Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cosby Stills, Mash and Rum...Camping In Cosby, Tennessee

Our Memorial Day Weekend camping trip to Cosby, TN is in the books and I have to give it a 4 out of 5 star rating. Cosby is the self-proclaimed "Moonshine Capital of the World" and tales of Deliverance-style encounters with local moonshiners float about the area. Perhaps this is why on the busiest early Summer weekend in the busiest Natonal Park, one can still get a choice campsite at the Cosby park entrance for $14.00 a day. The road in is 2 miles long and is a gorgeous feast of tall, overhanging trees and fast creeks and streams.

Roadside Stream

I did not want to take any chances, so I drove up on Thursday afternoon to secure a site for our trip, meeting up with my wife on Saturday. She would drive the four hours from Nashville, stay at her Mom's and find me in the park on Saturday morning.


I had no problems finding the place, just take TN 32 off I-40 and keep going until you reach the Park entrance. I drove past the self-registering hut, as per directions, and found the secluded, yet accessible site A-18. It seemed to be ideal, though I was a bit skeptical about the apparent ability of run-off water from the higher sites to find A-18 as the perfect conduit to the valley floor. I decided it was too gorgeous of a view to pass up, so I pitched the tent and lit a fire.

Camp Site A-18

Sure looks nice in photos, doesn't it? Well, it got darker and darker and I got sleepy, so I hit the sleeping bag at about 10:00p.m. I listened to the rush of the nearby stream, the wind in the treetops, the soft murmur of the neighboring campers...and at 2:30 a.m. the roar and crack of the first of a thousand thunderstorms that splashed on by. Now, I like to read books on a variety of subjects, especially those subjects I need to take a crash course in, in order to not look like an idiot. There are several backpacking and hiking books on my shelves, and I'm pretty sure all of them warn you to "seal your seams". One in particular says to "seal your seams...then seal them again". I did not seal my seams.

The Sealing of the Seams is a ritual performed by those who do not want the rain fly of their tent to become so saturated with endless buckets of raindrops that the seams begin to drip onto their actual tent, which - being a good tent - is designed to "breathe" and allow the moisture of the humans inside to permeate the fabric, sending the humidity to the outside. Unfortunately, if you do not seal your seams, and you - being a good human - are also designed to breathe, you will find it difficult to do so while soaking wet.

After 3 hours of rain, it let up at 5:30 a.m. I poked my head out and saw that by the grace of Euell Gibbons, I had pitched the tent on the only dry spot in the site. I was surrounded by pooled water and dripping trees. I left the sponge tent and fumed in the car. After an hour of intermittent fuming and napping, I grabbed the tent by the top and moved it across the road to the fabulous Camp Site A-19 (..that's 'Retha Franklin...).

Camp Site A-19

I took the soggy bottom tent apart and hung it out to dry on an improvised clothesline that all the books said I should bring. At least I remembered that much. While I was doing this, two wild turkeys came by the old site, (obviously hearing through the grapevine that a large human was impersonating them) and these two were no doubt the poultry union advance team for identifying possible illegal mimicry. After determining that the Turkey in the Squall was a one-night only performance, they went back to being the National Bird That Lost Out to The Bald Eagle, the target of eponymous "shoots" and the main ingredient in a nice club sandwich. See ya.

Wild Turkeys

It then occured to me that if all you have is a high-tech pup tent, and there are two of you, and you are planning to spend several days at the campsite, you'll probably need a place to hang out in, preferably out of the elements and flight paths of bugs. The nearby Wal-Mart in Newport (15 miles) had the Made in China answer, a nice, easy to erect screen house for $35.00. (Of course in China, this would be a "summer home", I suppose).

Home Base

I followed the directions (hooray, a book!), casting my pride aside, and had the thing up in about ten minutes. I used it to enclose the permanent picnic table on the camp site, and I had my living room/kitchen to add to the the small, drier-outer bedroom.

Dry Land

Since this is Bear Habitat, your car is your pantry. Anything that smells - food, deodorant, toothpaste, old socks - all must be locked in your car lest it tempt Yogi to take a bite. No big deal, the perishable consumables were all in the New Cooler, the Dry Goods were in the Every Damn Thing Bin (#1), and the Utensils and Ammenities were in the Every Other Damn Thing Bin (#2).

Food For Thought

I slept soundly that night and was excited to see my wife in the morning so we could begin spending some time together, which was the whole reason for this trip. She showed up at 11:30 the next morning, which meant that I was drinking coffee from a Coleman blue enamel percolator and keeping a welcoming campfire going for about - oh, five hours or so. I guess we go our signals crossed on what time we were planning for her arrival. Minor tensions arose and were talked about and handled.

In keeping with her interpretation of the "getting away from it all" theme, she had agreed to go out to dinner that evening at a nearby restaurant with her Mom, Aunt and Uncle. That left little time to do any hiking, so we decided to have it be another "rest" day. Dinner was excellent and affordable. Carver's Apple House Restaurant is worth the trip if you are ever in the area. More food than you can eat, and more food derived from apples than you can imagine.

That night after dinner, the kinfolk visited us at the camp site and we sat around and talked and toasted/burnt marshmellows for desert. The weather was perfect, and no bugs were around, though it was pointed out to me that a substantial Poison Oak patch was located behind our fire pit.

We went to bed at around 10:00. The tent, which seemed so small with just me in it during the flood seemed even smaller with both of us in it. To be fair, it is designed for backpacking, which means comfort was displaced in favor of lightweight, durability and a high retail price. Apparently I was able to nod off long enough to snore, which made it impossible for Donna to sleep. To paraphrase my late Grandfather Glen "Red" Spaulding: "Many campsites overlooked the beautiful landscape. Mine overlooked a comfortable bed".

At around midnight, she gave up on trying to drown out my nocturnal noises and got up to sleep in her car, which woke me up out of a sound snore. Momentarily disoriented, I grasped that she was leaving when I saw her duck out of the tent, and soon after I heard a loud, snuffling, snarling, slurping sound coming from the camp site behind us, about twenty five yards a way. It sounded exactly like what I expected bears to sound like when they are methodically hitting campsite after campsite in search of delectables.

I kept peering out of the tent window to see if the hapless campers inside the next tent could hear the bears trashing their food stash and grabbed my flashlight and Case knife, at the ready to join the ad hoc anti-bear milita I was sure was about to form - although I was not overly excited about being the Paul Revere of the movement.

Eventually, the snuffle/snarl/slurp became clearer to me. Very rhythmic and devoid of the sound of ripping nylon, clattering aluminum and cracking wood one would expect from a bear assault. Yes, it sounded more and more human and less animalistic. Good God, that was somebody snoring. Loudly. Very loudly.

Still not entirely convinced a bear was not in camp and that a human could make those noises and not end up in divorce court... or in Ripley's, I headed out to the Explorer to sleep. So, the second night of our back to nature trip together was spent in our autos - her in the backseat of a Toyota, me in the passenger seat of a Ford.

Daylight brought it all back to focus. Yes, someone with superhyper apnea had been making those noises. We decided not to stay another night, and made our final day count by going on the hike we intended.

The Hen Wallow Falls Trail begins right up the hill from our camp site. As soon as you step onto it, you are in the middle of a beautiful forest of newer timber and old-growth trees.


There are several stream crossings, most with bridges like this one:

Moss Covered Bridge

The streams are all similar to this one, near the trail head:

Mossy Creek

The trail goes uphill most of the way to the Falls, and is typically through brush and trees, with little rock formations to be seen.

On The Trail

We saw some wildlife on the way. We missed seeing a bear cub (and no doubt it's mother) by about an hour. We did see this fine specimen, however:

Black Snake

The trail is full of snake holes. We saw a lot of them as we were walking up, and on the way back, there was a black snake entering it's hole with about half of it's body still on the trail.

Closer to the falls, the trail hugs the mountain a little closer and the terrain changes to more of this:


The Falls are 60 feet high and were in full force after the rain that I had experienced on Thursday.

Hen Wallow Falls

A Short Video of Hen Wallow Falls

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Camping Trip

Memorial Day nears and we're going to camp in the Smokies for the weekend. I bought a dome tent from REI last year, fully intending on using it, but this trip will be the first time I pitch it outside the living room.

The Smokies are usually crowded with tourists this time of year, but there is an excellent campground about 30 minutes away from the tourist-trap town of Gatlinburg (according to my research) that is not often full. The have 156 sites, 25 of which are reservable. They are all reserved already, so we will take our chances on getting what is left. After talking to the ranger on duty at the campground, I may go up early on Thursday and have my wife meet me on Saturday morning.

I haven't slept outdoors in decades. We have a couple of decent sleeping bags and I splurged on a ThermaRest closed-cell sleeping pad for me, while the wife will have to suffer with a full size down mattress pad. The campground has restrooms and running water, but no hot water, so I picked up a Solar Shower for $5.00. We'll see how well that works. There are businesses that rent showers right outside the park, so if we get too steamy on a hike, I guess we can drive out to hot showers if need be.

Cooking will be greatly enhanced by our new Coleman grill/stove. It has a small burner and a large grilling surface and runs on propane. I bought a camper's percolator for my morning coffee and plenty of Starbucks Cafe Verona. We will be staying in bear country (there are aproximately 1,800 black bears in the Smokies), so our food will have to be stored in bear-proof containers as supplied by the park. If we have to do it the old fashioned way, I have been reading about how to rig a counter weight system to hoist the food out of a bear's reach. That goes for anything that smells good - ketchup, toothpaste, deodorant.

Other new gear includes a rechargable Coleman lantern, with AC and cigarette lighter adaptors, so we will have safe, renewable illumination after sunset. Especially handy for midnight trips to the restroom.

All of the campsites are shady, and that's a good thing since the forecast is mid-80s to 90s. It's always cooler in the mountains, and probably a little chilly at night.

By starting out "car camping" we can bail any time we want, and there is less stress of forcing a good time out of the weekend if the weather chooses to not cooperate. My mother-on-law lives 45 minutes away fom the camp grounds in case of emergency or the need for a free shower. Eventually I'd like to do overnight trips into the backcountry, but for now, just spending time in the mountains will be enough. I have a 9-week tour coming up and this is my last chance to rough it in the woods before I rough it on the road.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Instrumentally Yours

My guitars. Tools of the trade nowadays, but I have viewed my chosen instrument at times as a best friend, confessor, conversation piece, and surrogate speaking voice. I've owned many fine guitars over the years, and I miss a few of them. The '70s tobacco sunburst Les Paul that suffered a broken headstock at the hands (feet) of a lighting guy. The Gibson double neck that I took to college and used during an audition for a '50s/Elvis cover band (unsuccessfully). The Hamer that I played in my first post-high school band, "Thrust" (yes, I know...I'm pretty sure it was named after one of the controls on the then-popular video game "Joust". Really).

The guitars I have now are not particularly valuable. I like them for their practicality and the sounds they make and inspire.


The above photo shows some of my favorite guitars. Top left is a Jerry Jones Tic-Tac Longhorn Bass. The tic-tac is usually used to double an existing bass line, most often one played on an upright bass. The tic-tac adds the clicky attack to the thump of the acoustic. Listen closely to any Patsy Cline reord to hear tic-tac master Harold Bradley double bassist Bob Moore's upright. Also good for playing twangy lines like the hook in Steve Earle's "Guitar Town" or Glenn Campbell's "Witchita Lineman".

In the top middle is a 1985 Fender Esquire, made in Japan. I love the mid-80s Japanese Fenders. Fender had recently changed hands and all production came out of Japan for a while until the U.S. plant could re-open. Great stuff. I traded a G&L Tele to a guy on the internet for this guitar. I did not use it much, until I sent it to Mark Jenny, who replaced the body with a "reliced" or "faux vintage" body and finish. It looks and feels like a real '52, and even fooled Marty Stuart, who actually owns a real '52. The Esquire is my main electric guitar at the moment.

Next to the Esquire is my 1968 ES-125, modified by the fantastic Jeff Senn. I've posted about this guitar before, and after putting new strings on it this morning, I have hardly put it down today. Very unique sounding guitar, and my only one with P-90 pickups.

Bottom left is my 1985 Fender Telecaster '62 reissue, also made in Japan. I once had two of these, but this one is my favorite, even though I put two nasty gouges on the top by lifting up without the case latches being closed. Dang. Jeff Senn will eventually get this guitar, strip the poly finish and do a nice relic job on it.

Next is a Mexican made Stratocaster I bought at Guitar Heaven for $265. I added an EMG David Gilmour pickup package with treble and mid boost and it came with locking Sperzel tuning machines. I don't play Strats too much, maybe Jeff needs to turn this into a player...

Leaning against my Fender Deluxe Reverb is an old Supro lap steel. I need to get around to learning the instrument, but it sounds great.

The Cat Daddy is my L-5 George Gobel. Astounding guitar, loaned out to studios on occasion and acquired when I played with Mandy Barnett. This guitar sports flatwound strings and a wound G string, and it excels at Mel Bay-sounding chords.

Acoustics and Electrics

My favorite acoustic at the moment is the 1967 Epiphone El Dorado. It has a sweet and warm sound, is well-played and has a bit of Nashville history to it. This guitar belonged to a studio session player who used it to cut a #1 Dottie West song.

The Gibson ES-350T is up next. My very favorite guitar, I have had many offers to buy it from some pretty famous folks - Peter Frampton, for one - after they played this perfect guitar. I had it built out while I was working at Gibson. They put the Chet Atkins Bigsby vibrato unit on it at the factory and it is a gem.

Top right is an Aspen Luthier guitar made by Mandola in Finland for a Texas music conglomerate. I have it set up as a "high strung" guitar - essentially the octave set of strings from a 12-string set. This gives you an octave higher string on the E, A, D, and G strings, with the B and E remaing the same. It sounds very zingy and is great for doubling an acoustic track on a record.

Bottom left is my Danelectro Longhorn Bass. Not too bad.

Middle acoustic is my made in Japan Epiphone from about 1975. Found it in a pawn shop in Nashville. Nice guitar.

The Danelectro U1 is a single-pickup guitar that I have set up for slide. Flatwounds and high action.

The mandolin is a Lotus , also made in Japan in the '70's. Great workmanship, sounds killer. Bought at Guitar Heaven for $100.

There's a few guitars not pictured that I love, too. I play one or more of these friends every day, and it's always a pleasure.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Baker Street

Last week the band traveled to London to tape the Jools Holland show for BBC-2. Great gig, great trip. Christine McVie is old friends with Billy and George, and she stopped by the hotel lobby for a visit.

The format for "Later With Jools Holland" is unique. Four featured bands, each set up against one of the four walls of the studio. The other bands on our night were Hassidic rap/reggae sensation Matisyahu, ex-Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft, Los Angeles pop-punkers "We Are Scientists" and special guests "Camille" from Paris, France and neo-Flamenco guitarists "Rodrigo y Gabriella". All of the bands were interesting and entertaining. An audience of a few hundred crowd into the corners of the studio and the music is non-stop save for a few interviews with some of the guests.

We borrowed a couple of techs from Paul Weller's band and they were very helpful in getting our gear together, as I was the only crew guy to make the trip this time out.

We rented some amazing Marshall JCM800 amps and most of the other bands were using really nice AC-30s...wish I could get my hands on one of those here in the States.

Baker Street

London. Looking out the window of my room in the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street. Basil Rathbone. Gerry Rafferty. It's a very expensive town to visit - a hamburger was $30 in the hotel dining room - and I was too jet-lagged to get out and be a tourist. Still, it was neat to be there.


Fabulous singer/songwriter and beautiful, charming lady. Like most music fans my age, I devoured the Fleetwood Mac "Rumours" album and it was a thrill to meet her. I hesitated to get a picture, but I figured the odds of being in a London pub with Christine McVie, with no fans hassling her (except me), would not soon happen again. She was very gracious and posed for the nice photo above.