Thursday, May 28, 2009

SERA 2009

I'm heading south today for the SERA Cave Carnival, hosted this year by the Nashville Grotto. It's not too late to come on down and join us! Otherwise, I'll see you next week.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Packing light

When we went backpacking last weekend, my friends said, "Dude, your pack is huge." In fact, it didn't weigh more than my friend Pinky's, but it's a large-capacity pack with a lot of pockets. Even half-empty, it looks like I'm carrying a whole lot.

Even so, I'm carrying a little more weight than I would like, and part of that weight is the pack itself. It's a 5500 cubic inch pack (90 liters) - that's expedition-sized. And it's not light even for it's class at 6 pounds, 14 ounces. Hey, I bought cheap, because I didn't want to spend too much starting out. My tent, sleeping bag, and pad together weigh less than the empty pack. Plus the pack, I start off with 13 pounds, 10 ounces, before I put any other food, water, or gear in.

So the first place to cut weight is the pack. I can easily shave three pounds off by buying a smaller, better-designed pack. Now I just have to shop around and find one I like. (No, I still haven't picked up a new day pack.) I have only a few requirements: External pockets for water bottles. Lid that doubles as a day pack. That's it, aside from requiring that the pack fits and is comfortable. Actually, I could give up on the lid if the pack itself is light enough.

The next improvement would be a lighter sleeping bag, since mine is 3 pounds 12 ounces, but that's not going to come anytime soon. I love my bag and am willing to make the weight tradeoff to carry it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Cumberland Trail work weekend

For the holiday weekend, a group of us went out to Little Possum Creek to help move materials for a bridge the Cumberland Trail Conference is building across the creek. At times, the water gets very high and the crossing is a rather wet business. We camped out for the weekend and spent Saturday and Sunday moving materials - some by hand and some down a zipline set up for the heavier items. Of course, in the evening we relaxed and had a good time.

Thank you CTC for letting us come out, and thanks to the volunteers who cooked for us.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Laurel-Snow backpacking trip

Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Over the weekend I went on a two-day backpacking trip to Laurel-Snow on the Cumberland Trail. It was a good trip, although I have a few cautions for anyone else who wants to do it.

The website doesn't provide a step-by-step description of the trail, as it does for most of the segments. We were using a Mountaineers trail guide from 2000, and it is outdated. So if you go, rely on the CTC map - but better yet, take someone who has done it before with you.

The trail is straightforward up to a junction 1.5 miles in. From there, Snow Falls is to the left and Laurel Falls is to the right. If you go left, very shortly there will be a campsite on your left. (It's not shown on the map.) We spent the night there. Our intent had been to set up our tents and then hike up to Snow, but a rainstorm postponed it until day two - which was for the best, because the hike took us much longer than we had anticipated given the mileage.

The hike to Snow is nice; it has some uphills and rocks. We did have to cross Morgan Creek, and it was a wet crossing, not long before the falls. The problem is the trail ends at the top of Snow Falls. If you want to see the falls you have to scramble off trail through a lot of poison ivy. It's worth it, but I wouldn't do it with little kids or a big group. There is another campsite here as well.

To get to Laurel Falls, return to the split and take the right fork. Immediately you are confronted with an obstacle: a tree has fallen on the path - not parallel to it but directly on it. The trail is between two boulders at that point, so it's a long way around. From there the trail is relatively clear to the base of Laurel Falls.

The way up to Laurel Falls is not clear. (Signage is generally unclear; in particular, watch out for turns that are not marked with double blazes.) You have to backtrack maybe 100 feet and head uphill. The route quickly becomes scrambling. At the top, the trail takes a turn for the worse. Although you're on the plateau, so the going should be easy, there are a whole lot of trees down. (Pine beetle problems?) This also means that blazes are down. We finally wandered over to Laurel Creek, right where it plunges over the edge, but we couldn't find the main trail. We had already ditched our packs because they were making tree limbo difficult.

Despite the challenges, we had a good time. The trail does need some maintenance, and I wouldn't go if you have small kids or aren't familiar with trail conventions. The map could use more detail, such as the locations of campsites, and the website needs more detail and clarity. (For example, the text states that Dunn Point is also known as Buzzard Point, but they're shown as separate locations on the map.) The trail is maintained by volunteers (I'm one), and this looks like an area that's due for some work.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Last night I dreamed I was at a conference. I sat outside drinking a cup of tea and talking with a fellow graduate student, talking about the fate the newspaper business, before heading off to where I was supposed to be. But then I looked at my watch and realized it was after 10, and the graduate student sessions I was supposed to be at had started at 8 - and yesterday I had missed them entirely. That would have been bad enough; even worse, my advisor was running them. I pulled out my schedule, because the rooms I thought they were in were being used for a session on international education, but the room information was vague. A stranger told me he thought they might be finished already, since Friday's session was only a half day anyway.

At that point some sunlight leaked into my eyes and I woke up in a panic - awake enough to know I was not at a conference, but thinking I had slept in until an inappropriately late hour - only to look at my clock and realize my alarm wouldn't go off for another minute.

I almost never have anxiety dreams, so I wonder what my subconscious is trying to get at now.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hiking Virgin Falls

Yesterday the rain held off and we had a nice hike at Virgin Falls. All the previous rain made for a very wet hike, but we put up with the mud in order to enjoy the spectacular falls. On both of my previous trip, the falls were much smaller - still pretty, of course, but not as thundering. This is a photo of Virgin Falls from yesterday. The photo below is from the first time I went there.

Or, you can compare this photo of Laurel Falls from that earlier trip to this one from yesterday. Yesterday, you couldn't even get to where the earlier photo was taken, because the overhang was filled with water.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Academic fashion

I loved this post on the academic fashions of women, but it has to be modified for my own field of education.

There are no Sexy or Athletic Academics. I've seen one or two grad students try Sexy, but never a faculty member.

The Bohemian Academic look is reserved exclusively for those who study international education.

Finally, we have another category that I suspect is missing elsewhere in academia - the Kindergarten Academic. These are often women who study early childhood education. The look consists of long, shapeless jumpers, cute embroidered tops, and jewelry that looks like a craft project.

Also, I would kill for the suit shown for the Professional Academic.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The perfect pack

I've been wanting a new daypack for a while. (Hey, mine is a decade old.) So far, I haven't been able to find anything I like in stores. Some backpacks are really designed just for carrying books. Some are teeny-tiny, and I'm the kind of girl who carries the ten essentials and never runs short of water. But most of the trail packs are ludicrously overbuilt - they feature dozens of pockets and flaps and loops for ice axes. Around here, you never need an ice axe. Around anywhere, you don't need a dozen pockets to sort your gear, unless you have a serious problem with OCD - "OmiGOD, my lip balm CAN'T be in the SAME POCKET as my Leatherman!" I guess I could ignore all these pockets if it weren't that they really add up to extra weight. There are day packs that weigh over three pounds empty. There's something wrong when a daypack weighs as much as a pack for week-long backpacking trips.

I'm not eschewing all pockets; I understand the utility of a few outside pockets for commonly used items. I don't use Camelbaks, so side pockets for water bottles that I can reach without removing my pack are dead useful. But ... really.

Anyway, I think I've found the perfect pack. The catch is, I'll have to order it online, and it's not made by a company that I can find much of in stores around here. (You'd think the top-rated bag in the latest Backpacker gear rankings would be easier to find, yes?) That gives me pause, because it has to fit and be comfortable.

For some reason, a lot of the packs I've tried have straps that rub the back and sides of my neck where they enter the top of the pack. My neck isn't that wide - especially relative to a man's pack - so I don't know what the issue is. But I'm not going to hike 18 miles with chafing. I'm not looking forward to having to return gear bought by mail if it doesn't fit me.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Giving new meaning to Couchville Lake Loop

Um, look
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Due to the continual downpour and threats of thunderstorms and hail, my hiking plans for this weekend were put on hold. But since Sunday morning promised nothing more than a light drizzle, I went with a friend to Couchville Lake. This dammed lake was accidentally created when the Stones River was dammed to make Percy Priest Lake. A two-mile paved trail, part of Long Hunter State Park, surrounds the lake. We decided to do this easy hike because the trail wouldn't be a mudslide.

It turned out that it had its own issues. The lake had risen so high that in places it swamped the trail. In this photo, we are in fact on the trail. Luckily we were feeling adventurous.