In the week between posts (every Friday is my new goal), we had a quick trip to Atlantic City for a bachelor party which included dancing until 2 am, then waking up 3 hours later to drive Ken to the airport so he could fly down to Florida for 24 hours during which I caught up on the house and yard work. We had a few hours post-Florida to gather up our camping stuff before driving down to Monongahela State Park near Petersburg, WV for the remainder of the week. Ken’s dad’s side of the family spends about a week every summer camping there, this summer marked their 49th trip. Besides Ken’s dad, two aunts and uncle the crew there is made up of friends, their kids and their grandkids. They call themselves S.C.U.M., which stands for “semi-annual camping unlimited misfits,” a reference to Mutiny on the Bounty. The group rents the lower loop of the Big Bend Campground. We didn’t have the kids with us this year, so we decided to take a hike up one of the mountains. Smoke Hole Canyon is a gorge where the South Branch of the Potomac River continues to carve its space between the North and Cave Mountains. Big Bend Campground lies in the center of a big bend in the river (hence the name), which is a lovely way to float down the river on a tube, walk a little bit across to the other side, and loop again. We undeniably earned our lazy river float after this hike. I don’t have the exact mileage or elevation, since it is very much not a “real trail” but from the topography, we climbed about 2,374 feet. Although this was not Ken’s first trip up this mountain, stepping on a beehive and a black eye certainly made it one of the more memorable ones.
“Talk less, do more. Brag less, create more. Distract less, learn more. Hate less, love more.” – Robin Sharma
I joined Ken’s family last year for a few days in “Smoke Hole” as they refer to it. A mixture of RV and tent camping make up the campgrounds. Our tent pad was so close to the river that I could hear its murmurings from my bed. Days there include unhurried breakfasts, chairs at the beach, tubing in the river, “Scumsgiving” and late night card games. There is zero cell service or wifi, less a 30 minute drive up to Shreves convenience store with complimentary wifi. One of my favorite “SCUM” is Uncle Al who uses a ham radio to communicate with people all over the world. At Scumsgiving I picked his brain a little bit asking him just exactly how he communicates with people all over the world using this fairly rudimentary technology. He has even made contact with someone from Reunion, in Africa. In juxtaposition, Al also worked for the technologically advanced Apple for a while. He wears an Apple Watch that recently detected that he was in a car accident and sent a text message to his wife, and also sent her updates when the EMTs picked him up and brought him to a hospital. I had no idea that a ham radio and a cell phone, at its very basics, use the same technology. He taught me about the difference in radio waves and how we use them for not only radio, but wifi too.
Thursday morning Ken and I woke up early to go hiking before the heat settled in. We packed up some water, snacks and sneakers. We crossed the river in sandals and changed into our sneakers and socks. Ken warned me that the first part of the trail would require bushwacking, followed by a steep incline. As we walked through the tall grasses growing next to the river we talked about how chaotic our summer has been so far. At one point last week, frustrated by the fact that the longest stretch he’s been home has been about 48 hours, Ken said to me “NO MORE VACATIONS,” a la Gandoff in Lord of the Rings. Microwaves work by causing water molecules in food to vibrate and move, which produces heat. Likewise, as work, obligations and travel have all increased with speed this summer, we have found ourselves a little heated and agitated. We agreed that after our California trip, which is after the Houston trip, which is after the camping trip, that would be it for summer vacations. The tickling grasses gave way to a dirt forest floor, and the first steep incline to the ridge began. Without a path, we made our way up going pretty much straight. In retrospect we could have gone up switch-back style, but physically we are capable of it. The conversation paused during this part except for a few “Phews!” and “Oh God, I need to go to the gym more.”
The ridge of the mountain we climbed was like walking along the spine of someone bent over a beach ball. A trail appeared flanked by tall pines, and abrupt drop offs on either side. I am obsessed with Fahrenheit 451 and I related how in that story the world grew smaller and faster with technology, yet the people became more agitated. I thought about the part where Beatty explains to Montag how the world got where it was “’Speed up the film, Montag, quick. Click? Pic? Look, Eye, Now, Flick, Here, There, Swift, Pace, Up, Down, In, Out, Why, How, Who, What, Where, Eh? Uh! Bang! Smack! Wallop, Bing, Bong, Boom! Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in mid-air, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters, that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!” (52). It’s hard to think when the world is moving so fast. Information comes at us so fast. So many people are expected to be accessible at all times. Like many other people, I am searching for a new job with more flexibility. Do I want that though? When I am off, I am off. I’ve taught for so many years that I rarely have to bring work home with me. I am not expected to answer emails at all times of the day. I watch how so many of my peers cannot be away from their phones or emails even while they are taking personal vacation days. No wonder the world is slightly agitated.
Continuing along the vertebrae of the mountain the vegetation changed slightly with more cedar trees growing with their twisted growth. Just after Ken told me to keep an eye out for seashells, he spotted a small white one. This area is so remote that evidence remains that this mountain had once been a seabed millions of years ago. Ken and I talked about human connection as we continued the slightly ascending ridge. We talked about how important it is to slow down, make sure we have time not only for family and one another, but for ourselves. We stopped to look down and where the river splits, where our hike had begun, and committed to making more time in between our chaotic lives to slow the fuck down. And maybe stick to 3 states per week, maximum.
A very unassuming, flat forested area veiled the last gnarly climb to the top of the mountain. We began to crawl our way up the once again non-existent path of shale, loose dirt and tiny little saplings that didn’t give way when I needed them (thank you friends). A bit of a rock scramble to the top and we came out on an outcrop that overlooked our campground. The views were breathtaking. It had only taken us an hour, and we agreed the tough ascents were well worth the panoramic views of the Mountain Mama state. Atop the mountain, time slowed. With no rush to get anywhere, and a lackadaisical trek along the ridge to find and photograph a memorial to deceased Scum. We sipped water and had a snack. We shouted down “Hey you Scum!” and heard some muffled cries and car horns in response. We marveled at beautiful specimens of cedar, fields of flowers, and a solitary Bald Eagle. We photographed butterflies. In the upturned roots of a cedar that looked like a giant octopus we found two cacti that we decided to transplant. Ken didn’t realize that cacti have spines in their roots, and he had to pick almost imperceivable spines out. After adding our own touches to the SCUM memorial, we decided to take an enormous piece of cedar home with us, to remind us of not only our trip, but the place Ken has been going to since he was just a few months old.
“Let us go on and take the adventures that shall fall to us.” -C.S. Lewis
The descent was truly a descent into chaos. Ken started off carrying the log across his shoulders and missed the non-existent trail and instead wove us through a patch of briars. Having no leg hair, I was fine, but he got burs all up and down his leg. Once we made our way back to where we had come, it was time now to go down the shale, loose dirt and steep pitch. It was a little scary. This time a little sapling friend slipped through my grip and I went crashing down on my left elbow. Ken was able to slide the log down and follow afterwards. I decided to go slide-style down on my bottom, but quickly realized that my shorts rode right up and I scratched my entire butt. Back in the unassuming forest, I grabbed the log since it was flat for a bit and just as my shoulders began to slightly ache, I stepped on an underground hive and a small swarm of pissed off little wasps emerged to seek vengeance. As we began to run, I got stung a few times, as did Ken. He slowed down to ask me if he should take the log, and I yelled, “NO! Keep running!!” even though I was out of breath and my shoulders screamed each time the log bounced up and down. Fortunately the wasps gave up pretty easily because I cannot imagine I ran that fast or far. The sting in my ankle was the worst, and once we were certain no more wasps were around, I sat down and Ken pulled the stinger out. We took more down from the mountain than expected! We took from that mountain and she gave back, there’s always a give and take in life.
Continuing back down the spine, we took turns carrying the log and had positive conversations about life until my blood sugar dropped and I got hangry. We stopped for a snack. I had never been as dirty hiking as I was then. The back of my legs and butt were covered in dirt from falling and sliding. My back and shoulders were covered in dirt from the log, as were my hands. Ken was no better off. A pack of fruit snacks and a Larabar later I was boasting about how well doing CrossFit had prepared us for such a task. Life was good. We made it back down through the non-trail steep part and we were progressing towards the river with our trophy-log in tow. Mostly. That was where we came in, right? Ken was carrying the log in front of me, trying to navigate back through the tall grasses to the river, when he stopped to figure out if we had crossed a gully. I kept walking. I walked right into the sharp, pointed end of the log. We had just been so careful stepping through leaf piles hoping to not accidentally find another hive. In fact, just before I walked into the log, I almost said how unlikely that would be to happen twice in one trip, but I didn’t want to jinx myself… An explosion of expletives came out of my mouth as I grabbed my face and bent over. Ken asked if I got stung again, but when he turned around he realized that I had hit my face. I kept telling myself to open my eye. If I could see out of my left eye, it would be ok. Thankfully the log had just missed my eyeball, but I did have a nasty cut on my eyelid. At first I was surprised when Ken told me I was bleeding, but then sweat began to drip into the cuts and I began to feel pain. Bloody, dirty, tired, covered in burs and cacti spines we hobbled our way over the river bed rocks towards the campground.
“Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.” -Daphne Du Maurier
Al had explained the difference in AM and FM radio to us the previous evening but he is so much more knowledgeable about the subject matter than I am, so I had to dumb-down the explanation by using YouTube. I found that both AM and FM use sine waves. AM radio uses amplitude modulation, meaning that the frequency is the same, but the amplitude changes. In FM radio the amplitude is the same and the frequency is modulated. Each radio station number indicates the time it takes to go from one peak to the next. AM radio, first created in 1892 runs from 535-1705 kilohertz, or 1200 bits per second. AM radio waves cover a larger range, but they are more susceptible to noise interference and static. By 1933 FM radio was created to solve the issue of static. Running faster, FM radio runs from 88-108 Megahertz or 1200 to 2400 bits per second. I did some research and learned that cell phones are both a transmitter and receiver of radio waves in the 800 megahertz range. Even faster than that WiFi transmits and receives data in the Gighertz range. I wondered about Starlink, since Ken is slightly obsessed with Elon Musk and found that “The band that Starlink uses to beam down internet signals takes up a sizable chunk of frequencies from 10.7 to 12.7 gigahertz.” (source). I wonder what might be some of the consequences of speeding up our connections? We can all have cell service in remote locations! No more spotty internet! More emails, more phone calls, more social media, more money, more convenience. But what are we trading for this? I wonder if my most important connections shouldn’t be more like AM radio waves. Although the highs and lows of the waves vary, as they will in life, the frequency with which they happen are more predictable. If my frequency with Ken is on an AM station, we would be running on a slower, but steadier frequency of travel, communication, downtime and love to enhance our bandwidth. Sure, a little static might come in from time to time, but I would rather be hit in the face with a log than never have gone on that hiking trip.