Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Driving In A Prius To Find What's Left Of Gatlinburg

It may surprise you to find out just how much get up and go the modern Toyota Prius has. What is less surprising is that it took every bit of that get up and go to make it up those Smoky Mountains. I'm not saying that large motorhomes towing Escalades were honking impatiently at me while I had the acceleration pedal nailed to the floorboard, but it was something like that. My wife prefers that I do the driving, so she is free to tell me what I'm doing wrong. I actually tried to make this arrangement better by getting her a GPS tablet so she could navigate. Now we have two cellphones, a car gps, and the tablet, all giving us different directions, while my wife is saying, "where's the button?"  Me? I'm about as calm as one can be. I'm driving a car that makes very little sound and gets better gas milage that anyone can believe. Usually, on a trip, we are getting 40-45 miles a gallon and this makes me very happy. I usually keep this display up where I can see it to remind me of why we have this car.
Then, there are the other times, when going uphill, with a semi truck riding my back bumper and the Prius engine sounding like it will explode any minute, while Pam is shouting, "Give me Warp 11!". I just wave and pull over to the side of the road, until every single car in the world that is faster than a  Prius passes by and then I continue.
Fortunately for me, I have experience with this. It is a little bit better than driving a old VW van uphill in the mountains. At least this car will get to 60 mph eventually. Not surprisingly, no other driver wants to find out how long it will take, so as soon as they recognize what I'm driving, they start trying to pass.

But, this is really about how beautiful the mountains can be in the winter. We got to see snow our first day and then the weather really let up and we were able to brave the drive over the pass and into Gatlinburg.
Long before we reached Gatlinburg, we could see the signs of forest fire and it still seems so strange that so recently everything was dry and now it is so wet. It was hard to tell if the trees were still alive, but they didn't look burned through like I have seen after other fires. The really interesting part was seeing that the evergreen trees seem mostly untouched.

Arrving in Gatlinburg made you do a doubletake. At first, it appeared that everything was okay after all, and then you realized, the firefighters made sure that main street survived no matter what. It was a smart move because a total shutdown of the town might have meant the end of it all for the business owners. We only found the destruction by driving on backstreets and looking up the side of the mountain. I feel sure that Gatlinburg will come back from this. We will make sure to do our fair share by coming up and driving mainstreet and buying things we don't need. The parking lots were pretty full and my secret free spots to park were all gone, so I'm thinking that Gatlinburg can still pull them in.
We left town before the weather started swinging back to a real winter time. When the locals are nervously looking at the news on TV and everybody is stocking up on food and booze, you know it is time for Floridians to get back home. So we went as fast as a Prius can go, still stopping here and there to look at the wildlife.
By the way...those aren't moose. We actually had somebody ask us about that while on the side of the road. I need to read up on elk though. Are the guys with antlers really hiding in the woods from hunters, or do they lose the antlers every year? My thinking was the leader was a large female and she had some juveniles with her. She just gave me that "no nonsense" vibe. Yep, I'm sure that was a female.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Thrillride in December

There's nothing like ending the year out riding waves when the sun is shining and it's not too cold. We had days of decent waves in the middle of the week, and I was fortunate enough to get friends to go with me while I spent more time testing out the Brusurf JS Pro 8' 11" paddlesurf board. I actually paddled this board around a local lake recently, but the money you spend on this board is to get more thrills out of surfing in the ocean. At this size, it is smaller than most of the surfboards I have ridden in the last 20 years, although somewhat wider and thicker. One day, I did try surfing the board, prone paddling and all. It worked, but it was pretty strange to try to straddle a 31" wide board while waiting for waves. It works much better as a paddlesurfer and this last trip I began to truly appreciate what it can do much better than larger boards. It turns much sharper than even a longboard surfboard and is much faster.
It actually solves a question I had long ago: could there be a board that could enable me to catch any wave I wanted without losing that great feeling you get from a shortboard? Yes, this board does all that. It's light and easy to transport, can support up to 5 fins and looks great. It's much easier to get out through the inside break and easier to hang onto when you get caught inside.

But, as everybody knows, there must be some tradeoff, and this is it: Stability. At 31", you have a lot more tippiness to deal with, and it pretty much removes this board from consideration for a beginner. If there is one major issue for SUP surfers to deal with, it is standing up between waves, especially when it is not glassy calm. With this board, I spent a lot more time falling in the water, although I have yet to see a perfect day without some kind of cross swell or side chop. This slowed me down on positioning for waves, and I also ended up spending more time on my knees to converve energy for surfing. Over all, I rode so many good waves and had such a good time, it would be hard to turn away from this board, but until I master the narrower width, I'm getting that core workout that everyone comes to the sport seeking..