Overlook.

 My attempt at humor...get it?  Witch's Overlook?  Geesh!  Tough crowd!

We continued on our drive up to the top, where, conveniently, there were potties.  There is a saying in my family - never pass a pot - so even though our needs were not dire, we used the facilities.  The area also had a number of beautiful tables made of piled up stones.  Alas, I had not thought I would need the camera on a trip to the restroom, so I will have to rely on my memory to picture these.  Fading already!

At this point, we entered the unpaved area.  A sign warned us that the road is 28 miles long and one way, with a speed limit of 15 miles per hour.  Adam maneuvered the car through twists and turns.  Directly adjacent to the trail, for the vast majority of the length, is a drop of about 40 feet or so.  It certainly kept him on his toes.  There also was no way one would reach 15 miles per hour without careening off the cliff.  He kept it an average of 10 miles an hour, going about 6 or 7 around these curves.

For those readers too lazy for this math: 28 miles at 10 miles an hour = a long time.  We did not reach the bottom in Cherokee, NC until about 3:30pm.  At that time, we were hungry!  A common theme on this trip is looking for food at non-traditional mealtimes.  No exception here - Cherokee has places for putt-putt and Christmas ornaments, lots of places to buy "authentic, Indian made jewelery", and Indians themselves, dressed in plastic feathers and beating plastic drums.  But the only food available was ice cream and candy.

I prefer to try local spots when I'm in a new place, so I noted a sign that said the "Cherokee Diner", complete with an "Open" sign.  Open signs appear to be in the windows of places 24-7 around here, so we still weren't certain it was, in fact, open.  Also, it appeared to be somehow between a Dairy Queen and a Dominoes.

Turns out, it was both the Dairy Queen and the Dominoes.  But, it was open, so we ate at the authentic Cherokee Diner.