- What does the tuition cover?
- The trip cost includes: all necessary gear (backpack, tent,
sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, water filter, kayak), food
(except two restaurant meals during travel), transportation, and
- Do the students need any money?
- The students would only need money for stops made by the bus. We
do plan two meals during the travel, but they will be relatively
inexpensive (Cracker Barrel & a diner). They also might want to have
money for drinks and snacks when we stop for gas.
- What about electronics?
- Cell phones are encouraged. However, they are really just for
emergency use or a quick "I'm doing great". There will be no
opportunity to recharge the battery while backpacking, so they will
need to be turned off most of the time. We like to have different
cell phones on the trip because coverage is poor in the remote areas
and having different carriers gives us a better chance of having a
signal to work with. Ipods are fine for the bus ride but will not be allowed
during the backpacking. Cameras are great, but I would not recommend
bringing a large, heavy, expensive camera. Cell phones & cameras can
be protected from the rain with a ziploc bag, but they still tend to
get more "wear & tear" during this type of trip. Personally, I lost
one camera to the bottom of a stream in Linville Gorge, I lost
another into a pot of water during the 2011 trip, and its
replacement is currently in a state of "beaten silly" and filled
with dirt after a recent caving expedition. However, I have
thousands of awesome photos & videos from my trips, and those memories make it
well worth it to me.
- What to bring?
- An extensive list will be provided to interested families. Some
of the important items are identified in the questions below. The
reason I don't want to publish the full list on this web site is
Discovery Term provides a week for students to engage in planning,
and I don't want to compromise this responsibility of the student planning
- What not to bring?
- Cotton clothes that are heavy and slow to dry, computers, weapons,
a large stash of personal food, expensive items that might be
broken/lost when a less costly substitute will do (i.e. expensive sunglasses,
high end camera, jewelry), bulky items, heavy items........and
others that I haven't thought of yet.
- What type of shoes will I need for backpacking?
- For all my backpacking, I have only used a shoe that classifies
as a "light hiker" - the Merrell Moab Ventilator which sells for
about $75. I own five pair of these. I also teach in these shoes. I like them because they're
light but sturdy, they can be washed easily in a stream or washing
machine, they dry quickly, and they're comfortable right
out of the box without a break-in period. I'm sure there are many
people that would recommend hiking boots for an excursion like this.
I've never owned any hiking boots. If a more technical shoe/boot is
purchased, I think a proper break-in period will need to be planned
for. I think the socks are as important as the shoes. Good socks are
worth it. What makes a good sock? Light, breathable, good
cushioning, washes easily, dries fast. For a full sock, I like the
REI Merino Wool Expedition sock. For a short sock in warmer weather,
I like the Smartwool PhD Cycling Light Mini. What will also be
needed is some type of water shoe. With our frequent swimming in
streams, lakes, and rivers we want to have a light water shoe that
can attach to a carabineer on the outside of the pack (to dry while
we're on the move). These should be light and dry quickly......but
they also should be sturdy/supportive/grippy because we're
frequently walking on rocks and sometimes these rocks are slippery.
- What type of bathing suit should I bring?
- A traditional bathing suit has been problematic on previous
trips. The first problem is that we are constantly near water and
interacting with water. Students that need the time & privacy to do
a full change from hiking clothes to bathing suit are much less
happy than those that can drop their pack, switch out their shoes,
and be in the water within a minute. The bathing suits also tend to
hold water (i.e. heavy) and never dry out. The alternative is to
wear light, fast drying synthetic clothes while hiking and these go
right into the water.........and the flip side to this is that once
you start hiking again, you get evaporative cooling as your clothes
dry out until the next swimming hole. Furthermore, your clothes are
being washed frequently (and you're not having to change back into
- What will we eat?
- On previous trips, we have consumed pizza, mac & cheese, beef
brisquit sandwiches, different flavors of Ramen noodles, pancakes,
oatmeal, smores, granola, PB&J, trail mix, beef jerky, turkey jerky,
oatmeal bars, grits, hummus, nuts, M&Ms, nutella, marshmallow fluff,
raisins, craisins, pretzels, pop tarts, gummy bears, gatorade, hot
chocolate, tea, and coffee. When we get to Devil's Fork State Park,
we will be able to visit the grocery store and grill on our campfire
(chicken, steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, fresh veggies, kabobs).
- What about critters?
- We will be traveling in areas with a wide variety of wildlife.
This variety includes bears, snakes, spiders, ticks, bees,
mosquitoes and other critters that are less cute & cuddly than our
domesticated pets. One benefit of a trip of this type is that one
learns to respect & appreciate wildlife in their natural habitat and
realize the ease with which we can co-exist without risk to life and
limb. We have not had any problems with the aforementioned creatures,
but we will certainly discuss them and make wise choices to avoid
negative encounters. Serious medical conditions such as allergy to
bee stings will have to be planned for. On the 2011 trip, we did
find a copperhead that had sought shelter under one of our kayaks
and it became an awesome educational experience as I captured it in
a clear plastic container that allowed up close viewing and then we
relocated the snake outside of the campground.
- What will we do? What will we see?
- We will be traveling and living outdoors in some of the most
pristine forest left in the U.S. We will bath & swim in cool, clean
water that has traveled down from mountaintops. We will constantly see
natural scenes of unparalleled beauty. We will experience a constant
state of anticipation and adventure as we travel in places we have
never been and each turn in the trail takes us to new places. We
will be using a couple of excellent trails systems (Foothills Trail
& Chattooga Trail). We will enter three national forests (Nantahala,
Sumter, & Chattahoochee). We will travel in three states and locate
the rock that represents the tri-state boundary of NC, SC, & GA. We will
swim/cross/drink from an amazing collection of rivers: Toxaway,
Horsepasture, Thompson, Whitewater, & Chattooga (map
showing Lake Jocassee and its source rivers). We will
swim/cross/drink from a large number of beautiful streams that
cascade down from higher elevations. We will see many waterfalls
including Whitewater Falls which drops over 400 feet. We will live on
the shores of Lake Jocassee, a 7,500 acre, 300 ft deep reservoir
with cool, clear waters and very little private development. We will
play in its waters (swimming, rock jumping, kayaking, rope swings).
I have watched otters and bald eagles while kayaking on this lake.
Of course, we will see a wide variety of plant and animal life
during the course of our journey.
- What about bathrooms?
- There will not be "facilities" until the final stage of the trip
at Devil's Fork State Park. Personally, I don't bring soap or
shampoo while backpacking (hey now, I do need extra space as I end
up carrying more than my fair share of group supplies), but I feel very clean on these trips
because of the frequent natural bathing in clean mountain water. I
do bring toothpaste. As for bodily functions, we behave like the
other animals.......we use the woods. Each person will get a roll of
biodegradable toilet paper and there is an abundance of privacy in
these remote woods. The idea of having no private toilet does create
anxiety for some people, but I have found that this fear quickly
passes once we're out there and its realized that its really only a
minor inconvenience. Our experience and expectations for personal
hygiene are very very high when considered on a global scale and the
more typical human condition. This is good for tempering our
expectations and adopting a more reasonable perspective. As a
chemist, let me leave you with this thought.......even the water
molecules we filter & drink from the clean mountain streams have
been around for eons. These water molecules have had their own
amazing journey as they have traveled THROUGH countless plants &
animals, into the atmosphere & back down again as
creeks/ponds/lakes/rivers/oceans.......this thought always gives my
students pause until they realize that water molecules that travel through
their body will someday travel through others. Water is the ultimate
- How much will we carry?
- There are some important variables at play here, but the bottom
line is that you should limit your pack to 20-30% of your
bodyweight. How much you can carry depends on your present mental &
physical condition and your present mental & physical strength. If
you live a largely sedentary lifestyle, this level of physical
exertion could be shocking to your system. However, with the right
mental approach everyone will get stronger (physically & mentally)
on this journey and students are always surprised by what they are
able to accomplish. Some of your pack weight will depend on what you
choose to bring along for your personal needs, how much water you
choose to carry, and some will depend on what group supplies (parts
of your tent, a portion of our food supplies, maybe some cooking
gear, etc.) you carry as a contribution to our team. We will bring a
scale and everyone's pack will be weighed frequently as we repack
and redistribute our food supplies.....but they will get lighter as we consume
our food supplies.
- What will we carry?
- You will carry your clothes, part of your tent, your sleeping
bag, your sleeping pad, your water bottle(s), your eating utensils,
your personal hygiene supplies, headlamp, a portion of the group
food supplies, a portion of the group equipment supplies (e.g. water
filter, first aid, pots, etc.), and other personal choices (e.g. camera,
pocket knife). Your load will be weighed, and we will strive to make
it both manageable and equitable.
- What physical condition is required?
- The reality is that we will be hiking 30-40 miles while carrying
20-50 lbs on our backs. Of course, this distance will be divided
such that our top daily mileage will probably be 8-12 miles. If you
are in poor physical condition this trip may not be a reasonable
endeavor. On the other hand, we have now had many groups of students
complete our adventure trips and there was a significant range in age,
size, and physical condition.
- What mental condition is required?
- Most important is an open mind to new experiences......a
preparedness for adventure and discovery. "I know parts of this will
be hard but I'm looking forward to new experiences, new places, &
finding out what I can do". There are a lot of memories that can be
made in a short time on a trip like this. There is a lot of personal
growth that can be accomplished in a short time on a trip like this.
Be adventurous and make it memorable.
- Where will we sleep?
- On all portions of the trip, we will be sleeping in a tent.
These will be new, modern, light (but strong) tents that have a rain
fly cover. Sometimes we'll stop and make camp in an existing
campsite where flat sleeping areas and fire pits are already
established. Sometimes we may pitch camp in an undeveloped spot. We
strive to camp near a good water source, so we're set up next to a
stream, river, or lake. In the final stage, we will be in a state
campground with running water and bathrooms (i.e. warm showers &
- Will we be sharing tents?
- Yes. Depending on the makeup of the group, there will be 3 and 4
person tents divided into male/female groups.
- How long will it take to get there?
- From Cary Academy to Cascade Lake Recreation Area (near Brevard)
is 263 miles which should give us a total drive time of about 4.5 -
- What will the weather be like?
- It will be early summer and we will be traveling through a range
of topographies. Being on the down slope/foothills of the Blue Ridge
Mountains means there are regular rain showers as warm, moist air
cools as it passes over higher elevations. You can check the weather
for the following South Carolina towns to get a better idea of the
current or predicted weather - Pickens, Sunset, and Salem.
- Will it rain?
- Yes. Hopefully, just passing showers that give us some cool
refreshment......but we will be prepared for worse.
- Will it snow?
- Don't laugh. I was on the Foothills Trail in July and took cover
under a magnolia tree......from a hailstorm!
- I've never kayaked.....what will this be like?
- These will be recreational kayaks that do not tip easily and
require no "rolling" skills. They are lighter & faster than canoes
and lots of fun for getting around the lake.
- Can we fish?
- We will be in areas that are well known for their abundance and
quality of fish.......from trout fishing on the mountain streams &
rivers......to a wide variety on Lake Jocassee. If you're serious
about fishing, we can probably make this happen.