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As you might guess, the Burns Family Reunion in Vogel State Park (in north Georgia) is about spending time with family. Katie and Jackie are blue bloods; they are genetically obligated to hang out with the other Burns blue bloods all day. Robah, me, and any other spouse, pet, or guest are outlaws. We outlaws are made to feel accepted and loved; we truly feel honored to be a part of this week-long family gathering.

But once in awhile, outlaws like to spend a little time away from the throngs of blue bloods. Maybe the outlaw retreats back to an empty cabin and reads a book. Maybe a couple of outlaws drive over to Helen for a few hours. Robah and I chose to walk through the woods every morning. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my other dog, who didn’t make the trip. Baxter doesn’t travel very well, so he was left behind at Camp Canine (which he seems to really like).

There are several trailheads in the middle of the park. On our first morning at Vogel, we hiked the four-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail. Every subsequent day, we hiked a little farther. Our goal was to work our way up to a long hike on Friday — the Coosa Backcountry Trail, a 16-mile trail through the Chattahoochee National Forest that begins at Vogel, crosses the summit of Duncan Ridge, intersects the Appalachian Trail, and takes the hikers near Blood and Slaughter Mountains (not as violent as they might sound).

Coosa Backcountry Trail from Google Maps

It’s not the distance that makes it daunting. Rather, it was the 7,735 feet of aggregate elevation gain that really wore us down. As you can see from the graph below, the elevation gain during the first half is a tease for the climbs and descents in the second half.

Elevation, by mile

Here are the final stats of our hike. By the way, I captured this data using the GPS receiver and My Tracks on my EVO phone. My Tracks is an incredible tool that is especially helpful for a directionally-challenged guy in the woods with nothing, and no one, in sight or earshot. Here are the hike statistics that My Tracks captured:

Now that you’ve seen the objective data about the hike, let me tell you about a few things that my smartphone couldn’t assist me with. Except for a few guys camping near the trailhead, Robah and I saw no one else anywhere near the trail all day. Thinking that the unfamiliar part of the long trail would have about the same amount of creek water access as the familiar part, I decided to travel light and carry only enough water for me. I had about 70 ounces for me, and Robah could drink from the many creeks along the way. This was a potentially dangerous mistake on my part.

Finally, it seemed to me before we set off that 85 degrees in the north Georgia mountains would feel cooler than 85 degrees in Raleigh, because we would be shaded for almost all of the hike. We were shaded, but we got hotter and hotter the more we walked. I didn’t bring enough water, but I did bring changes of shirts, shorts, and socks. Despite the dry changes of clothes, my pack was dripping wet when we finished.

Here’s a list of highlights from the hike, in order and marked on the map:

  1. Robah and I embark around 9:30 a.m., fully hydrated.
  2. I drink my first bottle of water (24-oz.) at Burnett Gap. Robah drinks from a creek, as planned.
  3. We come upon a recently-vacated campsite. A red Toyota pickup is parked next to a boombox that is playing an unfamiliar Red Hot Chili Peppers song. No one is there.
  4. GPS notwithstanding, I think we’ve taken a wrong turn after the Coosa trail intersects a couple of different Appalachian Trail spurs. After some backtracking and worrying, we figure out the right direction and keep moving.
  5. We meet a deer and Robah goes into berserk mode. I finally convince him to forget about it.
  6. After hiking the last few miles soaked in sweat, I change shirts, get out a fresh sweat towel, and eat half a sandwich and some carrots I brought. Robah scarfs a few Pupperonis (his favorite).
  7. There is no creek anywhere in sight, but Robah is thirsty. I give Robah some water and finish off my last water bottle. We’re officially out of water with approximately eight miles to go…not even half-way. The dry socks I put on are heavenly.
  8. We reach the second crossing of Highway 180, and I realize that the next ascent is just as high as the previous one. In about 20 minutes, we’ll both be hiking (or struggling) on all fours as we climb the mountain. We take breaks every fifty feet during the climb. It’s getting a little hard to swallow.
  9. At the top of the incline, we are greeted by a sea of ferns. Relief and natural peace help us carry on.
  10. A tall man in a white lab coat appears to be gathering rocks from the ground. After a few confused seconds pass, I realize it’s a minor hallucination. It’s actually a half-dead tree. Robah looks at me like I’m weird.
  11. The trail (if you can call it that) is barely recognizable. Bees are swarming in a couple of places. I hurry Robah along, pretty sure that the bees are not just in my head.
  12. I’m feeling better about things now that we’re heading downhill. We scare several quails from their ground nests as we go.
  13. More bees.
  14. Gorgeous, delicate red wildflowers align the trail. I decide against picking some illegally for my girls.
  15. FINALLY, a creek. Robah and I find our respective spots in the water and lie down. We each drink a couple of liters from the creek.
  16. Rain falls on us as we reach familiar territory. I’ve been soaking wet all day, so the rain is no inconvenience. After 16 miles of up and down, we get back to our cabin around 2:30 p.m.

Here are a couple of pictures of my hiking partner. If you’re going to be out in the woods for awhile, there’s no better dog in the world (nothing against Baxter — he has other virtues).

Forgive me for these two transgressions:

  1. In a lazy attempt to summarize all of the late-summer events for our family, I’ve crammed two months worth of highlights into one video.
  2. This post has nothing to do with dogs. Don’t worry, I still love my boys.

My family has been busy in July and August. My amazing, pregnant wife and my amazing, pre-toddler daughter have been traveling — Katie (for work and pleasure), and Jackie (for pleasure). I have been renovating a girl nursery for a baby boy and a guest bedroom for a growing little girl. Katie and Jackie spent some time in Simsboro, Louisiana, with the Jeffcoats and Gordonsville, Virginia, with the maternal grandparents. All three of us have made a couple of trips to Boone to hang with my folks. We also hosted Katie’s college girlfriends and their kids, and attended a wonderful Dubberly wedding.

All the while, we are prepping for the arrival of McLain Moore Jones; this boy will expand our family no later than September 14 (and possibly earlier). We are ready for the little guy, save for finding some indie-rock (or dad rock?) onesies that will help me project my tastes onto my new son. At 14, he’ll probably go through an Eagles phase just to get back at me (other than vengeance, why would anyone go through an Eagles phase?).

I hope to document the room changes in a near-future post. Jackie has handled the transition from a crib to a real bed in a new room like a 12-year-old. At the risk of bragging, I will tell you that Jackie has made parenting easy for Katie and me so far.

Here’s the video:

Every summer, I compile my favorite tracks of the year so far and force the compilation on the people I know will give them a listen or two. Sometimes they hit, sometimes they miss. I don’t know the adoption rate, or catchiness quotient, or conversion statistics for the stuff I share with friends and family, but I do know that I like the idea of collecting, sorting, and imposing subjective evaluation on new music.

For me, I can attest as of August 20 that this is the year that the album was resurrected. I’ve purchased 18 complete new albums this year so far, and if you break down those acquisitions into individual tracks, I’ve picked up and broken in about the same number of song downloads here and there, thanks mostly to Peel and the blogs that provide the mp3s. By the way, if you have a Mac and love music, Peel is the best $15 you will ever spend on anything in your life (I don’t care if the code is three years old).

Here’s a rundown of what stands out to me so far in 2010. You might notice that hip-hop, R&B, and electronic are missing, and conspicuously so, but it’s only because the new recordings I love from those genres don’t have standout tracks. I can justify those omissions; I limited this list to 18 songs, and like I said before, the album has made a comeback this year in my estimation.

Note: An asterisk in the list below denotes one of my daughter’s favorite dance tracks.

I Was Thinking… — Gauntlet Hair
Heart to Tell* — The Love Language
Odessa* — Caribou
The Suburbs — Arcade Fire
Mouthful of Diamonds* — Phantogram
Marathon — Tennis
O.N.E.* — Yeasayer
Round And Round — Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
Albatross — Besnard Lakes
Promises — The Morning Benders
Empire Ants* — Gorillaz
Lucidity — Tame Impala
Gold Skull — Miniature Tigers
Walk in the Park — Beach House
Shadow People — Dr. Dog
Bloodbuzz Ohio — The National
That’s Some Dream — Good Old War
Sinister Kid — The Black Keys

The most popular of the tracks listed above contains a close-to-home-hitting verse:

So can you understand
Why I want a daughter while I’m still young?
I want to hold her hand
And show her some beauty
Before all this damage is done…


I finally sorted through the video from the Burns Family Reunion. A lot of good footage ended up on the cutting room floor, but I managed to post some of the highlights from the week.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

I took this post-apocalyptic picture outside Jones Barber Shop in Raleigh last year.

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