Monday, October 27, 2014

Hiking The Fiery Gizzard And Surviving...Barely.


This past weekend, we had a camping adventure with some friends.  We went up to Tracy City, TN and stayed at the CCC campground right next to the Fiery Gizzard Trail.  On Saturday we hiked 11 miles round trip to Raven Point on a trail that has a difficulty rating of 8 out of 10 and is one of the top 25 trails in the US.  Needless to say, we brought a lot of Advil.  Everything hurts, but we had an awesome time and all of us left excited about what our next trip might be...with the caveat that the trail be half as long.



We met Brandon and Shelly up at the CCC campground on Friday night to set up camp with the tents.  We brought plenty of food to cook on the fire.  Thank goodness for the fire!  It was a crazy 45 degrees on Friday night, and while this seems like a piddly, warm temp for all you experienced hikers out there, this was freaking freezing for someone like me who is cold when it's 80 degrees outside.  I found a 20 degree rated, down Marmot sleeping bag on Sierra Trading Post when they were having a big sale.  Thankfully, the only thing freezing that night was my nose. 


The crew: Brandon, Shelly, Rob, Jessie, Seth, and our mascot, Ben, who was a brave little doggie trooper.


We went up to Raven Point which was .4 miles in the opposite direction from the campsite.  Obviously anyone who hikes to Foster Falls has a death wish or hates themselves a whole lot.  You may think it's silly that they have to specify not to jump from the falls, but there was a rescue the day we hiked for a guy who had gotten too close to the edge of a waterfall and fallen 30 feet.  Hopefully he ended up being ok.


When you first start on the trail you think, "Oh this is so pretty and not hard at all..."  You say this internally, all smug and confident, and you smile for pictures in front of pretty waterfalls...


Even Ben is like, "I've got this, you guys.  You humans have nothing on me..."




Along the main trail, there are some offshoots where you can see the occasional overlook or waterfall.  One of our first diversions was Sycamore falls, worth the extra 10 minutes for sure.


You come to a point in the trail where you have to make a decision that will affect the rest of your day, along with the shape your muscles will be in for the next few days.  The question was: take the hard trail first and the easy trail back? Or, take the easy trail up and tackle the hard part on the return?  We made the right choice, we took the hard way up to Raven Point, enabling us to book it back to campsite before it got dark in the woods.  I cannot imagine the predicament we would have been in had we been going downhill across rocky trails as the light was fading.


The sights along the way are stunningly gorgeous.  We hiked next to a river for much of the way, through forest green and colored, carpeted with mosses, ferns, and freshly fallen autumn colors.  The smell was damp moss, rotting leaves, foaming currents, clear and crisp.




If you are thinking about bringing your dog on this adventure, think carefully.  We had no idea what to expect as to the actual difficulty, but Ben needed to be carried in places where the boulders and rocks were impassible for him.  Thankfully, he made it out safely and was such a little trooper.  He had a couple of bloody paw pads, but all in all, he's in good shape and was able to handle the hike surprisingly well.  


Almost there!  Following the ascent, we felt like we were going to die.  You don't just get to the top and suddenly see the Point (pun intended).  No.  You have to hike another .4 miles in, which at this stage just makes you want to scream nasty, mean things at the people who created this bloody mess of a trail.  But press on we did.


Aaaaaahhhhh, a view for miles.  Past peak, but still lovely.  The point was breezy, warm, and sunny with lots of places for us to sit and say thankful prayers for reaching the top.  There were no heart attacks or broken bones.



It's a little hard to describe how we all felt when we reached the Point, but Ben captures it perfectly in this picture.  He had a lovely snooze while we all refueled with food and water, taking it all in.


The flora and fauna on the way back down was just as beautiful as when we were heading up.  The mosses and fungi we passed were so gorgeous, they deserve a blog of their own.







Ok, so you've heard about the trail, but lets get to the practical side of things.  What do you need to do this safely?  The group sat around the fire after surviving this trail and talked about things we wish we had known before tackling this adventure.  The result was the following list:
  • Hiking boots - Please don't wear sneakers to hike this trail.  Hiking boots are ugly, let's be honest.  I looked all over the freaking city to find a pair that were both comfortable and not as ugly, but I'm beyond thankful that I had them.  I bought the J-41 Srina, made by Jeep.  They had fantastic tread so I could handle the rocks easily, but they also offered some ankle support, which is crucial on this trail.  These are not heavy duty boots.  They are great for day hikes, but I'm not sure how they'd hold up over the long term on a backpacking trip.  They are more flexible than heavier hiking boots like Keens, and they were much more comfortable than most of the ones I'd tried on.  I didn't have any blisters or issues with these shoes and I might even buy another pair to keep as a backup.

  • Duct tape and superglue -  These are listed in lieu of bringing an extra pair of hiking boots.  We dubbed this trail the "Sole Taker" because the possibility of you actually losing your sole on this trip is pretty high.  Due to the ankle bending, rock strewn, boulder laden trails, you need some serious shoes to tackle the Gizzard.  We passed one woman halfway in who had lost the soles off both of her shoes.  Later on in the day, the same thing happened to Jessie with her Asolo hiking boots that had only been worn a few times.  After we finished the trail, a ranger told us that was actually quite common.  Be prepared, people!!!
  • Moleskin - If you are prone to blisters, or wearing hiking boots you don't wear too often or haven't fully broken in, this is a must.
  • Walking stick or pole - This is purely based on personal preference.  I think I would have had balance issues and felt encumbered by a walking stick, but for Shelly, they were lifesavers and helped her navigate some of the rockiest portions of the trail.  Rob also felt like it was useful when going uphill.
  • High protein food for energy - We brought cut peppers, hummus, and high protein granola bars with us.  These got us through the day and we didn't feel like we were starving.  They gave us the energy we needed to keep going.  Others in the group had jerky, salami, cheese, etc.  Basically, bring food that is fuel.  Every time we stopped to eat, we felt like we had renewed energy.
  • Water - Obviously, this is a must.  If you don't want to bring 4 bottles of heavy water, bring a camping water filter.  There is a gorgeous river that runs along the Fiery Gizzard trail which could be a good water supply with the proper filtering equipment.  Otherwise, pack plenty of water, it is essential.
  • Camera - I have a small Canon Powershot Elph that I love bringing on trips like this.  Phone cameras are great, but batteries should be conserved in case of emergency. 
  • PStyle - For women who camp, this is a must!!! This little plastic contraption enables you to pee while standing.  I was beyond thankful that I'd spent the money and brought this silly thing along.  It was totally worth having and made what could have been an awkward situation pretty easy.  Otherwise you could "monkey pole" where you hold onto a sapling, lean back and hope you don't pee all over yourself.  You can find one here.  You're welcome.
  • Moisture wicking everything - Before we left on this trip I bought a North Face base layer at TJ Maxx that was moisture wicking.  Even though there were parts of the day when I was really sweating, my shirt never felt soaked and I stayed quite comfortable.  I also wore wool socks, Smartwool is best (I've also seen these at TJ Maxx), and my feet weren't swampy or damp.  If we were doing this in summer, I'd buy moisture wicking t-shirts or tank tops.  The right clothing makes a world of difference in comfort level when you're sweating your way up a trail.
  • Backpack - If you're planning to do the entire loop in a day and not camping up a Raven's Point, a regular old backpack works.  Make sure there are plenty of pockets and straps to carry what you need.  If you can find one that has chest and waist straps, that might help eliminate some of the weight on the shoulders. 
  • Ace bandage - Although it's never nice to think of being hurt on a trail, this is one of those things that is lightweight and easy to throw in a bag.  If you end up needing it, you will thank your lucky stars that you have it.  This trail is brutal on the knees, ankles, and hips.  On the way down, there is one hill that is a knee jerker for sure and there are countless sections of the trail where you walk on nothing but rocks.  Bring first aid in case something unplanned happens.

Gear resources that won't break the bank:
Steep and Cheap - a flash sale website for outdoor gear.  We got two North Face packs that retail for $169 for $59.99 each.  Total steal!
Back Country - all kinds of gear with the occasional sale and often cheaper prices than REI, etc.
Sierra Trading Post - same as the above.
TJ Maxx - head to the store and check the active section.  They had North Face base layers, Columbia fleece, Smartwool socks, and Avalanche cold gear when I went.  I got everything I needed for this trip in terms of clothes at great discount prices.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Photoshoot With A Lizard

Our last day in St. Lucia was one of mixed feelings.  We were sad to be giving up the preciousness of carefree living (especially in such close proximity to the water), but also ready to get back and start "normal" life again.  The morning we left, we sat in a lovely gazebo overlooking the clear waters toward Haunted Hermit Crab Island (clever, eh?).  All of a sudden I noticed a hummingbird buzzing around the red flowers growing nearby.  It was the size of a sparrow with iridescent blue and green on its body...absolutely stunning.  I couldn't get a good shot of him, but here is his silhouette.  Cute curved beak.


It's no secret, I love a good amphibian.  These little geckos and lizards all over the place were ADORBS!!!  So I got really excited when this tiny guy just sidled on over and let me go all papparazzi on his little green self.


He's really workin' it.  I could tell he was into it when he peeked around the corner all sultry-like.



But all good things must come to an end and he ended up slinking away, but I stole a few more pieces of his soul before he left.




The camouflage of nature is something I never cease to be amazed by.


One last shot of us drugged up on dramamine before getting onto our crazy roller coaster shuttle ride.  As you can see, the gift shop behind us was having a blowout sale.


My thoughts on St. Lucia...overall, I'm really glad we went there.  Our resort was quiet for the most part, and even though the beaches at the other two Sandals were nicer, this place had a very comfortable, down to earth feeling about it that made us glad to come back to it at night.  St. Lucia has always been on my list of places to go because I imagined hiking in the rain forest and discovering all kinds of animals and flowers.  My biggest regret from this trip is not doing the nature hike excursion.  We would have had to cancel something else, so it wouldn't have worked out.  We also couldn't get into the party vibe everywhere we went.  About the most excitement Rob and I can handle is going to a bar or a show.  This whole "dance your ass off, we here to party, Mon" thing wasn't working for us.  There wasn't a time when we were looking at the water and didn't hear the thumping of dance music in the background, but it didn't stop us from appreciating where we were.  Plus, if you snorkel, it muffles the sound.  The pollution on the island is disconcerting and I hope in future years more awareness is raised as to the impact it has on the ocean and the environment.  However, for a honeymoon, it worked out.  We were forced to relax, to enjoy spending time with each other, and to get back to a normal, less stressed state before returning to our pets and our jobs.  It lasted for a minute.

We stressed ourselves out again tonight when we sat down to try and formulate a plan of attack for redoing our kitchen.  It's going to be a nightmare.  Don't worry, readers, I will drag you along every inch of the nightmare with me so you can experience all the ups and downs of home repair when we are brave enough to get started.  I have some friends on Facebook who are redoing parts of their homes and I want details!!!  The occasional pic here and there of an entire room torn up is such a tease!  Our plan of attack is to formulate another plan of attack after our friends visit in October. That's all we could handle for now.

Monday, September 15, 2014

We Be Een A Hurricane, Mon!

Well guys, today was a total washout…literally. Last night there were insane crazy thunderstorms that sounded like we were gonna fall into the sea. Forget “angels bowling” thunder. This was more like “angels are ticked off” tropical storm thunder. So we woke up to gray skies, but no rain where we were. We got to the harbor, got on the dolphin/whale watching boat, and it started to pour. So before we even left the harbor, everyone on the boat was huddled under the half of the boat that was covered. At the harbor there was trash and garbage floating everywhere, and yes, it looked like people live in these houses. 



One thing we’ve sadly noticed here is that there is garbage everywhere. It’s very disconcerting. For an island that claims to be extremely concerned with the environment, that message hasn’t quite sunk in. There is trash all over the harbors, trash along every roadside, trash in fields, trash in the rainforest, trash EVERYWHERE. Our boat took us 3-4 miles out to sea today and there was trash floating all over the ocean. My heart was breaking. You know how you always hear people talking about how evil plastic bottles are???  Well, plastic bottles are floating all over the ocean and lining the roads of St. Lucia. I can’t stand to see that kind of disregard for nature. It also appears that the bathrooms on the boats plunge waste into the sea. Don’t swallow when you swimmin’, Mon!!

Ok, so the boat ride took us about 3-4 miles out to sea and down the same side of the island we were on yesterday. Except we could see some major storms brewing on the horizon and, holy crap, we ended up right in the center of one. No joke. We were in the middle of the sea, couldn’t see more than 20 feet, maybe less, on either side of the boat, gale force winds, streaming sheets of rain, crazy waves, all of us holding onto whatever we could grab….here I’m thinking WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE, OH MY GOD, WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING TAKING US OUT IN THIS?!?!?!? And Rob’s all like, “Well, they don’t seem too concerned, we’ll be fine.” I kept thinking of the story of that couple in Florida whose boat sank like 2 months ago and they floated in the sea for 2 days before being rescued…and I’m like, ok, no prob, I can float in this water…how hard can it be to float to shore, right? What direction was it in again?




So anyway, we finally got out of the storm into calmer rain, but higher waves…see, a tiny wave in the middle of the ocean feels rather large…and eventually I look out and see a fin and I’m pointing and Rob’s like, what I can’t see anything, and other people are starting to see. It was a small pod of about 4-5 dolphins. Rob was never able to see them, but I kept an eye on them until they faded out of sight, which was pretty fast. We were told they are grampus dolphins who are very unfriendly and don’t interact with humans much at all. The other types of dolphins on the island usually put on a good show. However, we didn’t see any of those. We saw tons more flying fish, which are seriously the coolest things ever. We’d come up on a school and all of them would go flying in different directions. I couldn’t get a picture of them because they are like the Jack in a Box of the sea, you never know when they’re going to jump up and then go away pretty fast. They are truly beautiful though, watching them glide over the waves like birds. 




The trip was a total bust. Next time we’re going whale watching off of Montauk. This sucked. The weather made it freezing and miserable and not seeing any big sea life within easy viewing distance was totally disappointing. The really magical thing about the boat ride that we didn’t see yesterday was the fact that after it rains here, the coast is peppered with waterfalls. They are everywhere. It was so beautiful, and the trees looked so much greener in the fog. It’s everything you’d imagine a rainforest to be.



So when we got back we took a walk on the beach and hung out with today’s cats. They are so cute. They like to chase crabs on the beach. So below you can see some very determined kitties sitting next to a crab’s hole, staring down there like Alice and Wonderland, hoping a crab will pop out. The crabs are smart though. They all have an exit strategy, so the poor kitties are all tense and ready to pounce while the crab is like, doo doo doo, scooting out his back door like 10 feet down the beach. You can see this in the pic with the black kitty.





We had dinner at the hibachi grill with some other crazy couples who were trying to get as drunk as possible. The food was great even if the company wasn’t. This poor couple was sitting at our table who were celebrating their 25th anniversary. We’ve been hearing a lot of “happy life, happy wife” around here. Rob knows I hate this phrase. They always say that on all the DIY cable shows when the wife is totally mean. I mean, I’m pretty sure a happy husband counts for something! Happy husband = lots of home improvement ;)

I’m ready to get out of here. It’s pretty, but when we got here I was like, eh, we should have just stayed in Montauk. The only way for us to see the island was to spend a lot of money on a tour. I did read a brochure on the Sandals Foundation tonight. Guests are able to donate some money from their stay to this organization and they contribute to the community in huge ways, like building schools, sports programs, gardening lessons, and environmental stewardship. It’s very encouraging to see that Sandals is trying to make a difference in the local life here. 


I didn't even bother putting a picture of us from today.  Just imagine us tired, wet, and grumpy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

We Be On Da Catamaran, Mon!

I’m laying in bed writing this, but I feel like I’m still on the boat and everything seems to be rocking from side to side. We had the most incredible day out on the water. We took the catamaran all along the coast to the bottom of the island where the Pitons (pee-tahns) are. Our boat was big enough to hold 85 people, but there were only about 15 of us including the crew, so it was kind of great. 




On the way there we saw flying fish!!!!! I’ve only read about these so I was freaking out. They would jump out of the water, skip along and just fly for about 30 feet before diving back in. It was so cool! We talked to one of the crew who used to work on a fishing boat. It was a catch and release boat and he was telling us stories of marlins that they used to catch. The largest recorded one caught on the island is 950 pounds.

The crew was so nice, taking pictures of us, playing music, talking and asking where we’re from, bringing us drinks. These people know how to make an experience, that’s for sure! 







When we got to Soufriere, we hopped onto a van and headed to the botanical gardens. Our guide walked us around and told us all the names of the flowers. They had all these incredible tropical plants, like what they sell as houseplants in our part of the world, just growing all over the place. There was a river that ran gray with minerals. We walked up to Diamond Falls which is right in the middle of the garden. Superman 2 was filmed there.









After the botanical garden we headed to the volcano where some people took mud baths, but we opted for the volcano tour. As soon as we got out of the van I was gagging. The smell of sulphur was totally overpowering, like rotten egg salad that’s been left out in the sun. My stomach was queasy the whole time, but it was fascinating. The site had all these bubbling pools which are seawater mixed with sulphur and minerals…boiling point! The town of Soufriere is a volcano, so the whole time we were there, they told us we were driving in the volcano. The meaning of the town’s name is literally “sulphur in the air.” We saw hummingbirds there! In fact, one was the size of a regular bird and had iridescent blue on it…so incredible.  Also, part of the Bachelor was filmed in a dirty little pool leading up to the volcano.  




After that we had lunch at a local sugar plantation and ate creole chicken, rice, and veggies. Then we headed back to the boat for snorkeling and swimming. They basically just stopped the boat in a cove and told people they could go in and snorkel. I took one look down and was like hell-to-the-no. We were in about 25 feet of water and I just would have freaked out. I am no longer sure about the snorkeling trip tomorrow. Rob was brave and jumped right in, assuring me a few times that if I’d been in there I would have been nervous. You can see pictures below of Rob in the middle of the freaking ocean just floating around.






On the way back we went into Marigot Bay where Dr. Doolittle was filmed. It was small, peaceful, and totally gorgeous. Mick Jagger and Harrison Ford have homes there. We were told the most expensive home is around $9 mil. 





The marine police freaked us out on the way back, heading straight for the boat and then veering off at the last minute. Then they pulled alongside us. They were giving a group of school children a tour. Our catamaran was booking it at 150 horsepower, but the police boat has 900 horsepower and was doing donuts in the water…it was rad. 


So it was another totally lovely day and being on the water was so peaceful and fun at the same time. We miss our pets though. Maybe we’ll see some dolphins or a whale tomorrow!