Thursday, December 31, 2009

Favorite Shots of 2009

Well, we’ve come to the end of another year.  Thinking back on the places we’ve been and the things we’ve done it is hard to believe we got it all done in just one year.  Holy cow, we were busy!

Riverwalk, San Antonio
This has been a beautiful day in lower Alabama.  The sun is shining with a very slight breeze and the temperatures are in the low 70s.  It can’t get much better than this.  We went for a short walk around the Plantation this afternoon.  I started out with a long sleeve shirt over my short sleeve tee shirt.  It didn’t take long before I was peeling off that top shirt.  There were even a few folks out with shorts on.
Avalanche Lily, Mount Rainier National Park

Crater Lake

We did the laundry this morning.  Other than than we have had a very relaxing and lazy day.  This evening is the New Years Eve dinner and dance at the clubhouse.  Even though we were not here for this event last year, we heard about it from friends who were here.  You know you’re in a seniors group when the New Years Eve party ends at 9:30.

During the course of our travels this year, I made between 2 and 3,000 photos.  Here are my favorites from this year.

Have a fun and safe New Years Eve.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Weird World Photos

This has been a wonderful, relaxing day.  We sipped coffee this morning before our pancake and bacon breakfast.  I got together a grocery list and we headed out to the new Walmart in Fairhope.  After lunch I cut Gene’s hair and after his shower we went over to the book room at the clubhouse to swap a couple books.  We spent the remainder of the afternoon either on the computer or reading.  We have about the same thing planned for the evening.  Sometimes, you just need a day like this.  With the busy days right around Christmas, then the day we spent taking down decorations and preparing to travel, then two days on the road followed by a day at Mobile, we were ready for a down day, maybe two.

It is hard for me to explain how happy we are to be here.  It is good to be in warmer weather, but it’s not just all about the climate.  We are exceedingly happy to be in a campground with fellow RVers, many of whom are full-timers.  Our three months in Nashville were spent at a campground of full-time RVers, but they were not travelers.  They were construction workers, health care workers, and other transient types, but not travelers.  Here we are surrounded by fellow travelers who share our desire to wander the country and who understand this nomadic lifestyle.

At dinner last evening, we sat with another couple with a Tennessee residency and enjoyed an hour of talking about our trips to Alaska, the joys of campground hosting, plans for future adventures, and bear stories.

This morning we noticed a gentleman behind our rig with a long piece of string.  By the way, there is about 40 feet between the back of our rig and the back of the rig behind us.  Like I said before, these sites are huge.  Anyway, Gene went out to investigate.  It turns out that Bill was measuring kite string.  He had paced off what he judged to be about a hundred yards and was running his string out to do something to it at every 100 yard increments.  I don’t know a lot about kites so I can’t be more exact than that about what he was doing, but, like the couple we met at dinner last night, it was great to meet Bill--a fellow RVer enjoying his hobby.

When we went over to the clubhouse to browse the book room, the dulcimer group was gathered doing their thing.  That certainly made looking through the books a delightful experience.  If we’re still here next Wednesday, I may go over just to listen to them play.  This is what this lifestyle is all about--meeting people and making new friends who share some of your interests, especially in travel.

Those of you who regularly read this journal know that I usually have my camera hanging around my neck or slung off my shoulder.  In wandering around America you just never know what you’re going to see.  There are some things out there that are just too weird.  Here are a few we’ve seen this year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

USS Alabama in Mobile

We were anxious to get out of the house and do something different today.  We chose to go to Mobile, really just a short drive from Summerdale, for a tour of the battleship USS Alabama.  Even though the temperatures were a little cool and the wind made it seem even colder, the sun was bright and it was a gorgeous day to be outside.

The USS Alabama is located in Mobile Bay at Battleship Memorial Park just off I-10.  This great battleship served America well in the Pacific during WWII as well as Vietnam and Iraqi Freedom.  In addition to the battleship tour, we also toured the WWII submarine USS Drum and viewed the collection of combat aircraft in the museum.

We inquired in the gift shop about a good lunch place and were directed to the Original Oyster House just down the street from Battleship Park.  I had a shrimp Po Boy and Gene had a lunch special of fried shrimp and flounder with french fries.  We both gave the shrimp and the flounder two thumbs up.  The french fries were just okay.  The key lime pie which we shared was yummy.  In fact, if I hadn’t been so full, I could have eaten a piece of my own.
The submarine, USS Drum
Larry, the cook at Rainbow Plantation, is preparing taco salad for dinner.  For a very reasonable price of $5 each, we signed up.  We even signed up to help serve.  We enjoy the many social activities at the Escapees parks.  We’ll participate in several while we’re here this time.

We have rain in the forecast for tomorrow, so we will probably stick pretty close to home.  Perhaps we’ll get to the grocery.  We’ll see.

That’s all for today.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Escapees Rainbow Plantation

After an early start, very light traffic, and good road conditions we arrived at the Escapees Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale about noon.  We were here last January and enjoyed it so much we may make it a regular stop on our way to warmer climates.  We have given considerable thought about making this a regular winter destination for January and February.  We haven’t made a final decision on that yet, but it is a big contender for our winter hangout.

Rainbow Plantation has three different areas.  At the front of the park is the regular campground with about 75 full-hookup sites.  Like the other Escapees parks, no reservations are taken and guests are accommodated on the first in/first out policy.  This area is only about half occupied and since we are only planning to be here less than 2 weeks, we are not worried about having to vacate our site before we are ready to leave.    These sites are huge with dirt parking pads and grass all around.  There is fifteen feet or more between sites and they are 60 or 70 feet deep.  Trees are scattered about; more in some areas than in others.

There is a small area with about 25 sites that are leased on a long term basis.  These  sites allow residents to have small storage buildings and do a little landscaping.  RVers with sites in this area may leave their rig on the site for the duration of the lease or they may move off for travel.  If they are gone, the site remains vacant.

The third area of the park is a small subdivision with stick and brick houses.  These are owned by the resident and homes vary greatly in appearance.  Most are a combination of “garage” or covered RV port and a small living area.  There are a few that are what we think of as regular homes with a garage for the RV.

There is a very nice clubhouse located about the middle of the park.  Like most Escapee parks and other snowbird parks, the clubhouse is used for crafts, group meals, parties, and all kinds of social events.  Typical of the Escapee parks, the daily social hour and the Sunday Ice Cream Social are always in the clubhouse. We went to the 4 o’clock social hour today to get the lowdown on the events planned for the rest of the week.

We are glad to be back at Rainbow Plantation.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Alabama Bound

It is so good to be on the road again.  We pulled out of our campground in Joelton this morning a little after 8 AM in temperatures around 26 degrees.  Gene was go thankful that he had taken the time yesterday afternoon to unhook all the water and sewer connections.  He actually slept in a little this morning and we had a leisurely breakfast before hitting the road.
Alabama Welcome Center
Our drive almost 300 miles south to Montgomery was basically uneventful.  I-65 was in good condition except in Birmingham.  We passed through several construction zones, but there were no workers on this cold Sunday so we sailed right on through.  The only time we had a bit of concern was when a gentleman pulling a good sized travel trailer passed us at about 70 mph.  As he pulled in front of us the trailer started swaying.  It swayed so badly we thought it was going to turn over.  That would pretty much make our day--having a travel trailer turn over in front of us as we were barreling down the interstate at 60 mph.  Gene put on the emergency flashers and slowed down as quickly as possible and all the other interstate traffic slowed down as well to give the guy plenty of room.  He finally got it under control, but that was a close call--for us all.

We drove right past the free campsite at Suncoast RV just south of Birmingham.  That is a good place to stop.  It’s absolutely free for full hookups.  We may be crazy for not taking advantage of such a deal, but we wanted to get farther down the road.

So tonight we are snug as a bug in a rug in the Woods RV Park just off I-65 in Montgomery.  It’s not a bad place to stay for a night or two, maybe three.  It is a Good Sam Park and also Passport America.  There are a hundred or so spacious sites with a new bath house and laundry.  The interior roads are all gravel and the pads are gravel with grass between the sites.  There is a fairly large pond at the back of the campground.  We have free cable and WiFi.

We are only here for one night.  We still have a couple hundred miles tomorrow before we pull into Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale.

That’s it for today.  Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Peanut’s Christmas present.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ready to Roll

We hope you had a wonderful holiday.  We sure did.  It was almost nonstop from about noon on Christmas Eve until past my bedtime last night.  Only 364 days til Christmas.

With all the holidays, doctor’s appointments, visits with friends and family, and the birth of a new grandchild behind us, we are ready to turn our focus to the journey of 2010.  Hitch itch has set in pretty badly over the past week so it was easy to jump out of bed this morning and start preparations for traveling.

It didn’t take me long to get the Christmas decorations down.  Somehow, I had more in the end than when I started, so we made a trip to Target to purchase another plastic storage container for the extra.  Gene got the waste water tanks emptied and put in some fresh water so he could unhook the water hoses this afternoon instead of in the below freezing temperatures tomorrow morning.  Other than the electric cord and hitching up, I think we are ready to roll.

We are excited to get started on our adventure for 2010.  We are staying on the eastern side of the continent this year.  For the past two years we have been on the road for 9-10 months without a visit to Tennessee.  Both years we got pretty homesick (me especially) to see family.  We’ve decided to try something a little different this year.  Currently, the plan is to come back to Nashville two or three times during the course of the year.  Being in the east will help facilitate those home visits.

I said “currently, the plan is” because, as is the case with many RVers, our plans are not written in stone.  In fact, they’re not written at all.  So we wander around on our whims and fantasies and enjoy each day of this life we’ve been so richly blessed to lead.

However, we do have a rough idea in our minds as to what direction we’ll take.  South and warmer weather is first and foremost on our minds right now.  Tomorrow morning we will make our way over to I-65 and head to lower Alabama.  We are looking forward to spending several days at Escapees Rainbow Plantation in Summerdale and visiting with several friends we have there.

We have one reservation this year and that is in Silver Springs, Florida for the month of February.  Until then, we’ll roam around the Florida panhandle and across I-10 to St. Augustine.  We may even get down to Cape Canaveral before landing at Silver Springs.    As March brings in the flowering shrubs and trees, we’ll head up the east coast to Savannah.  By that time, we expect we’ll be needing a Kayley fix so will turn west toward Nashville.  We practically have to drive down my brother’s driveway as we make our connection to I-75 in central Georgia.  Might as well stop for a few days.

After a brief visit in Nashville in March, we think we’ll have a couple weeks for hiking in the Smokies while we wait for the weather to warm up in northern Virginia.  We’re anxious to get back on the Appalachian Trail again so much of our late spring and early summer will focus on hiking.  Northern Virginia is just a stone’s throw from Washington DC.  Gotta go there, too.  We’ve been to DC, but there is enough to do and see to keep us busy til the end of the year.  However, summer is HOT in the south.  We’ll probably head to Maine by early July after another trip back to Nashville.

That’s about as much of thinking ahead as we’ve done.  Although we don’t have the fine details plugged in, we are still excited and anxious to get started.

If all goes as “planned”, my next posting will be from Montgomery, Alabama.  Let the travels begin.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Smells of Christmas

This is the last cooking day before Christmas and it sure smells good in our house.  Baking creates the best smells, I think.  We started the morning out with biscuits.

Since biscuits have a pretty high death by heart attack factor, we don’t have them often.  But Christmas is special.  As a child I spent a whole lot of time at my grandparents.  That was before the days when they discovered biscuits caused heart attacks.  We had homemade biscuits every morning without fail.  The best part about biscuits is the molasses and butter.  I watched my grandfather plop a pile of butter on his plate, pour on a thick layer of Bob White molasses, mix it together with his fork and smear it on a hot biscuit.  I never forgot how to do that and he would have been proud to see me replicate his very motions this morning.

Just as the last biscuit smells were vanishing, the cake smells took their place.  I’m not especially fond of coconut cake myself, but it may be my mother’s favorite cake and thus a Christmas tradition in our household.  We usually spread the joy of making it around.  This year was my turn.  We have come down from our lofty heights in making this cake.  There was a time when we went all out.  The most complicated recipe we tried was one found in a Southern Living cookbook maybe 20 years ago.  It was the standard white layer cake, but with a lemon filling between layers.  I made this stately cake first since I found the recipe.  The next year I was more than happy to pass it off to mother to make and in turn the next year she was more than happy to pass it off to her sister-in-law to make.  The cake had 3 nine inch layers.  My aunt only had 8 inch pans.  Not a year goes by that we don’t laugh about her “stately coconut cake” that was taller than it was wide.  That was the last year we made that cake.  We have digressed so much from those days that today I made a Duncan Hines box cake in a 13 x 9 pan.  I will put a 7 minute icing on it, but I’m not grating fresh coconut.

Several years ago my mother started having a small family get togethers on Christmas Eve.  There were usually about 10 or 12 of us, but you would have thought it was the party of the year.  She went all out making heavy hors d’oeuvres served on her best silver and Christmas china.  Everybody got dressed up in their finest cocktail attire.  It was fun, but boy was it a lot of work.  As we got older, we looked for ways to make this event easier.  First came the store-bought hors d’oeuvres and serving plates that could go in the dishwasher.  Tonight we are having soup and hard rolls from the deli and sitting around the table in our blue jeans.  I think we have finally figured out what’s easy.  Besides, it’s the opportunity to be with extended family that counts, not how good the table looks.

Tomorrow, Gene and I will enjoy Christmas morning together before going over to help Kayley celebrate her first Christmas.  Next year will be more fun for her.  Mid-afternoon we will head back over to my parent’s for Christmas dinner.  All along the way, we will be counting our blessings.

To all of our readers, whatever your traditions, we wish a very merry, fun, and safe Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This and That

The past couple of days have been nothing to write home about.  We have been busy with first one thing then another.  Things have been so boring around here I can’t even remember what we did to occupy our time.

Sunday was a cold, rainy day.  It has passed totally out of my mind.  That’s pitiful.

Monday was a beautiful day.  It started out a little chilly, but the sun finally broke through the cloud cover and warmed things up nicely.  While it was cold, Gene wanted to continue airing up trailer and truck tires.  His small portable air compressor died midway through the task, so he made a trip to Lowes for a new one.  After lunch, Gene and I cleaned out and reorganized our basement storage.  It really doesn’t take that long, especially with us both working, but it is a chore I could put off for eternity.  It has been on my “to do” list since Oct 1.

This morning dawned cold and foggy.  Again, like yesterday, the sun did its thing and we had an unseasonably warm late morning and afternoon.  I wanted to get the grocery shopping done before it got too close to the holiday, so we went out first thing for that.  Got a propane tank filled on the same trip.  We left the rest of the chores for tomorrow and went for a short hike this afternoon.  Just couldn’t let this beautiful day be claimed by chores.  It felt good to get out and breathe a little fresh air.

I found a few photos which I had taken a while back and didn’t remember if they had been posted or not.  If they have been, enjoy the rerun.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow on the Sewer Hose

Yesterday was cold and gray with light rain and even a little frozen specks falling in the afternoon.  This is winter in Tennessee, at least in the Nashville area.  There has been little snow in the past several years in Middle Tennessee.  East Tennessee, on the Cumberland Plateau and then farther east in the mountains, of course, is very likely to get snow.  We, however, are usually spared the white stuff.  We stayed inside close to the fireplace for most of the day.

Our annual hiking club holiday party was last night.  We donned our seasonal head gear and braved the weather to enjoy the festivities.  It was fun and gave us the chance to see all those folks we don’t see any other time of the year.  It was also the last chance to visit with all our hiking buddies until we are back in Nashville in 2010.

As we were driving home from the party, we noticed real snow in the beams of our headlights.  We woke up this morning to snow on the sewer hose.  Surely, it is time to head south.  At least it is time to start the preparations for leaving.  This morning, in the cold, Gene took the tire covers off.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor gloom of night will stay these grandparents form a little Kayley time.   Other than the party last night, our only other trip outside was to visit this sweet child.

We plan to spend today inside getting other things done in anticipation of moving.  Gene asked me this morning when I was going to take the Christmas decorations down.  I had to confess I had almost done it last week.  Is that a sign that I’m ready to go or what?  I guess I’ll save that chore for the day after Christmas.  I have plenty other stuff to keep me busy today.

So, with visions of Florida dancing in my head, I turn my attention to chores.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cookies and Winter Camping

Well, mother and I got our cookies baked yesterday.  We have done this for a few years now and it is becoming one of those special traditions that we look forward to.  We got an early start and continued through the day with a short break for lunch.  We ended up with seven different cookies and a batch of chocolate dipped pretzels.  We threw in the pretzels because we had dipping chocolate left over from the cherry dipped cookies. Of course, with that many different cookies, we had to keep washing the mixing bowls and cookie sheets.  I think we had as many dishes to wash as we did cookies to make.

Gene, on the other hand, was ending up his winter camping trip to the Smokies.  I picked him up at the designated rendezvous site about 5:30.  He and the guys had a great time, even if it was bitter cold.  Just how cold was it?  I heard stories about frost on the inside of the tents when they woke up in the mornings, sleeping with fuel canisters in the sleeping bag to keep them warm enough to burn, sitting a cup of coffee down and coming back to find it starting to freeze, and ice on the trails.  They didn’t have a thermometer, but guessed the temps were in the high teens and low 20s at night.  In camp, Gene said he wore everything he took for the three-day trip.  They were lucky.  They camped low at Cade’s Cove campground.  They ran into some hikers who had camped high on the mountain at Russell Field.  Those guys were really cold at 15 degrees.  Burrrrrrr.

He’s made lots of progress getting his gear cleaned and put away, but the tent is still spread out in the living room.  It has to be completely dry to avoid mildew. I had forgotten what a mess it makes in the house trying to dry out wet gear.
Mother's violets are blooming.  Sort of a touch of spring.
We had planned to go for a short hike this morning.  I haven’t had a leg stretcher all week.  However, we woke up to rain.  Instead we’re gonna deliver those cookies this morning and try for a hike this afternoon.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reflections on the RVing Lifestyle--Me Time

Gene and I spend 24/7 together.  From time to time folks will ask how that works out.  I’ve had two people ask me that in the past week.  This constant togetherness is part of the RVing lifestyle.

I suspect we were like most couples during our working years.  We each devoted much of each day to our careers and what time was left over we spent doing household chores and running errands.  We ate breakfast and dinner together each weekday (usually), but that was about it.  We tried to save one day of the weekend for an activity together.

Now that we are retired, we still have the household chores which draw us our separate ways.  However, now that we don’t spend all that time at jobs, we do some of those chores together.  We almost always go to the grocery together and, except for refilling propane, we do errands together.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that is not true of many retired couples.

People everywhere, RVer or not, enjoy their hobbies.  I have my knitting, photography, blogging, and cooking.  Gene has his camp stoves and internet surfing.  We each enjoy our hiking and traveling.   In many campgrounds, especially those that host a lot of seasonal RVers, there are “club houses” where the various hobby enthusiasts gather with their fellow hobbyists to do their thing.

Perhaps the primary difference for RVers is the small amount of space we have to be together in.  Gene and I enjoy being together, so the close quarters is not a problem for us.  However, there are times when we each need our own space.

I have always been an early riser and I still get up before daylight.  I enjoy (and covet) my morning time before Gene gets up.  I usually have about an hour, sometimes an hour and a half.  I sip my coffee, read my Bible, pray, and meditate while Peanut sleeps in my lap.  I have that “me time” every day.  If I feel I need more time, I may walk around the campground or suggest we go to the local bookstore or any large space where we can wander off on our own.

Gene uses the same tactic to carve out some time for himself.  He usually rubs on the trailer or truck (it must be a boy thing).  He, too, will sometimes take a walk around the campground.  He is much more apt to stop and talk with the fellow campers and I may not see him for an hour or more.

Very seldom, but occasionally, one of us may leave for a few days on some mission or another.  As a Christmas present a couple years ago, I spent five days with my mother.  It was great for her.  Also a couple years ago, I went with hiking friend, Diane, on the AT for a week.  Gene has hiking buddies, too, and he has been gone for the past three days to the Smokies on a hiking/camping trip.  With temperatures in the low 20s, I’ll bet he will be glad to be in his warm bed tonight.

For RVing couples, the space inside is small, but we have the whole outdoors to live in as well.  It is important to have at least a little “me time”.  We have to be creative sometimes to find it, but isn’t that true of everyone?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Counting Down

Just a few more days until Christmas.  Time to get the rest of this stuff done.  This week is devoted to finishing up the shopping and getting the gifts wrapped.  I usually try to wait about wrapping the gifts.  Peanut is much more curious about wrapping, ribbons, and bows than cardboard boxes.  I guess that is probably true of us all.

Time has come to bake cookies, also.  The past couple years, I have gone over to my mother’s for a cooking baking extravaganza.  We each pick three or four cookie recipes and gather the ingredients.  Then we get together at her house (with her 2 large ovens) and bake til we drop.  At the end of the day we each have a nice selection of cookies to pass along to friends.  She assures me that she is feeling up to this event.  To help reduce some of the work, I plan to get the dough for my refrigerator rolled cookies ready tomorrow.  Then on Thursday, I’ll just slice and bake.
7 weeks old
I have tried really hard not to fill this journal with tales and photos of our new granddaughter, Kayley.  We see her two or three times each week.  She is growing like a weed and changing everyday.  As Ansley said yesterday, she now looks like a baby instead of a newborn.  I just couldn’t resist including a picture today.

A few days ago I got an email posted to the guestbook from a distant cousin; one we didn’t even know about.  They found us through the postings from last year when we were out searching for family history in Ohio.  I have spent the past two days trying to refresh my memory of the Curp family history and digging through old photos.  That has piqued my interest in getting back with the family history again.  As luck would have it, we may be able to get together with this cousin while we are in Florida this winter.  We are really looking forward to that meeting.

Speaking of Florida, I guess the countdown to Christmas is not the only counting we are doing.  As the weather has been so cold in middle Tennessee recently, we have been dreaming of southbound I-65.  Our original plans for the winter have changed slightly.  Instead of making a stop to visit with my brother in Macon, we now think we will just jump on I-65 and head to Summerdale, Alabama for about a week before heading to Pensacola.  We’ll meander around northern Florida until February when we have a reservation in Silver Springs.

We have been back in Nashville since the first of October.  Three months is a long time for us to stay in one place and normally we would have hitch itch pretty bad by this time.  We have a little itch, but because we have been so busy and have enjoyed seeing Kayley so often, the itch isn’t too bad.  However, the increasing cold irritates that itch.  We’ve started to count the days.

If I’m gonna get gifts wrapped, I better get with it while Peanut is asleep.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Very Chilly Hike

Yesterday, we got up and out early to meet the Tennessee Trails group at Beaman Park.  It surely would have been a great day to stay inside by the fireplace.  With temperatures hovering around the freezing mark all morning, needless to say, our walk was brisk.

Nancy led the hike with six grateful followers.  About half of the group we had not met before.  It is always fun to get to know fellow hikers.  We were all bundled up and kept up a pretty fast pace.  That kept us warm enough.  The few times we stopped we didn’t linger.  The wind cooled us off in a hurry.

Ice on the banks of the creek
Here are a couple photos.  You can tell it was a dreary day.  Even the cold day and cloudy sky didn’t dampen our spirits.  It was good to be enjoying God’s creation with friends.  We are blessed.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Tis The Season To Be Busy

Goodness gracious, this has been a busy week.

We have had some wonderful visits with friends.  Tuesday evening I had dinner with a couple of my team members from my school teaching days.  We went to the same restaurant (J. Alexander’s) that has become our “traditional” place to gather I think since it opened 15 or so years ago.  The food was wonderful, as always, but seeing my friends was what it was all about.  Thursday evening we had dinner with good friends and hiking buddies, Doug and Diana.  Diana made a wonderful pizza for us.  We got caught up with what all they have been doing this year and some of their plans for the coming year.  Yesterday, long-time hiking and backpacking buddies, Patricia and Jeff, came up from Tullahoma for a visit.  We had what our fellow RVer, Darrell, would call a “chat and chew”--talk and eat.  We hadn’t seen Jeff and Patricia in several years and it was great to see them again and catch up on their goin’s on.  They are not yet RVers, but are getting the bug and have been window shopping a couple times. It was fun showing them around our rig and talking RV shop.  We really appreciate them driving all that way for a visit.  That means a great deal to us.

Friends haven’t been the only thing to occupy our time this week.  There has been some family stuff as well.  I spent the afternoon Tuesday with my mother.  She is doing much better since her little stay in the hospital.  We didn’t do anything in particular, but sometimes it is great just to sit and talk.  Usually we are busy preparing a meal or some other activity and don’t just sit down and talk.  That was nice.  Yesterday afternoon and evening, we had a babysitting gig with Kayley.  Jack and Ansley were due (they may say overdue) for a night out.  We were excited to be the ones to babysit Kayley.  Big Dad (grandpa) had visions of playing the whole time, but Kayley chose to sleep.  It was fun to watch her sleep, though, and we had a great time.

In between all this fun stuff, we have been cooking, cleaning, and buying propane. It has been very cold in middle Tennessee this week making us soooo ready to head south.  We stay warm, of course, but it does take a lot of propane.  We are grateful for every day that the sun is shining.  Even if it is cold outside, the sun through the windows warms us up nicely and it keeps the furnace from running so much.

Today, we are dressed up in layer after layer of clothing and are heading out to the trail.  One of our hiking club friends is leading a hike at Beaman Park this morning and we want to join her and the rest of the gang for a brisk walk on this cold morning.

That’s it for now.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Opryland Hotel

One of the most popular places in Nashville to visit during the holiday season is Opry Land Hotel.  Decorated to the nines, folks come in droves.  This is not really a “tradition” with us, but we find ourselves there almost every year just to gaze at the decorations.  Of course, the best time to go is after dark to get the full effect of the lighting.  However, we have been in those crowds too many times in previous years.  A more quiet time is in the morning.

All of the plants are real, of course
Many years ago, it was free and there still isn’t a charge to enter the hotel, but now the  parking is expensive.  Last I heard it was $10.  For those in the area, we have figured out a way to avoid the parking charge.  Opry Mills Mall is just next door and there is a sidewalk leading right to the Delta entrance of the hotel.  Park at the theater end of the mall as close to the employee parking area as possible and toward the hotel.  The sidewalk in front of a fake boulder (left over from the old Opryland theme park days) leads away from the mall and right to the hotel.  Easy! and Free!

Being parked at the mall made it easy to make a brief shopping stop.  We didn’t stay long.  By the time we got there, crowds had begun to gather.  One store really caught my eye--the Crocs store.   You know--Crocs--the latest craze in footwear.  I had no idea they had a high-heel model.  There was nothing in this store but Crocs and they were in every color, size, and style.  Who would have thought.

Crocs started out as a “beach” shoe.  It was lightweight, water didn’t hurt it (I’m not going to say “waterproof” since they are riddled with holes), and it slips on and off easily.  It had all the attributes the hiking community was looking for in a camp shoe.  When backpacking, hikers want a pair of lightweight shoes to slip into after a long day in boots.  Naturally, we each have a pair.  I haven’t done an official study, but I’d say 90% of backpackers have a pair of Crocs lashed to the back of their packs.

Well, that was our morning.  Now I have a dessert baking in the oven to take to our good friends, Doug and Diana, who have invited us to share homemade pizza with them tonight.  Ahh, ‘tis the season to party.  Ain’t it great?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Wild Places

In the Sept-Oct 2009 issue of AT Journeys I read an article featuring an upcoming documentary film by National Geographic about the Appalachian Trail.  This documentary is apparently one in a series produced by Brian Armstrong about America’s Wild Spaces.  In that article Mr Armstrong was quoted as describing the mind of a thru-hiker as very much a wild space.

Clearly, for anyone to desire to go into the wilderness for an extended amount of time forgoing the basic conveniences of toilet, shower, clean clothes, and fresh food, they must have something going on in their heads that is unlike most of mainstream America.  Having spent some time in long-distance hiking, Gene and I must fit into the non-mainstream category.  However, Gene takes this bizarre thinking to all new heights as demonstrated by his project on this cold, rainy day.

The quest of every long-distance hiker is to travel light.  In days of old, it was not uncommon for a backpacker to haul 60 lbs of gear on his back.  That would certainly make your back hurt.  With the introduction of lighter weight materials for clothing, sleeping bags, and even packs, weights came down to a more manageable 35 or 40 lbs.  That’s an improvement, but as one who typically carries 30 lbs, let me tell you that that is still a back breaker.  The ultralight hikers strives for less than 20 lbs to include food and water.  Now we’re talking lightweight.

The great mystery in long-distance hiking is how to be comfortable in camp without carrying so much “stuff” as to make the hiking miserable.  To solve this dilemma, backpackers have taken the scissors to every unnecessary part of their gear.  They have cut off straps and buckles and zippers.  They’ve shortened their sleeping pads and done away with the “shoulders” and hoods of their sleeping bags.  They’ve taken to wearing “tennis” like shoes instead of heavy boots and many don’t wear underwear.  Every item that goes into the pack is analyzed for it’s usefulness and, if it is included, is carefully inspected for anything that can be cut off to save weight.  One of the more weighty items in the pack is the cook set.  This was the focus of Gene’s project for today.

I’ve heard of hikers in the early days carrying cast iron into the wilderness.  Holy cow; I just can’t image.  Today, the lightweight backpackers carries titanium if they can afford it, or aluminum.  But the cook pot is not what is heavy these days--it is the stove and fuel canister.  There are many commercially made stoves that are very lightweight.  We have an MSR windpro which weighs about 7 oz.  Of course, it requires a canister of isobutane which weighs another 7 oz with only 4 oz of that total weight being fuel.  Over the years, hikers have experimented with burning alcohol which can be carried in a plastic coke bottle.  Basically, you pour the alcohol into any container and light it.  Gene’s project--the perfect alcohol stove.

Cleaning the can
From the local Wal-mart he gathered up a number of cans--bean dip (aluminum half ounce), tuna (steel, 3/4 ounce), cat food (aluminum, one-third ounce), and potted meat.  It turned out that the potted meat can was exactly the same size as the Fancy Feast can and interestingly enough it cost 10 cents less.  He also purchased a hole puncher.  The goal was to discover which was the most efficient can to boil a pint of water without using a pot support but which was also stable enough not to easily tip over.  The stove we often use on long-distance trips is the pepsi can stove, but it requires a pot support.  This stove weighs less than an ounce, but the pot support weighs an additional 2 ounces.
The work station
Fancy Feast can hardly weighs anything

punching the holes
He is spending this rainy day making a variety of stoves.  Cans have to be cleaned, labels and glue removed, and holes punched for air circulation.  That will be all he gets done today.  Testing the stoves will need to wait for a non-rainy and less windy day.
Even Peanut lost interest in this project
The goal is to get below the 3 oz of this pepsi can stove and pot support
He is in his utopia--there is nothing he’d rather be doing.  Brian Armstrong told us the mind of a long-distance hiker was a “wild space”.