ENO River State Park

Last weekend a friend and I decided to try the primitive camping at ENO River State Park.  It's on the north side of Durham, NC.  Actually, I few weeks prior I volunteered at a Mountains to Sea Trail workday.  We were helping build a new section of the MST in the ENO River State Park.  I got two really nice volunteer shirts which I can use on future outdoor trips because they are both polyester blends.

We headed out to the park on Friday morning after a solid visit to the local coffee shop for breakfast.  When we got to the park we registered for our campsite and headed out.  We had brought a few pieces of firewood with us since the camp sites, though "primitive" had fire rings.  When we got there we found they already have a wood pile set-up for all the sites.  It was just over a mile to the campsites.  They were nice, only five in the area.  Each one had a tent pad and a pad with a fire ring and bench.  Apparently, in a high traffic state park, primitive camping really just means you have to hike out to the spot and there's an outhouse.

We set up camp so we didn't have to worry about it after we were done hiking.  I was going to try out my new ENO hammock (no relation to the park), and headed out on a hike.  The campsite was in the western section of the park, near Few's Ford trail.  Off of that trail we hoped on the Cox Mountain Trail.  That trail looped back to the camping area.  We noticed a bunch of people on a trail across the river (Buckquarter Creek Trail) and wanted to check it out.  Since we had seen a few possible crossing spots, we decided to cross the river near the campsite instead of walking all the way back to the hanging bridge we crossed earlier in the day.

This turned out to be a mini "trust activity."  About 3/4 across the river there were two rocks just far enough away from each other to cause a balance problem.  Yes, both of us would have been fine if we got wet, but that's not a challenge.  Combining our extensive knowledge of challenge course activities, from years of summer camps and college club outings, we came up with a plan.  My friend would cross first and I'd act like a balance for her.  This could have been disastrous since I wasn't exactly balanced when she grabbed my hand and stepped forward.  Luckily I got myself collected and no one got wet.

Once we were across the river and walking on the next trail we had a debrief of the activity.  We both joked that it was a good thing we had a trust activity planned so earlier in the camping trip, now we could really trust the other person.  We walked another 4-5 miles on that side of the river before calling it a day.  We found an easier section to cross back over a little ways down the path.

At one point on the walk we came to a low hanging branch.  I stopped and looked at it.  My friend goes, "I was just thinking of doing that...."  and then stopped as I put my water bottle down, grabbed the branch, and flipped upside down.  "Ok," she said, "I wasn't thinking that. I was going to do a pull-up."  I looked at her while still hanging, "Nope, I just wanted to see the world from this angle."

That evening we hung out by the fire and ate dinner.  At one point we both commented on the vast amount of acorns that were falling from the trees and yet none had hit either of us yet.  Had this fear of getting pelted in the head while I slept, and dealing with ticks the next day, not been looming in my mind, sleeping out under the stars would have been great.  Instead, we both retired to our respective outdoor shelters for the night.

My hammock worked great.  The only problem is that in the future I need to get the correct tarp for it instead of using my tent rainfly.  Needless to say, ENO River is a great little escape for a weekend trip close to Raleigh/Durham.

Wagon Wheel and the Mobile Delta

September 2008 I drove to Fairhope, Alabama to go on New Staff Training for Outward Bound Discovery.  It was a nine day expedition style training that had us paddling somewhere around/near/in the Mobile delta.  Most of the trip can be captured in one word, "mosquitoes."  There were lots and lots of mosquitoes.  In fact, for a couple nights I just slept in my rain gear.  It was the best way to prevent myself from being eaten alive in my tent.  It didn't matter how fast you zipped and unzipped the door, they got in.  Ah, but that's a story for another post.  This post is about a very long paddle.

Our group was placed on "Final" the last night on the river.  Our trainers said "good-bye" and paddled off into the dark of night.  We'd see them again at the takeout spot.  Unfortunately, the person assigned as navigator that night was blind as a bat after the sun went down.  We had about 15 miles to cover.  All we had to do was get to the takeout by 8am the next morning.  It was around 10:30pm when our trainers left us with an inspiring note to help us along the way.

We had barely slept the day before.  Most of us were running on about four hours of sleep or less.  And we had already covered over 30 miles in the past thirty-six hours.  We also had one trainee who had hurt his back.  In lieu of this we made "power cats" with our canoes.  This basically means you strap two canoes together.  That way we could operate with three paddlers for each power cat.  We figured we'd keep that up until people got really tired and then we would make a raft.

There were a couple funny moments just prior to our decision to become a raft.  One of our guys had fallen asleep while paddling.  This did not stop him from paddling, mind you.  Several of us used this as amusement for quite some time.  We were able to coach him enough so that he would still paddle in his sleep.  We even came up with a chant for him, "Put your paddle in the water and pull."  Every so often we'd have to remind him to get the paddle in the water.  At one point he tried to argue with us that he wasn't asleep.

Finally more people were getting tired and falling asleep.  Unlike our sleep paddling friend, they weren't able to multi-task.  We pulled all six canoes together and rafted up.  In this formation we only needed four people awake at one time.  Everyone else could sleep.  The idea was that we'd trade off every so often as people needed a break.  Two of us ended up staying up the whole night paddling.  Ok, I didn't paddle for thirty minutes, but I spent that time keeping the other all-night paddler awake by chatting with him.

It was amazing how you can just get into a rhythm paddling and forget you are tired.  We rotated sides of the raft to switch arms a couple times, but besides that it just became very mechanical and meditative.  It was a beautiful clear September night in lower Alabama.  Orion was rising in the eastern sky.  

At one point in the night one of the non-paddlers started singing Wagon Wheel.  It seemed an appropriate genre of song for a paddle down the delta.

Headed down south to the land of the pines
And I'm thumbin' my way into North Caroline
Starin' up the road
And pray to God I see headlights

I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin' me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I'm a hopin' for Raleigh
I can see my baby tonight

And after a long nights paddle we arrived at our takeout two hours early!  We were all hoping to take a nice nap at the dock while we waited for 8am to arrive, but our trainers were there waiting.  Fine, I've had four hours of sleep in the past 48 hours, what's a few more before a nap?  Before we left the dock, our instructors gave us beads to pass out to another member of our team.  We were supposed to give it to someone and then say something about what they did to help the team during our Final paddle (or something like that...it was early in the morning and I was tired).  I still wear mine on my necklace. It reminds me of a great night of paddling, of a brief escape from the craziness of life, and of some great people I was blessed to travel with.

After the bead ceremony we loaded up our gear and boats on the trailer and headed back to base.  After gear clean-up we were given time for lunch.  Most people ate really quick and then found a place to nap.  To a visitor the base must have looked like a war zone.  There were people crashed out in the front and back lawn of the base.  We had just laid down in the grass an fallen asleep.  It was one of the best naps I've had in a long time.

(Serious Finger!)

Finding a Place to Stay

In 2005 I went to World Youth Day in Germany.  I took a couple students from the Orlando Diocese with me.  This was their first trips overseas so I gave them the sage advice to keep one day's worth of stuff in the carry-on.  It turned out to have been a good idea since the baggage handlers were going on strike at the Heathrow airport in England.  This wouldn't have been an issue if that wasn't one of our connecting airports.  We realized that our luggage was held hostage in England for at least another day.  Lufthansa airlines gave us each a lovely overnight bag with an XL white shirt, toothbrush/paste, and hairbrush.  With our carry-ons and supplies from the airline we headed to the train station to catch a ride into Cologne.

We arrived in Cologne after a short train ride.  Our next destination was the check-in building at the World Youth Day headquarters.  After a long wait in line, we got ourselves registered and collected all the necessary paperwork.  They told us the name and location of our sponsoring parish and sent us on our way.  We navigated the public transit as well as could be expected for our first tour around town.  And after a few wrong turns we found our parish.  This is where we ran into our first problem.  The church appeared to be locked.  I remember when I went to WYD in Toronto a few years prior, they had a welcoming committee at the church.  Finding this one closed was a bit of a shock.

We walked around the church for about 10 minutes.  We tried all the doors and knocked on the windows.  Finally a priest came to one of the doors.  Oh good, we aren't going to have to sleep outside tonight!  After introductions, I explained who we were and that this was supposed to be our host parish.  The priest gave a quizzical look and explained that the WYD committee never gave him names of people who were coming, so he assumed they were not getting any pilgrims.  He had also sent back all the backpacks that were sent to the church.  This was a problem since the backpacks contained much needed maps, our public transit access cards, and schedules among other things.  Also because they didn't think they were getting any pilgrims, there were no families waiting for people.

He said they had people volunteer to help house pilgrims, so he was going to call a couple of those houses to see if he could find us a place to stay.  While he was doing that we decided to take the subway back to the check-in to get ourselves WYD backpacks.  That was a chore.  The volunteers were having a hard time understanding our predicament.  After explaining myself to about five different people, we were finally given backpacks.  We took our backpacks and headed back to the parish to see if we had a place to sleep that night.

***I can't remember when this happened sequentially, but at some point we were told to look for a place to stay at the volunteer housing.  When we got there we were informed that we couldn't stay there because we weren't volunteers and they didn't have any more room.  Great.  Homeless in Germany.***

The priest had gotten a hold of two families in the parish.  He found one house for the guy in our group, and one house for us ladies.  The guy was going to a house that apparently didn't speak any English.  The other two of us followed a very nice German lady, a professor, back to her house.  I had a "why yes, I am an American" moment.  We left the church and the lady said, "It's only five minutes to the house."  My brain automatically thought in terms of a five minute drive.  I quickly realized as we walked a few blocks that there was no car involved in this five minute trip.

Shortly after we got settled into the house there was a phone call from the guy in our group. "Sarah, I can't stay here.  These people don't speak English and they are just starring at me!  It's really weird."  I talked with our hostess and explained the situation, that it was ok if we all stayed in the same house, and that he really didn't feel comfortable where he was staying.  She called the family and then explain that to them.  I'm not sure any of them, our hostess or the other family, really understood what the problem was, but he came to our house and stayed there the rest of the week.

Oh, and the luggage, we got that the next day.

Getting Locked In the Car

Last spring I went to visit a friend of mine in California.  She plays on a pro team out there, so every morning she had practice.  One morning I was going to go watch.  I rode in with her and a couple teammates.  We got to the field and they headed off to the locker room.  As a normal routine she took the car keys with her and left them in the locker room across the street from the practice field.  I stayed in the car and waited for her to get back so I could walk with her to the field.

When I saw her returning I opened the door and the alarm started going off.  "Crap, what to do?!?!"  She didn't have the keys, and going back to the locker room would have made her late for practice.  I got back in the car and started pressing all the buttons I could find.  After about tens seconds the alarm stopped.  Unfortunately, it stopped right when I pushed a button.  I thought I'd figured out the trick.  By this point she was already walking towards the field and getting ready to be out of site.  Since she didn't motion for me to catch up with her, I just stayed at the car.

I sat in the car for some time before I was just really really bored.  Then I remembered I had my backpack with a couple books in the trunk.  Thinking I had turned off the alarm I pressed the trunk release button to get my backpack.  As soon as I did the alarm started going off again.  Well, I did grab my backpack and quickly got back in the car to try pushing buttons again.  I'm not sure why, but I also decided to close the door.  Again, after pushing buttons and closing the door the alarm stopped.  I was really nervous that it wouldn't stop and my friend would be hearing her alarm sounding during practice and get mad at me.

There I was, stuck inside the car.  Not knowing if I opened the door if I would be able to make the alarm stop again.  The car was pretty cool when we first arrived.  As I sat there in the closed vehicle it started to get hotter and hotter.  I started to get more and more anxious about the whole situation.  Good thing I had a water bottle with some water in it.

After about 45 minutes of being in the car, I couldn't take it anymore.  Sweat was dripping down my forehead.  I was feeling claustrophobic.  That was it.  I opened the door.  The alarm sounded.  It turned off in about 10 secs and I finally figured out that it would all by itself.  That's a really long time when alarms are involved.  Fresh air never felt so good in my life!  I ended up calling a friend while I waited for practice to end.

When my friend walked up I recounted the events of the previous two hours.  She wondered why I didn't follow her into practice, but promised the next day she'd leave me the keys.

Camping Trial Run

Early this year I visited my sister and family in southern California.  I was planning on taking my nieces on a camping trip while I was out there.  The camping/hiking trip was modified since I didn't bring all of my gear and didn't get the time to plan out a trip.  Instead we stayed at a local RV campground for a night.  This turned out to be a great idea, since I was able to quickly determine which of my nieces was up for the challenge of a 2-3 day trip hiking, and which one would rather be at home on her computer with the modern convenience of the microwave to cook food.

We set up camp and then walked around the complex.  Next to our campsite was a cow farm.  Yes, a thousand happy California cows were grazing next door.  In addition, they were creating an unpleasant aroma in the air that gave me flashbacks to going to the county fair as a child.

We had brought hotdogs to make for dinner over the fire.  The girls both gave a try at cooking their hotdogs.  And both of them ended up with burnt hotdogs that were cold inside.  After I finished cooking mine and explained that mine was just fine, they had me make their next ones.  We had a fire making clinic after dinner.  Mine was going just fine, but they both had a little trouble with theirs.  One of my nieces was able to keep a decent fire with a little work.  The other one decided the best way to fix fire problems was to start over each time the flame died by scattering the wood.  Her fire never stayed burning for more than about 3 minutes at a time.

The next morning I woke up to see the older sister sitting up shivering.  We had a big tent and she decided to sleep by herself on the other side.  I asked if she was ok, and she explained she hardly slept because she was so cold.  I explained that I had two long-sleeve shirts next to my sleeping bag that she could have used.  Her response was, "I didn't know you had those."  I then asked why she didn't just come over to our side of the tent and sleep next to us.  "There was no room."  This made little sense since I slept in a two person sleeping bag.  I looked at my other niece who had slept next to me and asked if she was cold last night.  Her reply? "Nope, actually I had to pull up my pant legs because I got too warm."  Now, part of this was probably exaggerated in order to aggravate her older sister.

We brought poptarts for breakfast.  The older sister said in shock, "We don't have a microwave.  How are we supposed to heat them up?"  "We can heat them over the fire," was my reply.  Well, her's ended up warm and burnt on the edges.  They didn't taste like they do from the microwave, so she refused to eat them.  I tasted them and told her there was nothing wrong with them.  After her sister and I warmed ours up, her sister gave her one from her pack.  I was less compassionate towards the situation.  Natural consequences: the poptarts were fine, she refused to eat them, I'm not sharing mine.  

After the whole event was over, I was glad I had gotten a trial run camping with my nieces.  I found out that the older one was not interested in this tent camping thing.  The younger one was ready for my next trip out to visit so we can take off hiking.  Hopefully, I'll get that trip in next spring.

The Start of "In Tents" Adventures

The summer of 2007 I got it in my head to take one of my three day weekends and go rafting.  I convinced a couple friends and one of my nieces to join the adventure.  I use the word "convince" very loosely, since most of them didn't need much persuasion.  We left on Friday morning and headed up near Bryson City, NC.  We had a reservation at a campground about a mile from the NOC.  It was a really nice campground and the people there were friendly.  The first night we experienced sport overload.  The campground had a patch of grass about 30 yards by 30 yards.  They had a basketball hoop, a swing set, and a volleyball net.  People were engaged in all these activities.  We started playing frisbee in the free space.  Added to that was a couple dogs who were running around.  Yep, it was an organized chaos of activity.

The next morning we headed to a local rafting outfitter to rent our raft so we could run the Nantahala.  One of my friends had run the Nantahala a hundred times by kayak, so he was going to be our guide.  This made the rental much cheaper for all of us.  Shortly after we hit the water, I was questioning this decision since several times he ran from the back to the front of the boat and flipped into the water.  Last I checked it was helpful if the guide stayed in the boat.    Luckily it's not a difficult river.

That afternoon we grabbed lunch and then packed into a car to drive to the Ocoee.  We were running the middle Ocoee that afternoon.  On the way to Tenn someone in the car mentioned that this trip was intense.  To which another person replied, "As opposed to cabins?"  Several people laughed after a brief pause, but my friend who had made the intense comment didn't get it.  About halfway in the drive he shouted, "I get it!  In tents, instead of cabins.  Oh, that's funny."  And at that moment "In Tents" adventures was born.  The joke was funny all weekend.  Really, it didn't grow old at all.

The next morning a few of us were up early and sitting around the fire.  Someone suggested it would be fun to try and have an entire conversation using only song lyrics.  This started a hilarious conversation that lasted about 30 minutes.  This is a prime example of why I enjoy my guy friends.  They are easily entertained, which is nice to join in on.

We were going to run the Pigeon that morning, but it wasn't running.  Instead we headed back to the Nantahala.  This time we ran it in kayaks and duckies (inflatable kayaks).  I ran it in a kayak.  It's a whole different river in a kayak than a raft.  My blood pressure rose to about 230 after the first rapid.  Needless to say, I did not run the last class 3 rapid at the end.  At some point I'd love to learn to whitewater canoe.

After running the Nantahala on Sunday, we ate lunch and all parted ways.  The group I traveled with from Florida was back in town about midnight.  So, in 72 hours we drove to NC and back, ran three rivers, and altogether had a great time.  There was no "In Tents" in 2008, but a group did get together in 2009 for another trip.  I've already posted a few stories from that trip.

Plans for "In Tents 2010" include running the Cheoah and doing some more camping.

Camping at Black Balsam

I'd been chaperoning the senior class trip at the school I worked at for two years.  It reminded me of a choose your own adventure book.  Every morning they would give us options for different hikes, canoe trips, and climbing.  There were usually about three options in the morning and a few more in the afternoon.  One night of the trip you could opt to sleep out on Black Balsam.  The elevation is about 6,000 ft.  No tents, just sleeping bags and ensolite mats.  I think they kept letting me chaperone because I loved this part of the trip and the other female chaperones could stay back in the warm cabin.  It was interesting how unprepared some of these students were for the trip.  It was much colder and winder than most expected.

The first year we camped up there, a group of girls thought they could get the group to leave if they screamed enough.  So, about every three hours they would start yelling and complaining, etc.  Luckily, our guides were used to this and were not effected by the silliness of these students.  We didn't leave until the morning.

The next year a student came just because she knew that there was about five minutes on the drive where she would have phone service.  In the middle of the night I woke up to hear her sobbing because she was cold and couldn't sleep and didn't want to be there.  Since there was nothing I could do to help her situation, I just turned up the volume on my iPod and went back to sleep.

The last year I was there we weren't able to sleep on top of the mountain because it was raining.  This was disappointing for me since I thought I'd finally figured out how to make it all night without getting cold.  The first year it was really windy and I brought my shorter sleeping bag, so wind kept getting in.  The next year the only thing that got cold were my feet.  And the third year I wasn't able to face the mountain, so I don't know if my revised plans were going to work.

Anyone want to take a trip to Black Balsam?  I have some unfinished business with it.