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ROAD TRIP

 

 

My recent travels have been even more bizarre than normal.  Over Labor Day weekend, a friend of mine somehow talked me into driving to Baton Rouge to witness Appalachian State’s football game against mighty LSU.  At the time, it seemed like a fun idea.  Then Hurricane Gustav reared its evil head.  Landfall wasn’t expected until Monday, but the State of Louisiana went into full panic mode.  The University, the Governor, and even FEMA got together to try to decide what to do about the game.  On Thursday, they announced that the game would go on as scheduled.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

 

Friday was a hectic day.  I spent the whole morning running errands.  I met Eric at our house in Charlotte at noon, after he had driven down from High Point.  Then, 30 minutes before we planned to leave, Eric stumbled across an announcement on the internet.  The Powers That Be had reconsidered.  The game, which had been originally scheduled for 4pm, had been moved to the Ungodly hour of 10AM!  WTF?

 

We were still in Charlotte, and kickoff was 20 hours away.  What to do?  I had just finished packing the car.  The steaks were marinating, and the tailgating music was all planned out.  Most importantly, what would we do with all that beer?

 

I called my buddy Tim in Alabama.  Our plan had been to drive to Hattiesburg, MS, and meet him and his family at the hotel there.  Somehow, he talked me out of bailing.  The fact that I had all of the tickets probably had a little something to do with it.  I didn’t want to miss the game, but I certainly didn’t want everyone else to miss it because of me.

 

We picked Christy up when school let out, and hit the highway for the mother of all road trips.  We made good time to Craplanta, which we hit at rush hour.  That bogged us down a little, but it could’ve been worse.  We made it to the hotel in Hattiesburg at 11pm CT and checked in.  Tim & family had already settled in for the night, but we had already made plans to leave just after 4am.  We still had to drive 2 ˝ hours, and I was determined to get in a little tailgating, regardless of the hour.  Tailgating at LSU is world-class, and I didn’t want to miss out on the experience.

 

The alarm on my new watch went off at 4am.  I jumped up, and Eric, who is a little OCD about bathing, hit the shower.  Then I looked at the hotel clock.  It suggested that it was only 3am.  Hmmm.  It turns out there was a little mix-up with my watch and the Central Time Zone.  Oops.  I had to break the bad news to Eric while he was in the shower.  At the time, I figured that it would be the sort of thing we’d all laugh about later.  Actually, I decided not to wait.  I went ahead and had a laugh right then.  Christy and Eric were not amused.

 

We slept another hour, and Eric took another shower (did I mention that he’s a bit OCD about bathing?).  We met Tim, his wife Carly, and their daughter Maggie, and packed Tim’s car.  We all piled in with him, which was a good move, since he’d had the most sleep.  Two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts made the ride more pleasant, and we rolled into Red Stick, Louisiana, at dawn.  At that point, without the blistering sun overhead, temperatures were only in the mid-80’s!

 

We found our way to the unofficial ASU tailgating area and pulled in.  We set up our tailgate, and set about relaxing after a hectic drive.  We didn’t grill the steaks for breakfast, but we did have a beer or six.  Who says 7am is too early for a cold one?

 

We headed for the stadium around 9am.  The scenery en-route was fantastic, and I’m not just referring to the co-eds.  We passed under a magnificent canopy of ancient Live Oaks before reaching the stadium.  Once there, we took advantage of the hospitality of the LSU fans.  They were free with the food and beer, and we delayed our entrance into the stadium to a few minutes before kickoff.  This was a mistake, as we were on the wrong side, and ended up having to circle one of the largest stadiums in the country.  The only other challenge getting into the stadium was enduring the occasional chants of “tigerbait”.  That’s how LSU fans refer to the fans of their opponents.  I actually thought it was kind of cute, especially when it came from the mouth of a giggly four-year old girl.

 

We didn’t miss much with our late entrance.  LSU’s team was overwhelming.  That was ok though.  We all knew going in that our chances of pulling off another earth-shattering upset were pretty slim.  The only bad thing about the game was the heat!  Even before noon, the temperature must’ve been in the high 90’s.  I’m sure our players loved it, particularly since they were wearing black uniforms.  My favorite part of the stadium was the walkway near the concession stand behind where our seats were.  There was a fantastic breeze blowing through there to accompany a fine view of the Mississippi River.  I’m not sure if the wind was courtesy of Hurricane Gustav out in the Gulf, or if it always blows through there.  Either way, it was hard to return to our seats once we discovered it.

 

We stayed for the whole game, and briefly considered tailgating after the game.  However, the authorities were doing everything they could to run everybody off.  We knew evacuation traffic might be bad, so, after a leisurely lunch at a chain steakhouse, we hit the road.  I-10 west towards Houston was a parking lot, but fortunately we were going east.  When we passed over I-55, I grew concerned.  The northbound lanes towards Memphis weren’t moving at all.  What would I-59 towards Birmingham be like?

 

We were in luck.  Traffic was heavy, but at least it was moving.  We made it back to Hattiesburg by late afternoon, and returned to the hotel.  Upon arriving, we discovered that the ASU marching band was staying there, too.  What an amazing coincidence!

 

That night, we decided to use the hotel’s grill out by the pool to cook the steaks we’d brought for tailgating.  That seemed like a great idea, until a sudden thunderstorm caught us off-guard.  Everyone scrambled for shelter, while I attempted to salvage dinner.  The steaks came out ok, and even the corn on the cob was edible.  We had dinner in the lobby of the hotel, and made quite a spectacle of ourselves doing so.  I know I was literally dripping wet.

 

We all slept hard that night, and we didn’t get up at 3am, or even 4am.  We did arise at 6, since we had at least a 9-hour drive ahead of us.  With evacuation traffic though, we knew it could take a lot longer than that.

 

The drive could’ve been worse.  Traffic was heavy, but for the most part it was moving.  Oddly, it could’ve been moving a lot faster than it was.  I spent most of the morning passing in the right lane, since the left lane was constantly occupied with cars moving 20mph under the speed limit for no apparent reason.  Now, evacuating from a hurricane certainly isn’t the best set of circumstances, but some of the driving we witnessed was appalling.  If driving were an athletic event, this would’ve been the Special Olympics.  It was a miracle there wasn’t a wreck every mile or so along that highway.

 

Apparently there was one somewhere near Meridian, Mississippi.  Traffic was stop and go for several miles before we reached an exit.  After a brief glance at the map, I noticed another road running parallel to the interstate a couple of miles away.  Apparently nobody else had a map, because there wasn’t any traffic on it.  We took it into Meridian, and stopped for gas just before rejoining the highway.  Gas prices were only gouged a little bit, but using a bathroom proved to be out of the question.  We had to delay that until the Alabama Welcome Center, which was marginally more pleasant.

 

Once in Alabama, the drive improved.  Traffic finally thinned out near Birmingham, and we had a great lunch at Panera Bread.  We made good time from there home, and even made it back to Charlotte before dark.  That was a good thing, because I was flying to Montana early the next morning.

 

 

HANNA MONTANA

 

I was scheduled to work in Missoula, Montana from Wednesday thru Friday.  There was no way I could travel to western Montana without doing at least a little hiking.  So, I brought hiking and camping gear with me, determined to have a little adventure.  By Sunday night exhaustion was giving me second thoughts, but it was too late to change my plans.

 

My second thoughts resumed when we landed in Missoula.  Light rain was falling, and it was cold!  The temperature couldn’t have been much over 40 degrees.  It was quite a shock, after spending the weekend sweltering in Louisiana.  Conditions certainly weren’t appropriate for celebrating the unofficial last day of summer.

 

I picked up my luggage, the rental car, and a sub for lunch.  Then I headed out of town, with my plans still rather undefined.  Originally I’d thought about doing a short hike to an overlook in the Bitterroot Mountains.  Although the rain had stopped, there were enough heavy, wet clouds hanging around to render that activity pointless.  I headed towards the Bitterroots anyway though.  Shortly before the town of Hamilton, I followed the signed turnoff for Bear Creek.  At the end of the road, I found the Bear Creek Trailhead, and a primitive picnic / camping area.  Amenities were limited to a picnic table and a pit toilet, but that was more than I needed.  For this night, the camping experience would be limited to simply finding a place to pitch my tent.  Fortunately there was a good spot there under the pines, a short distance from lovely Bear Creek.  I pitched the tent, and decided to go for a walk.

 

I hiked up the Bear Creek Trail, passing a couple of other groups along the way.  The path traversed a hillside, well above the creek.  At times, I passed through open areas created by avalanches or rock slides.  In these areas, I could just make out the soaring rock walls and pinnacles of the canyon looming through the fog.  At one point, I got a clear view up the canyon, towards the high peaks of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness.  The clouds parted briefly, and I could’ve sworn I saw snow up there.  Then the fog rolled back in, and I decided it must’ve been my eyes playing tricks on me.

 

After an hour, I passed Bear Creek Falls, which is more of a cascading slide than a true waterfall.  Either way though, it was a pretty spot.  I continued on a bit farther, before it started to rain.  I reached the boundary of the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness Area and headed back.  The day was getting late, I was getting wet, and I was ready for a warm meal.

 

I made it back to the car in an hour.  I hadn’t brought a stove or even much in the way of food.  So, I drove into Hamilton and found my way to the Bitterroot Brewing Company.  There I sampled a couple of pretty good beers and enjoyed some pizza.  The rain had ended by the time I returned to camp.  I attempted to stay up and read, but it wasn’t long before exhaustion finally caught up with me.

 

I had all of Tuesday free, and I was determined to take advantage of it.  I got up fairly early, despite sleeping through my alarm.  I ate cold cereal for breakfast, packed up my wet tent, and hit the road.  My plan for the day was to attempt to climb Lolo Peak.  Lolo Peak is in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, but it isn’t far from Missoula.  The morning was a little foggy, but some areas were completely clear.  I was in one of those areas when I noticed snow dusting the highest peaks to the west.  I was a bit concerned, as I wasn’t prepared for snow.  On the other hand, the snow made the scenery even more beautiful. 

 

A long drive up a dirt road brought me to the trailhead for Lolo Peak.  The trailhead is close to 6000’, but the summit of Lolo Peak is over 9K.  I knew I was in for a challenging hike without even considering the overall altitude.  Trying to hike above 9000’ one day after being at sea level is generally considered to be a bad idea.  I was determined to give it a try though.

 

At the trailhead, I met a young local guy target shooting with a bow.  It was still a chilly morning when I packed up my gear and hit the trail.  The hike started out with a tedious series of switchbacks.  The climb wasn’t steep, but it was a bit monotonous as I worked my way up through Lodgepole Pine.  The monotony ended quickly though when I reached the first of the fresh snow!  I knew I might get into some snow up high, but I hadn’t expected to spend all day walking in it.  Initially there was only a dusting, but soon the ground was completely covered.  By the time I approached the crest of the ridge, I was plowing through 6” of fresh powder.  I certainly didn’t expect to be hiking in the snow on September 2nd, Montana or not.

 

Around this time, another hiker caught up to me.  We chatted briefly, and I found out that he was from Missoula.  He had climbed Lolo Peak previously, but never in the snow.  He had some doubts about his ability to make it there in those conditions.  The route follows a trail most of the way, but the last part of the climb is cross-country.  Once we were off-trail, the snow would make things mighty interesting.

 

I vowed to press on; after all, I’d be coming back this way sooner or later anyway.  I let the other hiker go ahead, which was advantageous.  From that point, I was able to follow his footsteps.  This made the walking easier, not to mention the navigation.  I think I would’ve had a tough time following the route in the snow, once we left the trail behind.

 

I crested a wooded ridge, and reached an overlook with a fine view of Lolo Peak and Carlton lake.  I had an early lunch there, before following the footsteps down towards the lake.

 

Just before the lake, I joined an old roadbed, which brought me to a small earthen dam.  The view of Lolo Peak from here was delightful, as the snowy peak was reflected in the surface of the lake.  Beyond the lake, I left the trail but continued following footsteps steeply up towards Lolo Peak’s east ridge.  At one point, the ascent steepened further, and traction was difficult in the snow.  I attempted another route up a rocky gully, but this proved hazardous.  The snow obscured the rocks, making the footing treacherous.  Eventually I gave up on that, and returned to the steepest pitch.  I struggled up through the snow before the grade eased.  At this point, I met the same hiker I’d seen earlier, heading back.  He had made it onto the ridge, but had found the footing and snow conditions too dangerous to continue.  He was local, had climbed the mountain before, and no doubt had more experience hiking in the snow than me.  If he deemed it too dangerous, there was no way I would try it.

 

Although I’d given up on the summit, I wasn’t ready to turn back.  I continued up to the crest of the ridge, and was rewarded for my efforts.  There, I had a great view of Carlton Lake behind me.  To the south, I gazed out over more snowy peaks and sparkling blue lakes.  To the west, my eyes followed the ridge up to the north summit of Lolo Peak.  From there, I traced the ridge through the saddle to the south summit.  It was a spectacular view, and I knew I’d have to return again some day.

 

Continuing from here would’ve been dicey.  The ridge is quite narrow, and staying on the crest would’ve required considerable rock scrambling.  That might’ve been fun in dry conditions, but it didn’t seem like a good idea in the snow.  It may have been possible to skirt the edge of the ridge, but there was a very steep drop off there.  Taking that approach would’ve required carrying an ice axe.  After considering these options, I was content to stop there.

 

After a brief break, I began the long journey back.  I’d been concerned about getting down the steeper snow-covered slopes, but that proved to be easy.  The biggest hazard I encountered going out was the heavy clumps of wet snow falling from the trees.  One whizzed just past me, hitting the ground with a heavy thump.  That might’ve hurt a bit if it had been a direct hit.

 

I passed Carlton Lake, and climbed back up to Carlton Ridge.  From there, it was a simple descent on countless switchbacks to the trailhead.  Back at the car, I took a drive to the end of the road, which terminates on Mormon Peak.  There wasn’t much of a view up there, but I did notice a couple of primitive camping areas along the way.

 

That evening, I returned to Missoula to get ready for work on Wednesday.  That evening, I discovered that Hurricane Hanna was heading straight for Charleston, SC.  From there, it was projected to continue inland, towards Charlotte.  In fact, the current line of thinking was that it would reach Charlotte on Friday evening.  Unfortunately, my flight home was supposed to arrive at the same time.  I spent much of the remaining week watching the hurricane predictions and worrying about how I’d get home.

 

The job went well, and despite my worries about Hanna, I enjoyed my time in Missoula.  On my last evening there, I went for a run on a greenway that parallels the Clark Fork River.  My run took me all the way to the campus of the University of Montana, and I even got a look at their football stadium.  Afterwards, I stopped at the legendary Missoula Club, where I enjoyed a Fat Tire and watched the end of the first NFL game of the year.

 

 

UP ALL NIGHT

 

 

By Friday, Hanna’s predicted track had changed.  It looked like I’d make it home after all!  Then, my flight out of Missoula on Friday was delayed.  I arrived in Denver 15 minutes after my connecting flight to Charlotte departed.  Unfortunately, that was the last flight of the day.  The airline took the liberty of rebooking me on a Saturday flight, which would’ve gotten me into Charlotte around 3pm.  That posed a problem, as I had tickets for a football game in Boone that was scheduled to start at 3:30.  Somehow I convinced them to put me on a flight to Phoenix that evening.  From Phoenix, I caught a redeye flight into Charlotte.

 

The flight from Phoenix to Charlotte took 3 ˝ hours.  I’m guessing that I got no more than 2 hours of sleep that night.  Christy picked me up at the airport in Charlotte at 6:30 Saturday morning.  From there, we headed straight for Boone.  A few hours later, I was actually tailgating for a football game.

 

The entire day was surreal.  I spent most of the afternoon thinking that I might actually be dreaming.  Somehow, I made it home that night.  Luckily, I had part of Sunday to recover, before I had to prepare for the following week’s trip to Utah!





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