Friday, April 27, 2012

Morally gray

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was planning to dig up some wildflowers from under the electrical pylons in the watershed. Every few years the utility company mows and poisons the plants in that area, so it's not like I'd be taking plants other people could enjoy.

Yesterday I decided it was time. It was a drizzly, cool day so I didn't think I'd have anyone around to see me digging up plants. I set out in mid-afternoon with a big cloth bag and a trowel. As I believe I've mentioned before, there's an access trailhead only a few minutes' walk from my house, which would take me directly to the pylons. I walked briskly down the street, turned the corner...and there was a cop car.

Now, I live in a town with only about 1,400 residents. It's unusual to see cop cars around, even if I do happen to live just a few minutes' walk (in the other direction) from our tiny police station. This cop had pulled someone over for speeding or something, but it sure made me nervous to walk right by them and then step into the woods with that bag over my shoulder. I kept expecting the cop to run after me, shouting, "You! Drop your trowel!"

I hiked up to the pylons--a very brief hike, probably not even a third of a mile--and went well off-trail to do my digging. I got some ferns, some little-brown-jug, some daisies, some wild bee balm, and a few other plants, none of them rare. I was a little nervous on my way back, thinking the cop car might still be there waiting for me. But it was gone, and I got home safely and transplanted my plants.

And I will never do that again. It's far too nerve-wracking.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

House Mountain

House Mountain, just outside of Knoxville, TN, is not very far from where I live, but I'd only been there once--in about 1998. I didn't hike very far then because I had my dog with me, Jasper the Newfoundland. He was a great hiking companion since he would happily carry all the water and snacks in his own pack so I didn't have to carry anything, but when he got tired and hot he'd just sit down and give me a look that said, "I'm ready to go back to the car now." And we would.

So today, I had plans to start early and hike the whole mountain. It was chilly and overcast, which worried me a little, but I had to be somewhere at five so I decided I'd just get cold and damp. It would not kill me, probably. I was more disappointed that it was foggy, since I wanted to see the views.

As it turned out, I got lost trying to find the trailhead. This shouldn't have surprised me, since I have a strange genius for being able to get lost while driving no matter how clear my directions. I didn't realize I wasn't on the right road for a ridiculously long time, and by the time I got onto the right road, it was over an hour later than I'd intended to start my hike. But a funny thing happened. About sixty seconds before I saw the sign directing me to the House Mountain park, the fog lifted, the sun came out, and the temperature finally rose above 60 degrees.

So I had a beautiful hike after all. The House Mountain trails are lovely and in most places in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, they're really badly marked and the map I'd printed off the official site turned out to be completely useless.

I started up Mountain Trail, but at some point apparently I got onto a side trail that took me through a whole bunch of boulders on a steep slope. It was AWESOME. That little stretch of maybe a third of a mile was worth the whole trip. I tried to get some decent pictures, but none of them really shows how truly amazing the area is. I could hear traffic dimly from far below and a few times I heard a rooster crowing at a nearby farm. The last part of the trail was a rocky hill so steep I had to scramble up from rock to rock cautiously. And at the top? I was suddenly on a level trail that went from east to west. There was, of course, no sign and no blazes to give me a hint as to where I was. I still don't know.

I sat down at the top of the trail (see photo above of my foot and waterbottle, looking back down the way I'd just climbed up) and took a break. After that I had to decide which way to go, which is where I discovered that my map was no use at all. I tried going east first but the trail didn't look very well used and was headed downhill steeply too. I'd just climbed up and knew there was a trail that ran along the hilltop, so I turned around and went the other way. That took me up to the top of the mountain.

I took what I think was the Crest Trail, although I'm not sure. I didn't take a picture of the only sign I found, but I think it called the trail East Overlook. Not positive, though. Anyway, that took me to part of the mountain that's privately owned (wouldn't that be cool?), where the owners have chunked a giant flag in the middle of the view. The view is fabulous. I counted seven hawks (ospreys? not sure) circling below me.

After that I had to backtrack back to the trail sign, and went the other way, West Overlook Trail. That one took me to a cool place where it looks like there used to be a radio tower or something. There were some concrete blocks where the tower was probably once anchored, and someone had chipped some names in one along with the year 1958. That was just a sidetrip, though, off a dirt road that led down to an actual radio tower. I saw truck tracks in the dirt and figured the road was just for the radio tower. Apparently that was not the case and if I'd continued I would have looped back down to the trailhead, but there were (as usual) no signs or blazes to let me know. So I went back and picked the only trail I hadn't yet hiked.

This one turned out to be the Mountain Trail, where I would have come out if I hadn't ended up at the rocky area. I didn't realize that right away, though, not until I came to the spot where I split off without noticing in the first place. I almost went back to the rocky area again, but I'd been on the trail for about two and a half hours by then and was getting tired. I went back down Mountain Trail, not very happy about backtracking even though it really is a lovely trail with some spectacular views. And some great big rocks.

I saw one critter on the trail that I can't identify. It looked like a little snake, but it moved kind of awkwardly compared to a snake. I think it was a legless lizard of some kind. I've done some online searching but can't find an ID. He was solidly gray and about, oh, maybe six inches long. I did get a picture, although it's not very clear. Maybe someone will know what it is.

Anyway, I had a good time at House Mountain but I don't think I'll be back very often just because the trails are so badly marked and that makes it frustrating. On the other hand, I might go back just to hike that rocky stretch.

And just to prove my point that I'm incapable of finding my way around unfamiliar territory when I'm in my car, when I left the small parking lot I turned the wrong way and didn't realize my mistake for several miles.

Here is a view of a lovely field that you will see if you go the wrong way after leaving House Mountain.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

River Bluff Trail

So after my last post, I went out to Walmart and just bought a daypack. It was the only pack they carried that was made for women and really it's bigger than I wanted, but it was only twenty bucks and it isn't pink. (It's blue.)

Then I thought, why not? And once I'd packed too much stuff into all the many little pockets of my new pack, I went out to the River Bluff trail above Norris Dam. It's a loop trail; according to the sign, it's 3.2 miles long, but according to my map it's 2.7 miles. Since it only took me about 90 minutes to hike it today, and I was not exactly in a hurry, I'd guess my map is more accurate.

Last time I hiked the River Bluff Trail, a few years ago, it was a Sunday afternoon and Every. Single. Other. human being on the planet had decided to hike it. There must have been 300 people on that trail, seriously. It was horrible. There were giant family groups and little old ladies and babies and sweartogod nuns walking that trail. So I hadn't been back until today, but today when I arrived around 4:30pm mine was the only car in the little parking lot. Last time I had to park a quarter mile up the road (which should have clued me in).

I went to the right when the trail forked, knowing that that would take me up a steep climb to the top of the ridge, and knowing also that once I was at the top I would have a lovely stroll and it was pretty much all downhill after that, and the trail follows the river at the bottom of the ridge and it's nice and cool.

It was a lovely day, only around 75 degrees and sunny. Once I got to the top of the ridge, about the time I was thinking I'd like to rest for a few minutes and get a drink of water, there was a bench! So I sat down for a few minutes and had a drink.

I haven't had my camera very long and it kept flashing in shadowy areas even when I didn't want it to. I stopped for a few minutes and started punching buttons, and was pretty pleased to figure out not only how to turn off the flash, but also found that it has a time delay function so if I wanted to I could take a picture of myself. I am embarrassed to relate that I had just said, out loud, "Oh, cool, that's awesome!" to my camera when I realized a man and woman had caught up to me on the trail and had overheard me. I wanted to tell them that I don't ordinarily talk to myself out in the woods, but I just hiked on. They would have known I was lying anyway.

From the top of the ridge, where the main groundcover was ferns between huge old trees, the trail descended on steep switchbacks. The plants growing on either side of the trail became lusher and more numerous. Finally I reached the river, which is very low right now since it hasn't rained all week.

My pack worked just fine. My back still sweated, but not nearly as bad as with my old pack, and most of the sweat was because I'd forgotten to change shirts and was still wearing the "I'm too cheap to buy a con T-shirt so I gave blood to get this free one" T-shirt I got at DragonCon last year, which has a big screened design on the back.

My boots didn't bother my feet too much. I think they're getting broken in (the boots, not my feet). I also had trimmed my big toenails before I left so while I did get some boot bang, my nails don't feel like they've been driven back into my toes. No blisters or hot spots either.

<--just in case you weren't sure which way the trail went; hate for you to get lost or anything

So anyway, I had a good time and I'm not tired. I might go on a longer, more challenging dayhike in a week or two, maybe up to House Mountain or someplace where I haven't been in a long time. I like Clear Creek, but I like getting out on new trails occasionally too.

And now here are 42 pictures of my waterbottles.

How not to attract shoppers

I got a check in the mail today that I totally didn't expect, which is always nice. So I decided I should probably just get a freaking daypack so I can quit stressing over it. I started my search online, of course, although I'll probably buy the pack locally.

My search was for "daypacks for women." I clicked through a few sites, REI and The North Face, just glancing over the selection quickly before I go back and take closer looks. Then I came to a site called ABC of Hiking. Never heard of them before, but what the heck.

Here's the introductory sentences on the Women's Day Packs page: "We understand how women indulge into shopping a lot and how it sometimes serves as a therapy for them. This section of ABC-of-Hiking shop caters to those girls who love to shop and those who are looking for the best and most fashionable day packs. Filter the day packs you like, save all your favorites, and click straight through the freshest picks of the season! You'll find every woman's must-have day packs here!"

Here's their introductory sentences on the Men's Day Packs page: "ABC-of-Hiking has the best day packs for men based on their interests. For a father, husband, brother, or friend - there is definitely something for every guy here in our shop. We understand how men hate to shop, that's why we built the premise of making it even more convenient for them by providing this comprehensive selection of day packs for all male outdoor enthusiasts."

Whoa. What is this I don't even, as the kids say. Who wrote that stuff? They manage to insult women and men, not to mention hikers--because whatever their sex, I have never met a hiker who wouldn't love to spend hours examining gear before making the final decision. 'Fashionable' isn't top of the list of things hikers (of either sex) are looking for when they look at gear, too.

So no, ABC, I will not be buying from your site. (I wouldn't anyway because the text reads like it was translated into English by Babelfish so that the site looks amateurish and shifty, but you know.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Some photos of Clear Creek

I've had this blog for what, over a week? and I haven't posted one single picture yet. Well, here are two pictures from about three weeks ago. Above is a typical sign posted along the High Point Trail, which is accessible by car if you don't care too much about your shocks or oilpan or tires and are an idiot.

I do almost all of my hiking in the Clear Creek area since it's basically in my back yard; it's more commonly known as the Norris Watershed, adjacent to the Norris Dam area (where I also sometimes hike). It's lovely out at Clear Creek with well-kept trails, not rugged or very challenging, but it has the benefit of being close to my house. Really close. I step out my front door and within five minutes I'm on the trail.

I've set my current book--you know, the one with running-away-from-bad-guys-through-the-woods-also-the-main-character-likes-to-hike-and-camp that I started this blog partly to talk about--in my own town. I figure it'll make the book more realistic, particularly the parts that take place on the trail. I've hiked in Clear Creek on and off for the last quarter century, and while I'm sure there are lots of people out there who know the area better than I do, they're not writing this book.

But it does feel weird to write about landmarks I've known all my life. I feel like I'm cheating. If I need to know how to stage a scene, I can go there and look over the setting. I expect I'll need to do some artistic-license tinkering with the real Clear Creek trails before I'm done with the book, but so far it's working out just fine. Go me.

Above: the Red Hill Cemetery off Red Hill Trail, which has gravestones from the late 19th century through to around the 1930s. Some of them are hand-carved.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hiking not so hot, or even warm

We've had a cold snap the last day or two. I've covered up my tomato and basil plants in hopes that they will not freeze to death overnight. This could be called dogwood winter, except that the dogwoods have pretty much finished blooming, and it could definitely be called blackberry winter, since the blackberry vines are indeed blooming.

I made myself go out for a very brief hike after work. I'm afraid my new hiking boots really are a half size too small--just enough to be annoying, not enough to be devastating. I'm too much of a cheapskate to buy another pair.

I hiked up to the place where I've blackberry picked since I was a kid. It stays brushy because there are two sets of huge electric pylons, or whatever they're called, that I guess bring us power from the dam, and the utility company keeps the growth under them mowed down. Every few years they mow down to the bare dirt, and recently they've started using a defoliant to kill the plants more effectively. So every few years there are no blackberries. I think next year will be a dead year.

Mostly I went there because I wanted to scope out what was growing in that dead zone besides blackberry vines. I figure the plants will be killed anyway, I might as well help myself to start my wildflower garden. I poked around at the top of the ridge for a while with an icy breeze blowing on me. I was just wearing a T-shirt and jeans, and even with my hands in my jeans pockets I was freezing. Even the discovery of a number of ferns and some little brown jug plants didn't cheer me. I toughed it out for a few minutes longer, but my nose was running and my arms were all goosebumped, so I gave up and came home. It was probably only around 55 degrees F.

And that's why I never hike in winter. Because in winter it's cold like that all the time.

Monday, April 9, 2012

At least I wasn't arrested

I didn't get out on the trail at all this weekend, and wanted to go this evening when I got home from work. Instead, I discovered that I'd locked myself out of the house (again! second time in six months!) and had to figure out how to break in without actually breaking anything. I managed to climb in through a bedroom window. There's a big holly bush in front of the window, and I left the stepladder under the bush because once I was in, I couldn't bring myself to fight my way into the bush again to retrieve the stepladder. So next time I lock myself out, it'll be easy to break in. Or, burglars!

It was too late by then to consider going out, and anyway I have a massive bruise on my right leg that hurts like hell. I dug around online to read other people's hiking blogs instead.

Well, here's what the typical hiking blog is like: "We hit the trail at 7am and hiked up to Greatview despite Mike blowing out a boot and the temperature dropping to -65F with blizzard conditions expected. We met up with Jordan at Greatview, but we didn't have time to visit long because she's on a through hike and had to get her goal in of 200 miles a day. She did tell us she no longer finds joy in the great outdoors and just wants to get this over with so she can stay in a five-star hotel for a week. After a refreshing dip in the Great Salt Pond, Mike and I hiked to Dessicated Canyon to watch the sun set. Here are 42 photos of our water bottles."

I'm sure I'll find some good hiking blogs out there, especially if I keep hurting myself doing stupid stuff so I can't get out to break in my new boots some more. Any suggestions?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

New Boots and Old Pack

I finally decided to replace my old boots. I wore the old ones for years and years and years and years, and got them repaired whenever the uppers started to pull away from the soles (which happened at least once a year), and cleaned them with spit and saddle soap. But the soles are totally worn out, so it was either pay a fortune to have them resoled or just buy a new pair.

So I got a pair of Danner Talus boots, from that link although they were very much cheaper (like, $40 cheaper) when I ordered them a few weeks ago. Damn, I'm glad I got them when I did.

I've now worn them on the trail twice to start breaking them in. I get boot bang on steep downhills (which makes me wonder if I should have gone up half a size, but they're really comfortable and fit well otherwise). They also rub my ankles to the point of bruising, although once they're broken in that'll probably stop.

What do en pointe ballerinas wear in their slippers to cushion their toes? Maybe I can get some of that stuff so my big toes won't get squooshed constantly. Seriously, today I only hiked 2.25 miles according to my cheap-ass pedometer, and when I got home and took my boots off, there was visible wear in the big toes of my brand new expensive wool-blend hiking socks. I'm going to be really pissed if I have to darn my socks after each hike.

Today was also the first time I wore a pack on the trail in years. I only do dayhiking these days, ever since my old dog died a few years ago. I don't like to camp alone and I doubt my cat would appreciate being press-ganged. Also, they don't make pet packs that fit cats.

The pack I wore today was my old leather backpack that I bought in college, um, twenty-odd years ago. Geez, I feel old. I thought it would work just fine since I wasn't exactly going far. Last week I carried a messenger bag with my water and snacks etc. in it (for a six-mile hike) which was comfortable in a way since it didn't make my back sweat, but my shoulder muscles were tight and achy when I got home. So I tried my old backpack.

Well, I'm going to have to invest in a real pack. I was wearing a cotton T-shirt and while it was only in the 70s, it was extremely humid since we'd just had a storm come through and it was still drizzling a bit. Before I'd gone a mile, the back of my shirt was soaked. Blech. Even if I'd been wearing a 'wicking material' shirt (that phrase always makes me snicker, I don't know why) I'd still have been miserable because the pack just did not breathe against my back. At all. Ugh. And now I remember why I don't carry this backpack anymore. Why do I still own it? It gets mildewed too easily too, even in the house.

But now that I've dropped so much money on my new boots, I can't bring myself to buy a pack just yet. Maybe I can get one of those ultra-light daypacks that loop over the shoulders with string. And maybe I could just wear boxers on my head and go "durp durp durp" while I hike.