Stuck in the mud, CheatFest and Spring Crick 2016

Once again, I am really late posting images, but better late than never.  

First up - a return to spring crick in early April, for the annual gathering on the first day of trout fishing season in Pennsyltucky.  I did not spend a lot of time with my camera this trip - I was too busy hiking, eating and drinking most of the time - but here are a few choice shots from the weekend.  We had amazing weather yet again, so good, I am positive it will snow next year.  It was sunny, warm and dry in the Allegheny National Forest the entire weekend.  I think some people even caught fish - once again I didn't bother to bring my fishing gear.  

Palomino trout stand out at the fish hatchery on Pig's Ear Road.  Unfortunately none of these fellas were stocked in Spring Creek for opening day.

Firewood friday.  Tyler loves to use his chainsaw, and we love to burn wood.

Epic game of Bocce on the mountain.

The future rowdy kids of spring crick, working hard.

Who needs nature when you have video games.

There was a lot of this going on all weekend.

Build a huge fire, and stand way back.

Next up was an epic fail of a backpacking trip to the PineBarrens on the last weekend of April.  This one is going to have a lot of words, but it is a fantastic story if you have the time to read it.

Hiking along the BATONA (Back to Nature) trail in New Jersey Pine Barrens - this place is amazing.

Sloane and I decided last minute (2 days beforehand) that we would go backpacking for the weekend.  I assessed the weather (rain everywhere) and determined that instead of heading west to the App Trail like we had wanted to we would head north east to New Jersey to hike the Batona trail in Wharton State forest, this way we would at least have a day of sunshine before the rain came.  While packing Sloane's gear we noticed her rain jacket was no longer waterproof - so we would need to stop and buy a new one.  We set out Saturday morning for NJ - in two vehicles so we could leave one at the end of the trail.  Our first stop was REI somewhere along the way to buy a new rain coat, and the cheapest pocket knife they had - since I had left mine in my jeans at home - like an idiot.  We then grabbed some lunch, and a sweater for Sloane at LL Bean, since we had also left her fleece at home, and it was going to be in the 40's at night, with plenty of moisture to go along with it.  Not off to a great start.  

We arrived at the visitor center for Wharton state forest - around 2pm.  We registered for our campsites, recieved a brief warning about the rain that was heading this way, and left a vehicle in the parking lot, since this is where we would end up.  The plan was to hike 8 miles the first day, and to start hiking those 8 miles at 1pm.  We were already behind and weren't even at the trail head.  This place is flat, as in zero elevation gain or loss, so eight miles seemed quite doable to me.  We finally got on the trail around 3pm, with my expectation that we could hike 2 miles an hour and arrive at our campsite around 7pm.  About 3 miles into the hike, I noticed a mileage marker, and the math wasn't working out.  It seems I cant read a map anymore, and had us hiking 10 miles, instead of 8.  I kept this to myself for another mile, then when we reached mile four, and the halfway point - I had to let Sloane know the bad news.  Good thing I had a plan to save us.  I got on the phone (thankfully we had reception) with our good friend Loren, who had planned to meet us at the campsite that evening to bring us dinner, booze and then make us an awesome breakfast in the AM before we hit the trail.  This was all planned to be a surprise for Sloane, but it was pretty obvious she was going to kill me if we had to hike 6 more miles to camp, most likely in the dark.  Loren agreed to meet us where the trail intersects a fire road in the forest and save the day - Sloane was once again happy. 

Happier times, before I realized my map reading skills were now sub-par.  

Happier times, before I realized my map reading skills were now sub-par.  

To add insult to injury, Sloane's boots were killing her.  So we took a break and she put on the shoes she brought to wear at camp, to continue the hike.  We finally met up with Loren as the sun was sinking below the pines, around mile 6 of our hike.  He greeted us with cold beer and hugs all around.  After chatting briefly with some locals riding by on four-wheelers, who stopped to make sure were weren't stuck, we piled in Loren's SUV and headed back towards camp.  We were driving the back roads of the Pine Barrens - which are mostly loose sand with some large mud puddles mixed in.  If you happened to see a post earlier this year - we had already put Loren's vehicle through the wringer our here and it performed flawlessly. We had a general idea where we were heading, and we began following what we though was the road back to camp on my GPS.  Good news is it was the road back to camp, bad news is it had some serious "puddles" on the way.  Directly ahead of us was one such puddle - as Loren stepped on the accelerator, I blurted out we should probably check how deep it was before heading in.  Too late.  

Taking a break and changing footwear along the trail.

The front end of the CRV plowed into the puddle and then the back end, then the tires began to spin, and water began to come over the floor boards.  Loren and I quickly jumped out of the car to dry land, took off our shoes and most of our clothing, then jumped in the puddle to save the car before it sunk further into the mud. With Sloane now at the wheel, we pushed, pulled, and lifted the car with no luck. We tried shoving large pieces of trees under the tires to get traction, sitting on the hood, lifting the back end so the front tires had more traction - but nothing worked.  After about 20 minutes, we were wet, cold and defeated.  We dried off,  put our clothes back on, carefully unloaded the car, dropped a pin on my GPS, and began our sad hike to the campsite, which was about 2 miles away still.  Thankfully loren had already set up his gear, so he had free hands to carry the beer.  After another hour of hiking in dark, we could see campfires in the distance, and rest was close.  It was 10 o'clock, when we got to camp - and surprisingly we were all in good spirits.  I set up our tent while Loren built the fire.  We had our Mt house meals and Sloane decided she was ready for bed.  Loren and I stayed up until all the beer and firewood was gone, we made plans to make friends with the folks who had the largest truck at the campground in the morning, and turned in for the night just as the rain started.

One of the many bridges with rope railings on this section of the Batona trail. 

Sloane and I woke to the sound of rain heavily pounding the tent, after becoming more aware of my surroundings, I realized that the tent was leaking, and we were both pretty damp - stupid tents.  This tent has not been used in at least 5 years, since we usually use hammocks or a larger 3 person tent when car camping.  We both quickly agreed that this hike was over - it was suppose to rain for the next 36 hours, and our tent was certainly not able to keep up dry.  I got my self somewhat dressed, and climbed over the wet gear to open the rain fly.  Upon exiting the tent, into the pouring rain, I found that most everyone in the campsite had already packed up and hit the road, no one wanted to stick around and hang out with the foul weather.  There were two trucks left.  The folks I approached were packed up and ready to leave, I explained to them our situation and asked them if they could pull our car out, but they didn't have any sort of rope or chain, and neither did we.  So I asked them for a lift to my vehicle, so we would at least have transportation.  They agreed and in the mean time Loren got the other truck in the campsite to help tow him out of the puddle.  When I returned to our campsite with the car, Sloane was still in our wet tent and there was no sign of Loren.  We tried calling but no answer.   We began to pack up all of our wet gear and cooked up some hot oatmeal under Loren's hammock tarp.  After we had finished up, a white truck pulled up and Loren climbed out of the passenger side, soaked to the bone.  They had succeeded in moving the car, but didn't have a proper tow strap, so only moved it a few inches - on top of that the engine had seized up, presumably from getting water into it.

Two packs.  This is what you do - when you have greatly misjudged mileage and your partner is over hiking - to keep the peace.  I must've carried 70 plus pounds for 3/4 of a mile like this.

Loren put on some dry clothes and we made him some hot oatmeal to eat while we decided what to do next.  Sloane got on the phone and found a wrecking service that would come out and rescue the CRV from its watery resting place.  We then packed up Loren's wet gear and headed to town to get some cash for the tow truck driver.  We met up with the truck and its driver about an hour later, Loren jumped in and they headed back to the scene of the crime.  Meanwhile, Sloane and I drove south to pick up her vehicle from the visitor center.  Once we had her car we gave Loren a call to see how long he would be.  No answer - so we headed to a local bar to get a drink and some lunch - it was 1 o'clock already, and still raining.  We ordered some fried food and messaged Loren to call us when he was out and ready to go.  After about 45 minutes I finally got a text.  "The tow truck is stuck" - perfect!  After a few more messages we decided to settle up and head back into the woods to see what we could do.  We found loren standing under a pine tree near the road that led to his vehicle.  He informed us that they had gotten his car out, but the truck was too wide to get down the road and got lodged between a tree and the abandoned train track that he had been following.  We sat there for another hour waiting for the tow truck driver's son to show up to help figure the situation out.  Sloane headed back into town for some coffee and doughnuts to help lift the spirits.  

Loren enjoying some booze and a warm fire after getting the car stuck but before the shit really hit the fan.  So peaceful.

The second driver finally showed up around 4pm, Loren pointed him in the proper direction, since he didn't have room for anyone in the truck with him, and began the hike back to the cars.  I waited in my car for Sloane to come back, and hopefully the good news that the second tow truck has resolved the problem.   At 530 Loren texts me "this is bad..."can you guys come help push my car?"  Sloane and I put on our rain gear and headed back the mile or so to where we thought they were.  We came upon the second tow truck, parked with no one in it.  We could see the flashing lights of the first tow truck way down the road so we kept going to that one.  It was still stuck between the tree and the tracks, they had the winch hooked up to the track and were slowly pulling it out.  We met up with Loren and made a plan.  We had to push his car 1/2 mile down the tracks to the intersection of another sandy road - so that the tow truck could back out the way it had come in.  By the time we accomplished this, with Sloane driving and the help of a friendly Australian fellow who happend to be out hiking in rain, it was damn near dark once again.  We hiked back to the tow truck drivers, one of whom we now know was nick named Tuna and oddly enough were in pretty good spirits. Loren gave them all his cash and asked that when they had gotten the tow truck out that they pick his car up and take it to the local service station it was 745 pm now.  We then hiked back to our other vehicles, Sloane headed back to Baltimore, and I headed to Philly to drop Loren off at the train station - so he could get back to NYC for work on Monday morning.  As I drove back to Baltimore, I got a call from the wrecking service - they had gotten all the vehicles out of the woods, and Loren's car was on the way to the shop - finally some good news.  The best news came the following day, when Loren got a call from the shop and all they had to do to get his car running was pull the spark plugs and turn the engine over a few times - all the water came running out and it started right up after they put the plugs back in. He took a train down the following weekend to get his car back, and then drove it down to Baltimore to pick up his gear that we had to take back with us. 

Stuck in the mud.  Where we left Loren's car for the night..

Lessons learned : Double check that list of gear, otherwise you'll end up buying new sweaters and pocket knifes.  Look a little closer at the mileage on the map - and make sure your hiking partner does the same.  If your buddy wants to drive through a puddle in the middle of the woods, make him stop to see how deep it is.  15 year old tents aren't waterproof anymore.  Loren is getting a proper tow rope for Christmas this year.

This was a debacle of a trip, but one we won't soon forget, and it makes a hell of a story.  The Batona trail is incredibly beautiful and I hope to get back to hike the rest of it some day soon.

The final installment of this post is CheatFest, a kayaking festival held in the Cheat River Canyon in West By God Virginia.  It was my first time attending, and it did not  disappoint.  Fantastic food, music and vendors from all over, not to mention paddling for 3 straight days with some good friends.

Random hero running Big Splat Rapid, a class V on the Lower Big Sandy river in WV.

The rains that every kayaker wishes for came the week before, and pushed levels in the cheat canyon way up.  They also made it possible for the Lower Big Sandy to be runnable all weekend long.  We decided to forgo the Cheat River and paddled the LBS Friday, twice on Saturday, and once more for good measure on Sunday.  The same rains also transformed the festival grounds into quite the muddy mess - we were lucky enough to only have on and off rain during the weekend, and mixed in was plenty of sunshine as well.  I arrived late thursday evening, and a few of the rare trees in the campground occupied closely by a friendly stranger, after a brief conversation, and a promise that I would snore too loudly and we agreed that should set up my hammock right there - it was a great spot. 

Hammock time - When you only have two trees, but need three - substitute a VW with a roof rack.

The other folks I would paddle with were arriving in the morning, so I set about making friends with the rest of the neighbors - who happened to bring a legit circus tent - pictured above.  We drank plenty of beer and then some one who was semi-sober directed us how to raise it up.  It was a great place to take shelter for the intermittent downpours that occurred all weekend. 

Jim launching off the top of 18 foot Wonder Falls on the LBS, class IV.

Nate Blick cozied up in the bed of his truck.  I rudely woke him up shortly after this.

With three days of straight boating comes a few swims, including one by me.  And swims are followed by booty beers

Matt's booty beer

Cain's penance.

Scottros booty beer, the worst part is that isn't even his booty - its my brother's.

Dan Gore running Big Splat while ZVPC watches from the seal launch area.

Dan Gore running Big Splat while ZVPC watches from the seal launch area.

Ted taking a look back after running Wonder Falls.

Ted showing off his soccer skills while waiting for the shuttle to arrive.