Thursday, May 29, 2008

Six Miles, Soaking Wet and Some Other Stuff

Monday, Chicago Meg and I headed out to Montgomery Bell State Park. Before you ask me the burning question, here's who the hell Montgomery Bell was. He was the "Iron Master of Middle Tennessee" which is, coincidentally a pageant you can enter to win, I think, and also one of the levels Dungeons and Dragons nerds aspire to. ANYWAY. We were itching for a longer hike than we had managed to do the previous week at Big South Fork, and MBSP was just the place. We hiked the Northeast Loop of the Montgomery Bell Trail; six miles total. Pretty hike across a ridge, then down into a hollow and next to a creek for a while, then down a logging road and circling back past Creech Hollow Lake and back to the start. I won't bore you with the details; this guy describes it pretty perfectly, including the confusion about that sign. It rained on us the last two or three miles but that wasn't as irritating as you might imagine. Cooling off was a welcome relief. Chicago Meg was having allergy problems, so I think it was tough on her, though. Six miles might have been pushing it.

Then we went to visit Crazy Suzy and her daughters, one of whom is my goddaughter. We had a lovely vegetarian lunch (seriously, Suzy whips up vegetarian stuff that almost convinces me it isn't insane - oh and keep your veggie-propaganda out of the comments! I'll just delete them!) and then were, um, "treated" to a talent show that seemed to involve Alvin and the Chipmunks, High School Musical, and, hmmm, perhaps the Manson Family. That's really the only explanation for what we witnessed, which I can't really even begin to explain, though I will give them some serious credit for writing a song called "I Like Pie" on the spur of the moment which was not the worst song I have ever heard about pie, not by a long-shot. We sat on a screened-in porch and drank some wine and watched a raccoon eat all the cat food they keep in the playhouse. They're freaky little things, aren't they? Fact of the Day: they are the Official Wild Animal of Tennessee. A raccoon is also the mascot of the Tennessee Titans, for some damned reason I can never figure out. So stuff that in your trivia hat.

I forgot to bring my camera, so you'll have to imagine it all with your pointy head but here are some pictures from my garden. It's all perennials; I don't think I've put in a single thing this year except that fern and the herbs. I love not having to do anything and still getting all this lush reward. Things are a little weedy right now, but not too bad. If you don't like it, you can come weed a little.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Campasaurus Rex, Part Two! Big South Fork: Days 3 & 4

We woke up Sunday morning to hike the 6-mile Honey Creek Loop. This hike has an almost legendary status in Tennessee and has been called "the hardest hike in Tennessee" (mainly by the crazy hiking ladies from a few months ago at Beaman Park, but whatever). I have had an almost laser-like focus on it for months and it was pretty much the whole reason I wanted to go to Big South Fork in the first place. We ate chicken sausage and polenta and then got into Loretta....right as it started to sprinkle. This was bad news: in addition to not really wanting to hike in the rain, part of the Honey Creek trail is literally in a creek bed and you hike about two-tenths of a mile up the creek. If the water is high, it's not do-able at all. We headed to the trailhead, with me being wishy-washy about it all of a sudden, saying "oh let's just forget it!" and then five seconds later saying "let's do it!" and then five seconds after that saying "what do you think?" so welcome to passive-aggressive Sunday, everybody! In the end, we did decide to go ahead and attempt the hike - the weather ended up being agreeable and sunny. We got to the trailhead and started out briskly, yodelling Alpine tunes with our hats cocked jauntily and descended into the dark woods. I might be misremembering a bit of that. It's an unbelievably beautiful hike. Soaring rock walls, waterfalls (Moonshine Falls and Hideout Falls), bleeding heart.

We did end up only doing half of the hike - at the halfway point, there's a steep set of ladders that get you to the overlook above the Big South Fork and my left knee was bothering me just a bit - we still had the creek-walking to go and I was really worried I might get "stuck" and not be able to go forward or backward on a bum knee. So I played it conservatively and we skittered up the ladders and back to the trailhead a mile or so away. But! I will go back - maybe even later this summer - and hike the whole thing. Because if that's the hardest hike in Tennessee, I'm a fucking mountain goat.

Then we meandered over to the historic town of Rugby. Rugby is a preserved Victorian town that was some sort of Utopian society back in the old days and it's now all preserved "just as it was" which means I have figured out why they all died out and that's because all they lived on was horehound candy and salt water taffy, from the looks of the "just how it was" stuff. They happened to be having a festival that celebrated British and Appalachian culture and you know what that means - it's like a Renaissance Faire! I quelled my initial urge to just gun the engine and run over everyone walking around in bonnets and breeches and we walked around and looked at stuff. Native plants for sale. A lady that made pocketbooks out of old bark-cloth ("the perfect size for your Bible!" Boy was she the stupidest woman on earth or what? I almost said "yeah, about that. What do you have for athiests and/or Jews?" but I didn't.) Then! A lady who was yanking the fur off of a rabbit and spinning it into yarn right in front of my eyes! It was like magic! Especially when I asked if she was gonna pluck that rabbit bald and without missing a beat she said "yes, and then I make him a little rabbit cozy" which pretty much made my ears stand up on high alert and I demanded to see a photo of a rabbit cozy and she pulled one right out. So a rabbit gets all his fur yanked out, it gets spun into a rabbit cozy and then put back on him! I thought it was sort of like making a cow wear a leather jacket. Eh, sort of. Then we watched the crazy people who were taking this shit seriously do a maypole dance. Yes, that's a black person doing a maypole dance. Leave it to East Tennessee to whiten up the only brother in a hundred-mile radius.

Back to camp! Where we finally got the campfire going. Grilled flank steak, potatoes in foil, roasted red pepper slabs. Good eatin'! We both read a little, and stared into the campfire - which was quite large by the end of it, so much so that I had my chair like fifty feet from it, which cancelled out even needing a campfire, I guess, but la la la. Campfire! Then off to bed.

We woke up Monday and sort of lazily started breaking down camp. We packed up Loretta and headed off to the last hike of the trip, a short out and back to Twin Arches. Chicago Meg says they must be fraternal twins because they don't look alike, and then she told me a funny story about her friend Judy who has twins, a boy and a girl, and how people are always asking her if they're identical. People are so dumb. ANYWAY. The two arches are really impressive - you can't see them until you're RIGHT THERE under them. We figured out there must be a vantage point where you can see both, but we couldn't figure out exactly where it would be. We are writing letters demanding clearer signage. Then back to the car and, sadly, home. Which is not at all like Big South Fork.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Campasaurus Rex! Big South Fork: Days 1 & 2

So! The camping trip! Chicago Meg and I left Nashville around 10am on Friday; we had to drop off her dog Cooper at Almost Home in Carthage, the all-lesbian, all-fabulous home-away-from-home for dogs. They romp around (the dogs, not the lesbians. Though maybe. Oh nevermind) on acres and acres of wooded hilltop. It's a really pretty place but almost impossible to actually drive to. They normally do pick-up and drop-off in Nashville, but since we were headed that way anyway, we opted to just do the drop-off ourselves. Back in the Element and via back roads we made our way to Jamestown, on the edge of Big South Fork. Ominous heavy sprinkling rain on the way there, which made Chicago Meg a little tight-lipped, as I had promised no rain and no cold. Because all of that is within my power.

We arrived at BSF and made our way to the tent-only loop (Loop A, for those of you who care about such things) which is nice because you don't have to hear anybody's generator or - more importantly - child. We quickly set up camp becasue we wanted to try and do a little bit of hiking before the sun set. We did about a mile on the John Litton Farm Loop, which was full of rockhouses and lady's slipper and giant thirty-foot tall rhododendron, which was all amazing. The air was misty, which made everything feel Jurrassic Park-y, moist giant ferns and coo-coo-coo-ing of whatever strange birds were up in those woods. Back to camp.

Where! The temperature was dropping ominously. We had previously laughed at the hypothermia warning on the board at the washouse but now we weren't laughing so much because our larynxes had frozen solid. We had no luck getting the campfire lit - we had plenty of starter paper and big logs but absolutely no kindling-sized wood for the middle part. This was officially NOT. GOOD. I cooked up some lamb burgers on the camp stove and we had some wine and then played a couple of games of cribbage. Cribbage was new to me but I won two games, so maybe I'll play that again.

It was seriously cold. I might have been able to sleep if I hadn't heard Chicago Meg whispering ARE. YOU. FUCKING. KIDDING. ME? from the next tent over and over, like every ten minutes all night long. There was also some loud-assed bird, the Chuck's-will-widow (second one down) making its godforsaken mating call or some other cawing all goddamned night long. I got maybe an hour of sleep and I know Meg got even less. I felt badly because so far, camping was not being very much fun for her.

The next day, we got up to a much warmer, much clearer day and we were up EARLY! because we had to drive to the river raft place to go white water rafting on the Cumberland River. After a quick breakfast of granola, fruit and yogurt, we hightailed it up into Kentucky, through Cumberland Falls State Park ("The Niagara of the south!" Uh, okay then, whatever you say) and onto Sheltowee Trace Outfitters, where we were dismayed to find that all the other people rafting with us were Boy Scouts, which actually turned out to be cool because the ones in our boat (Tyler, Tony and Droopy - I'm not making that up) were pretty cool kids. And there was one other person, the receptionist from the Outfitter, who had never rafted before. We think they made her do it. She was a big fucking baby, practically crying before we even got in the boat.

Our river guide's name was Brian, but he insisted that we call him "River Dawg," and let me tell you: the chances of me ever calling anyone "River Dawg" are pretty damned infinitesimal. But! I did it. He was absolutely fantastic; I was pretty much doubled over with laughter before we got in the boat because he looked right at Chicago Meg and me and asked "do you guys mind if I dip?" and then he proceeded to dip and spit in the river all day long, even when offing us sips of water from his bottle ("uh, no thanks, River Dawg..."). He was chock full of good stories, and they all started something like this: "I dated NASCAR driver Ernie Ervin's sister-in-law till I figgered out she was cotton-pickin' crazy!" or "I watched Larry the Cable Guy last night and plumb fell off the couch laughin'!" Then he told some nutty story about how the Indians named Daniel Boone "Sheltowee," which is some Indian word for turtle, which they chose because he supposedly fought on his back. Which sounded like a not very good way to fight to us, so we've sent that factoid off to the New Yorker magazine fact checking department for verification.

ANYWAY. So we went down the river. We got through two Class I rapids with no worries (except the damned receptionist girl whimpering non-stop) and then we got to Center Rock (Class II - maybe III, I can't remember) and ta-da! We flipped the boat over! A gaggle of Boy Scouts everywhere, flapping their arms. Chicago Meg trapped beneath the boat. Fat-assed Donkey Girl blubbering and exaggerating and not dying fast enough. DG serenely swimming to a little pool and collecting all the paddles everybody threw into the river. Flipping over was the awesomest thing of the day - no sooner were we back in the boat than Chicago Meg, the Boy Scouts, River Dawg and me were all "let's do it again!" and the Donkey Girl practically started crying and in what would be the theme of the rest of her dialogue all day long, insisted that we let her out before every rapid. River Dawg refused (except once, he did let her out) and that dumb girl seemed hell bent on ruining the trip for the rest of us; she basically quit paddling, which prevented us from being aggressive on some of the runs. The best part was when she asked River Dawg if the next one was gonna be bad. His response was, "no sugar, it's gonna be awesome!" But we made it through anyway - past Pinball, down the Staircase, Screaming Right, Purgatory, Last Drop. 5 miles of rapids, then five miles of drift to the takeout. Lunch on Jump Rock, at the halfway mark. The whole thing was great but if I ever see that receptionist again, I'm going to drown her.

Back in the car for the drive back to camp; a stop at East Rim and the Leatherwood Ford. A very short walk at Leatherwood Ford - solomon's seal and trillium lined the trail. Back at camp, delicious white bean stew, Renwood Zin and a whomping good game of Scrabble where Chicago Meg came from waaaaay behind to beat me in the final round. A warm night, which was lucky since we were still having no luck with the campfire, despite the one and a half gallons of lighter fluid I put on there. Here's a little proof that Chicago Meg did indeed go camping, since there are so many of you who don't think it's possible.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why You MIGHT Not Want to Go Camping With Me

So the big camping trip starts tomorrow! Four days at Big South Fork with Chicago Meg. Three hikes, one river raft. Planning this thing has been like planning the Normandy invasion. And there are MENU CARDS! With GRAPHICS on them! I KNOW! Chicago Meg should be very very afraid. OR THRILLED!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Why People Who DON'T Live in California Hate the People Who DO

Last weekend took me to the magical land of California for a whirlwind weekend of Bob's birthday revelry, art acquisition and wine-drinking. I flew into Sacramento on Friday and had dinner with Mom and Dad in Lodi (sloppy joes, a food I never ever think about but really really LOVE) and then the next day we hopped into the car and drove over to Vallejo to surprise Bob. We drank champagne in the middle of the day and then went wine-tasting in Sonoma, at Bartholomew Park. A short hike up into the hills above the winery, a short hike back down, then on to Buena Vista for a few more sips of something or other and a whole lot of attitude. But I promised to quit bitching about it already. Then several fierce rounds of petanque, then dinner - New York strips, pasta tossed with parmesan and favas from Karen's garden, salad. Wine. WINE. Wine.

Sunday we went to Alameda for the flea market, which you aren't supposed to call a flea market but instead something la-ti-da like the Alameda Old Stuff Sale or WHATEVER. They had everything you can imagine there except an ATM, which was weird and insanely frustrating. I ended up getting an engraving of a birds' nest just by being nice: the guy said "oh, send me a check whenever." So that was nice (and yes, I've since sent the check). Then we ate and window-shopped in Berkeley for a little while, then home to Lodi for outdoor hamburgers with the neighbors.

The whole weekend was a big fat argument for moving to California: champagne, wine, fava beans, free stuff. On the way back Monday, I got my usual coming-back-from-CA blues, trying to figure out why I live where I live. La la la. Maybe one day.