Sunday, April 17, 2016

Two January Hikes and Tea

On January 3rd we revisited a hike from about the same time the previous year- the Big Tree in Sipsey Wilderness. This time we approached from the opposite direction, north of the tree. This route is a few miles shorter and completely lacking the rough uphill climb right at the start. I'd recommend this trail unless you're just looking for an extra challenge. You can see the whole map with tracklog here.

I'm like the G.I. Joe ninja of safety orange

Ben's creative placement of his safety orange bandana

So how big is that tree? Well... it's this many people's arms around. Which doesn't look like that many people until you stretch them out again.

We successfully brought a whole group of people with us this trip as well as some return trippers.

All the pictures from that hike are here.

On the 21st of the same month we took a group through to tour behind the scenes of Piper and Leaf, a local tea company that operates out of historic Lowe Mill in Huntsville. We got to see the Storage Room of Things and Stuff as well as where they mix quality teas with locally-sourced dried fruits and other ingredients. We also had a talk about entrepreneurism and the correct way to brew stronger tea (more tea, not more time).

Instagram post of the entire group:
A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

After the tour we had lunch at Bandito Burrito Co, somewhat of an institution in Huntsville for as long as I can remember. Our mob kind of took over the place.

Bandito has some of the best bathroom graffiti
Snow started to come down as we were leaving the restaurant and by the time we started up our little mountain to get home it was starting to accumulate. There was a tree down that forced us to re-route and take the scenic way home, which worked out better with the snow anyway.

All pictures of the tea tour here.

Last for January, a walk on the Richard Martin trail, an old favorite that I've written about many times before.

We tend to see a variety of snakes on this trail, including what's left of this one

A record-breaking day of geocaching for me- my "log" of finds
No trip to Richard Martin is not complete without...
A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

The Great Big Trip to the Outer Banks (or How a Shark Nearly Bit Off My Toe)

Day 1: The trip there

It's over 12 hours plus stops for food and bathroom breaks no matter how you shake it. I can't even remember the route we took. Did we go in through Tennessee or did we pass through Atlanta? I'm pretty sure I posted some pics on Instagram while we were traveling, but you know what's horrible for searching your own pictures for and then posting images from...? Instagram. I just found out that you can get an embedded link code from Instagram if you look up your pictures on a PC. So, here it is, the picture I took when we crossed over into North Carolina and stopped at a rest stop:

A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

...and that was pretty much it for the drive.

Things did get a little noteworthy as we hit that long straight stretch of road right before you cross Virginia Dare bridge and leave the mainland behind. This was a great opportunity for Chan to practice her driving skills.

We placed our lives in these hands for the last leg of the drive
As soon as we crossed the bridge and landed on the island it was clear that our timing for storms had been favorable (we barely missed a hurricane and there was flooding to the south of our route). The water was high all over the road and massive froths of sea foam were blowing from the dunes to the sound side of the island.

We arrived at the rental house in darkness a couple of hours ahead of the other two families that would be joining us. Esther and I prefer to be the first ones there so we can rub our stink on the good rooms and check the beds for Goldilocks conditions.

The house had one of those log books that most seem to favor. I read through a few entries...

A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

That was about it for the first day. Everybody else arrived and I think we had our first couple of flights of fancy beer that night, but that could have been the second night. Nope, it was the first night...

A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

My pics from the day (that are not Instragams) are here
Esther's page of this day is here.


Day 2: Dark skies and choppy waves

The house came equipped with three kayaks for our use and we spent some time in the morning pushing through the wind and the rough sea to paddle about on the sound- the house was positioned on the western side of the island, facing the sound as opposed to the ocean. This would normally mean more peaceful waters and almost no waves but the first few days were still a little rocky from the passing storms. Naturally, I have no pictures of us doing any of this. Thankfully, Esther did get plenty from the balcony of the house.

View from the balcony of the house

Esther and I poked around at one of the public beach areas. It was a little windy on the sea side of the dunes.

My pics.
Esther's page. ...and oh look, there were more fancy beer flights the second night too!


Day 3: Aquarium and Jennette's Pier

The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island is both a mouthful to say and very diverse and enjoyable trip. In an attempt to not take a million "fish pictures" I don't have as many as I usually return from an aquarium with. 

Fish sculpture outside the aquarium

Copperhead getting all snugly with two rattlers

Albino gator

Esther and her golden steed

Jennette's Pier is a historical landmark located in southern Nag's Head. There's a charge to enter the pier, but we got in free with the membership passes we purchased at the aquarium. 

Waves rushing in under the pier

By-the-wind sailor, washed up on shore

Polished shell shards

Couple of the kids watching guys with metal detectors

Dedication plaques on the pier 

"Mermaid purses" egg cases for skates

A very active foamy surf still coming from the storms

Esther laying on a pier soaked in fish guts and bait juice
This is... exactly what it looks like.
A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

Sunset from the rental house
My pictures.
Esther's page for the aquarium and her page for the pier.


Day 4: how I nearly lost my right big toe

The big toe on my right foot has suffered much during these 40+ years. It started with a snare drum dropped on it when I was 17. That caused a bruise and the nail fell off. Next up, in my early 20's I dropped a 200 lb store display on top of it while working in retail- bruised again. lost the toenail again. About a year later I kicked what I thought was a fresh bag of Quick-Crete that was actually a very old, very solid bag of cured concrete. I may have actually broken the toe with that event and I lost the toenail for a third time. Earlier in the same year as this trip I bruised the toe while hiking and lost the toenail for the fourth time. I was just starting to enjoy a relatively normal looking toe when almost lost the entire foot digit to a shark bite.

...okay, I stepped on a oyster in the sound. Oysters are much more dangerous than I'd ever given them credit for. It was at night and I was bringing in the windboard I was failing at mastering and I was barefoot. Don't go into the sound barefoot. Little clumps of oysters and broken oyster shells wait for your feet. They are like clusters of razors. I probably should have gotten stitches, but... insurance isn't what it used to be and I was on vacation and didn't want to spend hours in an ER in a strange town. I gashed it pretty good and I still have a really nice scar just to the right of the nail.

Esther has some pictures of me on the widboard- which I never did really figure out. One of the older kids and I were blown about a mile along the sound and ended up basically walking in water up to my armpits pulling the board and sail behind me. 

I do have a single picture of Esther in a kayak! Also a picture of the stars from the back deck. These are the all the pictures I have from the day.

Esther was off doing cool things while I was being blown to Cuba. She also got some pictures of me on my second attempt.


Day 5: the Wright stuff

Esther was all productive early in the morning and I was busy laying in bed feeling sorry for my damn toe. She took some sunrise pictures that are quite nice.

All three families hopped in our vehicles and drove up the coast to Kill Devil Hills to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial. The monument here, for me,  ranks right up with the most famous ones in Washington D.C. It's a sight to see and is very striking against the backdrop of the sky. It's very shape seems to suggest flight and forward motion if not determination and innovation.

Walking the actual path where the Wright planes flew

Sometimes my cheap phone takes pretty good pictures. From my Instagram again:
A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

We also went to Jockey's Ridge to play on the massive sand dunes, but due to a horrible camera mishap, I had loaned Esther my sandproof/waterproof camera and didn't want to get sand in my backup camera so I have no pictures from that. Esther does; her pics are here.

However, click here for an Instagram video of me sand sledding down a dune!

Sunset from the back deck
All of my pictures are here.


Day 6: Early rise, lighthouse, and spaceship

On Friday I was feeling a little more useful and I knew the vacation was coming to a end and my chances to do ALL THE THINGS would soon be over. I'd seen the sun set enough this week, this morning I'd see it rise.

When we returned to the house, the water on the sound was flat and glassy.

A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

After everybody else in the house was up and running we drove over to the Cape Hatteras Light House. Sadly, the lighthouse was closed for the storms. The storms that had already passed. Yeah.

Lizard impression in the sidewalk

On our way back from looking up at the lighthouse I stopped to find a couple of geocaches. The first, an old virtual cache that required a picture. Chan helped.

The second cache is hidden near this strange sight. The Hatteras Island Spaceship is what's left of a portable "Futuro" house that's been embellished upon over the years by its current owner.

That night we had a shrimp boil. Probably more flights of fancy beer. Safe to assume. Correction- it was mead flight night. Mmmmmmm... mead.

Esther's page of the sunset and some smooth-water kayaking and her page from later that day including on the beach and some of devoured shrimp boil.


Day 7: Bodie Island Lighthouse and other things

Because we didn't drive all this way to not  climb up a lighthouse, we visited the Bodie Island Lighthouse after check ahead to make sure it was open. "Bodie" is sometimes spelled "Body" or even "Boddie" but is always pronounced just like the word "body", as in "I awoke to find the body of my deceased partner in bed with me along with three circus clowns". See, that's an easy way to remember!

At the top flight of stairs we were met by a park ranger that allowed us a rare peek at the very upper portion of the lighthouse, to see the Fresnel lens and bulbs that power the light.

Retro-fitted to allow for modern bulbs

Underside of the catwalk around the base of the lens
Here are some views of the salt marsh surrounding the lighthouse.

The cutest wittle wighthowse wabbit ever!

The four of us stopped at Pirates and Pixies on the way back to the house, trying to get a little bit of the magic of when the kids were younger. Chan found friend.

Some of the big kids and the two other dads went back out into the sound to give the windboards another go. My toe wasn't up for it and I'd given up on mastering the skill. I walked on the boardwalk with just down from the house with some of the moms and smaller kids to see what we could see. 

The ubiquitous Indian blanket 

Just off the Salvo Day Use parking loop, there is a small cemetery that's not marked on Google maps but has markers with some of the more common local names. The location of the cemetery is a little precarious judging by the sand that has washed away from the vaults and the fallen headstones.

On the way back along the boardwalk we spotted large crabs (dinner plate size) in the little inlet north of the parking area.

Of all the things for the tourist board to put on a sign...
All my pics of this day are here.
Esther's page is here.


Day 8: The drive home

More driving. More stopping at rest spots. We came back through Ashville, NC and the mountains of Tennessee. We passed through the "NOC", the Nantahala Outdoor Center and we stopped to find a geocache and grab some lunch at the side of the creek.

Esther took many, many more pictures than I did of the ride home. Partially because I was driving and partially because I was probably shifting gears back into "workweek" mode. You can see all of her pics here.

I did take two strange Instagrams of us washing the salt off the van and of the spot we stopped for late breakfast.

A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on

A photo posted by Matt (@castlemischief) on