Heat, humidity and a hike up a mountain

My neighbor across the street has this thing going in which he loves to ask “how I’m liking the weather today?”

He NEVER fails to ask me that question. Each time we run into each other, I can expect him to grin, ask me about the weather and then chuckle to himself when I scowl.

He doesn’t really care what I think. He’s just tweaking me. He already knows how I feel about sweating through a sticky, soupy West Virginia summer – and, just to be clear, IT’S NOT GOOD!

Frankly, I’d rather join our big dog Rodney atop an AC vent and stay there until Labor Day, but circumstances conspire against me.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Nic texted me. He wanted to know if I’d like to join him and another friend of ours on a quick overnight backpacking trip.

Knowing what you now know about my hostility toward heat and humidity, you’d be right to think it a safe bet that I wouldn’t give the matter much thought, that I would flatly refuse and then give Rodney a nudge (he’s a vent hog). But, in this instance, if you had actually made that bet, you would have lost.

I can’t really explain why I went against the odds other than to say the cool air emanating from the vent must have made me temporarily delirious. In any case, I agreed to hike Shockeys Knob, a mountain about a half-hour from my home in Martinsburg, along West Virginia’s border with Virginia.

Last Wednesday, I found myself struggling up the mountain path with Nic and our friend John. Actually, I huffed and puffed more than either of them, but my feeble efforts to keep up aren’t the point. While temperatures weren’t nearly as hot as they were last week and it rained off and on, it was still humid. I was dripping with sweat before we even got halfway up the path.

Did I mention I prefer AC vents even if I have to nudge Rodney to make room?

I do.


But despite the humid, and sometimes rainy weather, that hike was worth it. And not just because we rewarded ourselves with the beer we had iced down and lugged up the mountain in our packs. It was because we had accomplished something, we had met a shared goal, we had been through the crucible and Shockeys Knob was ours.

But despite that sense of satisfaction, I’ve made a promise to myself. The next time my friends want to hike a mountain when it’s humid outside just to share a few beers beside a campfire, I’m going to suggest they come over to my house, instead. I’ve got plenty of AC vents and Rodney doesn’t mind sharing. Plus, the beer will be colder. I’ve got a fridge.

I don’t like humid weather.




A long walk is always worth writing about

I was just finishing my customary morning coffee on the front stoop Thursday when I saw a red flash dash through the air in front of my house. It was a bird, of course. And unlike that blue jay that crapped right in front of me last week, it had some shame. It likely held it until I wasn’t looking.

To use the scientific name (and make myself seem smarter), it was a Cardinalis cardinalis, more commonly known as the northern cardinal.

The cardinal is hardly unique to where I live in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. In fact, it’s quite common across a wide swath of North America. I only mention it here because the sight of it reminded me to write this post.

If you don’t see why a bird as common as a cardinal would prompt me to open my laptop add up these three facts:

(1) The cardinal is the state bird of West Virginia.

(2) West Virginia celebrated its 154th birthday on Tuesday.

(3) We marked the holiday – West Virginia Day – by going for a hike.

A long walk is always worth writing about.

When I rolled out of bed Tuesday morning, I suggested to my wife that instead of spending a lazy morning dodging bird doo-doo on the front stoop, we should celebrate statehood by going for a hike.

Although I suspect she was secretly disappointed about missing a chance to witness firsthand my shitty relationship with birds, she enthusiastically agreed to hit the trail. My wife is always up for a physical challenge, so I suggested we hike Maryland Heights.

Hiking the Heights may seem like an odd thing to do on West Virginia’s birthday. After all, the mountain is in Maryland. But I would argue that Maryland Heights might as well be a part of my home state, especially on June 20th – West Virginia Day.

Maryland Heights towers over historic Harpers Ferry, the West Virginia town at the confluence of the storied Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Harpers Ferry was a key stop for Meriwether Lewis as he prepared for the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It’s famous for John Brown’s Raid and it has links to the present day NAACP through the now defunct Storer College. Storer was a historically black school. Frederick Douglass once served as a trustee.

It goes without saying that Harpers Ferry is steeped in Civil War history and as the highest point above the town, Maryland Heights played a key military role. Soldiers like to control the high ground, the better to lob cannonballs down on helpless enemies below.

On the day we hiked the Heights, it seemed to me that West Virginians were storming the mountain. More than once, I heard fellow hikers greet each other with a jaunty “Happy West Virginia Day.” One woman we saw wore a T-shirt with the state’s venerable “Wild, Wonderful” slogan on it. The man hiking with her wore a shirt emblazoned with a giant “304.” “304” is shorthand for West Virginia. It was the state’s only area code until 2009, when we were forced by whoever governs these things to begin using another one as well. I won’t say what the other area code is here. I will never get used to anything other than “304.”

As we were coming down off the mountain, my wife ran into a friend who was hiking with her son. They apparently hauled a state flag up to the overlook to snap a picture with it there.

To use what seems to be a favorite word of one of my favorite authors, Bill Bryson, the overlook offers a “splendid” view of Harpers Ferry. It makes struggling up the Heights worth it, not to mention that it’s a good place to rest and catch your breath.

All in all, it was, as they say, a good day to be a mountaineer, even if we spent part of it in Maryland.

Only one thing marred our hike. The trailhead could be marked more clearly. Even though we had hiked the mountain with our kids once before, we missed it this time around. I grew frustrated with our failure and got petulant about it. So much so, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that my wife attempted to persuade a bird to poop on my head.

In any case, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other as we made our way up the steep trail burned away any lingering hard feelings.

However, I remain somewhat anxious about bird shit.

The morning chirp

Woke up this morning to the birds outside my open bedroom window.

They were happily carrying on quite a conversation.

I don’t speak bird, but I gleaned this much from all their avian chirping: their enthusiasm for the day ahead.

It was infectious.

Their joy almost motivated me to throw my pole in the car and set out for the fishing hole I scouted yesterday.

I settled for a cup of coffee on our front stoop.

I’m terrible at catching fish.

Already proved it once this week.

No use ruining an otherwise peaceful morning by getting fired up about the prospect of reeling in something other than a waterlogged stick.


Birthday fishing fail

How is it that the kids on YouTube make hooking fish look so easy?

I watched several of their videos Monday morning as I was getting my gear together for my birthday fishing excursion.

After watching them pull fish after fish out of the water, I was certain I would finally get the angling monkey off my back, that I would be able to tell my friends that I caught a birthday fish or two and show my wife that her husband is not a complete incompetent.

I remain, however, true to form.

The first bonehead thing I did when I arrived at the public lake about 45 minutes from my house explains why I decided to keep a spare pole handy. After picking what looked like a nice spot to set up shop, I tangled the line in the new rod and reel I bought last week as a birthday present to myself.

I grew so frustrated trying to fix it, that I eventually banished it to the trunk of my car and fetched the spare from where I left it the last time I failed at fishing – on the ledge in my car’s back window.

I then promptly moved on to the next setback – losing one of my new jigs.

I bid it goodbye not long after I actually started fishing. On one of my first casts, the jig I bought just that morning snapped off the end of my line, went sailing over the water in a high arc, and landed in the lake with a plop.

The sound of it hitting the water startled me. And as I watched each succeeding ripple form on the lake’s surface as the jig sank to the bottom, I figured out what went so terribly wrong. I forgot to release my line by opening the bail on my spinning reel.

Lesson learned?

Not immediately. I lost another new jig in similar fashion.

The next couple of hours I spent lakeside proved disappointingly uneventful. While I eventually got my act together enough to at least throw a line into the water without losing my lure, the fish weren’t buying me as a serious angler. It was as if they had taken one look at me, chuckled to themselves, and then decided it would be too embarrassing to end up my hook.

In the end, only a few tiny salamanders in the shallows at my feet showed any interest in what I was offering. One even started to crawl up my line when I left it dangling in front of them, but then thought better of it and went on its way.

The hard truth is, I would have been better off booting up Pokémon Go on my phone. At least then, I could have looked forward to the satisfaction of catching something, even if Pokémon are just cartoon characters in a video game.

But then, catching a Magikarp on my phone isn’t quite the same as the reality of pulling a big, fat, largemouth bass out of the water.

For that, I need a rod and reel.

If only I could use a Poke ball.

The Masters

Sergio Garcia is no longer one of the best players to have never won a major tournament.

Golf has a new Masters champion.

And I’m going fishing tomorrow.

At this point, you might be asking yourself why I’m planning to dunk a few worms on a Monday – the beginning of the work week.

My answer?

Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ve taken the day off and I want to spend it breaking in the new rod I bought last week as a present to myself.

I’m not sure why I bothered to fetch a new pole home from the sporting goods store. I don’t deserve it. I’m a terrible fisherman.

The thing is, though, I’m an even worse golfer. You’ll never see me in a major tournament playoff like the one Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose engaged in to decide the 2017 Masters at Augusta National.

But if Garcia can stick with golf and finally win a major tournament after more than 70 tries, the least I can do is try to actually catch a birthday fish or two.

Not that I’m obsessed with a particular fish or anything

I suppose I could just lie and tell you that the fishing was great last weekend, that I tricked so many fish into buying what I was selling that I was the envy of everyone on the riverbank.

But lies are what fisherman tell. And apparently, I’m not a fisherman. Or, at least, not a very good one.

In fact, I probably should not have taken the weekend off from my radio gig in Washington, D.C., just to go on a fruitless fishing trip.

I know what you’re thinking, that a “bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.” But if I had showed up for my shift, at least I would have been more productive.

Instead, I returned to work this week with no “fish tale” to tell my co-workers, no yarn to make their eyes pop in disbelief. And, more importantly, no story that would justify my new fishing pole to them.

A few months ago, they chuckled sceptically when my new pole arrived at my cubicle. I chose it above all the other gifts my employer offered to those of us marking milestone anniversaries.

I wanted to prove my co-workers wrong and hoped my weekend trout fishing trip to the Blackwater River near my brother’s place in Canaan Valley would do the trick.

No such luck.

All I came away with was a cautionary tale of obsession. Nothing on the scale of the fictional Captain Ahab’s single-minded pursuit of the white whale, but obsession, nonetheless.

After arriving along the Blackwater last Friday evening, a couple of cronies and I fished for a few hours.  We didn’t get any bites, but I wasn’t worried. We assured ourselves we’d fill our coolers the next day and have fresh trout for dinner.

It didn’t work out that way. Aside from one of my friends catching a fish too small to keep, we barely got any nibbles.

My only consolation? No one else fishing near us seemed to have much success, either.

The next day I woke before anyone else and set out for the river, determined to turn our fortunes around and at least catch ONE fish with my new pole before leaving for home later that morning.

That’s when I came across my own white whale, the fish that mocked me for the next of couple of hours.

I first saw it treading water near the riverbank where I was casting my line. It was a good-sized trout and seemed to be offering itself up to be hooked.

I say seemed because getting hooked was the last thing it wanted to do. It really just wanted to toy with me.

I did everything to land that fish, but it wouldn’t take the bait. I think it actually shrugged its fishy little fins at everything I threw at it.

I even tried talking it onto my hook, promising to release it if only it would let me take a selfie of the two of us together as if we were old friends. I wanted photographic evidence to help make the case to my co-workers that choosing a fishing pole was better than settling for a pair of cufflinks I’ll never wear.

But that fish just went on mocking me. Then it mocked my friends when they finally showed up to try their luck catching it.

When we finally ran out patience and began packing up to leave, I swear that fish thumbed its nose at us.

Since it never took my hook, I’m not sure if that fish qualifies as “the one that got away.” But if Captain Ahab can travel to the ends of the earth in pursuit of his nemesis, the least I can do is go after that fish, again.

After all, I’ve still got a selfie to take.

And, I don’t care what I have to do to get it.

Gone Fishing

Before you jump to conclusions – no, I’m not at work this weekend because I overslept after staying up too late obsessively binge-watching our teenage daughter’s fangirl show “Supernatural.”

Even if TV kept me from showing up for my usual weekend radio newscasting gig in Washington, D.C., I would have to blame a different show. Our daughter has forbidden me from “Supernatural” for the time being because (a) she doesn’t want me to catch up with where she is in the series and (b) she says my enthusiasm has “sort of ruined” the show for her.

I feel bad about that.

But not THAT bad.

After all, it’s my duty as a dad to ruin things for my kids.

So why do I have the weekend off?

Well, if I can’t fangirl, I might as well pursue a more age-appropriate activity.

I’m off to West Virginia’s interior, meeting up with a few friends at my brother’s place in Canaan Valley.

We’re going fishing.

Trout fishing, to be specific.

The idea of fishing appeals to me. Casting a line into a mountain stream and waiting for the rush of a fish that takes the bait seems like the perfect way to spend a weekend away from the office cubicle.

And for this trip, I’m looking forward to breaking in the new pole I got for free. I chose it from a list my employer offered as a gift when I reached ten years on the job.

My co-workers chuckled when it arrived, finding it amusing that I’d choose a fishing pole as an anniversary gift rather than a watch or a pair of cufflinks that I’ll never wear.

At the time, however, I ignored them. I figured a fishing pole would more useful.

I might be wrong about that, though. In my experience, the idea of fishing and the reality of it don’t square.

The truth is, I’m a terrible fisherman. As much as I hate to admit this, I can probably count the number of fish I’ve actually caught on one hand.

In fact, I probably spend more time putting a fouled spool of line back into working order than actually casting. And if by some miracle I’m able to get a line into the water, it seems more likely to get snagged on a rock than to hook a fish, leaving me with no recourse but to lose even more precious fishing time trying to work my line free without snapping it.

It’s a wonder I haven’t somehow hooked the back of my head … yet.

There’s still time for that, though.

They say “a bad day fishing is better than a good day working.”

With my track record, it seems I’m putting that old adage to the test this weekend.

But no matter how our trip turns out, at least I’ll have a good fish story to tell when I get back to the office.