Enjoying life one adventure at a time. A few years ago, my wife and I started Geocaching. It was then that we realized how much we enjoyed being in the outdoors, particularly Georgia State Parks. It wasn't long before we found the joy in hiking & more. Isn't about time that we started enjoying life and quit letting our business dictate our happiness.
Call me crazy if you'd like, but one of my "bucket list" photo opps has always been to take a picture of a bear in the wild! And as many of my friends have heard time and time again, I've never wished that this opportunity stemmed from an up close and personal encounter, say while on a trail, or having one stick its head in my tent during the night! Rather, this opportunity happened in a way that I was most comfortable with...from the friendly confines of my truck.
As we were making our way back up the mountain to the campground at Black Rock Mountain State Park (Georgia), we came across this Black Bear cautiously making its way out of the tree line. From what we could tell, the bear was eying a Pringles can that someone had carelessly discarded along side of the road. When we noticed the bear, we slowed to a stop in the middle of the road just long enough to take a few pics. We did make a few passes, however, and each time we came back by, the bear stood ever so apprehensively within the friendly confines of the trees. In fact, after a few seconds, the bear would slowly back its way up until it was out of sight if we lingered too long.
When we showed the pics to the Park Ranger, he concluded that the bear was probably a female due to the length of its snout. Also, he said that there appeared to be some missing fur on the shoulder which is sometimes indicative of cubs rubbing their heads into the area.
As I previously stated, this was indeed a "Bucket List" photo opp for me! How about you? Is there a photo that you've been after?
Since falling in love with camping a few years ago, my wife and I have procrastinated entirely too long in preparing our own "camper's checklist." Though I have read many posts on various pages touting the importance of such a list, for whatever reason we have simply failed to create our own. I suppose we have come to appreciate the drama associated with getting to our destination and realizing that we forgot something (note the sarcasm here). There have been quite a few times that we've been bailed out by the local Walmart. Because of such improper planning, I feel confident in saying that we have an over abundance of "stuff" in our camper, and I feel completely safe in saying that we'll never use some of it...but WE'VE GOT IT JUST IN CASE. With that being said, I will attempt to give you a few tidbits of information over the next few posts about what we've learned about preparing for our camping trips and why I feel that it is important to have a checklist. Whether you're a tent camper, or have some sort of RV, I trust that you'll find these articles helpful and entertaining. And don't forget, I always welcome your comments.
The Destination. For starters, I'll assume that you have already chosen your destination, but for those of you that are interested, let me add a tip or two that we've found to be helpful. Since most of our camping is spent in the Georgia State Parks, we've learned that if we plan on spending the weekend in a campground it is best to try and check in on Thursdays, especially in some of the smaller parks. The Georgia State Parks do not allow you to reserve a particular spot, so by checking in on Thursday we can usually beat the crowds and get a "prime" location. If checking in on Thursday is out of the question, you can usually show up prior to the official "check-in" time on Friday (or Saturday) and they'll let you go ahead and go in. The downside to this approach is that you may settle on a site too early and a better site may be vacated at the last minute before the official "check out" time. Nevertheless, if you're like us, we're pretty easy to please and we've never relocated after setting our initial site.
A final tip for those of you that are choosing a camping destination would be to scout out campgrounds prior to your camping trip. If you do a lot of traveling like I do, check out available campgrounds in the areas (as you are nearby) that you'd be interested in camping. I like to drive through and make notes. From time to time I take pictures of particular sites. I check out the bath houses/comfort stations. I stop in the office and get a brochure and rates, and I try to find out the answers to the following questions: Is the campground pet friendly? Does it have cellular reception? Does it have cable hook-ups? Is hiking available? Is there a lake/water? Additionally, we spend an ample amount of time on the internet reading reviews from sites like Trip Advisor.
So, our first tip for a successful camper's checklist is to make an informed choice for your destination. With a little bit of pre-trip homework, you'll assure yourself of a little less stress, and a bit more relaxation.
Do you have any tips about choosing a destination? If so, I'd love to hear about them. Please feel free to comment.
My wife and I at the summit of Blood Mountain - Blairsville GA
This is the first story of a series that I'll be posting entitled Tales From the Trail. The stories themselves will be based on encounters that we had with people during our most recent vacation in the North Georgia mountains.
We were making our way down from the summit of Blood Mountain when we caught our first glimpse of the two of them. At first glance, they appeared as two normal day-hikers making their way down too; however, as we closed the distance, it was obvious that the lady was having a problem walking. Nearing even more, their age became apparent to us and they definitely weren't spring chickens! In fact, both of them appeared to be well into their 60's or 70's. I found that to be inspiring in and of itself, but what really inspired me was the brief few moments we spent talking to them. Within those few moments we learned that the two of them were regular campers at Vogel State Park and they had be making their way up from Lakeland FL for 22 years! With a smile from ear to ear, in spite of her obvious difficulty walking, she added that they had even been hiking up Blood Mountain for all of those years! Then, for a brief moment, her smile diminished as she exclaimed that she "just wasn't able to do it this time." She was obviously saddened by this and it was a bit difficult for her to hide her disappointment. But then, as quickly as it faded, that glowing smile reappeared as she spoke of the joys that she and her husband have had on that mountain. Her husband, by the way, was there holding her as she made every step. He was very astute to where she placed her foot...very cautious...very caring! We spoke about trail things, about bears, cold weather, and the views. Heck, we even talked about baseball, about the Braves, the Detroit Tigers, and Al Kaline. And somewhere mixed in all of our conversation, as if it were a mere technicality, she mentioned ever so briefly that she had scoliosis and then she never mentioned it again. We made a bit more small talk in our passing and gave way to other hikers passing through with a couple of dogs that caught her attention. Her face beamed with another beautiful smile..."Can I pet them?" was the last thing I heard her say as we continued down the mountain.
I find that the mountains affect me in a special way too. I feel so different, so alive, so complete when I am there. This story will be one in which I hope to recall whenever I feel as though I can't go on. Though she didn't say it, this lady's motto could certainly be summed up in the following statement: "The only limitations that face us are those that we place on ourselves." How true...how true.
This is the second story of a series that I'll be posting entitled Tales From the Trail. The stories themselves will be based on encounters that we had with people during our most recent vacation in the North Georgia Mountains.
(Some of the rock outcroppings on Blood Mountain)
(Here's Karen signing the log book at the shelter. Just around the large rock to her left is where we had our picnic.)
Upon reaching the summit of Blood Mountain, my wife and I settled in for what has become a sort of extreme pursuit of ours, if you can really call anything we do extreme. It's probably better worded as a picnic spot bucket list. However I choose to articulate it, what I mean is that we looked for a prime picnic spot to replenish ourselves. We needed a break. Next to the stone shelter, we found a few rock outcroppings that served as the perfect spot. Though our first choice was occupied by someone else, we were able to find a nice location a bit below them. It was a bit close, but not too close. The time had now come for our traditional selfie and our PBJ rewards!
While reveling in both the vista and our sandwiches, we noticed two other hikers settle on a spot to our left, and guess what...they had PBJs too! Not long after their arrival, we began to make trail talk. It didn't take long for us to realize that they had done many hikes before this one - I was sure that they were veterans of the trail. It's encounters such as these where we find valuable tips and suggestions, friends are made, and stories are tucked away for a later day. This time was no different. As our conversation continued, one of the men recommended that we plan to hike to the summit of Rabun Bald, Georgia's second highest peak (Brasstown Bald is the highest peak in Georgia). Having previously marked that hike off of our currently unwritten bucket list of hikes, Karen and I both swelled a bit with confidence as we found that we too were able to relate our experiences at Rabun Bald. The excitement in this man's voice was contagious as he bantered on. But then, in a matter of fact way, while Karen and I both had a mouthful of wonderful PBJ goodness, he enthusiastically quipped "Yeah, that descent was so brutal that one of my toenails popped off!" And without hesitation he added, "Rabun Bald is a great hike! I highly recommend it to anyone!"
Karen and I found those last few bites a bit more difficult to swallow, but we were able to choke them down and prepare for our own descent. I will have to admit, however, I thought about my own toe nails way too much after that!
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Geocaching, at times, seems to be a luxury that we just don't seem to find time for anymore. And though I can't really put my finger on why, it doesn't take away from the fact that we enjoy it immensely when we do find the time. Perhaps it's because we've found many of the caches in our area. Maybe its because we're a bit hesitant to pursue caches that are in high "muggle" areas...I don't really know. What I do know, however, is that I consider about four factors necessary for a great geocaching experience: time, location, availability, and someone to share the experience with.
Time. This should be an obvious factor, though there have been times when I really didn't have time that I made time. I recall spending my lunch hours searching for geocaches near my office...ever done that? How about on the way to a special event? Ever stopped to search for a cache that wasn't pre-planned? I have. (This is a great opportunity to plug the Geocaching App for smart phones. The "find nearby geocaches" tool is very valuable!) Vacation time, as in the case of this post, is another opportunity to find time for a cache or two. That's just what we did on our recent trip to the North Georgia mountains...keep reading for more about that.
From the Blue Valley Overlook-Highlands, NC
(The "Old Iron Bridge" on the Chattooga River - Highlands, NC) ** Deliverance (the movie) was filmed on this river near this location.
A geocache find in Cornelia, GA
A geocache find in Sky Valley, GA
Mud Creek Falls (Sky Valley, GA)
Toccoa Falls, Toccoa, GA
The Suspension Bridge at Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA
The old fire tower on top of Rabun Bald. (Georgia's second highest peak)
Dry Falls in Highland, NC
A footbridge on the way to Holcomb Creek Falls (Clayton, GA)
Location. Are you a beach person or a mountain person? For those that know me, there is no doubting that I'm a mountain kind of guy. I'd much prefer being on a trail somewhere hiking through the wilderness, observing spectacular vistas, plant life, and the many various types of wildlife. Rugged, fearless, inquisitive....that's me! (Well, almost, at least that's who I think I am). I am particularly fond of hiking, and camping too! The mountains, for me, present a kind of spiritual experience. It is there that I am able to find my way back to zero and focus on the things of life that really matter. In the mountains, I reflect on the glory of our Creator, for it is on full display. I revel in His majesty! (See Psalm 104) Furthermore, I am challenged to be a better steward of these great places, as well as my time, my resources, and my family. Again I say, it is usually in the mountains that I find my way back to zero; my priorities are re-balanced.
Availability. The initial thought is that availability and time are one and the same. In this case, however, I'm suggesting that there needs to be available caches in the area in which you intend to visit. Seems elementary, huh? You'd be surprised how many times that we've went somewhere only to find that the "find nearby caches" didn't turn up any results nearby. This is important, especially when time is involved. Another factor that could be included with availability is tower reception if you're using a smart phone. This was definitely an issue for us during our most recent time in the North Georgia mountains.
Geocaching with family members is always nice.
My Mother-in-law finding her first geocache. (My wife is also pictured)
My lovely wife on the trail to the summit of Rabun Bald. (We were taking a breather). She is the one that I most enjoy geocaching with.
Here we are at Dry Falls in Highlands, NC. We do 'selfies'!
My favorite pic of our most recent vacation! Here my wife is sitting on a large boulder on the Chattooga River under the "Old Iron Bridge". We enjoyed a picnic on this very spot!
Someone to Share the Experience With. Lastly, I'd argue that sharing the experience with a loved one is time well spent! In my case, my wife is with me nearly 100% of the time when I geocache. We should consider the fact that geocaching with a spouse (or loved one) allows us to work together, communicate, laugh together, and at times compromise. All of these lead for an excellent time of "togetherness" and can be appropriately applied to friendships as well. Additionally, who doesn't love to share the joy of someone finding their first cache? It is a joyous occasion!
In closing, while I'm sure there are many other factors to consider for a great geocaching adventure, these are what I've come up with. Take time to contemplate them and let me know what you think. Draw on your past experiences and ask yourself if you may have subconsciously considered these factors. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for reading! Sonny