Monday, August 29, 2011

Good Riddance, Irene

OK, so I was wrong on that last hopeful comment about being able to finish my hurricane writeup Sunday morning. Moments after hitting the "publish" button on my last 9:30pm update Saturday night, we lost power. And didn't get it back until 3:30am last night, exactly 30 hours later. But I am jumping ahead.

9:45pm (Sat) - Power has gone out and it has been off for a few minutes, so it will probably be off for a while. The kids are tired, so we decide to make sure we have our flashlights nearby and just go to bed for the evening. Hopefully the power will be restored during the night. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we have lost power, but the timing is a little surprising in that it is raining hard, but the wind isn't that bad. It seems like a simple rainstorm at this point, not anything worse.

10:30pm (Sat) - Musical beds is over, and we have ended up with Julia and I in my bed, and Amp and Grace in Grace's twin bed. Grace is going to try to "camp" on the floor. Good luck to Amp... Lying in bed waiting to drift off to sleep, the sound of the storm isn't alarming at all. I have heard much stronger winds buffeting the side of the house than this.

6:00am (Sun) - I wake up after having slept soundly and mostly uninterrupted (other than a stray knee or elbow) for over 7 hours. The storm never woke me once. I think I actually slept better than I have been recently. Odd. The power is still out but I know the time from my cell phone. I get out of bed and walk around the house looking out the windows to see what is going on outside. It is blustery and overcast, but the winds aren't too strong, and the rain has lessened to a light wind-blown drizzle. I can see that the wind has shifted from west to east, the opposite of yesterday, so that means the hurricane has passed and is north of us now. I go back to bed for a while to think and doze.

7:30am (Sun) - Julia wakes up so we get out of bed for good. I walk around looking out windows again in the better daylight to try to see if it looks like we have damage outside. A quick inspection makes me think we got away unscathed. That is encouraging, because I was worried about our one remaining Bradford Pear tree, expecting to lose it. We lost its twin in the spring, and knowing how fragile they are, wind gusts like we were told to expect would almost certainly have damaged this one in its exposed location. A few minutes later Amp comes down, looks out a different window, and tells me that we did lose a big chunk off the back of it. Oh well.

8:00am (Sun) - Taking stock of the situation, we are in pretty good shape. The remnants of the storm are tapering off significantly. We have running water (and therefore also toilets). We have a gas range that we can light with a match to warm or cook with. We have a gas hot water heater, so we have hot showers. And we have a propane grill outside for cooking also. All things considered, we are dealing with inconvenience and not a problem. A text from Dave does tell us that all non-emergency road traffic in Delaware is banned, so no driving south.

11:30am (Sun) - 14 hours with no power. By now it is just breezy and overcast. All but the most scattered trailing edge of the storm seems to be gone. After a lazy morning around the house the kids are bored and want to see what it looks like outside, so the three of us go for a drive. There is small debris everywhere, and a good scattering of tree limbs. Only occasionally do we see a whole tree down. The power outage is widespread in the area. Concordville Town Center, Glen Eagle, Brinton Lakes and all the surrounding residential neighborhoods are out. Some areas, such as south across Smithbridge Road are fine. A little pocket around the Painter's Crossing intersection is fine also, and the kids talk me into a McDonalds lunch. Being one of the few places open, it is a zoo.

2:30pm (Sun) - The kids are bored again, we are 17 hours into the blackout, and the kids and I decide to go for another drive. We head north up 202 and find that once you get to Dilworthtown everything is fine (mostly). We stop at a crowded Starbucks for a drink and a snack before driving around for another hour. The Granite Run Mall's anchor stores are open but the mall itself is closed.

5:30pm (Sun) - Amp is ready to get out of the house now too and see what things look like, so we decide to head over to Target and do a little shopping (assuming that it is open). Getting there, we find a strange sight. The store is open, but running on minimal backup power. The store is mostly dark, and can only take cash payments. The kids think shopping in the dark is hilarious, so we wander around for a while and get a few things.

6:30pm (Sun) - 21 hours and the power is still out. The weather is cool but beautiful. We need to open the fridge and get some things out to cook for dinner. They will go bad if we don't. So we cook more than we need, have the neighbors over again, and have a nice dinner on our deck, first by fading light and then by candlelight. The girls all think that Anthony and I wearing camping headlamps is a riot, but they work very well. Good food, good friends, good wine and Norah Jones on a battery powered ipod dock. Once again, things could be much worse. But it is getting a little old.

10:00pm (Sun) - 24 hours has come and gone. We go to bed in the same arrangement as last night. Please have power by morning...

3:30am (Mon) - Exactly 30 hours after power went out, I am wakened when the lights go on in my bedroom. I make a quick circuit of the house turning off things that came back on with the power. I can't resist checking phone, tv and internet to make sure our Fios service is working, and it is. Hoping that everything stays on, I go back to sleep.

Aftermath: What an odd storm. We lost power for longer than I have ever been without power despite the fact that what we could see and feel of the storm was a complete dud compared to what we were told to expect. We routinely get thunderstorms way worse than that. But it sure did have an effect...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Feel Small

While riding out the hurricane, such as it is at this point, Anthony and I were goofing around with YouTube. Searching out old videos of such songs as "End of the World" by REM and "Rock You Like a Hurricane" by the Scorpions. Then we stumbled on this. As the title says, I am humbled. This kind of talent boggles the mind. Derek Trucks. Thirteen years old. Ack! I truly do feel small.

I am not 100% sure why I am moved so much by this video clip, but I guess it is because I value musical talent above perhaps any other kind. Prodigies of any type are a wonder, but it is the musical ones that make me the most envious. If there were anything I could choose to excel at, I think music would be my choice. Music can make a happy soul dance, a sad soul wail in desperation... in other words, make you do whatever it is that it wants you to do. I watch this with rapt amazement and cannot help but think "I wish..."

Look Who's Coming to Dinner

It's hurricane day today. I have decided to start a post this morning in diary format and update it throughout the day (I must be bored). I have no idea what the day will bring, but some of the forecasts seem to be at odds over what to expect.'s headline news would have you believe that the end of the world is upon us. Their hour by hour forecast has heavy rains and winds near 40 mph between dinner tonight and dawn tomorrow. That's not exactly the same thing, although I do recognize that well inland on higher ground is very different from being on the coast, and the hour by hour forecast here truly is local.

8:00am - It was gray at dawn this morning and it has been gray and solid overcast since. The air is perfectly still, but the cloud cover is moving steadily and fairly briskly from east to west. I guess that means hurricanes spin counterclockwise since we are north of the storm. Looking at the pinwheel images, that is obviously true.

9:30am - No change. Our lawnmowers are here working several clients in the neighborhood as fast as they can. With all the rain we have already gotten this month our lawn looks like a green wheat field and they have had a hard time finding clear days to cut.

10:15am - We are starting to have some breeze in the taller tree tops, but not much else.

11:35am - It's getting breezier off and on, and we have had a few small patches of rain, but nothing substantial yet. Ran to the mall quickly for a few errands and am heading back out now. I want to get the ingredients to make Chicken Tikka Masala for dinner if I can get them. Who knows what a food store is going to look like today, but it's worth a shot. If we are going to be stuck in the house I'd just as soon cook a nice meal.

12:45pm - Breezes are pretty much unchanged, but a light steady rain has started.

3:25pm - Raining moderate and steady but not bad by any means yet. Very little wind.

4:45pm - On a normal Saturday we might cook a nice dinner and have the neighbors over, so that's what we are going to do. Still just a light steady rain.

6:20pm - Very light rain. Not much wind. Tikka Masala smells fantastic.

9:35pm - Dinner was terrific. Even the finicky kids loved it. Our friends have gone home, the kids are in bed, and we are getting ready to go up to read or maybe watch a movie (power willing). While I was writing this periodic update, we had a split second power surge that shut off the computer and lost my edits. Grace is reading an e-book on the iPad and is concerned about the storm. It is raining hard now and there is some gusty wind, but it is nothing bad yet. Unfortunately, Grace has been hearing gloom and doom weather forecasts all day and is worried. Hopefully the kids will sleep well. If all goes well, I will have power and be able to post an update in the morning. I suspect I will be able to, as the forecast isn't that bad where we are away from the coast. Nite nite everyone, and see you on the other side. :-)

Friday, August 26, 2011

What Tomorrow Brings...

As the wind and rain begins to lash the Carolina coast, we have done just about all we can here to get ready for this hurricane. Deck chairs and all smaller potted plants are either under the deck or in the garage. The grill has been moved as far as we can get it into the lee of the house. Hanging plants are all down. The table is upside down on the deck so it won't catch the wind.

We went out and did some shopping today, not so much out of absolute necessity but more to join the communal effort to do what we could to prepare. Better safe than sorry. I picked up a few bottles of wine at the liquor store, and it was a total mob scene. I think the last time I can remember it being that crowded was the lead up to New Years Eve. The cashier said it had been that way since they opened. The supermarket in the same shopping center appeared overrun as well. To try to get some food items we wanted we decided to go to Target instead, which was very crowded but manageable. I checked on a few items out of curiosity, and was not all surprised to find them unavailable: bottled water, flashlights and batteries being the most obvious. We are well set for all of those kind of necessities and have stocked in enough easy food items to last for several days at least.

The last errand of the day was to go to a home improvement store to get a few things so we can hopefully work on some house projects while we are stuck in. A gallon of trim paint, some masking tape. Stuff like that.

The current forecast has the storm ramping up in our area around dinner time tomorrow (Saturday) and going full blast until around dawn on Sunday. It is expected to lessen throughout the remainder of the day on Sunday, and by the time Monday rolls around we are supposed to be left with cleaning up whatever damage it has left behind. The storm tracker on the Weather Channel website actually has it not as bad as it was earlier in the day, showing a category 1 hurricane with 85 mph winds at the Outer Banks by Saturday pm, and a non-hurricane with 70 mph winds at Connecticut by Sunday pm.

I hope that all this turns out to be like many other forecasted blizzards and storms, where what you actually get turns out to be far less than the worst case scenario that the experts detailed. My kids ask me what the storm is going to be like, and all I can tell them is that it may be more rain and wind than they have ever seen. For all I know it could be more rain and wind than I have ever seen. I hope not.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Waiting for Irene

It's been quite a week for disasters around here. First the earthquake on Tuesday, and now the impending arrival of hurricane Irene, which is forecast at this point to be perhaps the most severe hurricane to hit this area in decades. I'm not sure I like the sound of that.

The weather forecasts are full of gloom and doom, and the chance for flooding, wind damage, downed trees and power outages is very real. When hurricanes do come out of the Caribbean or the Gulf of Mexico, I am used to other areas being in harms way. Florida, the Gulf Coast, the coastal Carolinas. But this one is tracking differently, and by Sunday morning I may have an experience rivaling childhood memories of hurricane Agnes in 1972.

I only have vague memories of Agnes, but our family was at my grandparents' summer place on the Sassafras River at the time (this is the same place so many of my family fishing posts are from). My memories are not much more than a series of images, but I remember images of trees bent nearly parallel to the ground, scary winds, water covering the yard, and at one point the body of a cow floating past the house, all four feet up in the air. I remember my parents' concern that the windows would be blown in, and the very disconcerting feeling that my parents were worried.

Hopefully, this will not turn out as bad as they are predicting, but that seems unlikely. In the meantime, we wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Given the title of this post, what follows will not be a surprise, but it was a first for me. There was a 5.8 or 5.9 magnitude earthquake a few minutes before 2pm today centered west of Richmond, Virginia (about 200 miles south of here). Supposedly, I have slept through a few minor ones in my life, but I have never actually felt one. Until today.

I was sitting at my desk in my third floor office when I noticed an odd sensation under my feet. I momentarily thought "that's strange, I'm not moving my chair but my feet are moving" and then I realized that the floor was shaking. At first I figured they must be doing something in the building, or picking up the dumpster outside, but the shaking got a little more pronounced and kept going. I got up and walked to my office door to see that just about everyone else was doing the same. The realization was hitting everyone that we were having an earthquake.

There was enough time for me and my immediate neighbors to discuss what was happening (after I had walked to my door) before it subsided, so I would estimate that it lasted for a good 15 or 20 seconds. In the immediate aftermath, we had a few good jokes about the sturdiness of the construction of the nearby nuclear power plant and similar topics. Included in that of course was the question "should we leave the building?" Those in my neighborhood at least decided that there was no reason to leave, and we weren't forced to, so we didn't. What we had felt was fairly gentle for the most part, and not terribly alarming in any way, other than the general surprise of it. More of a curiosity than a scare.

The ensuing half hour or so of lost productivity was a mixture of looking for news of what the heck had just happened, and trying to reach loved ones on an overloaded cell phone network. I hate the feeling of not being able to reach out and be assured that those I care about are ok. In this case it wasn't a big deal, as the quake was certainly more of a curiosity and not a danger, but you still want to be sure. I was curious as to how my kids would react. The answer to that would eventually prove to be that the kids were at Tyler Arboretum playing at the time and never even noticed, although their mom did. Just as well I suppose. But I kinda liked it. Hopefully everyone everywhere is ok.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Highpointing - Ebright Azimuth, DE

One of the things that the hiking boys bring up often in conversation of places to go and things to do relates to doing the high points in various states. I know that I had done very few if any of these prior to the recently completed Dakotas trip, although I know that I have been very near the Delaware state high point (such as it is). Highpointing and geocaching overlapped today.

When on the geocaching website earlier today, I saw an announcement that today was the first annual International Geocaching Day, and that anyone logging a cache today would get a special souvenir badge on their profile. Not a big deal, but a good excuse to get the girls out and find a couple of the newer caches in the area that I haven't cleaned up yet. We ended up going out with one of Grace's friends in tow and found two simple caches. One of the caches is at the location shown in the picture, which at 448 feet above sea level is the highest point in the state of Delaware. That make two official high points for me. Ebright Azimuth, Delaware, the second lowest (only Florida's is lower), and Harney Peak in South Dakota (the 14th highest at 7,242 feet).

While we were looking for the geocache, a nice older lady came out of a nearby house, asked if we were "highpointers", and proceeded to tell us some history of the area, handed us a bunch of pamphlets and information on highpointing, and had us sign the official Delaware state highpoint logbook. Fun. We also get to claim the badge for the special day today. Not a bad hour's work.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Tower Theater - 8/18/2011

I love seeing shows at the little old Tower Theater. Comfortable seats, great sight lines, pretty good acoustics and a bar in the lobby where you can bring your drinks to your seat. We arrived before 7:30, purchased the Tedeschi Trucks Band's new CD Revelator for a mere $10, got a glass of wine and went to our seats. I was excited because I thought we were in the neighborhood of row 18 by my calculations (the seating chart is a little ambiguous). It turns out I was wrong about where we were sitting. We were in row 10, on the aisle, with an up close unobstructed view of the stage.

Steve Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses, featuring Allison Moorer
7:05pm to 8:15pm

I didn't know anything about this opening act, but I liked them very much. The earlier part of their set was by far my favorite, as they played a lot of songs that seemed heavily influenced by zydeco and other regional musical types. They used all manner of interesting instruments (violin, banjo, dobro, mandolin, accordion, bazouki, etc...). The second half of their set was more straightforward rock, but was still very enjoyable. Dave and Lori arrived toward the tail end of the set, and he was unhappy that he hadn't noticed who the opening act was or he would have made a point to get to the show in time to see them. Unlike me, he knew who they were and was a fan.

The real gem of a talent here for me was Allison Moorer, who sang lead on one song that just blew me away. What a great voice. I need to find out more about her (from reading the attached link, she is now Steve Earle's wife). She has a fairly extensive discography. I think I feel an Amazon impulse purchase coming on...

This was a surprisingly long opening act, but a really good one. It is always a nice bonus when you get an opening act and you really like them.

Tedeschi Trucks Band
8:40pm to 10:36pm

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect in terms of a set list for the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Each person's individual band has had a reasonably long recording career, with a number of CD's, but the band only has the one new CD together. I tried half heartedly to get a set list before the show but couldn't find one. My best guess was that we would get a heavy dose of the new album along with a few songs from each one's prior efforts. I didn't take notes on what we heard, but as far as I could tell that is what we got. And it was fantastic. I was mesmerized by Derek's playing, and Susan's vocals were really strong. I have written earlier about my finding Derek Trucks as a new musical act for me, and the opportunity to hear him for the first time has had me looking forward to this show as much as any I can remember in years.

The one Derek Trucks Band song that I would have picked for them to mix into this show was Anyday, an old Derek and the Dominoes song (Eric Clapton featuring Duane Allman on slide guitar). This song is generally DT's encore song, and it is a fitting one in so many ways. Duane Allman died way too young, ending his stint as the lead guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band. The current co-lead guitarist for the modern incarnation of Allman Brothers is of course Derek Trucks (Derek's uncle Virgil Trucks is an original member of the band). On occasion, Derek has played this song on Duane Allman's gold top 1957 Les Paul. Cool. I was overjoyed when the band launched into Anyday as (I believe) the fourth song of the show.

Anyday, anyday,
I would see you smile
Any way, any way,
Only for a little while

Nothing about the show disappointed. Tedeschi has a great voice for these bluesy songs, and Derek's playing was a marvel. He was a smooth as he wanted be, as fast, as soulful, or as raucous. The band was unbelievably strong, with a pair of drummers, keyboards, bass, the two leads, two backing vocalists (including Michael Mattison, the DT Band's lead singer), and a three piece wind section of sax, trumpet and trombone. All were fantastic musicians who got to shine in their own solos and featured pieces. Derek himself seemed to almost shun the spotlight, seeming to walk out of it on a few of his many solos. The only real emotion he showed other than being totally engrossed in his playing was minor annoyance on the two different occasions that he popped the top string on his trademark Gibson SG. He had to finish the end of Anyday soloing without the highest notes available to him, and was forced to have a roadie swap out another SG in mid-song the other time.

I hadn't properly done my homework on the new album, having heard Dave's copy once, but hadn't yet bought it myself. Other than the lovely Midnight in Harlem, I didn't really know it at all. What a pleasant surprise; all great songs with some real gems, such as the hauntingly beautiful Shelter.

They made their promises then they walked away
Fair-weather friends are gone for good
You never cared about what others had to say
And through it all you understood...
    You are my prayer in times of trouble
    I'll be your answer when you call
    Shelter you, shelter me

Wake up, but keep dreaming that you were born to fly
When your heart is heavy like a stone
I'll lift your burden high until you realize
That through the storm you soldiered on
    You are my prayer in times of trouble
    I'll be your answer when you call
You showed me that your actions
Speak louder than your words
    You are my prayer........

A terrific show overall. The opening act was a new one for me, but one I would definitely search out some more on. And the Tedeschi Trucks Band was phenomenal. Fantastic musicianship, good songs, great energy, and a great place to see a show. Any time they come back I am going to see them!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kitchen -Day 23 (8/16)

Today: The plumber came and hooked up the sink, faucet and dishwasher, and also rerouted the gas line for the range. Our contractor was not due to be here today, but because of a bad weather forecast preventing him from getting in a couple of days on an outdoor job as he had planned, he and his guys showed up to do the tile back splash and prep for the range hood installation.

I am very happy at the color of the tile back splash. It is a grayish white marble that contrasts nicely with the dark gray counter tops and is not too white. I was worried that it would be more white than it turned out to be.

We have a functioning kitchen again. I am thrilled. We even unwrapped the appliances, and can now see what they look like.

Still to do: The tile needs to be grouted, the range hood installed, and finish detailing, including a little more drywall work. Then painting.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Kitchen - Day 22 (8/15)

Today: A huge step forward today, as the granite on the cabinets and the marble on the island are in, and they look fantastic. The place that did the countertops really did a great job of accounting for all the little irregularities in our kitchen (the never quite square walls), the tight tolerances around the appliances and every other piece of detail. It took about three hours for a team of three installers to finish everything, as there was one piece of countertop, the largest one on the sink side of the "L", that just didn't want to go in easily due to some irregularities in the shape of the bay window cutout. Some judicious trimming of moldings, cutting of drywall, and then good old fashioned brute force got it into place, and once the trim is touched up you would never know there was an issue. They also glued in the under mount sink, which will dry overnight and be ready for the plumber to work on it tomorrow.

Tomorrow: The plumber comes to complete the work required around the sink. This includes installation of the garbage disposal, putting in the faucet, hooking up all the water supply and drain lines, and then connecting the dishwasher output in through the disposal and drain system. When that is complete, we will have a functioning kitchen again, with running water and the ability to clean dishes. The plumber is also the one licensed to move the gas supply line behind the range to get that into place and hooked up. It has been sitting there disconnected since it was delivered on day 5 because it hasn't been hooked up. Without running water in the kitchen, there was no sense of urgency to get that done, as we wouldn't be cooking anyway.

If all goes well tomorrow, the remaining tasks will be limited to putting in the tile backsplash, installing the hood over the range, and then all the final detail work such as trim moldings and the like. Painting will be the very last step.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kitchen - Day 21 (8/14)

It's almost not fair to count this as day 21, although in terms of elapsed days since demolition began, that is the proper count. The first 5 days were very eventful, and then on day 8, the counter tops were templated for manufacture. In the two weeks it takes to cut the counter tops out of the stone slabs, only sporadic bits of progress have been made, mainly in the area of electrical work. Lights have been added and moved around, and the remainder of the work to prep for installing the hood over the range has been completed. Tomorrow should be a huge step forward toward being done, as the counter tops are being installed. This has been the critical path task that is holding up every other remaining task. It will be nice to be moving forward again, as I am getting very very sick of eating takeout and dining out.

Also today, we purchased and I installed an entire pantry full of Closet Maid Shelf Track adjustable wire shelving. I would probably prefer something other than wire shelving, but it is easy to clean in this kind of application as it doesn't collect dust readily. The modular/adjustable benefits are nice, and we have used it in bedrooms and been very happy. It isn't the cheapest stuff in the world, but it goes up easily, is very sturdy and is functional.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Geocaching Recap - Dakotas Trip

The Dakotas trip was exactly as productive as I had hoped it would be. I knew that going with one geocacher and two non-geocachers would make any kind of large numbers not feasible, but the goal for the trip was to chalk up some new states, which is precisely what we were able to accomplish. Planning was important, as Leo and Ted were supportive of my desire to find caches in all these new states, but I didn't want to test the patience of the group by trying for too many extra stops. As it was, the planning I did paid off, as we were able to find a total of 14 caches in 7 states. All of those states were new for Dave, and only Wyoming was a repeat for me.

I began the trip with 847 finds in 12 states, and ended with 861 finds in 18 states. The final tally was 1 Colorado, 1 Nebraska, 3 South Dakota, 3 Wyoming (added to the 6 I already had), 1 Montana, 4 North Dakota, and 1 Minnesota. Courtesy of the roughly 3,000 mile round trip, my total cache-to-cache distance is now over 18,650 miles.

Highlights of the trip were the virtual cache that is Devils Tower, and the earthcache at the top of Harney Peak. Several of the caches were nice easy roadside ones at pullout locations that provided amazing views of the countryside. My only regrets from a planning perspective were a few things that would have been easy to do with a little better foresight. In Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there was an earthcache along the Caprock Coulee Trail, which we hiked in its entirety, but I forgot to note the requirements before setting out. Consequently, I didn't gather the appropriate information off of a few placards along the way, and didn't take the required photo at the proper location. There were also a number of opportunities for a few extra North Dakota and Minnesota caches on the final Friday during our 9 hours of driving. We made several stretch the legs stops along the way, and those could have been made to coincide with a few known cache locations. Oh well. Small complaints in an otherwise very successful trip. I love the look of my state map now.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Little Devil's Tower

Dakotas Day 4 - Monday August 1, 2011 (Part 3)

S/SW on the Norbeck Trail
10:24am - Splitting off from the Sylvan Lake Trail that took us up to Harney Peak, we head south on the Norbeck Trail for a short distance before heading SW on the Little Devil's Tower Trail. We have decided to take a longer route back to the lake so as not to have to backtrack over the same trail we came up on.

10:29am - We are hiking through spectacular pine scenery, with sandy gravel under foot and blue skies above. As we hike further south, we see more and more evidence of the clear cutting that is being done to prevent the spread of the pine beetle infestation that is an epidemic, killing trees by the thousands of acres. Whole large areas of pines have been cut to the ground and gathered into large heaps. Where there must have been wooded areas with various smaller plant understory is now exposed to the harsh sun and is barren.

Pine and Granite everywhere
Cathedral Spires from the North
10:45am - We are passing by a formation known as Cathedral Spires, which is another fantastic outcropping of exposed and eroded granite mountain. There is a side trail that passes near the base of the formation, and I am sure it would be well worth the effort, but we do not have the time (or energy by the time all is said and done) to make that detour. We have already made the decision to do a larger loop in the hopes of hiking to Little Devil's Tower, and we are ambitious but not foolhardy. Well, most of us anyway...

As we trudge along the gravelly trail I am continually amazed at the beauty of the landscape. It is so completely different from anything I am used to around home that it is especially gratifying to be here. Without the pine beetle blight, it would even more spectacular, which is hard to imagine.

Approaching Little Devil's Tower from the South
10:51am - We reach the intersection where the spur trail to LDT splits off from the main trail back to Sylvan Lake. Leo wants a cold swim, Ted and Dave want to do LDT, and I am unsure. At this point I am tired, my feet are sore, my right knee is acting up a little bit, and it is hot as hell out here on the ridge tops where all the trees have been cut down and there is no place to hide from the sun. Ultimately, Leo decides to head on to the lake alone, while the remaining three of us head north up the spur trail to LDT. I know that when the going gets tough, I will likely bail out, but I would at least like to make the effort. Chances are that I will never get back this way again, and I would like to go as far as I can, even if I know it is unlikely that I can do another mountain.

Climbing Little Devil's Tower hand over hand
11:02am - I reach the base of the LDT formation. Dave and Ted have gone on ahead of me, and I am following along slowly at my own pace. There is a short tough climb up a draw to get to the fun part, where you need to start climbing hand over hand up the rocks. I love this, but I am hot and tired. I convince myself to go as far up as I can, but I know I will not make the summit. I like climbing, but this is a lot of climbing, there is a lot of exposed height involved, and my legs are feeling a little rubbery. The hot and tired part I could handle, but I don't really want to be climbing hand over hand up steep granite walls with legs that are feeling dead.

11:15am - I am perhaps halfway up the climbing part of LDT, and have reached a sort of plateau from which I have magnificent views in almost all directions. The views are like those from Harney Peak, if a little less high and a little less grand. Spectacular nonetheless. Dave and Ted are somewhere up above me. I assume they have reached the top by now as I am poking along in no hurry whatsoever. I expect to see them coming back down at some point soon. As for me, this is as far as I go. I tried going further but just don't feel up to it. I am disappointed, but there is no shame in my performance today. I have hiked a bunch of miles in more demanding terrain and heat than I am used to, and am happy with what I have accomplished so far. And we are by no means done, with a few miles left before we are back at Sylvan Lake.

View from most of the way up Little Devil's Tower
11:17am - I hear voices above me, and shortly after that I can see Dave and Ted outlined against the sky on the rim of the mountain. I manage to get their attention and take a few good pictures of them posing with their arms raised in triumph. After a few minutes they disappear from sight and I imagine that they will be rejoining me in the not too distant future. I sit down to wait and a young couple goes by, slipping and sliding enough as they make their way up the mountainside to be of some concern, but the disappear over the top and I don't hear any screaming so I guess they made it. As I wait, my cell phone rings and it is Grace wanting to say hi. I am happy to hear her voice, and we chat for a few minutes. As I am wrapping up the call, a very outdoorsy looking older couple goes by and shows obvious disdain for my use of the phone. Whatever. I am 2,000 miles from home and my little girl wants to say hello, so I am fine with that. I wouldn't be going out of my way to make a call, but I certainly aren't going to ignore that one.

Dave and Ted summit Little Devil's Tower
11:30am - Dave and Ted have rejoined me, and we make our way back down off LDT. Going down on a sore knee is worse than going up, as is always the case, but I am feeling pretty good. For me today it is more a case of dead legs than sore knees or feet. Which now that I mention it, my feet are a little sore. We head south on the LDT spur trail, and then west/southwest on the Little Devil's Tower trail back toward Sylvan Lake. Our hike is relatively easy at this point, which is a good thing as we are all feeling the heat and the exertion. It is nice to wind down through the wildflowers, granite outcroppings and occasional areas of wetland, but I am very glad we are going down and not up. At one point we see something in the trail ahead, and it turns out to be Leo's hat. We make the requisite jokes about Leo discarding pieces of clothing to lighten the load, and wonder what item of his we will see next. We are all hoping not to see underwear. :-) Fortunately the hat is only a stray...

We reach the trail head for this trail at exactly noon, which means it is a quarter mile back paralleling the road to get to Sylvan Lake and where we started.

12:13pm - Back at our starting point. We are hot and tired and the thought of getting into a cold mountain lake sounds wonderful, so that is what we do. I make sure I don't have my phone in my pocket, and go right into the water in my hiking shorts. The water is cold but delightful, and after a little while everything numbs up enough that you forget how cold it is. Leo is already in the water when we arrive, none the worse for wear, but glad to have his hat back.

As far as I can tell we covered about 9 miles in exactly 5 hours, with stops, lots of picture taking and a lunch at the top of Harney Peak. If you take out lunch time, we made a pace of only a little over two miles per hour, but given the ruggedness of the terrain and the amount of time we spent gawking at the scenery and me taking pictures, I think we did fine. I think this is probably the best day of hiking I have ever done (in every respect). What a thrill.

Next...The rest of Day 4: Burgers, Laundry, Camp, and a Storm.

Harney Peak Summit

Dakotas Day 4 - Monday August 1, 2011 (Part 2)

9:01am - We climb the last few sets of man made steps and iron stairs, and come out on top of Harney Peak. It is a beautiful day, a nice accomplishment, and the view is breathtaking. I am grateful to be up here on such a nice day with perfect weather to enjoy the spectacular view, remembering all too well Dave's tales of summiting Mount Marcy in NY in awful weather with fog cutting the view down to nothing. The exact opposite is true here and I feel like I can see halfway to forever. The view is of pine forest and weathered granite hills as far as the eye can see. Sights like this are why I like to hike, and what make those hard-work climbs worth it.

There is a thing called Highpointing, which is to climb to the top of the highest point in each state. I know that Dave and the others have talked about checking some of these off their lists (notably Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks of NY and Clingman's Dome off the Appalachian Trail in TN), but to my knowledge at this point, this was my first one. A little research once I got home would prove this out; Harney Peak SD is the 14th highest state highpoint, and my first.

Enjoying the thrill of being in such a beautiful place, we have a group picture taken by a nice family, and then return the favor for them. We then explore the stone fire tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1939. It is no longer is service, and is rundown in some places, but is a very picturesque building in an amazing location.

There is also an "earthcache" type of geocache up here. An earthcache is a type of cache that is generally geology based, and can be of varying levels of complexity, ranging from answering a few questions about what you see at specific locations to things that seem like they should be term papers for college geology courses. This is a relatively easy one, and I wander around a bit to take some notes and fulfill the requirements. As I am doing so, I am startled to see a chipmunk on the stone steps right next to me. I would have thought of these as woodland creatures from back home, but I have always liked chipmunks, and take this as a good omen.

There is also good cell reception up on top of the mountain, which is somewhat of a rarity around here, so I do the sacrilegious thing and make a call and send some text messages. Oh well, as I have said, this doesn't bother me at all, regardless of what others might think.

9:20am - Lunch time. With the hard work we have done this morning, everybody is ready for a meal, no matter what the time of day. Call it lunch, call it second breakfast, the only thing that was important was that it was one of the tastiest sandwiches and granola bars I have ever had. Location location location. Eating our lunch out on the rocks behind the tower did bring with it something else...chipmunks in droves. It seems that the cute little one I saw back on the stairs was a scout for an invading army. As soon as we sat down to eat, chipmunks came at us from every direction, boldly darting toward our backpacks, sneaking up behind us, and doing everything they could do to get near our food. At any given time there were at least half a dozen in sight. It was kind of funny until it became annoying.

9:45am - As great as the view is, we have a lot to do yet today, and are anxious to continue on with our hike. I stop to take in the views one last time before heading back down the mountain. I am sorry to have to go, as I feel like I could spend the rest of the day up here. Or the rest of the week for that matter. Yes, I am sappy and sentimental.

10:02am - We are down off the peak, and have backtracked to the point where the Harney Peak Trail splits either southwest back along the Sylvan Lake Trail (the way we came), or south along the Norbeck Trail to its junction with the Little Devils Tower Trail. We have all decided that we are feeling good and rather than backtrack our ascent route, we should take the Little Devils Tower trail. So we shoulder our packs and head south.

Next ... Little Devils Tower

Up to Harney Peak

Dakotas Day 4 - Monday August 1, 2011 (Part 1)

5:25am - Up early again. I am not a morning person but it is very easy to get up at dawn when you are camping. It feels natural to go with the earth's cycle of get up with the sun, and go to bed not too long after the sun goes down. The day today revolves around our Harney Peak hike, which I expect to be one of the highlights of the entire trip. Given the exhausting Wind Cave hike yesterday in the heat of the day, and the nearly as hot Scotts Bluff hike also in the heat of the day, we have promised ourselves that this hike (a much more substantial one) will begin early to make the most of the shade and lower temperatures. I will also be carrying more water than normal, and something for an early lunch on the summit.

The idea of the tallest peak east of the Rockies makes me a little nervous because of the climbing we will have to do. As I have said before, I am not a great climber, and do not necessarily enjoy it all that much sometimes. The views are always worth it, but it is hard work for me. I haven't felt any soreness in my knee thus far on the trip, but if it is going to happen, this is the kind of hike that will do it.

Breakfast of granola bars and a quick wash-up and we are on the road to the trail head, which is the same parking lot as for the swimming area at Sylvan Lake. At this time of the morning there are only a couple of other vehicles; probably hikers like us getting an early start.

7:16am - A brief stop at the trail head sign for a picture and we are on our way. The hike begins through stands of Ponderosa pine and grasses, and is a consistently uphill, but not excessively so. Temperatures are in the 70's, it is slightly overcast, and it is a delightful day to be on the trail. Leo as usual is in the lead setting a moderate pace. The photographer is as usual bringing up the rear and scrambling to keep up after stopping for distractions and pictures. I am feeling my day pack a little as it is loaded with as much fluid as I can easily carry, although it is certainly nothing like carrying an actual backpack. My drink supply includes a 32oz Nalgene bottle of Gatorade, an off the shelf 20oz bottle of Gatorade, and a 50oz water bladder in the pack. The more I drink, the lighter the pack gets.

7:33am - Junction of the Sylvan Lake Trail and the Lost Cabin Trail. Leo had wanted to do the entire Lost Cabin loop around the peak, but the general consensus was that this was probably biting off more than we could chew. In retrospect, that may or may not have been true, but probably would have been.

7:40am - We are climbing more now, and are skirting a ridge line to our right. The views opening up on our left are amazing. Pine forests and granite hills and outcroppings as far as the eye can see.

8:02am - We seem to be into the heart of hills in this area now as vista after vista of hills unfold before us. The hike is a workout to be sure, but it feels great at this point. The legs are springy, the lungs are cleared out, and I feel like I could go a long way today.

8:10am - We have crossed into the Black Elk Wilderness area and come to the junction of the Sylvan Lake Trail and a horse loop cutoff trail. There are stretches now where we are gaining noticeable elevation.

8:36am - Junction with the Little Devils Tower and Norbeck trails. This means we are getting close to the turnoff for the climb to the Peak.

8:52am - We turn off onto the side trail for the final climb to the Peak. I am a little tired at this point, but I still feel good and my legs are holding up just fine. So many nice pictures to take. Shortly after turning off onto this spur, we stop with a small group of others at a spectacular overlook. I note with some amusement that a couple of the women in the group are having a smoke while they rest. Not all that uncommon, but always amusing to me.

A short climb up some steps built into the mountainside and we will be there...

Next... The Summit