Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Memories

As some of you may know, I grew up here at Pack & Paddle. The store was founded by my parents in 1974 in a small Acadian shack on the edge of the Vermillion river. I was 13 years old at the time. Since that year, Pack & Paddle has in many ways defined this season for our family. As you might imagine, we've built up a lot of stories over the last 34 Christmas seasons.

Our first year sales were very slow - so it was announced that everyone in the family was getting Christmas presents from Pack & Paddle. The pile grew under the tree until when, a week before Christmas, the shopping madness finally hit. That's when us 5 kids watched our Christmas presents get unwrapped and sold to customers looking for gifts!

There are lots of great memories as well. Ask anyone in our family who the "last customer of the season is" and you'll hear a chorus say "Harold Schoeffler". Harold has a tradition of coming in on Christmas eve and shopping for his whole list. We all look forward to Harold making his appearance and having fun picking out gifts for the whole family.

When Christmas eve finally arrived, we would all take a picture by the front desk and the usually go out to eat and celebrate - having survived another crazy Christmas The photo above is of our family at P&P circa 1978. I am on the upper right). We had made it through together, built some great memories and became closer as a family in spite of (or maybe because of) the hard work.

These days, many of you have become involved in our Pack & Paddle family through our trips and our in-house events. It has been a joy to join you over the last year here at the shop for films and events as well as out on the water and on the trail. These programs have allowed us to get to know all of you so much better.

There are so many memories of the last year: Watching groups struggle though the final miles uphill out of the Waterfall hike - then celebrating on the porch of the Pond General Store. The epic muddy pullover at Buffalo Cove was a huge effort that was rewarded by the beautiful views of Bayou Gravenburg and Buffalo Cove. Likewise, the first tentative strokes of students in a Kayaking or Canoeing 101 class morph into confident paddling skills as we glide through the trees of Lake Martin at sunset.

Experiences like these that you share with your family - especially the struggles - give you a common thread. A common life blood. And memories that last a lifetime.

All of us at Pack & Paddle thank you for joining into our extended family. We look forward to being outdoors with you next year and wish you a very merry Christmas!

John, Becky, Amy, Cheryll, Jamie, Skip, Joe, Kristin, Emily

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lafayette Kayak Fishing Club Conquers Dulac

Special Thanks to Keith Drouant for the photos used in this post.

Recently, I had a super great day fishing with the new Lafayette Kayak Fishing Club in Dulac.

Our day began with a meeting at 4:30am meeting at the Albertsons in Broussard. Yes- 4:30am. This club is serious about catching fish! After a quick break at McDonalds in Houma, we were at the launch in Dulac just after sunrise. I have not done a lot of fishing with other folks - so it was interesting to see how everyone had their boats rigged up for fishing.

The launch was just a wide spot in the road with a mud and rock bank. The water was quite open, with marsh grass rimming what looked like a large lake. Our revered president Greg Sonnier was in the water first and fishing hard along the bank that paralleled the road. I decided to head to the corner, and as I was passing Greg, he connected with a trout. Things were looking up!

As I fished the corner, I came to an area with a small island near a trenasse. I suddenly had a hit on the purple cocahoe minnow with a chartreuse tail. I missed (of course) and quickly cast back to the same area. I caught several small Speckled Trout in that area before continuing working the points up the bank. Just as I started up the bank, I caught a nice trout. I got him into the boat, removed the hook and turned to put him into the ice chest. That's when the trout made a perfectly timed flap of his tail, and he was airborne. I guess he earned his freedom.

I was fishing this area with club member Keith Drouant. Keith worked the opening and the island for a while - and I enjoyed watching him fish it and seeing his approach. As I moved up the bank, I got to hang out and talk to other club members. When I reached a sharp point, I heard Karl Shexnaider in a battle with a big Redfish. I was so jealous! I needed an adrenaline fix - and small trout were not going to get it done!

I moved across the lake into another area and cast towards an opening. My cork moved across slowly in the way that can only mean one thing: FLOUNDER! I set the hook and pulled in a big flounder that gave me a fit trying to get it safely into the ice chest. I can't tell you how many flounder I've done accidental catch and release for - but it's a lot. I put my foot on him, grabbed him with the Boga Grip and safely got him into the ice chest.

It was getting late, and I thought I would have to settle for a few small trout and my flounder. But my fishing adrenaline fix was still unsatisfied, so I headed back up the shoreline to fish the points.

I tried to make my mind have a positive attitude. One of the best fishing quotes I've read is by Billy Billeaud who says "You've got to will the fish on to your hook". I knew I was almost out of time, but I applied myself to willing a fish onto my hook. The first point produced nothing. As I approached the second point, I cast just off the point and started working the cocahoe back towards me, making noise with the cork. That's when the cork shot under the water in a way that can mean only one thing: REDFISH!!!

The fish shot out towards the middle of the lake - making the drag on my reel scream. I unstaked my marsh anchor and the Cajun sleigh ride was on! This fish was lively. He pulled me at least 200 yards out into the middle of the lake before tiring out. Having had my fishing adrenaline fix - I headed back to the launch site.

Most of the club was back when I got there, unloading the boats and putting them on the trailer. We all hung out waiting for Keith to come back from the Island. Pretty much everyone had been really successful on our outing. We all got together for a group picture, and headed for home.

In a way - this day wasn't a lot different than most fishing days. But since we were able to share the excitement with each other, feed off of each others energy and success - it was that much more fun and satisfying. If you've never fished with the Kayak Fishing club, I highly recommend it. This is a great group of guys and girls that love big fish, light rods and small boats - and it doesn't get any better than that.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Looking For Signs on an Uncertain Trail

One thing that's different about the Colorado Trail from other trails that I've hiked is the markings. Or should I say, lack of markings. The CT can go for miles and miles without a single mark to confirm that you're on the right trail.

I will admit to you that I tend to obsess. Here's how things play out in my head: First you get that little seed of doubt - "Hmm... it's been a while since I've seen a trail marker". Then you start to get a little upset - "why in the world don't they put more marks on this trail"; I'm sure we're right, but uggg... if I have to climb this hill, I'm going to freak". This is usually followed by full blown gnashing of teeth - "This can't be right. A major trail like the CT would have better markings than this. If this is wrong - we won't make it to our camp before dark. We could freeze out here. Did I just hear a bear?"

Today I was thinking about all the bad economic news that's out there right now. It seems like we're all feeling a little like I did on the Colorado Trail. We're asking ourselves "Where's that next trail marker?" Nothing seems solid anymore - and it's easy to second guess whether you're on the right trail or not. And right when the trail is the roughest - you guessed it: No trail markers!

I don't have an answer to the current downturn in the economy. The same can be said for other problems in life. I find that time in the wilderness teaches lessons, and the lessons I took home with me from the Colorado trail are these: Walk in clear and aware consciousness. Pay attention at every cross trail and think through each decision at these crossings carefully. Then in between, walk with purpose. Hold my head up and trust my skills. Know that if somehow I did go wrong, that I'll have the strength and competence to get back on the right trail. Like all good lessons - these are things that are easier to say than they are to live.

Obsessing over the next trail marker makes us miss out on the fun, surprises and joy that life has for us (even in rough times). So - my condolences for your 401K. It's time to lace up our boots (or water sandals) and get out there. Take some risks and push yourself out the door. Winter in Louisiana is the best time to enjoy the wilderness and the lessons it brings in its quiet way.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Clear Creeks, Small Boats, Big Fish

The cool clear waters of the Ouiska Chitto slid silently by the sand beach as we prepped our kayaks. This was a trip that I had been wanting to take since I met Jeshua Smith at Pack & Paddle. He had told me about his passion for fishing creeks that were "small and tight" in kayaks. Jeshua reinforced his talk (and my desire to go) by emailing be photos of stringers of bass they pulled out of these little clear running creeks.

I met Jeshua and his friend Cory at the Calcasieu River Bridge over Hwy 190 near Elton, LA at 6:15 sharp. Jeshua, I could tell, was serious about his fishing and I knew that I didn't want to be late. We left my car at the bridge and shuttled up to Carpenters bridge in his truck with 3 Redfish 10's in the bed. We arrived 20 minutes later at Carpenters bridge to a beautiful scene.

The water was crystal clear, gliding over the sand bottom. There was a light mist rising as we paddled down past the bridge. The light was still very low as we started down the creek. Jeshua and Cory explained to me the technique for fishing these small clear running streams. "There's two ways to fish this. The Buzz Bait is what I call the No-Brainer way of catching fish here. That's what I put on your rod." Jeshua had read me right. I will take the no-brainer way of fishing every time. "The other way is to fish plastics like you would for bass in a lake. We like to give the lure a more movement - and swim it off the bottom instead of bouncing it off the bottom like you would fishing bass in a lake". I threw the buzz bait with the ultra-light rod Jeshua had loaned me for the day. This seemed like something I could handle.

We floated quietly down the creek - looking for deeper "holes" that had a darker look to them - usually around fallen logs and other obstructions. It didn't take long for the action to begin. Jeshua and Cory had fish in the boat within minutes. My first fish came when a Spotted Bass took my buzz bait off the surface in a slow spot on the creek. I missed a couple of strikes and then landed a largemouth bass. As I fished, I could hear Cory and Jeshua exclaiming everytime they caught a bass (which was often!). The banter back and forth covered lots of topics but always came back to fishing. There was trash talking on both sides for beating their personal creek record fish of 3 pounds.

After a couple of hours, I wanted to switch to fishing the plastic creations that Jeshua was using. It took a little while to get used to the technique: Fish the same dark holes, but throw it in, then work the plastic by raising your rod tip to "swim" the bait. I wasn't catching, and started thinking about switching back to the buzz bait. That's when a largemouth bass hit my bait and the fight was on. Same result on the very next cast. Two fish in two casts had me hooked on fishing the sub-surface plastic.

As we fished, we glided past a mixed hardwood and pine forest that was often more than 10 feet above our heads on small bluffs that had been carved out by the creek. White sandbars dotted almost every bend. The water was in constant motion - with no slack pools, making it easy for us to drift without lots of paddling.

Just after lunch (on an inviting sandbar), I was watching Jeshua fish. He would flip his plastic out - sometimes only 5 or 6 feet as he worked the logs and obstructions. I was half watching, half daydreaming when I saw a splash and heard a whoop. I snapped to attention to watch Jeshua's ultralight pole bend almost in half. He worked at controlling something big that was swimming under his boat towards the brush. A few minutes later, Jeshua was holding a HUGE largemouth bass - grinning from ear to ear. You could tell - he was proud to have bragging rights between him and Cory for their personal record. The fish would later weigh out at 5 pounds 1 ounce.

We caught fish all day long - keeping our limit and throwing back lots of fish. What I think I liked most about this type of kayak fishing was the adventure of it. The creek demanded constant attention to your paddling. Boat control was of paramount importance to be able to work the baits correctly. The clear running stream water was wonderful to fish in. We didn't see another soul all day long. It felt as if we were the only fishermen that had ever fished this creek. When we were done, we had that good feeling of having worked hard and played hard. And we each had 10 of the most sweet tasting bass I've ever tried.

In summary, I wanted to say thanks to Jeshua and Cory for a wonderful fishing experience I would like to repeat very soon!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Seeing Clearly in an Election Year

Time spent in the wilderness has a way of making things a little clearer. Becky and I just returned from 37 days on the trail, hiking from Denver to Durango on the Colorado trail. Clear running streams, muscular peaks, Elk bugling through the night, Aspen trees slowly moving from green to gold to red.
While on the trail, I thought about how lucky we are that we live in a country that has a legacy of preserving places like these - not just for Becky and I, but for our son, Matt - and his future children and grandchildren. We as citizens of this great land can access and experience the wonders of these public areas. Lands available from right here in Louisiana all the way to the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
As we hiked the Colorado Trail, we walked through areas in which thousands of cattle were being grazed within the national forest. Miles of trail were torn up by hooves (as well as thousands of 'gifts' being left for us on the trail by this livestock). While I still felt lucky to be hiking these areas, I was disappointed that the government was renting my public land to ranchers raising cattle. Land use issues like grazing, logging and drilling directly affect the quality of these lands now and on into the future.
I, like many of you am inundated daily with the upcoming election. Iraq, the bailout of our economy, education, health care and many other issues dominate the headlines. We all live in a malestrom of billboards, 30 second commercials, biased radio and TV personalities spewing their opinions as facts and media soundbites.
I would not pretend to be qualified to tell anyone how to vote. As a person who treasures the outdoors, I would like however, to bring forward a thought. As people who value the outdoors and the environment, we should put into consideration which candidate we feel would uphold the integrity of our public lands and will govern best for the environment. Factor this in along with the other concerns you have for the new leadership of our country. Then on November 4th, get out and vote!
Native Americans had a concept known as "seventh generation". The Seventh Generation accoring to WikiPedia is an ecological concept that admonishes the current generation of humans to be working for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. After living in the (nearly) pristine wilderness of Colorado for the last 5 weeks, I feel that I have some clarity that our environment and the use of our public lands should be an election day issue - not just for
me, but for seven generations down the line.

If you would like to research further, Patagonia has a website with great links that can help with your research:

Click Here!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Fear and Excitement

It's with a mixture of fear and excitement that I am writing today's post. For weeks, I have been debating whether to let anyone know (0utside of our family and staff) that Becky and I are taking off on another long hike. We are scheduled to start the Colorado Trail (479 miles from Denver to Durango) around the 18th of August.

First the excitement: We have the opportunity to take 5 weeks to hike one of the most beautiful trails in the world. The trail travels through 6 wilderness areas and 8 mountain ranges on it's way to Durango. We'll witness summer fading into fall as we hike. Most of all, we're going to experience the freedom and simplicity of life off the grid. Our days will be in tune with the rising and setting sun. Our comfort will be dictated by the weather and the mileage we have to cover. Our life will move away from grey area decisions to the black and white reality of life in the wilderness.

Now for the fear: At the beginning of any journey, there's always the nagging worry of problems that can arise. You know the discomforts you'll face: hunger, cold, heat, bugs, lightning and mileage. You just don't know what level each of these discomforts will rise to. My biggest concern right now (and the reason that I was hesitant to let anyone know we were going to hike the trail) is with my fitness.

Ever since we returned home from the Appalachian Trail (has it been two years already?!!) I have been haunted with pain in my right knee. As this trip grew nearer, I had two incidents with the knee that led me to getting an MRI. The MRI led me to having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. This was 3 weeks ago. I am just getting up to speed for walking the neighborhood and park, but I honestly have no clue what will happen when I subject it to a backpack, mountains and miles to cover every day. My doctor only chuckled when I asked him if he thought I would be ready to hike 500 miles 6 weeks after surgery.

That said, there's no way we're not going to give this a shot. I have often told people that the definition of adventure is setting out on a journey that you cannot predict the success or failure of. For Becky and I, this journey is an opportunity that we are so thankful for. We are ready for a time of introspection, inspiration and exhilaration. Without the difficulty, I don't think these factors can root themselves fully to your core. That's what wilderness travel is all about.

We invite you to travel along with us by following our trail journal. The link is: Then scroll down until you see the "2008 CT" Link on the left nav bar.

Note that we will update the journal every 5-8 days along the way, so keep checking back. I plan on journaling our thoughts, difficulties and (with some luck) victories. Our start date is around the 18th of August. We look forward to sharing our journey with you!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Kayak Fishing - Texas Style!!!

It appears that the South Texas coastline has survived the Cajun invasion of kayak fishermen. We just got back from a fantastic kayak fishing trip to the Rockport area. Our group consisted of me, Becky, Wes & Chris Franciol, Michael Pears, Cheryll and Bud Guilbeau and Mike McDaniel. When we left Lafayette on Friday afternoon, we didn't have a clue as to what to expect when we arrived in Rockport.

Kayak fishing in Texas is very different from the fishing we've done here in Louisiana. First off, most of the waters we fished was very shallow (8-18 inches) and very clear. Our method was to quietly paddle into the flats keeping a keen eye out for bait fish breaking the top, and for redfish moving and feeding in the shallows. It took a little practice to be able to pick out tailing reds from other fish moving in the water. Becky (as usual) was the first to catch a fish - staking out in an area where a cut flowed into a lake.

Later that morning we came on a lake with about 8 or 9 inches of water. We got out of our kayaks and quietly waded towards some movement we had noticed. Tailing Reds! We were throwing very light 1/8 ounces spoons and plastic DOA minnows rigged weightless and weedless, so we were pretty limited on the distance we could throw our lures. We stalked until we were close and then threw. My line went right on top of the pod and they scattered. For a split second, I thought I had scared them off. Then I realized that I had a redfish peeling line off my reel like crazy. A few exciting minutes later Mr. Redfish was at my feet. Wow! What a feeling!

Later that day, Chris Franciol reeled in a nice flounder. To help her out, I grabbed the flounder with my new ($120) Boga Grip. Our guide wanted a photo of us, and just after she snapped it, the flounder flapped and the Boga Grip with the flounder attached fell into the waist deep water. I groaned thinking of my Boga Grip being gone (not to mention Chris' fish!). Captain Sally said "Feel around - I don't think that flounder could get far with the Boga Grip on it. I thought this was pretty hopeless, but I started feeling with my hands in the waist deep muddy water. After a couple of minutes Chris thought the flounder had just touched her foot - so I headed that way. By now (of course) all my supportive team mates were laughing their heads off at me. I had the last laugh though when suddenly I felt the rope that I knew must be attached to the Boga Grip. With a flourish, I pulled the Boga AND the Flounder out of the water. Everyone laughed, cheered and another picture was taken for posterity. Funny part: After this picture, the flounder flapped again and escaped the Boga. I guess he earned his freedom.

That night our group headed out to eat at a small local spot right on the bay. Everyone (except me) thought it was hilarious to watch me falling asleep sitting up at the table waiting for the food to come. Hey- it's tough on a guy to do hand to hand combat with an escaped flounder! After dinner, it was off to bed.

The next morning we were at the dock for The Skimmer at 6am. The owner of the boat (dubbed by Michael as "Cap'n Ron") met us and helped us load our gear and kayaks for a run out to San Jose Island. The sun was just coming up as we cruised across Aransas Bay. We arrived and all of us jumped into waist deep water off the back of the boat. The kayaks were offloaded along with all our fishing gear. Before long, we were fishing the flats of Fence Lake and the estuaries that run towards South Lake. We fished till around 2pm in crystal clear flats - casting to fish we could see swimming and feeding, catching several nice redfish as we went.

Too soon, it was time to meet The Skimmer and Cap'n Ron to head back to Rockport. On the ride back across the bay, I couldn't help but to think about the way that Kayak Fishing can open up portions of the natural world that we wouldn't likely have visited. We had the adrenaline of catching fish, but we had that good tiredness that comes with paddling hard for 2 days, seeing lots of birds, enjoying our fellow paddlers and meeting some really interesting new folks. Kayak Fishing truly does lend itself to weekend explorations all over the gulf coast - and maybe even across the nation and the world. Believe me - we'll be back!!!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Buffalo River Magic

This week I wanted to share a wonderful spot to take the entire family for a great low key adventure. The Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas is a free flowing National Wild and Scenic River with crystal clear water, imposing bluffs, beautiful gravel bars and some of the best canoe camping in the nation. The Buffalo has Class 1 (and the occasional easy class 2 on the upper section) rapids for some excitement as you paddle. At night, gravel bars become your home as the sun drops behind the bluffs and the fireflies emerge in the forest line.

The Buffalo runs for approxiamately 120 miles before emptying into the White River. The entire length of the river is a
designated national park - leaving the river a wilderness. While on the river you won't see camps, docks, private campgrounds, stores or other reminders of civilization. Floaters can choose from several sections for day and overnight trips.

The upper river is known for its higher level of whitewater, but can dry up over the summer and into fall. The middle river is floatable most of the year and is known
for its high bluffs, fun riffles and great camping. The lower river is wider, with larger gravel bars and beautiful bluffs. We generally opt for the middle section, with our favorite float starting at the Carver put in and ending at either Gilbert or Hwy 14 (depending on whether we want a 4 or 6 day float).

Paddlers with basic moving water skills can generally navigate most sections of the river. I suggest describing your skills to the outfitter from which you rent your canoes to see if they think the challenge level is appropriate at the water level that you have when you arrive at the river (see links at end of article).

While on the river, you can enjoy floating down the rapids on air mattresses, bird watching, fishing for bream, smallmouth and largemouth bass, skipping rocks (the Buffalo is a world class rock skipping river!), building campfires, roasting marshmallows and much more.

Our recent June Trip to the Buffalo:
There are very few things that are a constant in life. For my family, the Buffalo National River is one of these things. Since the early 70's three generations of my family have enjoyed floating the Buffalo. It never seems to get old. And it always has magic.
A few weeks ago, Becky and I accompanied a group of friends to the Buffalo. One of the special things about this trip was that is was my brother Doug's sons first trip to the Buffalo. Caleb and Aaron had been dreaming of the day that they would paddle, fish and camp on the Buffalo since last fall when we started planning the trip. The boys were joined by Ruthie Menou - on her first Buffalo River trip at age 7.

We arrived at Gilbert, Arkansas to threatening skies. Our plan was to camp on the Gilbert gravel bar and put in the river the next morning. We awoke at 4am to lightning and thunder. The rain came down hard and heavy the rest of the night and into the next day. Since the Buffalo can rise extremely fast, we decided that it would be a good idea to wait a day before getting on the river. Sure enough, the river rose 5 feet that day. Luckily- it dropped just as quickly allowing us to get on the river the next day.

Once we were paddling down the Buffalo, the magic quickly kicked in. We were accompanied by Doug, Caleb and Aaron as well as our friends Wes and Chris Franciol, Brent and Patty Prather and Mark,
Jennifer and Ruthie Menou and our son Matt and his wife Rebecca. As we paddled away from the put in, we felt immediately comfortable on the moving water. We swept down the river past rugged grey and brown bluffs, thick willows and expansive gravel bars. We reached our intended campsite of McRaven Bluff to find it just as we had left it on our last trip a couple of years ago.

The group was soon involved in firewood collecting, rock skipping, swinging on the rope swing across the river (great job Patty, Brent and Chris!) and fishing. It wasn't long before I heard the familiar "I got one!" cry from Caleb - who looked almost astonished that he had caught a fish all on his own. This so much reminded me of when our son Matt (now 22 years old) when he was
little. It was amazing and beautiful to watch Caleb and Aaron discover the wonder of the river one event at a time. Catching a fish. Paddling a rapid. Catching a turtle. Starting a campfire. Baking a cake on a camping stove. Cleaning a fish and discovering a large crawfish in its belly, Watching the fireflies. Seeing more stars than you ever thought possible. Sleeping in your own tent. Getting there under your own power.

That night, Brent led us in a great variety of folk songs around the
campfire while the (old and young) kids got stuffed on S'mores. No worries though - we were all sufficiently tired from our paddling to conk right out when we finally made it in to the tents. The next day saw Caleb, Aaron and Ruthie getting more and more comfortable with their surroundings. They rode the rapids on air mattresses, found fossil rocks on the gravel bars - and of course - fished. As the sun began to wane, Chris and Wes got an emergency phone call and had to paddle down to take out early along with Patty and Brent.

The rest of the group enjoyed another enchanting night at Lane's bend.
The next morning came all too soon as our group confidently paddled the rest of the distance to Gilbert and took out of the river. The kids got their Buffalo River T shirts as true veterans of the river now. Our little group split ways for the trip home - filled with memories and the simple magic that is the Buffalo river.

Links for planning your Buffalo River Canoe Trip:

Main Buffalo River Site:
Canoe Rentals: (we always use the Gilbert General Store or
(870) 439-2888 or 439-2386)
River Levels:,00060 or call park headquarters at 870-741-5443 for level information (24 hours per day).
What these levels mean: (use the hwy 65 line of the table to compare to the lower graph on the waterdata site).

Of course, we extend a welcome to you to drop by Pack and Paddle for books on the Buffalo as well as help with gear and with planning your trip!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fishing, Football and Fathers Day

With Fathers Day approaching quickly, I thought this would be a good time to give you a view into my dad and a few of my memories and stories from growing up. I apologize in advance to my Dad who I am sure doesn't want me writing this. You see, he was never one to want to take the spotlight. But looking back through my 47 years, I can see how much his gentle guiding hand has affected my personality and my life.

Known to most folks simply as "Doc" (he was a childrens dentist in our pre - Pack & Paddle days). Many of my earliest memories with my dad involve the camp our family used to have on the levee near Fausse Point state park. In those days, my dad had a serious fishing fever - and my two brothers and I would often accompany him on his many trips into the basin in search of fish. I can remember always getting to the landing in total darkness. We would launch the boat and my dad would take off at mach speeds down canals that I wondered how he could see down in the inky black. The ride always seemed cold and long, so we would climb underneath the pull-over boat he had tied across the gunwhales of his motorboat to try to get out of the wind. Once, we arrived at our fishing spot in the dark and my brother caught a "fish". When he pulled it out of the water - a big snake was hanging on the hook. That line got cut.

I can remember my dad at some point in the trip always taking me to fish between these 2 certain trees in Buffalo Cove that we had caught fish at once. I'm not sure if we ever caught fish there again, but he would take me there to give it a try every time. Our diet in those days was "interesting". We would eat honey buns for breakfast followed by Ritz crackers with cheese out of a can for a snack. After that, we would have Vienna Sausages for lunch. One of my favorite memories of our camp happened when we were on our way driving out to the camp through St. Martinville. My dad pulled over to (I think) a hardware store. I got out with him, not knowing what we were stopping there for. He walked in and bought me a BB gun. It was one of the greatest moments of my boyhood.

It seems as though we always caught fish in those days. One thing that I could never understand about my dad was that when we would get back to the landing and someone would ask if we caught fish, I would be bursting to pull open the ice chest and say we caught a ton of fish, but my dad would always say "We caught a few" and leave the ice chest shut. I always thought he was trying to be humble. Now I wonder whether he was just trying to keep his fishing holes secret.

Another memory I have of my dad is his love of football. Many Sunday afternoons were spent watching teams like the Colts and Dolphins. I can still remember loving my toy Colts helmet with the blue horseshoe on the side - pretending I was Johnny Unitas. When we started a neighborhood team (not exactly sure who we were going to play against), my Dad got us "jerseys" for Christmas. In high school when our team played in the Superdome for the playoffs, my parents and grandparents wore "Tiger Ma and Tiger Pa" shirts.

As Pack & Paddle grew, my dad scaled back his dental practice to help out with the family business. Everyone would say that my mom would come up with some crazy idea and my dad would figure out how to make it happen. Some of these ideas included building a ski machine, remodeling the shop many different times, making our own wooden mannequins, adding on to the building 3 times and much more. One of my favorite stories is that when the big addition that currently holds our boat room was under construction, we had a thunderstorm blow through late one afternoon. We all heard a crash and ran outside to look. The entire addition was blown over and was sitting in the parking lot in a huge heap. My dad walked over and looked at it. He shook his head and said "I think I'll go down to the store and get some beer".

People that know my dad love him for his gentle spirit and wry sense of humor. He embodies that old school graciousness that I fear our society is losing these days. The way that he put his busy dental practice on the back burner to help chase the Pack & Paddle dream amazes me. He went from spending weekends in the basin to swinging a hammer and turning a wrench. He embodies humility, always making the other person in the conversation feel important. He knew how to work hard - and passed that along to all of us kids. He taught us all how to support your spouse in their personal growth and dreams. He instilled in all of us what it is to be a true outdoorsman and adventurer. If all of this isn't what being a dad is all about - I don't know what is.

Happy Fathers Day Dad! We appreciate you and love you!

End Note: Many people ask me how my mom and dad are now. They are doing well - still riding their bikes and staying active. My dad took us out a while back in his boat to check out a spot in the basin for a canoe trip. This brought back many memories. He just bought a membership in a fishing club - so he'll be passing his love of fishing on to the grand kids.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Summer Trip Ideas Part 1 - Southeast Adventure

Becky and I just got back from a very interesting trip to West Virginia. This makes a perfect summer road trip with things to do packed in all along the way.

Via Ferrata
Here is a basic write up of exactly what the Via Ferrata is:
Via Ferrata is a type of mountain climbing route which has a safety system permanently installed, making the climb suitable for persons without prior training and using minimal equipment. The climber is attached at all times to a steel cable which runs along the entire route; no climbing rope is generally required. Steel rungs, ladders, bridges and similar installations are used. This helps to keep the physical difficulty of the climbing well within the ability of reasonably fit first-time climbers, while providing access to high, vertical faces and extreme mountain terrain which would otherwise be accessible only to experienced, roped climbing parties.
Becky and I were able to climb on the Via Ferrata on a recent trip sponsored by Mountain Hardwear. I can tell you from first hand experience that this is an amazingly fun adventure for adults and teenagers. While it somewhat physical, almost anyone in decent shape can do the route. When you are on the route, you feel safe, but that exhilaration of exposure is still definitely there. The route begins by going straight up a 100 foot fin of rock, then traversing on a ledge to a spot where you go around a corner to the other side of the fin. You then traverse another ledge high above the valley floor until you arrive at a long swinging bridge. This bridge is a thrill for almost anyone. Don't worry, you're clipped in at all times, and can enjoy the thrill of a couple of hundred feet of air under your feet.
After the bridge, you climb up another fin of rock and around the other side for a long traverse to the finish followed by a walk down a trail in the valley below the swinging bridge.
This isn't for everyone, but if you have adventurous teens, and don't have time for taking classes on technical rock climbing, the Via Ferrata is for you. For more info
go to:

On the Way There or Back

I would suggest stopping at the
Nantahala Outdoor Center. Visit to see some of the programs and rafting trips they offer. This is a world class whitewater facility with a really cool atmosphere that you will absolutely love. A great idea is to stop at their Ocoee outpost on the way to the center, then head up to the main center a few hours north after your raft trip.

If you are passing through Hot Springs, North Carolina, I suggest stopping overnight at Elmer's Sunnybank Inn. You can stay overnight in this beautiful B&B and enjoy his Vegetarian fare for supper and breakfast as well. Hot Springs is right on the Appalachian Trail - so you might meet some AT Thru hikers while you're there. Also, you can do some hiking or join the Nantahala Outdoor Center Outpost for a raft trip on the French Broad. Go to: and then click "French Broad" at the top.

For a nice backpacking trip on the way, I would suggest Grayson Highlands State
Park. You can follow the Appalachian Trail up to areas where wild ponies run free and enjoy the beautiful views and wide open scenery.

These are just a few of the jewels to be discovered on a trip through the Southeast. I hope you have a great summer filled with adventure!