Sunday, April 26, 2009

Deliverance (on the Haw River)

Since the weather was so nice (we hit 92 F last Saturday), and we had already planned it, we went to the Yee Haw Paddle event on the Haw River for a short kayaking adventure. Even though we've driven across it probably a thousand times over the last decade on trips to W-S, Lincolnton, and McAdenville we've never noticed much about before (Interstate 40 crosses the river near Graham, and the town of Haw River has an exit also).

We were planning this excursion with our friends Curt (and his cousin Brandon), and Meghan (and another friend) for a few weeks. After a tandem kayak rental from Paddle Creek, we drove the 45 minutes to Swepsonville. Arriving at the festival, we weren't expecting much, because parking for the event was at the sewage treatment plant. Seriously. All smells aside and a limited knowledge of wastewater treatment facilities, it was a nice place, and if you're in the area they have free mulch and wood chips.

We loaded the kayaks onto the shuttle trailer and hopped in the van, where the event staff rode us up to the starting point at Red Slide Park, so we'd finish closer to where we parked. I can't find any history on this event, but it may have been the first time they've put anything together. But I'm glad they did - the event staff were very friendly and knowledgeable, consisting of college kids, old kayakers and canoers, soccer moms, and the occasional nutball old hippie environmentalist.

The paddle trail starts off near an old Cone Mills plant, and there's evidence of a demolished dam that makes for a tricky start. All of the concrete in the water made for some fast moving rapids, but a lot of fun! There were no big drops, but plenty of rocks to dodge, limbs to get stuck on, and bridge pylons to steer around. The Haw was generally much swifter than the Neuse. Everyone made it down the river safely, although Meghan and Nikki got stuck on some rocks and got swamped (not a problem though, it was shallow enough to wade safely). All were in good spirits after a quick meet-up at Tyler's Taproom on the way home (family, if we ever have an excuse to take you over to Durham together, we'll go to the American Tobacco District).

The picture to the left generally sums up the rest of the weekend. The newly-purchased hammock played a central role, in which we both took turns napping, reading, and eating ice cream while swaying in the hot breeze. It was a nice respite from cold and rainy, and we also got to enjoy our new deck vegetation. For those keeping score, the hammock ranks in the top five of all purchases ever made (that list also includes the iPhone, bicycles, backpacks, and Cooper - Mattie and Arnold were adopted free of charge).

In other news, Ashley finished reading the entire Shopaholic series in about a week, since Confessions of a Shopaholic was her book club book for this month. Note that book club is one part book discussion, one part sangria and five parts gossip. Casey went to Iowa for a work trip (about 12 hours in Iowa, and 18 hours in the Atlanta airport), and to Boone for a work trip. The picture to the right is Pilot Mtn, as viewed from the Rag Apple Lassie vineyards in Boonville (he stopped there on the way back home).

Also we got our vaccinations for our Peru Trip from a travel clinic called Passport Health. Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, Tdap and Yellow Fever prevention were never so painful (and horribly expensive) but really, its probably better to play this one safe than sorry. As expected, Ashley happened to be one of the 3 of 100 that get side effects from the vaccines.

This weekend, aside from joining up for a group run on Saturday morning at Fleet Feet Sports (followed by mimosas and free food at Whole Foods) we're not going to be up to much.

Its the last free weekend we have before our much hyped May activities. We were thinking of having a cookout but all our friends are up to other things and it would just be us (which is ok too). So, if you're reading this and want to see us before we leave call or just stop in. We'll be here (as usual).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

This weekend we practiced for several things in hopes of perfecting our techniques for upcoming events--

1- Triathlon: Surprise, surprise we're still training for the tri. In less than 28 days we'll be swimming, biking and running for real in my (Ashley) first and Casey's third triathlon at the Statesville Rotary Tri. We knew we had a few other things to get done on Saturday so taking a 30 mile bike ride wasn't in the plans, so we decided on a short, 15 mile course. About 2/3 way through however, we noticed signs for "Detour" and "Road Closed"... naturally, we just ignored them and as you can see in the photo, we inadvertently took ourselves on a dicey little path. By "road closed" they really meant "road demolished, take this steel beam over a small creek"...

2- Gardening: Because we'll be gone for so long in May and because of Raleigh's unpredictable Spring weather, we're delaying the start of our big veggie garden for a few weeks. That being said-- we had the Old McDonald bug and were itching to plant something! So, as a compromise, we planted some herbs, a couple tomatoes, peppers, a strawberry plant in pots on the deck and a blueberry bush (in the yard). We also did a general 'spruce up' of the back deck and all in all, made it a really nice place to enjoy our Lilly's Pizza (where they will either forget to make your pizza totally or make it right away and then tell you to come in 30 mins; but it's so delicious, we just deal with those minor inconveniences) margaritas and homemade strawberry pie on Saturday night!

3- Kayaking: Yes, I'm serious. Somehow, my co-workers have convinced me to try a kayaking trip this coming weekend on the Haw River (Called the "Yee-Haw River Paddle").

Now, to fully appreciate how rediculous this really is, you need to know two things-- one: I almost died in a whitewater rafting trip in high school on the New River (needless to say, I'm a little hesitant around fast moving water) and two: when I told my father about going on the paddle trip, his first response was "Make sure you have on a life vest, you're not a very good swimmer." Enough said.

So, before we signed ourselves up for a 5 hour rapid-filled adventure without having ever laid eyes on a kayak, we thought it best to try out a 1.5 hour "quick-trip" on the much calmer Neuse River. Thanks to Paddle Creek boat rentals, we were able to accomplish this (all inclusive) for $25.

After that little trip, we registered for the 3 hour "Family Paddle" this weekend, as both of our shoulders were worn out, we nearly got divorced because of my spastic and erradic paddling and because I nearly flipped the boat (twice) in still water. Really, its much safter all around.

Check back later for updates and pictures on that!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Link to our photos

So, we figured out how to link to our photos from various trips, adventures, etc. Click here to visit our web albums.

Alternatively, you (read: Joe Rankin) can copy and paste this link: for the photos as well.

Updates this weekend, we promise-- bike trip, brick workouts (which I've been informed are comprised of running and biking, so I may need a stretcher afterward) and garden prep.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Trail Hounds (warning - really long post)

This past weekend we took at camping trip to Stone Mountain State Park, up in the northwest corner of NC. Though it's still east of the Blue Ridge Mountains (only by about ten miles), it offered us a nice cool-weather camping stay and some hikes at a decent altitude - the peak is a granite dome that tops out at 2300 feet.

We headed out of Raleigh last Wednesday evening for a brief stopover in Winston where we stocked up on food and dropped off the tiny man (Cooper). He spent the weekend "camping" with Mom and Granny on a few indoor couches (no photos of that, but I'm sure it was hilarious and involved a lot of eating). On Thursday morning, we loaded Mattie and Arnold in the truck and headed out towards the mountains. Since the park is only about an hour and a half drive from Winston-Salem, we arrived early enough for a full day.

We got camp set up, where Mattie promptly made herself comfortable while we had a pre-hike snack (note - Ashley found a new energy bar that doesn't taste or look like poop, Luna Sunrise blueberry bars - they actually do taste like a blueberry pastry). We decided to test out our backpacks for Peru and hike the Stone Mtn. summit trail which takes you to the top of the 600-ft bald dome, and around to a few other cool landmarks in the park.

The 4.5 mile trail only has about a 600-foot elevation gain, it accomplishes that in about 1 mile through a series of switchbacks that take you right up the eastern ridge. As we left from the trailhead, we noticed the wind and vegetation change as soon as we hit the rise. A cool breeze is a nice change from stuffy humidity (already coming on) in Raleigh. Living in the Triangle, we also forgot how many more hemlock trees there are in the western part of the state, which, sadly, show signs of hemlock beetle destruction. Those hemlocks, plus the appearance of mountain laurel and rhododendron, definitely make us feel closer to home. Anyways, we hit the peak of the dome relatively quickly, ate a quick bite, and snapped a few photos. In the background of the picture of Ashley and dogs are the Blue Ridge Mountains. Directly behind her the rock drops off into a sheer face, but the surface makes me think of the moon - there are a lot of pockets and rivulets from water erosion. It's also extremely windy up there, especially with the lack of trees.

On the way back down (careful to avoid some redneck kids who kept running past us and then falling down--cue Safety officer Arnold) the mountain drops sharply, and the trail parallels a very clear and cool stream for a few miles. There's a lot of underbrush, and several places where the trail crosses the creek (plenty of chances for dog drinks). Arnold, of course, knew the exact path to take for optimum efficiency and safety, avoiding slippery moss-covered roots and slick rocks. There were signs identifying the stream as a trout habitat (side note: 7-inch minimum size for keepers, daily limit of 4 fish - sounds like good eatin') but we only saw minnows and tadpoles.

At the base of the dome is the Hutchinson homestead (one barn shown in the picture at the top of this post), which was occupied up until the 60's and was a family's working farm. There's an old tobacco barn, corn crib, cabin, barn, and outhouse (I verified that one personally). There are also a few other deserted homesteads and liquor stills (moonshine country) dotted around as well. Since Thursday was clear, we could see people climbing and rappelling off the rock face.

Towards the end of the trail we saw a bunch of soaked tiny dogs - some carried, some walking on their own, so we knew we had to be closing in on the Stone Mtn. falls. This 200-ft fall looks like a really awesome waterslide, except that you'd crash to your death on the rocks at the bottom. It's neat to see the path that the water has worn in the granite over the years.

To get back to the trailhead, you have to climb up a wooden stairway next to the falls - 279 stairs to be exact. We weren't expecting this and were quite displeased when we realized it was our only way back to the tent! Since dogs and humans were tired after about 7 miles, and the sun was on its way down, we headed back in for the evening and a dinner of hotdogs and hamburgers.

Friday started with a big breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pancakes hot off the grill and campfire, followed quickly by the first rain shower of the day. We decided to go ahead with hiking anyway, with a slight change of plans. The trail we wanted to do was not well marked or mapped, and seeing the storms coming, we didn't want to be stuck at a higher altitude on top of a bald mountian with thunder and lightning while doing a 13-mile trail. We started out back down to the falls, where we could find the spur leading to Wolf Rock & Cedar Rock (two other bald peaks). About two miles into that hike, the rain started again, but with no signs of t-storms (yet). We got to the top of Cedar Rock and had another great view of Stone Mountain. Cedar Rock did have plenty of cedar trees circling the bald spot, but we didn't stay long because the granite was slick, and we heard thunder coming our way. We scampered down, only to have the sun come out when we reached the bottom. Arnold was very thankful to follow all safety procedures.

After reaching the bottom, we followed Big Sandy Creek again to the lower and middle falls trail, where we hoped to see the other two waterfalls. We never found the lower two falls, but Mattie did spend plenty of time in the creek barking at sticks and rocks and fast moving currents. The hike was good, though, and it added another two miles. Heading back to the main trail, we then went back up the 279 steps and headed towards our campsite. On the road back, we ran into a group of young deer, and were able to get within 10 yards of them - very tame.

Concluding about 10 miles of hiking that day, we headed back for dinner - pork tenderloin, silver-dollar potatoes, and green beans cooked over the fire, and dog food w/ pork tenderloin for humans and canines, respectively. We had covered up firewood and collected dry kindling prior to hiking, and quietly noticed that we were one of the few camps with an evening fire. We made sure to get an extra tarp up over the tent since the clouds were coming in lower. No sooner did we get everything under the tarp and in the dry storage bins, that the rain started pouring. Luckily it was still cool, and two wet dogs and two wet people were tolerable only after a long day of hiking. We could see the bright flashes of lightning and hear thunder until well after midnight.

Morning found us relatively dry (surprisingly - not bad for a cheap tent) and safe. The campsite was a muddy mess, and we had to pack up wet gear, but it was a great way to spend a few days. Good for the soul. A return trip is warranted, as soon as the Collie and the 'Rock-wilder" recover. We're attempting to set up a photo site so we can share all our pictures-- so far, its harder than we thought so keep checking for an update on that!

Monday, April 6, 2009

The New Raleigh Garden Club

As you can see from the above photo, Cooper does NOT enjoy a bath, but it's just too good not to put at the top. More on this later...

Anyways, we decided to spend this past weekend pretending to be responsible homeowners, so we did a little gardening and outside maintenance. Let's set the record straight and say that, prior to this weekend, we have not done any lawn care other than mowing in about two years. We don't have a master gardener in residence or ChemLawn on speed dial the way they do at stately Rankin Manor in McAdenville, nor the high whimsicality factor of the Gardens-on-Angelo, Winston-Salem. And, other than the vegetable garden last summer, we didn't have a lot in the way of flowering ornamental plants (read: dogs destroyed every other flower in the yard, either with digging, peeing, or eating). We're still holding out for the California-based Rankin Duo to FedEx a lemon tree sometime. So, needless to say, this weekend's labors were long overdue.

Thanks to our neighbor, we've always had two randomly-placed rose bushes that we neither tend to, nor notice, but we didn't want to tear out because they were a nice gesture and required no work whatsoever on our part. We weren't being lazy or selfish with our time, we just know nothing about rose gardening (Ashley notes here that she has a "black thumb;" I disagree). But, in an effort to take lemons and make lemonade, and gain a little curb appeal, we dug in a natural area that came together quite nicely. Note two things: 1) Low maintenance flowers and some creeping plants, and 2) the short, barely-noticeable fence that somehow keeps out all the dogs. If it continues to work, we're seriously considering using it to fence the entire back yard.

While we were installing this, the dogs were up to various activities. Cooper was busy on the back deck applying a thick layer of neon yellow pine pollen to his entire body, thus resulting in the aforementioned bath. Arnold was hanging out in the front, having some old-man talk with our neighbor. They probably talked about old war stories, and how they walked up hill both ways to get to school, and how young whipper-snappers have no respect for their elders these days.

Mattie, on the other hand, decided it was too hot in the yard, but wanted to keep an eye on things nonetheless. She chose to make a den in the Pathfinder with a few of the garden supplies. She was persuaded out only with a trip to Lowe's hardware and a walk around the garden section there. On a side note, Lowe's discriminates against big dogs. We may be taking our business elsewhere, and the management is certainly getting a note.

I'll also note that we aerated and re-seeded the lawn since our neighbor insisted he wanted to rent an aerator this weekend, so we went along for the ride (This too, was against the advice of one J.W. Rankin of McAdenville, NC, who insists that aeration only be performed in the fall. Ordinarily, I would heed this advice, but the aerator was there and all I did was provide the truck).

Since we got all the yardwork done, we'll be going hiking and camping later this week at Stone Mountain State Park, and spending Easter with Granny, so check back later for some updates. It should be hilarious since Cooper, the Collins' own Cadbury's Bunny, will be "camping" in Winston while we take the big two outdoors.