Archive for August, 2007

Be a party pooper

August 30, 2007

The bean burrito you ate last night will appear again today, no matter how many blocks of cheese you devour in hopes of convincing nature otherwise. As a backpacker fifteen miles by foot from any porcelain, you might be tempted to send off smoke signals for rescue at the thought of defecating amongst the trees. But once you acclimate yourself to the process, rediscovering last night’s dinner will become a pleasurable, if not an anticipated, experience.


In order to enjoy excreting in the wilderness, you must stay one step ahead of your burrito. Before urgency clouds your judgment, know your strategy. When you first rouse yourself from the tent in the morning, consider your food’s position in your digestive tract in relation to your day’s schedule. Plan to liberate it at a time that will appease your body rhythms without disrupting the day’s events, so that you don’t find yourself bursting three minutes into the morning’s hike or as you reach the middle of an empty field. If you are expecting some action, you will be able to respond calmly when your bowels begin to bellow. To appease their cries, you might prefer to slink away from the group, clutching the trowel under your shirt to conceal the purpose of your departure. Or you might feel most comfortable soliciting a trusted partner to join you in the dirty deed. Alternatively, you might skip flamboyantly away, whirling the trowel over your head and whooping with excitement.
After you bid your group farewell, the search begins. If you have chosen to forgo the conventionality of toilet paper, gather substitutes such as leaves, pinecones, and smooth rocks or sticks as you ramble through the woods, so that once you find a hideaway, you can get to work immediately. In choosing wiping materials, remember that squirrels bite, poison oak and ivy make for future misery, and rare plants or wildflowers should be admired, not desecrated.
Travel a substantial distance from the campsite and trail, because pooping in populated areas not only shocks onlookers, but nauseates those who will pass through after you leave. Avoid streams, rivers, and lakes by at least seventy steps so that your excretion does not slip into the drinking water after the first heavy rain. Seek boulders, thickets, and groves of trees that will partition you from the rest of your environment. You will soon make yourself vulnerable and will find escape difficult with your pants around your ankles, so choose a location in which you feel secure. But consider also the aesthetic appeal of your site. Pursue a place that overlooks an intricate spider web, a blooming rhododendron, a cloud, a sunset, or a series of mountain ranges that fade into the horizon.
Once you select your haven, brush aside the leaves or pine needles atop the soil, and scoop a hole with your trowel the depth of your open palm and the width of your outspread fingers (measure before you begin to eliminate). Place all gear, clothing, and materials in front of you so that you can monitor exactly what touches them and what does not. Drop your pants and squat, carefully positioning your rear over the hole. For the next five minutes or so, keep your balance, but relax. Enjoy yourself. Admire your surroundings. Listen to the wind rustling the branches. Smell the fragrance of the honeysuckle beside you. Watch ants lug bits of food through the leaves. Then wipe. Seal soiled toilet paper in a trash bag to pack out, and drop wiped-with leaves, sticks, and rocks into your toilet hole. Shovel soil back over the hole, cover it with leaves or pine needles, and top it off with a rock or small log to ensure that the area looks as pristine as you found it.
Meander back to your fellow campers, relishing the relief. You can slip among them as if you never left, march up triumphantly hand-in-hand with your partner, or burst through the group in a full gallop. After you wash your hands, reward yourself with a scoop of trail mix, a bowl of Ramen noodles, or a plate of rice and beans. Then eagerly await the twists and grumbles that will send you in search of another haven amongst the trees.


Fleeing to the falls

August 26, 2007


When you break a sweat picking the newspaper from the front yard at 7 a.m., it’s time to visit Foster Falls, a 60-foot waterfall in Marion County, Tennessee, about 40 miles northwest of Chattanooga.
That’s exactly what I did today, in the company of four friends, who, like me, craved the sweet relief of something cold.
We panted and sweated down a boulder-strewn trail to the edge of a large pool — and gazed skyward to behold… a tiny trickle of water, splattering down from the top of a sandstone cliff.
Ok, so the drought has not been kind to Foster Falls. But that didn’t make the water at the bottom any less refreshing.
Foster Falls is in the Tennessee Valley Authority Natural Area and is the ending point of the 12.5-mile Fiery Gizzard Trail, known for its exceptional views, spring wildflowers and winter ice formations. The cliffs along the trails in the Foster Falls area draw rock climbers from all over who like sport climbing and the challenge of overhangs.
This afternoon, we treaded water in the deep part of the pool and watched, sometimes cringingly, as climbers ascended the rock face behind the waterfall and released, kawoosh, hitting the water. Around the banks of the pool, some sunned on the rocks and others threw sticks for their dogs to fetch.
After a while, we wrapped ourselves in beach towels and climbed the trail back to the parking lot.
We hit the Dairy Queen in Jasper about 15 minutes down the road back to Chattanooga, just in time to buy an ice cream Blizzard before we dried off completely.

100 miles — If I don’t die first

August 26, 2007

Rain dripped off the front edge of my helmet Saturday morning as I pedaled with about 2,500 riders down Chestnut Street in Chattanooga on the first stretch of the annual 3-State, 3-Mountain Challenge. The 100-mile bicycle ride would take me through three states and up three mountains by the end of the day — if I didn’t die first.
I participated in the 62-mile version of the ride last year, but decided to pedal the full century this year just to see if I could. Fueled by Pisa Pizza’s chicken ziti from the night before and prepared with the energy bars in the back pocket of my jersey, I pushed off at the soggy, 8 a.m. start feeling slightly nervous, but ready.

I hit Suck Creek Mountain about six miles into the ride, just as it stopped raining. The five-mile climb and five-mile descent were gradual enough that I felt warmed up, but not exhausted by the end.
I came across the first food and drink stop at the base of the mountain in Powell’s Crossroads, where bikes lay strewn across the lawn and riders clicked around the pavement in their cycling shoes.
I refilled my barely-emptied water bottles, ate a piece of a banana, and then headed toward mountain No. 2.

The dogs who usually chase cyclists along the roads leading to Sand Mountain stood complacently in their yards as we passed, rather than snapping at our ankles. The riders before us, I’m sure, had already worn them out.
After a while, I settled into a pace line, a single-file group of riders who took turns cutting the wind for each other. Except for when I was in front, the distance passed much more easily with the help of other riders.
We hit Sand Mountain after 52 miles. My legs strained as I pumped up the mountain that was slightly steeper than Suck Creek, but nothing in comparison to what would follow.

Throughout the ride, I had been dreading the final climb up Lookout Mountain on Burkhalter Gap Road. The climb, which started at mile 80, has a reputation among cyclists for being especially brutal. I was worried my legs would shut down midway up the mountain, and, being clipped in to the pedals of my bike, I would crash to the pavement.
I crept up the mountain
among a loose group of riders, who seemed as daunted by the climb as I. During the last quarter-mile, when the road took on a 17 percent grade, I had to stand up on my pedals and lean over the handlebars to keep any kind of forward momentum. I couldn’t think of much more than the pain.
Once I crested the mountain, my mood drastically improved.

Though I felt relatively strong through most of the race, the climb up Lookout Mountain and the 10 miles following depleted every bit of my energy.
I pulled into the finish line at Finley Stadium just over 6 hours after I started. I was thrilled to have finished, but couldn’t get off the bike soon enough.
Published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press, May 6, 2007