Atomic Diversions

Atomic Diversions shares thoughts and photos from diversions that interest Rod Adams. Feel free to comment, but it really does not matter much if anyone else cares.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Early Fall Hike in the Shenandoah National Park

Starting on October 9 and ending on October 12, 2009, my hiking buddy, Bob, and I wandered through the southern 45 miles of the Shenandoah National Park. For a variety of reasons, it was my first successful hiking trip in almost two years - the last two attempts had ended early due to catching a bug that would have interfered with a comfortable experience in the woods.

This time was different - I was feeling great and energized by the crisp fall weather. Bob and I drove down to Waynesboro after work on Thursday, October 8 and spent the night at the downtown Quality Inn so that we could get an early start the next morning. Our plan was to drop off one car near where I-64 crosses the Skyline Drive at the southern end of the park and then drive up US 340 to US 33 to park the other car and begin the hike. Bob had scoped out the northern and southern locations and found out that it was standard practice for the rangers to allow registered hikers to leave their cars in designated parking areas inside the gates of the Skyline Drive where they would not be disturbed.

We had a couple of curious visitors meet us for the send off. Even though I see them all of the time in my own backyard, deer still fascinate me. As we were getting our gear out of Bob's truck and doing the final preparations, two doe were walking up the middle of Skyline Drive heading right for us, looking for all the world like they wanted a handout. When I pulled the camera out of my pack and snapped a photo, I guess the flash went off - it was just before 8:00 am so the sun was still pretty low - and spooked them.

That was good - we did not have any desire to feed the local wildlife. Besides, I do not think that deer like freeze dried hiking food.

Our first couple of miles includes some rather steep climbs, but we were feeling fresh and kept up a good pace. It did not take long at all for us to peel off the outer layers and enjoy hiking in just shorts and wicking tee shirts, even though the temperatures were in the low 50's. There is nothing like carrying a 40-50 pound pack up rocky trails to cause some internal heat generation. (I am still amazed when I read about the loads carried by soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Better men than I.)

One of the great things about the Appalachian Trail is that it was apparently designed by people who just love to reach summits and gaze out over the resulting vistas. That is also one of the bad things about the AT for people who live a life that is just a bit too sedentary - those ups and downs can be a real challenge by the end of the day! The best way to make it is to take frequent rests to enjoy the view. As Bob and I tell each other, there is no hurry about making it to our end of the day destination - the hike itself is our destination so we need to enjoy it along the way.

As you can see in the photo, the fall colors were not fully out; there was still a lot of green, especially on the first day. Bob and I agreed that doing a lot of biking and not much weight carrying hiking in the weeks before our trip did a lot for our cardiovascular endurance, but not very much for our leg strength. We were both dragging a bit by the time we arrived at our prearranged destination shelter - Pinefield Hut. When we arrived it was just 4:00 pm, but there were already two temporary residents who introduced themselves as Chris and "Spoonful". They were both 30-year old DC apartment dwellers who had grown up together in Maine. Spoonful was on his first day of a planned hike to Springer Mountain, Georgia at the southernmost end of the trail, Chris was on a weekend "send off" hike with Spoonful.

They mentioned that they were going to be joined later in the evening by a couple of young ladies - one girlfriend - Maureen - and one friend - Celina. They also reported that their weather report indicated that it would rain during the night - news that encouraged us to decide to sleep in the shelter rather than dealing with wet tents in the morning. Chris, Spoonful and Bob gathered some firewood - I relaxed and made some fresh coffee in an attempt to build up some strength after the hike. (I was pooped; that 6 week layoff in July and August had made more impact than I thought.)

By the end of the evening we were joined by a pleasant group from Newport News, VA and enjoyed a typically interesting trail evening of sharing stories by the campfire. I turned in a bit early to do do a bit of reading; I had brought along The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown, on my new Kindle. I learned quickly that there was a distinct disadvantage to sleeping in a shelter compared to sleeping in a tent; my headlamp attracted moths and other insects, making it difficult to keep reading. Before turning in, Bob and I put all of our food and other items that tend to attract critters into a "bear bag" and hung it up on one of the designated poles designed to make it hard to access if you do not have opposable thumbs that can control a long pole hook.

The next morning, Bob and I woke up early and hit the trail without much fanfare. Though we enjoy the company and conversation around a campfire in the evening, bumping into lots of other people while getting packed up in the morning can be a bit irritating. It was a bit on the drizzly side, so I wrapped up my backpack in my ground cover - thank goodness for the extra long bootlaces that I usually keep in my ditty bag. Those made it pretty simple to keep my pack dry and made me thankful that I had not spent the money or carried the additional weight of a pack cover.

We hiked a couple of miles before breaking for a trailside breakfast of hot oatmeal and coffee. I had a momentary scare when I saw that the outside pocket of the fanny pack that I carry on the outside of my knapsack had a moused chewed hole in it. The scare was because that is exactly where I had stored the car key. It would make for a bad day to find out that I had dropped that on the trail - it was the only copy I had for the vehicle parked at the end of our hike. Bob laughed and told me how he had just heard a story around the campfire of someone else's pack being attacked by mice in a shelter. Apparently, the attraction to my pack was a stored powerbar wrapper.

 It was not long before Chris and Spoonful along with their two female companions caught up with us and passed ahead. We thought that their younger legs would result in them leaving us in the dust, but it turned out that we alternated lead throughout the day and shared an interesting conversation while getting a snack at the Loft Mountain Campground store. The visitors at the store were quite bundled up - I was heated up from the hike and comfortable in convertible shorts and a knit tee shirt designed to wick away the sweat.

In comparison to the muted transition colors that we saw on the first day, the leaves were more spectacular. The two photos below were taken just a few minutes apart from each other in the same location - the difference was that the sun came out from behind the clouds between the one above and the one on the right. The ups and downs were not quite as steep as the first day, we were comfortable with our packs, and we saw some excellent vistas.

We stopped for the night at the Blackrock Hut. The spur trail leading to the hut displayed visible evidence of a recent visit by at least one bear - who apparently ate something that did not agree with his/her digestive system. Once we arrived at the hut, it was a comfortable place with good company and a fair number of what looked like good tent sites. Unfortunately, I did not notice the slope until after I had turned in for the night. During the evening around the fire, we shared stories with the foursome who had taken the same path as we did during the day and met a pleasant couple from the Newport News area. We learned that Maureen was nearly finished with law school and that Celina was in the market for a new job as a park ranger. Both she and Seth had worked together at a hiking lobbying organization.

The next morning, the ladies headed back north as Chris, Seth, Bob and I headed south towards Waynesboro. We had one more full day and night to go with a hike out on Monday. Unlike Saturday, this day was bright and sunny from the beginning, allowing me to put my bootlaces and ground cloth into their normal storage locations.  We completed a 13 mile day and stopped at the Calf Mountain Shelter. Compared to many places along the trail, there were some real luxuries - like several leveled tent sites marked off with honest to goodness frames and no roots. It turned out that Chris had left his car very close to where Bob had left his truck, so we offered to save him the cost of a taxi service on Monday.

During the conversation in the evening, we found out that Chris was a linguist who had worked for the World Bank for several years and was waiting for an assignment to spend a few years in Columbia. The things you learn and the people you meet on the AT. We hiked out on Monday and after another successful and enjoyable trek.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Time keeps getting away; summer is nearly over

Blogging about my extra curricular activities often falls to the bottom of my priority list. The last Atomic Diversions post took place while it was still winter and I had to bundle up to go on a bike ride. If I recall correctly, I shared some icy photos and a photo of my weather resisting garb.

Last week's walk around Annapolis and today's bike ride did not require such additional protection from the weather; in fact, it is getting darned hot and muggy at the end of July and beginning of August. For some odd reason, I was so busy during the spring and early summer that I never did get around to updating this to share some of the fun.

In late March and early April, Jan and I took a trip to southern Utah with our good friends Bob and Sharon. As nearly lifelong residents of the eastern US, we have visited the western mountains, but not for quite a few years. We decided to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park to put some different kinds of climbing and hiking miles on our boots. What a great trip that was. We collected so many great photos that it is hard to pick a favorite, but this is one that does a pretty good job of capturing the scenery at Zion.

Life continued on with many terrific days full of fun activities that I should have shared, but did not. Then, on July 3, I lost consciousness while getting an early morning drink of water and fell against our kitchen cabinets. Jan told me it sounded like a tree had fallen inside the house. The resulting damage was a cracked skull and bruised ribs. Ouch, and double ouch as the headaches and aching ribs have taken a bit of time to heal. Therefore, no hikes and and no scenic bike rides for a while.

Anyway, excuses are over. Last Sunday we had a great "Maryland" day that started with breakfast at the world famous "Chick and Ruth's" diner. Following breakfast we walked around Annapolis where I snapped some photos to test out a "camera zoom" software application for my iPhone. Here are some examples so you can provide feedback to see if my judgement is the same as yours. The first pair are both looking up Main Street from in front of Chick and Ruth's.

The second pair of photos is from the end of the city dock looking across Ego Alley at the back side of Pusser's, the restaurant attached to the Hilton.

In both cases, I took the photos just seconds apart from each other and stood in the same location. I imported them into iPhoto and then exported them with exactly the same settings - Medium. I cannot figure out why they are different sizes unless the way that the "zoom" feature works is to crop the photos on the fly. I will have to do some more playing. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy a closeup of one of the lovely flowerpots that help to make Annapolis a very civilized place for a Sunday morning stroll.

Following our breakfast and stroll, we headed back to the house for some relaxation. Within minutes a good friend called and told me that her mate had caught a bushel and half of crabs that morning. She wondered if we were up for a feast on their deck. Who would turn that down? We had a great time met some very nice people and enjoyed the bounty of the Bay like real Marylanders do. Our friends even have a bit of water behind their home and there was a nice breeze blowing, so it was a perfect way to end the day. Just wish I had taken a photo or two of the huge pile. A before and after shot would have been perfect.

On my way to work on Friday I saw a couple of scavenging deer in the neighborhood. This is not terribly unusual; our home borders on a large county park that is the home for quite a large number of the critters. However, it still fascinates me to see wild animals that we only saw on vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains when I was a child growing up in South Florida. This picture is not terribly good, it was early morning, the only camera I had was my phone, and I think I was worried that I would be holding up traffic on Harbor Drive. However, I did want to let you know that I did not attempt to use the zoom feature, so that curious deer is pretty darned close to my car - and was closer before I pulled out the camera.

Today, I managed a ten mile bike ride. Not fully up to par, but feeling better and ready to get into shape for a fall hike and some kayaking with buddies. Maybe I will get around to posting some commentary and even a picture or two.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Not a fun diversion story - Run-in with Verizon Customer Service

Sometimes, we all waste time in activities that bear no relationship to fun. I have been fighting with Verizon Wireless for about two weeks - so far - in an attempt to purchase a wireless broadband USB device and service for my father-in-law who lives in a rural area in Florida where Verizon is the ONLY choice for reasonably high speed internet connectivity.

For some odd reason, Verizon does not seem to want my business, even though they spend tens of millions of dollars advertising their products and their network.

Today I spent more than 40 minutes on the phone with customer service to try to figure out why they cannot seem to understand that I am who I say I am despite my having gone to their local store with all of the identification needed and despite having sent that information via fax to the phone number they provided to me. For some odd reason, their internal communication procedures do not allow them to make contact with customers to tell them that there is a problem with their order, nor can they help the customer understand just what the problem is and what they can do to correct it.

In my case, the credit review department has demanded that I sent them a fax of my driver's license that they can read. I have a Florida driver's license - as anyone with such an identification knows, that state issues some very secure photo ID's with holograms that are not designed to be readily faxed to anyone. However, that is the only choice that Verizon's customer service representatives will give me in order to complete my purchase.

Today, I let the representatives know that I was recording the call. It is kind of boring, but there are some interesting exchanges. It is especially amusing to listen to the course of the call while paying careful attention to the marketing messages provided by the hold music.

If there is anyone at Verizon in marketing, I hope you listen and think about how much money is being wasted in the effort to attract customers while the people who are supposed to close the deal stubbornly refuse to offer any hope that there might be a way to actually pay to join into the network - at least in my case.

For your amusement, here is the audio that I captured during the call. The only edit I made was to remove the one or two seconds that it took to provide the last four digits of my SSN. The rest is exactly as it transpired on Saturday, February 7, 2009.

Verizon "Customer Service" Call February 7, 2009


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Nothing like a cold, clear Sunday morning

Just a few minutes after sunrise, I put on a bunch of layers, plugged in my ear buds and covered my head with a baclava. Then I donned my helmet and was ready to roll. I got a wild hair, however, and decided that the look would make an interesting profile photo someday. What do you think?

For some odd reason, I had the road to myself for a while. As I road along the north shore of the mouth of the South River - inside my neighborhood - I heard a cacophony of geese calls, so I decided to take a little detour into the neighborhood beach park. I knew the geese liked to winter there; I had see signs stating that even kayaks are not welcome during the November through April season lest they disturb the birds. It has been below freezing for several days, so the shore is starting to build up some ice and frozen foam that looks a bit like snow. My hope is that these birds are smart enough to figure out that going to sleep with your feet in nearly frozen water can be dangerous if the freezing gets completed while you are asleep.

As I continued the ride, I enjoyed some great tunes from the Roadhouse #206, which included some historic blues cuts from the 20s and 30s. They felt right for our current times. As I kept pumping and watching familiar scenery and homes pass, the miles fell away, and all was right with the world. Endorphins and good music is a wonderful combination for the soul. After more than an hour I came around a bend in the road to one of my favorite views on the route - Annapolis Harbor.

With the sun low in the winter morning sky, the Naval Academy Chapel dome shone brightly almost in a direct line with a stirring American flag. As you can see from the calm water, there was not much wind, but there was a little puff just as I snapped the photo.

One of the reasons I was out riding and thinking - other than the fact that I do that as often as possible - was a renewed sense of mortality. You see, one of my heroes passed away on Thursday after a hard fight against cancer. Though the word hero is often applied to someone in a different generation, Jon and I were classmates and just a year apart in age. However, Jon was one of those bigger than life kind of guys who always had the most beautiful girlfriends, wore a letter sweater with the most stars on the Yard (he had 8 varsity letters by the time we graduated) and married a delightful woman. Jon was also the kind of guy that had a lot of true friends; he would look you in the eye and actually listen as you talked. He was in terrific physical shape - until he got sick.

After thinking, riding and coming across the view of the chapel dome, I decided to do something I used to do every week, but now only do on occasion. I went to chapel and prayed some thanksgiving for having known Jon and some prayers of blessing for his lovely bride. Jon - many of us will miss you.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sign of the Economy - Ships Stacking up in the Chesapeake Bay South of Baltimore

I have been riding my bike along the Bay Ridge shore of the Chesapeake Bay for at least the past six years, and I have never seen as many ships anchored in the Bay as I have during the past few weeks. Three of the ships are obviously car carriers, the other six are general cargo ships or container vessels. Though I cannot be completely sure, it appears to me that the very same ships have been visible for at least the last 5 days.

This is a troubling development that reinforces all of the bad economic news that I keep hearing on the radio. Normally ship owners try to keep them moving with cargos. Ocean going ships are expensive capital investments that do not make any money unless they are moving materials from point A to point B. If there are a bunch of ships hanging out near a major port like Baltimore, MD, I wonder if the same sights can be seen around the country?

The included photos are a bit foggy; that was the weather on Tuesday when I took them. I saw the ships more clearly during today's ride, but neglected to bring my camera along. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day for capturing pictures. In the meantime I think you might enjoy the below photo of a couple of the ships with an interesting cloud pattern above them.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Beach fun with family

Not all of my diversions are solitary, though when you wake up as early as I do on most mornings you have to develop ways to be comfortable by yourself. In the past couple of days, I have been enjoying spending time with in-laws, wife, daughter, daughter's boyfriend, and daughter's dog - aka Raven the grandpuppy.

Though never owning a dog during adult life, I have enjoyed the company of well behaved dogs that readily adapt to family life and help make things fun. Here are a couple of photos of some recent play opportunities on the beach.

Raven with his flying disk and "dad"

Raven with his "mom"


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sunrise beach bike ride

Fellow early morning risers:

My family and I are staying on St. Augustine Beach for the New Year. The beach is beautiful and allows cars to drive and park. Because of the occasional traffic the sand is packed tight enough to allow for a good biking surface. Here is a photo I took this morning of my trusty High Sierra. Unlike my family members, it does not mind getting up at dawn for a scenic ride on the beach.