Sunday, March 23, 2014

Taking The Long Way Home

I'm realizing now, on the long terrible drive down the freeway, that part of what makes the Smokies special to me is that it takes a little pain to get there. You have to be willing to give up several days of your life, sitting in a car, sometimes in traffic jams, to get to this great getaway. I strive to make the journey as exciting as the destination, but it's hard to make I-95 something wonderful. I think it's purpose is to make sure you are really glad to be in the mountains once you get there...I will be back.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Way Off The Beaten Path

A chance meeting in a local grocery store led us to one of the most interesting stops yet: Catalahoochee Valley. I even had a hard time nailing down where this park was located and once we were on the way, it was still difficult to believe that this was a road that was meant for visitors to travel. 10 miles of winding single lane dirt road climbing and descending a mountain. The whole time, I felt sure that somebody would come flying around a hairpin turn and send us both over the cliff. The payoff was a secluded area that contained a herd of elk that had been moved here for preservation years ago. We had been told to get there early in the morning to catch them feeding in the fields, but early was impossible for us. We got lucky because the elk were still hanging around into the afternoon. They were careful when crossing the road, but they didn't seem to mind us much at all. There were several hikes and we took two of them. In this one day, I felt we got as far from civilization as could be. The lesson learned is that the best things in life aren't always in the guidebooks. I am so thankful for the friendly lady in Ingels for sharing her secret spot...

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Time When Everyone Is Busy Elsewhere

There is a sweet spot and we have accidentally found it in the Smokey Mountain National Park. We are, at the most, one week away from the busy season. The stores are open, but not crowded, and you can walk into a diner and get fed like you would back home. We found free parking in Gatlinburg, TN and that is something to brag about. We drove through the two lane mountain road in light traffic and pretty much could do anything we wanted without that feeling you can get here, of being too many people spoiling the effect of nature.
It's cold in the morinings, about 23 degrees, but by lunchtime, we were in shirtsleeves. It's hard for me to be this far away from paddleboard water, but I have seen one or two people before on inflatables going down rivers...I'm not sure about that kind of water, but I do have my eyes open for coldwatermen out there. The lesson I have learned is to study what makes up the "High Season" for a place and get there right before or right after, what a difference that makes...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Curse of Too Much Stuff

I have a recurring bad dream that involves me finding out that one of the first cars I ever owned is still mine, but I forgot where I left it. I'm madly searching in parking lots and family garages trying to find where I left it. In my mind, I am a minimalist, but in reality, I tend to have too much stuff. I start to panic when Craigslist lets me down and I can't sell something. I need to get to the point where I just load up my truck and drop things off at Goodwill, but I really have trouble doing that with man-toys. The photo above is a full blown version of that dream: the Snodgrass property in North Carolina. It is this beautiful place that nobody has time to take care of. I can imagine living there, almost. It is remote to the point that it is about an hour's drive to any store. We hiked the land and saw where Pam's uncle used to make his pottery, where the family would sit for dinners, where the show horses were kept, and imagined how hard it must have been to leave this place. What's wrong of course, is that this is no place to be when you need a doctor or a hospital. I just hope this place doesn't become the place in my dream where my old Mustang must be parked....

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Sunrise in the Mountains

It's a beautiful place once you get here, but it does involve some pain. The freeways are jammed with people heading north and south for spring break, St. Patrick's day celebrations and more. Up here though, it's a different story. It's a little early in the season, 30 degrees this morning, clear blue sky and the sun is on it's way up in the sky. This looks like a day for relaxing or hiking to me. One thing that strikes me as odd is that we are isolated, yet connected. Here I am on the internet looking at pictures of cats or I can get up and be as far away from that world as I can imagine...and so can most of my friends from what I see in their photos. I'm beginning to see the possibility of a life that doesn't involve commutes, sitting in traffic jams, and working in badly-lit office environments. I have a feeling that the residents of the future will marvel at how we worked, as we look back at the photos of "steno pools". Yes, I feel certain that the people that believe that the open collaborative work environment, or more commonly known as a telemarketers' boiler room, only see them as a good place for OTHER people to work.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Only People Heading North: Part II

I'm going to have to rethink that title. I95 in Georgia and South Carolina were worse than I4 gets in Orlando and that is really saying something. SUV's pulling motorcycles on trailers, partiers from Savannah heading back home. That and sprinkle in some rain and we had a parking lot on the freeway for hours. We finally got off and took back roads as much as we could. If I had this to do over, I would have skipped the freeways altogether, or like my wife said, not take a trip during March, which seems to be one long spring break.

One thing we did right was to head out to Tybee Island early in the morning. We checked out a kayak/paddleboard shop and drove on to the beach and the main surfing spot, the pier. There were no waves this day and it was overcast with a cool hard wind blowing. Even with all that, there were a few teenagers in bathing suits, but most people were wearing coats for just walking about. Tybee island had some interesting-looking possibilities for paddleboarding: little islands and shoals just offshore. It is definitely a place I would like to explore in the summertime.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Only People in the USA Heading North Right Now: Part 1

Heading north to see what's different and exciting. Our first stop was at West Marine in Jacksonville. I had been there before. This is the largest of their stores and I knew that they carried Jimmy Styxx paddleboards, and sure enough, they had a few I had only seen photos of before.
I'm still debating on whether to add a smaller or larger board to my collection. It's going to be a tri-fin that's for sure. West Marine is a great store, with enough cool stuff to keep water folks looking for an hour, but most of the items seem pricy. The items on sale seemed to be the good deals, and one of the Jimmy Styxx boards happened to be on sale...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lori Wilson Park in Cocoa Beach 3/9/2014

Sunday was a nice outing with one of our larger groups. We met up at Lori Wilson park in Cocoa Beach, which is great for parking and shower/restrooms. It sports a boardwalk from the parking lot to the beach that takes you through a woodsy area out on the nice expanse of sand and water. There are lifeguards and a decent break. The spot is well known by surfers, but is not considered one of the main hangouts, which is all the better for us. You won’t be dealing with “king of the peak” here. The parking is free, which isn’t always the case in Cocoa Beach, and by the way…they check the meters frequently at metered spots, so forgetting you quarters for the meter could lead to a very expensive surf trip. This trip we were lucky to have some of Florida’s best March weather. I was able to get by with a spring suit, although I did notice a lot of full suits in the lineup. The surf was predicted to be decent, and sure enough, the water was peppered with surfers. There still room for three of us on paddleboards though. There was a nice little swell, but a north crosswind was present with some side chop. This made the act of standing on your paddleboard more along the lines of standing up in a boat fishing on a choppy day. I got some waves that I was really happy about, but also missed more waves than I have in a long time.
We got out of the water at lunchtime and stumbled back to the cars and headed to a Mexican joint that one of the guys in our group knew about. I loved the atmosphere, but the food I had was baked to about 900 degrees in the oven with the plate and all I could taste was heat…until I accidentally put their hottest sauce on my food and multiplied the heat by 100%! My favorite Mexican food at Cocoa Beach is Taco City…and I have yet to find something better. Please let me know of any good spots you have tried. I’m always looking for new spots.