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!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Fish Nets, Morse Code, Gift Wrapping and Mothers Day

Joan at her Desk in the 70's at Pack & Paddle

Growing up, my family had 2 older sisters, me and two twin younger brothers. This was a handful I am sure for my parents. When I starting thinking about Mothers day and what I could blog about, it occured to me that we had a very unique upbringing that helped to form who and what we are as a family, and in turn formed a lot of what we all are as parents now.

As a younger kid, I can remember always being involved in projects that my mom came up with for us. At one time we were all making fish nets from strings with long plastic net shuttles. We would all sit there and make nets for hours. How my mom got our attention focused on this for so long, I have no idea. I once spent (what seemed like) an entire summer learning Morse Code for a scout merit badge. We would click out dot dot dot; dash dash dash; dot dot dot for hours trying to learn this important skill. During the winter, I can remember making "icycles" by turning the sprinkler on the bushes during freezing weather (yes - it did freeze back in those days). We were constantly taking classes at the Natural History Museum. My favorite was a Taxidermy class. As we drove the roads, my eyes would be peeled for road kill that would make a good subject for my next taxidermy project. What other mom would pull over to the side of the road to pick up a dead hawk?

As we got older, we branched into canoeing, taking trips to Saline Bayou, Ouiska Chitto, Tangipahoa, Buffalo River, Ouchita River, Nantahala River, and many more. I can remember one freezing cold Thanksgiving trip to the Ouchita. My mom told me to go and burn the trash. I grabbed the nearest trash bag and threw it on the fire. Turned out the bag was full of wool socks. Needless to say I was in the dog house for that one.

Since 1974, our family has been drawn together by Pack & Paddle. Growing up we all served in many different roles in the shop. My brothers and I were gift wrappers in our teens every Christmas. This was the day and age of actually wrapping presents in a box with wrapping paper. You've never seen such unconventional wrapping jobs. We tuned skis, handled rental canoes, folded shirts and once tore down an entire barn for the wood that is now on the inside of Pack & Paddle.

I think the genius of my mom was creating situations for us to explore, learn, work and grow. She was a "Tom Sawyer" infecting us with enthusiasm for the strangest of pursuits. My siblings and I will always be thankful to our mom for instilling in us a questing mind that wants to answer the question "what if?" and questing nature that wants to know what's around the next bend. This adventurous spirit was tempered by the fires of growing up and working in a family business. The frustrations and opportunities of the situations the business created grew us into problem solvers, risk takers and hard workers. These situations were created by both our parents working together to create these opportunities for their kids. As parents, we can all learn from Joan and Doc and the unusual way that they raised their gaggle of 5.

Happy Mothers Day Mom! We appreciate you and love you!

John, Cheryll, Louise, Doug and Les