Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Hiking in Linville Gorge Again.

One of the many nice things about being semi-retired is that I can enjoy the outdoors pretty much when I freaking please. So I did some hiking last week. One of the places I went was the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. It has a relatively compact trail system and I've hiked most of it. I didn't have time for a long loop hike so I headed west and did a couple of shorter hikes, one of which I'd never done and one that I'd only hiked once.

Here then, briefly, are two video compositions I did of the hikes.

Typical rocky trail scene in Linville Gorge.

This is where I decided to eat lunch.

16-minute video of part of the hike down.

Grandfather Mountain was dusted in snow. I took this photo from the flanks of Hawksbill Mountain.
Shot this one with my GoPro on photo setting.
Mainly time-lapse of the hike to the summit of Hawksbill Mountain and back down.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Towns I Like.

Find a city. Find myself a city.
To visit.

When I go on vacation I tend to stay as far from population centers as I possibly can. There are many, many reasons for this. I have almost always lived in cities with lots of people, so it's the old "been there, done that" mentality. But I also just do not like crowds. You could argue that I am a misanthrope and I would not waste any time defending myself of that charge. But to boil it all down, I just don't like crowds of humans and I'm not fond of participating in group-think and being stuck within throngs of people.

However, from time to time I have been known to enjoy being in some towns and cities. I often can't explain exactly why I like these places, but I do.

So...here's a brief list.

New York City.

I used to visit NYC at least once a year. It should be everything that I hate, but for some bizarre reason I get a kick out of the joint. Once I was almost mugged there, but I got away. I'll never forget the expression on the faces of the two asshole would-be muggers as I escaped. Eyes in the back of me head, as they say. One of the most vivid experiences I ever had was walking all over downtown Manhattan in the depths of night during an impressive snowstorm with several friends. Gee whiz, I am glad I have that experience stored in the old gray matter.

Columbus Circle, where I almost got mugged the last time I was in NYC. Still love the place.

My mom was born in Manhattan. Maybe that's one reason I like it? As good a reason as any other, I reckon.

I have not been back to New York in many, many years. My wife has never been, so I'd like to take her there to see the place and do the whole tourist thang. We'll see.

Damascus, VA.

This is a small town by any stretch of the description. It sits in a valley in the very high mountains of southwest Virginia. It doesn't hurt that this is one of my favorite places to vacation. Carole and I have been to this part of the state too many times to count, and we always find something new to see and do. Damascus is called "the friendliest town on the Appalachian Trail" and while I can't say that I've visited every town the AT runs through, I would figure there are high odds that Damascus deserves the title of friendliest.

Yeah, this is a town that has embraced Mother Nature. The annual Trail Days event in downtown Damasus wherein they celebrate the Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail, and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.

Back in the 70s some of the locals didn't like the idea of things like National Parks and Biking Trails and outdoor outfitter services being part of their town. Terrorists even burned down a vast train trestle being used as a biking trail rather than allow it to become something to attract tourists. But those ignorant jerks were either swept aside or were convinced of the advantage of the town becoming a tourist mecca for outdoors enthusiasts.

These days Damascus can help lead you to biking, hiking, backpacking, fly fishing, kayaking, canoeing, hunting, rock climbing...hell...you name it. There are places where you can rent a cabin or pitch a tent or park a travel trailer/motorhome. Forests surround it. A river runs through it. And the people really are friendly.

St. Augustine, Florida.

Generally I stay away from the places in Florida to which most people are drawn. You won't find me in Orlando or Miami or even Jacksonville. I don't like amusement parks and I can't find a good reason to brave traffic to hit any of the big urban areas in Florida.

Back in 2007 we saw this couple getting married in downtown St. Augustine. Seems like the church was Greek Orthodox. Not sure.

However, I have always enjoyed St. Augustine. It's small enough that I don't get frustrated being stuck in gridlock, and the place is genuinely fun. They claim that it's the oldest continuously inhabited European town in North America. I'll take their word for it.

The downtown area of the city is really cool. Shops and walking streets where no vehicles are permitted. You can see the oldest house in North America. There's a huge Spanish fort mainly intact that you can tour. And all kinds of beaches and state parks and waterways all over the place. If you're not into the whole camping routine there are some great hotels where we have stayed. And the seafood is wonderful. There are a host of good seafood restaurants in the town. In fact, I've never had a bad seafood meal in St. Augustine.

The ancient Spanish fort in St. Augustine.

Well, there you go. There are other cities I like, but those are the ones foremost in my mind. I also like Atlanta GA, San Diego CA, Estes Park CO. Maybe I'll talk about them another day.

Friday, January 20, 2017


A line from one of the many hundred of treaties the US government signed with one of the many Native American nations that were here before the USA was established.

The hatchet shall be forever buried, and the peace given by the United States, and friendship re-established between the said states on the one part, and all the Cherokees on the other, shall be universal; and the contracting parties shall use their utmost endeavors to maintain the peace given as aforesaid, and friendship re-established.

I am reminded that the only thing that comes anywhere near "perpetual" is the land. And even that is infinitely malleable and will, in its own good time, change.

In 2004 I seemed to recall some things that were truthful to me in youth and which I had forgotten. And for reasons that are no mystery to me, I returned to those places in which I find a measure of peace in solitude.

Almost everything from Men are lies. Nothing from Nature is untrue. Here, then, are my journeys around what was mainly once land of the Cherokee Nation.

2004: My return to outdoor activities.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


I went to visit an old, familiar park today--Crowders Mountain State Park. It's one of the places I hit when I want to see some forests and steep slopes without driving for two hours. Twenty-five minutes in agreeable traffic will find me at the parking lot and on my way down a trail leading to the top of a mountain.

Of course "mountain" is relative. There are two major summits in the park: Crowders Mountain and King's Pinnacle. Both are composed of quartzite caprock, which is why they are there--all softer material has long ago eroded away and been washed down the Piedmont to the sea. Crowders Mountain stands about seven hundred feet above its base, and King's Pinnacle rises a bit over nine hundred feet above the surrounding terrain. That's probably not enough for either to officially bear the title of mountain. But we are comfortable calling them that.

Another nickname for the peak is "Crowded Mountain". Lying close to both Gastonia and Charlotte, it gets a lot of visits. Even on a mid-week morning I encountered dozens and dozens of climbers heading to and from the peak.If I needed to reminded (I did not), I recalled why it's almost impossible to seek solitude there. Many hikers, and many hikers with their dogs.

I put in about four miles on the trails, tramped about on the rocks, and headed back home. It was nice, but really made me realize why I prefer our bigger mountains and more isolated trails farther west.

Even the quartzite eventually gives way before erosion and gravity.

Where I reclined and ate lunch at the top of the mountain.

An abandoned mill store across the street from the Crowders Mountain Golf Course.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Alligators and Competent Information

When I was a kid you pretty much never heard of alligators attacking humans. I was, of course, born in 1957 and grew up in the 60s and approached adulthood in the mid 70s.

During all this time the alligator was under real threat of extinction. This is amazing because, being exothermic predators, alligators are a type of predator that can live in vast numbers. An endothermic predator, because of the rate at which it burns calories, cannot also normally be very numerous because of the way it would tax an ecosystem's prey species. Alligators can eat a big critter and then sit around satiated and lazy for weeks and weeks--even months. Thus, their numbers can be vast.

I was a very well-read kid when I was growing up in this world wherein alligators were not very numerous. The reptiles had been hunted down to where you had to really go looking to find one. And all of the big ones were pretty much dead and gone. It was a world of small and medium-sized alligators. And I suppose because humans had forgotten what a truly large alligator was like, they became complacent. All of the literature I was consuming referred to them as "docile" and "harmless to humans". I ate that shit up.

These days, I am convinced that historical records showed very few alligator predation on humans to be rare or non-existent because for about a hundred years alligators were just mainly too damned small to look upon a human as something that could be easily taken and eaten. I believed that crap about gators just being sedate animals that consumed only turtles and fish, the occasional raccoon or even a young deer.

This is what I believed when--one sunny day--my pal Scott McGregor and I decided to sneak onto the Jekyll Island Golf Course and dive for golf balls in the ponds and lakes. Yes, we knew there were alligators in those ponds and lakes, but we dismissed any danger because those animals were "docile" and "harmless" as we'd both read and heard. We grabbed our burlap sacks, our snorkel gear, and away we went. We even took a couple of fishing tridents Scott's father had stored in their garage, which we could use to prod any curious alligator that might get on our nerves and crowd our personal space, dude.

For days we got away with it. We dove into the ponds and gathered, quite actually, thousands of lost golf balls. We would dive down to the bottom, and the floor of the lakes would be carpeted with what seemed like an endless horizon of pale dots sitting there at the surface of the muck. Sometimes we'd see alligators. Small ones from less than a foot long to some as big as four or five feet in length. We paid them almost no mind whatsoever.

After a few days, we realized that we'd cleaned out the smaller ponds. So we set our sights on the big lakes in the golf course. We headed across the course and marched to the biggest lake there. This was a real lake. Not a pond. Not something you could swim across in a minute or so, but a real, by-Jove lake. All we could think about were the vast thousands of golf balls we'd find and recover. (The course would pay us ten cents each for those things.)

As we walked down to the lake shore, the first thing that happened was that we frighted an alligator that was sunning itself on the grassy shore. It was an impressive beast. Easily seven feet long and solid.  I weighed 230 pounds at the time, and it appeared to be heavier than I was. However, its reaction backed up the literature of alligators being frightened of humans and eager only to avoid us. It vanished immediately into the big lake.

Without another thought we hit the water and began to bring up the golf balls. This was going to make us kings of the used golf ball business! At some point, though, I came up, standing in water about chest deep. I looked across the lake. On the far shore was an alligator I had not noticed before. He was huge. Nine feet, easy. Monstrous. Ponderous bulk. Jaw muscles like cast iron cannonballs standing in relief at the rear of that mammoth skull. And I got nervous.

"Hey, Scott."


"Let's take turns diving."


"I think maybe one of us should keep an eye on that big alligator while one dives. Just in case." Suddenly, the idea of prodding that monster with that pathetic fishing trident seemed like a joke.

"Okay," Scott said.

And I went back to retrieving golf balls, filling my burlap bag and seeing that carpet of golf balls stretching on beyond my sight into the the murky distance. After a few minutes of popping up now and again to draw air through my snorkel, I stood up. I was neck deep in lake water.

"Bob!" There was genuine concern in Scott's voice. He was scared, but safely near to shore in ankle-deep water.


"That big alligator. It's gone!"

"When did it go in the water?"

"I don't know. I wasn't paying attention for a while and when I looked back over, it was gone."

I backed toward shore a couple of steps. Then a few more steps until I was waist-deep in the lake. We stared hard, surveying the surface of the lake, searching for that monster.

And suddenly, maybe three feet from me, that alligator surfaced, his head and eyes and part of his armored back suddenly and totally revealed in complete silence.

Without so much as a "FUCK!" I backpedaled until I was safely on solid ground.

There he was. Easily nine or ten feet of top predator, called to action by our movement in his lake and the sounds of our idiotic splashing about in his watery matrix. He'd vanished from his post with no sound, had moved across the lake in silence, and had suddenly made his presence known to us with zero indication that he'd probably been watching me for some minutes floundering around on the bottom of his goddamned lake and looking at me and trying to decide if I might be something worth his while to kill and eat.

He was the big dog in that lake and he'd been sizing me up for caloric intake. Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

"Goddamn," I finally said. "Let's get the hell out of here."

We ended up selling the giant load of golf balls we'd already acquired over the course of three days of diving and cashed them in at ten cents apiece. We made out pretty good, netting a couple of hundred dollars each for our trouble.

I made out pretty good, too. Because I didn't end up being the first human in a long time to be killed and eaten by a big alligator.

These days, boys and girls, there are tens of thousands of alligators that big and larger. In these modern times, because we finally protected this glorious species, they have once again reached a point where they are big enough to think of Homo sapiens as a prey animal.

Be careful in those creeks and rivers and lakes. I know I will be.

This was about a five-footer we encountered on the Silver River in Florida. Not a real danger to someone like me, but big enough to take out a dog or a child.

This twelve-foot monster was in Rainbow Springs in Florida. I would not go swimming around a leviathan like this one.

Big enough to eat just about anything.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jacob Fork Falls

I went hiking on Thursday.

Here are a couple of videos I made. The first one is the easy approach trail to Jacob Fork Falls.

The second one is of the trail up to the falls (and above).

I did a loop hike---I think it totaled about four miles.

The author at Jacob Fork Falls.

This is the longest video movie I've ever made. I edited out about twenty minutes of video.