Monday, February 9, 2015

Southern Hospitality

West Virginia winters were getting me down; I didn't want to spend a lot of money trying to leave town; So I headed down South to the land of the pines; Stayed with some buddies from Florida, Georgia, and South Caroline

+5 points if you get that butchered reference to one of my favorite songs. But basically yeah, I wanted to catch up with some friends down south and figured January was a mighty fine time to do so.

First stop, after an 8 hour drive consumed mostly by catchy Taylor Swift beats on the radio (but I'm scared that something really important - like how to buckle my climbing harness - is now replaced with the lyrics to Shake It Off and Blank Space. I mean the brain can only store so much information, something has to give), was Charleston, South Carolina. I met up with longtime neighborhood buddy Scott and his wife Brittany. We had a fun time enjoying the last part of Charleston's Restaurant Week, with some great pecan nut ale and tobasco-honey fried chicken. Scott is a teaching pharmacist at one of the area universities and I got to meet some of his resident friends, at least the ones he hasn't made cry yet. I got a big kick out of the "how do you know Scott question?" It's not often you can say you've known someone for as long as you can actually remember anything. Kindergarten, first grade, 3 houses down the street, Cub Scouts, it all pretty much blurs together.

South from Charleston I met up with Coast Guard compadres Adam and Alex for an architectural tour and dinner in Savannah, Georgia before continuing on to their house in Jacksonville, Florida. Savannah was pretty neat; I really enjoyed the beautiful parks, squares, and promenades full of stately live oaks draped in Spanish moss. However, a warning is in order for those of you unfamiliar with the town and following your GPS downtown - River Street SUCKS! The historic cobblestones felt more like boulders and I'm pretty sure I lost a couple of fillings and part of my truck's suspension on the jarring detour.

In Florida, we toured some state parks by foot and pedal and happened to catch the tail end of Amelia Island's Restaurant Week (mid January must be the slow season?). One delicious plate of shrimp and grits later Adam and I headed out to help Florida with their feral hog problem. We found a couple of really cool dudes (and veterans to boot) that own about 80 acres overrun with enough hogs that they've made a business out of it. It wasn't an epic "hunt" in the traditional camouflage-and-stalking sense, more like just "they are all hanging out over there so pick out which pig you think will be tastiest and shoot it," but I've long wanted to eat wild pig and take the middleman (aka the supermarket) out of the food procurement process. From our hunting guides and the local butcher, I learned a lot about taking a 110 lb animal and turning it into 31 lbs of chops, ham, and sausage. I think we have a deeper connection to and appreciation for our food, our bodies, and the earth when we better understand the how, why, and where of what we eat. And for all you hippy types out there, it doesn't get much more "organic" than something you harvest in the woods. So thanks to Mark and Dave of Swine in the Pines.

While we waited for our sausage to smoke, Adam and I continued the adventures on Cumberland Island National Seashore across the border in south Georgia. My sister has been to Cumberland Island a number of times and I really wanted to see the place that she's come to enjoy so much. We took a 45 minute ferry down the St. Marys River and got dropped off for an overnight on the island. Very pretty coastal scenery; sandy trails thru a live oak and saw palmetto forest gave way to scrubby brush and beach grass on the dunes. The beautiful beaches were practically deserted (a benefit of a Thursday night in January) and supplied terrific beachcombing opportunities. It seemed as if every horseshoe crab that ever wanted to die goes to Cumberland Island on its last legs. We saw wild horses on the beach, chased leprous armadillos from camp, and spent the night listening to the wave action from the tent.

MC Hammer had it right when it comes to armadillos: "you can't touch this!"
Jacksonville marked my farthest point south and I headed north from Cumberland Island to Atlanta. Trevor Clark, previously featured in this blog as my intrepid Anchorage-to-Seattle road trip partner, is studying at Georgia Tech on the Coast Guard's dime. Being the fish dork that I am, I convinced Trevor to take me to the Georgia Aquarium. It's pretty impressive, they have a huge tank that holds not one but three(!) whale sharks. And the tank has this unique walk thru tunnel, with the sharks and manta rays gliding past over your head.

For a more active adventure, Trevor and I headed into the hills to hike up Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I was surprised at the number of thru-hiker entries given the time of year, but it was pretty neat to read the logbook on the summit and see the musings of those that just started, or better yet, those that just finished. Though I will have to say, if I was a southbound thru-hiker and has just finished over 2,100 miles on foot, I'd be a little underwhelmed at the marker. It's just a small plaque cemented to a rock. No massive cairn, obelisk, pyrotechnics show or champagne bar.

Trevor returned to his studies after our weekend in ATL, so I continued on my road trip to visit a good friend I made in Alaska. Mike and I had shared a tent for that two week mountaineering trip in Wrangell-St Elias National Park. In hindsight I realize that I didn't write all that much about the folks on that climbing trip, especially when compared to the friends I made on the ANWR rafting trip. Truth be told there was a bit of friction with one of the other climbers and with emotions high right after the trip I didn't want to air any dirty laundry and single anyone out, so I chose not to write much about any of the other people, good or bad. Time softens the rough edges and it's something I can laugh about now. Mike and I bonded in the tent, particularly while waiting out that 3 day snowstorm, swapping stories of other climbs (Mike's done all 50 state high points, 3 expeditions to Denali, Kilimanjaro, and a bunch of stuff in South America) and the Coast Guard (Mike's son is in, stationed in Texas).

Mike has a cabin outside Atlanta full of great memorabilia of his mountaineering career and travels abroad, with a healthy dose of Civil War artifacts thrown in. The whole cabin is like a super man cave, which means his wife is awesome. I got to meet his family and really appreciated their hospitality. Knowing I was a Walking Dead fan, Mike took me to the nearby town of Senoia, GA used as the location of "Woodbury" during filming of Season 3. Much like the town of Forks, WA has cashed in on Twilight fame, Senoia has a pretty good things going with Walking Dead fans, including a themed store and mini-museum. But everyone knows zombies are way cooler than vampires, so it's like totally way better than Forks.

There's a new Governor in town! 
If Daryl dies we riot! 
And being the Civil War buff that he is, Mike also took me to Stone Mountain, which is basically like the Mt. Rushmore of the Confederacy. Don't say "Sherman" in Atlanta, it's like a swear word.

"Stonewall" Jackson, get it?! haha!
From Atlanta I headed up to Asheville, North Carolina. I've been looking into Asheville as a potential relocation option given the outdoor-centric community nearby in Great Smoky Mountain National Park and a couple of National Forests. So I was hoping that Asheville would be this epic city of 80,000, chock full of climbers, kayakers, gear stores, outfitters, you name it. But it kinda wasn't. I left with more of a "smaller Portland, OR" vibe - lots of artsy galleries, the faint whiff of patchouli, an Urban Outfitters(?!), and more hipsters than you can shake a stick at. I didn't dislike Asheville, it was just different than I had imagined. It does have a GREAT beer scene; I toured 5 breweries in one night before I started feeling sick. And to be fair, I'm sure some of the smaller, outlying communities are the place to find those outfitters, guides, and gear shops, but I just didn't have the time to find them.

Knowing of the beer scene before I got there, I wanted to stay downtown so I could be responsible and not drive. Surprisingly, given all my travels, Asheville was my first hostel experience. I found a great place downtown, super clean and friendly. I chatted with some cool folks in the community spaces. I think I'll be using more hostels on this summer's road trip, especially those days spent in a big city. Cities gave me the most anxiety last summer, as it can be quite difficult to find a decent place to park and camp in the back of my truck without getting  worried about being harassed by cops or bums. Hostels give you a quick "in" on things to do, let you make a few quick friends, and are pretty cheap. But I definitely learned my lesson to bring earplugs to any future hostels.

So that wraps up my trip south. Thanks to everyone who put me up and put up with me. This was my last adventure before I start my Outdoor Education course at NOLS. I'll leave this Saturday, Valentine's Day (aka Single's Awareness Day) and will return in mid-May. No posts in the meantime. I'm excited to begin this important step in my career transition and only hope that Outdoor Education is everything I think it's cracked up to be.

I'll close with a funny observation that I made while perusing an Eddie Bauer catalog. EB had sent a few sponsored climbers into the North Cascades to test products, get marketing photos, etc. The climbers chose to go into the Picket Range, the site of my botched attempt on Luna Peak. Our routes coincided for most of the way: water taxi, 10 miles of trail, and bushwhacking. Turns out that the Picket Range can kick of the ass of even professional climbers. They made it further than I did, but had to bail on their original objective and settle for something less committing. I felt slightly vindicated in my failure when a 6-time Everest summiteer said "it was a remarkably unsuccessful trip ... until you've been into the Pickets, you don't really know the magnitude and abusiveness of the range." Abusiveness - couldn't have said it better myself! It's always fun to read about places you've gone in other media, even more so when you can relate so well to the author's experience. But I don't think he was abused to the point of eating oatmeal with a stick! Nice try boys, get 'em next time.

Abuse at the hands of the Pickets and rodents 
My Picket story:

Eddie Bauer articles: