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Above and beyond from

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

So it’s been a long, long time since I’ve posted anything here; also been a long time since my last backpacking trip. Recently, though, I had a chance to finish a homemade backpack (with a great deal of sewing help) and that started me thinking of a few other gear projects that I’d been sitting on: a bivy sack and a lighter weight version of my original homemade backpacking quilt.

I decided to order the fabric for the quilt first. My original quilt used 5oz of insulation and was good down to 50 degrees Farenheit. The new one will have half the insulation and a few other features (snaps around the footbox and neck, for example), along with a lighter shell fabric (Momentum 50 versus the Momentum 90 nylon I used previously).

I ordered the fabric from on the 27th and today (29th) I had the fabric. Not only that, but Thru-hiker included a free copy of the book “Haunted Hikes of New Hampshire” and a mini-caribiner. Pretty awesome — I’ve ordered from them several times in the past and always been happy with the service, but this is particularly impressive.



Saturday, January 8th, 2011

B & H Photo and Video

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Went to the B&H store in NY last weekend. Quite an operation. The store has a conveyor belt system that runs all the way around the store, so when you go to the camera desk and buy something, the clerk puts the order in a box and prints you out a receipt. Your order goes by conveyor to the registers, where it’s bagged and ready to go when you check out.

Also stopped at the Playwright in New York. Had their Guinness stew. It was good, but I liked the Inn at Long Trail’s better…

The Inn at Long Trail

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Took the Wife to Vermont for Valentine’s Day weekend and stayed at the Inn at Long Trail. Beautiful place. Awesome food, really nice Irish pub, live music, lots of skiing nearby, and the Long Trail / Appalachian Trail practically go through the parking lot. Highly recommended — best (and only) bowl of Guinness Stew I’ve ever had.

We didn’t do any skiing, but since the AT / Long Trail were so close, we did do some day hiking in Gifford State Park (the AT runs through the park). Before we left I uploaded all the nearby geocaches to my gps and there happened to be one in the park.

Cool frozen river feeding Kent Pond:

Finding the Geocache:

Kent Pond:

Jets beat Colts!

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

Not too hard when the Colts rest Manning after two quarters. Poor Painter (Manning’s backup): gives up a fumble for a touchdown, throws a pick to end the game, and in between gets booed by the crowd since the undefeated season was going down the toilet once Manning was out.

G.I. Joe and Monsters Vs Aliens

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Watched the new G.I. Joe movie and Monsters vs Aliens this weekend — had two free Redbox movie rentals, so why not?

G.I. Joe wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Definitely glad I didn’t pay 10 bucks to see it in the theaters. What amazed me is that apparently only about six Joes actually do anything until the very end. At one point, a call goes out to “all Joe teams” — there’s only six of you there…and three of you are in the same room… Still, if you don’t want to think too much and just enjoy things blowing up, have at it.

Monsters vs Aliens was a lot better (but that’s probably not saying too much, compared to G.I. Joe). Funny movie and definitely enjoyed hearing the British Hugh Laurie ( as opposed to the House version…). And what could possibly be bad about a movie with Steven Colbert as the President? In my book, nothing.


Friday, October 30th, 2009

Found this in my back yard this morning…


And speaking of baseball…

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Doesn’t it seem odd that last year, while the debate about adding instant replay was going on, suddenly the Umps start blowing home run calls, one for the Mets, one for the Yankees, and one for the Phillies. Baseball adds instant replay for home runs to the 2008 playoffs.

Now, with a push to expand instant replay, all of the sudden all the Umps in the 2009 playoffs are deaf, blind, and dumb. I’ve never seen umpiring this bad. The bizarre thing is, in the past and without instant replay, the umps would almost always get even the closest plays right — calls that, before I saw a replay in slow-mo, I was sure they’d gotten wrong.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence…

Worst World Series Ever!

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Great, just great — as I Met fan, I’m hoping the Yanks and Phils end in a tie. If the Yanks win, it’s just another reason for Yankees fans to bust the chops of all the Mets fans. If the Phillies win, it’s another year where the Mets’ biggest rivals in the NL East made them look stupid and won it all.

I just can’t win…

The Annual Fall weekend on the AT, 2009 Edition

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Last weekend, October 17th and 18th, Dan and I did a 16 mile, overnight backpacking trip. We decided to pick up where we left off in Massachusetts, heading north from US 7 (Great Barrington) to Beartown Mountain Rd. Also, this was to be an “Ultralight” trip — our gear lists were cut down heavily to hopefully make the hiking easier and more fun. Despite the rather ominous weather forecast and a late start on Saturday, the trip was a blast.

The plan had been to leave the house around 8am or so. Naturally, I couldn’t drag myself out of bed before 7:30 and then I still had various odds and ends to put together (directions, final food preparation, maps). The food didn’t take too long, since I had put together most of it the night before. The directions to the trail heads also didn’t take long. The map, however, was a problem. I couldn’t get National Geographic Topo to print to my ink jet. I also couldn’t find the AT guide book map for this section. Instead, I decided to just load the topos and trail info into my gps and just take that to use as my only navigational device (aside from my wrist compass, of course). More on that later…

We finally rolled out of the house around 10am. Quick stop for coffee and a breakfast sandwich and we were on the road. Two and a half hours later, we had parked Dan’s car at Beartown Mt Rd and arrived at US 7 to start the trip.

Some notes about Beartown Mt Rd — it’s right on the trail and there is plenty of parking along the road, but it’s also a hilly unpaved road. There are plenty of houses on the road, but after snow I would imagine it would be very difficult to travel.

On US 7, we parked in the lot for a craft and garden store, the same place we had parked when we had finished at US 7 on a previous trip. Just like that time, we asked the owner for permission to leave my car over night. Very nice people, they let us both times.

The first mile and a half was almost perfectly level and crossed through several fields, along the Housatonic, and finally crossed the Housatonic, before entering the woods proper. The level trail let us speed through in about 30 minutes — moving fast enough that Dan had to stop twice to remove his fleece jackets (one at a time, he started off wearing two). I was hiking in just base layer and wind jacket so even with the fast pace I was pretty comfortable.

Once in the woods, the trail started switch backing up into the hills. This was only 900 or so feet of elevation gain up to East Mountain and wasn’t much to worry about. We were soon at the top and the trail stayed pretty level for the remainder of the trip.

We did get a pretty spectacular view along the ridge, though. Well worth the small amount of up hill hiking we had to put in.

We arrived at the first of the shelters on this stretch of the trail, the Tom Leonard Leanto, around 3pm. We had averaged 3 miles per hour since we started and had made great time. This leanto had four bunks and a loft area and a tent platform overlooking the ravine. When we got there, we found four other backpackers already in the shelter. The loft and the tent platform were still empty, but Dan and I decided to move on to the next shelter, in the hopes that it would be less crowded. Also, one of the backpackers had a banjo, which made us a little nervous…

We did have lunch at Tom Leonard before we left, though. BMCs (bagel, meat, and cheese) sandwichs, this time with full size everything bagels were the order of the day. Tasted real good. Around 3:30 we pushed on, hoping that we could make the next four miles before the rains started. Considering that we had already covered almost eight miles, I didn’t expect we’d be able to maintain our quick pace.

And taking it slower was pretty easy when we kept coming across cool spots like this stream. It the summer I’m sure this would be a mosquito heaven and we’d have been racing through it to avoid getting bitten to death. In the fall, it’s just a nice spot to sit and admire the view.

We crossed three roads before arriving at Benedict Pond. There’s a blue blazed trail that loops the pond and also goes to the Benedict Pond camp ground and picnic area. Being a little pressed for time, we only stopped briefly to look around at the pond.

This was where I was really annoyed at not having a real paper map. It was almost impossible to determine the distance to South Wilcox, or any other points along the trail. While the topo maps were nice and clear, they were really only useful for seeing what the immediate terrain was like. The waypoints I had recorded were mixed up with other waypoints, making it difficult to even determine what was upcoming.

I like the gps as an environmental sensor (compass, altimeter, barometer) and a recording tool to aid dead reckoning (distance traveled, moving average), and especially to record where you’ve been and tag interesting spots along the way. For me, though, I found it couldn’t replace a paper map in getting a big picture view. Maybe it’s just because I don’t have a lot of experience using the gps in that manner. Something I’ll have to practice.

It was about 7pm before we arrived at South Wilcox Shelter. Bear box was nice to see. We came to a rather primitive looking leanto, no loft, no bunks, totally dismantled picnic table, and a fire pit. There were couple of books in the shelter and a note to another backpacker directing them to another shelter past the privy. I thought the note was interesting, since it implied another shelter in the area. I went looking for water (and this second shelter) while Dan started gathering fire wood. This would be the first trip in probably years that it looked like Dan would get to make a fire.

Past the privy I did find another shelter. This shelter was identical to the Tom Leonard shelter — bunks, loft, intact picnic table, another fire pit. I returned to get Dan and we relocated down to the newer shelter. Both shelters were empty of other hikers.

South Wilcox New Shelter

South Wilcox New Shelter

Inside of new South Wilcox Shelter

Inside of new South Wilcox Shelter

I went out again for water. Even though I found later references to multiple water sources in the camp site area, I couldn’t find any of them and ended up hiking a quarter mile back down the trail to the last stream we had crossed. I brought the same 4 liter platypus bag from our White Mountains trip, but instead of my normal filter, I used cloride dioxide tablets with an aqua mira Frontier Pro water filter. The tablets only take 30 minutes to kill the small bugs and the Frontier Pro (3 micron filter size) handles the big stuff. Nice part was using the filter in gravity mode — it screwed directly onto the platypus bag and I attached a length of tubing to the other end of the filter. At that point, I just needed to hang the water bag upside down and let the water drip through the tubing into the water bottles. Worked really nice (and I forgot to record the process — I will in the future).

After water was taken care of and Dan had a nice roaring fire, we had a dinner of tuna, bacon, and cheese on a pita and I boiled some water for hot apple cider. Nothing better than a fall night in the woods in front of a fire with a hot drink. Some tips — gatorade bottles can handle boiling water, but the bottom of mine became inverted and would no longer stand properly. Also, kool aid mix and hot water are disgusting together.

I took some time to read through the trail register and read what I think is the single best entry I’ve ever seen: Hannah Montana’s Hiking Tips. The page was done up in pink marker with Hannah Montana stickers all over it. Work of art. And the tips were genius (I’ll be incorporating some of these in the future):

1) Designer jeans make a great food bag, just tie knots in the legs
2) Battery powered hair dryer dries socks and keeps mosquitos away.
3) Hannah eats her noodles out of her boots
4) Toothbrush also cleans tips of your trekking poles
5) Use Fruit by the Foot to hang your food bag
6) Denatured alcohol is a great cuticle remover
7) Use your water filter to inflate your sleeping pad

Who knew Hannah was such an experienced backpacker?

Around 10 pm we both headed up to the loft area for some sleep. I was exhausted. Instead of my normal 20 degree bag, I had decided to bring my brand new, homemade, synthetic quilt. The quilt uses climashield and worked pretty well, although I did have issues with cold spots during the night. I plan on adding a few features (under straps to tighten the quilt around me, maybe a button at the neck) to solve that problem in the future.

I woke up around 3am to use the nearest tree — it was about 34 degrees. When I woke up next, around 6 or 7 am, it was still in the thirties, but the rain had started. Nice downpour, before it slowed to mixed snow flurries. Around 10am we both got up and started packing. Breakfast was bagels (Dan added meat and cheese, I went with plain) and soup. Dan had some potato soup while I tried a store bought Broccoli and cheese soup. Terrible. I ended up not having any. Dan seemed to enjoy his soup.

About 10:30 we were packed and moving. My knee was killing me and I took some ibuprofen, which didn’t seem to help too much. The cold didn’t help much. I was nice and comfortable under my poncho, however. The snow also made for some nice views.

We only had 2.5 miles to go from South Wilcox to Beartown Mt Rd. We arrived by 12:30. Quick trip to get my car, coffee and food from a Dunkin Donuts, and then back home — I was home in time to watch the Jets lose to the Bills.

Maybe I should have stayed in the woods instead…