Ramble On

Friday, December 31, 2010

Hawksbill Cabin 2010: Year-end Retrospective, part 1

While I assumed my normal spot this week, out on the Hawksbill Cabin’s brick terrace next to the fire pit, I considered this blog’s year 2010. Eventually, just as the idea must have occurred to staff of the Page News and Courier last week – and to so many other publications, it seemed like a retrospective post would be interesting. And so, here is the result of a review of posts, month by month, for the year.

As I was writing, the word count was getting up there, so I split the post into three. There will be one post today, New Years Eve, with the other two to come on Saturday January 1 and Sunday January 2.

Let me start by saying thanks again to the gang at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures for lending me their internet! Shout out to Gary, Linda, Howard and Andy!

January 2010 – On the blog, the major topics were the “Snowpocalypse” that most of the mid-Atlantic area experienced. It’s one thing to deal with weather like this in Alexandria, where the dense urban environment generally means that services will be promptly restored, streets plowed to allow public safety vehicles to patrol, etc. – but quite another for remote areas here in Page County.

We had a little roofing problem that we had been planning to deal with – water, whether driven rain or melting snow, was creeping down the chimney around the flashing of our new roof. With snow depths being reported in excess of three feet, we were also worried about the loads on our roof, and had our roofer come out to clear snow and improve the flashing. He ventured out on a tracked vehicle and took care of both problems for us.

And when we finally got back out, I went up to finish clearing the snow – I suspect ice dams were part of the problem that eventually led to termites in the old days, and I wasn’t going to let that kind of problem get started…

February 2010 – At the very end of January a little noticed press release appeared in one of the Valley papers, describing the potential location of a Fibrowatt plant in Page County. Fibrowatt generates electricity by burning chicken waste, and some in the County believed that having a plant here at the Project Clover site would have a very positive impact on industrial development. Once the word got out, a wide range of citizen stakeholder groups began to let County leadership know their thoughts on the issue.

On the blog, we invested a lot of time doing extensive background research on Fibrowatt, learning about the technology, the process for building a plant (the company is very proud of the community work it does surrounding this process, evidenced in the Fibrominn plant, in Benson, Minnesota). An outreach group formed, providing information for the broader community about the impacts of a plant – and this group’s work led to a broader dialog about whether the investment the county would ultimately make was worthwhile in exchange for what appeared to be few jobs and potential negative environmental impacts. Ultimately, in March, the Board of Supervisors determined that a Fibrowatt plant wasn’t in Page County’s best interest.

March 2010 – This month featured a very interesting cultural activity in Luray – the 24-hour Marathon of One Act Plays. Folks volunteer to be part of this – dividing into writers and actors, ultimately putting together 4 plays over the course of one day. The writing takes place overnight, then rehearsals in the morning, and the plays done in the evening. I’m looking forward to this again next March.

Following up on the Fibrowatt question from February, I went back into the old Page County EDA materials to try and come to an understanding of how that proposal got to the table when there was so much public opposition to it. What I found was that over the course of several strategic plan updates, the mission of EDA had evolved from one that sought economic development and job creation to one that seemed to favor a very speculative approach to real estate – pretty far off track from what you’d expect.

The Board of Supervisors and new EDA members are still coming to terms with how to correct this situation, and it’s clear that more time and planning are needed for a full resolution. For my part, I think the answer is in the not very old strategic plans – the ones that predate all the Project Clover ballyhoo. There are some basic and practical planning steps enumerated in those plans that have simply been ignored…a back to basics approach that reconsiders these seemed in order then and still does today.

April 2010 –With the arrival of spring, posts on the blog return to outdoors topics, even while the Project Clover, EDA, and Fibrowatt controversies continued to churn. During 2010, I estimate I was up in Shenandoah National Park more than 20 times, but one of the highlights of the year was the Jones Run-Doyles River loop that my hiking group took on in April.

This hike follows two streams through their respective ravines until their confluence. In the spring, the streams are full and there’s a spectacular view of a waterfall every quarter of a mile or so here. It’s a very worthwhile outing, and one my group used as inspiration for our Dolly Sods outing later in the year.  We would return to the Park for another challenging loop at Corbin Cabin - and then there were all my other trips to the Park and the eventual completion of all the hikes in the Best Easy Day Hikes book.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Clarendon Construction - Final for 2010

A quick update on the construction progress around my office.  With the two main buildings I have been observing go up, construction is very nearly finished.  It's hard to believe that when I started with AECOM in January 2008, demolition had just begun, clearing the way for the two big buildings across the street.  Click the Clarendon Construction label for a look - I have a couple of photos of the demolition in progress from way back then!

The mid-block building, which I've learned is called the north building in this three building development, is also nearly complete.  Landscaping and sidewalks, and street trees are in.  The retail curtain walls are up - I haven't seen any interior work started on these, which will mostly be restaurants.

Here is the current view as of 12/23 of the church building.  The core areas have begun and we are seeing concrete trucks come and go.  At the moment the progress is visible every day on this project.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Minibogs Video!!!

This is a first try at this, a video taken with the iPhone.  Special note of thanks to my niece Rosie for putting the four or five takes together in one piece!

Happy 2011!


Taking a cue from Marty, who made a list of the birds that show up in his Manassas yard when he puts the feeder out, I thought I would make a list of what we see out in the yard at Hawksbill Cabin. 
Now, I should make a note that we have three feeders going during the winter, especially when there is snow on the ground.  As soon as it starts to warm up in the spring, I take the feeders down since we'll start seeing young bears around.  No need to invite them up into the yard.

I use the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds Eastern Edition, to identify the birds we see.  Even so, there is one bird in the area I have not conclusively identified, and that is the type of hawk that we have in the hollow.  At times, I've thought this was either a sharpshinned or Coopers hawk - but the two species are very similar and even the experts have trouble with them.  For more on our experience with the hawks, check out the Hawks label at the end of this post - we had a pair that nested in the yard a couple of years running.

Starting with the perching birds, we get:
  • Juncoes, eastern form
  • House sparrows (a large and noisy flock shows up early in the day)
  • House finches
  • Gold finches (an intrepid, small flock of three or four)
  • Cardinals (we have at least two pair)
  • Blue jays (upwards of a dozen live in the hollow; they like the ground beneath the large feeder)
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Tufted titmouse (there are quite a few of these, as there are with the chickadees)
Then with the tree clinging birds:
  • Downy woodpeckers (there are at least two)
  • Northern flickers (I've seen three around at once.  During the summer, they hang out on some of the dead trees over by the old beaver pond)
  • White breasted nuthatch
Special guests - birds that don't visit the feeders, but I often see passing through the yard when I am outside:

  • Pileated woodpeckers (there is at least a pair living in the hollow)
  • Carolina wrens (there is a pair of these; I really love the song on those days when ours are out and about and have something to tweet about)
Someday I'll participate in the annual bird count.  I'd love to get a catalog on the population we're serving up all these black oil sunflower seeds to...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Alexandria Kitchen Week 5, Part 2

Here are the compass points photos.  As usual, here is the wall where there was a base and wall cabinet - should note, the fridge will go here when we are done.  Then the kitchen sink wall with the window, the new wall - cabinets are mounted here, and we've moved the stove out a bit to the middle of this wall.  Finally, the wall with the doorway to the basement. 


Obviously, still a ways to go.  But this is clear progress.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Alexandria Kitchen Week 5, Part 1

A couple of things are starting to come into focus.  The new kitchen floor is in, and the walls that will be exposed when all is said and done have their coats of paint.  But there is still plenty of work going on...this will be the first of two posts this week. 

Here is the landing on the stairway to the basement, showing the new oak floor.  Most of the kitchen floor has been laid, but it is covered with boxes and cabinetry.

Here are the pantry and the sun room.  As you can see, very crowded, pressed into service as storage for the Christmas weekend, and because snow is forecast and we don't want anything left outside.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Byrds Nest Summit and Byrds Nest Shelter Number 4 - An Easy SNP Day Hike

This trail ended up being my final hike out of the Best Easy Day Hikes book, number 26 of the 26 that are reviewed there. Both the Easy Day Hikes book and Heatwole describe the Byrds Nest Summit and Shelter Number 4 as an easy hike through pleasant forest scenery, and I couldn’t argue with that. Although the Easy Day Hikes book outlines a circuit of 3.2 miles and climb of nearly 500 feet, I added in a little section of the AT that passes through here, freelancing off of the trail map I picked up at the entry station – so my hike was probably a little longer and had more altitude variation than their review had.

I should note that I had some photos taken in June 2010 to accompany this post, but failed to upload them…when I dropped the Moto RAZR last week I lost them. Maybe sometime I’ll revisit Byrds Nest Shelter Number 4, and if I do, I’ll post photos at that time.

Interestingly, looking at the Heatwole guide (my copy is the 1988 fourth edition), Henry describes the facilities at the shelter as having a pit toilet and a water faucet, but I either didn’t see or didn’t notice these during my visit…Heatwole also mentions a couple of nearby viewpoints that should be only a couple of hundred yards away, but I think they are overgrown now, and Henry goes as far as to qualify the description of them with the remark, “if they are still there.”

For a few minutes I considered the quality of this location, and then I chuckled to myself remembering a couple of passages in Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.” In one place, he mentions a shelter somewhere south of Byrds Nest Shelter 4 where some Boy Scouts arrive shortly after he and hiking buddy Katz arrive. The Boy Scouts set to work, are cheerfully incompetent, and are “better than TV.”

In another passage Bryson describes coming to Gravel Springs Hut, which is north of Byrds Nest 4, again with Katz, but this time arriving in the rain. They are joined there by a group of six day hikers who have decided to “rough it” in overnight in the shelter, complete with libations.

Upon encountering Katz and Bryson in the shelter, one of the women says, “Ooh, do we have to share?” and things rapidly go downhill from there. Katz gets a form of revenge at the end of the story as they part ways – and that’s what gave me a laugh as I looked out on the meadow in front of the shelter. Gravel Springs Hut is probably another dozen miles north of Byrds Nest 4, but still, I was happy for the little memory.

Things were going nicely for a short while, and the shelter was a very nice facility, looking out over a little meadow. The weather was changing, it was growing overcast, and then I heard some thunder rumbling off in the distance. Growing concerned, I sped off into the woods.

With so many trails coming into the shelter area, I must have made a wrong turn somewhere along the way, and found myself on a side tail that I could not find on the map in the Easy Day Hikes book (I keep it in my pocket for reference when I do these hikes). I decided to put that book away and exclusively use the Park Service map, combined with the trusty compass on my Pathfinder watch, in order to navigate back to Skyline Drive.

It was very dark in the woods for the remainder of the hike, and my anxiety about the wrong turn made the walk seem very long – even though it really wasn’t. I remember that this was quite a beautiful part of the forest, as a matter of fact, in a hollow on the west side of the ridge, and not yet fully leafed out. At those times where I could put the worries out of my mind I enjoyed the views, and thought that a car shuttle hike doing a few miles of the AT through this area could be nice.

For all the anxiety, this pleasant memory of a book well read and the glimpses of natural beauty made up this into a not-so-bad experience. I exited the woods at Skyline Drive, and quickly assessed that I was south of where I had parked the car. I hiked a couple of hundred yards along the Drive back to the parking lot.

The moral of this story is simple – while it is relatively difficult to get lost in Shenandoah National Park, since you are always only a few miles away from Skyline Drive if you are on a blue or white blazed trail, you should always take the precaution of having a map, a compass, and some extra drinking water with you. Given the terrain, there are still a lot of areas where cell service doesn’t reach. Even so, it shouldn’t be too difficult to survive here with these things, and being without them will probably more likely mean you are in for some discomfort rather than in an actual life-threatening situation.

So that’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart – even though I will scamper off on many of the Easy Day Hikes book’s hikes sans backpack, I will typically have extra water, a couple of maps, and my trusty Casio Pathfinder with compass on hand. Since I use my cell phone for photographs, I always have it with me, too, although I don’t expect to have service much of the time on the hikes.

To close the post, here are Amazon links to the Easy Day Hikes book and the Bryson book, both mentioned above. Appalachian Outdoors Adventures in Luray often has them in stock.  You can also find a link to the Casio Pathfinder over there - - > in the right hand column!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Alexandria Kitchen Week 4

We’ll start the post today with a quick note about posts next week. Since we are going to be out at Hawksbill Cabin (and it looks like we are going to have quite a big snow), the posts will be scarce, so I will probably break the kitchen update for week 5 into a couple of posts.

Starting here with the “compass points” series, you can see the wall where there used to be a base cabinet and wall cabinet. Here are paint samples – the drywall work is done and it’s time to paint before the new installations begin. Actually though, I should mention that the refrigerator is moving over to this location…also, we’ve chosen a green paint, similar to the one here but a lighter tint.

Then we have the wall where the sink will be. We’ve worked out lighting schedules now and there will be two little lights above the sink, as opposed to a single can light like we had before or a pendant.

Next the new “long” wall, where we replaced the original entryway into the kitchen, moving it a few feet over into the old fridge space to improve circulation…and then the fourth compass point, the wall with the doorway to the basement.

The pantry is next. It is still waiting for its turn in the spotlight, and is mostly used for storage right now. It will have a pantry cabinet and work space when all is said and done.

Finally, the sun room – as you can see, there is too much going on in there for me to take the usual two photos. But they’ve begun framing out the new door here – we are changing the old door out for a double wide, sliding glass door. This will give us more window light back there. It’s already a cheerful space despite the northwest exposure, so the door should add to that.

This coming week is going to be one with a lot of progress. They will paint, put down the new floor, and begin installing cabinets, so the place will look very different in next week’s update. In fact, yesterday, they put down about a third of the new floor in the kitchen.  So it looks as thought so much will have been done (he says optimistically) I think I will go ahead and plan on the next kitchen update post being a two-parter.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Pleasant Winter Morning's Walk

I’ll start the week with a post of some photos from the Sunday morning walk I took. The Valley was sparkling fresh from a light snow that fell last week, and I love to take a walk in the winter scenery.  These are photos from my iPhone, which I am still just learning how to use.

My goal was to visit the neighbor’s mare and donkey in their pasture, since last night they were standing near the fence looking out at the road and I’d decided I would make a point of saying hello. I brought them a couple of apples as a treat. The mare will come and visit me when I walk by, but the donkey is independent (I’ve heard is also 40 years old) and can’t be bothered - he's barely visible in the background here. I still tossed an apple his way when the mare wasn’t pestering me for it.

As I walked by Jordan Hollow Inn, besides noticing the cabins up on the hill, where there are six of them, I also noticed that the current sign is painted on the back of one of the older signs that has the horses. There are a few more of these signs in the barn and I really like the images. I always thought it was a mistake to get rid of the horses there, but as long as you did, it probably makes sense not to feature them in your signage.

As I came back around into the hollow, I caught sight of Hawksbill Cabin up on the hill with snow all around. This view, like the one of the cabin over at Jordan Hollow Inn, is one you’ll only see in the winter time, when the leaves are down. The cabin was sighted and built so that it faces due south, so you get this striking light in the winter and I find it hard to resist taking pictures.

Also, here is my typical winter photo of Beaver Run, looking south from the road. It seems a long time ago since we had the beaver dam, although it definitely had an impact on the stream, widening out the little canyon. When I walked by, the stream was gurgling happily with the snow melt, a sound that continued to build for the rest of the afternoon.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Morning Wood

We are about halfway through the kitchen remodel.  I think. I hope.

One of the highlights this week has been making some decisions about materials for items we were waiting on - now that construction has proceeded to this point, we were ready to finalize our choice of flooring, paint colors, and lighting.  While I'll post the usual update next week, the floor we chose has already arrived.

As I mentioned, it's a wood floor...I think the shade is "butterscotch" or something like that.  And it's going to be filling up the dining room for a week or two while the cabinet installation begins - hopefully next week.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Tech-watch Geek: A look at Tissot's T-Touch

In keeping with some of the adventure topics that I post about here on the blog, I do a lot of reading in outdoor travel magazines like Outside and Backpacker. Whenever an adventure watch is featured in their gear reviews, I take an extra bit of time to read those articles, so for the last couple of years I have been keeping an eye on the Tissot T-touch series of watches.

These are high-end tech-watches that usually feature an altimeter, thermometer, compass, and other features. The difference is the touch screen interface that is accesses through the watch crystal; depending on where you touch the screen you will access a feature and the result will typically be displayed on an LCD screen.

Tissot has a nice range of styles and colors to choose from, and they have a pretty cool “reality” feature on their website, which allows you to virtually try these very fashionable watches on with the assistance of a web cam and a special bracelet. Your humble tech-watch geek blogger does not have access to any of this technology, so we’ll have to settle for my scan of some Amazon reviews.

Most of what I read on the high-end and newest generation watches was high ratings from enthusiastic owners. Apparently, there were early spotty problems with the touch screen technology, and there are still some signs of this showing up in the entry level versions.

However, there is a NASCAR version, which I have included an ad for below, and the steel bracelet “Sea-touch” at the top of this post are nice looking. I am satisfied with my Casio Pathfinder for now, but if I ever go back to being a jacket and tie guy at work, I might consider an upgrade to a dressy version like this Sea-touch.

Now for some Amazon review highlights…

"…(The Sea-touch) …has an altimeter, thermometer, compass and a few other features, most of them work just as you would expect them – flawlessly, the watch looks great, you will receive a lot of compliments. It does look good. While I have read on some places that the watch in itself is kind of hit or miss on the waterproof department, it has not been my case, mine works flawlessly, the compass works great and will let you know where are you headed to. I have more than 2 years with it, the rubber band holds its own, the watch keep working and other than a few scuffs on the case everything works fantastic."

And a second:

"If you hung on this far, here's the real reason I considered this watch in the first place, the Touch interface. A firm press on the center button activates the touch interface and away you go. The rubberized buttons on the "crown side" are completely sealed and can be used under water to activate the functions while immersed. I was surprised that the button press needed is quite firm and takes some getting used to. But, I'd rather it be that way than constantly activating my watch and wearing the battery down. I have yet to dive with my new watch but, I will remedy that this weekend…The luminous markings are tremendously bright even after a short exposure to light and you still have the red back light if you need it, although it requires you to hold that button firmly for a few seconds to get it to light up.…this latest generation of touch technology is pretty much bug free and has been around for the better part of a decade."


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Alexandria Kitchen: Week 3 Update

Since I broke my Moto RAZR last week, I've needed a few days to get a handle on how picture taking is going to work with the new iPhone.  So here's a first go at a blog post with photos from the iPhone...the camera is much better here and the photos are usually hi resolution.  I've saved them down to ten percent of the original density - thus there is some graininess, but hopefully, they will serve.  I'll keep working on it and get the hang of it.

This week, the major accomplishment has been to finish the framing of the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and getting the wall board up.  Since I took these photos on Monday morning, boxes for the light switches have been cut out and other progress has been made...but I will save that for next week.

Here are the "four points" in the kitchen as of Monday morning.  Starting from the wall where the base and wall cabinets were, then the window where the kitchen sink was, the new wall that used to be a door, and then the doorway to the basement.

This one is the dining room side of the new wall, where we moved the doorway to the side.

Here are the two sun room views.  Next week you'll be able to see some big changes in here.

Finally, here is the view into the pantry.  There will be new cabinets and counters in here, so it can be used as additional workspace.  All of that is coming, soon enough.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Traces Trail, An Easy SNP Day Hike

The Traces trail is described as a short, 1.7 mile loop that surrounds part of the Matthews Arm Campground, with an elevation change that is hardly worth mentioning. The trail clearly passes near sociological and cultural areas of interest – for much of the way, you can see the line of a stone wall here, and cairns of rocks cleared for pastures and gardens there. The Heatwole Guide mentions an interpretive experience with guidebooks available at the trailhead, but I didn’t find the guides or any markers pointing to these features on the day I visited last May.

When my Moto RAZR broke last week, I lost the photos that I was going to share for this hike and for the next one I will review, Byrds Nest Summit and Byrds Nest Shelter Number 4. These are numbers 25 and 26 in the Best Easy Day Hikes book. As usual, I have an Amazon link at the end of the post for reference.

On rereading Heatwole to prepare for this post, there is a mention of an old home site that I vaguely remember seeing off in the woods, but the area is too overgrown to venture far from the well-worn path. This is probably a handy little recreational trail for campers, but in the absence of signs pointing to the items of interest, as there are on the Stonyman trail, I don’t find much to recommend it. In fact, on the Sunday morning of my visit, I was more taken aback by the blooming Turk’s Cap Columbine, and I enjoyed a short adventure to check out the amphitheatre…I actually found myself thinking about the experience of a ranger program here in days gone by, and how entertaining that would have been for all the families out for a summer camping trip.

After the hike I stopped for a bottle of water at the camp store where there was a bunch of NoBo AT thru-hikers stopped there taking a break. I saw more than one well-earned six pack being shared amongst them, and the snatches of conversation I overheard reviewed encounters with their colleagues, who weren’t with this group at the time, but had shared a few miles earlier during the thru-hike.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Investment Questions about Attracting Data Centers to Page County

Some alert readers on the new Page County blog site found a recent article out of Roanoke about the negotiations that surrounded the announcement that Microsoft would be investing $500 million in a data center in Mecklenburg, Virginia. It turns out that the town of Christianburg, Virginia was also considered, but events conspired against that town’s bid. All of this is chronicled in an article titled, “Christianburg’s Miss Brings Pricey Lessons,” located at http://www.roanoke.com/news/nrv/wb/269714.

This article says that the figures aren’t official, but were gathered a review of emails and other communications regarding Christianburg’s pursuit of that deal suggests that “While the county grappled with finding money for basic services such as education, the localities offered to forgo $62 million to $117 million in taxes to attract the facility.” Typically, these deals involve upfront cash, discounts on land and utilities infrastructure, and rebates on tax payments.

What we do know about the eventual deal is that Microsoft will receive upfront payments of $2.1 million from the state, another $4.8 million from the tobacco related community revitalization money, state sales tax exemptions, $50,000 in state hiring and training benefits, $2 million in real estate, $3.95 million for local water and sewer connections, and a 20-year rebate on personal property taxes – the first three years of this benefit were valued at $12 million. All of this for a company whose June 2010 balance sheet shows current assets of $56 billion, including more than $5.5 billion in cash on hand.

Leaving aside for a minute questions about how the Page County data center will bring nearly 100 good paying job to the county, while the Microsoft operation, a 4th generation facility (Page County’s is a 3rd generation facility) will bring 50 jobs estimated at $50,000 annually, imagine how these benefits would impact established businesses in the county that have to pay local taxes. According to this article, the state expects that it would break even on the project by 2021 – but due to the personal property tax waiver, the county would still be paying for these jobs on into the 2030 decade!

Then there are other benefits at the Mecklenburg location: the high-wattage electricity is in place, there is premium broadband already built, other utilities (water and sewer) are ready, and the site is located next to a US highway. If these are the features of a location that Microsoft values, it leaves the suggestion that Page County’s Project Clover site is acceptable open to question. We currently don’t have these assets to offer; they will have to be built.

Christianburg’s story doesn’t end well – we know that Mecklenburg was eventually selected, for one thing. Apparently, during the finalization of the discussions, a small sink hole opened up at the selected site, and the site engineering that would be required to offset these risks were estimated to cost up to $30 million. Christianburg is in karst terrain, just as Page County is. The sink hole will make this site a challenge to market to other businesses.

Using these figures, it’s easy to say that turning down Fibrowatt was an excellent move on the part of our board of supervisors, since it would have required us to compete on these financial terms, with a broader impact to our quality of life, for fewer jobs that probably wouldn’t have paid as well.

But I would also like to find some kind of encouragement for Page County in its pursuit of this kind of industry and those much needed jobs, something I’ve heard referred to as “Page 2.0”. I have limited insight into whether we could make some of the required investments to attract outside business, and the marketing emphasis on the Project Clover land as a potential site seems to miss the mark.

The whole thing has to start with a plan, though – and for now, that is not something we have from current EDA leadership. Our board of supervisors would do well to consider that as the terms for some current EDA members are coming to an end – lengthy service is much appreciated, but at last, it’s simply time for a change in leadership.

The new Page County blog site is http://pagecountyblog.com/,  and of course, my past posts on this topic can be found by clicking the Page County Data Center, Fibrowatt, Project Clover, or Page County EDA labels at the end of this post.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Farewell, Moto RAZR

At lunch today, I dropped my RAZR...I have the horrific image of its perfect impact on the hinge, exploding into shards, slow motion, burned into my brain.

I may have lost some photos that were destined for future blog posts...

In the meantime, since this happened literally RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE APPLE STORE and we are already on AT&T...well, need I say more?

The photo to the left is the first one I have taken with my new 4G.

Tech Watch Geek: Suunto Core Extreme Edition Everest

The Amazon product review starts with a quote:

“With the right information and the right attitude, anyone can successfully take on some of nature's greatest challenges. Enter the Suunto Core Extreme Everest Edition watch, which not only supplies all the information you need, but also includes legendary sherpa Apa Sherpa's signature engraved on the back. The attitude is up to you.”

I saw this watch in the December issue of Outside, it is one of four featured in a gift section. There are no reviews on the Amazon site yet, but Suunto’s are popular and the company has built a large following for their tech watches.

Features include the typical altimeter, compass, and barometer (although Sunnto calls this feature a “storm alarm”) – but this is the Everest special edition, and the Amazon description includes loads of features, some of which I’ll summarize in this review:

• Total ascent/descent: Yes

• User-removable logbook files: Yes

• Automatic Alti/Baro switch: Yes

• Automatic 7-day Alti/Baro memory: Yes

• Resolution: 1 meter

• Real-time vertical cumulative value: Yes

• Altimeter/barometer lock: Yes

• Altitude range: 1,600 to 29,500 feet

• Countdown timer: Yes

• Stopwatch: Yes

• North-South indicator: Yes

• Guided calibration: Yes

• Temperature resolution: 1 degree F

• Trend indicator and graph: Yes

• Temperature range: -5 to 140 degrees F

For Suunto, this guided calibration feature is an important feature. Past reviews of their watches have mentioned the difficulty with calibration – a factor that hasn’t impacted their popularity, but a challenge.

So, why the reference to Everest? First, they’re only making 8,848 of them – the mountain’s height in meters. Also, this one includes an engraved signature of Apa Sherpa, who has summated Everest 20 times.

The watch is listed at $429, a bit higher than the tech-watches I usually review in these posts, but Amazon has it for $399 (see ad link below). And maybe what you’re getting in altitude resolution (1 meter) and temperature resolution (1 degree F) is a requirement for your adventures. The high-vis orange bezel gives it a sporty look, too, so it is hard for me to say the extra bucks aren’t worth it – especially when the Tag Heuer Monaco 24 in the Outside spread lists for $10,900…

I posted an update to this review in March 2011, including some photos of the watch and a price update.  You can find that here:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Camo Wardrobe

Excuse me for going all "Christmas Commercial" today, but as I was walking down the street for my "pub lunch" yesterday, I saw this "must have" in the window at Walgreens:

a designer Snuggie in camo pattern.

...as seen on TV.

This seems like the perfect item for sitting next to the fire on the brick terrace at Hawksbill Cabin.  I am sorely tempted to put it on my list.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lewis Spring Falls Hike - June 2010 Version

This hike was the 24th I had taken out of the 26 that are reviewed in the Easy Day Hikes book. I was anticipating the finish of that effort, one I had begun about two and a half years before. At the same time, I was feeling a little confident of my ability to navigate the blue blazes, and since many of these hikes are short, not too strenuous, I combined this one with the Story of the Forest Trail, which I posted about last week. The result was a stitched together hike with a short AT section of about a mile. This route is easily found on the NPS trail maps in the Big Meadows area.

I happened to be wearing my technical fabric AT tee shirt (shout out to the gang at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures) that day, with its distinctive white blaze marking…about half way along the AT section on my way to the Lewis Spring Falls trailhead I encountered a group of four thru-hikers who announced that they probably should turnaround and “follow that white blaze” – since that guy probably knows where he is going.

Heatwole describes the Lewis Falls trail as about 3.3 miles as a circuit – or out-and-back – hike, with an altitude change of 990 feet – pretty steep. In the Easy Day Hike book, they review the same route; as I am looking at the two books while writing this I realize that I went a third way the first time I took the trail, since I was freelancing a combo with the little Story of the Forest Trail. Mary and I have also done this hike from the parking area at the Big Meadows visitor center, using the fire road as a part of the hike.  My route that day may have totaled five miles.
The route from the visitor center will take you through ferny glades and flowery meadows. Later, when Mary and I repeated the hike to the falls, a few weeks after my spring hike, there were butterflies all around, including tiger and black swallowtails, and monarchs.

The trail to the falls gets interesting fairly quickly. You pass a well house and then step into the woods, descending through a series of switchbacks along a ridge. During the summer, the undergrowth can be thick in places along the trail due to the plentiful moisture. On my first trip, there were glades of wild hardy geraniums (my guess, any botanist readers can correct me after checking out the photos!).

At last, you arrive at a level spot at the head of the falls – there is a sign warning visitors not to explore the cliff due to the danger. Instead, continue a few hundred yards further on a pathway marked by an iron railing – this will take you to the view point. The falls is at the top of a ravine that cascades on down the mountain, and from here the stream becomes Little Hawksbill Creek – one of the sources for the Hawksbill Creek that runs through Luray. In fact, little Hawksbill becomes a boundary for the Wisteria Vineyard and Jordan Hollow Farm Inn properties in the neighborhood of Hawksbill Cabin.

The steepness and rockiness of this trail can offer tricky footing, but the switchbacks definitely keep it navigable for most casual adventurers. I like this hike very much – in fact, of the 26 day hikes in the Easy Day Hikes book, I’d put this one in my top five…I guess I just made up two future posts out of this topic – top five and worst five (I should say “five least favorite, actually).

Here's the link to the Easy Day Hikes book...and remember, you can also pick up a copy at Appalachian Outdoors Adventures in Luray.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mini Bogs!

Hopefully this will bring a fond memory or two for my colleagues who were stationed overseas with me in the '80's:  this morning I was running an errand and found these delightful gizmos on sale at one of the nearby outfitters - mini-bogs!

...and these are equipped with racing ephemera (I had to use the word, because Brian McGowan hasn't yet)!

So, now for some of my own fond memories...

One of Les Baxter taking one of these things down the hill at Torf Haus, hitting the lip of a partially hidden rock, and flying into the air with arms and legs flailing in all directions, then landing (safely) about 50 feet down hill, with the mini bog continuing the rest of the way down so he had to hike down the slope to retrieve it.

And then, the one of Guey taking a mini bog out at night and sledding down the hill behind the Burgquell in Altenau.  I laugh every time I think of his plaintive "help" from down in the crevasse where the icy stream runs through. 

I've got to decide quickly if I want one of these...they only had three left!  The price was $39.99 at Eastern Mountain Sports.

Kitchen Week 2, Some Discoveries

The Alexandria house was built in 1929, so whenever we go into renovation mode we discover little surprises.  There are a couple I can discuss so far. 

First, this is a shot of the corner where the stove used to be - notice that a hole was punched there when the old corner cabinet was taken out, exposing the lath where the plaster had been applied.  While I was checking this out, our contractor came around and was pointing at the wall around the window, where you could actually see a few strands of horsehair in the old plaster.  Yep, it's that old, that the plaster here was made using those natural fibers!

The next one is not really a discovery, but a reveal.  One of the changes Mary organized is to move the entry way to the kitchen from the center of the dining room wall to the left side.  Since the doorway to the sun room will be straight ahead from there, and the door to the basement stairwell is also there, we think this will improve the overall traffic flow.  This photo is of the demo and remaining framing, all of which will be changed in the coming days.

For the third one, we found that there is original oak flooring throughout the kitchen and into the basement stairway landing.  Unfortunately, it has been covered over several times with linoleum that we aren't able to remove - in the photo of the framing, above, the linoleum is the lighter material, and the adhesive for that layer is the dark cover.  In other places, the oak is visible, but the gunk won't come off. 

We were able to strip that stuff off of the landing floor, but unfortunately I don't think we can save this material.  We are going to be putting in oak again, but this section won't match.

That's it for the kitchen update this week.  Stay tuned.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Alexandria Kitchen Update - Week 2

Here are some photos to start out the week from the Alexandria kitchen update.  Mainly, what I have to show are pictures of the demo and prep.  I'm not ready to give full details of Mary's design, or of the materials we're using. 

First, the view from the dining room, where they've hung a dust curtain with a zipper door:

Then, the "compass points" shot inside the kitchen.  First, the wall that had a base and wall cabinet - the first thing you see when walking in.  Then (counter clockwise) the door to the basement stairway - the 8x8 tiles extended into here on the stairway landing.

These next two are one looking back towards the living room from inside the kitchen, and behind the dust curtain, and lastly, looking at the window and the place where the sink was.

Here are the photos of the pantry and sunroom...

They've demoed out the old 8x8 tiles, and done some wall measurements here for the changes to come.  The closet doors are going to be changed out as well.

Here's the pantry.  The 8x8 went into here too.  I believe these old shelves are coming out.  That floor is on raised joists that brought it up level to the main kitchen floor...but was left uninsulated, so it was always very cold in this room, and we kept the door most of the way closed in the winter.

Lastly, the laundry room, which is our temporary kitchen - you've got the microwave, toaster, coffee pot, and beer fridge down here.  The old kitchen cabinets are going to go up in here as part of the whole shebang.

I'll have a  few more to post tomorrow, and I will include some "discoveries" with those.