Sunday, September 30, 2012

Falling for Fall Creeks Falls in the Fall (Sorry 'bout that.)

Heading out

And so I am back from Fall Creek Falls Tennessee. I had hoped to write about the trip much sooner upon arriving home (September 23rd), but as I may have not mentioned here, I am once again working full time and in school full time. It is a pattern for me to be either utterly unoccupied or obligated every minute. Either way is actually fine with me for some reason.

Camp Pippa, FCF (click for larger version)

For anyone who might not be my three regular readers, this camping excursion would be our second in a new/old somewhat renovated pop-up tent camper named "Pippa" and this trip follows on Pippa's recent maiden voyage (in August) to the nearby camping paradise of Land Between the Lakes more commonly known as "LBL" some thirty miles southeast of here on I-24. For this trip, With a week off work, the original plan was to take Pippa pretty far afield and camp in or around the Smoky Mountains, but alas, I could not weasel out of my (three hour) Tuesday night class. This meant we could not set out sooner than Wednesday morning, and so after a considerable amount of research, we settled on Fall Creek Falls as a destination, some four hours away. As it happens, Nashville marks midpoint of the the trip. 

Despite our earlier difficulties with the dreaded trailer backing (related classic quote, "THERE'S  SOMETHING WRONG WITH THIS MOTHERFUCKER"), we got Pippa positioned in only three tries. 

Down from a high of twenty-seven thousand. 

We were quite pleased with the uncommon levelness of the campsite, practically on the bubble. This couldn't possibly have been a coincidence considering the drastically uneven terrain of the park. Thank you, park planners! We're also becoming wildly efficient with Pippa's set-up and breakdown, and I predict we will achieve McGuyveresque-level proficiency by our next trip. We keep forgetting to time ourselves until we're half way through the process, but we can certainly get the job done in under an hour start to finish and that's including setting up and breaking down everything else (like camp chairs, stove, blah, blah...). While still not the easiest task, cranking (har) has become considerably less difficult thanks to an enthusiastic lube job by a tragically misguided and smitten mechanic who shall remain nameless. Said smitten mechanic spent quite a while, I'm told, up under Pippa's business smearing grease on all the cranking mechanisms (no extra charge of course. *wink!*).

Since we arrived on a Wednesday, we had our whole section of camp to ourselves, certainly no one on either side or behind us. Thrilling, to say the least.  After setting up, we still had daylight left to burn and managed our first visit to the eponymous Fall Creek Falls.

The view from the top of Fall Creek Falls.
 While I can tell you, with certainty, that the picture above is of Fall Creek Falls, that's where my ability to name and recognize falls on sight ends. We would hike to at least four more falls, likely Piney Falls and Cane Falls, Cascade Falls, and (other?) Falls, but since there wasn't (thankfully) a banner sign draped across each of them, I don't know which one is which.  I can tell you that the Fall Creek Falls gulch you see here is two and a half football fields deep and we resolved to hike to the bottom first thing in the morning. Right after...

The makings of breakfast burritos: onion, peppers, corn.

The MOST wonderful PART of the trip!  Camp breakfast! 
This is the little-used camp stove that came with Pippa that I spoke of in my last camp post. While Pippa is fifteen years old, I'm not sure anyone ever hooked up this stove before we did. It works like brand new,  running  off a propane tank that is stored inside the camper. A hose is threaded through a hatch to power the stove. The only thing even very rustic about it is that the burners must be lit with a match. Otherwise, it cooks as well as any indoor gas range.

Essential camping gear: your own personal squatch tee.
Except everything tastes better outside. Have I mentioned?

The only way FCF State Park could have been any more lovely would have been for us to be there a few weeks hence for fall foliage. As it was, the weather was PERFECT, 70s to 80's during the day and 30 to 40 degrees at night. That may sound a little brisk, but it's really nothing a puffy vest, a campfire, and a roasted marshmallow can't cure. Though we brought a heater, once still and covered in the camper, it was actually perfect sleeping weather.  Though I will say it was a bit of a chilly hike to the potty, some 150 feet or so away. It was the price we paid for having our camp well away from the knot of what I call "friendly campers" or people who want to camp up each other's asses and chat with strangers, of which I am most certainly NOT one (surprise!). I generally pre-bring people with me that I like to talk to. 

Perhaps most importantly, the showers were clean enough AND there was plenty of hot water to be had. While I've evolved quite a long way as a camper and outdoorsy person, you won't find me pooping in a hole of my own digging nor sponging off with wet wipes as a means of cleaning myself nor wearing stank absorbing clothes (though I'll admit they are ingenious) as a matter of necessity any time soon. Nope. 

Beginning the hike to the base of Fall Creek Falls. This wide, stepped path in no way represents  90% of the trail which was narrow, knotty with three roots, and a heavy dose of rocks ranging from boulder-sized on down.
The hike to the bottom of the falls was steep as one would expect and, while wearing my hiking boots is far more often than not a fashion statement, that certainly wasn't true of hiking FCF Park. While hiking/climbing back up is harder on the muscles and more winding, heading down is scarier because of the very real possibility of grandma taking a header to the bottom.

I'm very happy to report that never happened.

Looking  back.

Looking down.

The base of FCF.

We were rewarded at the bottom with a beautiful view and a nice sprawl on a huge, flat rock thoughtfully placed by the Almighty (orsomethinglikethat) at the bottom for just such an activity. Eventually we had to give it up, though, because for some unknown reason there were... "other people" (?) on the trail.

We found it convenient between wilderness adventures to eat out only at lunch time at the one restaurant that necessarily monopolized the FCF meal-time trade located in the (state-run) hotel. The building had the "executive inn syndrome" meaning it looked like a prison. The dining room was cavernous, could have easily seated hundreds, and, in the midst of a Forest paradise, was inexplicably dotted with a bazillion fake plants suspended from the soaring ceiling (?). I have nothing good to say about the food, which was served buffet-style, and included way too much iceberg lettuce, sadly. Everything was labeled with calorie content (?) and cooked within an inch of its life. The carrots melted in your mouth. Literally. I will say I was delighted to discover a passable chili-like substance offered up day #3.   

Also, not sure what's up with this: (?).

We suffered our first wildlife attack on Night #2.

Ye olde raccoon.

My romance with raccoons, much like my first marriage, was short lived. It went something like this:

Stage One
"Oh, look! A raccoon, isn't he he ADORABLE?"

Stage Two
 "Ohmygod! Raccoons are attacking camp! We're all going to die!"

Stage Three
(Raccoons amuse themselves by sneaking up behind my camp chair in the dark until...)
(They do this repeatedly always resulting in...)

Stage Four
"If you'll pass me that lighter fluid and a match? I'm pretty sure I can herd that sumbitch into that storm drain and blow him straight to hell. Not kidding. "

In the case of the FCF attack, "someone" (me) repeatedly suggested to "someone" (not me) they MIGHT want to lock the food filled cooler in the truck for the night (bears, anyone?).  However, "someone" (not me) has taken to amusing themselves by engaging in raccoon warfare by leaving the food cooler in plain sight but bungee cording (with 19 bungee cords) the lid closed so the coon is driven mad by the inaccessible, yet tantalizingly close, supply of snacks.

We lost our hamburger to this little game. A perfect nasty little coon print pressed into the ground chuck.

I was, however, ASSURED the coon did not touch anything else in the cooler.

And how do we know this, you ask?

Because "somebody" (not me) actually claims to have actually heard it the very first time the coon's mangy disease-ridden little coon hand touched the cooler. In the dead of night. While the hearer was only seconds before asleep. With the cooler, of course, being located outside the camper.

Why, yes, people are frequently wakened by the sound of a coon hand hitting plastic.


Day two found us at the riding stables. We met a friendly older married couple from Georgia who, as we were getting signed up, enthusiastically clued us in to the knowledge that Friday night was "Seafood Buffet" night back at the fake plant dining room. I wincingly nodded, imaging the man enthusiastically tearing into limp, overcooked shrimp and thousand year old crab legs following an iceberg salad smothered in Thousand Island dressing.  
Mr. and Mrs. Crab Leg

We had to sign so many liability release forms that I imagined them saddling up a mighty  steed I would be charged with the responsibility of managing, but "Hank" was in fact a mild-mannered fairly disinterested brown horse on the short side. Any remaining apprehension I may have had about riding evaporated as I watched the stable worker swing her four-year-old daughter onto a horse, sans helmet, and send her off on the ride with us.

We may not have ridden to the hounds, but it was lovely just the same.

This may or may not be "Elvis"
Once we returned, and better than the ride, almost, was the fact that they told us we could visit all the horses in their stables if we wanted to. There must have been twenty or more of them in all shapes and sizes. We spent as much time petting (or trying to pet) all the horses there as we did on the ride.  I have a terrible fear that these kinds of "amusement" animals aren't treated well (too much "Black Beauty" as a child), though I saw no evidence of this and we had all kinds of fun giving them some love and attention.

The dreaded interspecies crush.

Back at camp that night, we experienced our first real bout of adversity when the loons at Camp 217 decided to listen to a little preachifyin'.  On the radio? Recorded? No idea. Problem was, Camp 217 wasn't satisfied to have just their own souls saved and ponder the implications of hellfire and damnation all by their theirselfs. They figured, I guess, that all us heathens at camp that night needed a dose of proselytizing. And so, for the better part of an hour, we were all treated at top volume to the booming, paranoid ramblings of some preacher or another. Recall, also, that our camp was located somewhat more remotely than the others so I can only imagine how miserable it was for the majority of everyone else, located as they were much closer to the madness.

We considered our alternatives...complain? have a conversation with 217? as we sipped delicious ice cold beer by the campfire and the rantings of Preacher X (?) continued to insult the night. 

We did nothing, in the end. The crazy leaking out of Camp 217 and polluting the fresh air around it was pretty palpable, honestly. Peering over there through the darkness at their campfire made me shiver. And not from the cold.   

Can I help you?

We discovered what might well be our favorite FCF hideaway the next day: Buzzard's Roost. Located at one of those marked scenic vantage points, you have to take a short hike below and around and down a trail to get to the actual point, but the breathtaking vista AND 3G's made it well worth the effort. Almost nobody else ever went to the trouble to go beyond cheesing it up at the photo spot. 

Here's a shot of it from a distance.

What little Facebooking we managed took place here because, for the most part, there are no G's to be had elsewhere at FCF. (Which is, I guess, kinda the point? Even if it seems a little excessive). I spent some time laid out on the rock at Buzzard's Roost wallowing in the luxury of all 3 G's, my head propped on the binocular case, my butt tucked into a gentle indentation in the rock, obviously once again engineered by nature for this very purpose, the banjo picking strains of "Rocky Top" echoing in my head, wondering if Tennessee is, in fact, the most beautiful place on earth.

It was that day.

Lookie! An unidentified falls! PWETTY!
Thursday night brought all sorts of fresh hell to the campground...PEOPLE.  And backing in their camp trailers IN THE DARK!  Show-off bastards.

Although, I'm happy to report they did occasionally run into things. 

And I know this because I've taken to sipping beer by the campfire and smugly watching people back in their camp trailers now that we're genius and can do it in three tries. Anyway, the dreaded PEOPLE brought their dreaded kids, one group of which took to "blood curdling screaming" as a means of amusement. Haha!  Yah!  Good times. And I would have been really mad too.

Except that I was distracted from all my problems by the sudden emergence of a skunk from the woods. A big, wide, kind of silvery one likely driven from his lair by, oh, I don't know...maybe (I'm guessing) BLOOD CURDLING SCREAMS?  He looked none too amused and while we thought surely he'd deviate from his course of heading STRAIGHT FOR US, he did not. Unperturbed by us jumping from our camp chairs and waving our arms about, he continued his steady progress in our direction.  I suppose if I had any sense, I would have tried a blood curdling scream of my own (and I'll admit to briefly wondering if there was any way we could possibly herd him to camp 217), but I was too frightened by my extensive knowledge of skunk spraying gleaned entirely from that one Brady Bunch episode.  You know the one, right?  Where everybody has to take a bath in tomato juice and they STILL stink?

TWO falls.
Not a fate I want to experience. We shut ourselves up in Pippa and the skunk was gone by morning. 

But Friday would blow us a a much iller wind than skunks or screams.  Because Friday was the day the plague of JeffChrisandDrew arrived. 

Along with sharing the beigest and most middle class American names possible on the planet, JeffChrisandDrew were all decked out in North Face and heinously ugly Teva "show your whole damn ungroomed manfoot" sandals. And I would know this about JeffChrisandDrew because they rolled into the camp RIGHT NEXT TO ours. Worse still than JeffChrisandDrew and their manfoot sandals was what they brought WITH them.  You see this coming, right?

Their five kids: Loud, Louder, Loudest. Oh, and the twins, Bitch and Moan. 

The forest!

Not one of these kids was over the age of five.  Not. One.  All boys.

Clearly, JeffChrisandDrew, at some point, had taken leave of their senses.  

 While the kids screamed and cried and, especially, bitch and moan (in pull-ups, no less) bitched and moaned, JeffChrisandDrew went about the exhausting business of pitching THREE tents on ONE campsite, corralling five kids, and making endless trips to the bathroom (which, recall, is rather far away, especially if you're an unreliable toddler). Once unfurled and set, the tents left JeffChrisandDrew and loud, louder, loudest, bitch and moan about five square feet to stand in although, helpfully, one kid was often dangling from the top of a short pole on the site. I'm telling you, that place was like the Superbowl during hurricane Katrina.

A hot screaming desperate mess.

The descent to the bottom of (Cascade?) Falls

We were never so glad to set out for another day of hiking as we were on JeffChrisandDrew day.     
Suspension bridge over (Cascade?) Falls. Only six people at a time could cross.
 And I'm happy to report we found FCF was otherwise as serene and lovely as ever. 

Cascade Falls (?). You can see the suspension bridge over the falls at the top left of the photo. Also, if you click for a larger version, you can see the swimming family dad just to the left of the falls.

 The hike down to Cascade Falls was perhaps the steepest thus far in a land of very steep hikes. There was listed in the guide a hike so steep it required one to actually cling to a cable, but we opted to save that excursion for another trip. 

As an aside, at the base of these falls, we found "the swimming family" stripped down to their bathing suits. This was a family with a mother and baby in a sling and a father and their two, perhaps 7 and 9 year old daughters. For some reason the Dad and daughters felt compelled each time they encountered a body of water, to strip down to their bathing suits and wade in while Mom photographed the whole bizarre unseasonable process. This though it was rather too cold for it and, er, nobody else was doing it? 

We first noticed the swimming family the day before shivering and balancing precariously on rocks in a stream on one of the trails, but finding them wading about at the base of Cascade falls among prominently posted "NO SWIMMING" signs was a little shocking. The Dad was coaching the girls (who were clearly nervous and freezing) from slippery rock to slippery rock to nearly the actual ROARING falls and back again. I spent some time pondering what the Dad's overall message to these kids might be?  

"Girls! Wear your bathing suits at all times!  Whenever you see a body of water... STRIP DOWN! WADE IN! CONQUER IT! Find a slippery rock and cling to it with just your toes! You'll be a better person for the experience!"  

Back at camp, things with JeffChrisandDrew had not improved.  Several of the children were in full "I want my Mommy" meltdown crying stage and the others were beating the hell out of each other with sticks. The squealing, screeching and squawking continued until nearly 10 pm and we were awakened at six o'clock sharp the next morning by the musings of Loudest, who picked that pre-dawn moment to try and have a top volume discussion with his father about his favorite song at a location that sounded to be about three inches from our sleeping heads.

From there, the cacophony began anew and the demon spawn of JeffChrisandDrew tuned up for another day of misery. I fixed a delightful breakfast as the squealing and screaming grew louder and higher in pitch and intensity with each passing moment. Just when you thought it couldn't get any louder?  It did. When Loudest took to shout/screaming at the top of his lungs, I'd had enough. Plugged my iPod into the truck speakers and rolled up the volume on some Notorious B.I.G. until we could no longer hear the pandemonium emanating from camp super dome over the smooth song stylings of Biggie Smalls.


JeffChrisandDrew, in their first wise move of the weekend, decided it was time to take the kids out for breakfast (lucky for all those unsuspecting bastards at the restaurant, eh?!) and we decided to break down camp before they could return. Truth be told, we'd considered going home then anyway and it was as good a time as any. 

Not gonna lie. I can hardly wait for our next excursion!
(Is there something wrong with me?)

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Saturday, September 01, 2012


Chicken chili topped with shredded sharp cheddar cheese, along with salsa verde, and good old fashioned Premium saltines.

I'm starting a new job next week and have recently become obsessed with the idea of the creatively packed healthy lunch. Okay, well, at least marginally healthy. And a tad creative. Honestly, just about anything one can bring from home is bound to be a better choice than the crap available at your average drive through. And it's certainly more cost effective.  I'm trying to concentrate mostly on whole foods though I don't think I'll ever get over my cracker/carb obsession. Also, I would like to work toward making dinners that easily translate into delicious, lunch-friendly leftovers like you see above.  

I hope to chronicle my efforts here as I go. Provided I keep up with making the lunches (and working and going to school and everything else), the documenting shouldn't be a problem, obsessed as I am with photographing my food.  

The lunches you see here are packed in divided 3-compartment Ziploc containers and ready to go into the freezer until Tuesday. My newly acquired lunch obsession definitely extends to and is even heightened by the number of cool, compact, handy, eco-friendly lunch container choices on the market these days.

I mean, really, it's all about the accessories, people. 

I am tempted by Goodbyn and their hip containers especially the bynto box and the mix and match set. Doubt if one could go wrong with Rubbermaid Lunchblox. I love love LOVE the Citizenpip "Soup to Nuts" kit, especially since it includes containers for liquids (iced tea from home!) and a (tiny!) fork and spoon.  Then there is the lunch tote, which definitely appeals.  A girl can never have enough bags, after all. Although I do have to confess to having at least one lunch tote already, actually the cutest lunch tote in the world:

I just kind of want to squeal when I see it (the leaf zipper pull?).  In some ways, it's too small to be practical, but there will mos def be days when it will work and I will be thrilled.  It's a "skip hop" lunch box and I got mine at Target.

I'll leave you with the recipe for the Chicken Chili pictured above.  I used all the ingredients listed except I cooked my chicken breasts in a little olive oil with garlic and shallots then fork shredded it and added it to a dutch oven where I had assembled all the other ingredients, and simmered it all for an hour or so and served.  DELISH!