One time I went camping with my brother Joey and my friend Dan. It was honestly 3 of the best days of my life. It took place in 2006 and was the tail end of 4 years of annual hiking weekends. The hiking trip I took two years before that in 2004 was by far my manliest. But the hiking trip I had went in 2005, not so much. To date it has been my worst hiking experience. To be clear, I’d take that weekend over a week in the office, but nontheless. I had just come off the manly year in which I had an incredibly successful hiking venture in North Carolina. I actually don’t know the exact location of that trip. Odd right? I think it adds to the lore. The idea that somewhere out there is an unmarked trail and I conquered and fell in love with it with no possibility of ever seeing it again (like a Spring break tryst). So the year following this trip I made plans to head in the same general direction with two completely different people and unfairly expected the same result. Let’s do a little comparison: The first trip I’d bro’d up with two dudes I had hiked with previously. One was an Eagle Scout and the other a Raven Scout (I just made that up but he was a man’s man and while not an Eagle, he fell somewhere just below). Either way, I’d hiked with them before and this trip just strengthened the bond and we had a blast.
This trip was with my little brother (8 years my junior so say, he was probably 16) and a longtime friend. But the longtime friend and I had never done any physical activity together with the exception of playing some basketball. Overall, he was a fantastic dude. It’s just hard to judge how someone will act with you when they are schlepping around 50 pounds of gear in 85 degree weather and 110% humidity. Not to mention when he accepted the invitation his first comment was, “That sounds great and I’m in. I will have to stop quite a bit to eat though, my blood sugar level has to be constant,” Or something to that effect. FYI, he was the skinniest dude I know. Now I don’t know if he had some health problems he didn’t feel comfortable discussing but it’s been my experience that most blood sugar problems come from obese people who need an extra little Debbie or they can’t crawl back into their Walmart motorized cart to pick up their diet soda. Anywho, whatever he was eating didn’t stick around long enough to turn into fat with the miles we were going to put in.
We drove up to Cesar Head State Park with the plan of hiking a trail and camping somewhere along the way. We were in the car all through the night Thursday and designated Friday and Saturday to hike. That Sunday we would meander our way (or mosey, whichever you prefer) back home before going back to work on Monday. Our first mistake was the park we chose. Well, the park at which we ended up. See my two previous camping jaunts had been planned by another who told me the concept was drive north until we hit a mountains and scout around for a hike. I can do that and I did. Cesar Head State Park though, like most state parks, didn’t allow trail camping. I get the reasoning in that you don’t want a ton of sorority girls marching out in the woods and causing a ruckus or hurting themselves on Uncle Sam’s back yard (oh… did you think I was going to say frat guys?! It’s 2016, stop gender typing). But we weren’t heavy drinkers and certainly not drug users so it seemed completely ridiculous to tell me I couldn’t sleep in a tent in the woods where no one is going to check anyways. They said we could rent a primitive camping spot for $20. “Ha! Pay you to sleep on the dirt. I’m not a total idiot!” The Ranger suggested traveling the 6.1 miles instead of 6 and camping just past the trail where the government had no jurisdiction (a rare governmental show of restraint). I gave her a little wink, which creped her out more than showed my appreciation and awkwardly left the station. Then it was just me and the two green horns with nothing but trail in front of us.
The best moment of hiking for me is when you start the trail. You set out and each bend in front of you hides the adventure that lies ahead. We did a little desert island and as we walked and discussed what TV shows we would bring on DVD (…dvd…shows it was in 2005) if stuck on an island. I chose LOST (still would to this day) and HEROES. Keep in mind it was mid season 1 and I was fired up. I didn’t realize the free fall of trash it would turn into.
I had a nightmare situation happen relatively early on. I had to use the bathroom. Number one, and everybody knows the rule of using the bathroom when hiking. Unfortunately I don’t. I just look around to make sure no women or paparazzi are hiding in the trees waiting to attack me and then let loose. Sadly, there was a bend a little ways off. I hadn’t seen anyone in hours so I thought, ‘what are the odds that a woman and her dog would come marching up while I was answering natures call?’ Pretty good actually because that’s exactly what happened to me. I’m pretty quick on my feet so I turned away and started pointing my hands out over the mountains as if I was announcing something. I’m sure she wasn’t fooled but she was gracious enough to not say anything. And that was highlight of the trip.
From there we traipsed the 6.1 miles of high and low elevation until just past midday. The end of the government trail and the place we’d unpack for the night. It was less than impressive. No place to sit, no even ground, no Jacuzzi (I was hopeful) and the water was dark and not approachable due to the brush along the banks. We took one look at it and drew one conclusion: ‘We have to go back!’, swallow our pride (maybe some Burger King too) and take the campsite for $20. The round trip would be 12.2. Not record breaking but for us it may as well have been 122.2. We trudged and purchased the land from the government for the evening. Unlike what happened to the Indians, they let us keep it for the night. It was quite pretty with a trickling stream passing next to it. You would think that with us driving all through the night before and hiking the 12.2 we’d sleep like babies. We slept like babies with colic. Miserably I tossed and turned all night. The next day we couldn’t take anymore.
We found a beautiful deep flowing stream with which we could trout fish. At the start we had two options: go right or go left. We had no idea what where either path led. We just knew we were filthy and exhausted and pulling a fish from the stream and cooking it would be the experience that changed the course of our strife. Cut shot to 4 hour later. We had 3 empty trout bags and 3 empty stomachs. Defeated we headed back to the car. But something told me we weren’t done. When we came back to the original cross roads I said, “Let’s just go a bit in the other direction.” 10 feet past the start of the new path we came to a bridge. Not unlike a movie when a break in a hurricane offers the heroes a glimpse of sunlight, we saw a glimpse of nirvana. We had walked right into a state park that had a swimming hole, candy machine, showers, and free back massages. Well…three out of four ain’t bad. When we had showered up and eating a Snickers bar or 4 we had settled into a conversation. We reflected on how bad the trip had been up to that point and shared some laughter. Then, during an awkward pause I said, “Why drag this out? Who’s ready to go home?” Unanimously, we agreed.
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I was in a band in high school. I know, you’re thinking ‘that’s where I’ve heard his name before!’ We were called Sweet Crazy Money and it consisted of myself and three friends. These guys are some of the best men I know now. Two or them were brothers and are still my best friends. But at the time I was mostly friends with the older brother Andy and hung out with Brent the younger brother almost exclusively for sports and band stuff. The friendships with these two would prove invaluable for, among other things, my love of hiking. See when Andy went off to college in Kentucky I hung out with Brent much more. 10 years ago I took my first real hike. It was one of the high points of my manhood.
Brent had read the book Wild At Heart by John Eldredge. He too had realized the woes of Florida life and our lack of elevation. So, he declared that he was going to climb a mountain. Five friends were joining him and I, one who relishes awkwardness because I just never feel it, invited myself to join them. The 6 of us were off into the great unknown, literally, we just drove north.
Now that I have kids an itinerary is crucial. Back then we went until we saw a mountain and a path. All I know of the location of this trip is that we were in Sapphire, North Carolina. And I only know it because of the YouTube video I made. It has it in there (I’ll post the link to the video at the bottom. It was made in 1847 so go easy on me for the editing. I think I was using DOS back then). My father signed me up for Cub Scouts and I had been on fishing trips were I’d traversed a creek or two. But up until that point in my life I had never been on an actual hike in the forest. Here’s how much of an idiot I was: 1) I bought brand new work boots for the hike. Hey, I had no idea what terrain lay outside to borders of the Sunshine State. Could be Georgia, could be Mordor. 2) For food I packed 5 raw potatoes (I’m Irish. Sue me.) and 5 cans of soup. In other words, I packed 45 pounds of food. Did I mention I didn’t bring foil to cook to potatoes in or a spoon to eat the soup with? No? Well, I didn’t bring foil to cook to potatoes in or a spoon to eat the soup with. The hike was a hilarious 5 miles. I say hilarious because at one point I thought we had gone two miles and looked over my shoulder to still see our car roughly a few hundred yards away.
The trip itself and the company were spectacular. Just some dudes who went from Boys to Men (That’s what we should have named the band! Man we blew it. No wonder we came to an end of the road). We had to cross two suspension bridges very Indiana Jones style. One morning I spotted an otter living it up in the mist of the river. I made friendships for a lifetime that I truly felt were cemented on that trip. I lived with two of the dudes in college. I went to 3 of their weddings and even DJed one. Mind you I’m not a real DJ, but I can make some magic on the ones and twos. Two of them live in different states but when they come in town I give a free basketball clinic just to remind them who the boss is.
Down side, Brent got an amoeba in his cornea that he found a few weeks later and almost lost his eye…what a wuss right?! On the way out I actually had to walk backwards because of the blisters that had formed on my heels courtesy of those sweet new Walmart boots. 0 star review by the way. We stayed 2 nights and when I left my body was a broken vessel of pain. The only cure was Burger King and big ups to the King for setting me straight. When I got home I made this video to solidify the memory. I watch it a few times a year. Honestly, it’s the reason I’m writing for this blog. It’s the reason I find solace on the trail. It’s the reason I look forward to the open air. Eventually, it will be the reason my boys and I log hours, see mountains, and eat trout we caught in a river we cook on a fire we made.
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I remember it like it was yesterday, mostly because it wasn't that long ago. Way back in the year 2012. The iPhone 5 swept the nation allowing people to take pictures, videos and even listen to music all on their phone! The New England Patriots had only been involved in one cheating scandal. And only 3 Jurassic Park movies existed (2 that were any good). In other words, it was ages before 2015 and the invention of the Hoverboard.
I had spent a year working towards the opening of a new business and had determined that a weekend hike would get me mentally prepared before opening day.I chose my father as a hiking partner. In his 55 years on the planet he had hiked the same amount of miles as my then infant child had hiked. But he was enthusiastic and I knew the time would be spent laughing as much as hiking.
We chose the Pine Mountain Trail in Georgia. How that weekend progressed and ended is another story. This one is more lighthearted.
In doing his research for our hike my father had garnered enough info to have chosen his souvenir ahead of time. He wanted a wooden walking stick Bilbo Baggins style. I never object to hobbit paraphernalia and planned to buy my own as well. You can even buy the medallion of the park you are visiting and hammer it on your stick like a badge of honor. It's a level above Cub Scouts but not quiet the Marines. I have since added 2 state parks to mine. My dad's stick currently has, and probably only ever will have, just the one.
We entered the shop and made a b-line for the barrel that held 10 or so hiking sticks ranging in size and color. Beautifully lacquered they varied in shade and presentation. Some had big knots that drew the eye instantly. They all had been shaved so smoothly that they looked as though they were made of faux wood.
We selected a few to try out. These were going to be snug in our hands for next two days and then some. I pictured myself hiking the AT and fighting bears with my trusty wooden Excalibur! When we hike alone, we shall not be alone. For the sticks shall also be with us. Giving aid to our weary legs and guiding us over rocks. Our sticks shall go where we go. Never complaining, the stick walks at your pace and if you put your ear close to it you can hear it whisper, "you can do it buddy. I believe in you". So needless to say we had to do a little sauntering around the shop and have hike like conversations to see if our sticks were the chosen ones. The hiker doesn't choose the stick, Mr. Jeremy. It’s not always clear why.
My father leaned on his one handed, then two handed. Ipretended to hold a beer while he spoke. We walked the store not unlike runway models. Although I'm 100% sure Victoria Secret models have never discussed the history of the Patagonia clothing line. We dodged guests and Park Rangers, one of which popped out of a door I didn't even know was there. We faked anger to see if the stick would increase our intimidation. It did not. We faked laughter so long that we actually started laughing. In the end we chose wisely.
Walking to the counter we picked up a couple of medallions and Pepsi-Colas. As I reached for my wallet the Park Ranger that had appeared during our runway show said, “That’ll be $8.” Math has never been my strong suite and let’s be honest, with the advent of technology, it’s basically obsolete… unless you’re a total dork. But this didn’t add up. I held out a $20 bill, the Ranger snatched it, made my change and had moved on before the last tumbler fell into place. We walked quietly back to the car puzzled. Then, caught up in the majesty of the park, I forgot all about it. Remember we are from Florida so the only hills we see have red ants inside them.
The trip ended and as we drove back I needed a piece of paper to wrap my gum in. I grabbed the receipt from the shop. I mulled it over and it hit my like lightning.
“Aha! I figured out why we were only charged for the medallions and Pepsi.”
“That Park Ranger that rang us up never saw us enter the store. When we were parading around the place with our sticks laughing like a couple of chuckle heads, he must have thought they were ours.”
It had to be true. I don’t know if they ever figured it out, but it was an honest mistake. Truth be told though, I felt a little like Keyser Soze.I had accidentally pulled off the heist of Pine Mountain Trail. I crossed the state line into Florida and breathed a sigh of relief. I snickered as the long arm of the law faded out of my rearview mirror. I drove away with my windows down in my car letting the air run through my fingers and thought,‘dang it feels good to be gangster.’
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I don't care what your hiking or camping group dynamics look like... there is always certain qualities or job functions that are either handed out or are inherent in everyone's personalities or experiences that makes them perfect for said job. In each camping or hiking crew there is the gear head who has everything under sun and nothing weighs more then a pound. You have the slow guy or gal who is always late to the party. You have the person who packs too much or not enough and you have the person who keeps things light, is quick with a joke or simply sets the tone within 5 minutes of arriving.
When this happens and you start laughing 5 minutes into a camping or hiking trip and you feel the fun vibe... you know "this is going to be an awesome weekend".
Folks, we have our "Funny Guy"! This is one of the most important characters in the outdoor group. Without the funny man... all could be lost. Not wanting to be lost on our collective adventure on this project we are happy to have this funny guy along for the ride. Jeremy LaCorte is a proud dad of two young lads who are already lovers of the outdoors. Florida, is home but the outdoors of the southeastern portion of the US are Jeremy's favorite spots. As you will read in his profile, Jeremy has some short and long term outdoors goals for himself and his young boys.
I gotta admit, all I keep thinking about is the scene from Goodfellas with Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta. HA! "What do you mean I'm Funny... Fun How? The Way I Talk? Do I amuse you? I'm Funny how?"
See that's the kinda stuff you need on an trip to set the tone.
Join me in welcoming Jeremy to the "la familia" - HA!
Click below to check out Jeremy's Hiking Forward Correspondents Profile.
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