books I read in 2012

The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Men and Marriage by George Gilder
Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale
AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke
Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
Terrorist by John Updike
Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry
Ameritopia by Mark Levin
Churchill by Paul Johnson
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane
The Roots of Obama’s Rage by Dinesh D’Souza
Call for the Dead by John Le Carré
The Terror by Dan Simmons
Coming Apart by Charles Murray
The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

ballot question 6

The wording of Ballot Question 6, on redefining marriage in Maryland, demonstrates secularism's deceit and our cultural misapprehension of human sexual nature.

Seventy-one of the ballot question's 96 words address so-called "religious exemptions," which many Maryland voters will find comfort in while they vote in favor of something they know instinctively to be false. What the religious exemptions insist is that the state will tolerate "bigotry" as long as it is confined to religious orders.

Is a wedding caterer a religious organization? Not explicitly. But wedding caterers do hold religiously informed views on marriage. Because they live and work outside religious orders, the state will not protect them if they disagree with the new definition of marriage. Their bigotry will not be tolerated and the state will force them to cater at same-sex weddings by threatening them with fines if they do not comport their views.

Furthermore, public denouncements of same-sex marriage made outside religious orders will be prosecuted as hate speech. Trials have already started in Canada, which redefined marriage in 2005.

One is tempted to ask: If defending marriage is hate speech, why carve out exemptions? The answer is simple: Radical change cannot be sold to the public wholesale. Liberty is more readily surrendered piecemeal.

How plastic are we, to view the state's current definition of marriage, constituted before Moses' time, as bigotry! Marriage is a procreative union between husband and wife. Without marriage, women are left to bear and rear children alone, and men are cast into a primal wilderness with no long-term connection to their surroundings. Marriage is the logical answer to satisfy both men's and women's needs in a healthy, productive society.

This wisdom used to be widespread, but over time it has been marginalized, giving rise to new prevailing theories of sexuality.

The current fad is "sexual orientation." No marriage statute to date says a word about sexual orientation. What "gay and lesbian couples" in Ballot Question 6 means is same-sex couples. No proof of the two partners' sexual orientation will be required to obtain a marriage license. I could go with any one of my male friends and get a marriage license, even though we both fall under the category of "straight."

What causes this dissonance?

Sexual orientation, despite its popularity in our culture, is impossible to specify practically, let alone legally. After all, what is sexual orientation? Is it one's feelings towards specific persons of the same or opposite sex? In that case, there are 7 billion orientations to account for. Is it one's sexual behavior? If so, actress Meredith Baxter and former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, both with children with former spouses, are in fact straight, despite their public statements to the contrary.

It is in this state of confusion that close to a majority of Marylanders will vote to redefine marriage this November.

Compared to gender, sexual attraction and behavior are far less attributable to biological determinism. Pederasty was widespread in ancient Greece and ancient China. It's more likely those cultures inculcated looser sexual mores than they had more prevalence of a homosexual gene, of which scant evidence exists.

Ironically, proponents of same-sex marriage like President Obama take the opposite view of morality, which "evolves" in response to gut feelings and pagan justifications. Who knows what marriage will be in 2050, or 2150? The agitators for redefinition today may very well be the prudes of tomorrow.

the rest of my life

I didn't know when I moved to Maryland that Texas is my home. I tried 4 years to make Maryland my home. I couldn't do it. I made some good friends, but I made no deep connections. I felt like I was biding my time. But for what?

I had plans, but none of them involved my job or where I was living or the people I got to know. I wanted to be a novelist (still do). I wanted to be married and have kids (still do). I wanted to live close to friends and family. This summer I achieved the last, and I rank it among my greatest achievements.

Early in 2012, as my termination from Baltimore Gas and Electric drew near, I realized I had an opportunity to make a big change. Having lived beneath my means for so long, I estimated I could go at least a year without working. If I was patient enough, I could find a good job in Texas, something I couldn't do in 6 months after graduating from Baylor.

It turns out I only needed five.

Since I got here, the future feels closer. Texas is my home. I have no doubt I want to live the rest of my life here. Four years in Maryland taught me that, so I don't regret my time there.

One down, two to go.

truth's dying breath

The nearly unanimous disregard for the truth with respect to Todd Akin's innocuous comment about pregnancies resulting from rapes represents truth's dying breath in American politics. Even my favorite radio talk show hosts Mark Levin and Dennis Prager have succumbed to this evil, calling for Akin to drop out of the race to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate. Other such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have called on Akin to retreat from public life altogether. What seem to matter are not the facts of what Akin actually said or of biological reality, but denying the hysterical, totalitarian Left a campaign issue that they were bound to bring up and lie about anyway.

I will not condemn Todd Akin to improve my own brand ahead of the November election, as I suspect the majority of Republicans are doing. A man's reputation isn't worth sacrificing to score points in an amoral political arena. The advantage gained is temporary, God's judgment is not.

review: Men and Marriage

The truth, as it pertains to male nature, hurts. If you're not prepared to hear it and from it deduce the morass "modern" society has sunk male identity into, don't read this review, and don't read Men and Marriage.

The truth is male and female natures are complementary, and therefore fundamentally different. Forget everything you heard in college to the contrary.

Furthermore, male and female natures are fixed. None of this evolution nonsense.

That's not to say society can evolve. It can and does, to its advantage or, as is often the case, to its detriment. When humans band together for survival, they form a society. The highest purpose of society is to channel male nature towards stability and family. If society fails at that, it implodes. Observe this implosion in America's black population, in which three-quarters of children are born out of wedlock, a cultural disaster.

Boys are naturally preprogrammed for society to mold them into family men. Women, who bear all the biological burdens of childbearing but the provisioning of sperm, have about the same longevity whether they marry or not. Unmarried men, however, die far sooner than married men. The reasons for the single man's abbreviated life are myriad--mental illness, (lack of) hygiene, risk-taking, etc.--but, Gilder writes, they have at their root the "lack of sustained commitment and lack of orientation toward the future."

To paraphrase, men by nature are socially inferior to women. Gilder doesn't use the metaphor of the blossoming flower, but my mind immediately seizes on it as the perfect illustration of how a girl becomes a woman. No one ever says a boy blossoms into a man. But people do say a girl blossoms into a woman. It takes no conscious act on her part for this to happen. It just happens.

On the other hand, being, or becoming, a man isn't a passive exercise. It takes conscious effort. Boys are exhorted to "be a man" and "act like a man," having little idea what that really means. It's up to society to inform them what that is. Writes Gilder: "A man's body is full only of undefined energies--and all these energies need the guidance of culture. He is therefore deeply dependent on the structure of the society to define his role. In all its specific expressions, manhood is made, not born."

To be sure, men are still being made in America, just in fewer and fewer numbers. Men's roles are being encroached upon on many fronts: by government, science, and women themselves. The welfare state and divorce courts usurp men's role to provide for what is now a burgeoning population of single mothers. Science has rendered the sex act, from which men draw their vitality, irrelevant to procreation. And the feminist movement has encouraged girls to be more like men--that is, to eschew having children and pursue careers instead.

This has a cumulative effect. Under such conditions, increasing numbers of men can offer nothing to women that they don't have already or can't get on their own. There is a measure of truth to vindictive feminists' declaration that a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle. But to women who aren't kidding themselves, who have perhaps tried to be more like men but are overpowered by the instinctual tugs toward wifehood and motherhood, this is bad news. Men are not just dropping out of college (about 60% of college students now are female), they are dropping out of society altogether, preferring the virtual worlds of computers and video games. Meanwhile, what attracts women to men has not changed. This divergence between modern society and biological nature results in a shrinking pool of marriageable men. "The man still has to perform--still has to offer something beyond himself, and beyond her reach--if she is to receive him."

That Gilder saw these trends in the early '70s, when he released the first edition of Men and Marriage, is to his great credit. Everything he observed 40 years ago is applicable today to the nth degree. Once you close the book, you will look at the world around you differently. When you read columns that sing hosannas to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act or stories about women's pay rising relative to men's while the childbirth rate declines, you'll question whether those really are good things.

perfect individual

Today a beautiful buck wandered through the backyard of our rented cabin. I grabbed my camera and ran outside to get a picture before it got away. I spotted it walking between two houses across the street, and it was joined by a doe! I climbed up the embankment to get a closer shot.

One of the homeowners came outside and asked me what I was doing. I said I was getting a shot of the deer. He posed me a hypothetical: "How would you like someone shooting pictures of your house at two in the morning?" I got his meaning and apologized. I would be concerned too if a stranger wandered around the edge of my property with a camera. Especially if I had a wife and kids to worry about. Whether it's two in the morning or five in the afternoon.

He left me to my photography and recommended I not encroach on people's property without telling them first. It's hard to do that when you have limited time to get the shot you want. I nodded, watched him go inside, took a few more photos, and returned to the cabin.

It's true I was within my rights. Legally I can take a picture of whatever I want, as long as I don't break any law to get it. But there's a realm in which people volunteer to curb their rights. It's called reality. In reality, families form communities, and communities have standards that make family life possible. I pursued a shot at the expense of the community, to which I am but a transient, a passer-through. I have no ties to this place. I am here for one reason—my gratification. I'm on vacation, after all. I spend and consume and move on to my next desire. I am a perfect individual.

And that's a big part of the problem, isn't it?

the tyranny of nature

“You will learn by degrees, Winston. There is nothing we could not do. Invisibility, levitation—anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wished to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of nature. We make the laws of nature.” – O’Brien, 1984

The tyranny of nature is the one unavoidable tyranny. By tyranny of nature I mean two things: 1) the laws of the observable universe, and 2) the flawed human condition. In our lives there will be no respite from these. Together they comprise a tyranny as fixed in ourselves and around us as the God that authored it.

Some people accept this tyranny. They see it as more than an inescapable fabric constricting mind and body. It fuses their lives into a long, rich tradition, from which they can draw a wealth of wisdom in times of inevitable want and despair. Wisdom simplifies the seemingly random, infinite universe for the finite human mind, rendering it more predictable and thus easier to prosper in.

Others are not so blessed. They reject the tyranny of nature. Whether or not they explicitly reject God is secondary. One can be an atheist and still recognize the eternal truths. At the heart of their rejection is a noble yearning for freedom. But this is one freedom they can never have. Nature has, is, and will always be.

The great irony is the rebellion against nature is itself written into nature—human nature, that is. When God made us in His image, He gave us free will so we might freely obey Him (or not). The first humans, Adam and Eve, ate the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of Eden. Abraham challenged God at Sodom and Gomorrah. Anger at God is universal. To no one is the world as it should be.

What’s the difference between those who begrudgingly accept the tyranny of nature, despite their anger at God, and those who reject it? I honestly don’t know. In the end it may boil down to a misanthropic kind of compassion, as in the case of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. What I can say with certainty, however, is that such rebellions deteriorate into far worse tyrannies than God conceived.

In keeping with the reason for one’s anger at God, central to the rebellion is the perfectibility of man. Since there can only be one definition of perfect, all the subtle and not-so-subtle differences among us—family, gender, religion, wealth, etc.—will be papered over if not eradicated. While conditioning does not rewrite human biology, it is remarkably successful at overcoming it. The increase of fatherlessness in America and elsewhere is no more of an evolutionary phenomenon than male homosexuality in ancient Greece. Both cases are behavioral responses to conditioning.

Humanist tyrannies often cloak themselves in “reverse conditioning” (i.e., paring back the conditioning suggested by wisdom). This appeal benefits from the veneer of liberty, but, as Edmund Burke said: “What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.” Purveyors of reverse conditioning understand they must deconstruct certain precepts before constructing their opposites.

Humanist tyrannies, if they do not founder, devolve into repressive totalitarian states. Despite humanists’ best efforts, the tyranny of nature persists. People will notice from their relative position to the shoreline they are swimming against, not with, the current. They pose the greatest danger to the rebellion against nature. Thence the rebellion may survive, much less thrive, in an airtight cocoon in which liberating forces have no inlet.
“I know that you will fail. There is something in the universe—I don’t know, some spirit, some principle—that you will never overcome.” – Winston

the breastfeeding mafia

California state law entitles women to nurse wherever they want, regardless of the discomfort their indecent public exposure creates in strangers. So what can the L.A. County Museum of Art do but kowtow to Katie Hamilton’s exhibitionist nursing?

“I am nourishing my child in the most normal way, and to ask me to cover up is harassment!” gushes the public breastfeeding activist.

Lucy Blodgett of the Huffington Post writes:
This was never about her, said [a sanctimonious] Hamilton, but instead about awareness. “In LA and in the United States, we sexualize breasts. We don’t see the norm. If people don’t see women nursing, it is going to make it harder and harder for women to feel comfortable,” Hamilton said.

Breastfeeding as religion, as Dennis Prager says.

Jackboots—I mean, nursing mothers—declare war on a Arizona McDonald’s. Manager withers under blitzkrieg attack. His offense? Asking a nursing mom to put away her breast.

“This is not about me today,” one mom said. Where have I heard that before? “This is about showing support and the fact that McDonald’s needs to change their policies.” As opposed to being considerate to strangers.

“If someone pulled out a bottle, nobody would say anything. Just because it comes from a woman’s anatomy, people have a problem,” another mom pointed out. Where’d she get her degree?

An Oklahoma coffee shop owner doesn’t want breastfeeding in his store. This offends the momzilla hordes roaming Twitter, prompting a reversal. The coffee shop owner writes to the local news station:
These people aren’t concerned with individual rights. They are concerned with THEIR rights. They would not fight for my right to ban breastfeeding in my establishment if I chose to do so. I don’t mind if people breastfeed in the DoubleShot, but it’s funny to me that people don’t consider the rights of others; only their own. If one really believes in the American dream of individual rights, they must believe in the rights of others to do or think or say things they don’t agree with.

Here here.

A Johnny Rockets employee in Kentucky asks a patron to put away her breast, outrage ensues.

“I just want people to know there is a law, and whether or not they personally feel comfortable with breast-feeding in public, or whether they bottle-feed or breast-feed or however they choose to raise their families, there is a law that protects mothers’ rights to nurse in public.”


A New York City chocolate shop would like you to not breastfeed your baby in the store. “Traumatized” mom sues. Her shyster lawyer says his client “wants to send a message and ‘make sure this doesn’t happen again.’”

Yes, motherhood is difficult enough without having to face the impropriety of exposing your breast in a chocolate shop. Message delivered.

Barbara Walters said she felt uncomfortable when a woman sitting next to her on an airplane started breastfeeding her child. Whoa. Now it’s one thing for a man to object to public breastfeeding; he can be dismissed as a misogynist. But a woman? A feminist? With a high-profile platform to boot? This cannot stand!

Walters’ indiscretion drew a crowd of “lactivists” to protest outside ABC News headquarters. “To me, it’s like walking in public,” writes Peggy O’Mara. I know, right?!

“Is it okay to breastfeed in public?” is the lead-in to this story in Seattle. Duh, that argument appears to be settled. The lead-in should be: Is it okay to ask someone not to breastfeed in public? Because the proposed city ordinance would make it “an act of discrimination to ask a woman to move or leave a location if they’re breast feeding.”

“I support a women’s [sic] right to breast feed her child. I have a problem with the city legislating how I run my business. We want to make a decision for my entire client base, not just one category,” says a local restaurant owner.

Who would that sainted “one category” of people be? Why, nursing mothers, who else?

Finally, the coup de grace: I saw a woman breastfeeding in the open at the mall, and I posted about it on Facebook, with a link to a story about NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne. Rather than stand by a “divisive” tweet expressing an opinion opposed to public breastfeeding, Kahne took the easy way out. No doubt his recant maintained his fan base, but at what expense to public decorum?

Here’s one of the responses I got: “I tend to fly into a blind rage when I see people who have never breastfed, let alone had a baby, and especially men, post their disgust about breastfeeding in public.”

“Blind rage” accurately describes the fascistic sentiment. Not only am I wrong, but unless I’ve nursed a child, I can’t have an opinion. This is the rhetorical tactic of thugs, or, as I like to call them, the breastfeeding mafia.

I reposted my story on the “I Formula Feed. So What?” page, where I had a more receptive audience.
I agree with the poster on this one. If you want to breast feed, that’s fine but please don’t do it in front of me. I’m sorry but I’m disgusted by it. I was raised in a family that did not breast feed but I have cousins who did and they at least had the decency to go in another room when people were present. I think it’s wrong to do it in front of other people ESPECIALLY men and children.

Another woman wrote:
To the guy that wrote this rant I totally agree with you!! I personally don’t want to be out in public and see a woman with her boobs all out…feeding or not. I have personally seen women feeding one child with both boobs out…not covered…or anything. This woman didn’t even have a nursing bra but pulled their shirt all the way up to feed. That is ridiculous to me. At least keep the other breast covered. I don’t agree that a child should be covered up ’cause I know that has to be uncomfortable for the child. But at least have the decency to try to cover yourself up.

And again:
To get frustrated about people being uncomfortable because your breast is hanging out while you feed your child is ridiculous. The vagina is there so women can give birth. Does that mean I should be okay with a woman sitting in a chair, legs spread, vagina to the wind? No. Breastfeed, formula feed, whatever. As long as your child is nourished, who cares. I have no problem with breastfeeding, but I would be a little frustrated if I was sitting down to a nice dinner while the woman the next table over had her breast completely exposed without a cover. There's a time and a place, and just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

Of course, a member of the breastfeeding mafia had their say: “If you are a male & have no tits, stfu.”

I recognize breastfeeding is not just breastfeeding to some women, that it has taken on a mythology wherein both baby and mother will be healthier, the emotional connection between them deeper, and the woman’s role in nature fulfilled.
Americans’ focus on breast-feeding’s health benefits is part of a cultural phenomenon that [Joan] Wolf calls “total motherhood,” in which mothers are responsible for predicting and preventing anything bad or risky that might happen to their children, at times sacrificing their own well-being.

Hence the breastfeeding mafia’s sanctimony. Hence their vitriolic reactions to requests to nurse discreetly in public.

Hence also their objections to the sexualization or objectification of the breast, as if men do it on purpose. The mythology promotes the delusion that the breasts’ sole purpose is to nourish children. This is belied by common sense. Before even having a child, a woman must attract a mate. Breasts function in this way as well. This explains the duality in our culture wherein breasts are covered to maintain modesty, but at the same time accentuated to attract mates.
At this moment on Venice Beach women cannot go topless, so in complete constitutional equality, the men will cover their chest as well. Will men with bikini tops look ridiculous? Maybe, but constitutionally, so do women in this double standard legal topless battle. –

In the same vein, equivocation of women’s breasts to men’s breasts is delusional if not dishonest. Men’s breasts do not attract mates, because women do not objectify men’s breasts. Men do not bare their breasts at Mardi Gras to crowds of screaming women armed with camera phones.

One of the commenters on the “I Formula Feed. So What?” page said it best: “Hey guys, breasts will always be sexualized no matter how much we complain. The end.”

Whether women breastfeed or formula feed is their business. But when a woman exposes her breast in public, it becomes my business.


Thursday, May 10
Dragon’s Tooth
Distance: 5.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
Time: 3 hours, 17 minutes

     I wake up at 7 am. I start a load of laundry and fix myself a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, and melted Muenster cheese on a toasted bagel. I pack my suitcase and hit the road at 8:45. I can’t stand D.C. traffic, so I take I-70 out to Rte. 340. Catherine calls me to ask what temperature she should wash her bed sheets at. I tell her I don’t know.

     During the drive I listen to the Mark Levin Show podcast. Massanutten Mountain drifts by on my left as I cruise south through the Shenandoah Valley. I stop for gas outside Staunton and phone ahead to the Econo Lodge in Marion to reserve a room.

     I reach the trailhead at 1:40. I leave my trekking poles in the car, as the scouting report says this is a short hike, and set off up the Dragon’s Tooth Trail. The trail ascends gently and parallels a small creek for the first third of a mile. I spot the Boy Scout Trail, my return route, across the creek.

     The forest is dense and blocks out the intermittent sun. I sense a different ecosystem here than what I’m used to up north. The forest smells sweeter, the leaves are thicker and heavier. It feels tropical.

     The trail leaves the creek and gradually climbs Cove Mountain. I pass several groups of 2 and 3 people heading down. One couple sounds French. At 1.3 miles I arrive at the junction with the Appalachian Trail and a nifty campsite. To the left is my return route. To the right is the scramble to the summit.

     At first the scramble is not difficult, no worse than an uneven rocky staircase. Occasional obstacles require balancing or lifting yourself up with your hands. I pass a couple thru-hiking, from Georgia to Maine. They are making good time.

     A tenth of a mile from the summit I encounter the “crux” of the hike, a 15-foot wall, 20 degrees from vertical. Beyond the wall, the ground falls away and is obscured by the tops of trees. A series of 6-inch wide shelves are the means of traverse. I pack away my camera, as I feel safer when it isn’t swinging from my shoulder. I take my time and clamber up the wall.

     Higher, rebar has been set in the rock to help on some of the more difficult moves. For example, rather than flopping on your belly onto a chest-high boulder, you need only lift yourself up by stepping onto the rebar. Its obtrusive presence affronts my hiker sensibilities.

     A switchback later I arrive at the summit. The AT continues on to the south. A thru-hiker is sitting down, sucking wind. He looks displeased to see me, as if I, a day-hiker, am horning in on his experience. I turn left and hike down a short ways to the base of the Tooth. It looks intimidating at first, but the ascent on the far side is less exposed. The way is narrow, and I must wait for a young couple climbing down. The girl is afraid to get her shoes muddy, and her boyfriend and I laugh at her. Then I head up, duck under a chockstone, and lift myself out of a crevice onto the exposed rock.

     Four Virginia Tech seniors and a gorgeous view greet me. I eat and visit with the girls. It turns out they are graduating, and the ceremony is tomorrow. Another young couple arrives and climbs around me to the tip of the Tooth. The boy is sure-footed, the girl less so. I cringe as I watch her place her unsteady foot inches from the precipice. If you should fall from the Tooth, fall off the west face, where you will land 30 feet below on packed dirt beside the trail.

     We all are surprised by a man who suddenly appears next to us. He climbed up—literally climbed—up the west face of the Tooth. I show admiration for his skill and tell him I couldn’t do that, I don’t have the nerve. He says you just have to force yourself to not think about falling. Easier said than done!

     I am getting cold, so I take a few more photos and climb back down. I know the “wall” is ahead of me, but I am confident because I conquered it once already. But the cold has stiffened my muscles. It doesn’t help that I have to look past my feet for a way down. It’s definitely harder coming back than going up.

     I continue straight on the AT past the Dragon’s Tooth Trail. I gain a short ridge and pause to admire the view. I turn around and realize I’ve lost the white blaze. I pick it back up a minute later.

     The trail is steep. I descend a second wall, shallower and less exposed than the first. I reflect that if I ever do this hike again, I will do it in reverse: I will take the AT out and the Dragon’s Tooth Trail back.

     The Boy Scout Trail comes in from the left. I soon arrive at the creek from the beginning of the hike and I follow it to the Dragon’s Tooth Trail. From there it is just a few minutes’ walk back to the trailhead.

     I drive back to the interstate and continue south. I arrive at the motel in Marion at 6:45. Some thru-hikers are crashed out 2 rooms from me. Their gear is drying on the balcony. I am hyperaware of their presence and their undertaking, but I don’t bother them. I shower, dress, and dine at Macado’s downtown.

     I strike up a conversation with a local at the bar. He was supposed to meet a girl, but she stiffed him. That seems to be the rule. He tells me he grew up just south of Marion and moved away to find work, but he eventually made his way back home. I envy him. The barmaid spills beer on my sunglasses.

     On the way back to the motel, I stop at Food City to buy bread and deli meat. I call Mom and tell her what I’m up to. I fall asleep at about 11, but it is a fitful sleep.

Friday, May 11
Grayson Highlands
Distance: 16.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3,100 feet
Time: 9 hours, 5 minutes

     I wake up at 5:50 am. I make a ham and beef sandwich and wolf it down. I make another and put it in my CamelBak, along with a granola bar and a banana. I also carry with me a sweat rag and an extra pair socks.

     My car’s temperature gauge reads 37 degrees as I head south on Rte. 16. I expect the mercury to push 70 by this afternoon, so I’m wearing a long-sleeve cotton shirt underneath a light, polyester sweater.

     There are about 20 cars at the trailhead, which is a parking area for overnight backpackers. The starting elevation for this hike is 4,600 feet, just under a mile above sea level. I push three-quarters of a mile up the AT spur to a bald offering a spectacular view to the east. I’m supposed to turn left onto the AT proper, but I don’t see the trail junction, so I climb on top of a nearby rock outcrop. Looking northwest across Quebec Branch, I can see wild ponies roaming below the summit of Pine Mountain.

     I stow my hat to keep it from blowing off my head in the wind. I spot the trail and climb down. Heading west along the ridge I pass several pairs of backpackers. I enter Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area via a wooden gate. At first I follow the Rhododendron Gap Trail, but my GPS locator indicates I am farther east than I should be. I look to my left and spot a hiker moving south a hundred yards up the ridge. I bushwhack through the marginal undergrowth and regain the white-blazed AT.

     I follow the rock-strewn trail to a grassy field, where I find a dozen or so wild ponies. I skirt past them, astonished at their indifference towards me, and continue north along the AT. I pass underneath a rock outcrop and through a cave-like hollow. I follow the Wilburn Ridge Trail south to the top of the outcrop for more spectacular views. I stop to eat and take photos.

     I can’t begin to describe the scenery. The Grayson Highlands are like another planet.

     More wild ponies greet me below the summit of Pine Mountain. One stands astride the trail, stock still, over a foal lying on its side. I don’t know what’s going on, so I keep my distance and beat a wide semicircle around the herd. A fellow day-hiker comes up behind me. He asks me if this is the way to Mount Rogers. I don’t know. Not a hundred yards later I see a posted sign that says “Mount Rogers 2 miles.”

     The Virginia highpoint is not on my itinerary, but what the hell, it’s only 4 more miles on top of twelve. I hike southbound on the AT past Thomas Knob Shelter and some friendly wild ponies to the Mount Rogers spur. I pass a young couple on their way to the top. Halfway up the spur, the forest closes in. I reach the summit unknowingly and continue on a false path until it peters out into dense undergrowth. I backtrack and find the young couple studying the top of a boulder. They have found the summit marker.

     The day-hiker from earlier joins us. After taking their pictures, I begin my descent. As I emerge into the oppressive sun, I drape my sweat rag over my ears and neck and secure it to my head with my hat. In the middle of the saddle, I pass two retired brothers section-hiking from Damascus to Harper’s Ferry, roughly one-third of the Appalachian Trail. They pass me later while I stop to rest beneath Pine Mountain.

     A quick note about the Appalachian Trail: While its general direction is northward, there are stretches wherein “northbound” is actually southbound. In this case, northbound hikers follow the AT east along the saddle between Mount Rogers and Pine Mountain, then turn south and hike an 8-mile counterclockwise loop. This loop can be bypassed by taking the 2-mile blue-blazed Pine Mountain Trail, which used to be part of the AT before it was rerouted. Blue blazes are an unwelcome temptation for AT purists.

     I head northeast along the rocky Crest Trail. I soon realize I am again off-course. Rather than backtrack, I bushwhack west. Two jet fighters scream low overhead. I pick up the Pine Mountain Trail and enter a rhododendron tunnel. A little over a mile later I turn right (southbound) onto the AT.

     I emerge into an open area called The Scales. A thru-hiker has left her pack in the shade and is walking towards an RV with a roll of toilet paper. I’m reminded that I haven’t pooped in 2 days.

     Yet again I make a wrong turn and hike south along the flooded Scales Trail. Frustrated, I turn east and climb up to a rolling, rock-strewn plain. Looking west across Wilson Creek, Pine Mountain is visible. Some rocks have been arranged on the AT to denote the 500-mile mark. Only 1,682 miles to go!


     I pass several groups I had seen earlier hiking northbound on the saddle. They are befuddled at seeing me again until I explain I blue-blazed to complete a clockwise loop of the park.

     The miles are beginning to take their toll. My knees and feet ache and an acute pain between my shoulder blades flares up when I turn my head left. I eat the rest of my food and descend through some evergreens to Wilson Creek. As I reenter Grayson Highlands State Park, I stop to peruse a trail register.

     I cross the creek on a footbridge and face a confusing intersection of trails. Twice I’ve left the AT only to return to it later, adding time and strain to my hike. So I stay on the AT, and the route proves true. I pass Wise Shelter and cross Quebec Branch. Wanting the hike to end, I push hard up the ridge.

     I arrive back at the AT spur junction completely gassed. Some weekend warriors have set up camp below the rock outcrop I played on earlier. It’s a good campsite, as the rock outcrop shields the east-facing bald from the wind.

     Twenty minutes later I return to the trailhead. My Malibu never looked more inviting. I change my socks and collapse into the driver seat. As I head back into town, I pick up thru-hikers Last Out and Alex. When I drop them off where the AT crosses Rte. 16, Pacific Crest Trail alumnus Sparrow comes off the trail and solicits a ride into Marion. We talk about our favorite mobile applications and hiking. He has whittled his base pack weight down to 10 pounds! He wants to stop at Wal-Mart, but he gets excited at the sight of a Taco Bell, so I let him out there. I, however, have been craving Pizza Hut since The Scales. I order two Personal Pan Pizzas. While I wait, I make reservations at the Super 8 in Elkins, West Virginia, a 4-hour drive north.

     During the long drive, I listen to the Dennis Prager Show podcast. I drink a 5-Hour Energy to keep my eyes open as darkness falls. I pull in to the motel by 11 pm. For some reason, my reservation is under the name “Douglas Dooley.” I shower and crash. No trouble sleeping tonight.

Saturday, May 12
Roaring Plains
Distance: 14.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,455 feet
Time: 8 hours, 59 minutes

     I wake up sore but well-rested. I dress quickly and head downstairs to engorge myself on the free continental breakfast. The man who checks me out of the motel is missing a front tooth, not helping West Virginia’s image to outsiders.

     I drive into the Allegheny Mountains on successively narrower and bumpier roads until I reach the trailhead just off Forest Road 19. It looks to be warmer and cloudier than yesterday. I wear a long-sleeve undershirt to guard against ticks and sunburn.

     I walk down to South Prong. A barefoot ford is out of the question as the creek bed is very rocky, so I rock-hop across. One of the jumps involves enough risk to send a tremor through my bowels. I should have tried to poop at the motel, but I forgot.

     When I reach the other side, I climb up to a wide, grassy path that the scouting report says is actually an old railroad grade. At about the 3-mile point, my bowels haven’t stopped begging to be released, so I move about 50 feet off the trail, drop my trousers, and let it rip.

     The trail intersects South Prong again, but crossing is less of a task because it’s 2 miles upstream of the last crossing. The last creek crossing of the day is actually a half-mile downstream of the first, so it promises to be at least as challenging.

     I cross Forest Road 70 and continue to climb. When the trail levels out, I hear an intermittent grunting in the woods. I think it’s either trees creaking in the wind or wild turkeys. I check my GPS locator and am shocked to find I am a half-mile off-course. I double back and find an unmarked path leading south. For the next 5.5 miles, it’s a bushwhack.

     I follow the path through deciduous woods. The path splits in multiple places, but I trust my GPS locator and small cairns placed by past travelers. The pain in the middle of my back flares up again. I stop to engineer a method of carrying my camera that doesn’t place extra weight on my left shoulder.

     Shortly I reach a campsite with partial views of Long Run Canyon. I follow a jeep trail through a red-tinged meadow, then descend a gas pipeline swath for about a quarter-mile, trudging through the headstreams of Roaring Creek. I turn west and pick up a leaf-strewn path as it follows north along the creek.

     The path is hard to discern in the open woods. Several times I end up making my own way through the brush. I put away my trekking poles as they are more of a hindrance than a help. At an exposed scree slope I change my socks and eat, not necessarily in that order. I watch the ants mill about my feet, coming to investigate. I imagine the mountain is to me as I am to them.

     The closer I get to the canyon rim, the faster I move, making sure to keep the rim in sight, but not to get so close to it that I fall off the plateau. With every step something reaches out and scratches my body.

     Atop the rim, I celebrate and take photos. I have momentary cell service, so I fire off some text messages. After 15 minutes, I put on my pack and keep moving.

Photobucket     The path is better defined along the canyon rim. Only a couple of times does it actually intersect with the rim itself. Most of the time it stays about 50 to 100 feet back. When in doubt, I stay close to the rim until I pick up the trail. I trip over a root and fall face first towards a broken stump. I roll to my right and avert a facial by inches.

   &nbs pA campsite connotes a junction in the hike. You can continue along the canyon rim towards the Roaring Plains Trail, or you can cut 2 miles off the hike and bushwhack through a thicket. I choose the latter, as I figure I’ve sapped all the fun from the canyon rim that can be had.

     A row of cairns leading from the fire ring sets me on more or less the right course. Within a few minutes I pick up a faint hunter’s trail. From a small boulder field I spy a water-filled path heading east. I cling to the shrubs so as not to fall into the water. Despite my precaution, several times I sink up to my ankles. A bog obstructs my way and I consult my GPS locator. I am too far south. I should have arrived at the Roaring Plains Trail by now.

     I pick my way around the bog and try to find a way north through the brush. On my first attempt the thicket closes in, and I am forced to retreat. My second attempt also ends in failure. I mutter and curse. This delay would be tolerable if I had the canyon rim to look forward to. Now that the emotional highpoint is behind me, I find obstacles like this more of a nuisance than a challenge.

     Back at the bog, I take a breather. I realize I’ve lost my camera lens cap. I stow my camera and resume looking for a viable option north or west. I spy a boulder field 100 feet due south. From there I beat a path northwest. I’m making much better progress, not having to battle branches and brambles, and I gain the trail. Overjoyed at my conquest, I let out a manly scream.

     The Roaring Plains Trail dead-ends into Forest Road 70. A quarter-mile farther, I stop and eat the rest of my food. I take out my trekking poles on the Boars Nest Trail, which is completely underwater for the better part of a half-mile. The descent, rocky and steep, is equally challenging. At the second switchback, a fallen branch has been placed on two cairns to block the trail. I remove it and push on.

     Two switchbacks later I arrive at South Prong again. Like the first creek crossing, a barefoot ford will not do. Easy rock-hopping gets me about halfway across, whereupon I am forced to hop-step off submerged rocks. I chuck my trekking poles across and jump. I stick the landing with my right foot and let my momentum carry me to dry creek bed. I retrieve my trekking poles and climb the far bank.

     I cross a soggy, sloping meadow and reach the trailhead, which was empty this morning, but now I see 2 cars have joined mine. This is my third hike that I didn’t see anyone on the trail all day. I open my suitcase and conduct a fruitless search for clean socks. I decide to go barefoot rather than stink up my sneakers.

     On the road, I repeatedly check my phone for service. I don’t know the way home from here, and I’m counting on the route finder in Google Maps to show me. I follow Rte. 33 east and stop outside Seneca Rocks to admire the town’s namesake. From a half-mile away, I can hear the climbers shouting to each other. I continue through rural West Virginia and pass over Shenandoah Mountain, denoting the border with Virginia. I refuel outside Berryville and get home in time to see the green-white-checkered finish at Darlington.

"Bigots, bigots everywhere"

Bigots, bigots everywhere,
Who you are, we do not care.
All we know is you're unfair.
Moral categories we forswear.

Bigots, bigots all around me,
What nerve you have to disagree.
"Truth" is relative, don't you see.
Your views are square with tyranny.

Bigots, bigots in the wrong,
Far in the past do you belong.
Human progress you can't prolong.
To the future we rush headlong.