Archive for May, 2007

Detroit Airport, Vicky’s Favorite

Greetings from Detroit Airport.  I’ve been here many times before and this is my favorite airport of all.  I have some time before we board, so I thought I would share my three favorite things about Detroit Airport.

1) Gayle’s Chocolate
In Terminal B, just outside of Gate B18 is a store that sells Gayle’s Chocolates.  The stuff is a bit pricey, but awesome.  I have gone out of my way on a number of occassions just to stop by there and endulge in chocolate-covered Oreos.  Their Chocolate Video Mix Cassette is a unique, but extremely delicious, concoction as well.  The chocolate is so good, one time I rejoiced a flight delay because it gave me time to stop by.  🙂

2) Glass Art Walkway
Between Terminals A and B, there is a tunnel with the moving walkways typical of airports.  However, Detroit has a different twist!  They’ve lined the rounded walls with textured glass panels.  Behind the panels are colored lights.  They play soothing music and synchronize the light show to the sounds.  The first time I descended into this tunnel, it felt like I was entering an aquarium.  It is a very serene ride. 

Tunnel in Detroit Airport
Glass Art Tunnel In Detroit Airport

3) Kick-Ass Fountain
In the main area of Terminal A, Detroit Airport has a fountain.  It is made out of black stone, making the water a very sheen reflective surface.  The water shoots are so defined they don’t look like natural water.  Like the glass art tunnel, the fountain has a variety of programs and shows.

Fountain at Detroit Airport
Fountain at Detroit Airport

Sadly, it looks like my time at Detroit Airport is about over for today.  My journey continues.

May 21, 2007 at 3:32 pm 10 comments

Hiker Jim

We met a thru-hiker with the trailname “Hiker Jim” at Cornelius Creek Shelter this weekend.  He is nearing his 800 mile mark, but still looks so refreshed and vibrant, he could easily be mistaken for a day hiker!  Perhaps it is his purpose keeping him so fresh– He is hiking to raise money for a six-year old named Alley Grubb who has Cornelia de Lange Syndrome.

Ally Grubb and Hiker Jim
Alley and Hiker Jim

If you are interested in learning more about Alley or Hiker Jim, check out his website at  You can also make an online donation to support his cause.

May 21, 2007 at 12:10 am Leave a comment

Quick Correction to “Quick Trip, Quick Post”

In Quick Trip, Quick Post, I discussed the blooming order of three common trail plants.  I said it went Azaleas -> Mountain Laurel -> Rhododendrons. 

Welp, on our hike this week, I saw some solid examples that I was incorrect.  Here’s a shot close to Apple Orchard Falls.  It depicts rhododendrons in full bloom.  Meanwhile the mountain laurel is just getting its start, its flowers hadn’t even opened!

Rhodos and Mountain Laurel
Whoopsie.  Rhodos in full bloom.  Mountain Laurel just starting.

But on the upside, I can report that rhododendrons are still my favorite of all evergreens.  So the Christmas Tree can continue to suck it.  🙂

May 20, 2007 at 11:35 pm Leave a comment

Future of Blazing – Duct Tape?

In my post about John’s Creek Mountain Trail, I discussed the metal and painted blazes I encountered.  Both had their pitfalls.  Metal blazes could be eaten by the tree and painted blazes could be obscured by lichen.  Well, those two better get their act in order.  It looks like they may have some competition!

Slightly south of Thunder Ridge Shelter, we passed through an ambigious section of trail.  Some quick-thinking thru-hikers took matters in their own hands and added some intermediate blazes.  Both were made possible by good ole duct tape!

White Blaze with Duct Tape
A traditional white blaze at the prescribed proportions…. affixed by duct tape!

Duct Tape Blaze
Duct tape blaze with black electrical tape making an arrow

Thru-hikers are innovative, they have to be.  As PassionPhish pointed out, if you find multiple uses for a piece of equipment, you can pack less.  Following his own words, he has already found seven uses for…a tent stake.  So, discovering one more use for the already versatile duct tape– that’s pretty much second-nature to a thru-hiker.

May 20, 2007 at 11:21 pm 3 comments

Petites Gap to Cornelius Creek Shelter – Wildflower Row

On Saturday, I joined a group of six other hikers (mostly from the Charlottesville/Potomac Appalachian Trail Club area) for a hike along the Appalachian Trail. We started at Petites Gap which is Mile Post 71 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We hiked about 7.3 miles on the AT, then we went 1 mile down Apple Orchard Falls Trail to Apple Orchard Falls. From there, we backtracked 0.5 miles up Apple Orchard Falls Trail. Next we cut across Apple Orchard Road 1 mile to Cornelius Creek Trail. We ascended 0.6 miles to get back to the AT. Finally, we hiked 1.6 miles down the AT to the Cornelius Creek Shelter. We ended back up at the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile Post 80.5.

This section of trail had it all– views, waterfalls, wildflowers. It offered so much, it felt like 4-5 different hikes combined into one. Some many features of this section are described below:

View of Devil’s Marbleyard
As we ascended through Thunder Ridge Wilderness, we pass a rock outcropping with a views of Devil’s Marbleyard. It’s quite a different perspective than Mike E and I had a few weeks ago at the Marbleyard.

Devil's Marbleyard
Devil’s Marbleyard from Thunder Ridge Wilderness

Thunder Ridge Overlook
Also accessible from the Blue Ridge Parkway, we passed by an overlook near the high point of Thunder Ridge.

View From Thunder Ridge Overlook
View from Thunder Ridge Overlook

The Guillotine
As we neared the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain, we passed under a boulder balancing precariously above the trail.

The Guillotine
Ken, with remarkable faith, sits on top of the Guillotine with the Appalachian Trail below

Apple Orchard Summit
Our passage took us to the summit of Apple Orchard Mountain. At 4225 feet, this is the highest point the trail reaches in some time. Northbound hikers would have go to 1000 miles to New Hampshire to reach a higher elevation. Meanwhile Southbound hikers would need to go 600 miles.

Summit sign at Apple Orchard Mountain

Ridges At Apple Orchard Summit
View from summit of Apple Orchard Mountain

Apple Orchard Mountain was named for the trees at the top. They are not apple trees, rather they are red oaks that have been twisted and deformed by wind and ice. To the locals, the trees appeared to be a deserted orchard. Thus the name.

Namesake of Apple Orchard Mountain
Namesake of Apple Orchard Mountain

The summit sports more than trees and great views. An FAA air traffic radar tower is present up there as well.

FAA Radar Tower
FAA Radar Tower at top of Apple Orchard Mountain

Apple Orchard Falls
Our side trek took us to beautiful 150-foot Apple Orchard Falls.

Apple Orchard Falls
Apple Orchard Falls

Black Rock Overlook
One of our final stops of the journey was Black Rock Overlook which provides outstanding views, including Peaks of Otter to the left.

Ridges from Black Rock
Layers of ridges visible from Black Rock

Peaks of Otter (Flat Top) from Black Rock

Last, but not least, our hike provided us with a steady stream of wildflower viewing opportunities. The Appalachian Trail Guide to Central Virginia describes this section well.

This area is famous for its spring flowers– acres of large flowered trillium, being crowded by mayapple, as well as a showing of bloodroot, showy orchids, large-flowered bellwort, mountain lily-of-the-valley, blue cohosh, and rattlesnake plantain (an orchid).

However, we met a thru hiker named Biker Barb who improved upon the guidebook’s description.

It is like walking through a botanical garden.

Biker Barb was right. Our journey provided such a variety and high quality of specimens, it very well could have been a botanical garden.

To Be Identified — Chickweed?

Mayapple which has a single stealth bloom underneath a broad leaf canopy

Jack in the Pulpit
Jack in the Pulpit

Two of the thousands of trilliums on the trail

Pink Lady Slipper Orchids
Pink Lady Slipper Orchids

To Be Identified – Spiderwort?


Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

It was a wonderful and fulfilling journey. Many thanks to Jere Bidwell for organizing this trip and inviting me!!!

Additional Links
Many, many more pictures on Flickr
Kevin Myatt’s article on Apple Orchard Falls for the Roanoke Times
Thunder Ridge Wilderness Area

May 20, 2007 at 10:52 pm 11 comments

Quick Trip, Quick Post

I worked in Roanoke again today, but still managed to get outside before dark.  The dogs and I did just the ascent from VA-601 towards Kelly’s Knob.  I am horribly slow on the uphills, so I targetted this section because it had the best ratio of steepness to driving distance.  My intent was pure practice, but I ended up taking lots of pictures on the way back down.  Some shots:

Jimmie off the AT

Some ferns off the AT

A Fence Post off of VA-601

Blooming Season – Azaleas, Mountain Laurel and Rhodos

If  I recall correctly, azaleas usually bloom first, then mountain laurel and then finally my favorite of all evergreens (suck it, Christmas Tree!)–  the wild* rhododendron.  I saw some azaleas already blooming (pink and orange varieties) and the mountain laurel was getting poised.  Before we know it, Southwest Virginia is going to be in its prime rhodo season.  Rhodos are pretty prevalent on the trail around here, but I would rank Angel’s Rest (Pearisburg, VA), Dragon’s Tooth (Catawba, VA) and, of course, famous Rhododendron Gap (Marion, VA) as some of the better spots.

Pink Azaleas Blooming

Mountain Laurel at Sunset

All my pictures from our John’s Creek Mountain Outing can be found on my Flickr site.

*I have a distinct distain for cultivated rhododendrons.  I’ll have to save that for another post on another day.

May 17, 2007 at 11:21 pm 1 comment

Appalachian Trail: Four State Challenge

Here is an excerpt from the blog of the two thru-hikers Lud and I met on Kelly’s Knob.  From their Half Way post:

And, maybe the coolest part yet – The Traveler invented the quad-state challenge. The quad-state challenge involves walking from the Virginia/West Virginia border, doing all of West Virginia and all of Maryland and ending up in Pennsylvania – in ONE day. It’s a total of about 43.5 miles. Stash was so inspired by meeting this guy that he decided to try it. Remix decided to walk all of Maryland (still over 41 miles).

So, after eating dinner with The Traveler, Stash hiked backwards to the border of VA/WV during the night. After a restless night of sleep, he awoke at 2:45 and started hiking at 3:04 am. An hour later, when he reached Remix, he woke him up and kept going. After 40+ miles of hiking, Stash got to the Mason-Dixon line (the Maryland/PA border) at 6:04 pm – 15 hours of hiking. Remix had left an hour after Stash that morning and showed up right around 7:00 pm. Mission accomplished.

Wha-wha-what?!?  43.5 miles in one day?  43.5 miles in one day!!!  I’m just astonished and impressed.  I don’t know what else to say.

May 17, 2007 at 6:31 am 5 comments

Google Alert – False Alarm

Earlier this week, I got this Google Alert:

My diary – More thoughts on TGAW. But not too many…
Working with TGAW. I know that I have no chance with her and that is because she is married and so am I. I also have a family. And I know that the grass is …

“What the–” I thought and clicked on it.  It pointed to the diary of a married man who fancies a woman he works with.  This had me quite confused (especially since I usually work from home) until I finally realized he wasn’t talking about me.  TGAW = The Girl At Work.  Duh.

The fact that he lives in the U.K. was a strong indicator he wasn’t talking about me.  In retrospect, this line in the very first paragraph should have been a clue:

Her husband must put up with a lot because of the horses.

And perhaps this line as well:

And I bet she has a temper although I’ve never seen anyone give her reason to lose it.

Whoever this other TGAW is… she obviously doesn’t work with Microsoft technologies. 

May 15, 2007 at 11:03 pm Leave a comment

Hungry Trees

At Caldwell Fields, I found more trees absorbing an obstacle.  This time they were eating wires.

Tree Eats a Wire
Three wires almost look like they were threaded through the tree.

Tree Eating Wire
Close shot of an absorbed wire

As a refresher, the other hungry trees were at Bottom Creek Gorge and on the John’s Creek Mountain Trail:

Hungry tree at Bottom Creek Gorge

Hungry tree on John’s Creek Mountain Trail

Now that I think about it, Granary Cemetary in Boston had a hungry tree too:

Granary Cemetary in Boston
Trees in Boston have a taste for tombstones

Yeah…remind me to never get in the way of a tree.

May 15, 2007 at 10:34 pm 8 comments

Caldwell Fields: If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?

Kurt Vonnegut talks about his Uncle Alex in numerous writings and speeches.  In particular, Vonnegut applauds his uncle’s habit of noticing and vocalizing the simple pleasures of life.  I know it’s mentioned in Timequake; God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian; Vonnegut’s Commencement Address to Syracuse; and a PBS Interview.  Here’s an excerpt from God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian:

My late Uncle Alex Vonnegut, my father’s kid brother, a Harvard-educated life insurance agent in Indianapolis who was well read and wise, was a humanist like all the rest of the family. What Uncle Alex found particularly objectionable about human beings in general was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy.

He himself did his best to acknowledge it when times were sweet. We could be drinking lemonade in the shade of an apple tree in the summertime, and Uncle Alex would interrupt the conversation to say, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

I myself say that out loud at times of easy, natural bliss: “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Perhaps others can also make use of that heirloom from Uncle Alex. I find it really cheers me up to keep score out loud that way.

Yesterday, I worked on-site at Roanoke.  I left the city at 5:30, drove 50 minutes home and I still had enough daylight to take the dogs out on an adventure.  I got home, changed clothes, made a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich and headed out to Caldwell Fields.

Driving down Craig Creek Road, reaping the benefits of Daylight Savings Time, surrounded by lush green mountains (Sinking Creek Mountain to the left, Brush Mountain on the right), enjoying fresh spring air with my windows rolled down, and listening to Gwen Stefani’s Sweet Escape on XM Radio,  I was happy.

“If this isn’t nice, what is?” I said to the dogs. 

They didn’t reply (maybe they couldn’t hear me over Akon and Stefani), but I suspect they agreed.

And it only got better!  Caldwell Fields was gorgeous.  Though, admittedly, we spent more time exploring the nearby creek and admiring the rock faces. 


Addison CaldwellCaldwell Fields are named for three brothers who lived in the area in the 1800’s.  The most notable is Addison Caldwell.  In 1872, he was the very first student to enroll in the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.  That college later became Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, which is more commonly known as Virginia Tech (or as annoying ESPN announcers insist on saying, “Vah-Tech”).  So Addison Caldwell was my alma mater’s first student.

From Caldwell Fields you can see remains of the largest known landslide in eastern North America which occurred 10,000 – 25,000 years ago.  Even though one of the slides is 3 miles long, they are difficult to identify with all vegetation that resides on Sinking Creek Mountain.  I couldn’t see it yesterday, but I didn’t look too hard.  This article by the U.S. Geologic Survey explains more.

Our Adventure

We spent about an hour there until it got too dark.  Here are some pictures of our outing:

Creek at Caldwell Fields
Craig Creek has some interesting rock faces

Leaves at Caldwell Fields at Dusk
Some leaves at dusk

View at Caldwell Fields
View from the parking lot 

Wildflowers at Caldwell Fields
Wildflowers at Caldwell Fields

Dried Weed at Caldwell Fields
Dried vegetation at Caldwell Fields

Jimmie at Caldwell Fields
Jimmie enjoys the fields (that fit canine is 10 years old!)

Rock face at Caldwell Fields
Rock face and layered creek bed

As you can see, there were a lot of moments that would have made Alex Vonnegut (and perhaps his nephew) proud!  It was a nice evening and all the simple pleasures did not go unnoticed.

Additional Links
My Caldwell Fields Pictures on Flickr
The Mountain That Moved article by USGS
Virginia Tech History: Addison Caldwell, Virginia Tech’s First Student

Caldwell Geocacheb

May 15, 2007 at 10:08 pm 3 comments

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