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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).

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.

Every year, in mid-June, Vogel State Park in north Georgia is taken over for an entire week by Burnses from all over the country. It’s the Burns Family Reunion, and this was Jackie’s second experience with Katie’s great uncles and aunts, second cousins, third cousins, sixth cousins twice removed, and so on. Jackie shared the spotlight with a few other children this year (including Henry, Audrey, Emilyn, and Emory), but she somehow managed to get plenty of attention and/or ice cream whenever she wanted either or both.

This was the first year of the BFR (of 44 years total) that Katie served as co-organizer and chief cabin coordinator. With her Uncle Robert’s tutelage, she did an outstanding job making sure that everyone had comfortable accommodations.

I brought a special non-Burns friend along to the BFR this year. Robah made the trip southwest, and I really appreciated him coming. He’s always been a true friend, but I was surprised to learn what a good hiking partner he is. You could say that Robah is a dog’s dog, except that he doesn’t really like other dogs. He does love people though.

Here’s a generalized schedule of the typical day during our week at Vogel State Park:

6:30 — Katie, Robah, and I wake up. Robah goes out to relieve himself, sees a deer in the woods, and takes off for about two minutes (the amount of time it takes for the deer to lose him)

7:15 — Katie heads up to her parents’ cabin, where Jackie is sleeping

7:15 – 8:00 — Robah and I listen to Tame Impala, Ariel Pink, The Arcade Fire, Tennis, and others as we get ready for the day

8:00 – 11:00 — Robah and I hike one of trails that head at VSP. Katie and Janet cook for the family members hanging around Janet and Ben’s cabin (at least 5 guest eaters total, maximum of 15). Jackie entertains, or is entertained, and then naps.

11:00 – 12:00 — Robah and I eat leftovers and snacks for lunch while we catch up with Jackie and Katie on the morning events

12:00 – 4:00 — The Joneses change into swim gear and enjoy the lake, except for Robah, who naps

4:00 – 7:00 — Jackie naps, and Katie, Robah, and I read and relax

7:00 – 9:00 — BFR dinner gathering (everyone), socializing or planned event (e.g. talent show) afterward

9:00 – After reading books with Nana and Papa, Jackie goes to bed in cabin #25

9:00 – 11:00 – Before bed Katie reads, Robah snoozes, and I play with my new phone

The schedule listed above shouldn’t leave you with the impression that every day at VSP is the same. Every day brings nuanced surprises, or in the case of our next-to-last day there, a fairly major event. Robah and I had a scary and exhilarating hike to wrap up our week, but I won’t go into details here.

Katie is lucky to have an amazing extended family (both paternal and maternal), and I’m lucky to be accepted by them (Robah was also accepted, except for the few isolated instances when he slobbered on someone).

Here are pictures from the week. Video will follow when I get around to editing and polishing.

Annie Dillard wrote, “The sea pronounces something, over and over, in a hoarse whisper; I cannot quite make it out.” Well, when the sea spoke to Jackie this past weekend, she talked back to it.

The three of us really enjoyed our first nuclear family vacation (and only nuclear family vacation for just the three of us, considering that McLain arrives in September). We spent four days and three nights in Nags Head over the Memorial Day weekend. Our home base was within walking proximity to a public beach access, a grocery store, an ice cream shop, and Sam & Omie’s — we had everything we wanted adjacent to our modest motel suite. Katie deserves all the credit for coming up with the idea and putting it all together.

Jackie loved the beach with the exception of that huge body of bothersome salt water; it must have seemed so unpredictable to her, the way it continually advanced and retreated. Whenever the tide came within ten feet or so, she scolded it, shouting, “NO wa-wa.” In her defense, the water was pretty chilly.

Jackie is a little beyond 17 months old, and it’s hard for me to imagine a child being more fun at any other age. Here’s some holiday video.

Note: The music snippets used in the video are from songs by Shabazz Palaces, Toro Y Moi, and Gauntlet Hair.

About a month ago, Katie and I left our daughter in the capable hands of Burns grandparents, Jones grandparents, and Uncle Ri and Aunt Mi, and went to Denver to see Steve, Ali, and Lex. A trip west to see the Savilles was long overdue.

Our hosts tour-guided us through Denver, hiked us around Rocky Mountain National Park, braved a treacherous I-70 to get us to Breckenridge for a short day of skiing, and treated us as hospitably as possible.

I also learned two new games while in Denver:

  • the Ring Game, which tests the player’s motor skills and sanity as he pushes a ring on a chain steadily toward a target hook. For me, it was an exercise in futile calibration for the first two-and-a-half hours, followed by celebratory extrication when the ring finally found its mark.
  • the Geo-interpretation of Moving License Plates game, a Steve Saville original, tests the player’s knowledge of places and letter sequences. For more details, and a set of official rules, contact Steve.

I think I can speak for Katie; we’re not more excited about any new baby, anywhere (except for under our own roof), than we are for the little guy arriving in May at Jasmine Street. Here are some pictures from our time with the Savilles.

Note: If I see this tag anytime soon, I’m going to run the other way…

The few inches of snow that fell in the Triangle were enough to keep us in the neighborhood over the past few days. Actually, that’s one of the best things about being snowed in; everyone is forced to think and act locally. We hung out with distant cousins who live really close. We also caught up with other neighbors we haven’t seen in awhile.

Oh, and I need to give credit for a family record that was set over the weekend. Baxter broke his own record: 15 consecutive long-range frisbee receptions. “Long-range” in this case means more than 50 feet. His previous best was 12, in September of 2007. Whatta good boy.

Here’s some sledding video that Katie shot over the weekend.

Jackie and her cohort Drew had their first real taste of snow after several inches fell in Raleigh last night and this morning. Of course, 20 minutes of getting the little ones ready led to only 15 minutes of good sledding before the youngsters got cold and ornery, but we really had a blast. I’m proud to say that Jackie and I held our own in head-to-head racing with the Blair duo from down the street.

Big thanks to Sarah B. for scoring sleds and snow boots for us to use — it wasn’t easy for new parents to find these high-demand items in the Triangle yesterday, but she came through for us.

Robah made the trip with us to western North Carolina for Christmas. It was a lot of fun for me to see a dog born on Emerald Isle frolic in 18 inches of snow.

Baxter had to stay home, but don’t feel too bad for him. While Robah and I were out in the snow, Baxter was snuggled up in a bed at home, where Sarah was looking after him.

The first 20 seconds of the clip below show the fun part of his time in the winter wonderland. The last part of the video shows the scariest moment of our holidays. The 112-pound dog from the beach thought he could walk across a frozen pond. I closed the camera after I realized he was in trouble and thought I would have to go in after him, but it was much more traumatic for me than it was for him — he hopped right out of the frigid water and continued his romp through the snow.

I was convinced that the effects of hypothermia would set in at any minute. He wasn’t a bit bothered by the ordeal. That’s Robah for you…whatta good boy.

There are many musical associations lurking in our heads. In my experience, a connection between a certain song and a stimulus happens often, and some even happen and repeat on a regular basis. For example, “Summertime Rolls” by Jane’s Addiction is triggered every year during the month of August, and I think I’ve experienced this — the song evoked by the late summer heat, set to repeat in my head  — since I was 14 or 15 years old.

I thought about personalizing and re-hashing the lyrics for this post, but that seemed a little too contrived (although the line “there is so much space…I cut me a piece” is a perfect fit for beachgoing). I also didn’t use the song as a soundtrack to the beach footage below, but for me, it’s playing in my head when I see my daughter barefoot, fingernails of mother’s pearl playing in sand, gumming cantaloupe, and dancing with her Uncle Rich.

Katie, Jackie, Rich, Mindy, and I spent five days at Ocean Isle. It was a rescheduled vacation that Rich put together after my parents were unable to make the first trip we planned. My folks stayed in Boone to look after my grandmother during her fight against congestive heart failure. She hasn’t lived 95 years because she’s not committed to life, and I’m glad to report that she’s almost back to full strength. It was disappointing for us to be beach-bound without my parents (understatement of the year: they deserve a vacation), but they did what they had to do.

The rest of us enjoyed our time at OIB; no one soaked in more of the experience than little Jackie. I’ve included some pictures below. If I had the time to arrange them chronologically, the images would tell a cohesive story. I’ll leave it up to you to organize them from first to last (especially the pictures where Jackie is eating sand). As soon as I have time to edit the video from the trip there will be some live-action memories posted here too.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

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

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