Friday, December 23, 2011

Long Hunter Short Hikes

Well, C and I were going fishing. But when we pulled up at Nice Mill Recreation area, we were met with a raging Stones River flooded out of its banks. On to Plan B. We made our way back up toward the lake and rendezvoused with V and E at Long Hunter State Park. Together, the four of us made our way around the Inland Trail, which sits beside a scenic picnic area overlooking Percy Priest. Then, C and I stayed at Long Hunter and completed two more nearby short hikes—the Nature Loop Trail and the Deer Trail. Midway through the latter trail, with the lake at winter pool, we combed the shore looking for lost lures. Sure enough, C found a nice, deep-diving plug right where we'd passed a couple of weeks ago.

Long Hunter Trails (L to R: Deer Trail, Inland Trail, Nature Loop Trail)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Two December Hikes

Long Hunter Deer Trail, December 11
In preparation for the twenty-six-mile Mega-Hike at Long Hunter, I want to explore every trail in the park before October. While I've covered anything of length at Long Hunter, I haven't hit some of the smaller trails. So on the 11th, the whole family took advantage of clear weather, and I was able to hike for the first time the one-mile "Deer Trail" next to the park office. It's a nice easy circuit that loops right by Percy Priest and the Hobson Pike bridge. This time around, a fumbled button led to no track data on the GPS, but I'll record a track next time I'm out there. Worth noting are the deer we saw grazing in the large field beyond the park office. We spotted them while driving in, and on the way out of the park, we rode down for a closer look. In all, Connor counted nineteen does.

Radnor Perimeter, December 21
Today, Jimmy and I met up on the east side of Radnor for a hike of the roughly four-and-a-half-mile perimeter. We routed clockwise, hitting the South Cove Trail before looping around the lake and catching Ganier Ridge. After having been office-bound for some time, I am in dire need of exercise, and the elevation changes were good for me. But as we climbed up to the last ridge, I was showing off the wind of a ninety-five-year-old, emphysema patient. Nonetheless, it was a good hike that featured some of the boldest deer I've seen at Radnor to date. Just off the South Cove Trail, we saw a group of six that looked ready to come and eat out of our hands. And as we were coming down the East Parking Lot Access Trail, we saw four more that were just as tame. In between, we gawked at two hawks perched low in trees at different points lakeside. I'm looking forward to getting back out there soon.

Radnor Perimeter

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Harpeth in December

Team Essence, middle Tennessee's premier sea-kayaking team, hit the little boats today for a December run on the Harpeth. We watched the river gauge all week and decided to pull the trigger when water levels at our planned put-in stayed above 2.5 feet. Right out of the gate, my kayak scrubbed bottom, but from there, we had clear paddling for the next 12+ miles. Our trip took us from the Highway 100 bridge northwest to the Hidden Lakes access. Along the way, we navigated a few rapids (see video below), but for the most part, the river offered up a calm, steady flow. The scenery, on the other hand, was less tranquil at times since the river path passed through urban sprawl and alongside busy thoroughfares. Nevertheless, we completed one more Harpeth leg in the area, and the missing link is now the roughly 9-mile portion from Hidden Lakes to the Highway 249 bridge. If we are able to make that trip soon, we will have paddled a contiguous 50-mile stretch of the Harpeth.

Harpeth in December

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Man and His Murse

With too much office and screen time under my belt the last several weeks, today I fled outdoors to "look far" as my mother likes to say. Given the sunny, crisp, and calm day, I could not have had better weather. I'd planned to hit the Bryant Grove Trail, but last minute, I diverted to the Long Hunter Day Loop where, at the trailhead, I had the pleasure of chatting with Ranger Tyler Blystone. He gave me some more information about the annual Long Hunter Mega Hike—twenty-six miles in a day over each of Long Hunter's trails. This coming year, I'm going to give the Mega Hike a try, which means I need to get out more often over the next several months and build some stamina.

In lieu of a backpack, I strapped on my homemade man purse, comprised of a nylon water bottle holder and some add-on, Molle-attached pouches. The rig, an essentials kit built around a core water bottle, was light and comfortable. Around the two-mile, halfway point, I stopped at an overlook with a spectacular view and used the kit to make a quick cup of coffee.

Long Hunter Day Loop

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Anderson Road Loop

Though today's weather was rainy and gray, E told me that she wanted to go hiking with "just Papa, not my family." I think she's a little tired of getting left behind when I hike with C. So she and I changed clothes, grabbed our packs, and headed over to the one-mile, paved Anderson Road Fitness Trail next to Percy Priest. Though I've hiked part of the trail in the past, it was always with fishing in mind; before today, I had never made it to the other end, which comes out next to the recreation area's boat ramp. From there, E and I made a loop back along Anderson Road and then walked down to the water's edge for some rock throwing. All in all, we hiked around two miles under overcast skies, Piglet in tow the entire way.

Anderson Road Loop

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Freestyling at Long Hunter

Last night, I told C that I was going to fish and hike over at the lake early this morning and that if he wanted to go, he would need to get up and get ready. Surprise, surprise: the chronic bed hugger beat me up and was dressed before I even hit the shower. For a change, we got an early start. After stopping for a bite of breakfast, we drove to the southern trailhead of the Bryant Grove Trail and hiked north. From satellite views of the area, I had picked out a point where I wanted to fish, and getting there involved leaving the main trail and angling over to the lake. But by the time we arrived, winds were gusting out of the west and producing white caps on the water. The fishing stunk, and about all I managed to do was lose one of my new spoons. Lake, 1. Me, 0.

However, we still had a great time wandering around the shoreline, and we wound up over at the point I fished a couple of weeks ago. Along the way, we spotted numerous animal tracks—from small birds and turkey to deer and raccoons. And since the lake recently dropped to winter pool, we kept an eye out for lost fishing lures. On the hike back to the truck, I found a spinnerbait, C found a crankbait, and we squeaked out a slim victory. Lake, 1. Me & C, 2. We also cleaned up a stretch of shore and packed the refuse out to the park trash cans. All told, I think C really liked "freestyling," exploring, and making our own trail. When time and weather permit, we will definitely head back out that way.

Freestyling Long Hunter

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Radnor's Fall Colors

We normally make it a point to get out to Radnor Lake each autumn and take in the fall colors. This year was no exception, and for the first time, C and E got to try out some new Camelbak packs I found on clearance. The Mini-Mules are made for little frames but still feature Camelbak's excellent reservoirs and bite valves. Backpack and all, E managed our 3+ mile loop around the lake almost entirely on her own. On the side of the lake nearest Otter Creek Road, we saw a gaggle of geese, and we stopped on the dam end of the lake for granola bars and hot chocolate. On the east side of the lake, C and E spotted sunning turtles, collected hiking sticks, and enjoyed watching four does graze near the end of our loop. It was a great day outside and a fun hike.

Fall Loop at Radnor

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fall Hike and Fish on Percy Priest

This afternoon, I hit Long Hunter State Park's Bryant Grove Trail. My main mission? To find a nice spot and fish. I made good time to the half-way mark about two miles in and then angled over to a point on the adjacent cove. Since the lake bottom there slopes gently away from the bank, as it does around so much of Percy Priest, I flung a quarter-ounce spoon as far out as possible. I only caught three, but each was different—a largemouth bass, a freshwater drum, and a catfish. I tried hard to land a smallmouth and complete a personal quad-fecta on Priest, but had no such luck.

Also today, I tested out a new hot-drink kit consisting of a Snow Peak ti mug, a Gram Weenie alcohol stove, and a homemade windscreen and cook lid. As the days are starting to cool down, it's nice to partake of a hot drink on the trail, and the compact size of this kit will make it easy to stow in pack or pocket.

All told, I covered nearly five miles, but that was chump change compared to the people I met who were finishing a convoluted 26-mile day hike around Long Hunter. With some car shuttling here and there, the participants covered all but three miles of the Long Hunter trails. They "cheated" a bit on the Volunteer Trail—turning around midway since it's a six-mile, one-way, dead-end hike. But still, twenty-six miles in a day ain't bad.

Hike & Fish on Priest

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weekend at Ethan's II

This past weekend, Ethan Becker again hosted a get-together for users of his BK&T brand of outdoor knives and gear. People came from as far away as Iowa, New York, and New Hampshire to attend the event, which began taking shape on Thursday, October 13th, and ran through Sunday, the 16th. For this gathering, Ethan stepped up his game with the aid of part-time event coordinator, Moose. At the hilltop camp site on Half Moon Ridge, Ethan built a large covered pavilion as well as a giant fire pit. Also, Ka-Bar, the manufacturer of Becker knives, paid to have some excellent Wagyu beef and tasty jerky flown in from Johnson-family-owned (including Steve Johnson of Johnson Adventure Blades) Nebraska Star ranch. Invited attendees included none other than knifemaker extraordinaire Jerry Fisk, who has been named a National Living Treasure by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and whose work has received all manner of accolades over the years. Jerry provided expert advice on knife sharpening and also conducted a “knife rodeo,” a popular knife testing and cutting event often held in conjunction with bladesmith meets.

On Saturday, I arrived at Ethan's in time to have a bite of breakfast that included Jerry's tasty crabapple butter. I also had the pleasure of meeting and talking with James Gibson, a practitioner of numerous outdoor skills and a journeyman knifemaker. Soon thereafter, I participated in the knife rodeo—failing miserably at most of the challenges but having a great time nonetheless. James, a veteran of quite a few such competitions, eventually took first place, with a borrowed knife no less. Later that evening, John Becker and his girlfriend Megan proffered some excellent table fare, including the Nebraska Star steaks, alongside camp dishes created by other attendees (thanks Kay, Derek, and Zach!). After a giant communal gorging fit for royalty, fireside conversation ran late into the night. The next morning, John and Megan delivered biscuits in a basket along with apple butter, and folks enjoyed breakfast before breaking camp. My conclusion? Ethan is the host with the most, and a giant thanks goes out to him, Moose, John, Megan, Ka-Bar, and Jerry Fisk for making this camp meet a great success.

I was talking, watching, participating, and having too much fun to take many pictures. But Iowa surgeon, averageiowaguy, documented the entire event. His six-part series of YouTube videos shows off the gathering in fine fashion. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Esbit Hard Anodized Aluminum 585mL Cookset (Review)

This Esbit Solid Fuel Cookset makes a lightweight, compact package for heating water. Fit and finish on my set is quite good, and the stove base—built to receive a hexamine solid fuel tablet—nests perfectly inside the lidded cup with plenty of room to spare for several tablets, a cleaning sponge, etc. Moreover, this base has a large cut-out on one side and thus, in a pinch, could be pressed into service as a twig stove. The 585 mL cup/cookpot easily hold two cups of water and has several desirable features that include: pressed-in volume measurements from 200-400 mL / 8-16 oz., fold-out handles with insulation, a small pouring spout, and a well-fitting lid that also features a folding handle. The set comes with a nylon mesh bag that makes for easy carry, and when nestled inside the bag, is roughly the size of a softball.

I ran three trials in testing this stove. All used MPI/"Grabber" brand hexamine solid fuel tablets. Each trial used 2 cups of water that was 36 degrees at the outset. All trials also employed a small piece of aluminum foil in the tablet recess for easier cleanup.

Trial 1: With a covered cup, I used one solid fuel tab laid flat in the tablet recess. I peeked in on the water at 7, 9, 11, and 13 minutes. The solid fuel tablet burned out completely around the 13 minute mark. Water was hot and steaming, but it never came to a boil.

Trial 2: With a covered cup, I used one solid fuel tab laid flat in the tablet recess. I kept the cup covered and looked in at the 11 minute mark as the solid fuel tablet's flame was starting to weaken. Again, water was hot and steaming, but it did not boil.

Trial 3: With a covered cup, I used two solid fuel tabs standing side-by-side on end. This tactic (a) generated more heat, and (b) put the flame closer to the bottom of the cup. The flame did blossom outside of the stove base more readily, and for a moment during the initial burn, I worried about melting the plastic insulation on the handles. No damage resulted, however. The water began to boil around the 10 minute mark, and when checked at the 12 minute mark, the water was at a rolling boil. The tablets totally died out around the 14 minute mark, and the rolling boil only lasted a short while.

Conclusions: With one tablet, this Esbit solid fuel set is best suited for heating water that is already treated. In the first two trials, water was sufficiently hot to make hot drinks or to constitute freeze-dried meals. As my third and final trial showed, the Esbit set can boil water, but this result required two of the hexamine tablets. The tablets do burn dirty and produce a lot of soot. Thus, a small piece of foil works well to limit soot accumulation in the stove base, and I recommend carrying a scrub sponge for clean-up of the cup. Otherwise, a paper towel or bandanna could be used to contain the soot and prevent it from rubbing off inside a pack. At just under 7 ounces (not counting fuel, sponges, etc.), the set is a fairly light option for day hikes or for overnighters with freeze-dried meals.

Two final comments: (a) I would not rely on this stove for more traditional cooking unless I were using it as a twig stove or unless I had a lot of solid fuel tabs at my disposal. (b) Of course, this cookset is not as light as titanium, but it's also considerably cheaper than titanium. The set runs around $25 to $30 from most merchants, though I lucked up and caught it on clearance for $10. However, it's still a good value at the $25 price point.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Harpeth Narrows Loop

Yesterday, I took a break from work to rendezvous with some Kentucky friends for a quick paddle around the Harpeth Narrows. The weather and water were perfect, and we enjoyed a temperate beginning-of-fall day with Harpeth water levels right around 2.5 feet. My companions launched at the Highway 249 access, and I timed our meetup at the state-park pretty well. I paddled up-river about a half mile, and there they were. It was a fairly busy river, but people were nice, with the exception of one frustrated soul who probably should have stayed home and watched football. At the end of the float, we paddled up the inlet to the lower side of the Monty Bell tunnel and took a few pictures. All in all, just a fantastic day on the water. Well, except for the snake my friend thought I wanted to see up-close. They must have different attitudes about snakes up there in Kentucky.

As we were doing final pack-up, a park ranger came by and distributed some river access and mileage maps that are currently in process. Eventually, a color-coded and updated version of the map will be available on the Harpeth State Park website. The version below enlarges in a separate page when clicked.

On the way home, I scouted both the Hidden Lake access and the Newsom's Mill access. Both have large, well-kept parking lots that open at 7 a.m. and lock around 7 p.m. And both require about a hundred-yard portage to get to the water, but the access points to the river are quite good. We may do a future overnighter from one of these put-ins.

Harpeth Narrows Run


Monday, August 8, 2011

Burgess Falls Loop

Yesterday, on the way home from the Knoxville area, the wildwoodstream clan made an impromptu stop at Burgess Falls State Park to stretch our legs and view the waterfalls. We hiked the one-and-a-half-mile River Trail and Service Road Loop, and the River Trail in particular offered some spectacular vistas. We visited the 20' cascades, the 30' upper falls, the 80' middle falls, and the breathtaking 136' lower (big) falls. On the GPS track capture below, you can click on four embedded thumbtacks and see a pop-up image of each location. The lower falls are set into a giant stone basin nearly as impressive as the falls themselves, and in the video at the bottom of the page, I tried to capture the site's scale.

Burgess Falls Loop

Friday, July 29, 2011

Long Hunter Paddle

My knees hurt. Apparently, that's what happens to 40-something-year-old knees when you go from inactivity to aggressive exercise and overdo it. Sidelined by tendonitis, I haven't really done much outdoors this month. But early this morning, I met up with Jimmy and paddled over on Percy Priest Sea. Launching from Long Hunter State Park, we headed south toward the Poole Knobs Recreation Area and executed a figure-8 loop around some of the islands. My intention was to photograph and waypoint any primitive campsites on the islands, but we wound up passing only two. One was the site where C and I camped back in March. The other was on the tip of a small island west of the Poole Knobs peninsula. Both are marked with thumbtacks in the track capture below, and clicking a tack will pull up a picture of the site. In all, we covered 6.7 miles, and we got to see a quiet area of Priest where neither of us had been.

Long Hunter Paddle

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day Out on Couchville

With the family clamoring for kayak time, I loaded up the plastic armada and we headed over to Couchville Lake for some paddling. It was E's first time in a kayak and C's second trip in his own boat. He is already starting to develop basic technique, and he paddled a roundabout mile without any complaints. E, on the other hand, pouted and cried for "Moma's boat" until we finally stopped and switched her over to V's kayak. Later, while C and E spent time on the "play town," I fished. A fellow kayaker told me about a line of rocks on the south end of the lake (pan down in the aerial view below) where the structure holds fish. I got a lot of bites near the rocks, but it was mostly small fry too little to take my spoon. I only landed a yearling bass and a bream, but I had a good time, and I gathered some valuable intel about fishing Couchville. With family, kayaks, and fishing all in the mix, I can't think of a better way to spend Father's Day.

Family Loop at Couchville

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Kayaker Is Born

For at least a couple of years now, I've been promising C his own kayak when he got big enough. Turns out "big enough" is relative to the size of the kayak. Yesterday, while wandering around Sam's Club, I ran across a display of Lifetime Wave kayaks for kids. At just under $100, the price was right, and the kayaks looked well-made with reasonably thick polyethylene. I snapped a quick picture with my phone so I could research the boats later, and though I didn't find a lot of reviews online, everything I saw was positive. So this morning, I headed back to Sam's Club, bought one of the orange models, and came home to dig out a spare seat I'd saved. The 'yak was already rigged with four deck loops, so installing the seat was just a matter of snapping on four clasps and making some strap adjustments. VoilĂ . Ready for the lake.

Rain blew through the area just after noon today, and C and I had a cool, overcast evening for trying out the kayak. Around 6 o'clock, we headed over to Couchville Lake and launched. C was a little nervous until he got in the boat and felt its stability. It wasn't long before he picked up on basic paddling, and after he made some practice runs near the shore, we were off. We paddled about a quarter-mile down the lake to a small pier, took a break, and then headed back. C did a lot better on the outgoing leg (see video below) than the return leg, mostly because his arms got tired and he started favoring one side. All in all though, he did a great job. For a while, we'll keep the trips short until he builds up some stamina, but regardless, I'm excited that he and I can now get out and kayak together.

Couchville Lake Test Run



Solidly constructed and well-designed, the Lifetime Wave is a good kayak for a young paddler. I'm too big to paddle it, but on a couple of occasions, I gave C's kayak a shove and watched it track. The two rear fins helped it stay on course, although as I note above, the short boat turns very easily under paddle. The 'yak has two scupper holes in the front, but with about 55 pounds aboard, it was buoyant enough that no water entered from the bottom. In terms of specifications, the kayak is 6' long, has a 24" beam, weighs 18 pounds, and is rated for paddlers up to 130 pounds. The pictures below outline features and specs, but C's boat also came with the aforementioned deck loops, a carry handle attached to the bow, and a decent two-piece, aluminum paddle that feathers. Finally, the kayak has a one-year warranty which covers defects in materials or workmanship.

Click pictures to enlarge.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Radnor Perimeter

On Friday, I hiked the perimeter of Radnor State Park by combining the South Cove, Lake, and Ganier Ridge trails. The roughly 4.5 mile loop combines the two toughest trails at Radnor and offers some decent elevation changes in spots. About a week ago, I hiked the same loop in the opposite direction, and I'm not sure which I like better. Hitting Ganier Ridge first gets the heart pumping immediately, but climbing Ganier at the end really puts the burn into legs that are already tired. Either way, it's a great hike and a decent workout that I can complete in about an hour and a half. Both times around, from the vantage of Otter Creek Road, I saw wading deer—something I'd never seen before at Radnor. On Friday, however, I also marveled at how many "hikers" were oblivious to their surroundings because they were yelling to their companions or cruising along with ear buds. If I wanted shouting and loud music, I'd hit a Zumba class.

Radnor Perimeter

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mosquito Loop at Long Hunter

This post ought to be titled Attack of the Vampire Swarm. Yesterday, I hit the Long Hunter Day Loop with tackle in tow, intending to fish some of Percy Priest's shoreline. Turned out that the mosquitoes were so bad that I just kept going. Thank goodness I remembered to spray down with some 40% DEET before I left the parking lot. I wasn't bitten, but every time I'd stop to take a picture, a mosquito swarm would envelop me. In one picture, you can even see the flash reflecting off a couple of the blood-suckers. One couple, out to walk their dogs, turned back before they'd even gotten a half-mile. Guess it's going to be a bumper mosquito crop this year with all the rain and flooding. When I got back to my truck, the flying vermin were so bad that I quickly tossed my pack in the passenger floorboard and slammed the door shut. Of course, my Camelbak tube flipped out as the door was closing, and I snapped the Hydrolink coupling. Cha-ching. There went $12. At any rate, I made good time around the loop and covered the four-miles in under an hour, fifteen minutes. Wildlife sightings included four deer and a rabbit, all high-tailing it away as I passed. The trail was grown up in spots, and next time I hike it, I'll probably wear long pants and maybe even pack a machete. I'll definitely spray with DEET.

Long Hunter Loop

Monday, May 23, 2011

Weekend at Ethan's

Click pictures to enlarge.
I'm proud to count Ethan Becker as a friend, and this weekend, I had the pleasure of camping at his spread on Half Moon Ridge over in eastern Tennessee. Ethan is quite the character. From 1976 until just recently, he was the steward of the seemingly ubiquitous Joy of Cooking which has been in print since 1931. In addition to that job, Ethan has long been an outdoorsman active in designing equipment, from backpacks to survival knives, all marketed under the Becker Knife and Tool brand. He is a man who wears many hats and wears them well, and he's just as comfortable sharing time around a campfire as he is cooking in the kitchen.

My company for the weekend included people who are users of Ethan's outdoor knives, the Becker line currently made and sold by the longstanding Ka-Bar company. As such, these folks all have outdoor interests that run the gamut—camping, hiking, paddling, fishing, mountaineering, outdoor survival, primitive skills, conservation, you name it. Also in attendance was Jeff Randall, who runs a a well-known survival training school and who designs and markets his own line of outdoor knives under the ESEE brand. Any time you get Jeff together with Ethan, part of the fun is watching the insults fly back and forth. They're competitors but also close friends, and it's always about trying to get the other one's goat. There's rarely a dull moment.

In addition to trading barbs most of the weekend, we did share and practice a little in terms of wilderness skills. Jeff demonstrated an ingenious rope tension system that can be tightened and loosened with the pull of one rope section. My buddy "Moose" provided instruction on simple but effective knife skills and on bow-drill fire making. Ethan gave a primer on camp cooking and served up some tasty chili Saturday evening, and Derek followed suit with a steak-and-potato breakfast the next morning. I also had a great time talking kayaks with Randy and Kay, and I hope we can get together for a couple of paddling trips in the not-too-distant future.

For our accomodations, Ethan had already cleared a spot on one of his hilltops, put in a four-star outhouse, stacked a pile of firewood, hauled up a giant water reservoir, and dug an impressive fire pit. All that was left was to pitch a tent or sling a hammock. Hammocks were by far the more popular choice, and I finally got to try out my new Hennessy Explorer Ultralight. I was quite pleased with how easily it sets up and how well it sleeps. With a ground pad under me, I was plenty warm, and I slept soundly into Sunday morning until Ethan motored up the hill on his John Deere Gator and people started stirring around. In addition to the Explorer, I also picked up a Hennessy Expedition, and I'm looking forward to a few hammock trips with my son this summer and fall.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gear Notes - Hydrolink Filter Adapter, Sea to Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon, Pelican Mini Flasher, GSI Flasks, Jet Scream Whistle, Panasonic DMC-TS2

Following the precedent of a previous Gear Notes post, below I offer up thoughts on more outdoor gear that I've accumulated. Each image, when clicked, leads to an enlarged photo.

Camelbak HydroLink Filter Adapter Kit

At REI recently, I came across this handy gadget, the Camelback HydroLink Filter Adapter kit which allows for a retrofit any Camelback hydration system. With this set-up, the bite valve becomes easily detachable, and the kit includes an adapter for a water filtration system. Thus, I can now hook up my MSR MiniWorks filter directly to any Camelbak reservoir with the connector and pump filtered water directly inside. This rig eliminates the need to open the reservoir at the top and lessens chances of water spillage and/or contamination.

Sea to Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon

If you've ever eaten any freeze-dried dinners in the aluminum pouches (my favorite brand is Mountain House), then you know that most cutlery is too short to reach the bottom without cramming your hand partially into the pouch. Enter the Sea to Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon. Over 8" long, the spoon gives a backpacker the reach to snag that last little morsel without getting sticky hands. Even better, as the name attests, the spoon is light at only .4 ounces (12 grams) because it's made out of an annodized aircraft aluminum alloy called 7075-T6. No fancy metallugical descriptions are really necessary though. It's a spoon. It's long. It works.

Pelican 2130 LED Mini Flasher

Not that long ago, I read about a Georgia kayak fisherman whose vessel was overrun by a bass boat motoring out of a cove. The kayak fisherman barely managed to abandon ship and get clear of danger, and his kayak was mangled by the bass boat's prop. The lesson here? Carry a bazooka on the starboard side of your 'yak, and be prepared to use it. However, if you don't possess the necessary Terminator strain, you might be well advised to think about visibility on the water. Lots of bright, LED running lights are on the market, but I recently purchased a small flasher that can increase visibility even further. The Pelican 2130 Mini Flasher clips to a hat or PFD and emits a steady red flash that Pelican claims can be seen half-a-mile away. Two coin-cell batteries last 100 hours, and the light is sealed and submersible, making it a durable and valuable addition on the water.

GSI Flasks

After a hard day of hiking, a snort of bourbon or Scotch around the campfire is one way of easing tired muscles and facilitating a good night's sleep. For a long time now, I've thought about purchasing one of the flasks made by Nalgene, but I recently discovered that GSI also makes a quality plastic flask in two different sizes: a ten-ounce hip version and a longer eighteen-ounce version. Both are made of BPA-free resin and have a shot cap; moreover, they feature a non-slip insert over a thick-walled, clear body. These flasks are far and away better than the cheapies we used in college, even though the GSI versions are comparably priced.

Ultimate Survival Technologies JetScream Whistle

With a nod to my Irish heritage, I've taken up the tin whistle, aka the penny whistle, and have even managed to learn a dozen or more tunes. What does this have to do with the JetScream? Well, not much really. But tin whistle afficionados often refer jokingly to WhOA, or Whistle Obsessive Acquisition disorder, and apparently, I have the same disorder when it comes to survival whistles. One need only look at this page in order to be convinced. In my defense, however, I bought the Ultimate Survival Technologies JetScream because I needed to spend a few more dollars to get free shipping on an order. It is a good whistle though—compact and sleak and at 122 decibels, one of the loudest on the market. Its pealess design prevent clogging, and it fills an important slot in the oft-invoked "necessities" of outdoor survival.

Panasonic DMC-TS2 Digital Camera

I still have the iPhone 3G. What I'm trying to say is that I'm not one of those folks who camps overnight to get the latest and greatest electronic gadgetry as soon as it's out. I like quality electronics, but I tend to keep them as long as I can and get my money's worth. As such, I'm reporting here on a camera that is a generation old. The Panasonic DMC-TS2 has recently been superceded by the TS3. That means two things. One, if you must have the latest and greatest, you can stop reading. Two, if you don't mind an older model, you can get a really good deal nowadays on the TS2. I've had the camera about a year now, and I've been nothing but pleased. Its 14.1 megapixel resolution, Leica glass, and AVCHD movie capability allow for sharp pictures and videos. I also appreciate its crazy fast start-up time, a feature that allows you to get a picture quickly if the power is off. Even better, the camera is a tank. It is dustproof, waterproof to 33 feet, dropproof up to two meters, and freezeproof to -10 degrees Celsius—all features that make it an exceptional camera for outdoor activities. I must admit I'm intrigued by the GPS features on the brand new TS3, but for now, I'm going to stick with my current camera and wait for the reviews.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Flooded Priest Loop

Yesterday morning started with a dammit to hell. I was supposed to meet Jimmy at the lake around six-thirty. That's antemeridian, so I needed to be up by five-thirty to install my Thule racks, load my sea kayak, grab all my gear, and drive over to the launch at Smith Springs. However, when I checked the clock with one bleary eye, I saw 6:17. Bingo. A bonafide dammit-to-hell moment. Frenzied activity and a record-time boat loading ensued, and I'm proud to report that I did not forget a single item. Sure, I did not get a shower or have any breakfast, but I was pulling out of my driveway at 6:37, and I was at the boat ramp by seven, only a half-hour late.

By the time I got there, Jimmy had already launched. The water was even higher than Saturday's run out to Tick Island, and we were the only ones in the parking lot. Once I got on the water, we headed north toward the Anderson Road Recreation Area, where we toured the flooded picnic grounds. There, we saw some geese, baby goslings, and a rather sinister looking turkey vulture eyeballing the young birds. In the Everytrail GPS capture below, it appears we paddled over land, and I suppose we did. The land was simply under water.

In all, we made a 5+ mile loop on a quiet lake. Few fishermen were out because of the flooded ramps, but we did see a lot of great blue herons doing their morning fishing. On the return leg, a light rain and accompanying breeze kicked up, but by the time we got back to the parking lot, the sun had popped out. It was a good loop that we'll likely do again soon.

Flooded Priest Loop

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tick Island

After relocating his aunt-in-law because of the tornados that hit Alabama, Mike D. came up for a visit. On Saturday, he and C and I headed out to Percy Priest Lake with a kayak, a canoe, and a cooler full of sandwiches and drinks. The plan was to meet up with Jimmy at the Smith Springs boat ramp, paddle out to some of the islands, and enjoy a picnic lunch. Put-in was even easier than we thought since recent rain storms had driven the lake up into the parking lot; we barely had to carry the boats down to the water. But paddling proved to be a windy affair that kept blowing the canoe off course, so we stopped at the first island about a mile from our launch.

We drug a downed tree around to form a bench, and the sandwiches and chips offered a welcome respite from paddling. However, it wasn't long before Mike found a tick crawling up his leg. Like the tick that embedded itself in my knee over at Long Hunter State Park, this one was a female Lone Star Tick, distinguishable by the white dot on its abdomen. We moved our lunch over to a bare dirt area, but our evasion tactics didn't stop the wily blood suckers. In all, Mike found four crawling on his legs, and Jimmy found two. Somehow, C and I escaped the tick onslaught, but after the sixth tick, we packed up our goods, and hit the lake.

Following some paddling around the island, we turned for home and headed into a steady wind, complete with waves going in the wrong direction. Paddling the canoe was a tough go; I finally found that I could angle slightly, allow the wind to push the canoe slightly sideways, and concentrate my paddling on one side. This technique allowed for the most gain, but it was a brutal crossing. Mike's kayak went twice as fast as the canoe, and Jimmy, in his sea kayak, enjoyed ten times my speed. A second paddler would have helped, as would have more weight in the bow, but I finally made it across, dipping behind some shoreline trees and out of the wind and waves.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Warner Woods Trail

Spur of the moment, the family unit hopped in my truck, and off we went to Percy Warner Park, the idea being to try out Warner Woods Trail for the first time. During our hike, E insisted, "I a big girl"—a proclamation indicating she has progressed beyond the Kelty child carrier and will be doing her own hiking from now on. I was worried that the two-and-a-half-mile, "moderate" trail might be too much, but E hung in there and only asked me to carry her on a couple of the final inclines. By herself, she covered over two miles, yelling "¡Salta!" each time she jumped over a root or rock. It's a Dora thing.

Warner Woods Trail is wide, well-marked, and surrounded by lush old woodlands. Honeysuckle is in bloom, and large swaths of the fragrant vines were hanging trailside in a number of spots. Aside from a few squirrels, three deer, and a couple of snails, we didn't spot a lot of wildlife, but we did see quite a few downed trees, including a big maple blocking passage around the second-mile mark. We had to scramble to get past it, and I imagine Metro Parks will have to get out there soon to do some clearing. In terms of difficulty, the trail doesn't feature near as much elevation as nearby Mossy Ridge, and it looks to be a popular spot for trail runners, who zipped past us with fair regularity.

After peering at trail maps, I realize that C and I have now hiked all the main trails that Warner Parks have to offer. At Percy Warner, that means Mossy Ridge and Warner Woods. And at Edwin Warner, the only trail of any note/length is the Harpeth Woods Trail, which we've hiked a couple of times.

Warner Woods Trail

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mossy Ridge Run

Really. There was running, though it surely wasn't me. Mostly it was C running up hills or running to catch up after he'd straggled. Come to think of it, Jimmy's dog, Kacie, ran a good bit too. Still, despite all the bursts of speed yesterday, we took a couple of hours to cover the 4.5 mile Mossy Ridge Trail at Percy Warner Park—mainly because of frequent stops and starts. The trail itself was in pretty good shape since Sunday's warmer weather had dried up a lot of the muddy stretches. The hills were the main obstacles. On the first incline, C showed some signs of fatigue, but he caught second and third, maybe even fourth, winds and did a nice job tackling a trail with more elevation than he'd ever hiked. Near the midway point, C really enjoyed seeing the waterfall, which cascaded nicely after all the recent thunderstorms. We had a good day out, and I was proud of C for managing the trail as well as he did.

Mossy Ridge Run

Friday, April 15, 2011

Springtime at Radnor

After a stressful week dealing with job matters, I finally reached a decision on Thursday—one that felt right and allowed me to breath. To celebrate, V, E, and I headed over to Radnor to walk along the lake and enjoy being outside. Clearly, spring has sprung at the park. The woods are denser with leafing trees and lush undergrowth, and a variety of blossoms have appeared in response to the warmer weather. The lake bass are on their beds, and E had fun spotting them (and trying to throw sticks at them). Other wildlife sightings included an old and sizable snapping turtle with a moss-encrusted shell, a little chipmunk darting in and out of its hole, and a couple of frogs sunning on top of an algea-covered pool.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Percy Priest Rock Hopping

Yesterday, C and I headed to Long Hunter State Park to hike a portion of the Bryant Grove Trail. We planned to cover about a mile, turn around, and head back. However, with the warm sun shining on the winter-pool rocks along the lake's shoreline, we were enticed off trail and out toward the water, where we rock-hopped our way around part of Percy Priest Lake. Exploring the rocks was a lot of fun, and we found all manner of interesting things. C happened on a number of crawfish claws, presumably left by an animal that ate the other parts. We also began to notice all the fossils imprinted on the rocks—everything from moss to leaves to something that looked like a fish skeleton. And over the course of our rocky rambles, we found three nice fishing lures which I'll restore and use myself.

With my supervision, C had fun practicing his knife skills on some cedar limbs we scrounged. He's beginning to develop better touch and actually made a good fuzz stick that would work for fire building. He also brought along a Bionicle of his own creation that he named "Toa Krush," and we took a few action shots for the Lego Club website. The evening outing was a good time of hiking, exploring, playing, and talking. C said to me at one point, "Papa, this is a lot better than watching TV." Amen, son. Mission accomplished.

Percy Priest Shoreline at Long Hunter

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Percy Priest Island Camp

C and I hit Percy Priest for some camping yesterday evening. We got a late start, arriving at Long Hunter State Park as the sun was going down, and we still had to paddle about a half-mile to get to our spot. The Corps of Engineers campsites around the lake are seasonal, but the primitive camping on the islands is open year-round on a first-come, first-serve basis. So with temps in the mid-70s on Saturday and only a low of 50 expected at night, we made a go of it, twilight canoeing and all. We had a simple camp with just a two-man backpacking tent and a fire. Dinner consisted of some Mountain House boil-and-stir, and dessert was all about the roasted marshmallows. We both slept like rocks and then rose early to pack up camp and explore the island. Light rain, however, convinced us to cut short our exploratory hike. Of course, by the time we loaded the canoe and paddled back to the boat launch, the rain had stopped. We chalked it up to fickle March weather and headed home.

Percy Priest Island Hike

Monday, February 14, 2011

Quick Hike at Ganier Ridge

C and I made an impulse run over to Radnor State Park yesterday evening. Given that sunset was closing in and that the park has a new locking gate that engages soon after sunset, we made our hike a quick one—climbing up to the top of a muddy Ganier Ridge, snapping a photo, and then hiking down the same way we'd come. On the drive into the park, we saw some big bucks playing down in a clearing to our left, and I was able to get a near-visible image of one deer with my zoom on full. Later, as we left the park, we noted that sheds are coming into season. Two bucks stood just off the left side of road, and one of them had a right-side antler while the other had a left-side antler. The sight made me wonder if they'd been doing battle and lost some headgear as a result.

Ganier Ascent/Descent

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Two Mile Loop at Cedars of Lebanon

With a hint of spring in the air, the whole family mobilized for a hike over at Cedars of Lebanon State Park, a spot we'd never visited, but one that is close to the Nashville area. On the way to the park, we stopped at a small general grocery, picked up sandwiches, and had a picnic when we arrived at the park. It was a crowded locale that morning since a ten-mile charity run was finishing up beside the park assembly hall. After some food and playground time, we embarked on the Cedar Forest Trail, a two-mile loop that was still muddy in spots because of snow melt. The opening section of the trail felt remarkably suburban because it ran alongside a subdivision cul-de-sac, but then it angled into the woods and felt more solitary. We were sans child carrier, so E was hiking on her own for the first time. She did a good job, but I wound up carrying her the last 3/4-of-a-mile or so because of the slick trail and her tired legs. Soon, I'd like to go back and hike the five-mile Hidden Springs Trail at Cedars of Lebanon.

Cedars of Lebanon Hike

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bryant Grove Turkey Trail

Today, Jimmy and I made the four-mile straight hike of the Bryant Grove Trail. Snow melt made for soggy terrain, and it got so bad in one stretch that our path resembled a creek more than a trail. Still, the weather was perfect, and about three-quarters into the hike, we ran across a big flock (I know the correct term is rafter, but I prefer flock) of turkeys. In all, we counted nineteen birds. All were mature toms sporting lengthy beards, and they were headed north toward Couchville Lake like us. I took several pictures and even captured some video of the birds (see below). Just a little further down the trail, six does crossed in front of us. It was a fun trip, and seeing those turkeys up-close really made the hike.

Bryant Grove Trail

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Radnor Hike

Jimmy met up with C and me today at Radnor State Park for a quick run of the 2.5-mile Ganier Ridge loop, which we toured in just over an hour. We spotted twenty-one deer on this trip, the most we'd seen in a single outing to Radnor. Interestingly enough, only one was male—a little spike buck that was hanging out by himself.

Radnor Hike with C and Jimmy