Category Archives: Personal experience

A movie review of “Swamp Water…”

A chilling shot from Swamp Water, the 1941 movie that got me “hooked on the Okefenokee…”

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Once upon a time, I said this blog would focus mostly on movie reviews:

Those reviews – when they happen – are a throwback to my time at the University of South Florida, in 1976. I reviewed movies for the student newspaper, The Oracle.  (Before it got all famous and well-known.) I liked films enough to make that my minor.

That’s from THAT “WASP” NAME, above. But the last review I did – technically – was “Joseph Welch, dead at only 69? OMG!” I reviewed a 1959 movie I’d seen many times, Anatomy of a Murder. It starred Jimmy Stewart as the defense lawyer in a murder trial, but it also had Joseph Welch as the trial judge. That review focused mainly on the fact that Welch had died at a mere 69 years of age, three months “after I’d just turned 69.” So I reviewed Anatomy in passing. (Aside from saying he died way too early, I also noted that Welch was the “real-life lawyer famous for dressing down Joseph McCarthy during the Army–McCarthy hearings.”)

The last real review I did was “Imitation Game” – Revisited, in February 2018. But that post just reviewed a review of the same movie in April 2015, Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies.” It was a review-of-a-review. Bottom line? “It’s been a while since I’ve done a real movie review.”

In this post I’ll review Swamp Water, the 1941 “film noir crime film” directed by Jean Renoir and starring Walter Brennan and Dana Andrews. Mostly with an eye on how it got me hooked on the Okefenokee Swamp. Hooked in the sense of trying three times to cross it from east to west, and finally succeeding last February, detailed in I paddled across the Okefenokee – finally

It all started when I was 10 or 12 and first saw the film. (In the early 1960s.) The scene I remember most was Walter Brennan getting bitten on the cheek by a smiling – and sinister – water moccasin. (As he knelt over to part some bulrushes, to get a drink of “swamp water.”)

I’ve been fascinated ever since…

Which brings up how different the real Okefenokee is, compared to how it got portrayed by Hollywood. (In the film especially.) It seems like every person I talked to about canoeing into the Swamp last February had the same response. “Are you crazy? It’s dangerous in there!” In short the Okefenokee has a terrible reputation, and I think it started with Hollywood and Swamp Water. I’ll focus on that in this review, the difference between “Hollywood” and reality.

The movie starts with opening credits rolling against what seems a view of the Suwanee Canal. There’s dramatic, heart-pounding music, followed some time later by a calming version of “Red River Valley.” (To dramatize the dangers of the Swamp, compared to life in the “civilized” world?) The film itself begins with a graphic, saying those people who live around the edge of the Okefenokee know “that its sluggish waters were filled with alligators and that its boggy forests harbored the deadly cottonmouth snake. They feared these creatures, but much more they feared the unexplored vastness in which a man might disappear, never to be seen again.”

Which leads to the first question: Are the waters really “sluggish?” Later on that.

After the graphic comes a cross, formed by two pieces of tree branch, shown at the top of the page. The “cross” is topped with a human skull and draped with Spanish moss. The camera pans left, to show a group of flat-bottomed boats poled by standing men. (Again, poling up what seems to be the Suwanee Canal.) Dana Andrews, as “Ben,” is in his boat with his dog. He stops in front of the cross-and-skull to blow a hunting horn. Other boats come up, and the men see – off in the distance – what may be what they’re looking for, two trappers who had disappeared in the Swamp. The camera switches to a huge bull gator, lurking on the shore, menacing. The men pole over and find what they’ve been looking for, another boat, flat bottom up.

Finding the boat, one man says, “No need to look no fu’ther.” Another adds, “No, they was gator-et.” (Eaten by gators.) All they find is a hat. As they paddle away, a sneaky, shadowy head looks out from the bushes. (It’s Walter Brennan, as Tom Keefer, a fugitive from a trumped-up murder conviction.) On the way home Ben’s dog sees a deer, jumps in the water and disappears after it. After they get back to civilization, Ben decides he has to go back in, to find his dog.

But first he has to tell his father of his plans. His father yells, “You be careful, and stay clear of that swamp!” After more argument he yells again, “stay clear of that swamp!” Ben says that’s where his dog jumped out of the boat, so he has to go back in. A big fight follows. His father says to be back tomorrow night and a third time, “stay clear of that swamp!” After yet more argument the father yells, “You be here tomorrow night or don’t come back at all!”

Before going back into the Swamp, Ben stops by a general store to get shells for his shotgun. Asked where he’s headed, he says, “Okefenokee.” The men in the store all turn around and look at him in stunned silence. The clerk says, “You mean you’re goin’ in alone?” (I went in alone three times.) Various insults follow. One man makes a production of checking out Ben’s hat. He says he wants to see if it’ll fit him, because “that’s all they’re going to find of you.”

There’s more in the scene with Tom Keefer’s daughter and a sackful of cats two men are supposed to drown, but that’s not relevant here. I have to focus on that unity-and-coherence “stuff” that real writers are supposed to do, so back to Ben heading into the dreaded Okefenokee. He poles down what appears to be a side channel, and the camera shows a gator slinking into the water, menacing. He poles into some thick trees and brush, blows his horn, and hears his dog off in the distance. He jumps in the water, leaving his boat and supplies and goes floundering toward the sound of his dog. The first thought that came to me: “What are you, an idiot?”

Meaning: No one in his right mind in the Okefenokee would jump out of his boat and go floundering around in the water, looking for some lost dog. Sure enough, Ben soon finds himself in a predicament. After what seems an eternity of floundering around in the muck, he finds dry ground. (Relatively speaking.) In the next scene night has fallen.

Ben sits hunched over. He has his shotgun, but nothing else. (He has however been able to light a fire.) He hears fierce growling in the not-too-distant. (Something I never heard.) He tries to stay awake, but soon falls asleep and Tom Keefer sneaks up behind and bops him on the head. In the morning he sees his dog barking and whining, happy to see Ben. He also sees that his hands are tied behind him. He sees a man with his back to him and asks, ‘Who are you?” The man slowly turns and for the first time we see Walter Brennan’s face full on.

In the dialog that follows, we learn what happened to the two missing trappers. Tom tells Ben, “Them was cottonmouth bit.” He also tells Ben, “You’re in the Okefenokee for good.” With his conviction for murder – trumped up or not – Tom can’t afford to let Ben go free, despite Ben’s promise not to tell anyone that Keefer is still alive. Tom also says that without his help, Ben could never find his way out of the Swamp. (Of course, if Ben hadn’t left his boat?)

Tom turns his back on Ben, to get some coffee. Ben gets a big stick and sneaks up, but in the ensuing confrontation Tom tosses the hot coffee in Ben’s face, then throws him to the ground with a judo throw. He talks again about how hard it is to find your way out of the Swamp, then says. “You’re in here for life.” Then comes the really creepy part.

That night Tom goes to get a drink of water. As shown in the image below, the camera shows a lit-up cottonmouth off to the viewer’s left, coiling and smiling. (Evilly?) After the snake bites Tom on the cheek, he recoils, eventually stumbles back to the campsite, and falls to the ground.

Next morning, we see Ben digging a grave. He gets up and prays, looking up, before going back to the campsite to get the body. He arrives only to find Tom alive, well and sipping a cup of coffee. Explanations follow. For one thing Tom says, “Just made up my mind to get well.” More to the point, “I bet I been cottonmouth-bit a dozen times.” (And apparently built up an immunity.) Ben has Tom’s knife, which he used in part to clear brush and help dig the grave. But he adds, “I cut that snake bite, to make it bleed.” Tom thanks Ben and says, “You can have your gun back.”

In other words, Tom is grateful that Ben helped save his life, and Ben starts to believe that Tom is innocent. To see the rest of the story you can check various reviews, but that’s as far as I watched. (To the part where Walter gets “cottonmouth bit,” and a bit beyond.)

Wikipedia has a short review, with all but the first sentence dealing with the movie after Tom and Ben “form a partnership in which Ben sells the animals hunted and trapped by both until townsfolk become suspicious.” For a smorgasbord of reviews, see Swamp Water (1941) … User Reviews – IMDb. One such review – “Old classic, May 29, 2001 – sounded familiar to me:

I can remember seeing this movie as a kid and getting the bejesus scared out of me. The darkness and uncertainty of the swamp terrified my young imagination and the image of the skull atop a cross touched all my Roman Catholic primal fears. My impression of the swamp, i.e., crocs, gaters and snakes, topped with a dark image of the fugitive played by Walter Brennan, lasted for years. 

Which brings us back to that glaring difference between Hollywood and reality. On the first question –  Are the waters of the Okefenokee really “sluggish?” – the answer is a resounding No. The city of Jacksonville once proposed a “40-mile pipeline be constructed from the Okefenokee Swamp to the city for drinking water. Natural, pure water from the Okefenokee Swamp is highly valuable and has been sought after for centuries.” Further, old time sailing vessels – called “tramps” – sailed hundreds of miles out of their way to get the water. “This water was found to be healthful and pure, and lasted a long time in wood barrels used by earlier mariners.”

And from personal experience I can say there’s a definite current in the the Okefenokee, sometimes quite strong. That certainly helps to keep the water “healthful and pure.”

As for the movie’s other claims, in a total of four trips into the Swamp – 10 days all told – I didn’t see a single snake of any kind, let alone a cottonmouth. As to people getting gator et, “No alligator attacks on humans in the swamp have been recorded in the last 80 years.” (When they started keeping records.) That’s according to the University of Georgia’s River Basin Center, which adds: “It is important, however, not to feed gators or try to touch them. Habituating gators to human contact makes them dangerous.” No attacks, let alone fatal attacks.

Which brings us to the Fatal alligator attacks in the United States – Wikipedia. One thing to note is that the number of fatal gator attacks has increased dramatically, from one in the 1950’s to eight in the 2010’s. That’s the last full decade, but since 2020 there have been seven such fatal attacks, with seven years left in this decade. Another thing to notice is that most of the attacks are in Florida, followed by Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina. And near ponds close to retirement communities and golf courses. So, with those statistics there’s one logical conclusion:

You’re safer from gator attacks INSIDE the Okefenokee than out in the “civilized world.”

Happy canoeing. And take that Hollywood hype with a grain of salt. (Or maybe a bushel.)

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The “smiling” cottonmouth, at left is about to bite Tom Keefer, at right..

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The upper image is courtesy of Swamp Water 1941 Movie – Image Results. It was accompanied by another review, posted June 19, 2009, by Steve Lewis, who had been “producing Mystery*File on and off since the early 1970s.” See also MYSTERY*FILE ON-LINE:

Devoted to mystery and detective fiction – the books, the films, the authors, and those who read, watch, collect and make annotated lists of them.

The lower image is also courtesy of the Image Results site. I clicked on a photo of a big, hulking bull gator, which accompanied a page linked to California Herps.com. I clicked on “View Page,” and went to a “Snakes in Movies” page with eight photos. The first four showed Walter Brennan’s infamous scene where he got bitten on the right cheek by a Cottonmouth. The photo above is the third of the four. The “Herps” site is a “Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California.”

Re: Joseph Welch dying at 69. “Born in 1890, he played in Anatomy of a Murder in 1959, and died not long after that. ‘Sixteen days before his 70th birthday, and fifteen months after the release of Anatomy of a Murder, Welch suffered a heart attack and died on October 6, 1960.’” My 69th birthday was in mid-July, and mid-October would be three months after that.

Re: “It all started when I was 10 or 12.” For starters see 2015’s Operation Pogo.

Re: Okefenokee water being “sluggish.” See Okefenokee: The Swamp Next Door That Is a National Treasure. Here’s the complete quote referred to in the main text:

The Okefenokee Swamp produces “black water,” which looks like tea. Organic plant material decomposing in the swamp brews under sunlight releasing tannins that color the water. The “black water” flows to the Atlantic Ocean passing through Cumberland Sound, just north of Amelia Island. This water was found to be healthful and pure, and lasted a long time in wood barrels used by earlier mariners. Old sailing vessels called “tramps” would come hundreds of miles off their course for St. Marys River water. Vessels that docked in the port city of Fernandina could procure barrels of “swamp water” for voyages. Many years later, the city of Jacksonville proposed a 40-mile pipeline be constructed from the Okefenokee Swamp to the city for drinking water. Natural, pure water from the Okefenokee Swamp is highly valuable and has been sought after for centuries.

Another article called the Swamp “the kidneys of the earth, filtering contaminants from the water flowing from the Suwanee and St. Mary’s Rivers.” From the February 5, 2023, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, B5, “Okefenokee: ‘This Earth is us, we just can’t let it get away.'” It reviewed “Sacred Waters: The Okefenokee in Peril.” For more options Google “sacred waters okefenokee in peril.” My local – oldest – brother handed me the article a few days before I headed south to the Swamp.

Re: Gator attacks in the Swamp. The full link: Okefenokee FAQ & Resources – The River Basin Center.

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The Okefenokee – “Haven of Serenity” or Deadly Swamp?

“Man overboard!” – My brother paddling over to help two Scouts whose canoe capsized…

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This post presents the second half of my account of paddl[ing] across the Okefenokee!

In Part One I wrote about finally bisecting the Okefenokee Swamp, eight long years after I first got the idea. I wanted to paddle a kayak – or canoe – all the way across, from east to west. From the east entrance at the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, near Folkston, then from the west entrance at Foster State Park, near Fargo, Georgia. And “meet in the middle.*”

Part One included background, like how I got so fascinated by the Swamp in the first place. It went on to describe my brother Tom and I starting the trip. We put in at the SCRA east entrance last February 14, a Tuesday. (And Valentine’s Day.) We made it down to Monkey Lake camping shelter. But that Tuesday is pretty much as far as I got in the post. I told of the first day’s paddling, and how I “slooshed” the dinner dishes that night, leaning over into the water. (With an eye out for lurking gators, lest I be “surprised”) And of closing the day with a shot or two of O-be-joyful, which itself has a fair amount of American historical precedent.

Briefly, in my first attempt in 2015 – paddling an eight-foot kayak, towing a small “tag-along” rubber dinghy – I got as far west as Coffee Bay shelter. In my second try – in the same kayak and tag-along – I made it as far east as the Canal Run shelter. For this last try Tom and I each had a canoe, which gave us a lot more room for traveling supplies. My goal – at least – was to close that wide gap between the Coffee Bay and Canal Run shelters.

And with that, to finally say I’d paddled all the way across the Okefenokee, east to west.

Moving on, to Wednesday, February 15 – On this second day of the trip we paddled the seven water miles from Monkey Lake back up to the Cedar Hammock shelter. That’s the shelter where I camped, alone, eight years before, my first overnight trip into the Swamp. We saw a local gator lurking, looking for handouts, but I doubt it was the same one I’d seen back in 2015. Plus, back in 2015 I had a small “two-man” tent, along with a camp chair and two beers in a cooler. But the mosquitoes were so bad – that 2015 October – that I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the camp chair much. I had to retreat to that tiny tent way early in the evening.

This time I had a new, bigger “six-person” tent. Big enough to fit a cot, camp chair and all my five days’ supplies inside. Also on that Wednesday paddle up from Monkey Lake, Tom tried paddling while standing up in the canoe. I never tried that; for much-needed “butt breaks” I’d paddle while kneeling in the bottom of the canoe. Incidentally, the next Thursday, February 16, paddling over to Canal Run, we saw a guy coming the other way. He paddled standing up, with his long white hair and long white beard. He and the canoe looked “as one,” as if it was a part of him. And they both looked like they’d been in the Swamp a long, long time.

Which brings up a word about the Okefenokee type of swamp. The Suwanee Canal – where we started on Tuesday and spent all day Saturday on, heading back – runs through the swamp, east to northwest. It’s lined with lots of trees – cypress, mostly – along with downed trees, underbrush and lots of developed “trembling earth.” (Okefenokee means “Trembling Earth.”)

Along the Suwanee Canal there there are some places to stop and get out, if you check those places carefully and wear rubber boots. (At least up to the knees.) But most of the rest of the swamp – including the way up from Monkey Lake – is made up of “prairies.” Unlike the Canal and its tree-lined banks, the prairies offer no place to stop for a butt-break. (Unless you stand up in your canoe.) And they have nothing to block the wind.

We learned that lesson on a windy Thursday, February 16. We “played bumper cars.” The wind bounced us from one side of the eight-foot channel to the other. (And tangled us up in water lilies, small bushes or swamp muck.) The prairies also have lots of swamp grass, for lack of a better term. It looks very dry, even though it’s rooted in water – and that muck. But the gators love it; they love to sun themselves on the matted-up grass that lines most prairie channels.

Thursday, February 16 – This was our first long day, 11 miles paddling to get up to the Round Top shelter. Probably for that reason I didn’t write anything in my journal that evening, after our first day of paddling 11 miles. (Instead of the previous seven miles each, Tuesday and Wednesday.) But that gap gives me a chance to explore the issue, Why? “Why would anyone in his right mind paddle into the Okefenokee Swamp for five days?”

I offered some ideas in March 2015’s “I pity the fool!” Starting with a combo-quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mr. T: “I pity the fool who doesn’t do pilgrimages and otherwise push the envelope,” even at the ripe old age of 71. (In my case.) Also in my case, a quote from when I paddled my kayak miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, to achieve some much-needed closure:

Every once in a while I’d pause, turn off my stop-watch and just enjoy the feeling “of being somewhere, someplace that no one else in his right mind would ever be.” I imagine the explorers back in the olden days had something of the same feeling.

I had other quotes from Emerson and John Steinbeck, on how most people give up and slow down as they age. (While a limited, feisty few don’t.) But maybe the best answer came from our hike on the Way of St. Francis 2022. We’d say, “It beats playing Bingo at the Senior Center!” 

Back to Friday, February 17 – Our original plan for today was another 11-mile paddle, ending up over at the Canal Run shelter. The actual distance from Round Top shelter to Canal Run would make a very short day, so we planned a scenic detour. We’d paddle up to Floyd’s Island and then back down to Canal Run. But some time on Thursday afternoon – paddling those 11 miles – we came up with a Plan B. “The heck with Floyd Island, let’s just paddle straight over to Canal Run.” (“Straight” being relative, as in “relatively straight.”)

I say “relatively” because the National Geographic map shows open water straight west from Round Top over to Canal Run. But the touristy canoe trail – the one you’re supposed to use – shunts way up to the northwest, then trickles back down southwest. (Effectively doubling the paddle-time.) But since discretion is the better part of valor – so they say – we decided to follow the boring canoe trail. Which turned out to be not so boring, and brings up the fact that it’s actually pretty hard to get lost in the Okefenokee. The Suwanee Canal is well marked, as are the canoe trails leading off from it. (Mostly, except for one exception detailed in the notes.) 

In other news, tonight the local gator at Canal Run got a bit too close, so Tom whacked him on the head with a paddle. He still hung around, but stayed just out of paddle-whacking distance.

Saturday, February 18 – This morning came after the coldest night of the trip. It got down to 38 degrees. I had the same sleeping bag I used canoeing 440 miles down the Yukon River,* but it was still hard to sleep. In the morning, first getting up, I stumbled around like the proverbial drunken sailor. I wasn’t drunk. My feet were just that numb from 12 hours of cold. But we started that cold morning knowing that at the end of the day we’d have a hot shower, a cold beer and a warm bed to look forward to. (“Straight” down the Suwanee Canal.)

This was the second-longest day, 10 miles from Canal Run back to the SCRA east entrance.

We made it to the Coffee Bay shelter for lunch, and there ran across a Scout troop. Five adults and seven teenage boys, with lots of horse-assing around. (By the teenage boys.) They eventually left, but we kept running into them on the way back. The last time was almost back to the SCRA take-out. As shown in the picture at the top of the page, that’s where two young Scouts managed to capsize their canoe. This was 15 or 20 minutes after I’d taken the picture of the gator shown at the bottom of the page. (15 or 20 minutes earlier, I think.)

But Tom paddled over and helped them get back in. (With no appearance from the local gator who I’ve heard hangs around SCRA waters.) Incidentally – and on that note – it was only a day or two after we got back that I read about the 85-year-old woman killed in an alligator attack at a Florida golf course. (I’m glad I didn’t read that before we started.)

But seriously, that brings up the question: “How did the Okefenokee get such a lousy reputation?” Is it a Haven of Serenity or a “Deadly Swamp?” Some Okefenokee devotees “swear by its ability to envelope visitors in a haven of serenity.” So there are devotees of the Swamp, and I count myself one of them. I found it a haven of serenity, even with the gators, mosquitoes, and butt-numbing paddling. But offsetting that was the peace and quiet, and a chance to get away from the phone and internet agitations that are so big a part of modern life. Then too:

Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

Which is pretty much what I found, paddling away for hours in the quiet marsh. My mind “occupied and composed,” so much so that I wasn’t annoyed by future problems. Or by the problems of our “now” outside world for that matter. (The quote is in 2015’s “I pity the fool,” from Robert Louis Stevenson‘s 1879 book, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.) 

On the other hand there’s the negative image from that 1941 movie Swamp Water. I’ve noted how watching it back when I was 11 or 12 got me so fascinated by The Swamp in the first place. Especially watching in horror the scene where Walter Brennan gets bitten in the face by a smiling, evil-looking Cottonmouth. And I think a lot of the Okefenokee’s bad reputation stems from that movie. So “what I’m gonna did” – as Justin Wilson used to say – is review that movie in my next post. I’ll also explore how “Hollywood” can often distort reality.

In the meantime, I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment now that I’ve finally paddled across the Okefenokee, east to west. I’ve crossed that off my Bucket List. (Gators and all.)

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I photographed this gator a mile west of where the two Scouts went into the water…

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I took the picture at the top of the page. The “scout overboard” incident happened the last of five days canoeing around the Okefenokee. Also, for this post I borrowed from past posts like Getting back up to speed – for canoeing and Another paddling adventure – January ’23. And it all started in 2015 with Operation Pogo – “Into the Okefenokee:”

“Meet in the middle.” Coming from the west, to get to the shelter I’d reached heading in from the east.

Re:  “Two-man” tent. I put the term in quotes because one person can barely fit into a two-person tent. As far as the “six-person” tent, Tom and I shared mine after his tent got trashed by the 80-mph windstorm on the Missouri River. It was a tight squeeze with two people, along with their cots.

Re: The second (2016) trip in, to the CANAL RUN shelter, nine miles in from Foster State Park. Among other things I saw 50 alligators in the first hour of paddling. After that I stopped counting.

O-be-joyful” is a code-word for ardent spirits. We brothers – originally four of us – started packing samples in past canoe trips, like down the Missouri River from Fort Benton, MT. That was a way of following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and other American pioneersBack in the old days of our country, whiskey – for example – was used instead of hard currency:

One of the first media of exchange in the United States was classic whiskey.  For men and women of the day, the alcohol did more than put “song in their hearts and laughter on their lips.”  Whiskey was currency.  Most forms of money were extremely scarce in our country after the Revolutionary War, making monetary innovation the key to success.

See Why Whiskey Was Money, and Bitcoins Might Be.

Re: “Trembling earth.” See Floating Peat Islands: The Land of Trembling Earth: “Methane gas under decomposed organic peat causes peat blowups, forming mud peat batteries where herbs and grasses grow. Okefenokee means trembling earth, because of these peat islands.” The article quoted a book on the Swamp, with its “mass of floating vegetable forms, intermingled with moss drift and slime.” The mass formed a “compact floor,” capable of sustaining one character’s weight. But he saw that although the mass “did not at once break through beneath him, could be seen to sink and rise at every step for twenty feet around.”

Re: 2015’s “I pity the fool!” I’ll be updating it after my next post, a review of Swamp Water.  

Re: “Mostly,” as “detailed in the notes.” And on it being hard to get lost in The Swamp. It’s well marked, including the canoe trails that go off from Suwanee Canal. But there was one time when we got near the Suwanee Canal, heading to Canal Run. It looked like the powers-that-be had cut off access to the shelter I was aiming for, “just to piss me off.” I paddled a ways up past the “area closed” sign but didn’t see any way through. When I got back Tom had checked his map, always a good thing to do. The lesson? In my case don’t over-react and assume people are out to piss you off for no good reason. And by the way, I kept this out of the main text in the interest of UCC, “that unity and coherence crap.” My family tells me my writing “goes all over the place,” and I’m trying to fix that. Also, the episode was mostly just embarrassing to me, though it did provide a bit of extra exercise.

Re: Canoeing 440 miles on the Yukon River. See for example, “Naked lady on the Yukon.” For another canoe adventure, this time in Canada, see “Naked Lady” – on the Rideau Canal?

The Okefenokee quote about its being a “haven of serenity” is from an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday, February 5, 2023, page B5. My brother Bill gave me that story a week or so before I left to head down to Folkston.  

Re: Alligator attack. For further reading see An alligator killed a Florida woman. It doesn’t happen often, but here’s what to do if a gator attacks. Among the nuggets of wisdom: “Predators want easy meals, not battles.” Adult humans are normally considered too big for an alligator, but “a child or small animal — those they’re going to want to go for.” Also, “the sound of dogs playing or barking can actually attract alligators to an area.”

Re: “Donkey in the Cevennes.” Our next big adventure, coming up this September 2023, is hiking the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail … in France. See also GR 70 – Wikipedia. We’ll travel without the donkey.

Re: Hollywood distorting reality. Google “hollywood distort reality,” or see 6 Ways Movies Subtly Distort Reality | Mental Floss, or A Few of the Many Ways We Distort Reality | Psychology Today.

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I paddled across the Okefenokee – finally!

“Man overboard!” – My brother paddling over to help two Scouts whose canoe capsized…

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My last two posts* talked about Finishing Some Unfinished Business. The unfinished business was paddling a kayak – or canoe – all the way across the Okefenokee Swamp, from east to west. I first got the idea of doing that back in early 2015. It took awhile – eight years in fact – but just this past February 2023 I finally got to say, “Mission Accomplished!”

But first I need to apologize. It’s been over a month since I last posted, on Getting “ready, for the Okefenokee.” And we finished the job on February 18, well over three weeks ago. But since I’ve “mission accomplished” – and so likely won’t be going back into the Swamp again – I wanted to make this my magnum opus on the subject. And to explain why anyone in his right mind would go into such a place. A Swamp that’s been called “sinister,” “mysterious,” and full of lurking dangers beneath those seemingly tranquil waters. (Gators, cottonmouths and the like.)

As explained in 2015’s Operation Pogo, it all started when I was 10 or 12 – I’m 71 now – and saw the movie Swamp Water. (That would be back in the early 1960s.) In one scene I watched in horror as Walter Brennan got bitten on the cheek by a smiling – and sinister – water moccasin. (As he knelt over to part some bulrushes and get a drink, of “swamp water.”)

I’ve been fascinated ever since…

I suppose it’s a matter of “that which horrifies us also fascinates us.” (Kind of like how I used to feel about visiting New York City.) But back to the subject at hand…

My first time in was a simple day trip in September 2015. I paddled in from the east, with no supplies. The trip took about two hours. I just wanted to get a feel for speed, to see how long it might take to cover the water miles from east to west. Based on that limited first outing, I thought I could bisect the Swamp in two overnight trips. (One from the east entrance and one from the west.) That didn’t happen, not for another eight years anyway, and took this year’s extra five-day trip. But as it turns out, if you can paddle two miles in an hour, you’re doing good.

My first real try came weeks later, in October 2015. I put in at the Suwanee Canal Recreation Area (SCRA). I had the same kayak, with a “tagalong.” (A small rubber dinghy, towed and holding camping supplies and cooler, complete with two cold beers.) Unfortunately, that time of year is popular, so most platforms were already reserved. The only shelter available was Cedar Hammock, a mere three miles in from the SCRA. Paddling to Cedar Hammock didn’t take long, so I headed down toward Monkey Lake, for exercise. But I had to turn around early and paddle back to Cedar Hammock, in the dark. (Complete with slews of grabby water lilies to paddle through.) The second day I made it as far west as the Coffee Bay day shelter. (No camping allowed.) Bottom line: I didn’t make much bisecting progress on that first trip. 

Then in June 2016 I kayaked in from the west side. I put in at Stephen C. Foster State Park, east of Fargo, Georgia. As noted, my original plan was to bisect the Swamp, east to west, and this time I made it to the CANAL RUN shelter I’d reserved. (Nine miles in from Foster State Park.) That was still an all-day paddle, and it still left a big gap between Canal Run and Coffee Bay.

But finally, last February 2023 and eight years after my first attempt, I closed the gap between Canal Run and Coffee Bay. I had finally bisected the dreaded Okefenokee Swamp.

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I never let the dream die, even as years passed. Then came a boost from my brother.

Last September (2022), Tom, his wife Carol and I hiked 150 miles on the Way of St. Francis, in Italy. Somewhere hiking in the Appennine Mountains I mentioned this “Unfinished Business.” (Possibly over a cold beer at the end of a long day’s hike.) A bit to my surprise, Tom expressed interest, possibly at the prospect of enjoying a break from “icy arctic blasts” such a part of winters in Massachusetts. We settled on a tentative date, in mid-February 2023.

The result was a plan to take five days, using Tom’s two canoes, instead of one eight-foot kayak. (Towing a rubber-dinghy tagalong.) I’ve done two earlier posts* on preparing for the trip, and closed the last one saying, “I’ll keep you posted.” So, here’s that final report.

*   *   *   *

For starters, on Monday February 13, we met up at the Newell Lodge, northeast of Folkston. As it turned out, Folkston was halfway between the Lodge and the east entrance (SCRA). That night we packed up what we could. I had my last shower and last cold beer until the following Saturday. Four nights without a beer or shower. Not a real shower anyway; I brought along some Dude Shower Wipes. (One of many alternatives, I just learned via internet.)

The next morning, Tuesday, February 14, we put in at the SCRA boat ramp about 10:30. Our goal for the day was Monkey Lake shelter, seven miles away. (The Monkey Lake I tried to reach back in 2015.) Along the Suwanee Canal, and up until the turnoff to Monkey Lake, we played paddle-tag with a boat full of tourists, complete with a guide yakking on a bull horn. He’d stop and talk awhile and we’d pass him, then he’d motor by and get up ahead of us, then stop again. It was annoying in a way, but we heard some gems along the way. Once he pointed out the plentiful Spanish moss lining the Canal, and said that such “moss” is related to pineapples. (?)

We got to Monkey Lake by 3:30, after five hours on the water. (With breaks and a short Lunchables lunch.) Two breaks involved standing up in the canoes. Very carefully. (I call them “butt breaks” because paddling five hours without changing position really gets to you.) At the shelter we first unloaded the canoes, then set up our tents. For supper – the one hot meal of a typical canoeing day – we had hot dogs and baked beans, with crackers and a fruit cup dessert. After that I washed the dishes and enjoyed a shot or two of “O-be-joyful.”

Which brings up a word about “washing those dishes.”

The first step involves “slooshing” the sticky stuff off plates, pans and dinnerware, followed by a real wash and rinse with hot water from the camp stove. And two of the shelter platforms were heavy-duty plastic going all the way down into the water. But the other two, Monkey Lake and Canal Run, were raised wooden decks. They left a gap between the bottom of the deck and the water, and with my active imagination I could just see a gator lurking underneath that deck. (Attracted by the slooshing and food particles.) Nothing ever happened, thankfully. On the other hand, I did “sloosh” those dishes very quickly on the two wooden-deck camping platforms.

That gap between the water and bottom of the deck reminded me of my 2016 second trip in. Because it was so early in the season, the canoe-only trails were much vegetated-over. Which meant that many times I had to “butt-scootch” the kayak over a barely-sunken log. Sometimes I also had to stick my hand out, grab another branch and finish pulling the kayak over. The last time I reached my left hand out I saw a patch of white.  It turned out to be a gator – a small one, but a gator – “smiling” nicely at what he thought was a tasty snack.

That memory came back as I slooshed the dinner dishes at Monkey Lake camping shelter.

But, dishes done and O-be-joyful enjoyed, that first day ended with dusk and a chill setting in at 6:15. I’d brought along a head lamp, and stayed up – in the tent, away from the mosquitoes – reading and also writing in a journal. I actually sat in my camp chair, beside the cot, inside the tent. That brings up the fact that I love my new bigger “six-person” tent. Even with its bent support-pole, courtesy of an 80-mile-an-hour windstorm on the Missouri River back in 2020.

We retreated to our tents that early the next three nights as well; in our cots and at least trying to sleep for the next 11 or 12 hours. Much different than my daily routine back home.

Also different from my daily routine back home: Seeing so many alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the Suwanee Canal, and also in those Okefenokee “prairies.” But my magnum opus is getting way too long for one post, so I’ll have to continue it in a “Part Two.”  

In that Part Two I’ll describe the last three days of our Okefenokee adventure. That will include the climax – the denourment if you will – of the trip: Where a canoe with two Scouts in it capsized, not far from where I photographed this gator. Stay tuned!

*   *   *   *

I photographed this gator a bit west of where the two Scouts went into the water…

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I took the picture at the top of the page. The “scout overboard” incident happened on the last of our five days canoeing around the Okefenokee. Also, for this post I borrowed from past posts including Getting back up to speed – for canoeing and Another paddling adventure – January ’23. And it all pretty much started in 2015 with Operation Pogo – “Into the Okefenokee” and following.

The descriptive terms “sinister” and “mysterious” came from the cover of the Swamp Water DVD I just got from a local library, based on the original movie poster.  

Re: Cottonmouths. See Agkistrodon piscivorus – Wikipedia, on the “pit viper in the subfamily Crotalinae of the family Viperidae … one of the world’s few semiaquatic vipers … and is native to the southeastern United States. As an adult, it is large and capable of delivering a painful and potentially fatal bite.” I didn’t see a single cottonmouth in any of my four excursions.

Re: The Canal. The Suwannee Canal was dug across the swamp in the late 19th century in a failed attempt to drain the Okefenokee. After the Suwannee Canal Company’s bankruptcy, most of the swamp was purchased by the Hebard family of Philadelphia, who conducted extensive cypress logging operations from 1909 to 1927.” Okefenokee Swamp – Wikipedia.

Re: Tom’s two canoes. The same canoes we used for the the July 2020 trip down the Missouri River. (Sioux City to Omaha.) See On my “new” Missouri River canoe trip. Apparently I never did a post-mortem on that trip, even though it featured us surviving an 80-mph windstorm that obliterated Tom’s tent, and left my tent with a fractured support-pole that I had to repair with a lot of duct tape. The COVID outbreak had just started, so the post included a lot of detail about how to stay healthy on the up to and back from the trip. We used the same canoes for a trip from Kingston Ontario up to Ottowa in 2018. See The “Rideau Adventure” – An Overview.

Some nuggets about Spanish moss. It has been used as building insulation, mulch, packing material, mattress stuffing, and fiber. In the early 1900s it was used commercially in the padding of car seats. In the desert regions of southwestern United States, dried Spanish moss is sometimes used in the manufacture of evaporative coolers, “colloquially known as ‘swamp coolers.'” Wikipedia. See also The Antioxidant Benefits of Spanish Moss – WholisticMatters.

Re: The second (2016) trip in, to the CANAL RUN shelter, nine miles in from Foster State Park. Among other things I saw fifty alligators during the first hour of paddling. After that I stopped counting.

O-be-joyful” is a code-word for ardent spirits. We brothers – originally four of us – started packing samples in past canoe trips, like down the Missouri River from Fort Benton, MT. That was a way of following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and other American pioneersBack in the old days of our country, whiskey – for example – was used instead of hard currency:

One of the first media of exchange in the United States was classic whiskey.  For men and women of the day, the alcohol did more than put “song in their hearts and laughter on their lips.”  Whiskey was currency.  Most forms of money were extremely scarce in our country after the Revolutionary War, making monetary innovation the key to success.

See Why Whiskey Was Money, and Bitcoins Might Be.

I also took the Gator picture at the bottom of the main text. But he was a good mile or so away from the capsized canoe. (I’m pretty sure…)

*   *   *   *

Getting back up to speed – for canoeing…

A recent view of the Okefenokee Swamp, made famous – or infamous- by a 1941 film, shown below… 

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I started working on this blog-post on Saturday night, February 11, 2023.

Which is part of what is shaping up as a busy weekend. One part came earlier today when I started packing up the basics for my next paddling adventure, a five-day canoe trip into the Okefenokee Swamp. Tomorrow will be even busier. I have to be at church by 9:00 a.m., for a special meeting, then take my sweetheart to lunch after church. Then I get to finish whatever packing I can do, aside from last-minute stuff on Monday morning. Then I’m heading to a Super Bowl party in Stockbridge. (Riding with a friend, so by the time I get back to his house I’ll be “sober as a judge,” fit to drive back to my house.) Then – as early as possible on Monday morning – I’ll drive down to Folkston GA to meet up with my brother and his two canoes.

Then on Tuesday, the 14th, we’ll head into the Okefenokee for those five days of canoeing.

As I started packing up – and otherwise getting ready – past canoe-adventure memories started coming back. That actually started last Thursday when I put up my alleged “six-person” tent. The one I used in the last canoe trip we did, which I previewed in On my “new” Missouri River canoe trip. The July 2020 canoe trip in which I survived an 80-mile-an-hour windstorm that ruined my brother’s tent, and snapped a hold-it-up fiberglass pole for my tent.

You can see the proposed (preview) of the trip in the “new” Missouri post, but one thing we didn’t count on was that 80-mile-an-hour windstorm. It happened on the Iowa side of the river, and my job last Thursday included sweeping out the river-bank sand from so long ago. For some reason I didn’t do a follow-up post on that trip. But my journal from 2020 noted the “[stuff] hit the fan,” the night it happened, from 1:10 a.m. to 1:50 a.m. That’s when I thought “my time had come,” pinned to my cot as I was for 40 long minutes by the front part of my tent. As the wind whirled around us, tore off the tent flap designed to keep rain out, and otherwise blew all kinds of equipment hither and yon. Next morning, a Sunday, July 12, 2020, we “picked up the pieces.” The first thing we noticed, No canoes! Or at least not where we left them, tied up so carefully to tree branches high up on the bank.

But not high enough, as it turned out.

We did find the canoes, eventually. One was sunk in the river, or practically so, up to the “gunnels,” about 20 feet out. The other was downstream, tightly lodged in some dead tree parts piled up on the bank. And not only did we find the canoes, and paddles, we managed to paddle the remaining 25 miles to Omaha, where that trip ended. (With a steak dinner and two beers.)

Which brings us back to my next adventure, and some more good news. As I found out last Thursday, wiith the judicious use of duct tape, that snapped tent pole can still hold my tent up for the trip into the Okefenokee. (Even though I had to duct tape one joint together, so the dismantled segments don’t fit neatly together in their bag like they used to.)

Then too, the ritual of putting up the tent – then taking it back down again – brought back some memories from past canoe trips started. Like each morning having to dismantle the tent the same way, together with the swanky cot I got for that last trip, not to mention the ordeal of stuffing all that into their respective storage bags. And the regular morning breakfast of lukewarm coffee and one and a half breakfast bars.

Then memories came of later in the day, after paddling a canoe for hours – the best part – of having to set up the tent, cot and other camping gear. Followed by the one hot meal of the day, then my “slooshing” out the dinner pans and dishes, then washing and rinsing them in the water boiled nicely on the Coleman stove. (By custom, my brother cooks and I do the dishes.)

Followed by some prophylactic swallows of O-be-joyful.

I’ll do a follow-up post once I get back. (The plan is to drive home Sunday, the 19th.) Hopefully with tales of relaxing days canoeing in the peaceful Okefenokee, with chirping birds and alligators who mind their own business. But for a review of our last canoe trip before the one with the 80-mile-an-hour windstorm, see The “Rideau Adventure” – An Overview, from September 2018. But before that I did a preview in Next adventure: Paddling the Rideau “Canal,” from July 18, 2018, and later that month – July 31 – “Naked Lady” – on the Rideau Canal? Here’s a heads up: I didn’t see any naked ladies on the Rideau Canal in Canada in 2018. But come to think of it, we did go through some severe weather on that trip too, paddling to Colonel By Island 

That overnight campsite included a violent rainstorm and raccoons breaking into our plastic food containers and taking our supplies of breakfast bars, crackers and trail mix.  That in turn was preceded by us paddling through a veritable monsoon, on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 21[, 2018].

And that’s why they call it adventuring. As in an “enterprise of a hazardous nature,” or preferably, an “unusual or exciting experience.” Or maybe just relaxing? Either way, Wish me luck!

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SwampWaterPoster.jpg
Here’s hoping I don’t get “bit on the cheek,” like Walter Brennan…

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The upper image is courtesy of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge – Image Results. From the article, National Wildlife Refuge System celebrates 114th birthday

Alleged six-person tent.” It seems tent sizes are always overstated. After the 80-mph windstorm my brother shared the tent with me, a combination of two people, and it was a really tight squeeze.

O-be-joyful” is a code-word for ardent spirits. We brothers – originally four of us – started packing samples in past canoe trips, like down the Missouri River from Fort Benton, MT. That was a way of following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and other American pioneers. Back in the old days of our country, whiskey – for example – was used instead of hard currency:

One of the first media of exchange in the United States was classic whiskey.  For men and women of the day, the alcohol did more than put “song in their hearts and laughter on their lips.”  Whiskey was currency.  Most forms of money were extremely scarce in our country after the Revolutionary War, making monetary innovation the key to success.

See Why Whiskey Was Money, and Bitcoins Might Be. It’s in that spirit that I take some “O be joyful” along on such trips. As in “I just had my fifth swallow of ‘Oh be joyful,’” and then, “Which helps a lot.”

The lower image is courtesy of Swamp Water – Wikipedia.  That article describes the “1941 film directed by Jean Renoir, starring Walter Brennan and Walter Huston, produced at 20th Century Fox, and based on the novel by Vereen Bell.  The film was shot on location at Okefenokee SwampWaycross, Georgia, USA.  This was Renoir’s first American film.  The movie was remade in 1952 as Lure of the Wilderness, directed by Jean Negulesco.” 

Here’s what I wrote about the film in 2105, in Operation Pogo – “Into the Okefenokee:”

I saw the movie Swamp Water back in the early 1960s.   (When I  was around 10 or 12.)  The part I remember best was watching Walter Brennan getting bitten in the face by a snake. In the scene, he kneels over and parts the bullrushes to get a drink… As Walter does all that, the viewer can see a grinning cottonmouth off to his right. (The viewer’s left.) The grinning cottonmouth then proceeds to bite him “right on the cheek.”

I’ve been fascinated ever since…

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Another paddling adventure – January ’23…

I’ll see a lot of these critters when my brother and I canoe into the Okefenokee

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Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

This blog is modeled on the Carolina Israelite. That was an old-time newspaper – more like a personal newsletter – written and published by Harry Golden. Back in the 1950s, people called Harry a  “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.” (For his work on the Israelite.)

That’s now my goal as well. To be a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see the notes below.

In the meantime:

I just ran across a post from March 2019, on a kayaking misadventure back in 2013.

I called it On a 2013 kayaking “adventure” and what brought it to mind was a new venture coming up next month. My brother and I are planning a five-day canoe trip into the Okefenokee Swamp. I’ve already camped overnight twice in the Okefenokee, in a small kayak, but they were solo journeys. (Remembering the Okefenokee, and links therein.) But this trip will feature two separate, large canoes, not one 8-foot kayak, trailing a small rubber dinghy. (“Tagalong.”)

I’ll have more on the Swamp trip later, but first a word about the 2013 misadventure.

I had just bought the eight-foot kayak, after getting back from canoeing 12 miles off the coast of Mississippi. (An eight-day primitive camping trip, as in “dig a hole and squat.”) But I hadn’t gotten too well acquainted with it yet. For example, I didn’t know about the drain plug. And so the post started out, “There I was, in the middle of a local lake around here, on a fine sunny summer afternoon. I was happily paddling away in my spandy-new kayak, when suddenly…

*   *   *   *

It was only my third time paddling the kayak. I had put in at Lake Kedron, and getting in a kayak is always awkward. But this time it tipped over a bit too far to the side, so once I got in I noticed what seemed like a small bit of water sloshing around. But I didn’t want to go through the whole process of getting out, emptying the water and then getting back in. I figured, “No problem, I’ll just put up with water sloshing around a bit until I finish,” in an hour or so.  So I paddled out, then turned around and headed back when I noticed what seemed a bit more water.

I kept paddling, and in a bit glanced back and noticed the back end seemed much lower. That’s when I discovered a big difference between a kayak and canoe. I couldn’t twist around to get a good view of the back end, which led me to this: “You know, I’ll bet there’s a drain plug somewhere on this kayak. I wonder where it is? I’ll have to check the instructions when I get back.”

To make a long story short, I ended up in a reverse-Titanic. (Titanic sank bow first. The kayak sank stern first.) And while it was a bit humiliating – the lakes in that area are all surrounded by homes – it didn’t turn out that bad. You can see the gory details in a 2013 kayaking, but here’s a final note. I sent out an email to family members, and my oldest brother – not the one I share travel adventures with – had this reply: “I don’t think I would have shared that.”

*   *   *   *

So anyway, back to that other adventure, upcoming, the one into the Okefenokee.

Back in October 2015 I kayaked into the Okefenokee from east side, using the same kayak. I put in at the Suwanee Canal Recreation Area (SCRA). Then in June 2016 I kayaked in from the west side, where I started at the Stephen C. Foster State Park east of Fargo, Georgia. My original plan for these trips was to bisect the Swamp, east to west. However, in October 2015 the only camping shelter available was at Cedar Hammock. Unfortunately, that was a mere three miles in from the SCRA entrance, so I couldn’t make much bisecting progress.

Still, the next day I made it as far as Coffee Bay day shelter. Then in 2016 I made it to the CANAL RUN shelter, some nine miles in from Foster State Park. That was still an all-day paddle, and still left a big gap between Canal Run and Coffee Bay. But next month, with two canoes and five days to paddle, we should make it from the east entrance to Canal Run, by way of Round Top shelter. And that’s not to mention “by way of” Monkey Lake.* (Finally getting down there.) That’s the plan anyway, to bisect the Okefenokee at last. I’ll keep you posted…

  *   *   *   *

All of which leads in to another travel adventure. This one is coming up next fall, and was possibly “preordained before the beginning of time.” Or at least foreshadowed in the post, On canoeing 12 miles offshore, from May 2015. It talked about Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1879 book Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. And about why he would do such a foolish thing as embarking on a “12-day, 120-mile solo hiking journey through the sparsely populated and impoverished areas of the Cévennes mountains in south-central France in 1878.” His answer:

I had been after an adventure all my life, a pure dispassionate adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers; and thus to be found by morning in a random nook in Gevaudan – not knowing north from south, as strange to my surroundings as the first man upon the earth…

And such is the nature of pilgrimages. They give us a break from “real life,” from the rat race that consumes so many today. Which is why they can be described as “religious ritual on the move.” Through the raw experience of hunger, cold and lack of sleep, “we can quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings.’” Put another way, such a pilgrimage can be “one of the most chastening,” but also one of the most liberating of personal experiences.

In case I’m being too subtle, after the canoe trip into the Okefenokee, my next great travel adventure will be this fall of 2023, hiking the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail in France. (With my travel brother and his wife.) Which again raises the question – for some anyway – “Why would anyone your age want to do that?” For a good answer check out John Steinbeck, who based his 1960 book Travels with Charley on Stevenson’s In the Cévennes travelog.

In Charley he noted many men his age – he was 58 at the time; I turn 72 this year – who are told to “slow down.” In turn they “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.” But that wasn’t Steinbeck’s way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

Or as we used to say hiking the Way of St. Francis, “it beats playing bingo at the Senior Center!”

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http://walkinginfrance.info/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/Travels1.jpg
Another adventure coming up this Fall, 2023 – without the donkey…

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The upper image is courtesy of Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge – Image Results. See also Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The “misadventure” link formerly included that add-on, “(blub, blub, blub).”

About Monkey Lake, and the Cedar Hammock shelter. In the October 2015 trip I paddled in to Cedar Hammock and checked it out, but since it was still early in the day I decided to padde down to Monkey Lake. And that’s where I went head-to-head with a big bull gator in a narrow canal, complete with two “bumps” that prompted me to paddle much faster. Here’s what I wrote a bit later:

I saw a big bull gator – who eventually submerged – in a very narrow canal. This was on the canoe trail to Monkey Lake. As I paddled over the water where the gator had been, I could swear he came up and nudged the bottom of my kayak.  I figured it was an accident. But the second time? That added some spice to the trip.

I turned around before Monkey Lake, and got back to Cedar Hammock way after dark. (See “Into the Okefenokee” – Part III.) I ended up paddling, in the dark, through a slew of water lilies, which led to: “That Monet guy can take his stinkin’ water lilies and ‘stick ‘em where the sun don’t shine.’”

Stevenson Trail. It’s also known as the GR 70 – see Wikipedia – or the Chemin de Stevenson.

The lower image is courtesy of Robert Louis Stevenson Trail – Walking in France. See also a post from my companion blog, On donkey travel – and sluts. A side note: Stevenson’s use of the word slut was grammatically correct at the time:

Slut first appeared in the written language in 1402, according to the Oxford English Dictionary…   At that time, slut meant roughly what one sense of slattern means today: a slovenly, untidy woman or girl.  It also apparently meant “kitchen maid” (”She is a cheerful slut who keeps the pots scrubbed and the fires hot.”).

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Re:  The Israelite.  Harry Golden grew up in the Jewish ghetto of New York City, but eventually moved to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Thus the “Carolina Israelite.”  I on the other hand am a “classic 71-year-old “WASP” – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – and live in north Georgia.  Thus the “Georgia Wasp.”    

Anyway, in North Carolina Harry wrote and published the “israelite” from the 1940s through the 1960s.  He was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (He told good stories.) That also means if he was around today, the “Israelite would be done as a blog.”  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  As he got older but didn’t turn sour, like many do today.  He still got a kick out of life.  For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.

*   *   *   *

On cracking a rib at Snowbasin…

Snowbasin – one word – scene of an infamous incident in 2020 that left me gasping for air...

*   *   *   *

It’s the start of a new year – 2023 – and at such times many people “look back in time.”

Usually people look back to the year just past, and normally that’s what I’d do too. But checking back on the posts from this past year – or this time last year – I didn’t see anything too interesting. So I looked back even further, to January 2020.

There I found an incident I’d forgotten about, until now. And that was even though I started drafting a post on it a month or so later. (In 2020.) The draft talked about cracking a rib (or so I thought), while trying to ski at Snowbasin.* That happened during my mid-winter road trip out to Utah, “in the bleak midwinter.” I’d left my home in the Atlanta area on December 27, 2019, and did a post on the drive out to Utah on January 20, 2020. (Just after I got back home, which turned out to be just before the COVID outbreak that started the following March.)

For whatever reason I forgot about the cracked-rib episode at Snowbasin in the years since. But it happened during a belated family Christmas get-together. My nephew got back from an Army deployment overseas, but he didn’t get home until a week or so after the “real” Christmas. And as part of the festivities, we all went to Snowbasin, and there – again – I tried snow skiing.

The road trip post talked about my long drive out to Utah. (Which included getting snowed in at Grand Isle Nebraska.) And about some fond memories of the post-Christmas family get-together, once I got there. But it also said: “In the next installment you’ll see how I cracked a rib while skiing at Snow Basin [sic]… And got a speeding ticket driving through *&^% Haysville Kansas!” For whatever reason that “next installment” never got posted, until now.

My notes describe a less-eventful drive home to Atlanta and led off: “I think I cracked a rib!” (Less eventful until I got the ticket driving through *&^% Haysville Kansas!”) The notes include thoughts on stopping for the night in Grand Junction Colorado. (Which brought back fond memories of my first wife Karen and I camping there for night in a travel van.) And how driving through Denver in heavy traffic was a real pain in the butt. There’s more detail in the notes, but for the sake of unity and coherence I’ll skip ahead to: “Now back to that cracked rib.”

We went skiing at Snowbasin twice, and I got “real practiced at the ‘bail-out.'” (That’s falling backwards to avoid running into crowds of people.) That was at the bottom of “Little Cat” ski run, and once you got there you went over and waited for the ski lift and another downhill run. In time I got better at staying up and not falling, much, “all the way up and all the way down.”

But before I tried skiing those two days, veteran family members taught me the “pizza and french fry” techniques beginners should learn. (Or kids, learning from their ski-moms). The idea is that to stop or slow down you turn your skis into a “pizza slice.” You turn in the narrow end of your skis up front and spread your heels – and the back end of your skis – out wide. Ideally, your skis should end up looking like a big slice of pizza.

For me – a Florida boy – the biggest problem was getting off the ski lift without falling, then getting out of the way of the people coming up on the next lift. In years before I’d had problems, but this time was different. I was amazed to get OFF the lift, then slide over out of the way, all without falling down. The trouble came on the last – 10th – run of the day. I wrote later, “Maybe I was getting a bit full of myself, but somehow I slipped off the ski lift as it was departing the bottom of Little Cat. I.e., I first slipped off the ski-lift chair itself, then slipped off concrete ‘runway,’ as it were, with a drop of about two feet, and then thumped down on my right side.”

At first, I thought the fall damaged my right kidney, given the pain in that area. But over the next few days it started to feel more like a SLIGHTLY cracked rib. I wrote later that it did start to get better, “but Saturday and Sunday night I couldn’t sleep on either side, as I like to do. I had to sleep on either my back or stomach, which is very strange to me.” I then added:

In closing, please note that I’m not complaining. I had a great time “out west,” including but not limited to snow-skiing again, for the third time in ten years. As for the “thorn in the side” caused by my own stupidity, I figure I have to “walk it off Nancy!”

For some reason I didn’t write anything in my journal about cracking a rib. On the plus side, I did use Facebook to memorialize this particular adventure. But to go back and retrieve those notes I had to learn how to better use the search techniques available to Facebook users. Which just goes to show, I’m still learning new things, even at the ripe old age of 71. (And counting, I hope.)  I’ve included some of those Facebook posts in the notes, but one point of this little essay is that for bloggers, it pays to look back over past posts. You just might find draft posts you’ve forgotten about. Then too, it pays to learn how to use that Search Engine on Facebook.

In closing, here’s my picture of skiers congregated near the bottom of Little Cat and the other slopes. They were the people I was trying not to run into, by way of the “pizza” technique. 

And yes, it was very cold that day…

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The upper image is courtesy of Snowbasin Utah – Image Results. Snowbasin is a “ski resort in the western United States, located in Weber County, Utah, 33 miles (53 km) northeast of Salt Lake City, on the back (east) side of the Wasatch Range:”

Snowbasin is one of the oldest continuously operating ski areas in the United States. Following the end of World War I and the Great Depression numerous small ski resorts were developed in Utah’s snow-packed mountains, and Weber County wanted one of their own. They decided to redevelop the area in and around Wheeler Basin, a deteriorated watershed area that had been overgrazed and subjected to aggressive timber-harvesting.

From Wikipedia. It’s 31 miles from Morgan Utah, where my brother and his wife used to live.

A word about looking back at the end of a year or beginning the next. I also found a draft post – from August 2020 – about the time my house in the woods got broken into. (By a man who turned out to be a mean-looking methhead with lots of tattoos.) I’ll finish that one later.

Unity and coherence. The link is to Unity and Coherence in Essays | Writing Center – PHSC:

Unity is the idea that all parts of the writing work to achieve the same goal: proving the thesis… Extraneous information in any part of the essay which is not related to the thesis is distracting and takes away from the strength of proving the thesis. [Also, an] essay must have coherence. The sentences must flow smoothly and logically from one to the next as they support the purpose of  each paragraph in proving the thesis. 

I note this because the family reaction is always the same when I hand out paperback versions of my eBooks at Christmas: “You’re writing goes all over the place!” In my defense I say that following all those “rabbit trails” I run across while writing is one of the best parts of the process. (For me anyway.) But in future writing I’ll try harder to achieve “unity and coherence.I’ll still follow those rabbit trails, but stick them back in the Notes, where they won’t bother my readers.

“First wife Karen.” She died in May 2006.

For more “rabbit trail” information, see How to “Pizza” and “French Fry” While Skiing – The-House. The pizza position helps you slow down or stop. (Which to me became very important.) The “french fry” position is when your skis are side by side, parallel to each other, and is used to gain speed. Also, “be sure you have the pizza position down before moving on to this one.”

“Thorn in the side.” See 2d Corinthians 12:7. The Bible passage is sometimes translated as the Apostle Paul talking about his “thorn in the flesh.”

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Here are some notes about the drive out to Morgan Utah, starting on December 28, 2019:

Last night – Saturday night, December 28 – I made it to North Kansas City MO, to the Motel 6 by KCI airport. I left south of Memphis in the morning (Olive Branch MS). All told I’ve driven 840 miles since leaving home Friday morning. Leaving some 1,028 miles to make it to Morgan.

I enjoyed the drive yesterday; Friday’s drive through the ATL and west Georgia was ‘same old same old.’ But it was interesting driving through northeast Arkansas, then on into south Missouri. I passed through Portia, Missouri, which brought back memories from the summer of 1987, when my parents paid for my flight out to Los Angeles and the Forest Home youth corps. (The Forest Home in the San Bernadino Mountains, not the one in Amador County.) See, the kitchen staff at Forest Home included a young lady named Portia, and the Youth Corps coaches (mentors) were fond of saying, ‘Ah, lovely Portia!’ But we digress…

But I wasn’t too fond of the drive last night. I’d just passed through Clinton MO and stopped at McDonald’s for a break. That’s when the rain hit. I got pretty drenched, then had to drive up through the rain, and strange surroundings, and the weird connection between Interstate 49 and I-29…”

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And here are some notes from a Facebook post I did on January 6, 2020 (for possible future reference):

“I think I cracked a rib!” There’s more on that later, but the good news is that today – Monday, 1/6 – I made it through the mountains west of and leading in to Denver from the west. (Which – Denver- was a pain in the butt driving through.) And made it to Goodland Kansas, some 1,230 miles from home. (Fayetteville GA, aka “God’s Country.”) I figure on getting home by Thursday night, after doing some touristy stuff on the way back home.

I left Morgan UT yesterday about noon, and drove south and east through the snow, slush and a bit of black ice. From Provo down to Green River, where I hooked up with I-70, and from there made it to Grand Junction Colorado. (Where Karen and I stopped and camped in our big blue van in 1996 or so. After I smashed up our travel trailer in Colorado Springs, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

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And here are some notes from a Facebook post I did later on January 6, 2020:

[T]his past week I’ve gotten used to snow, high wind and temps hovering in the teens. Then too, driving east on I-70 this morning, along the Colorado River, was scenic and VERY picturesque, but I was SO glad to make it back to the “flatlands” of the Great Plains, eastern Colorado. And – gasp! – the sun even came out. (For a while.) Now back to that cracked rib…

And here are some notes from a Facebook post I did on January 8, 2020 (for possible future reference):

Dammit! I found out today that there’s a speed trap in Haysville Kansas.

I was heading south out of Wichita this morning, trying to avoid the beltway traffic, by heading down US 81, running parallel to the interstate heading down to Oklahoma. Approaching the intersection of Meridian and Grand Avenue, in Haysville – (ptui!) – I was driving at a speed slightly more appropriate to western Kansas. (As noted in yesterday’s posts. I.e., Western Kansas rocks, but east Kansas SUCKS!)

So anyway, I got stopped. Then a couple seconds later I saw that another Haysville cop had stopped another poor slob, about a half block behind me. Thus the conclusion: SPEED TRAP! So as I drove east and south to get the hell out of eastern Kansas, “the air was blue all around.” But other than that the day went well. (You know, besides the cracked rib from snow skiing last Saturday.) I made it to Conway Arkansas, 566 miles from home. Which is do-able. I did 550 miles on December 31st, from Big Springs Nebraska to Morgan Utah.It’s been a fun road trip, but “Dang it will be good to be home!”

So much for the rabbit trails.

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More on living a longer, healthier life…

Michael Conrad‘s “Hey, let’s be careful out there” still applies today – if not more so…

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I just started watching a new video course on Wondrium. The title is The Emerging Science of Longevity, and it’s offered by Mark Hyman (doctor). Lecture 2 of the series talked about the importance of diet – food – to living a longer healthier life. It sounded pretty good, but I’ve learned the importance of Lateral Reading when navigating today’s Digital media. (For example, to see what’s true and what’s not true on the Internet. “Bonjour!” Like the old State Farm TV Spot?)

For starters, I found a doctor who called Hyman the Dr. Oz” of Nutrition. (Which wasn’t that much of an insult before “Oz” ran a hugely unsuccessful run for Senator in Pennsylvania.) That was Alex Berezow, PhD, who made his comment on October 14, 2020.

Then there’s Nutrition & Health “Experts” You Shouldn’t Trust – Sheila Kealey, which offers this: “Misinterpreted science, cherry-picked studies, conspiracies, and alluring anecdotes are the tools that many use to sell their stories.” Aside from Mark Hyman, other dubious “experts” included Mehmet Oz (recent Pennsylvania candidate for Senator), and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Which brings up what Sgt. Esterhaus said pretty much at the start of every episode of Hill Street Blues. (The Chicago-based police TV series that ran from 1981 to 1987.) Which brings up another cautionary note. Michael Conrad, who played Esterhaus – and kept saying “be careful” – died at the ripe young age of 58. (Young that is to someone who just turned 71.) Which presents another good reason to check out ways to help you live that longer, healthier life.

On the other hand, lateral reading showed that some of what Hyman said is supported by solid evidence. One proposal: “Eat a third less, extend your life by a third.” See You May Live Longer By Severely Restricting Calories … – NPR, and Do Low Calorie Diets Help You Live Longer? – Healthline. Then there was Autophagy, a word Hyman used that I’d never heard of. It’s the “body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells.”

[A]utophagy is an evolutionary self-preservation mechanism through which the body can remove the dysfunctional cells and recycle parts of them toward cellular repair and cleaning, according to board-certified cardiologist, Dr. Luiza Petre… “It is recycling and cleaning at the same time, just like hitting a reset button to your body. Plus, it promotes survival and adaptation as a response to various stressors and toxins accumulated in our cells,” she adds.

Dr. Petre added this would “remove debris and self-regulate back to optimal smooth function.” Which I figure is the functional equivalent of cleaning out all those junk computer cookies

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Getting back to my living a longer, healthier life: In March 2021 I posted An Updated ‘Geezer Guide to Supplements’ March 2021. The post – and links therein – was mostly about supplements – vitamins and minerals – but along with them I tried to eat healthy. Back then pretty much every morning I’d mix together a whole egg, along with kale, spinach, wheat germ, and flax seed. For extra flavor I’d add some bits of chopped-up pepperjack cheese. But since then I learned that my cholesterol was just a tad high. (And no, “I don’t know the numbers.”)

So these days, instead of a whole egg – with that cholesterol-high yoke – I switched to Simple Truth Organic™ Cage Free 100% Liquid Egg Whites. And did away with the cheese. But I still add in the kale, spinach, wheat germ, and flax seed. Which, with a dose of ketchup, tastes pretty good. (Kind of like a Spinach Omelet.) I’m also eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, but wondered about getting enough protein. So I ordered Orgain Organic Protein Powder, chocolate-flavored. It seemed pretty good, but I struggled with what to put it in.

I tried the suggested water mix, but the result wasn’t too appetizing. Too gritty. I went on to various other concoctions, but none worked out that well. One trick I tried – and still do – is getting a teaspoon of peanut butter and swishing it around in the powder. But the best way I’ve found so far is to buy get a chocolate protein shake, then mix in a couple extra teaspoons of the protein powder. The result is a creamy smooth drink – almost like a milkshake – that also stretches your consumer dollar. (You get more protein in smaller doses.)

But the “experts” also recommend variety, so for a change of pace I sometimes have oatmeal for breakfast. But not the regular, quickie, processed kind. I use Bob’s Red Mill Extra Thick Rolled Oats. It takes a bit longer but what the heck: No cholesterol and no sodium. I tried using a quarter cup of oats and a half cup of water, but that turned out to be too hefty a portion for me. So for a lighter version I came up with “fruitmeal.” You just put some frozen fruit in a microwave bowl – frozen fruit is cheaper these days – and add two tablespoons of oats and one tablespoon of water. (Frozen fruit adds enough extra water to make the mixture work.)

And you know all of this has got to be true because it’s now on the Internet. (Bonjour!”) But seriously, “Hey, let’s be careful out there. And don’t forget to do your lateral reading!

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The upper image is courtesy of Hill Street Blues Be Careful Out There Image – Image Results. See also Hill Street Blues – Wikipedia, and Michael Conrad, 58, Sgt. Esterhaus on ‘Hill Street Blues,’ Dies. The latter noted that Conrad died in 1983, at the age of 58, of urethral cancer. (Which offers another good reason to pay attention to a healthy diet and other life-prolonging protocols.)

Re: Lateral reading: “investigating who’s behind an unfamiliar online source by leaving the webpage and opening a new browser tab to see what trusted websites say about the unknown source.” On that note, and on eating a third less and living a third longer, see also Don’t Eat Less, Eat Less Often and Live Longer – drpompa.com, Eating Less to Live Longer – ABC News, and The Rule of Thirds – Healthy Gut Healthy Life – Kelsey Kinney.

Re: Clearing out cookies. See Should you delete cookies? 6 reasons you probably should, or The Importance of Clearing your Browsing History and Cookies.

Re: The 2021 Geezer Guide update. See also A Geezer’s guide to supplements, and A Geezer’s guide to supplements – Part II.

The full cite to the “Orgain” link is Orgain Protein Powder Review – Must Read This Before Buying. The rolled oats link is Organic Extra Thick Rolled Oats | Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods.

The lower image is courtesy of Bonjour State Farm – Image Results. For a live audio see State Farm® State of Disbelief French Model – YouTube.

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St. Francis, his birds and my Bucket List…

 St Francis – of The Way of St. Francis fame – “preaching to the birds…”. 

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In the last post, “Some highlights,” I noted what was to me the highlight of my recent 140-mile hike on the Way of St Francis. (From Assisi down to Vatican City and St. Peter’s Basilica.)

It came on the first day’s hike out of Assisi, on September 1, 2022. That first morning we reached Eremo delle Carceri. That was after getting through the city and hiking 3.2 miles for an hour and a half, just in time to see the day’s foreboding weather forecast come true. That forecast was for thunderstorms and a lot of really heavy rain. But before I get into the highlight of the 15-day hike – a highlight involving lots of cute jungen Frau – here’s some background.

Eremo delle Carceri is a hermitage complex on Monte Subasio, in Umbria, central Italy. The name “Carceri” comes from the Latin carceres, meaning “isolated places” or “prisons.” Which is basically what religious hermits like Francis wanted, a place to shut themselves away from all the crap going on in the outside world. Which I can understand, at this time just before the election of November 2022, with all those hateful, negative political ads. (Although in Francis’ case he gave a reason that sounded better,* to wit: A place to pray and contemplate.)

Around 2015 – 10 years after he first went there – the Order of St. Benedict gave him the site and its few buildings. Francis then “dedicated himself to a life of preaching and missions, but throughout his life he would frequently withdraw to the Carceri to pray.” And near the site of the hermitage is a stone bridge and an ancient oak. That’s where – according to legend – “Saint Francis preached to the birds as they perched in the oak’s branches.”

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Anyway, we three hikers had toured the site and visited the “facilities,” then gone to the concession stand near the entrance of this isolated hermitage. It was still early, but as it turns out, the Way of St. Francis features very few places to stop for lunch or mid-day break of any kind. So we took advantage of the situation and settled down with our sandwiches and drinks under one of the few umbrella-covered tables, in peaceful isolation. That’s when the heavy rains hit.

In a “New York minute” the heavy rain had overwhelmed the umbrellas, so we scooted over to the limited overhang of the concession building itself. And were soon joined by a horde of other visitors, all jostling and crowding in, with one tall gent positioning himself perfectly in front of me so the rain that fell on him came cascading down on me. (Okay, it wasn’t really “cascading,” but it was annoying.) I scootched around to a better position, cursing my luck, when all of a sudden we were joined by a flock of young high school ladies, apparently out on a field trip.

In other words, we three hikers thought ahead and found a good spot, sheltering beneath the two-foot-wide eaves, but then all the other pushing-and-jockeying-for-position visitors included a host of young ladies, all speaking German and all part of some field-trip group.

[T]hose pushing-and-jockeying-for-position visitors included a host of young ladies, all speaking German and all part of some field-trip group. The rain kept up for quite a while, but somehow the presence of all those jungen Frau – together with the challenging linguistic exercise of trying to figure out what they were talking about – made the situation enjoyable.

To which I can only add, “I’m just old, I’m not dead!”

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Anyway, in getting ready to write this blog, I thought it might be nice to compare this last Camino hike with the first one, back in September 2017. Kind of an Alpha-and-Omega thing. Or a compare-and-contrast thing. I covered that first 2017 pilgrimage in three posts: From October 3, 2017, “Hola! Buen Camino!” Then from October 23, 2017, “Hola! Buen Camino!” – Revisited. And finally, after my brother and hiking partner thought I was too negative in the first two posts, on December 6, 2017 I added “Buen Camino!” – The Good Parts:

Some people reading “Hola! Buen Camino” might think I had a lousy time in my five weeks hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain… {T]here was my comment on the first 10 days – after starting in Pamplona – being “pretty miserable. My left foot constantly throbbed, until it blistered up and got tough.” And that it took about 10 days for that to happen.

Which brings up some big differences between that 2017 hike and this last one. For one thing, I didn’t have near as many problems with my feet on subsequent hikes, especially the last two. (In 2021 and 2022.) My feet still got a bit sore at the end of each day, but not as bad as back in 2017. Routinely I would end the day back then by laying down on the hostel bed, laying my pack at the end of the bed and propping my feet up on it, then telling my brother, “You go ahead and take a shower. Take all the time you want!

For another, after leaving Pamplona in 2017 we hiked for 30 days, with only two days off: After 10 days a break in Burgos, and in another 10 days a break in Leon. That’s where we had to stop hiking and rent mountain bikes. We were running out of time, even though we’d tried to hike the 15 miles a day recommended by the Brierly Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago.

That experience led us to lighten up a bit. In the new normal we try to average 10 miles a day, depending on stopping places being available. (Sometimes we hiked six miles and sometimes 12 or 13 miles, but the average was ten miles.) And we take a day off every four days or so. (We are “getting up there,” with me at 71 YOA.) And about those mountain bikes. I thought they’d be a welcome break from hiking and sore feet, but the result was just different parts of the body getting way sore. Not to mention one time I rode off into a deep ditch, covered with brambles on both sides and the bottom. But we did end up making better time on that last third of the trip.

Other differences: The trail on the Camino in Spain was much better marked, and featured a lot more choices in places to stop for the night. One place even had a beer machine in the hall, and then there was the one place that featured pour-your-own and all-you-can-drink wine:

…at the end of the first day’s hike we stayed at the Albergue Jakue, in Puente la Reina. That was September 13, [2017,] when we made 15 miles but didn’t reach the albergue until about 8:00 p.m. The good part: “They had a $13 dinner special, which included wine. I GOT MY MONEY’S WORTH!” To explain: The wine came in a serve-your-own set of three spigots, not unlike those for draft beer. (Except for the privilege of “pouring your own.”)  

But alas, when we went through again in 2021, those pour-your-own wine spigots were gone. (Because of COVID.) That’s the trip where I hiked over the Pyrenees … finally, and that was because I wimped out in 2017. My brother hiked over those steep mountains from St. Jean Pied de Port, but I chose to avoid that and meet him in Pamplona.

In other words I eventually got to cross hiking over the Pyrenees off my Bucket List.

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The upper image is courtesy of St. Francis Of Assisi Preaching Birds Image – Image Results, with the added note, “original artwork by Henry Stacy Marks RA.”

 Re: Eremo delle Carceri. Here’s a more complete review, gleaned from the Wikipedia article. In the 13th century, Saint Francis would often come to this place there to pray and contemplate, like other hermits before him. Soon other men followed him to the mountain, finding their own isolated caves nearby. The oratory became known as Santa Maria delle Carceri after the small “prisons” occupied by friars in the area. The site was probably given by the Benedictines to St. Francis in 1215, at the same time they gave him the Porziuncola in the valley below. Francis dedicated himself to a life of preaching and missions, but throughout his life he would frequently withdraw to the Carceri to pray. Around 1400, Saint Bernardino of Siena built a small friary and extended the earlier chapel by building a small church, which was also named Santa Maria delle Carceri. In the centuries that followed, various buildings were added around St. Francis’ cave and the original oratory, forming the sizable complex that exists today. Today some Franciscan friars live there and visitors are welcome.

“Reason that sounded better.” Dale Carnegie once said there are two reasons to justify any action: The real reason and the one that sounds good.

“Hola! Buen Camino!” That’s a phrase you heard a lot from fellow pilgrims hiking the Camino de Santiago. It got on your nerves after awhile, and especially on my brother’s nerves. It got so bad he eventually took to taking long detours…

Re: Wimping out in 2017. The year before, in 2016, we had hiked the Chilkoot Trail, “meanest 33 miles in history.” See Remembering the “Chilkoot &^%$# Trail!,” and links therein. That experience soured the idea of mountain hiking for me, at least up to and through 2017.

The lower image is courtesy of Bucket List Image – Image Results. The link adds that it was first used by people facing imminent death, but recently just means “a list of things that I would like to do someday.” The phrase came into wider use after the December 2007 release of the self-styled movie.  

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One week away from a “Roman Holiday”

I don’t think I’ll be seeing Audrey Hepburn or Gregory Peck on my “Roman Holiday…”

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Saturday, August 20, 2022 – A week from today I’ll be flying over to Rome. (The one in Italy.)

I previewed this adventure back on April 17, 2022, in Getting ready for Rome – and “the Way of St. Francis.” That post told of a new adventure, starting on September 1. It will be the fourth of three hikes on the Camino de Santiago. The three earlier ones came in Spain, Portugal and a short section in France. (For details type “camino” or “paris” in the search box above right.)

In this upcoming September adventure three of us – me, my brother Tom and his wife Carol – will hike the 154 miles from Assisi to Rome. Specifically, we’ll be hiking from Assisi to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. (In Italian it’s the Via de Francesco.) The April post noted that because of its “challenging topography, the Way of St. Francis is a challenging walk.” The first few days are – it has been said – as challenging as a “walk over the Route [de] Napoleón that crosses the Pyrenees. A daily climb of 500 to 1000 meters is not unusual.”

Which is a hike we did back in September 2021. (See Hiking over the Pyrenees, in 2021 – finally!)

The April post noted that in preparing for the hike, I first had to find an affordable flight to Rome, then figure the best way to get to Assisi from Rome. At the time I thought the best way to Assisi was by bus, leaving Rome at 8:30 in the morning. But since then I found the Trenitalia website, and got a later train – leaving Rome at noon – to Assisi. And the place we’ll be staying in Assisi is a short walk from the station. (Whereas it’s a two-mile hike from the Assisi bus station.) And I got an affordable flight to Rome and back, mostly because I could pay for it in installments. (Thanks to my American Express – Delta – Sky Miles credit card.)

Meanwhile I’ve been making plans for my first day or two in Rome. Once settled in my B&B by Roma Termini station, I hope to visit a place called “LET IT BEER,” about two miles northeast. (I just like the name.) Later, or maybe the next day (Monday, August 29) I figure on hiking down to the Isola Tiberina. (Tiber Island.) That’s an island in the middle of the Tiber River, kind of like the Île de la Cité in Paris. (Which we visited last September. We got our required COVID shots at a tent set-up by the Pont Neuf. We had to get them to take a train down to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port.)

Also, based on a recent video I saw on Rome, I may try a fried artichoke in the Jewish Ghetto. (Highly recommended, for the adventurous anyway.) Google Maps shows “La Taverna del Ghetto” that may have it. “La Taverna” is a mile and a half southwest of my B&B, and Tiber Island is just beyond it. The Colosseum and Palatine Hill are pretty much on the way.

We’ll see how those plans work out.

Also this past week, I got 250 Euros from my local bank. Last Tuesday I did a four hour hike – figuring six miles at 24 minutes a mile actual hiking time – at a local Nature Center. (We”Il average ten miles a day.) I carried 17.4 pounds* including a pack and camp chair for an occasional break in the woods, without getting chiggers. (Always a problem in the Southeastern woodlands.) I covered up pretty good but still got a couple bites, one on my right tricep that still itches.

Next Tuesday I hope to get in a 7-mile hike along some local golf cart paths, with a full pack but no camp chair. And I plan to take a break for lunch, at a local sports bar, with a prophylactic beer, just to get into the Camino rhythm. And by the way, I have a hard and fast rule for those Camino hikes: I never have a lunch-beer before noon. (Well, “Hardly Ever!”)

Finally – and BTW – I’ll have 48 hours in Rome before heading up to Assisi. (Between getting settled in my B&B and taking the train.) But once we finish the hike we’ll have three full days for touristy stuff in the Vatican City area. (Across the Tiber and three miles from Roma Termini.)

Stay tuned for updates!

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Isola Tiberina 2014.JPG
The Isola Tiberina in the middle of the Tiber River in Rome…

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The upper image is courtesy of Roman Holiday Film – Image Results. See also Roman Holiday – Wikipedia, on the 1953 American romantic comedy starring Audrey Hepburn “as a princess out to see Rome on her own and Gregory Peck as a reporter.” Hepburn won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. The film was shot on location around Rome during the “Hollywood on the Tiber” era. “In 1999, Roman Holiday was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.'”

Re: The much better deal on getting from Rome to Assisi. My train leaves at noon instead of the crack of dawn, and gets to Assisi by way of Foligno a couple hours later. And a confusing note: The “Trenitalia” train ticket lists the day first, then the month, as for example “22/09/22,” instead of the American way, “09/22/22.”

Re: The 17.4-pound backpack. The ideal for Camino hikers is ten percent of your body weight, which in my case would be about 150 pounds.

Re: “Hardly ever!” See H.M.S. Pinafore “What, Never? [Well,] Hardly Ever!” – eNotes.com.

The lower image is courtesy of Isola Tiberina – Wikipedia.

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My visit to The Big Apple – June 2022

The Statue of Liberty, from my kayak, during an attempt to paddle across New York Harbor

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August 6, 2022 – Back in June I visited The Big Apple, New York City. Part of the trip included my trying to kayak across New York Harbor, from a boat ramp by the Statue of Liberty over to Manhattan. It didn’t work out the way I planned, but I’ll get into that in my next post…

Meanwhile, the main reason for the trip was to see my brother and his wife perform – with some other people – at Carnegie Hall. They were part of a concert by the New England Symphonic Ensemble on Friday night, June 3. The program listed their group as among “participating choruses.” Then in the week after the concert my family and I visited other sites as well. But during that visit I didn’t have time to do any updates on this blog. Then, when I got back home, I had to get ready for another road trip, as told in Catching up from my trip to Dubuque. (For the Fourth of July weekend.) Since then I’ve been busy getting ready for my next trip, overseas, previewed in Getting ready for Rome – and “the Way of St. Francis.”

In other words, I’m just getting back to normal. And speaking of getting back to a rhythm

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I made a lot of notes on Facebook driving up, ultimately through the western part of Virginia (via I-81), and up into Pennsylvania, before heading east to New Jersey. And a bit of foreshadowing: That’s the way I’ll drive back in all future road trips to NYC. Going home the other way – south through New Jersey, into Pennsylvania and then Delaware – the traffic and tolls were murder. (Metaphorically anyway.) Even trusty old rustic US 301 – going south from Wilmington and on over the Bay Bridge into Annapolis – is now a &^%$ toll road!

Not to mention I got a &^%$ fifty dollar parking ticket in Jersey City, for parking on a side street. (I stopped at a McDonald’s to get some breakfast before trying the “kayak across New York Harbor.”)

But back to the happy start of the trip. I left my home just south of the ATL late on the morning on Tuesday, May 31. (Last-minute packing and such, including the kayak.) I took back roads over to I-20 at Greensboro, then through Augusta and up I-77 toward Columbia. That day I made 270 miles, to Richburg South Carolina, 56 miles above Columbia. With the air-conditioning out in my car, and a kayak nestled up and over the front passenger seat. As always, traffic around Charlotte, NC stood like a hydra-headed monster for the next day…

Sure enough, and even though I started early, traffic came to a near-standstill near Pineville. So I got off I-77 and took more backroads over to Interstate 485 – the “Outer” way – and over to US 29. That’s mostly a four-lane highway without the traffic hassle of driving through Mooresville and Statesville. And speaking of no air conditioning, Ernest Hemingway wrote that Hunger Was a Good Discipline. I suppose heat – in the form of temperatures in the high 90s – could also be considered a good discipline. (It makes that first cold beer taste ever so good.)

On Wednesday, June 1, I made it to Lexington, Virginia. That was only 278 miles for the day, but the town looked so beckoning – nice and rustic – that I decided to stop there for the day. (Which is why I decided to take four days going up.) I stopped at the local Ruby Tuesday’s for a quick beer before checking out exercise opportunities. There I experienced some local drama. The wait staff, including the barmaid, were very disgruntled with management, and I was lucky to get that first draft beer before she closed out. (Or walked out) After that drama – and to clear my mind – I took a hike around the beautiful campus of Virginia Military Institute.

Later I went to the local Applebee’s, for two more draft beers and a cup of chicken tortilla soup.

My plan for Thursday, June 2, was to stop in Harrisburg, PA. I wanted to find a place to put in my kayak on the Susquehanna River. Unfortunately, there was no such place. Google Maps showed one possible site;* a park with a stream draining into the Susquehanna. But the only place to put in was above a dam and waterfall. All the rest of the stream-banks were too weed-choked and rock-strewn. Plus I saw enough congestion and bad traffic – just getting to the %^%@$ park – that I “proceeded on” to the Hershey PA exit on I-81.

There I found a nice Motel 6 and visited Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar at 7025 Allentown Blvd. (Technically Harrisburg, but I highly recommend it anyway.) I wrote later:

Long day putting around and through Harrisburg PA. No place to kayak, traffic sucked, and a travel tip. Gas up before you get to Pennsylvania. I paid $4.56 at the Sam’s Club, and was glad to get it. $4.79 a gallon wasn’t unusual.

Little did I know that gas prices were about to go higher still, once I got into New Jersey. On a more positive note, I followed up the two beers and sweet potato fries at Arooga’s with a rousing 70-minute hike through the Oak Park Trail. (Adjacent to Dauphin Middle school; I hiked a bit through their parking lot, as they were holding some kind of graduation-night event.)

Next morning I got up early and headed east on I-81 to where it split, becoming I-78 northwest of Jonestown PA. From there it was smooth driving, through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, until I crossed into New Jersey. Where you are actually fined if you pump your own gas. (Between $50 and $250 for a first offense, and $500 for subsequent offenses. For more, see the notes.)

On Friday, June 3 – the day of the concert – I stopped at my first Wawa convenience story in a long time. (On I-280.) That was before crossing over the Hackensack River and into the traffic in Jersey City and on into North Bergen. There my brother Tom had rented an upstairs apartment just down the street from North Bergen High School.

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The rest of Friday, June 3, was a blur. The three of us got checked in and unpacked, then got “dressed up” for Carnegie. (A note: We needn’t have bothered. The native New Yorkers at the concert were dressed just like us slobs back home; shorts, shirt untucked, whatever.) Then we hiked up the hill, to the stop by the North Bergen High School, for the first of many trips on the 154 bus over to Manhattan. We met up with the other brother and his wife – Bill and Janet – the ones who were singing at Carnegie. We had a pre-concert dinner at this place on Broadway, the Applejack Diner, shown below. As for the concert itself, we had some unexpected drama…

But I’ll save that story for a future post!

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I took the upper photo, from my kayak, near the start of my try to paddle across New York Harbor. According to Wikipedia, it’s “one of the largest natural harbors in the world, and is frequently named the best natural harbor in the world.” Also called Upper New York Bay, it’s “connected to Lower New York Bay by the Verrazano Narrows,” and other bodies of water that actually constitute a “tidal strait.Some foreshadowing, that “tidal strait” figures in the next post, on how that kayaking attempt worked out. For more on my other preparations for the trip, see Back to New York City – finally!

Re “Participating choruses.” The phrase in the program was “With participating choruses.” You can click on the near-upper-right “Calendar View” at Official Website | Carnegie Hall.) The chorus in question was The Trey Clegg Singers, Inc. My brother and his wife have sung with “Trey” for years.

Re: Getting back to rhythm. My first wife Karen (who died in 2006) used to say I wasn’t spontaneous enough, I was in too much of a rut. My response, “It’s not a rut, it’s a rhythm.” See also The Three Biggest Benefits of Good Habits – Top Three GuideWhy Habits are Important: 5 Benefits of Habits.

Re: Hunger Was a Good Discipline. See Hemingway in Paris, vis-a-vis the chapter starting on page 67 of the 2003 Scribner paperback edition of A Moveable Feast.

Re: “Google Maps showed one possible site,” to put in by the Susquehanna. It was New Cumberland Borough Park, on Yellow Beeches Creek, near the New Market suburb of Harrisburg.

Re: New Jersey’s ban on self-service gas pumping. See Why New Jersey and Oregon still don’t let you pump your own gas, and What’s the fine for pumping your own gas in N.J.? – nj.com. I knew beforehand about the ban, but didn’t know it’s long and complex history, over a century old. Initially full-service stations saw self-service as cutting into their thin profit margin. “Full-service gas stations played up safety hazards around self-service, arguing that untrained drivers would overfill their tanks and start a fire. But eventually self-service was seen to reduce costs and increase volumes of gasoline sold. One ironic note: “In New Jersey, the self-service ban, along with the state’s reputation for low gas prices, is part of its culture.” FYI: Gas prices in New Jersey were as high as in Pennsylvania, and 50 cents a gallon higher than back home in Georgia. (Another reason to call it “God’s Country.”)

For future reference (a new post) I noted some activities on Thursday, June 9, the day before we left for home. “After the walking tour of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown – and hiking across the Manhattan Bridge and back – relaxing with a mint chip gelato, back in Little Italy. Cafe Roma.” Stay tuned…

The lower image is courtesy of the gallery in the Applejack Diner website.

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