Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Gatlinburg TN

I remember my first visit to Gatlinburg TN like it was yesterday. It was actually 1988. I remember not having enough cash to stay in town but a little up the road. Still within walking distance. I also remember how much I enjoyed my visit.

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I've been back a few times over the years. Each trip with a new set of memories. This last visit I stayed at the Greystone Lodge right in the heart of town and right next to the Aquarium. I could not have picked a better place to stay.

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The recent devastating fires did not diminish the experience. Memories are a funny thing though. Some of the places I remember so well were in different locations than I recollected, very run down, or completely missing.  The roaring river through town was a mere trickle.

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On the other hand, there were so many new restaurants, attractions, and additions it was impossible to fit them all in as hard as I tried. The biggest surprise was the size of the Moonshine establishments. I'm not much of a drinker but I now own two bottles of Ole Smoky Moonshine. If I should run out, I discovered I can acquire this fine corn liquor at the local store in my home town.

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Some of the attractions are what might be considered tourist traps but this haunted house was certainly worth the visit. There is another one that looked terrifying. I'll catch that one on the next visit.

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The aquarium is well worth the admission price. I think it was actually the attraction I enjoyed the most and would definitely go again.

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Finding a meal was a challenge in that there are just too many great looking places to choose from. We decided to go with the coolness factor such as the stunning micro brew just off the main drag or the rooftop restaurant  right on it.

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Gatlinburg might not be everyone's idea of a getaway destination but it certainly is one of mine. I have a lot of years and a lot of memories invested. I like that it's mostly the same but that the old is making way for the new. My next visit I will start with the 4 wheeler trail ride and the roller coaster that I ran out of time for this visit.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Chimney Rock NC

Chimney Rock, North Carolina will always be a mystical, magical place in my life. When my parents decided to move to Florida from Pennsylvania in 1978, I was in no way enthusiastic about it. Even though I've lived near the beach all these many years, I still feel more at home in the mountains.

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After I graduated college in 1982,  I was well on my way to launching my career a few years later. I decided to take my parents on a little vacation. I was making some pretty good money, no college debt, and living at home so I was banking most of it. We traveled up Florida, Georgia, and went as far north as this park in North Carolina.

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While my parents took a break, I walked the entire two mile, two hour trail to the waterfall and back. That trip was etched in my mind for life. It was the most difficult hike I had done to that point and set a pattern for me that I still enjoy.

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I have come back every few years. Probably 10 times or so. This last time was a bit more difficult as 1) I'm older, and 2) the elevator was being repaired. Yes there is an elevator built right into the side of a mountain here.

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I often think of this place and one particular trip comes to mind. After a most devastating year with many personal failures, I basically got on a plane and took a one way trip to Asheville. Yes there was a time you could easily walk into the airport with a bag and just pick a destination and hop a plane.  At the time of my departure I had no real plans of returning nor did I tell anyone I was going. I'm sure most people have days they feel like that. Not everyone acts upon them.

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I remember driving up the steep, switch back road to the park so fast, the tires on the rental car were smoking. Try it. See if you can make it or sling yourself off the road. I remember I didn't really care either way. It was a wet, rainy, foggy day. The steps then were not nearly as even and regularly spaced as they are today and the trail was mostly uneven rock. Easy to twist an ankle or slip right over the side of a sheer drop. After sitting in the cafe here for a bit, I just took off up the stairs.

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Along the trail I passed a woman and her boyfriend. The woman had an artificial leg. I walked by them in total disbelief. My all fired hurry to get somewhere turned into a wait for them to catch up. There were at the time little rain shelters along the trail. It was raining. I took shelter and waited. In a few moments they arrived and sat with me. I asked what were they doing on this trail that I could barely navigate.

Apparently she was in a car accident but loved this trail so much that she wanted to walk it again. A trail I was hardly noticing in my hurry to run away from my life. It was my first time meeting anyone superhuman enough to make this journey with little better than an old fashioned wooden leg. It was also the first time I ever saw in person this level of determination in the face of incredible odds against success.

I am pretty sure this happened in 1994-1995. I remember why I was there, just not exactly when. I also remember how insignificant my problems and possibly my entire life became in the moments after I spoke with them. Not being very social at the time, I headed on. The trail is a loop so I did not come across them again. I did spend a very long time sitting perfectly still in a light rain memorizing with every possible sense a particularly scenic spot among the trees. I still to this day go to it in my head whenever life seems more than I care to handle. I will always remember the two people who I will never meet again and who will never know they were the biggest positive change in my life. I remember driving very carefully down the mountain and back to the airport. I also remember that when I got home I saw everything in my life differently. Even though the circumstances in my life never really changed all that much, I became a much happier and contented person.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

SeaWorld Orlando - It's been a long time.

Not only has it been decades since I visited this park, it's also been months since I've posted in this blog. Time to catch up.

My intention on this trip was to ride every roller coaster in the park. None of which I took photos of. That's because they make it very difficult to carry pretty much anything on the rides so wallet, keys, phone, camera all went into storage lockers most of the day.


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The roller coasters are incredibly fast, hugely varied, and put a tremendous strain on this old body of mine. All for pure enjoyment and thrill. Around noon or so I needed a slight break from being upside down at 60 miles an hour and decided to take in a show.


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I had forgotten how much I enjoyed these shows as a kid. I had also forgotten how much I enjoyed the penguin exhibit. Especially on a 90 degree day in the Florida sun. That is real ice and there is no glass between the birds and the visitors.


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The temperature shock was exactly what I needed to cool down a bit and finish my goal of riding every coaster in the park. A mission I accomplished but with no second rides on any of them. I will go back and visit again before my ticket runs out I'm sure. I am pretty sure I screamed for real on the Manta. Luckily - no video evidence.


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By far the best part of the day was enjoying a nice quiet meal with my special coaster buddy in a restaurant with a unique view. We were just a bit early for dinner when I snapped this photo but all seats were filled not long after.

I did not take too many photos on this visit but for the rest [click here]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Moon Shot - Finally Nailed It

After my recent success capturing the Roosevelt Bridge at night after so many years, I thought I would try once more to capture a clear shot of the full moon. I left all the settings on the camera untouched and waited the almost two weeks to make the shot. The results were instantly disappointing. Nothing but a white blob. The thing I like about photography is the constant learning curve. The constant frustration can get old sometimes though. 


I am still and will likely always be an amateur photographer with expensive but mostly all used equipment.  My $1,800.00 used lens, as good as it is, just can not seem to make this shot with my level of skill. 


I had some luck previously with my $99.00 Vivitar Series 1 lens with the 2X converter giving me a full 1,000 MM. This is a fully manual lens. I set the camera to 400 ISO but the focus and aperture are manually set on the lens.



The one thing I had always done in the past was set the aperture wide open. For this shoot, I slowly closed the aperture, took a few shots, closed a bit more. I also used the remote to lift the mirror, count to 5, then take the shot. There was a pretty small shutter speed range I could use. If I had a bright smear or black screen, I knew I was out of the range. I took about 100 shots and only these two had the magic. 


Many years ago bought the wrong sized UV filter for one of my lenses. I just threw it in a junk drawer. A few months ago I found it and checked to see if it fit anything. It only fit this cheap lens so I put it on and took a few shots then put the lens back in the cabinet. I forgot to take it off for the moon shot. Seems pretty fortunate now. All of my moon photos to this point have always been less than crisp. 


I may not be a pro but I am persistent. I think I'll take this setup out in the daylight once in a while as well. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Roosevelt Bridge - Stuart FL

Long before I moved to this area, I attempted to take an artful photo of this bridge. I seen many photos from other photographers and it didn't seem that difficult. Three cameras, three lenses, 2 tripods, multiple combinations of equipment, dozens of settings, hours upon hours, and several locations later, I have finally captured a few photos worth sharing with the world.

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The actual magical mix was, in the end, pretty basic. I was just missing one important element at a time to create awful photos, not worth the edit time. I could of course do better and I will keep trying but these three are pretty close to what I was aiming to achieve.

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What's more important is I kept trying for years. Photography is one of those fun hobbies that is as frustrating as it is rewarding and always with more to learn.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Kayaking Stuart Florida - South River Outfitters.

New town. New kayak. My inflatable Sea Eagle kayaks have served me well in my former home in South Florida but the waters in my new town seem a better fit for a hard sided kayak.

A lot of the places I want to visit have either sharp oyster beds or sharp teeth just below the water. I bought my new kayak about 6 months ago when Sports Authority had a going out of business sale. As soon as I got it home, it seems, the algae blooms that got national attention began. It has been in the garage ever since. But finally I had a break in the weather, my schedule, and clear water.



The first trick was to figure how to secure the kayak to the roof of the car. A few youtube tutorials helped with that. Next trick was to actually get it on the roof. I'm 6' 4" but so is my vehicle. Not only that, but I was about to take it on the highway just a few blocks from the house. Solid tie downs seemed appropriate for my first ever high speed cargo transport. 

My launch point for my first time with this kayak was South River Outfitters in Stuart Fl. I have rented kayaks here in the past and I knew exactly what to expect for half the trip. This time I was going much farther than in past visits. 




The trip starts off with houses on the left and nature on the right. About 20 minutes later it's all nature. Last time I did this trip I came across a few small alligators. This time, as you can see in the video above, I ran into a 4 footer right past the last house. There were several smaller ones close enough to the kayak that I got a tail splash by one as it dove for deeper water. When I got way out into the swampy area with the tighter waters, I ran into a huge gator who did not back down or submerge. I did not film it. I just back paddled away and decided to call it a day. As long as you stay alert and stay away so will the gators. I had one bump a canoe many years ago and there is no way I want that to happen again. 

This was a great starter trip and one I've been looking forward to enjoying in my own water craft for quite a while. I will be back - With friends I hope next time. I miss kayaking in the Florida Keys so next time I will try a more open water adventure.