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Entries about forests

Life On The Lido: An Alaskan Cruise

A Mariners Life, Death of a Camera, Humpback Spectacular, Favorite Weekly Photos

semi-overcast 55 °F

I want to start this weeks essay by giving some insight about life on a ship. I’ve talked about this lifestyle before, and every so often I get inspired to share a few more details. However, I’m not sure quite how to start explaining the bizarre place that I call home, because I’m not sure I can do it justice. It is a potent melting pot of personalities, moods, emotions, lust, friends, love, lovers, spats, teamwork, laughter and tears.
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I have worked on this boat for almost two years, which is a long time in the boat world. Time is funny here. I am chained to the clock on an hourly basis, though the passing of days and months has no real meaning. I rarely know what day of the week it is, and even more rarely know the date. They don’t matter.

Instead, my day revolves around my work schedule which changes every week. This week, I’m working from 1 am to 1 pm. Next week, I’ll be working from 7 am to 7 pm, and so on. It’s weird getting used to a different sleep cycle every week, but I like it. I like to shake things up, and this schedule keeps me on my toes.

While this job is still a job, my fringe benefits are my life experiences that I would not trade for anything. It’s easy to live in this moment.

To say it takes a special kind of weirdo to live and work on a ship for months on end is an understatement. As one of our chief engineers has said, “You have to be a little crazy to work on a boat.” As another crewmember put it, “I’m sitting next to my girlfriend, who is sitting next to her ex-boyfriend who is sitting to his girlfriend, who just happens to be my ex-girlfriend. We are all talking about poop, and for some reason, it’s okay.”

So it goes. I work hard. I take advantage of my limited down time, and make the most of the opportunities given on a daily basis. It’s a fun job, and one I will never forget. I get to taste a different flavor every day- a life of variety. I wish we all could be so lucky.

Life on the Lido
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Our lido deck is the highest deck on the ship. It is one of our favorite places for the crew to hang out, especially when the weather is beautiful, when we are watching wildlife, or looking for some personal time. It is off-limits to our guests. This offers us a refuge to relax, and let our guard down. To work on a ship with paying guests is to be in a continual state of courtesy.
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The lido is a wonderful place where some of my favorite memories have taken place on this boat. From this deck, I have watched countless whales, dolphins, birds and feeding frenzies. I have awoke to a gorgeous dawn after an amazing night of stargazing in Mexico. I hugged a friend as greenish northern lights danced across the sky. I have spent many hours stretching my body and mind, while watching this tranquil world slip by at ten miles an hour. My fondest memories have been simply lying around up here with my fellow crewmembers-my very dysfunctional, but loveable family.

Humpback Whale Spectacular
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My camera can’t land cartwheels. I was very sad to find this out, because it meant that I was without a camera for the best whale show I’ve seen up here in Alaska. It started with a humpback calf breaching right off of our starboard beam (the middle of the ship). We stopped to admire its graceful form arc into the air before it smacked into the water with a tremendous splash.

The rest of the pod surfaced not too far away, blasting their breath into the air in a misty vertical cloud. We hove to, not moving. The pod dove and surfaced right off of our bow. Then it proceeded to swim right off of our rub rail within talking distance. All of the crew was on the fantail when it passed by. It was an amazing moment (an understatement). They dove as they passed us, and I was able to see their giant flukes from up close as they slipped easily into the water.

When the whales surfaced again, they had formed a bubble net and surged through the surface 150 yards off our stern. Humpback whales are the only whale in the world that uses a bubble net to trap food. What is truly amazing is that these whales work together to form a giant bubble net with over a dozen whales participating in the ring. While humpback whales range all over the world, the whales here in southeast Alaska are the only whales that feed cooperatively in this fashion. We happily motored away, getting ready for our morning activities.

Later that afternoon, we returned to watch the humpback whales. Their numbers had grown in our absence. There were now seventeen whales in the area. I’ve never seen so many humpback whales in one spot before. To top it off, there were well over a dozen bubble-net feeding! To say it was awesome is an understatement, but words cannot do this day justice.

My First Terrarium
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My friend Tiffany introduced the concept of a terrarium to me a couple of weeks ago. A terrarium is a collection of small plants that are contained glass enclosure. It’s like an aquarium, only instead of water, it is filled with earth and plants. Tiffany wanted to build one, and she enlisted me to help her with her project. It sounded cool, and so we set up a date to go out and collect plants.

It was just after 1 pm, in the afternoon and I had just finished work. I changed into my street clothes in record time, and stepped off ship onto the wooden dock of Petersburg, Alaska. We were excited. We were free, if only for a few hours, and we weren’t going to waste a minute of it. Tiffany and I grabbed a couple of bikes and rode into town. We stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine, and went in search of a likeable place to collect plants.
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The bike ride was fun. I still get a kick out of pedaling off on a good bike on a random adventure. Remember that feeling of your first one hundred yard bike ride before you toppled off in jubilation? I’m talking about that thrill in your stomach. Biking is one of the few activities that still can spark the exuberance of youth in an adult.

I digress. We found Petersburg hiking trail on the north side of town. We parked our up the trail in the forest, and set about walking the trail. It wasn’t long before Tiffany began pulling tiny plants out of the forest by their root system and putting them into the Tupperware we had brought along for the job. She instructed me to go and collect dirt. I accepted my task with a sigh, mumbling to myself about being, “just the dirt guy.” It wasn’t long before I had scraped together a couple bags of good forest earth, and she had several likeable ferns, clumps of mosses and the like.

Satisfied, we walked further along the trail to a park bench where we spent the majority of our freedom. We took turns reading to one another out of her books. I read philosophy to her, and she read to me about Morocco. We sipped our wine, and talked the afternoon away while friendly locals said, “hello” while they walked their dogs.

When the wine was gone, we walked back to our bikes and rode back to the ship. Tiffany grabbed our terrarium containers, and we took our bounty out on the dock to build our little gardens. It was a lot of fun. I put a good layer of the black earth I had picked, and then carefully as I could planted my choice of plants.

The result was a tiny forest scene. It looked really cool, especially after I put in a small plastic silver back gorilla into my “forest.”
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Favorite Photos of the Week
I’ll leave you with my favorite shots from this week.
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It’s been a good week. You’ll be happy to know I found an identical camera body in Juneau. I feel like a new man, reborn again with a good camera in my hand, and the wilds of Alaska before me.

Cheers!

.

Posted by Rhombus 07:13 Archived in USA Tagged islands water wildlife towns whales alaska oceans photography forests terrariums Comments (0)

The Assault of Mt. Mansfield

Hiking to the Highest Point in Vermont, The Trails, The Chin, The Enjoyment of Hiking

semi-overcast 75 °F

I began my assault of Mt. Mansfield on a Friday at 8:37 a.m. The apex of Mt. Mansfield coincidently is the highest elevation one can reach in the state of Vermont. It was a worthy venture and a worthy mountain to summit and conquer.
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You might be wondering why I’m in Vermont. I had boasted of grand adventures in Denali and Yosemite in past entries, but my path had a few unforeseen twists that changed my travels far to the east of where I had originally planned. Life is great that way; you never know what’s going to happen next.

I digress. I was in the Burlington area for five days, having convinced my injured travel friend that the green summer views of the north would do her some good, and speed up her convalescence. She agreed, and off we went east by north to Vermont. More on that later.

I parked my car in the parking lot of Underhill State Park, some thirty miles east or so of Burlington. I ran off to the loo, paid my daily fees ($3), and loaded up my trusty red backpack with the usual essentials: Clif bars, water, camera, binoculars, and peanuts. I briefly had a look at the map, decided route opting for what looked like the hardest path (the Sunset Trail up to the Chin) and started hiking.

Damn, it felt good to be hiking uphill again! I was designed to walk uphill, I don’t know what it is about it, but I thrive on pumping my leg muscles until I’m gasping for breath refusing to stop until I absolutely have to take a breather.

Since I was traveling light, I didn’t have my usual trusty Danner hiking boots, and had decided to make do with my hiking sandals. I didn’t know if they would hamper my hike, or if they could stand the rigors of the mountains, but they were the best footwear I had for the excursion. Besides, I figured they were probably better than the boots Mallory used to climb up Chomolungma or Humboldt’s footwear as he trekked around South America for five years. I also used a pair of these sandals all winter long hiking the rugged desert peaks of Baja California Sur. They are a good sandal, and I knew they could probably handle the terrain just fine.
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To avoid blisters, I put on a pair of socks. I also felt they gave me a good German look.

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My first distraction was a short spur trail to the “cantilevered rock” a thirty-foot phallus of rock that sticks out of the mountain like a monstrous triumphant wang in all its glory (I bet I could write harlequin romance novels). It was mildly interesting, but I didn’t stay long. I turned back to the Sunset Trail and continued my intensive uphill climb.
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As I hiked higher, I kept wondering if this trail was going to be challenging enough. I was making great time, and hadn’t taken any breaks yet. Having not hiked anywhere in Vermont, I didn’t know if I was getting close to the top yet or not. Then I topped out on the bottom of the long rock ledge that marked the change in elevation and vegetation. I left the hardwood forests of the lower and entered the scrubby pines of higher elevations. I saw before me a broad ridge of gray rock that reached far above me disappearing into the clouds. I had my answer. The mountains of Vermont are for real.
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I continued on scrambling up the endless rock covered in green lichens higher and higher passing the stacked stone cairns that marked the trail. The weather forecast for the day had called for scattered thunderstorms, and there were some dark heavy clouds rolling right over the tip of the chin. I wondered if I was going to get rain or worse, having to try to find protection from a thunderstorm on the exposed rock. I gave one heavy cloud some time to pass, and to see if it held any presents.
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I remained dry, and the unelectrified, so I continued my jaunt up into the clouds.

On top of the ridge, I found I still had a nice view of the surrounding valleys. They stretched out in long forests broken by farmer’s fields in all directions. The cloud remained around me, and it diffused the light nicely as I studied the arctic plants that make this high peak their home. I climbed up to the top of the chin, the second highest point on the mountain and sat down to catch up on my journal, eat some energy, and drink some cool water. It was a good place to rest, and I found a nice rock to rest my weary bones against.
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I decided to hike the ridge south to the halfway house trail, which would lead back down to the trailhead. It wasn’t a far walk, and the going was easy now that I was on top. There were no more steep uphill pitches to climb, but instead manageable rocks to scramble over.
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I passed many families along the way. It was good to see people out and about, but part of me still would have welcomed the peace of a single hiker far above the hubbub of the lower elevations. Mt. Mansfield isn’t a wild mountain. You can practically drive up most of it, or you can also take the Gondola from the base at the Stowe Ski Area. On top of the high point of the mountain, a small farm of cell towers were nesting and that kind of took away from the hike for me. In fact, I decided not to reach the very high point, because of the towers. They were too much human interference for my tastes.
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Climbing “the chin” was mountain enough for me, and I considered the mountain conquered. I started back down the halfway house trail, which I found to be quite peaceful. I was the only hiker to take that route and it wound down back into the valley through a lush forest of hardwood and pine. It was quiet and still. When I stopped for a break, I didn’t hear a sound.
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I had to pick my way carefully down the slippery rock. I knew my sandals would betray me if I gave them a chance, and I didn’t want to try some self-chiropractology on my back using rocks, roots and boulders. I took my time and made it down to the old trail in one piece, and in one peace. It was a good hike. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve retraced my route back down the long open ridge of the Sunset Trail.
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I sat at the trailhead and signed the visitor’s log. I had neglected to do so on my way up, and I figured I ought to at least give them an autograph. I really enjoy signing logs and summit notebooks. They always ask for the same things. Name, where are you from, and Time. I happily penned in my info: “Thom Miller, Homeless (with a smiley face), and No thanks. Time is not necessary for this hike.” I used to sign famous people’s names, or some of my made up aliases. “Peter Pimple” is one of my favorite. I might also quote a piece of poetry for my audience.

Some Thurbur perhaps: “Behold the happy moron, he doesn’t give a damn.
I wish I were a moron, By God! Perhaps I am!”

Smiling to myself, I wandered back down to the parking lot and back to the car. I had traveled seven miles, (give or take) and thoroughly enjoyed my hike up Mt. Mansfield. Sitting in the car, enjoying a cold beverage, and munching some chips and salsa, I called my travel buddy, and inspiration struck. I gave her a “believable” long message explaining to her of how I ended up in New York City instead of climbing Mansfield. My fiction included having the car break down, abandoning it, hitchhiking, a train ride, dumb luck and the statue of liberty. She freaked out a bit, and it had the desired effect.
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It was all in a day’s enjoyment for this vagabond.

What’s next? More on Burlington, the Adirondacks, and that fantastic tourist trap called Niagara Falls.

So Long!

Posted by Rhombus 18:26 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking rocks plants vermont photography forests lichens Comments (4)

An Alaskan Visual Feast

Some of My Favorite Memories of July in Alaska

semi-overcast 69 °F

For this week's entry, I'm going to let the scenery do the talking. Alaska is an amazingly wild place, that I've been fortunate enough to explore with my eyes and camera. Here are a few of my favorite shots of the last two weeks. Enjoy!

Glacier Bay National Park

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Waterfalls and Brown Bears
Near this waterfall we saw six bears foraging in the grasses.
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Near George Island
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Humpback
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Scenery Cove
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Fjord!
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Sunrise to Sunset
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Leaf
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I have three more weeks of work before I begin my next adventures. In august I'm hoping to explore Denali, Yosemite, and Isle Royale National Parks...

Posted by Rhombus 17:25 Archived in USA Tagged trees birds sunset wildlife alaska sunrise oceans glaciers photography forests Comments (2)

Forgotten Cemeteries

Visiting a Ghost Town Cemetery

overcast 65 °F

America isn’t an old country. That being said, America does have a lot of history packed into a short two hundred thirty five years. I was thinking about this today as I walked through an old cemetery near the grounds of the ghost town of Clifton, Michigan.
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This cemetery dates back to the copper mining boom of the mid to late 1800’s that swept through the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan. I’ve always had a keen interest in ghost towns. I love walking among the ruins of old dilapidated buildings and wondering how and why people lived here, and what happened to them. The copper mining industry of western Michigan is long past. The mines are closed, but the history remains. The once booming towns have been reclaimed by the forest. The cemetery I walked through today has suffered the same fate.
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I walked down a narrow winding trail that snaked through the dark evergreen forest. I had to jump over downed trees that blocked the path, and slipped on the mud from the recent rains. I walked quietly thorough the woods trying not to make much noise. I feel that cemeteries should be quiet places, and I didn’t want to disturb the peace of a silent forest.
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I once visited the cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. While walking through the hundreds of gravestones there, pondering this epic civil war battle, a family of tourists bumbled along right next to me. They were a mob, complete with squawking children running amok, loud parents dropping their snack food wrappers here and there, and generally disturbing the peace. They did a good job bothering me, and I was miffed about their disrespect for the place. To them, it could have been Disneyland; just another place to snap a picture of “Bobby” drinking coke and yelling near a statue… Sorry, I digress. The point being: Have some respect.
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So I walked softly when I entered the cemetery grounds. The trail narrowed to a footpath barely 10 inches wide and it rambled through the dark woods past the headstones that marked the graves of the people buried there. The lighting was good; a bright overcast that made the gray of the stonework contrast nicely with the lush green of the surrounding forest. There weren’t many headstones still intact. One hundred and forty years have past since some of these stones had been set, and the forest had reclaimed much of its old territory. Over the years, many of them have been knocked down, chipped, and broken.
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I was struck by the intricate scrollwork, and design of the stones. In my mind, the master stonemasons who designed and carved these stones were far superior to any design you see today. They are works of art, and the time and effort that was put into them is still evident. The stones have a haunting beauty to them; reminders of a forgotten time when this small ghost town was once important.
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Posted by Rhombus 19:14 Archived in USA Tagged art flowers gravestones photography forests cemeteries ghost-towns Comments (0)

From Alaska to West Virginia: 5100 miles in 8 days

Decompressing, Santa Cruz, Nightmare Flights, West Virginia Weekend, New River Gorge Rendevous

sunny 65 °F

How does a sailor decompress after seven months aboard a ship? It’s a fair question. After all, it’s what I’ve known for a long time. I’ve been tied to the clock, to duty and workmates. I believe I’ve found a good solution to this problem, and it involves the following: Plan and execute a righteous first week filled with a two day decompression in California, and a solid weekend of rock climbing in West Virginia. I traveled over five thousand miles in eight days. This is how I relaxed, and unwound after seven months at sea.

First, find a stalwart friend of the highest order. Visit them.
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Spend the first day in the kitchen of a cool and comfortable quiet house, making cinnamon rolls, “fauxcassia bread”, and an award winning chicken dinner. During the downtimes, exchange music, and stare out at the green hills reminiscent of Ireland.

Go to sleep. Sleep deeply and peacefully, making sure to set no alarm.
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The next day, start it out right with a great cup of coffee, and the last of the cinnamon rolls. Drive west out of the grape vine covered hills, to the coast. Find a good downtown area, in my case Santa Cruz. Eat some slices of pizza from your favorite pizza place (Pizza my Heart). Go buy some new shoes. The shoes make the man, after all. Stop by the hip ice cream shop and get some smooth chocolate and coffee ice cream cones.

Buy some bottles for later and go chill out at a comfortable house awaiting more friends to arrive.

After a quiet afternoon listening to the rain tap on the roof, walk to a recommended burger joint and bring home dinner. Hang out and talk long into the night, go to sleep.
This was my decompression stage, and it was so very good for my body, and spirit. After decompression, it’s time to pick up the pace a little bit, by a little frenzied air travel.

I sprinted across the country by plane, pain, and automobile to get to West Virginia for three days of rock climbing at the New River Gorge Rendezvous. The sprint was entertaining to say the least. I flew into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at 11 pm, my bags didn’t. The airlines lost them along the way, including the one which had all of my adventure clothing and toiletries. I drove to my storage shed and spent an hour hunting through my boxes of stuff looking for my camping gear by the light of a dying flashlight. I finally slept for three hours, before waking up at five to fly out at 6 am. I flew to Chicago, then to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee I found out I missed my plane due to poor planning (I didn’t leave enough time to go in and out of security) (don‘t ask me why I had to exit security). All told, I spent about an hour in Milwaukee, enough time to admire their “recombobulation area.” Then I flew back to Chicago, then on to Pittsburgh, where I learned they lost my other bag along the way. Ha! All of this on three hours of sleep mind you. I kept half expecting to see “Del Griffith” show up along side of me. So, I spend two hours trying to find the second bag that the airlines lost in 24 hours. This one had all of my adventure gear in it. I met up with Luke, my climbing buddy, and we drove back to his dad’s house in a small, sleepy town in eastern Ohio to wait for my bag to arrive. I finally could relax, and I enjoyed the company of new friends, and the beautiful early summer evening of middle America. It was tranquil sitting outside in the evening sun, throwing a tennis ball to Jake, the golden retriever.

In the night, my bag arrived. Ahead of us lay a four hour drive through the rain to southern West Virginia’s New River Gorge. We had planned this trip a couple of months ahead of time, and we were both very excited to be on our way. Luke and I had never been to the gorge before, or to a rock climbing camp, and we were curious to see what we would find.

New River Gorge Rendezvous 2011
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We found the campground right across the road from the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest arch bridge in the world. The bridge stands 876 feet above the water, and is 3030 feet long. That height could hold five Statue of Liberties standing on one another. Once a year, on bridge day (October 15, 2011) they close down the bridge, and allow base jumpers and bungee jumpers to test their nerve by hopping off the side of this impressive span.
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The campground was a large grassy opening, and a large tent city had already taken root in the middle of it. I was happy to join the city, and set up my one-man expedition tent in the shade of a large tree. We started by getting oriented, and went off in search of some rock to climb. I was antsy to get on the rock, to burn out some bottled up energy I had stored after my long trip.

After talking with some climbers who gave us vague directions, we went in search of the Hawk’s Nest Boulders located somewhere near a dam north of the campground. Driving through the steep mountain roads of the Appalachian mountains was beautiful. There were lush green forests, with impressive rivers coursing through them. There were ample waterfalls, along the way, the air was full of butterflies and birds, and it was an ideal place to explore. I didn’t know West Virginia was so gorgeous, and I was impressed by its natural beauty. For many years, its unofficial slogan was “Almost Heaven.” After this past weekend, I’m starting to believe it.
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In the small town of Alstead, we couldn’t find the park. We were driving around looking for non-existent signs. Luke is good about asking locals for directions and we pulled up to an older gentleman who was happily sitting in a rocker on his porch. Luke yelled out, “Excuse me sir, can you tell us how to get to Hawk’s Nest State Park?” The first thing the guy did was spit a massive amount of chewing tobacco spew onto the ground, and then drawled out, “Well Hellllll son! Y’all er goin’ the wrong way! There ain’t nothin' up there but a dayd end! Yew gotta turn round and head back to the highway and make a right!”
We thanked him, and laughed all the way back to the highway. The people of West Virginia are good folks, and everyone we asked for directions helped us along our way.
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We found some rock, but not the boulders we were looking for. We climbed to get the juice flowing, and then went in search of the boulders again. We could see them, but the dam, the lake, a railroad, and a small fenced off power plant separated us from our quarry. We gave up, and enjoyed the hike, finding a swan that was evidently looking for some action, puffing itself up in full display of horniness. We found yet more waterfalls, and decided to go for a chilling swim in a rain-swollen stream before returning to the campground for the evening.

While we were away, they had set up a slack line. I hadn’t slack lined since last October, so I was excited to get back into it. Some very talented slackers took to the line. It was fun to watch and even better to try my balance once again.

That night, we made some friends with our neighbors, and I found out a local brewery was serving free craft beer. I filled up my Nalgene bottle and went and told Luke about it, who looked at me in disbelief. There’s nowhere else in the country that will they offer this kind of hospitality, and the climbers of West Virginia take care of their own.

For thirty dollars per person, we were given: a place to camp, a free breakfast (oatmeal, muesli, eggs, crepes, muffins, bagels, pancakes, fresh fruit and coffee, a burrito dinner, free drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties, free gear demos from affiliated sponsors, free tee shirts, two concerts, gear, climbing competitions and clinics. I couldn’t believe it. What a great deal.
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The next two days we focused on climbing. Neither of us had much gear. I only had rock shoes, and Luke had a bit more with a harness and chalk bag. So we went bouldering. Bouldering is a style of climbing where you basically climb routes very low to the ground. This allows you to try harder moves without the fear of falling a long distance. It’s been one of my major pastimes for the last 8 years. By the end of the weekend, my muscles were strained and my fingers cut up and scraped.
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I found inspiration in the dyno comp (etition). To dyno is to find a hold and launch yourself off the rock and catch another hold higher up the rock. At the competition, there were guys who could fly. Points are awarded for the height of the grab. “Socks” Johnson was there, the national champion, and he won the competition by catching the highest grabs the most consistently.
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On Sunday, we stopped off for one last climbing session at the Hawks Nest Boulders. We finally were given good directions, and we wanted to find them after missing them on Friday. We burned out the last of our strength here, and doggedly made our way back to the car. My hands were so fatigued; I couldn’t even open a candy bar wrapper. I improvised and ripped it opened it with my teeth. You just can’t keep me away from my chocolate.
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It was a great weekend. We had spent three days hiking around the woods of West Virginia, taking in its entire scenic splendor, and there is plenty to see. It was like summer camp for us “fringe” folks who enjoy spending time outside. Everyone who was at the camp were of a good disposition. The camp was filled with climbers, and everyone was healthy, and strong. Everyone behaved, despite an unlimited amount of beer. We were here to climb, not to party, and everyone helped one another out. It was a great place to spend a weekend exploring, climbing, and chilling out with good people, my kind of people.
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On our way back north to Ohio, we stopped and asked for directions again, this time to a local swimming spot. We swam, and it felt good to immerse our tired bodies in cold water. I reflected on how nice the weekend was, and how good it is to be healthy, young and strong and in my element. I turned thirty a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say, life is great! Long live summer and West Virginia!

We stopped for pizza and subs in Washington, Pennsylvania. Luke told me there are a lot of Polacks and Italians in the area, so I ordered a hot sausage sub, and damn if it wasn’t one of the best I’ve ever eaten. It was a great way to finish a fantastic weekend. If you ever find yourself in Washington, head on over to Osso’s for some great food.
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Posted by Rhombus 19:01 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls hiking travel rocks friends oceans camping tents climbing forests bouldering westvirginia Comments (0)

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