The weather was clear, sunny and warm on July 26, 2020, when I paddled my canoe on the New River in Ashe County. I hired the New River Outfitters in south east Ashe County to shuttle me up stream about 7 miles for their "intermediate" trip. I was paddling solo in my medium size Dagger Reflection 15. The river was medium high from recent rains so the current was moving well. With moderatle paddling mixed with coasting along to enjoy the scenery I made the trip in about 2.5 hours. Even with this fairly short mileage and time on the river, I still got several small blisters on my thumbs. Thankfully I had my Northwest River Supplies paddling gloves with me which I wore for the last two miles.
I did not see another canoe and few kayaks. The majority of river floaters were meandering along in rental inner tubes with attached tubes toting coolers full of beer. I was offered a cold beer by three groups so I took two of them.
One difference on this trip from prior outings I that I did not over pack gear. Traditionally I take every piece of equipment that I may need and have too much stuff. It is pain to tote around so much volume and weight of things. This time I only took true necessities, like a canteen of water and a camera. A good time was had with lots of exercise, fresh air and joking with the tubers.
On the sunny, hot day of July 12, 2020, I took a nice wooded hike on the Boone Fork Trail in Price Park, Watauga County, NC.
The most notable event was that due to recent rains and abnormally muddy trail, at one steep location I slipped and skinned my shin, knee and forearm.
On a more positive note I was using a new water bladder and drinking hose system that worked well.
The trip was good fun, good exercise and I saw many other hikers enjoying the outdoors with me.
Roan Mountain, TN, and the grassy balds for several miles to the north contain the biggest collection of native growing wildflowers of which I am aware in the Appalachian Mountains. Each year in mid June is the peak season of the blossoms of rhododendron, flame azalea, mountain laurel, bluets and other flowers. The Roan Mountain State Park on the west side of the mountain hosts the annual Rhodendron Festival at this time, on the weekend calculated to be closest to the peak. When I have attended the festival I was put off by the jammed crowds and absence of parking. This year I went on a Thursday and found the situation more comfortable.
There are three parts to the festival. First is the collection of food and craft booths at the park. Next is the Cloudland Gardens at the top of the mouuntain which has the most intense collection of rhodendrons. And last is the Appalachian Trail going north over the grassy balds which has the most variety of wild flowers and the most expansive views. Carvers Gap is the low area between Roan Mountain and the grassy balds. It is on the line between NC and TN. For this trip I skipped parts one and two, and hiked several miles on the A.T. The weather was solid fog the whole trip. I got some nice flower photos but no long scale scenic pictures.
On the last day of May, 2020, I took a hike on Grandfather Mountain. The route was on the Profile Trail from NC Hwy 105 most of the way to Calloway Gap at the top of the mountain.
This trip was my first real mountain hike in several years. Due to several illnesses, injuries and medical procedures – including two hip surgeries – plus getting older and fatter, I had lost most of my conditioning. Recently I would get out of breath walking up a set of stairs in a building. Thanks to many tennis matches and some town park trail walking this spring, I have regained some of that conditioning. Now that I am 68 years old, I probably will never again have the stamina I had in my thirties and forties [who does?] but at least things are improving.
Starting out I still had to stop and rest about every five minutes to settle my breathing, especially while climbing uphill. After a couple of hours I got acclimated and needed fewer rests.
Most of my time was spent fiddling with my fancy-dancy GPS. It is made for backpacking or canoeing trips far into the wilderness, so it is more complicated, and less use intuitive, than a vehicle GPS. It has all kinds of powerful functions that work outside cell phone range, like sending and receiving texts with friends, emergency rescue calls with your exact latitude and longitude location given, weather reports, planning routes, marking important spots on maps, showing your location, navigating and many kinds of status reports [such as how may miles to the next camp spot and how many hours to get there based on current travel speed].
I have had several similarly powerful backpacking GPS’s in the past, which were mostly as non-user friendly. I used them on numerous extended trips, like in Grand Teton National Park, Wind River Range Wilderness and Glacier National Park. But I was never able to make them fully functional. There was always some software or hardware component which I could not master.
The good news is today everything seemed to work. I did a number of tests which were all successful.
Now I need to get in even better physical shape so I can invite some friends to go with me and not be dragging behind the first two hours.
I have been physically attacked in my law office by a hot headed young man who I defeated in Court and embarrassed the day before.
At other times, I have been chased and bitten by big, mean dogs while mountain biking.
Once while backpacking in the Slickrock Creek Wilderness of the Nantahala National Forest I was harassed by a wild boar that walked through my camp.
Another time on the Appalachian Trail in the Great Smokey Mountain Park I was followed by a black bear.
When backpacking on Grandfather Mountain I had a black bear come into my camp and try to take my breakfast.
While helping a legal client in the mountains of southwest Wilkes County to locate a disputed land boundary, the contentious neighbor walked up pointing a gun at us. [Follow up note: I made friends with the contentious neighbor and later ate lunch with him, sharing his home grown tomatoes with my cheese sandwiches!]
On all these occasions I did not have a gun, but I wished that I had.
So, about 15 years ago I acquired a pistol.
Since then I have bought, sold and traded many guns and I usually carry a concealed weapon.
The FBI officially publishes statistics which show every year in the USA about 10 million criminal assaults are committed against persons.
These crimes range from assault and battery to murder.
At the same times about 100 thousand persons defend themselves with a weapon to reduce or avoid the damage and injury.
A person without a defensive weapon is three times more likely to be injured or killed by a criminal perpetrator than a person carrying one.
I have made the decision to be one of those persons who protect themselves.
Another issue is why carry a weapon in seemingly safe places, like a church, restaurant or someone’s house.
The reality is that there is no safe place.
Every kind of criminal assault has occurred in every kind of venue in existence – in churches, restaurants, homes, open fields, forests and on the ocean.
The odds are tiny that I will need a gun for protection.
Like a car seat belt, the odds are tiny that I will be in a wreck.
But I can’t wait until the wreck is happening and then fasten my belt.
By then it is too late.
So, most of us wear our seat belt 100% of the time,
Similarly, when a criminal assault is happening, I can’t make the criminal wait for me to run back to my car to get a weapon.
And the time or place of the assault cannot be predicted in advance.
So, I wear my weapon pretty much all the time.
Finally, many persons have a pet animal, or hobby, or other pastime which gives them comfort and pleasure.
Those people with a dog often take the pet with them to public places to share the time and activity together.
I like guns.
It is fun for me to shop, buy, trade, target shoot, clean and carry my weapon.
So I do.
Years ago the DeLorme company of Maine invented a GPS device the size of two flip phones which held electronic copies of maps and could show you on the map screen where you were located. When combined with a computer the device could desgn routes and way points to plan and follow on wilderness trips. A few years later DeLorme invented a separate device that could send an SOS message to rescuers by satellite [without depending on cell phone signal] and crudely communicate with them by a tedious text messaging sytstem.
I had those two devices for years but they were so clunky and user un-friendly that every time I pulled them out to plan a trip I had to spend several hours re-learnign the procedures. Plus they were flaky, undependable and frequenlty failed to download the trip data from the computer to the GPS. When I would call their support department they would say there is no cure and to start over with planning the trip. Eventually I said good riddance.
Then a year or so ago the Garmin company bought the rights to these devices, combined then into one handheld unit and improved the systems. It is called the Garmin GPS Map 66i. This device is whiz bang unit and a game changer. It is about the size of a large flip phone. Like smart phones, it has many hundreds of features, some of which you may never find or use. But Garmin has packed a treasure trove of life saving and communication functions into a tiny space. The main thing it lacks is a touch screen.
But guess what? You can pair it with your smart phone and access that larger, clearer touch screen.
Among its features are: electronic copies of maps, including wilderness areas and city streets; marine maps; tide tables; GPS location system from satellites; access to smart phone keyboard and contacts list; blue tooth connection between devices; WiFi; several free smart phone apps that help manage the device; several free web sites that allows your computer to further manage the device; weather by satellite [a new feature]; route planning; placing way points; tracing a trip as you move so you can return to your starting point without planning a route; SOS to rescue agencies; two way texting with rescue agencies; and two way texting with friends without cell phone signal. The SOS signal is an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) that shows the agency your location. Some of these features require a service plan, similar to a cell phone service plan.
I recommend this device. Even if you never hike, backpack or canoe , it is a wonderful piece of safety equipment to keep in your car.
Like most things in life, what boots to wear in the woods and fields is a trade off. More thickness and stiffness make for more foot protection and warmth in the winter, but also make for tireder legs and more sweat in the summer. Depending on the roughness or flatness of the terrain, a heavier boot may make your feet feel more or less comfortable.
Heavier boots are better for punching toe steps and digging into steep or slick terrain, like snow or mud. When I was in my 20's and 30's years of age, I wore heavy boots exclusively. I tended to hike rougher and steeper places, like Grandfather Mountain and Linville Gorge, where the stiffness gave a better grip. My youth apparently allowed me to have more strength and energy to spend on lifting my feet.
The boots I wore then were extra-ordinarily thick and heavy full grain [not split] leather, called waffle stompers. They had deep gripping Vibram lug soles and Norwegian welts, meaning the uppers were stitched to the soles with super thick thread and the seams were exposed to the outside of the boot. They were heavy enough that I used them to wear snow crampon spikes and randonee ski bindings. The water proofness came from the thick leather soaked with Sno-Seal wax compound.
As I have aged, my strength has waned, so I often prefer lighter boots, such as Salewas from the Dolomite region of northern Italy. The water proofness comes from an inner layer of Gore-Tex fabric. They were sufficienly sturdy for a week long, 65 mile back pack trip in the Wind River Range wildnerness area of Wyoming several years ago.
The modern trend is towards ever lighter backpacking equipment, including boots. Most through hikers [like 2,100 miles on the Appalachnian Trail, or even longer on the Pacifc Coast Trail or Continental Divide Trail] use simple, light running shoes. This type of foot wear is not water proof, offers no ankle support or foot sole protection, but weighs next to nothing. The hikers spend a large percentage of time with wet feet which eventually dries out. I could not do that.
Now that I am a little bit older still, I have settled on the Merrell Wilderness leather boots. They are a step down in weight from the old waffle stompers, but still sturdier than the Salewas. To me they are the perfect balance. Plus, they look classically handsome. In my opinion they are among the best boots in the world. You can order even better boots from some custom makers like Limmer in Germany, but they cost twice as much and take 10 times longer to receive in the mail.
There is a wide range of opinions and a significant divide between well meaning and reasonable persons about whether to carry a gun in the back country. Without going into a lot of detail I prefer to carry a concealed weapon almost all the time - even at home, work and church. This subject of whether to carry can be the topic for another equipment article.
Assuming you want to carry a gun, then what type - brand, model, style and caliber - are best? I recommend a Springfield Armory Ranger Officer Elite Operator steel semi-automatic 1911 in 10 mm caliber.
The reasons are that SA's pistols are forged instead of stamped metal which is a stronger tool than some other brands. All steel has more weight and absorbs more recoil for easier and more accurate shooting that most modern polymer pistols, like Glocks and Smith & Wesson M & P's.
The semi-automatic re-cycling action also absorbs more recoil for less barrel flip and quicker follow up shots. Compared to the semi-automatic pistol, a revolver holds about half as many cartridges and is much slower to reload. It also has more muzzle flip. The revolver can be fired either single action with a much heavier trigger pull; or it can be fired double action which means pulling back the hammer with the thumb that makes for slower follow up shots. All these features make the semi-automatic faster and easier to shoot and more accurate. The revolver is also thicker in the mid-section making it less comfortable to carry.
The 1911 model is slimmer than most modern striker fired (no hammer), double stack magazine pistols, making it more comfortable to carry. It also has the most safety features of any reasonably available gun. The external hammer (unlike the striker fired pistols) can be locked back by the strap of a holster so it can't be fired regardless of other conditions. Next, the grip safety prevents the gun from firing accidentally unless a hand is holding the grip tightly. Finally the external manual (or thumb) safety has to be flipped to "on" before the gun will fire. Most available guns models have at most one of these type safeties; I am not aware of any other model with all three.
10 mm cartridge has more speed and more power than the more common 9 mm and .45 ACP calibers. Thus the 10 mm is better for defense against tough animals, like wild boar or black bear. I have been camping and harassed by both types of animals. It has similare speed and power to a .40 S&W caliber, but a with little more of both, and it has more models available in the 1911 style. It is not so heavy as to be hard to carry or shoot. It can be reasonably be carried concealed in town and other civilized situations.
There is a debate among experts whether the 10 mm caliber is sufficient defense against a grizzly bear. Some say not to carry less that a .44 magnum or .50 Casull. The .44 and .50 will hit even harder, but they are only available in a revolver, with the disadvantages listed above. Other experts, including operators of a bear self defense training camp in Idaho, whose teachers are forest rangers, hunting guides and have been actually attacked by grizzly bears and killed them in self-defense, advocate the 10 mm. So those are the reasons for my choice.
Mountain Safety Research is one of the premier outdoor gear companies in the world. Their canister gas stoves are considered to be among, if not the, best. One of their most popular models is the Pocket Rocket. This stove is not their hottest, or biggest, or most rugged. The popularity stems from it being the smallest and lightest, while still being sufficiently hot and strong to handle most backpacking meals for several campers. When folded for travel the stove is about the size of two fingers held side by side.
One disadvantgage of gas canister stoves is that as the gas tank empties it has less pressure and burns cooler. For several years MSR has produced stoves with a pressure regulator to solve this problem, but this feature was only available on their bigger, heavier and more expensive stoves.
The good news is that now MSR has added the pressure regulator to the Pocket Rocket and re-named it the Deluxe model. While they were at it MSR added a few other features, including a wider burner head to spread the heat on the pot more evenly; a wind screen aroung the burner head to prevent blowouts and loss of heat; and an electric lighter with the sparking unit inside the burner head where it is better protected from the wind and more dependable.
Most hikers and campers have many favorite items they use, which are not big and obvious, like a pack or tent, but important non-the-less. I have recenlty researched and read articles and videos by people who have backpacked many thousands of miles, such as through hikes on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and Continental Divide Trail. They often will publish lists of things they have used all over the nation (or the world) which they found to be the best available items. I have collected a short list of those items and am posting them here.
Portable battery brand for re-charging cell phones and computer tablets: Anker.
Weather application on smart phone: Dark Sky.
Map application on smart phone: Gaia GPS [this is not a true GPS using satellites but works similarly if in cell phone range].
View Ranger [also a true GPS, but has the wonderful feature of showing the names of surrounding mountans].