Goodbye Tennessee, hello Florida

It’s that time of year. The time of year when I ditch my relatives at Christmas and head with Troy to Florida to kayak the warm swamps, bays and rivers of southern Florida. We have new kayaks and will be heading out a week from today for a two-week stint.

Cades Cove in winter: lovely, but cold. Also, you can hear the strains of Deliverance.

Last year, Troy tried to feed me to the alligators in his quest to kill me:

The rare and elusive Jean in a mangrove tunnel in the Everglades

This year, we’ll be doing some open ocean kayaking. Most likely he’ll feed me to the sharks. In case he finally succeeds, it was nice knowing you all.

It's waiting for me. Or maybe just all the old people. It is Florida.

 

A note to our esteemed friends at the Fish and Wildlife: mountain lions are alive and well here

Earlier this year, our friends at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared eastern mountain lions extinct.  Across Tennessee, we all laughed. Here in heavily populated middle Tennessee in the suburbs of Nashville, we all know someone who knows someone who has seen a mountain lion. Some of us have seen them ourselves.  This poor dog came in to rescue with Big Fluffy Dog Rescue after a very clear mountain lion attack and she took the worst of it defending her flock:

Athena after her tangle with a mountain lion

Still, after all the sightings and all the evidence (puncture and slash marks on Athena, tracks, etc), the Fish and Wildlife people said there are no mountain lions here.  I wonder how they will explain this:

Oversized house cat hit on Hwy 109 near Gallatin TN on Tuesday, October 11

I think we’re going to need more catnip.

Note: Athena was attacked in 2008. She’s fine now and living large as a house pet. The picture needs proper attribution as I did not take it, but I am not sure who did. Suffice it to say, it’s not me, but the original can be found here.

Beauty and the beast: Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Tennessee is an odd state. Until 1994, this place was reliably Democratic and relatively tolerant. It produced Al Gore for Christ’s sake. Now, we elect people who vote to permit guns in bars.  When Stephen Colbert mocks you, you know you’ve got to apologize for your elected representatives. Despite our somewhat questionable politics and our lamentable history of sending legions of people to die in Texas, Tennessee is graced by one of the most spectacular landscapes anywhere.

The sheer prettiness of Roaring Fork in the Smokies in the fall. Suck it Texas - Tennessee is way more attractive.

The combination of water, fog and forest in the fall produces spectacular hiking scenery. Wet leaves on rock are slick and I have planked unintentionally on more than one occasion..

Seriously, it's ridiculously gorgeous.

When socked in by fog, the forests are very quiet and still and you can pretend that Gatlinburg was destroyed in an epic catastrophe** even though you are two miles from it.

Alliteration: fog in the forest in fall.

No trip to the Smokies would be complete without a bear sighting. I love bears. Black bears rock and if you are respectful of them, they will put on a nice show for you.

Acorn snack time for the black bears

** No such luck.

* Note * – I took none of the pics. Troy was the photographer that gets the credit here.

The Grim Reaper Report: National Park deaths

I have noticed an uptick in people who find this blog with searches for people who die in various national parks or as dinner for a shark or grizzly bear. Y’all are clearly a morbid, bloodthirsty bunch. This morning, these searches found this blog:

Searching for dead people

As a public service, for those of you with morbid curiosity wasting time looking for information on people who have died in National Parks and how, here’s where you need to go:

Yellowstone deaths

This bear in Yellowstone did not eat us as we stayed a long way away. If you surprise a bear with cubs, you can expect to be dispatched to the hereafter. Note the grainy picture which denotes long distance away from danger.

 

Yosemite deaths

3 people just died here. We didn't, but we stayed behind the rails.

Zion National Park deaths

This is why people die on Angel's Landing. It's 1200 feet off to one side and 900 on the other. I'm not insane enough to climb this, but Troy was. He's alive.

Grand Canyon deaths

Death Valley National Park deaths

Mount Ranier National Park deaths

Great Smoky Mountain National Park deaths/statistics

People die in Great Smoky Mountain National Park every year. Mostly because they are stupid. Waterfalls are dangerous.

 

Acadia National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Channel Islands National Park

Biscayne National Park

The water at Biscayne National Park is crystal clear. You can drown here or be eaten by a shark. According to Troy, who has to my knowledge, never set a toe in the ocean.

Big Bend National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

I did not drown, fall off a waterfall or get eaten by a mountain lion in Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Troy hiked all 19+ miles of this trail in Grand Teton without dying

Badlands National Park (click on the compendium for details by year)

The Badlands are named that way for a reason. Troy survived it. Because he's not an idiot and took water and knew where he was. Also because I was not there for him to argue with about which way to go.

Canyonlands National Park

Just past the arch is a drop of over 1500 feet. Don't go to the edge and pose.

Haleakala National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Sequoia National Park

Kings Canyon National Park

Denali National Park

Sadly, there’s no statistics kept on who had it coming. Darwinism may be at work in many of the deaths.

For those of you even more determined to track down who met their fate in the form of being dinner for a wild animal, here you go:

Mountain lion attacks

Black bear attacks

These baby bears are adorable. Mom is pissed off. We stayed a respectful distance away.

Grizzly bear attacks

Polar bear attacks

Shark attacks

Killer bee attacks

Snake bite deaths

You’re welcome.

Something new to add to my list of things that suck: cicadas

Troy and I were married on Friday the 13th thirteen years ago this coming June 13.  I had forgotten that the year we were married coincided with the arrival of the 13 year cicada invasion which is probably some sort of omen. May started out kind of cold here and the cicada invasion was on hold which was perfectly fine by me. I hate flying bugs. I especially hate mass legions of flying bugs. I knew trouble had started when I spotted the first one:

Loud, obnoxious and gross. Look at those beady red eyes.

One is bad enough. Millions of them are intolerable. It is hard to describe the sound so I have thoughtfully recorded it here:

Seriously, this sound will haunt me for years.  It’s like a million rattle snakes hanging in trees shaking their rattles simultaneously. This afternoon, I went to wash the kamikaze cicada debris off my car at the local car wash. Bad idea. I was attacked by dozens of the damned things. One flew down my cleavage. The outrage. As I gingerly tried to locate and remove the buzzing insect from underneath my sweaty left breast, I noticed I had attracted the attention of a few fellow car washers. In my mind, I bravely stared them down and flung the carcass of the dead insect at their feet. In reality, I probably stuffed my not quite as perky as it once was boob back into the sports bra and hid behind the car wash vacuum cleaners. What the hell were they staring at anyway? It’s not like I was picking the underwear out of my ass or something.

I am too weak to hike Burgess Falls in Tennessee

Every spring when the trees turn green and the flowers bloom, I get the itch to hike. This is not an itch I had before I married Troy as I was very much a city girl who smoked, wore black and swilled martinis regularly. Once married, I developed a fondness for seeing places that you have to work to get to and that most people are too lazy to ever see. This fondess is in direct conflict with my intrinsic laziness and my loathing for sweating, chafing, etc. Since late April, I have been trying to get a weekend free to hike Burgess Falls, which is a picturesque little state park an hour or so east of Nashville not far from Cookeville, Tennessee. Since the state parks allow dogs on trails, we take our more athletically-inclined dogs with us.

Only two get to go hiking. Also, I suck at vacuuming.

The weather has been a problem this year. Lots of tornadoes, tons of flooding. I am not fond of the duck and cover approach to outdoor events, so it took a while to get a weekend when it wasn’t raining, hailing, blowing, etc. Finally, we loaded up and headed out. As someone with legendarily bad knees, this hike is one I can even manage without a lot of trouble. However, I failed to consider the effects of taking chemo dugs on my hiking abilities. (note to readers: I do not have cancer, I have lupus which sucks, but not nearly as badly as cancer). I take a cocktail of things to keep the lupus at bay and recently started on the chemo route again when my eyes started to swell and other drugs did not work.  On the plus side, I no longer look like an extra from Twilight with blood red eyes. On the downside, I can’t drink martinis and I find that I am really missing the red blood cells I used to have in abundance.

Burgess Falls is a gorgeous hike and with all the rain, the falls are in full show:

Burgess Falls, Lower Cascade

This is the easy part and pretty much the first thing you see in the parking lot. The climb up starts after this:

Burgess Falls, Middle Falls

Getting to Middle Falls requires a mild cardio workout with lots of steps and a steady incline over a short .5 mile climb. On chemo, it’s painful. When I have to rest at the overlook, this is a problem. I really miss my red blood cells.

At the end of the trail, you see the big falls which are really quite impressive and a good 50+ feet tall:

Burgess Falls, the reward for breathing hard at the end of the trail

Inexplicably, the trail was heavily populated by tourists from India, some of them swathed in saris and sandals, which I do not consider a good choice for hiking on rocky trails. Their children all wanted to pet Bess and Zoe:

Zoe, Bess and their Daddy pose for the camera, and Indians.

One last little bit of pretty:

Cascade at Burgess Falls

A simple little 1.5 miles and I am nearly defeated. This bodes badly for the upcoming trip to Yosemite. Encroaching old age sucks.