Saturday, March 14, 2015

Tentsile Stingray Hammock Tent - A Review

So I had been eying the Tentsile Stingray tent ever since I discovered it back in the fall. However, they are kind of pricey and didn't make my Christmas list. But after the Christmas holiday season, they went on sale and I scrounged up all my birthday and Christmas money and splurged on the Stingray, a cover for the hatch and a ladder for the tent.

The tent arrived a couple of weeks later and I took advantage of the first pretty day to set it up in my yard. I took a time lapse video of the whole process from initial unpacking to complete setup that you can see below. The whole process took less than 15 minutes. I think it will be even faster now that I know how everything works.



This is is a pretty substantial tent, weighing in at about 19 pounds. Most of that weight comes from the straps and ratchets - but of course they are strong to hold the advertised 800 pound weight limit. That means it won't replace my backpacking tent, but will become a staple for lake campsites and car camping with my little girl in the future.

Upon setup I could tell that this tent is made of quality materials. The bottom of the tent is a thick nylon, while the upper is completely mesh. This will be great for hanging out in the summer. The rain fly is waterproof sealed nylon and should be pretty solid once it is staked out. I left the tent up overnight and it rained. I didn't have the sides and corners pulled tight and I think this led to the drips and wetness inside. I also did not have the tent level and I think the rain ran down the support straps and got the interior wet.

Overall, I am very happy, impressed and excited about my new Tentsile Stingray. I was also very happy about the customer service that I received from Tentsile. I had some doubts about the website they were offering their discount through - I like to deal with companies directly or with known outfitters - and they reached out to me through social media (both Instagram and Facebook) to assure me that they would be fulfilling the orders directly from their own warehouses. After my order, I contacted them through their website because I didn't get my ladder with my initial order. Within an hour, I had a personalized reply and a new tracking number. The ladder shipped from London because their US supply ran out - and this didn't cost me another dime in shipping costs!

If you love hammocks, make the splurge and go get a Tentsile tent. I am so glad I did! Also, look for more reviews of our favorite gear coming on WNC Outdoor Life.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

2015 Delayed Harvest Dates

While regular Hatchery Supported waters in North Carolina are closed for the month of March, those creeks designated as Delayed Harvest are still fishable (catch and release, of course).

Here is the stocking schedule for the different waters around Western North Carolina. These delayed harvest waters are stocked eight year as opposed to five or six for the hatchery supported creeks. There are also more trout released per stocking - specific numbers for each creek in each county can be found by selecting your county of interest here.

In the past couple years I have heard rumors of otters invading our local streams here in Graham County (I have yet to witness an otter outside of Fontana Lake). This leads to people asking what is the point of these delayed harvest waters if the otters will get all the fish or if the fish can't reproduce or if you can't keep the fish, and so on.

To these people, I say that if you have to ask what the point is, you are missing the point. To me, the beauty of catch and release fishing is that if it is done right, the fish you enjoyed catching will still be there for the next guy to enjoy. It's not in the taking, but in the planning and the preparation and the work it takes to coax this wild animal into thinking your fly is actually something edible...not as easy as it seems.

I love the delayed harvest waters on my "home creek" in Graham County - Big Snowbird Creek. I was able to share a day with some students back in the fall. I threw in one time the whole day, andI was rewarded with the fat brook trout you see here. For me the more enjoyable thing was to watch these boys catch fish after fish and to know that the next time they are on that creek, those fish should still be around. I hope they don't miss the point.


2015 Cheoah River Release Dates

The Cheoah River in Graham County is quickly becoming one of the premier whitewater destinations in the Southeast, and maybe the country. On the first frigid weekend of release in February, I saw dozens of cars piled high with boats headed toward the river.

Book your trip with the Nantahala Outdoor Center or Endless River Adventures, both based near the Nantahala River in Swain County.

2015 Cheoah Release Dates:

February 21 & 22
 

March 21 & 22
 

April 11 & 12
 

April 25 & 26
 

May 16 & 17
 

May 30 & 31
 

June 27 & 28
 

September 12
 

October 3
 

November 7

See you around!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Fall Trail Camera Update

As is usual, the animals have been pretty active this fall, meaning we've seen plenty on our trail camera. I have it set up near a big oak tree with plenty of acorns. I have enjoyed this thing so much, it's one of my favorite Christmas presents ever!

This fox came through almost every night.

A doe enjoying the acorns.

A lone turkey

A bobcat on the left, behind the tree.

The bobcat again in the middle of the picture, walking away from the camera.

The first bear of the season!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Raised Garden Update

Here's a little update on the raised bed Ben built. I'm happy to say that it's coming along. We've got tomatoes, cabbage, beans, carrots, basil, lavender, cilantro, and spearmint- to name a few! I'm amazed by what we were able to fit into this small space. Unfortunately, our cats dug up our hopes of lettuce and onion this year (literally).  That's OK because up the hill our cherry trees are having us dreaming of cherry pies. 

Check out the little trellis I whipped up for our pole beans. It cost us $free.99, as we like to say.

I am most excited about the tomatoes and all the homemade salsa I'm going to can.  I'm also going to try my hand at making pesto. This is making me hungry... If things go well I'll be posting photos of big juicy tomatoes in no time. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fracking - Bad News for WNC


This quote by Ansel Adams sums up my feelings on the idea of hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking) in Western North Carolina. I normally shy away from controversial or political themes in this blog, but this one hit me right at home last week while watching the local news. The North Carolina senate is moving ahead with legislation to lift the 2012 ban on fracking in the state. Click here to read the law in its entirety.

If you are unfamiliar with the process (or didn't click the link above), fracking is a way of extracting natural gas from rock formations by injecting, at high pressure, a mixture of water, sand and other chemicals in such a way that the rock formations holding the gas break, allowing the natural gas to be collected. Problems stemming from these wells include earthquakes - as has been seen in Ohio - and contaminated drinking water. As if that wasn't enough, imagine the sight of drilling pads, roads, and heavy duty construction trucks cruising through some of your favorite backcountry locations. (Check out this great post about fracking impacts on national parks out west)

Now here is where I will get political. A lot of the potential natural gas deposits are found in the Eastern part of North Carolina, under the counties of Durham, Wake and Lee. More is found north of Winston-Salem near the Dan River basin. However, these areas are some of the most populated in North Carolina, meaning there are plenty of people there to raise a fuss about these wells. Western North Carolina is rural, forested and covered with national forests as well as state and national parks. Add this to a high unemployment rate and given the chance, which area (and people) will be more appealing for a mining company to exploit?

That brings me to another point - jobs. It is true that North Carolina, and especially Western NC, has a very high unemployment rate (we can debate the cause/effect of recent cuts to corporate taxes and unemployment benefits another time). Natural gas companies will tout that their industry creates a lot of jobs (how many will be available in NC is still up for debate). Consider this point though - wouldn't it be easier for the mining companies to bring in their own previously trained and proven workers than to hire and train new workers? But even if 5,000 jobs were created across the state over the next ten years, at what cost? Those jobs will pack up and leave when the gas runs dry. And besides, North Carolina has hundreds of thousands that are unemployed. Will the mining company take their new workers with them? What about the environmental impact left behind when they pull out, leaving empty drilling pads and unused roads cut into our beautiful mountains?

This brings me to my next couple of points - environmental impact and property rights. The version of the fracking bill passed by the NC Senate makes it a felony - A FELONY! - for a person to disclose what a mining company uses in their fracking fluid. So the idea is that to protect the competition between the companies, they can use any secret mixture of chemicals they feel like. Sure, this mix is supposed to be treated after the well is dismantled, but can we guarantee that it was completely removed? This is not even diving into the possibility of natural gas leaking into groundwater supplies - rendering the water completely undrinkable (something the gas companies would be liable for only if it occurred within 2500 feet of a drill pad).

Ok, the last point I will make is about property rights and self-governance. These are perhaps the most appalling of all the impacts from this bill. Fracking employs a technique called horizontal drilling, which helps maximize the amount of gas removed. The version of the bill that the senate has passed would allow drilling adjacent to private property to move horizontally onto that private landowner's property - with no consequence for the consequences such as contaminated ground water. It also allows the mining company to access private property at will, as long as the land owner is contacted (not asked for permission, simply contacted). Furthermore, this bill expressly prohibits any local governmental agency from creating a law to ban fracking in their town/county/municipality. It seems that those all-important property rights and will of the people go out the window when the all mighty dollar comes to play.

Once the beauty of nature is destroyed, it cannot be repurchased at any price. We are living on this planet like we have another one to go to. The mountains of Western North Carolina are where I call home. My wife, my daughter, my family and everyone and everything that I know and love is here. The mountains have always been an anchor in my life; they calm my very soul. The idea of ripping them apart for a few dollars digs straight to soul and infuriates me to no end. There is no place on earth like the mountains of WNC - don't sell them out.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

DIY Raised Beds

For the past week, I have been forgoing my other outdoor hobbies to work on a project here at home. I have been working to build a raised flower bed/herb garden out of old pallets. With the addition of our little one, we are going to take a break from a big garden and focus on a smaller area at home where we can teach her as she goes. We still plan to get fresh produce from family members and local farmers markets and can most of what we get for the winter.

I thought it would be great to share some pictures and a bit of a tutorial. These beds weren't difficult - taking the pallets apart and removing the nails was the most time-consuming part.

I started with very sturdy, high-quality pallets. Am's mom had gotten these for cheap a few months back and just had them laying around. The top boards were like decking, which made for great, strong side slats. If you have the option, ask around and try to get the best you can find. Since a flower bed will be filled with dirt, I wanted something that would last several years rather than rotting after just a few months.

Starting out - quality pallets.

From there, I began taking them apart and pulling nails. There is no secret, it's just elbow grease and a sledge hammer. After two pallets, though, I realized that there were only four slats on the bottom and seven on the top so I turned them over, removed the bottom slats and then the 2x4 supports and blew through the rest pretty quickly. Pounding out the nails from the bottom was pretty tedious, but we worked together and it wasn't so bad.

Broken-down pallets.

I started to lay out the bed by measuring where I wanted my corner braces to go. These were the 2x4 supports, cut into a point and driven into the ground (I actually used a post hole digger for the first 8 - 10 inches). Then I had to figure out where to drive in the other supports. My slats were 44 inches, meaning I had to do some measuring to figure out where to place the posts so that they would meet in the middle of the 2x4. Another challenge was making sure the supports were all the same distance from the house, so I started with the two ends and ran a string from one to the next to guide my positioning.

Almost finished.

After I got all the holes dug and the supports driven in, I began to measure and cut the side slats. As you can see, the yard has a natural slope and I had to account for that, so I started with the shorter end. Once those top two were flush and level, it was pretty easy to just continue the line and add pieces below. I came along later and dug a trench for a few of the bottom pieces to account for the slope.

Stained, trimmed and finished...just needs dirt and flowers!

Once everything was nice and tidy, we added some trim - leftover from another project - to the front to hide all the joints. I trimmed off the top of the supports with a circular saw and stained it to match the deck. I also stapled some 2 mil plastic around the inside of the wood, just to help lengthen thee life of the beds. I calculated the interior volume and picked up some dirt and we're in the gardening business! I'm hoping this little project will last for quite a while and help us pass on our hobby of gardening on to our little girl.