Monday, October 29, 2012

Bittersweet October

"Bittersweet October. The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking perfect pause between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.” - Carol Bishop Hipps

Backpacking Trip Overview

On Saturday, October 20th, Brad and I went on our first vacation. It wasn't to an exotic beach in the Caribbean or even a touristy beach on the East Coast, but that didn't matter to us. For the first time in our almost eight years as a couple, we finally got to do what we longingly saw others post about on Facebook all summer long.

As I poured my soul into the final preparations of my comprehensive exam, Brad meticulously examined his topographical map of Shenandoah National Park. For days, I would find him at the kitchen counter or on the bed with a compass, a ruler, a pen, and his map trying to figure out the route for our vacation--a 3-day backpacking trip.

For 3 whole, beautiful days, we would travel by foot on a hiking route that Brad pieced together, and our destination was the North District of Shenandoah National Park.

Day 1

On Day 1, we hiked up on Knob Mountain and hiked down to Jeremy's Run.

That night, we set up camp on the banks of Jeremy's Run,

filtering water from the run to use when cooking dinner: leftover snacks (e.g. granola bars), mashed potatoes, Ramen, and hot cocoa.

It was cold. Real cold. Wearing multiple layers of clothing, including Army-issued neck gators, nestled in our warm sleeping bags, we taught each other how to play cards. I taught Brad how to play golf, and he taught me how to play poker.

Several times that night, something woke me up--an owl hooting close by. I didn't even care that she deprived me of sleep. Her call enchanted me.

Day 2

In the morning, we made some oatmeal for breakfast and then broke down our campsite. After filtering some mountain water for the hike ahead of us,

we took off on the trail. We hiked up, up, up to Neighbor Mountain, a mountain devastated by a wildfire this past summer. The charred trees were surrounded by new growth.

After hiking up Neighbor Mountain, we hiked up another mountain. And another mountain. Then we hiked down to Thornton River and bushwhacked into the backcountry along Piney Branch. I loved our campsite. It was legitimately in the middle of nowhere.

That night we fell asleep early and woke up many times. But again, the lack of sleep didn't matter because of the beauty that surrounded us. When I opened my weary eyes each time that night, I didn't look up to see my closet door or a sterile white stucco ceiling. Instead, I saw a blanket of stars covering the night sky.

Day 3

Day 3 was bittersweet. We missed the Poops (of course) and showers and deodorant and toilets, but there is something about living off the grid that frees our souls. Watching a falcon soar across the sky or a deer leap through the crunchy, leaf-ridden forest floor is special. It's sacred, and so is waking up to a hooting owl or a blanket full of stars.

Eddie Vedder captures that feeling well in his song "Society," which is from the Into the Wild soundtrack.

We wanted to capture that feeling in a picture, so using a rock and timer mode, Brad snapped a shot. And it's a photograph that I will cherish forever.

On the final hike of our vacation, we ran into something we didn't expect to see an old, but well-kept cemetery beneath a grove of trees. The changing leaves gave an orange cast to the burial place even though the leaves look yellow in this first picture.

While exploring the cemetery, we stumbled across this:

It pains me that others had to suffer, so I could enjoy this playground. Hippies hate hurt. Just ask anyone who knows me. But I am so grateful of the mountain people's sacrifice. These mountains give me peace. I just hope the mountain people found their peace after being displaced from such a sacred spot.

The cemetery was along Keyser Run. After we left it, we tackled Little Devil's Stairs, one bitch of a hike but completely worth the pain and sweat. Imagine walking for miles up the steepest stairs you have ever seen while surrounded by a wild canyon and gorge. These pictures cannot even begin to capture this stunning scenery.

The whole trip was wild, wonderful, incredible, and unforgettable.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Aim, it's Tibbet Knob."

A couple of weeks ago me and the boys hiked Tibbet Knob trail in the George Washington National Forest. Brad said that I can't blog about stuff that happened two weeks ago. He wasn't the one with the comprehensive exam, three papers, and two annotated bibliographies due, so he can bite me.

The Tibbet Knob hike was a fun one, not too difficult with a well-marked trail and spectacular views. In talking about it, I may or may not (stress on may) have referred to the hike as Tibetan Mountain. Always the voice of reason, Brad's like, "Aim, it's Tibbet Knob." Ummmmmmmmm........

Anywho, only 3.1 miles long, Tibetan Mountain? was a nice leg stretcher and a beautiful spot for a picnic lunch. I don't know what it is but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste so much better when you eat them at a place with a view. Rex thinks so too. In the first pic he's thinking, "Mom, I hate you. Where's my sammich?" and if you look real close in the second pic, you can see the drool dripping from his mouth.

At this particular summit--post-picnic--is where we first experimented with the panoramic feature on my iPhone camera. The details of the hike aren't as fresh in my head (yeah...two weeks...whatever, Brad), but the pictures are still spectacular. No credit to us, though, Mother Nature did all the work.

And we'll conclude with a random photo of my new friend, Mr. Grasshopper.

The end...two weeks late.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Old Mill: A New Favorite

I didn't believe Brad's sister, Ali, when she said, "It's Cracker Barrel, but better." Ali was talking about this restaurant in Pigeon Forge called The Old Mill. I figured it was good, but I was skeptical about the Cracker Barrel comment.

How can you get better than Cracker Barrel? The tea, the biscuits, the cone-bread, the dumplins, the mashed taters. Then there's the service. The stars mean something. I can't count the number of times that I have eaten at Cracker Barrel, but I can count the number of times that I've had bad service. Can count those times on one finger. Yes, I said finger.

Well worth the twenty minute wait for a table, The Old Mill is now a new favorite. Ali nailed it. It's Cracker Barrel, but better. Cracker Barrel may have the golf tee game, which does keep me entertained for a while, but what Cracker Barrel doesn't have are black bear salt and pepper shakers.

On the menu that day (or at least the menu I made for myself) was...
  • Sweet tea, our waitress ended up leaving us a pitcher to save herself several refill trips
  • Corn chowder
  • Hushpuppies with honey butter
  • Fried porkchops and gravy 
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Fried okra
  • And a biscuit that melted in my mouth 
I consumed more calories in that meal than I typically do in three days. But the food baby I carried around for hours after was totally worth it. And so was all the hiking I had to do to shed those extra pounds. 

Moonshine Tasting

I tried moonshine for the first time on my 23rd birthday, and I wasn't a fan. It was plain moonshine. Like you'd have plain cheesecake except it wasn't as good as cheesecake. Not nearly as good as cheesecake, so I figured I wouldn't ever try moonshine again.

Then I went to Gatlinburg, TN with Brad, his sister, and her boyfriend. And a Southern man in coveralls with dollar bills stuffed in the middle pocket served us twelve different kinds of moonshine. I can't remember them all, but I do remember my Top 3.
  1. Raspberry
  2. Apple Pie
  3. Blackberry

Sunday Funday back at the beautiful log cabin we were staying at was out of the question. Gatlinburg is dry on Sundays. How this place got around the whole tasting thing, I do not know, but buying an over-21 souvenir was strictly forbidden. Mega lame if you ask me, but I'll look on the bright side..saved me an awful morning after.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Time Out

Sometimes I wonder why I work three jobs, go to grad school, and have an internship. Then I remember that someday I will get paid to hike and write about it. Someday, I will be Brad's sugar momma. Until then, I will be equally as miserable as Maxine unless, well, I'm far, far, far, FAR away from society and anything that runs on a battery except my camera.