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jenny m
(friskylisp) - F
Re: Contest & Sponsored Giveaway! on 04/03/2011 12:48:39 MDT Print View

I originally wrote this on my Wordpress site:
http://friskylisp.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/pizza-in-the-woods/

**

The plan was to hike, then camp on the Big Piney Trail for one night in a small section of the Mark Twain National Forest: the Paddy Creek Wilderness Area in Central Missouri. The planning took a turn for the insane when my fellow traveler and I began to talk about what kind of food we should pack.

We went to the grocery store and picked up a bunch of fruit to dehydrate. Smart and healthy, right? But, while browsing the items in the store we started to get an idea. First, it was just the simple, innocent idea of packing the supplies to make s’mores in camp, then I believe pancakes were mentioned. But, as we walked by the jarred pizza sauce, my fellow traveler asked the question that will forever make me whisper “why?” as I stare far into the distance, glassy-eyed and lost, shaking my head, “What if we tried to make pizza at camp? I could dehydrate the sauce, and a packaged pizza crust could slide into my pack VERY easily…(More and more nonsense, etc.)” He needn’t say anymore; I was in. “Derrrrp, why?”

We picked up the food items for this challenge: Boboli Pizza Crust, Bartolli pizza sauce (which as promised, my fellow traveler dehydrated), some Hormel Pepperoni, fresh mushrooms and basil (also dehydrated, pre-trip) and of course, the most important item: TWO POUNDS OF MOZZARELLA CHEESE!! That’s not an exaggeration. It seemed right at the time and I cannot, to this day, explain why (“why?”). I remember that we both said several times that we liked cheesy pizza, plus we reasoned that since there were two other people coming with us on this trip, then surely they’d want some pizza too; especially after a long hike. But, perhaps key to this purchase of cheesy excess: a camp cheese grater, which had never been used, would be packed and put to work. Totally reasonable.

We brainstormed over the next couple of days about what would be the best way to cook the pizza in camp. We would be in the middle of the woods, and the area would probably be wet from a predicted, soaking rainstorm. So, we likely wouldn’t have a campfire. We’d have to rely solely on our gear: a flash burner and titanium camp pans.

The morning we left for the National Forest, we stuffed our packs to their capacity (lesson learned). We were each carrying around 40 pounds of crap for an overnight trip. Two pounds of that, remember, were CHEESE! We packed a few extra items for a plan B: such as a very flexible aluminum pizza pan, just in case it didn’t rain and a fire could be built.

Unfortunately, camping on the trail didn’t work out, due to the very, very well predicted rainstorm (that is another bone-headed lesson) and the fact that we got separated from the others in our party (another pathetic lesson). But, the pizza-making did ensue. Once we met our friends back at the car, we set up a rain shield over a picnic table and went to work. The pizzeria was OPEN.

We rehydrated the pizza sauce and grated the hell out of those two pounds of cheese. We ripped the pizza crust into sizes that would fit inside the Snowpeak pan. Then, we slathered on the sauce, sprinkled on the mushrooms, basil and pepperoni; and piled the cheese high. We placed the lid on the pan to let the goodness melt.

And buon appetito, we had the best (and hopefully, mercifully the only) steamed pizza of our lives:

Pizza in the woods

Lesson: don’t take equipment/ingredients to make a pizza or pancakes or ice cream or donuts or beer into the woods. Absolutely, do not EVER stuff something like two pounds of cheese into your pack…Just don’t.

Christopher Mills
(Hiker816) - MLife

Locale: Denver
Re: Contest & Sponsored Giveaway! on 04/03/2011 13:46:12 MDT Print View

Here is my entry. This took place along the PCT in the year 2000:

“Ummmmmm, Beaker?”

“Yeah?”

“We have a problem.”

“Huh? . . . Oh $#*!”

*****************************

I had first learned of it a few days earlier. I was hiking along the trail and could hear the sound of a dirtbike in the distance. I’d been seeing dirtbike tracks on the trail for nearly a week, and I was mad about it. They aren’t allowed on the PCT. Hearing the sound of the bike now made me even madder. And it seemed to be getting closer.

I turned and saw a helmetless dirty guy with dark hair and a slight stature bearing down toward me. Simultaneously angry and a little scared, I turned and faced him, standing my ground in the middle of the trail. I raised my trekking poles slightly . . . ready . . . for something. I’m not quite sure what. As he got closer I could make out something strange affixed to the back and side of the dirtbike, many times longer than the bike itself, one end dragging in the dirt behind it.

What is that?

I squinted. Whatever it was, it was big. I glanced up and saw the rider smiling. I was so baffled that I stood staring as the bike went by, unable to think quickly enough to realize I wanted to confront him for riding on the trail. As he passed, I looked down again and realized he was dragging a long bundle of rebar.

Hmm. He’s doing trail maintenance.

It still angered me that he was riding a prohibited dirtbike on the PCT, but it seemed obvious that he had the permission of the powers that be to do his work, and they probably also granted permission for him to use the dirtbike to do it. I relaxed, turned around and started hiking north again.

A minute later, though it was silent, I could sense something behind me. I turned and saw a dog running as fast as it could muster. It gave me an offhand look of desperation as it passed me, barreling down the trail and trying its best to catch up to the guy on the dirtbike.

Ten minutes later I turned a bend to see the man whacking a long section of rebar into the ground with a mallet and the dog curled into a ball on the trail, looking as though he had been there resting comfortably for days.

“Hi!”

“Hey.”

“Where you headed?”

“North. Toward Belden.”

“Oh. Did you hear about the fire?”

No, I had not heard about the fire. This can’t be good.

“No. There’s a fire?”

“Yeah, north of Belden, on the other side of the highway. A big one.”

“Great.”

“Be careful!”

“I will. Thanks.”

*************************************

The next day, having not seen another person since the dirtbike rider, I stopped to cook a meal right on the trail, as it was the only flat spot I’d seen in a while. The water was nearly boiling and I was relaxed and in a near meditative state on account of the silence around me.

“CHRIS!”

Hearing Beaker yell my name split the silence so violently that I jumped, hitting my cook pot in the process. It teetered to the left, nearly tipping, but then settled back down. This all happened in the span of time it took me to realize that I would need to move my leg to avoid getting boiling water spilled all over it, but before I could start to move it.

“Geeze, Beaker. You scared the $*#T out of me!” Ignoring my statement completely, Beaker exclaimed, “I haven’t seen anyone in days! How’s it going?” It was good to see him.

******************************************

Over the next few hours, Beaker regaled me with stories of his upbringing, the pranks he and other students pulled at boarding school, and his antics in college. I always loved Beaker’s stories. He had a lot of them. And they were always good. The ones he told me this day had me so enthralled that I didn’t initially notice that it looked hazy around us and it smelled like a campfire.

“Hey, did you hear about the fire?” I asked.

“Yeah, crazy.” A few minutes later we came to a clearing and could see a massive white and red mushroom-shaped cloud in the distance -- right where we were headed.

“I wonder if we are inhaling our resupply packages right now?”

*************************************

Passing Bucks Lake Road, we came to a trailside register. On it was a recently posted sign warning of the fire north of Belden, and informing of an alternate route north of the highway running through town. I filled out a self-registration form to place in the box: “Heading to Belden. Will figure out the alternate route after that.”

I later learned that, shortly after leaving that register, a ranger had stopped there and replaced the sign. It then read: “This section of trail is closed due to fire. Hikers shall take alternate route along road to Buck Lake.”

**************************************

It was disconcerting, but not hugely surprising, when I came around the corner.

“Ummmmmm, Beaker?”

“Yeah?”

“We have a problem.”

“Huh? . . . Oh $#*!”

About 200 yards in front of us, and about 100 feet from the trail, grew a medium-size tree on top of a hill. It was on fire. Blackened manzanita bushes, still sparkling, crackling, and smoking, lay before us in every direction. I walked forward and found the silence of my footsteps on the light ash covering the trail remarkable, but not as eerie as the immense heat I could feel coming from both sides.

Stepping gingerly, we pressed forward to get a better view, wondering if the fire had passed, rendering the route down to Belden now safe to descend. In the middle of the first of innumerable switchbacks leading down to the town below, we stopped to assess the situation.

“Well, most of it looks burnt.” Indeed, the ash was so think that my shoes left an imprint an inch deep. “It might be safe since there isn’t any more fuel left.” As the last rays of sunlight left the ridge, and we contemplated our options while surveying the steep rolling hills below us, we were overcome by a soft but terrifying sound. It was a deep and resonating WHOOSH that can’t really be described. The smoke clouds on the far side of one of the hills came to life with a glowing angry orange color.

“Maybe we should turn around.” “Yeah, good idea. Yep, let’s turn around.”

******************************************

In the meantime, my mother had heard about the fire on the news and had rushed to Buck Lake. She managed to locate where the trail crossed the road leading to the lake, and then had located the trailside register. She opened the box and found my self-registration form, stating that I had headed north and would then take the alternate route. Looking at the sign now posted there, she saw that, as far as the sign stated, the alternate route started right there, and involved a road walk to Buck Lake.

She drove along the road to Buck Lake, and along the rest of the alternate route headed north out of Buck Lake, but didn’t find me. So she called the Sheriff.

*******************************************

We had already hiked over 20 miles before we turned around, and it was 16 more back to the last road we crossed – the one leading to Buck Lake. However, we were highly motivated. Fear of being burned alive can do that. We hiked by headlamp, and we hiked fast.

As our watches ticked past midnight, though, the adrenaline high wore off and we started to fade. When we got to the only creek between the fire and the road to Buck Lake, we rationalized that if the fire managed to advance that far, we could jump in the stream and hopefully avoid death. Had we not been so tired, we probably would have realized that this idea was preposterous, but the siren call of sleep was too strong. We threw down our groundsheets, sleeping pads, and bags, and fell asleep quickly.

We awoke just as the first rays of sun started to filter through the thick haze surrounding us. There were no indications that the fire had grown imminently close, and we were both still perfectly alive. Then Beaker tried to kill me.

I hopped down to a large rock in the middle of the stream with my filter and water bladder in tow. Fiddling with the connections, and then pumping through a filter element that probably could have used a scrubbing, took time. Beaker was already packed and ready to go, and he was bored.

Strewn about the trail in random places, and at precarious angles, were many large cross sections of logs which had been cut out by trail crews clearing blow-downs. Each was four or five feet in diameter, and three to four feet thick. I’m not sure how much they weighed, but if you told me 300 pounds, I wouldn’t disagree. Some were lying flat on the ground, and others were perched at an angle leaning against those lying flat.

Beaker leaped upon a flat one. Then he jumped about 4 feet to the top of another one. There were no others close enough to leap to, so he set to work finding something to do with one that was perched at an angle leaning against the one upon which he was standing. I looked down to my task of filtering water, and I could hear him straining over the sound of the trickling water. I didn’t think anything of it, but a moment later, I heard him yell “Oh $%*t!”

I looked up. Beaker had gotten the section of log up on its side, and it slowly started to roll . . . toward the creek. It looked like it was going to land about 15 feet upstream of me. Interesting. I wondered if the splash would be large enough to get me wet. The log, now moving more quickly, hit a root and shifted course. Now it was going to land about 4 or 5 feet away from me. I sighed in resignation that I was going to get soaked. About 10 feet from splashdown, the log hit a rock. My eyes widened as I watched it head straight toward me. Everything that happened next moved in slow motion. I pushed myself into a standing position, but it felt like doing so took hours, and the log was nearly on me. Looking at the bank in front of me, I realized I couldn’t leap toward it without leaping over the advancing log, and that was just not going to work. I didn’t have time to look behind me, and even if I did, I’m not sure I would have wanted to turn my back to the 300 pounds charging toward me. I leaped straight up and backwards, having no idea where I was going to land.

While I was in mid-air, I watched the log smack into the water and wedge itself with a horrendous thud between the far bank and the rock upon which I had been sitting a fraction of a second ago. Pieces of bark flew into the air. My feet hit the water with a small splash, and my right foot landed on a rounded rock beneath the surface. I shifted my weight to my left foot to regain balance. As I could feel the cold wetness of the water start to filter through my shoes, I looked down at the rock. The edge of the log was about an inch from my half-filled water bladder, but had not actually touched it or my water filter. I looked up at Beaker. He stood staring with wide eyes and his mouth hanging open.

“How ‘bout you finish filtering my water for me while I change my socks?”

“Yeah, ok, sounds good.”

******************

While barreling down the trail at a more than respectable clip, we frequently could hear helicopters or planes fly overhead, only about a hundred feet above us. I wondered aloud if they were searching for us, but quickly dismissed the idea because these monstrously loud machines seemed to be heading to their destination – the fire – with purpose. They sure didn’t seem to be scanning the ground.

We reached the road in short order. Beaker and I stood on opposite sides of the road with our thumbs out. We figured that quickly getting to a phone should be our highest priority, and that would involve getting a hitch, in whichever direction, as fast as possible. One car went by without stopping, but the driver of the second, headed toward Buck Lake, was happy to offer a lift.

Ten minutes later we stood in front of a restaurant, and in front of the restaurant stood a payphone. I quickly called my Dad. He seemed incredibly distraught, and had actually stayed home from work out of worry. He said that my Mom had already driven up to Buck Lake, and that they had informed the Sheriff’s Department and Search and Rescue that I was missing in the vicinity of the fire. This struck me as having been blown out of proportion, but I suppose that’s what parents are for, even once their kids are adults.

I called the Sheriff’s Department and told them I was fine and they didn’t need to search for me. They didn’t seem to have any idea about who I was or what search was being conducted.

Beaker and I sat down in the restaurant and ordered. Just as soon as the waitress left, my Mom walked in the front door. She seemed exhausted and somewhat relieved, but she also seemed to react to the situation less intensely than I expected. My Dad had seemed a lot more hysterical.

My Mom sat down as our cheeseburgers arrived. I took a giant bite and smiled. Before I could finish chewing, the front door opened again, and the Sherriff’s Deputy walked in.

“Is this your son?” he said to my Mom.

“Yes, we finally found him.”

“You know you had a lot of people worried about you. Why did you continue down the trail after it was closed?” he said to me.

“The sign we passed at the Buck Lake Road register said the trail was closed only north of Belden, so we didn’t think we were on closed trail.”

“You had a lot of people out searching for you.”

I seriously doubted that seeing as how the aircraft above us didn’t seem to be looking down along the trail, and how the Sheriff’s Department seemed not to know who I was, or anything about a search, when I called. I simply stared at the Sheriff and said nothing.

“Well, why didn’t you call? Weren’t you carrying a cell phone?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It doesn’t get reception and it’s wasted weight.”

“It gets reception out here.”

I just looked at him. He stared back at me. Neither of us said anything. After about ten seconds, he softly grunted and walked out the front door.

I turned to Beaker. “Isn’t this cheeseburger great?”

Buzz Burrell
(BBolder) - F
A LA BAMBA on 04/04/2011 09:35:50 MDT Print View

Inca Trail

A LA BAMBA


"I hate camping".

"Totally".

That's the conversation my son and I had on the Inca Trail. It felt better to express it out loud, and it served as a bonding experience for us to be in total agreement that: this sucked.

Which it wasn't supposed to. The Inca Trail is an idealized dream, the trip of a lifetime; the epitome of cool: father/son trip, world famous trail, being in Peru, all that good stuff. But us Colorado boys are not used to the extremely stringent rules here: you have to go with a guide. And guides only go with commercial groups. And commercial groups take four days, start at the same place, camp at the same places, finish at the same time and place. There are no options; all Inca Trail trips are replicas of each other. It's like chinese restaurants: 100 years ago, some guy opened the first chinese restaurant, then the next 100,000 guys copied him precisely, so every chinese restaurant, from Anchorage to Anaheim, has the same menu, the same decor, the same waiter with a surly attitude.

Same on the Inca Trail: there is no way out of the rigid format; it's like the hiker is an automobile part moving down an assembly line, and every day at the proscribed time, one of the workers connects some food to you - the same food they serve every time - and then the assembly line stops for the day, and you have to sit around with nothing to do but be waited on, which is the last thing a hiker actually wants.

Everyone is required to stop hiking for the day, at like, Noon. The fabled Inca Trail is 26 miles long, and despite the tourist brochures, it isn't any harder than it sounds: 26 divided by 4 still equals just 6.5 miles per day. You get up, the cooks make you porridge, you walk for 4 hours, you stop with 100 other people in a muddy trampled campsite devoid of vegetation, then you sit there in a tent in the rain until you are allowed to start walking again the next morning.

So maybe it's not exactly that we don't like to camp; maybe it's just that we truly do like to hike, but the anti-camping sentiment was the conclusion we were forced to draw, while sitting in our tent, in the rain, in the middle of the day, on a beautiful trail, that we weren't allowed to walk on.


The final night we rolled into some sort of funky lodge. Which was better: instead of hanging out in a tent in the rain for hours, we could hang out under a roof in the rain for hours. Actually, it was way better: they had beer. And other libations. Soon it got seriously better: most of our trek mates were Argentinian college students, who weren't very good hikers - 4 hrs/day was probably about right for them - but expert party-goers: siesta is 2 pm, dinner at 9 pm, standard bedtime is 1 am. It was going to be a hot time in the old town tonight.

Around dark a guitar came out - who knows from where this materialized - and a fellow trekker turned out to be a good singer. I was particularly impressed with his version of "La Bamba" - the original, authentic, pre-Richie Valens version - turns out the verse "a la bamba" is slang for "at the dance", and he got things going, aided in no small part by the national drink down there, the "Cuba Libre" (Free Cuba). Known as Rum and Coke here, the style is to mix it up in two liter plastic bottles and pass it along.

Dancing was good. We had been socially restricted the whole trip by a language and cultural barrier, both of which are removed at a real party. It was hot and steamy inside, cold, dark, and wet outside, and everyone was sick to death of the Chamomile Tea they served every day on the trek, sick of the schedule, frustrated that their vacation that was supposed to be so amazing was actually sort of annoying. But 'a la bamba' the guides couldn't tell us what to do, and couldn't dance either, so these frustrations were about to be remedied.

A few of the guys started shouting at me: "Avion! Avion!" What? I knew "Avion" means "airplane" ... oh I get it! So I took a run at them and jumped ... sure enough, they bent down, caught and lifted me into the air, and we went running giddily around the room, me being carried aloft with my arms stretched outwards like an airplane, crazy Argentinians whooping it up. Might not look so good on "Dancing With the Stars", but it sure was working that night. Free Cuba.

A circle formed, and as the bottle was passed around, each person took a turn in the middle, showing off their best salsa moves, the rest of the circle cheering them on. Everybody was supportive, everybody was good, there was no slow or fast, young or old, good or bad ... you threw everything you had into it, everybody loved what you gave. Free all of us.

Then it was Galen's turn, and without hesitation he stripped off his down vest in a dramatic flourish, and strutted into the circle while twirling it around over his head a few times before letting it fly randomly off into the crowd. My son, the soft-spoken Engineering graduate? What the heck was he doing? He was break dancing ... I didn't know he knew how to break dance ... he probably didn't ... but he spun around a few more times, then flung himself down onto the floor on his back, still spinning, in the middle of the wildly cheering crowd, us the only Norte Americano's, him showing them how it's done, feet in the air, head in the clouds, a common language and a solid bond.


The next day we ambled into some ruins called Machu Picchu. It was good: clouds on the peaks, jungle below, and some nice stone work. At 11:00 am the tourist buses arrived and a few hundred people piled out; our signal to leave.

Good trail. Nice place. But what I really liked was the camping. Camping's great. I can't wait until next time.


FriendsMachu Picchu

The Cossack
(thecossack) - F

Locale: sedona
my tale on 04/06/2011 20:32:16 MDT Print View

I don’t care how many times I’m told that killer whales are not interested in me and my kayak, there will always be The Fear. Because The Fear is all that matters. It is what keeps me going through the days and nights. In the cities. In the woods. Down the rivers. Up the hills. Because without The Fear, would we still have the tales to tell?

*

The thing about Alaska is that you can never get truly comfortable. It is too vast. The killer whales are too hungry. The wolves. The bears. The rain. You survive the whales and get ashore, grizz is waiting, waiting, always waiting. Around the bend. Behind the bushes. We’d see them every day. Working for the forest service we were told that the only thing predictable about patrolling Misty Fiords is its unpredictability. The only thing predictable about grizz is that she’s unpredictable. The only thing predicable about the weather……is the rain.

*

All summer we had been seeing this big old mama grizzly and her two cubs on the long rocky shore of Cheecats Cove. They had been grazing the river grass in the spring and when the first of the salmon started making their way back to the river they were there. Feasting. Always feasting. By late august the salmon were easy pickings. Cohos and chum lay sideways barely moving in the ripples of our paddles you could pick them up and kiss their slimy little mouths if you were so inclined and they wouldn’t even bat their gills. And always the bears lumbering along the shore. Cheecats was a place to paddle along. To linger and to marvel at but never to come ashore. We knew there were bears everywhere we had to camp but for some reason we all steered clear of Cheecats Cove.

*

Late august. A rare afternoon break in the rain. The waves start picking up as a fierce wind comes in off the ocean. Killer whales are beneath us. I am paddling along in my plastic seal shaped kayak. - But no, they never attack.

Never?

Never. .

Sure. Ok. Sure. Some day I will be eaten. There is no doubt.

And the waves are really picking up. We have six miles to go before we can even think about pulling off to set up camp for the night. But that’s not going to happen. The waves are breaking over our boats and pulling us out to sea. We have no choice. Tonight we are sleeping at Cheeecats Cove.
*

No bears as we pull in to the creek edge but the signs are everywhere. Big piles of dung, not steaming, but big, and a slaughter of salmon with their faces and brains eaten out. Carcasses everywhere. The eagles are in a frenzy.

I turn to my partner. We have no business being here.

What are we gonna do? She replies. This is madness.

That’s why we’re here right? For the madness.

Ah.. It is now.

So we set up camp above the creek and this place is just straight up beautiful. A true paradise. The creek is singing --welcome home welcome home--. The mountains in the distance like reluctant gods waiting for the shroud of fog to garland them with evening rain. And the forest to our backs is dark and deep the way forests should be. A hundred, hundred miles between our faces and the next.

In the long, long Alaskan dusk we drink red wine from a thermos and I pull out of an eddy one of those dog salmon and we gut it and toss the organs to the eagles and we walk out to the far edge of the cove far from our camp and the waves are slamming the shore and we build a fire and wrap the fish in rock weed and throw it on the coals and go tramping along the creek looking for trouble.

Come back and eat and the night barely darkens us in its breeze and there is no place in this world that I would rather be. Really. No place.

Well. Goodnight

Night

I’ll keep the gun tonight

Alright. Good luck.

And sleep doesn’t come easy but it comes. Dreams. Wilderness dreams. Laverne standing beside a blue stop sign bangs a knee drum. Strange scenes from another life. And then……..

*

There is no sound like it. Nothing on this earth or the next can compare. That low growl in the near distance. The calm thrashing getting close, closer……. and then it stops.
Then The Fear. When there is no sound left and you know just outside your tent she is waiting for your move. And what to do? I call over to my partner in the tent to my left.

You hear that

Uh huh.

Can you see anything

No

Do you wanna go look

You got the gun.

Ah yes the gun. I scored a perfect ten on the target shooting during training. Nailed three shots at thirty yards and then three shots in ten seconds. One at thirty yards, one at twenty and then one at five. Supposed to simulate a charge. The idea being that one shot won’t stop her. Two shots won’t stop her. The third. Yeah. Maybe. If you hit her right.

So I’ve got the gun. Hehehehe. And I’m in my underwear. And I disengage the safety and scratch an itch on the back of the only neck that I will ever own. Unzip the fly and step out into that twilight looking for to find.

She’s closer than I thought. Twenty yards? Fifteen? Wow. Big. And then she stands at my arrival. Whoa. Real big. Bigger than six or seven of me’s. eight me’s? Big. That is a big bear. And she is looking at me. Her teeth are looking at me. And I’m in my underwear. Those teeth. And how about those claws? Those teeth and those claws. And I’ve got the shotgun pointing at her.

She shakes her face and then brings her body back to the ground. Swats at the skunk cabbage and takes three quick steps and then stops again. Damn. I haven’t shot her yet. Am I waiting for something? Am I going to die?. I used to write poems about wanting to be eaten. I still want to be eaten. Someday. When there is nothing left to do or say. Far from here. Far.

But she stops. And she turns her gorgeous face to the creek. Her two cubs are sitting behind a moss log looking up at us. She growls at them and they scurry up into the darkness beyond. Into the brush. And she turns and looks at me again as if to say…..ah, what do I know. What do I know what she would say. If she had the words to say. --You’re not ready to be eaten--. Maybe. And then she turns and follows her cubs. And then it is just me again. Holding the gun. In my underwear, looking at the mountains beyond glowing in the light of the half moon peeking from behind the clouds. First time I’ve seen the moon in months. The sound the creek makes on its endless flow over the boulder stones. The wind against my only face.

*

In the morning we pack quick and breakfastless. And push off into the sea who is all softness and calm and calling. The killer whales await.

It’s such a long short life we live.

Edited by thecossack on 04/07/2011 06:23:59 MDT.

Mike St.Pierre (HMG)
(HyperliteMountainGear) - M

Locale: Maine
Thanks for your entries in the HMG/BPL Contest and Sponsored Giveaway! on 04/07/2011 09:55:37 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the great stories! Keep them coming.. we will select a winner early next week.

Diana Vann
(DianaV) - MLife

Locale: Wandering
...That low growl in the near distance... on 04/07/2011 13:18:54 MDT Print View

@ "There is no sound like it. Nothing on this earth or the next can compare. That low growl in the near distance."

I know that sound, Michael. Also the huffing sound, very close at hand. You've captured what it feels like to be the beach-mate of brown bears when the sea state is unforgiving.

Beautiful story.

Edited by DianaV on 04/07/2011 13:20:03 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Therapuetic Ultralight Backpacking on 04/08/2011 11:35:30 MDT Print View

This is an abridged version of a story about backpacking with troubled boys at Cameron Boy's Camp, a year around wilderness therapy program for troubled boys in North Carolina. Unfortunately I had to blur out their faces, to bad they're all smiles (for once)

------------------------------------------------------------------------------


.The boys head out with loaded packs

The dead leaves rustled under the chilly February sky as I hiked at the rear of the group watching my six campers hiking briskly along. Only their legs and the tops of their heads showing around their bulky packs stuffed with winter insulation for the cold nights. As the boys happily cracked jokes together and sang goofy camp songs I silently gave thanks for this moment nearly two years in the making.

Having fun!

“Chief we’re finally backpacking” one of the boys called back proudly. I smiled inside. The boys knew that at this therapeutic wilderness camp a backpacking trip was considered the crowning achievement for a well functioning group. They knew they were doing well and were proud of themselves. If only the boys knew how much this short trip would mean too me. They didn’t know yet but I would be leaving soon and this trip was my “last hurrah” and good-bye gift all in one.
I was finishing up two years at Cameron Boy’s Camp a therapeutic wilderness camp/school for boys with a variety of troubles best defined as “emotionally disturbed” although that didn’t begin to describe what I was dealing with. Running the group felt like being the only sane person in the “Lord of the Flies” story. I had the “Frontiersmen” group the youngest at camp from 8 to 11 years old. The boys were difficult enough as it was but some bad group dynamics and fast camper turnover had kept our group in a state of almost constant chaos for my first year. While the other groups went off on various adventures, canoeing and backpacking we were too crazy and disorganized to take any serious trips. With help from some other awesoe camp staff we’d finally come together in the last year and got the point where planning a backpacking trip (which required full help from the boys) was feasible. Since I was about to move on to another job it was now or never. I wanted one last trip together to help bring the boys together more before I left.
It was a challenge to pack light for boys in cold weather with old and traditional style gear. Things like down bags just weren’t an option. We did our best and kept the packs reasonably light. The boys knew how important teamwork was to go backpacking so they policed themselves. If they sensed and argument brewing they would resolve it together quickly rather than risk a big problem that might cause the trip to be cancelled.

My little rascals

Now that we were finally in the woods and on the trail the boys were ecstatic. The cracked dumb jokes, they sand goofy songs and they encourage each other along. The day flew by as we explored, checked out a rope swing and made hiking sticks. That evening the boys helped set up a tarp and cooked an awesome dinner over the fire.

Playing on a log

The next morning the guys shrugged off the 22 degree temperature and woke up in good spirits. We took a winding course through the woods and learned how to filter water and how to use iodine tablets. A previous counselor had once told about a trip where his group functioned so well he felt like it was just a fun summer camp. I’d never thought that would happen here but here I was having a great time with my boys with no real problems to deal with.
That night around the fire I asked the boys what they thought of the trip. They all said they felt like they’d accomplished something big. They’d felt like the little runts of camp who couldn’t do the same things as the older groups did. They proudly pointed out that in two days they hadn’t had any real problems even though we’d done what would have been considered a hard trip for little guys. When it was my turn to speak I pretty much praised the boys up one side and down the other. They'd helped us plan and pack for a trip none of us had done, they'd trusted us while we figured things out on the fly, they'd encouraged one another when they got tired, and they'd shown initiative in helping meet the needs of the group. I could not have asked for more out of them. The trip was exactly what I’d wanted it to be. It had boosted the boys’ confidence in what they could accomplish together and it had helped them work together in ways they would not have done normally.

Dinner around the fire

The next day we hiked back to camp and the boys strutted in proudly wearing their packs. About a week later it was all over, it was time for me to move on and I had a new job waiting for me. The boys who just months before had been cussing me out and fighting me over anything were now bawling their eyes out as we said our goodbyes. In many ways the trip was the final happy ending for me. After two years of hard work I could leave feeling like I’d contributed to the camp and knowing that my boys were doing better. It wasn’t my longest, lightest or most scenic trip but that little hike was definitely my most significant. I felt more satisfaction after that two night little trip than any of the "bigger and better" things I'd done. As I told a friend as I was leaving “We went backpacking; my life is now totally complete, I can die in peace and go to Frontiersmen heaven.”

Edited by Cameron on 04/08/2011 11:43:35 MDT.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
The Killer Amphibian on 04/08/2011 12:08:36 MDT Print View

Fire

The campfire had almost burned out and I could barely make out the 2 counselors and 8 little boys gathered around for “pow-wow” the evening meeting before bedtime. We had been camping for several days by a lake with a group of emotionally disturbed boys ages 8-11. The purpose of the “pow-wow” was to evaluate the day and help the boys go to bed relaxed and feeling good about the day by focusing on what we’d learned and accomplished.
The boys were relaxed and tired and everything was (finally) peaceful and calm. I could almost feel my snug sleeping bag.

Suddenly I heard a crash on the dry leaves across the circle and things began to happen fast.

Chris, the counselor across from me jumped up with a startled yell and looked around.

I heard another and another loud crash as something BIG ran through the blackness
toward the fire, it sounded like it was practically on top of us.

I jumped up ready for action.

Instinctively my hand found my big quick opening pocket knife clipped to my pocket.

My hand made a smooth arch as I swung the knife out and cocked it over my head. As I poised for a fight the two little guys on either side of me screamed and both wrapped their arms around my waist nearly pulling me over.

As the boys moved into a panicked huddle and I tried to pull out of the tangle the noise suddenly stopped. Scott (our third counselor) found his headlamp and flicked it on.
Nothing
No rabid dog
No psycho deer
No bear
No Sasquatch
No animal was visible

The Frog

We looked down and saw a huge frog hopping around in the leaves. Every time his fat body plopped down it sounded like an overweight grizzly’s footstep! Everyone nervously laughed as I pocketed the knife and gave the little boys still wrapped around me a reassuring pat on the back.

So much for getting the boys relaxed and calmed down before bed, I doubt they slept that night.

Hamish Reid
(MrExplorerDouglas) - MLife

Locale: Arthur's Pass National Park
Re: Contest & Sponsored Giveaway! on 04/09/2011 18:27:39 MDT Print View

When the Leki breaks

No one recalled hearing the pole snap. However, in the maelstrom, everyone had developed a sixth sense for when a guyline had broken again. On top of the wind noise, muted by your sleeping bag hood, you could just detect the tight thrumming of the guys, and the angry snapping of the tarp. The tarps became a sort of wind powered musical instrument. All that rapid vibration and constant tension was playing hell with the guys though. They were cutting through where they were hitched to the boulders, despite our best attempts to pad them. When one of the guys went, that barely detectable tarp song vanished entirely into the background wind noise. When the tarp went quiet, a few headlamp beams would shoot straight up. Occasionally, several guys would fail at once. Instead of illuminating a sheet of blue fabric, 18 inches above the headlamp’s owner, the beams would stab up into swirling mist.

This was all a bit of an experiment. Southern hemisphere summer, 2005. I was fairly new to NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School), and NOLS was still fairly new to New Zealand. My co-instructor was neither new to NOLS or new to tarps.

But he was, however, new to New Zealand. He thought tarps were great for teaching the students better campcraft, and providing a more intimate outdoor experience. They'd also lighten up our packs. He had used tarps in Patagonia and Alaska, both known for their meteorological and insect challenges. I thought it was madness, but his experience and persuasive logic swayed me. It turns out he was right.

Tarps in the fault scarp at dawn - 2000m asl - NZ Southern Alps

It was a downdraught that did it. Not the biggest gust of the night, but this one dropped straight down from above. We were hiding in an earthquake fault scarp, a rift contouring around the hillside like a moat. It had protected us from the worst of the wind for hours, but the boulder berm could do nothing to stop this leaden parcel of air falling straight from the sky. I imagine the gust had eddied horizontally over the nearby ridgeline, before spotting our tarps.The downdraught flattened the tarp against our sleeping bags. From above, it could bear down on every inch of the tarp's surface area. It felt like I'd been sat on by a giant bean bag full of shot pellets. The gust soon abated, and headlamps flashed on as we scrambled to save the tarp. To my amazement, it was intact. Loose and flapping, but in one piece. In the noisy night, harassed by more gusts, we re tensioned the trucker's hitches before scampering back into our sleeping bags.

It was a rough night - the guy lines weren't the only things getting cut

In the morning we saw why the tarp had inexplicably slackened during the downdraught. The bottom section of the leki pole, holding up one end of the tarp, had snapped in half. The pole was of course now shorter, but none of us noticed until the morning light illuminated the pole's lower section sitting on the rocks.

Bent and broken - yet the tarp survived intact

Has any NOLS NZ course gone out again with just tarps? No. Would I try it again? Hmmm, possibly not. Was it a success? Absolutely! I had started out a non-believer. Yet those tortured tarps, over the next couple of weeks, proved my colleague right. The students developed great campcraft. They also got the full 360 degree, 24/7 outdoor experience; bugs, drafts, drips and all. In fact, they came to like their battle scared scraps of nylon so much, when offered nice new 4 season tents for the next section of their semester, they turned them down in favour of their trusty tarps.

Edited by MrExplorerDouglas on 04/09/2011 18:31:58 MDT.

Miranda foster
(starfish3647) - F
"park rangers! come out of your tents!!" on 04/10/2011 01:59:58 MDT Print View

Well, being very new to the whole world of backpacking I have only gone on two trips carrying a load on my back. My first trip was a church sponsored 3-day trip that was so successful that my friends and I felt we were ready for a big-college-kid trip all on our own. Where we lacked in experience we made up for in plenty goofy enthusiasm. For two months before the trip we were frantically calling each other multiple times a day with news of awesome online-cupon offers and sharing new ideas on gear in order to make sure that we would have the lightest gear systems that we penniless college students could afford.

So, three weeks ago a group of five of us took off for Joshua Tree National Park in the sunny desert of Southern California for the 38 mile California Riding and Hiking Trail. The plan was to finish the trail in three full days of hiking where we would pick up water drops where the trail intersected backcountry roads. But, on the first day, we had so much progress early on, we decided to push through and get to our first water drop 20 miles into the trail for our first night. By the time we reached the water (in pitch darkness) the wind had picked up to 20 mph (45 mile gusts), the temp dropped down to the low 40s and we were so tired from the distance we were so not in shape for, that we ate our still mostly crunchy dehydrated food and crashed next to a small parking lot and our 2 5-gallon Sparkletts bottles.

After trying to sleep in high winds for what seemed like hours, around midnight, we were all awakened with shouts of "park rangers, come out of your tents!!!" I didn't believe that I was actually awake, so I rolled over and shut my eyes again; but, apparently that strategy doesn't work in real life. A few more moments passed and somehow we all managed to make it out of our tents to face those responsible for waking us up. I was immediately caught by surprise to find that I was unable to walk. The affects of the previous day's 20 miles and my stupidity for not stretching afterwards, in addition to standing in the cold wind in just my long john's caused my right thigh to cramp so tightly that I simply could not move my right forward to take a step. The shock of not being able to walk actually frightened me more than whatever I thought the rangers could be angry about.

This is where our inexperience comes to bite us in the butt... The rangers proceeded to inform us that camping less than a mile from a backcountry road (from which we were less than 200 yards) is illegal. Apparently the backcountry board (which we had camped 20 ft. from) had a list of all the rules for the trail, which, plainly present amongst them was the rule about camping far from the road. I managed to hobble back to my tent while they collected our IDs to cite us for the infringement. While we were waiting for them to process everything. They came back to our camp and asked our friend Ian (Malaysian name: Wee Yen) to come to their truck. Ian moved back to America for college after living in Malaysia for the last 10 years. Tired and slightly on edge thinking we were going to get in serious trouble, the remaining four of us began to panic that our friend was going to get deported back to Malaysia. Apparently the real issue was that the rangers simply didn't see him when we initially were called out of the tents and were caught by surprise when they collected 5 driver's licenses. No big deal. But of course we didn't know it at the time. We all spend a good 5 minuets freaking out about how mad everyone was going to be that we got him deported!

After a lecture from the rangers about making sure we obey backcountry rules we were each fined $50 for our stupidity, and thankfully we were not required to move. As I found out later, they had pulled the guy who seemed like the leader aside and told him that they wouldn't make us move on account of their being worried that "one of the party would not be able to make it." Figured that was probably me they were talking about.

After a mostly sleepless night passed, everyone managed to get up and moving with impressively optimistic attitudes! We actually managed another 18 miles that day to finish the trail a whole day early! I look forward to many more trips where I will actually be able to hike 20 miles and more in a day and to never camp less than a mile from the road!

-Miranda Foster

Samuel Kau
(Skau)

Locale: Southern California
Longest Night on 04/10/2011 02:11:20 MDT Print View

Last year, my friends and I went on our first backpacking trip with our church college group to the San Gorgonio Mountains in Southern California. The group consisted of seven people, four without any experience and would learn on the trip, Kevin and I being two out of those four. Extremely excited about our upcoming trip and my naturally obsessive personality, I vigorously typed into my google search function and read anything I could find with the words backpacking on it, including backpackinglight.com and other lightweight sites. The pros of lightweight sounded outstanding to me since I am not a big guy and could not consider carrying 50 pounds on my back nor could I pay for it! As shelters were planned to share, Kevin and I chose each other to be tent buddies but I had better ideas. “We should tarp!” I proposed to Kevin who knew as little about backpacking as I did. With budgets being limited, I figure a 8x10 standard blue poly tarp from REI for around $7 would do the trick and would be lighter than any tent I could find to rent or buy. We were ecstatic about the great idea of tarping and to show off our Spartans’ spirits to the rest of the group.
Me on the left Kevin on the right


After the first day of hiking, camp was to be set up and Kevin and I were excited to unveil our inexpensive, lightweight, and cooler-than-any other-person’s shelter tarp. To be optimistic, we “struggled” to set it up. We clumsily tied our already tangled rope around the trees and draped the “now not so good looking shelter” over the line and staked out the corners. We looked at each other and I gave Kevin a weak smile and said “Don’t worry, this tarp can do anything!” That smile seemed to give him enough confidence because he responded with a confident “Yeah, tonight will be great.”
Our tarp...
Another look at it..

After dinner was done, talking seemed to come to an end, brushed teeth, food hung (hopefully properly), everyone started to retrieve to the comforts of their own shelters to prepare for bed. “Wait, it’s only 8:45! I can’t sleep that early! If I sleep that early I will wake up in the middle of the night!” Said Kevin. He reluctantly went into our tarp with me while we got into our sleeping bags and I told him to go to sleep and goodnight. Previously, I had scared him about ticks and told him that if he were to find them on him that he would have to burn it off. This information really freaked him out because he figures he is a really hairy guy and the idea of having a singe hole in the middle of his chest or worst somewhere else…was not something he wanted. So before he went into bed he successfully sprayed 100% deet all over his clothes….which slept right next to me! 10:00 p.m. arrives and I wake up because Kevin can’t sleep and just keeps tossing and turning and was humming to himself, why? I can’t figure that out to this day. I tell him to go to sleep and drift back to sleep when I hear Kevin struggling to get out of his bag and the rustling of the tarp as he bumps his head on the top. “He whispers I gotta pee.” It was midnight when I checked my watch. Silence comes again and I go to sleep when at 12:30 he gets up again and wakes me up and quickly comes back and says “Its too hot!” I look at his direction and see a slimmer silhouette and asks “are you naked?!?!” No response comes from him and I am too tired to care as I turn my back to him. A loud buzzing comes into our tarp and a very familiar sound of mosquitoes seemed to want to join us for the night and I hear a loud “Crap!” next to me. In the process of “being too hot” he realized his thick layer of deet came off when his clothes did so he proceeded to spray his naked body with deet. When I had some consciousness of protesting, he had already managed to scurry into his sleeping bag, and I apprehensively checked my watch, 1:30 a.m. Up to that I had little sleep and was determined to get some rest before another tiring day of hiking that seemed to be coming too soon. I fell back to sleep and all was well when Kevin decided to talk, not only to other people in our group, but in other tents across the camp! My frustrated yelling quieted them down quickly. Another failed attempt at peaceful REM. It was 2:00 a.m. I fell back asleep for the final time until I felt a poke at my back, I quickly woke up and said “What?!?” “Oh nothing” Kevin responded, “Just wondering if you were awake.” It was 3 a.m. After that I decided my sleeping was over and just stayed awake with Kevin until the sun rose. So Hyperlight Mountain Gear, I would love your Echo I Shelter System not just to ditch Kevin, but to ditch my blue poly tarp that I can’t bear to look at anymore because it reminds me of that sleepless night and it still smells like DEET.Me in the morning

Paul Osborn
(bcoutdoors) - F
sightseeing on 04/10/2011 06:43:02 MDT Print View

I love this story from my wife:

It was the first time my sister, my best friend and I had gone on a camping trip by ourselves. Being young teenagers, wanting to show some independence we chose an area some distance from home, loaded up the family van and took off.

It was supposed to be a normal trip, with your normal setup for beginner car campers. The food was typical for American kids who hadn’t been out camping much and who didn’t want to do much cooking: ramen noodles, boxed cereal and trail mix. As you can tell we were very adventurous and knew what we were doing.

After fumbling with the tent, which ended up with us lying in stitches, eating some semi-cooked ramen noodles, we decided to go for a hike. On our way up the trail we came to a bulletin board with notices by the park rangers. The board told to take caution as there had been cougar sightings in the area within the past two hours. It gave a couple suggestions such as: make lots of noise, don’t run and do whatever you can to make yourself look large.

We continued up the trail with some trepidation, but within 5 minutes had regained our composure and were busy chatting together about all things important to teenage girls. Deep in discussion, we rounded a blind corner to see the aforementioned cougar on the trail not too far ahead. We panicked for a moment, but quickly remembered the instructions. We made a lot of noise and began to walk away slowly, facing the cougar. Not knowing how to make ourselves look any larger than the petite 5 foot 4 inches that we boasted, one of us decided that we could hold our shirts over our heads and gain another foot and a half.

It seemed to work as we were able to ward off the cougar and back away. Once we escaped the sight of the cougar we all spun around and ran down the trail… to run straight into two male hikers off to see the sights. Quickly realising just how much of a view we were offering to said hikers, we awkwardly tried to cover ourselves and after spluttering an explanation, ran off red-faced and giggling.

David Helms
(papabear100) - F
Re: Contest & Sponsored Giveaway! on 04/10/2011 14:05:37 MDT Print View

Being as how my favorite thing in life is to hear and tell of outdoor adventures, picking THE one to write about is a challenge. After much consideration, I am skipping over the elk that refused to yield, the youth who tried to put out the flaming gas canister by kicking it INTO the fire, and the night I accidently built my quinzhee snowcave on top of an occupied bear den. Instead, I’m going to share the story of how my good friend Mike got his trail name.

I love trail names. A good one always captures the essence of a person in a single word. A good trail name usually evokes a smile from the face of anyone that hears it. Most of the readers of this blog have duly earned trail names and a good story to go with each of them.

My friend Mike is no different. I’ve gotten to know him well through my scout troop which is the way I get to experience most of my outdoor adventures these days. Mike is a consummate trail professional and an expert instructor in most things outdoors. One night when the troop was hiking a section of the AT in Virginia, we camped in a meadow near a trail shelter. Mike walked over to the shelter and discovered it was occupied by several ladies who were parked around a roaring blaze.

It was a very blustery night and the wisdom of even having a campfire shall be ignored for purposes of this story. However, I’m sure Mike’s original reason to go to the shelter included sharing the dangers of a fire on a night like that. Once he arrived, it was only natural that a recently divorced gentleman who comes upon a group of attractive young ladies that share a love of his favorite pastime would get distracted.

There were enough other leaders for the scouts nearby that Mike could be “off duty” for a while. So, he sucks in the stomach, pokes out the chest and sits down for a chat. Everyone gets along famously and Mike is having a great time. But every now and then, a gust of wind blows through and generates a few sparks from the fire. Not enough to blow into the grass necessarily, but the kind that will melt a hole in your wind pants in a millisecond if you’re not careful. Reaction time is everything if you see a spark on your clothes.

Mike, while enjoying himself immensely, was a little on edge being the center of attention with all these attractive ladies. It is a common trait that a nervous human will rub his thighs when in a sitting position. As time elapsed, the thighs were rubbed to the point where the mini flashlight in Mike’s pocket was accidently turned on.

Mike looked down and saw a big “spark” on his leg. He slapped it immediately to put it out. The slap has no effect except to make it shine brighter. Instinctively, he leaped into the air and began flailing at his leg. The ensuing dance lasted a full thirty seconds or more. For some reason, it was immediately apparent to all others around the fire what was happening. All Mike could see was his pants on fire. The obvious result was laughing by the ladies to the point of rolling on the ground. There was almost certainly a little peeing involved.

Finally, Mike figured it out. Knowing this was an incident from which he could not reclaim his self-esteem, he tucked his head and returned to the scouts. So if you’re ever on the trail reading the registers, check and see if, by chance, that shelter has been graced by the presence of my good friend “Hotpockets”.

Brian Keith Gunter
(bkgunter) - M

Locale: Midwest
Contast & Sponsored GiveawayI want that! on 04/10/2011 16:07:43 MDT Print View

A tale is seven words or less.

Can't stop. Lost? Yet, I am happy.

Mike St.Pierre (HMG)
(HyperliteMountainGear) - M

Locale: Maine
Congratulations.... and the Winner is.. Travis Leanna on 04/12/2011 05:04:44 MDT Print View

Love Conquers All On The Trail

Thanks to everyone who entered their hiking stories during the Hyperlite Mountain Gear contest on Backpackinglight.com. After much debate, we chose this romantic and beautiful story submitted by Travis Leanna. Congratulations Travis! We hope you enjoy your new HMG Echo l Shelter!

Travis, please contact us at info@hyperlitemountaingear.com to coordinate shipping your prize.

Katharina ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Hurray! on 04/12/2011 05:55:14 MDT Print View

Good for Travis! Such a sweet story deserves the prize and many thanks.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Congratulations.... and the Winner is.. Travis Leanna on 04/12/2011 06:22:47 MDT Print View

Oh my gosh! :)

I'm kinda speechless! (really, I'm not sure what to write)

Thank you so very much for choosing my story, as there were several great submissions. I especially liked Michael Spielman's account of Alaska's perils.

Thank's HMG for having this contest, and to BPL for hosting it!

:) :) :)

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: Re: Contest & Sponsored Giveaway! on 04/12/2011 07:40:23 MDT Print View

Travis,

Well deserved! Outstanding trip report with all of the elements that make hiking so alluring and enjoyable for all of us.

"No matter how much “more” they could see by being in a helicopter, it simply couldn’t match traversing the land by foot. We actually knew the land. They were merely looking upon it".

Well said and understood by all of us!

“Will you marry me?”
“YES, I’LL MARRY YOU!”


Priceless! Congratulations to you and Gretchen. May you both have a long and wonderful life together.

The proposal was an outstanding piece of work. The wedding and honeymoon trip ought to be off the charts.

The next time that I pop the top off of a "Honeymoon" I'll make a toast to the success of your marriage.

Party On,

Newton

The Cossack
(thecossack) - F

Locale: sedona
good on you travis on 04/12/2011 08:51:15 MDT Print View

yours was definitely the best story and some really fine photography

love beats darkness

as it should

Edited by thecossack on 04/12/2011 09:06:47 MDT.

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: good on you travis on 04/12/2011 11:44:18 MDT Print View

Thank you, Michael and John.