Monday, October 31, 2011

October Adventures


Fall in Virginia is a good time. The leaves can't touch those in northern New England, but they look nice all the same, the nights are cool and the days are warm...or mostly...but we'll get to that in a minute. It seems we've spent the better part of our October weekends exploring the western half of the Commonwealth--I'm beginning to think it is actually the better half. Needless to say, our outdoor monkeys have been happy to go along for the ride, even if saltiness was at a minimum.

Our first trip was to Sherando Lake a few weeks ago. We were excited to test run our plush new car-camping abode, the REI Kingdom, aka "The Kingdome." It did not disappoint--but geez, those big tents just aren't very warm!


We did a scenic and aptly-named hike called Cold Mountain while "out that way." The top is managed as a meadow, so the views were lovely to the east and west and the animals got to run, run, run. We hardly saw any other people, which was also pretty cool.




On the ride back to camp, we decided to use our portable electronic device to check-in on the weather forecast, as it was now cold AND rainy, and The Kingdome was still on its maiden voyage, with its weatherliness (is that a word?) untested. "Well, the good news is that it does not appear to be raining at the campground. The bad news is that it appears to be snowing just west of us." Awesome. The dress was going to have to make way for the stretchy pants and all the fleece I could muster, seeing as how I left all the down puffy clothes at home. Needless to say, we survived; although, we did opt for a hasty morning retreat to one of Charlottesville's finer breakfast locales over bacon and eggs in the 38 degree pouring rain. One trip down, The Kingdome survived the deluge and kept us mostly warm and dry, and we did a nice hike and ate some very tasty grub.

We took a week off from western exploration in favor of staying local and hosting our visiting friend NPK. After some Colonial meandering, the two of us hopped on the bikes and headed to Jamestown to find out what really did go on there (to think that we've lived here for almost 3 years and I am finally getting around to checking it out is, well, maybe testament to how I feel about these historical pursuits--but, to prove I am interested, I am forcing myself to read a book about the James River and its history...it could take all year). Anyway, it was interesting, but the awesome dinner we all cooked and the beer and wine we drank and the backyard fire-pit chatting was more so. Some things aren't easily changed.


A week later, one of us was off being tough while running the Tough Mudder at Wintergreen (he IS tough!). The rest of us stayed local and headed for some outdoor wanderings at York River State Park. This place always seems deserted, but has great trails and good over-the-river and through-the-woods walking. My muddy friends seemed thrilled with the prospect of baths...or maybe they just didn't understand the implications of covering themselves in mud and rolling in dead things, but they did plenty of both. The Marlownator also discovered the hazards of walking through salt marshes--he created a giant muddy splash in the random channel that snuck up on him as he bounded through the Spartina grasses. Good fun.



And that brings us to the end of the month and our most recent exploits. Several months ago in a fit of needing to "get out," I booked the only available campsite for the only available dates at Douthat State Park in the very western part of the state. A friend of ours is from Bath County and we have heard how beautiful it is and I was eager to check it out for myself. Plus, the end of October promised nice weather and beautiful leaves. Well, we got one part of that right.

After a long drive, we got into the campground kind of late, with just enough daylight to set up The Kingdome, walk the dogs a bit, and cook up some dinner. The trouble was that, right after we crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway, it started snowing and we watched the temperature plummet from 55 to 31 degrees over the next hour and 50 miles. Yikes. Getting out of the car was not all that fun, but we were highly efficient in camp set-up, ate some food, and snuggled into our, thankfully, very high quality and very warm sleeping bags! The precipitation that hit the tent all night ranged from rain to snow and everything in between, but not being that enthusiastic about freezing my ass off, I decided not to even peek out until 6:30 when the dogs decided they were ready for the day. I opened the tent and saw snow on the ground and a lot of steam rising off the lake (unfortunately, I forgot the camera and I am not all that dazzled by the iPhone's photographic ability).


The Kingdome had withstood the snow load (it rolled off nicely all night long) and we had stayed toasty warm, especially with our two furry friends nestled among us. After a quick morning romp, even the dogs decided that maybe another hour in the warm confines of the down-laden Kingdome was the best option. Someone wasted no time finding the one vacant sleeping bag. She is cunning.


We stalled a bit, decided that we were not above, yet-again, skipping the Coleman stove breakfast in favor of the hot one the park restaurant could provide, and headed out. The food was simple, cheap, and the staff very willing to throw us a warm-beverage bone by filling up two thermoses and a travel mug--we liked that and left probably the largest breakfast tip ever, but full thermoses were worth it! By the time we finished up, the clouds were breaking and we had decided not to abandon our 7-mile hike up Beards Mountain, so went back to the campsite to pack our bag, don our boots, and have ourselves a little pre-hike pep rally of sorts.


It was a bit of a snowy walk, but nothing we weren't prepared to handle. In fact, it was beautiful, and as the sky continued to clear, we got some beautiful territorial views, made all the more scenic by the layer of snow blanketing them--and then it melted and the golden hues of fall took over. And in 7.1 miles, we saw one other group of people. Nice! This meant plenty of running for the furry friends, who are learning to be good trail citizens and have been practicing their "check-in" and "stay-close" commands, despite the lack of fellow travelers. They were in heaven, and didn't even mind being pelted by the occasional snowball. The fog rolled in and out, but all in all, it was turning out to be a nice day, albeit about 20 degrees cooler than we figured for this time of year! And the hills got the blood flowing and cold was no longer really a problem--funny how that works! The trails are very well maintained, so props to the park staff for that!


On the way back to the campsite, we stopped at park headquarters for some more "sticks," having burned through a few the night before and sensing that some warmth may be a good thing, as Martha says. 



Besides the camp site fee, the $5.25 per dog per day pet fee (WTF?!!!), and the $4-for-10-sticks firewood fee (and they really were "sticks"), I think we single-handedly improved the economy of the Commonwealth (organized camping has its downsides, including the close quarters and manicured lawns of the campground, besides the fees, but I can't say I minded the heated bathrooms for the late night trips on this one!). Next time maybe we'll spring for a cabin--Douthat has many of the original CCC cabins that were built in the 1930s when the park was developed. A true treasure. Too bad we, as a nation, can't undertake that kind of economic development again! The stonework and construction from that time always amazes me whenever I see those projects. 


We enjoyed an afternoon relaxing by the fire, an early dinner (a KS camping favorite of pierogies--only more deluxe as they were accompanied by brats and rotkraut!) and a few hot toddies to cap off the night before snuggling back into our downy cocoon. Another successful adventure in a newly discovered area. Yea, adventures!




Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Marlowe and the Marlownados

Wow. It's been so long, I've forgotten how to do this.

Where were we...oh, right, who cares?

While the title of this post sounds like a 50s Doo-wop band, it is not. It is merely a description of the most recent atmospheric phenomenon in my life: the wreckage left by a 9 month old puppy, namely, Marlowe (The Marlinator) Acer Nelcinski, DOB: 12/24/2010, date acquired: mid-February 2011.

So, how did this cute, adorable, fuzz-bucket of a beast, become the cause for so much trouble?


Hmmmm...a full set of chompers, puppy-like energy, and apparently a lot of office-supplies and household goods that needed modification. But let's back up.

So, it all began with a puppy cam. Conceptually, we had been discussing a friend for The Salty One for quite some time, especially now that she's subjected to heat more often than not (we are a family of humidity-haters, longing for temperate zones the world over) and she doesn't get to get as salty as she once did. While we all loved long walks on North Beach, they are no more, and we haven't found a suitable replacement--one where dogs can run and people can walk until they pretty much get tired or run out of daylight. So sad. So, there was the puppy cam with an adorable litter of piggy-like fluff-balls and 2 months later our "Dog Conceptual Model" became reality, thanks to a great rescue organization called New Spirit 4 Aussie Rescue. Now the dogs outnumber people (at least in terms of legs).


The Salty One took no shit at first--she really taught The Marlinator a thing or two about being a dog: no chewing shoes, no jumping on furniture, and don't you dare eat my food, you little puppy twit. She was the consummate "helper dog" if ever there was one. But it seems, as of late, she has tired of the enforcement role (after all, she has proved her position as alpha dog), all the while enhancing her position as A#1 playmate (don't tell her we know, but we have seen her egging on The Marlinator on many occasions--she likes to play coy, but we see what's really going on).



This role, understandably, takes a lot of energy.


So, while we made it through 8.5 months with nary an issue, even in the last two months when he was at-large for whole work-days, and we passed two obedience classes with flying colors, our sweet, little guy has decided to bring out his inner devil. Really? Really?


And as a result, we have had one Marlownado after another this week.


First, there was the attack of the orange Post-It notes. While artfully displayed around the living room, it wasn't really clear what he was trying to remind himself of.

Next came the attack of the two-way tape. Unfortunately, no photo evidence was obtained from that event; however, the suspect was quickly apprehended when the investigators noticed several lengths of said tape stuck to various parts of his body (poetic justice?). This event also resulted in the untimely demise of some slippers and the Bose remote control (which I'm sure can be replaced at an insurmountable cost, sticking with the typical Bose M.O.). 

A 45-minute errand led to complete and total destruction of the NY Times sports section. It was as if he was beginning a paper mache project (thanks, Dad) and needed the bits of paper chopped up all nice and bite-sized. Note the irony of the empty dog crate in the background of this picture! Haha...joke's on us.


And, most recently, the up-ending of a handbag resulted in the shredding of several tissues and the destruction of lip balm and hand cream--both of which were seemingly consumed during the process. Should be a fun night.


So, there you have it. After recovering from Hurricane Irene and the resulting dismantling of the refrigerator and freezer due to almost 6 days without power, so thankful to escape the fate of fallen trees and household damage, we are now struck by episodic Marlownados. Methinks the young lad hath earned himself solitary confinement in a dog crate for a few weeks (minimum sentence due to lack of value of the objects destroyed)!

That aside, the fact of the matter is, he is an entertaining, lovable, little guy, with an endearing wonky ear and some limbs and a body he hasn't quite fully grown into yet (will he ever?). He loves all people and seemingly loves other dogs, and most of all, has the same exuberance we so admire in his older sister. He enjoys eating bugs, playing fetch, cuddling up for a nice nap and I'm sure eventually, he too, will like long walks on the beach. Also, like his sister, squirrels just drive him crazy!




Written by request for my #1 Fan.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow, snow, snow


Well, the weather weasels got it right this time: about 8" of white stuff seems to be coming down. All the stars aligned and we awoke to the beginnings of a nice snow dump this morning and by noon we judged there to be enough white fluff on the ground that we forced our little buddy into a harness, hauled out the cross-country skis, and hitched her up for a little out-the-door schussing...okay, maybe not in the high-speed, downhill, traditional sense, but in the flat mid-Atlantic sense! Still the emphasis should be on "out-the-door." Amazing!


It took us a mile or so to get our skijoring mojo on, but soon enough we were blazing trail and eating up path-miles...until said companion got snow balls in her toe-furs, and then we needed to do some maintenance. But only for a minute. The passing snow plows were cause for some level of curiosity too-not something our Salty Dog has experienced all that much!




By the time we rounded the corner for home, we were all relatively snow encrusted, but still had enough left in the tank for a few high speed passes down the 65' long driveway--sadly, the largest hill we encountered in our ski-propelled travels. But with cold weather forecast for the remainder of the weekend, I predict we may venture a but further afield for more adventures, provided the neophyte southern snow drivers don't scare us off! At any rate, smiles all around, in spite of the toe-fur snowballs!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Rest of the Story


The Panamanian adventure left off with Astarte having a restocked pantry and the intrepid travelers heading onto their next journey--a trip to the jungle. We had arranged for a guy to take us by lancha (skiff) to Rio Carti (pretty much south of where we were but on the mainland), where we had arranged for transportation to the jungle lodge. The lancha ride was smooth---and NO RAIN! We got taken to one of the Carti islands and dropped off--I expressed some concern about not being on the mainland and needing to meet a driver (my Spanish was improving!). I was told we had to wait for another boat to take us up the river. So we did and got a good look at life in a Kuna village while we waited. Eventually, this other boat came--it was quite similar to the lancha, but driven by others, presumably willing to take more of our money. So, off we went, up the river.

I was envisioning our destination being a little village up the river. With each passing bend in the river, crocodile, iguana, low-hanging tree branch, and local, I was beginning to think we might be starring in a re-adpatation of "Heart of Darkness." Don't get me wrong, I actually kind of like Joseph Conrad, but really, I was beginning to wonder when we passed the Kuna cemetery and saw a few empty boats along the river banks.

Eventually, we slowed down and the guy asked me if I was going by car--when the answer was affirmative, we pulled to the side of the river and sure enough, there was a road and our guy, Michael was waiting. No town, no telephone, and definitely no rental car agency! We loaded up our packs and began the ascent of the Llano-Carti road--what a trip. It is in the process of being rebuilt, and after having seen the video of what it used to be like, it now looks like a super-highway. But it was like a roller coaster. We stopped and snapped a few pictures and had our first jungle wildlife encounter: an anteater! Very cool.

We got to Burbayar Lodge and had some lunch and went out on our first jungle hike. Michael turned out to be our guide as well as our driver and he was very good, pointing out all sorts of very tiny frogs, ants with very painful bites (bullet ants), and telling us about the many birds and plants we saw. We saw our first sloth but were told our hopes of seeing capybaras (the aforementioned ROUSes) wouldn't be realized because they stay in the lowlands. Oh well.

We survived that outing and must have proved ourselves well enough to get taken on a much longer, more difficult hike the following day. Keep in mind, it has rained a lot and the forest floor was a mud pit--we were given Wellie boots and walking sticks at the get go, but the muddy conditions meant lots of awkward slides (but no wipeouts!). We walked for about 3 hours out to a beautiful waterfall and were really impressed when Michael called in a few birds for us--very neat!



The lodge itself was a bit more rustic than what we had figured on (based upon the rather exorbitant price)--no electricity, we had running water but not hot nor potable, and one of the most uncomfortable beds I've ever slept on! And the bugs were a bit creepy--with no bug net around the bed, reading by headlamp at night was not an option! Lights=bugs. But of course we lived to tell the tale and our early consumption of the non-potable-but-not-advertised-as-such water hasn't rendered us bound to the bathroom...yet, anyway!

We left the jungle still wanting to see howler monkeys (we had heard and smelled them, but not seen them) and of course, capybaras. We got our bird fill--the hummingbirds of many varieties were like kamikazes flying around the main building and dining table. And the toucans and parrots were abundant. Some of the smaller songbirds were really beautiful and this jungle experience did give me a new appreciation for birds, even if I can't remember any of their names. I'm sure the typical clientele comes with spotting scopes, Swarovski binoculars, etc.--we had some point and shoot cameras and a cheap pair of backpacking binos, but they did the trick for us.


Our final day got rained out (seemed to be the theme of the trip), so we didn't get our last hike in, and we headed back to Panama City for some city exploring and a trip to Gamboa and the Parque Nacional Soberania. There we finally did see our howler monkeys--very cool. And they really do swing on vines! We'll have to make another trip to Central or South America to finally see a Rodent of Unusual Size.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abondanza of Vegetable and Schmutz


Well, on our final day, we awoke to the sun shining, the call of the conch telling us bread was ready at the local island tienda, and the long-awaited vegetable boat visiting the anchorage only one boat away! When it rains, it pours. We had heard of the mythical sun and the vegetable boat over the last week or so, and apparently both are not just figments of the cruisers' imaginations! To top it all off, Michael managed to catch a pineapple floating in the anchorage on his way from retrieving the bread-free food (albeit not of the piscine protein sort!).

We enjoyed our first "dinghy raft up" cocktail hour the other night. This seems to be purely an American thing since none of the foreigners (well, aren't we all???) in the anchorage joined in. The Brit anchored next to us seemed profoundly confused by the concept of the whole thing when we explained it to him and declined, but overall it was nice to hear people's stories and exchange all the dips and snacks that were offered-we also enjoyed watching Nigel, the boat dog, negotiate the dinghies and try for some passed snacks.


Yesterday we tried snorkeling the reef off of Tiadup again and instead of eagle rays, squid, and colorful fish, we ended up feeling like we were swimming in the sewer system-plastic bags, river and ocean schmutz, and some flip flops (which our hosts have decided are ruining the planet, along with plastic bottles, and I don't disagree). Some sort of weird current is creating mats of flotsam (aka The Sargasso Sea) in the anchorage, but even when we got outside the reef there was just a lot of crap in the water and it seemed fresh as well-bummer. But, the poor conditions were not all bad because it sent us off exploring and we found a few other spots that definitely deserved a look and provided us with our colorful fish fix for the day!

So while the weather hasn't exactly been anything to write home about, we've managed plenty of relaxing: reading, playing games (I was officially the big dominoes loser!), and just sitting and chatting over rum drinks and drizzling rain. We got a few good snorkeling group adventures in and saw lots of beautiful sites around Kuna Yala. I'm sure this is one of those areas where "you should have been here 10 years ago…" but the culture (and molas) seems vibrant and there aren't so many other boats that you can't find a parking spot with an unspoiled view (Michael did score us the penthouse suite in our present anchorage-until the current changed direction, and now we're in the basement).

A big thanks to Barbara and Michael for graciously letting us invade their space, maintaining Astarte in excellent form, keeping us well fed and hydrated, and for showing us how this whole cruising thing works. And in spite of our contributions of nuts, pasta, peanut butter, and fishing tackle, we still left them with less beer and rum in their hold than they had when we came aboard, so I'm hoping the supply boats manage more regular appearances! All in all, I'm thinking cruising is a pretty nice gig!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lobster Amnesty

While we are all suckers for good sea critters (both to look at and to eat), we've noticed that the locals are selling some pretty tiny lobsters in these parts. Barbara and Michael had been selective about choosing the big daddies prior to our arrival, but as they entered the more popular anchorages, it seemed the mean size of the offerings was decreasing. This prompted some jokes about buying lobsters and throwing them back-ridiculous in concept, but not unlike what some non-profits are doing with commercial fishing shares in parts of the world.

So when an ulu came by the other day selling crabs and lobsters among other things, we took the bait and purchased 2 crabs and 6 lobsters, most of which were quite small. It was then decided that the two smallest lobsters would accompany us on our afternoon group outing to the reef and be freed. Ridiculous? Perhaps. But it made for a good adventure, trying to find the perfect rock hole for the repatriated langostas. They seemed content (if not a bit dazed) upon arrival on their new reef and we're hoping they will live long(er) and prosper. Their relatives tasted quite good.

As for other wildlife sightings, we saw some reef squid and a few spotted eagle rays, one wearing the bonus of a remora. The reef fish seem to be plentiful here and the corals are quite bright. We're hoping for a bit more sun so that we can get in some last bubble blowing tomorrow.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

"No One's Given Me The Clap Yet"

We've left Moron Island and are glad all are aboard. Unfortunately, our trip up the Rio Sidra with Lisa to see crocodiles (and potentially a ROUS) was bust due to some bad storms. So we idled away the rainy day and went ashore on Moron to do some exploring of our own-no crocodiles or ROUSes there and we were glad to leave the rain and murky water behind.

We're now a week into our time on Astarte and have settled into the cruising routine a bit. With this we have acquired specific "jobs." I use that term loosely because it's quite clear that Barbara and Michael have the real jobs dialed and we just try to fill in where we can. As such, Anchor Boy came to life. One of the critical aspects of any type of boating is anchoring; this task becomes even more critical when the boat is your home, reefs are lurking all around, and you want a good night's sleep, free of worry about whether your anchor will hold if it starts to blow. So, to assure a set anchor, someone usually dives in to approve or disapprove the way the anchor came to rest (the joy of the tropics!). Mark, with superb diving abilities, decided this job was right up his alley. With a clap of the hands from Barbara or Michael to signal the appropriate time, Mark dives in and comes back with a full and detailed report of the anchor's position and security. A non-perfect report gets a haul back and reset of the anchor. After our 3rd anchoring attempt at Moron Island, Mark, with fins on and mask in hand, said, "Do I go? No one's given me the clap yet." "I think that's a good thing," was the wife's response.

We're now anchored in one of the "popular" anchorages in Kuna Yala: The East Lemmon Islands. It is kind of like living in a condo complex with the many boats and many people creating plenty of entertainment in the anchorage. We did a nice snorkel yesterday and will try for one or two new spots today. Yesterday we managed a lunch of lobster and a dinner of crab cakes, so, life is good.

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