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Project 602 - Travel
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A Return to Havasupai Falls
Posted - Jul 14th, 2014 8:13pm
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I remember a few years ago talking about the trip to Havasupai with my wife Tara.  The conversation went something like: 'No way in hell!'.

So it was with some surprise and with utter gratitude to our friend Veronica who really provided the final push, that last week I found myself driving once again to the edge of the Grand Canyon to make the long hike down to Havasupai Falls.

To her credit, Tara has been preparing for this both physically and mentally since about March.  We've been going on longer and longer hikes, buying supplies, and reading up on the trip since I had apparently forgotten much of what I learned to get there the first time.

We decided to stay the night before in Peach Springs at the Supai Lodge.  Long story short - big mistake.  Between the stench of lysol, the constant trains, and the early morning game of "dodge the elk" on the drive to the hilltop, we arrived pretty wiped out.  Fortunately we were in good company.  McCoy, Verionica, Hunter, Cupp, and our latest addition PJ were all just getting up when we got there ~5am.

I know Tara was tired and nervous, but she really handled the trip down well.  Its a long hike and if you haven't been before, its really hard to know what to expect.  Havasupai Falls is not like any other place I've been.  Theres no roads, no cars, mail comes in on a mule, and while they have a helicopter, it doesn't always run and theres a 10 mile hike between you and the nearest air-conditioner.  Pretty rough when its 100 degrees out every afternoon.

It was every bit as beautiful as I remembered though, and getting to share that with my wife was one of the best experiences of my life.  Sure - I didn't sleep for crap for a week, and yes it was hot and humid every single night.  It was worth it though - just to get to swim with her in the falls and hike down the river together.  Its so remote, and unhindered by so much as a guardrail that it feels like your the first person to find this place.  Every hipsters dream ;)

We found a wonderful campsite just north of Mooney Falls and were joined by Scott, Julie, her dad Rudy and their friend Kelly.  It was a wonderful group and for four days we explored, swam, ate, and hiked until we basically collapsed each night.  It rained a little which was fun, and we were warned of a flash flood which wasn't so fun - we had to haul ass back up Mooney falls only to find out hours later that it was just a little muddy water to come.

I don't know if this will be our only/last trip there.  I can't imagine getting Tara to hike down Mooney falls again but I suppose I couldn't imagine being there a few years ago.  I'm just really glad that we made it there and back again and that I finally got to share it with her.

Thanks to everyone for making it such a wonderful journey - lots of pics below and I'll hopefully post a few videos from McCoys new GoPro soon.  Oh and in case I'm reading this a few years from now: Bring extra water on the way up - at least 100oz per person.  If it wasn't for the enterprising lady in the parking lot selling ice-cold drinks we may have simply turned to sand when we finally got back to the car.
The ritual 5am group photo.  Tara started off all fresh and excited.  I was pretty exicted too - though you'll notice how small that backpack is this time :)  We begin the long hike after the initial descent.  McCoy sees his first solid proof that aliens exist. And we dodge some donkeys.  Hunter asks 'Are we there yet?' Ummm.... maybe? Wohoo - we reach the village!  Which hasn't changed much despite apparently being nearly washed away in late 2010. We exit the village and round the corner to get our first 2014 glimpse of Lower Navajo Falls.  So much greener than just a few years before! Heres a similar shot from my 2009 trip. I all but skip across the bridge to the campground and Havasupai falls.  Cold water here I come!!!  Tara and I stop for a much needed break at the top of the campgrounds overlooking Havasu falls.  We stopped for some water before setting up camp.  They've changed the spring a little bit - much easier to use now. We decided to call this home for the next few days.  Er... well some folks decided to call it a yoga studio for the next few days.  And I kinda called this my dog for the next few days.  Havasupai is actually full of critters. This is your friendly neighborhood skink. These are the rare river cats of Havasupai.  I tied an apple to some string and invented a new sport. It really wiped me out. We all hung out at camp each night. McCoy provided the musical entertainment. Julie and Kelly proved to be entertaining. As did the frogs that kept raining down on our tents from the trees above.   This is why we came though -tremendously beautiful waterfalls.  Actually its all tremendously beautiful.  This was taken on our hike down from Havasu falls to our campsite.  Brian was of course excited to jump off things.  The girls were just excited to hang out in the cool water.  Ok... Brian might have given them a few ideas. This lookout over Mooney falls was about 500 feet from our campsite.  Tara was really excited about the hike down there. As was Veronica.  Tara enters one of the caves on the way down.  This is what it looks like staring up from there. I think this is even more treacherous than before.  Notice the stretcher at the bottom - fun stuff!  The view from the bottom is worth it though.  And of course you get to cool off. We found this rope swing just below Mooney. And Hunter found this cave a little further down.  Tara and I stopped for a photo op in the cave. Then Hunter got the bad news - flash flood - time to go.  So we headed back to tent city for a nap.  The next day we hiked back up towards the village to Lower Navajo (aka Rock) falls.  Brian found more things to jump off of. Hunter joined him.  They even got Tara into the game of 'Jump off Things'.  Of course no trip is complete these days without a selfie.  Or more group photos... From Lower Navajo you can follow a path to get here - Upper Navajo Falls.  I was really surprised to see so many fish there.  Upper Navajo was full of surprises. This was my favorite moment of the trip.  Soon it was time to pack it all in and drop off our bags for the mules.  Tara was very excited to finally get back to the car.  Time for one last picture before we headed home.  See you next time Havasupai.
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The Dunes Incident
Posted - Jun 26th, 2014 9:00am
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I started writing this post nearly 4 years ago...  At that time, a title and a url were all that I could get down on the computer before a sort of full body and mind cringe would cause my fingers to lock up.  For whatever reason though, I think its important for me to keep a record of that weekend.  Maybe if your reading this you can tell me.  Either way, here goes.

A few years back I talked a small group of friends into traveling out to the sand dunes near Yuma.  I had seen a ton of pictures and videos of folks rip-roaring around the hills, and it looked like a blast.  It was also easy enough to rent quads and small trailer for a few days.  So with motorcycles in-tow, Tara, Brian, Mccoy, Veronica, and myself headed off for another AZ weekend adventure!

The dunes themselves are a neat area.  30 minutes outside of yuma, just south of the freeway they have a big flat sandy section where folks park, camp out, and load/unload all manner of sand-capable contraption.  Theres some food and facilities nearby, and an ice-cream truck goes barreling through once in a while.  In general though, it feels like your out in the middle of nowhere.  All you can see is sand, sand, and more sand.

Brian and I had both ridden before but everyone else was new to this.  I seem to remember Tara and McCoy reading the actual instruction manuals for the quads after we unloaded them and got geared up.   Probably should have been a good indicator that this was a bad idea.  We proceeded forward anyway, fearlessly taking our turns, learning the basics of shifting, turning, stopping, and before long we were doing all those things that looked so much fun on youtube.  Then Brian went missing.

Theres not much you can do out there when someone from your group doesn't come back.  Its a big area, everyone on a quad looks alike, and the dunes prevent you from seeing beyond the next hill.   So its unsurprising that our search for him didn't go very well.  Fortunately, after an hour or so he wandered back into camp.  He was a little beat up, and his pants were torn down each leg from crotch to toe, but he was ok.  Apparently he had gone over a dune that was concave on the other side and when he realized he was in trouble - pushed himself away from the bike.  His pants caught on the handlebars, but he got far enough away to avoid the bike landing on him.  When we went to look at where he bailed - there were 2 craters nearly 30 feet away from the dune.  I'm still not sure how he avoided getting seriously hurt.

Things seemed like they were going to be ok after that.  We had our accident for the trip, and now we could all have fun! We took turns riding (3 quads, 5 people), and in general had a great time following each other up and down the hills and watching high powered sand-rails scream across the sand.  Then Tara disappeared.

I had stopped to watch everyone and she was right there cruising around, but when she didn't come out from the dune in front of me for a few minutes I figured she stalled or got stuck or something.

It still bothers me to think of her lying there underneath an overturned quad.  Its a frozen and sickening image and I remember thinking as I crested the dune that it had to be a joke.  She was messing with me.  She couldn't be hurt....  People say time stands still at a moment like that, but I don't think it did for me.  Its all fast-forward from there.

I remember yelling, tearing off my helmet and running down the hill to her.  I started to lift the bike off her, but had apparently grabbed the exhaust pipe and heard my hand sizzle.  Not wanting to drop it back on her, and not able to use my right hand, I sort of rolled/pushed the quad over and found that she was breathing.  I thought - maybe she's ok?

I don't know if its normal or not, but over the next few minutes my brain began to try and de-escalate the problem.  Not fatal, check.  Not paralyzed, check.  Not bleeding, check.  Says arm hurts but is able to move it, check.  To the point where you try and hope that maybe nothing major just happened - like in a few minutes you'll be limping back with her to camp and her parents won't hate you, and she won't think you screwed up her life, like your not an irresponsible idiot who took a group full of unexperienced riders out into the middle of the desert and got one of them mangled.   Then I realized she kept asking me over and over what happened and couldn't understand where she was or who I was....

Eventually people came over to help, and a sand-rail ambulance (sandbulance?) took Tara to the emergency room in Yuma.  We followed shortly thereafter.  There were papers to fill out, and my hand was screaming.  It didn't matter though.  The only thought in my head was - "is she ok?" I'm nearly in tears thinking about that even now.  I was so grateful when they told me it was just a moderate concussion.  Then so heartbroken when they told me that her shoulder was busted up inside.  I felt like a shameful dog when they finally let me in to see her...

I fully believed it was my fault Tara got hurt, but she didn't blame me.  She was just as worried about my stupid hand as I was her shoulder/brain.  So we moved on.

We bandaged all the things, got pizza, and headed home.  I drove to keep my mind off the pain/guilt.  There were weeks that followed involving hospitals, surgeries, more bandages, and a lot of retelling of the same tale.  Tara was eventually ok.  My hand eventually healed.  I hope someday I can forget about it all.  For now at least the cringing is manageable.

I can't say this slowed either of us down, but I doubt we'll be back to the dunes.  A little research since then has led me to believe this type of accident is not only common, but happens to a huge percent of folks who go down there.  I think Yuma is primarily a care facility for quad accidents, and a home for injury lawyers.

This is a part of our history though.  Who knows if we would still be together if this didn't happen?  If I hadn't stayed with her in the hospital while she recovered?  If it hadn't shown me how important she was to me?  I think I'll say I'm just glad we squeaked by on this one, and try to be a little more careful next time I have an idea for a weekend adventure.
 We visited the date shake place on the way there.  Always wanted to try it.  I thought it was funky but Tara loved it. Apparently you need a permit to quad/camp there?  Don't remember this at all!  A small store/restaurant on-site.  Wonder if we were going to eat there?  A nice view of the dunes.  Was colder out there than it looks.  Tara all excited and ready to go.  One of several ice-cream trucks cruisin around.  Another ice-cream truck with a fantastic paint-job. McCoy starts things off easy.  Brian sporting his new breathable pants. My hander after getting burned.  Doesn't look to bad from this pic but burned like fire for a few days.
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Fall in Sedona
Posted - Dec 1st, 2012 8:24pm
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I don't remember how I ended up in Sedona the day after thanksgiving.  I'm sure at some point it seemed like a fun getaway after the holiday chaos... or maybe it was just a way to take advantage of a 3 day weekend.  Regardless it was about time that I visited this strange little town - after all - I had lived in this state for nearly 30 years but somehow never been there.

I'm not sure what I expected Sedona to be.  I've been to more podunk highway towns in this state than I can count and never really had much love for most of them.  There's lots of beautiful country here - but this state is hard on small towns in general.  I had heard the term "Red Rock" thrown around and I had seen some fun kitschy places to stay on the net though so I was excited to see what was there.

Tara and I stated at a little B&B called Sedona Views.  Its a fantastic little place on the east side of town.  Definitely a quiet getaway in what turned out to be a surprisingly chaotic little town.  For a small place in the middle of nowhere Sedona had us fighting hard for parking spots and dinner reservations.  Talking to the the lodge owner and some other folks this is apparently the norm... whew knew!? Those things aside it turned out to be an amazingly beautiful place.  I can see why so many people escape there.  The red rocks truly are red and as you can see in the pictures contrast to the point of hurting your eyes with a sky devoid of clouds.  The weather was beautiful, but we put hiking on hold this trip as Tara was giving her hiking shoes a vacation of their own.  Instead we knocked around Tlaquepaque - some sort of trading post turned upscale outdoor mall.  We visited the Church of the Holy Cross which was actually pretty amazing (just avoid the gift shop as it kind of cheapens the place).  We also spent some time just driving around and checking out the views of the valley that makes up most of the town of Sedona.

About the only thing we didn't do is use the private hot-tub on the balcony of our room - something we'll have to remedy in our next trip up there which I think we'll do as soon as its off season.
Sedona Views - lame name - amazing little B&B Our room - simple and classy - just how I like my... rooms The view from our porch - so unbelievably peaceful. Pronounce it - I dare you! There's a lot if really cool stuff just scattered around Tlaquepaque Even the parking lots are picturesqe Tara wanted to reenact our first date A small church is tucked into 1 corner of Tlaquepaque - I snapped this pic through a gate.  I think they had it locked off to prevent people from praying for sale items. I just couldn't stop taking pictures of that place! The tiny town of Sedona from an outlook by the airport. A random pic we took wile driving around.  I made Tara crazy as I kept hanging the camera out the window while driving.  It was just such a breathtaking place. This exact picture is in every playbill at Gammage It's a quirky town with rather strange hours More beautiful scenery on our way to church of the holy cross I didn't know why everyone was visiting a church until I saw this I didn't know how poor I was until I saw this (re-rendered in minature to make me feel better) It was a captivating little place - it's what I think old churches in England must be like. This statue bared and uncanny resemblance to link from the legend of zelda This backdrop that would ease the pain of any sermon Thank you Tara for showing me another little piece of this amazing state
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Pigeon Forge Tennessee
Posted - Jul 25th, 2012 1:43am
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Beyond the novelty of saying I've visited every state - I have never really considered going to Tennessee, much less Pigeon Forge Tennessee.  However, after going there with Tara for a family reunion of sorts, I now see the error of my ways.

To put it simply, Pigeon Forge is like Las Vegas for middle America only w/o the casinos... and more go karts... ok maybe that's not so simple.  It really comes down to a 15 mile strip of road that kind of centers around Dollywood and contains a whole slew of uniquely American entertainment.  There's the Fireworks store, the 2 story year round Christmas boutique, an upside down house that doubles as a Ripley's museum, a replica of the titanic, helicopter tours, hillbilly musicals, 150 knife and gun shops, and enough mini golf and go kart tracks to satisfy anyone.  You can explore caves, jump into a giant hamsterball, hike, swim, browse the worlds largest collection of tie-dye t-shirts, ride a gondola, eat homemade fudge till it comes out your ears or just get a wicked sunburn and loose a pint of blood to the hawk like mosquitoes that patrol the area.  Its simply THE biggest wallet sucking tourist trap I've ever seen - and it was truly a glorious place to get to meet and spend some time with my fiance's extended family.

The whole week was put on by and for Tara's grandmother's 80th birthday.  We stayed in an an incredible cabin in the Oak Haven Resort.  As if all the things in town weren't enough to keep us occupied - this place had its own ping pong table, pool table, arcade cabinet and a half dozen tv's.  Three stories tall with 4 or 5 bedrooms - it was our own little hotel and the perfect air conditioned getaway from the swampy summer air that suffocates the Smokey Mountains during the summer.

Beyond taking part in some if not all of the activities I mentioned above - we spent the week hiking, eating, visiting, and just generally having a good time.  Tara's relatives were so welcoming and really made me feel like part of the family.  They were also down for just about any of my shennanigans - even trying the Zorb with me.  A special thank you to Tara's Grandma Hariet and can't wait to see all you guys in March at the wedding!
Our cabin in the woods. Basement pool table - check! Leather couches and a flat screen - check! Ping Pong Table - check! 5 star kitchen - check! Mile long series of rocking chairs on the porch - also check! Taras extended family - taken our first morning there. Driving around Pigeon Forge you see a lot of interesting things.  Live sharks anyone? Next time I go back the Lumberjack Fued is top on my todo list. Of course if one fued isnt enought for you.... Oh yes - the comedy barn is an actual comedy... er barn. I have no explanation for this... but its rad I always wondered what Ron Howard did with his giant gobs of money. What town wouldn't be complete without replica of the titanic right along Main street? Or an upside down museum for that matter. They dont call em the Smokey Mountains for nuthin. Lots of cool places to hike up there.  You can even follow the original Apalachian Trail (which now has really nice parking lots) Even just driving around there can be breathtaking. Im pretty sure that ziplining is the official sport of Tennessee - so of course we had to participate. The whole group joined in - bunch a hams :) You can still hear the echos of tara screaming/laughing in the canyons of the Smokey Mountains to this day. If ziplining isnt your thing - theres always the Zorb! Zorbing is where the drive you up a hill in a truck. Stick you in a giant squishy plastic golf ball with a bit of water. Then push you down the hill in it.... kind of my favorite thing ever. The next day we visited Gattlinburg Booze is illegal there - so we visited the moonshine factory. We stopped for lunch at Dicks Last Resort where they give you awesome headgear. And again celebrated our sobriety with Beer-Ritas Being well sobered up, go-karting seemed like a good idea. As did hitting the alpine slide. We also did a little shopping... I dont really know how to use this but I think its dangerous Tara and I made dinner that night. And threw a surprise party for Taras Grandma Harriet There were a few candles. There were shennanigans There was dancing. There was Monopoly! Though admittedly we were a few pieces short. Pigeon Forge Tennesee - for all your flying banjo needs - accept no substitutes.
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Escape to Coronado
Posted - Jun 5th, 2012 8:22pm
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I lived in San Diego for about 5 years give or take.  In that time I spent a lot of time driving north, but for some reason I didn't spend hardly any time in Coronado.  In fact... I'm not sure I did much more than cross the bridge once and return?  Not really sure why given that we had such an amazing time there.

If you haven't been, Coronado is a small psuedo-island that lives in the middle of San Diego Bay/Harbor.  About half of it is a military base, but about a square mile of it is a pretty quaint little vacation town that moves a lot slower than the rest of San Diego.

The big place to stay is the Hotel Del.  Its an amazing old hotel built in the late 1800's and I highly suggest checking it out.  I also highly suggest not staying there.  Its overpriced, busy, noisy, and its walking distance from the 1906 Lodge.  The 1906 is an amazing little bed and breakfast about a 1/4 mile from the beach just on the other side of the road from the Hotel Del.  Its where we stayed for this trip, and its where I hope we get to stay next time.

This little hotel set the tone for our whole trip.  It was a lazy weekend spent meandering down the beach, drinking wine, driving around San Diego and in general breathing in as much of the cool ocean air as my lungs could handle.  We also spent one afternoon touring through the USS Midway - an aircraft carrier turned museum that was pretty unreal.  Its the most complicated thing I've ever seen - definitely worth checking out.

In the end the trip was over all too fast.  We finished the trip by driving up to the cliffs at Torrey Pines and then it was off to the airport.  A pretty wonderful way to spend your 37th birthday if I do say so myself.
My new favorite place in San Diego Walking up to our room. All the rooms are themed - ours was... uh something involving creaky old wooden furniture. The porch where we suffered through breakfast every morning. We made a quick pit-stop for these on our way to the beach. I could stare at this for hours... and kinda did. This guy spent all day recreating Hogwarts - saw him finish about 8pm under some lights. A look back at the Hotel Del Being there feels like being old school Hollywood royalty. Vacation photo! Queen Tara presiding. Tara and I investigating the halls of the Hotel Del. We went back that night to take some photos with less people around. Its actually kinda spooky when no one is there. Its also pretty awesome We met our friends Chris and Amy and their newest addition Kiirana for kayaking followed by Thai food. The place we ate dinner had the best bathroom sign ever. The midway is simply the biggest thing Ive ever seen made out of metal. An A-4 on deck. I cant look at an F-14 without wanting to watch Top Gun. The next accessory I want for my truck I tried to tell her not to feed the jets. Being an electrician on this boat would have been utter madness. But being a plumber would have been obsessive compulsive bliss. In all seriousness - its a pretty powerful place. And in all seriousness - its freaking awesome to know that even figher pilots can be huge nerds. We ended the trip back in my old stomping grounds near Torrey Pines Beach. Its hard to capture just how beautiful it is up there - Tara came pretty close with this pic though. I had nearly forgotten that the trains ran right by there. So long San Diego - till next time.
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Snook Fishing in Charolette Harbor
Posted - May 13th, 2012 5:55pm
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One of the great things about growing up and growing older is that I've been able to begin traveling and fishing with my father.  Unfortunately, not too long after our trip to Oregon my dad was diagnosed with cancer.  I haven't really talked about that much here... and I don't really intend to.  What I am very proud to say though is that after over a year of fighting his way back from surgery, chemo, and all of the horrible after-effects of that sad excuse for modern medicine - we were able find our way to the next destination on our list: Boca Grande.

Actually - to be more specific, we were going to be fishing in Charolette harbor.  Boca Grande is simply a peninsula on one side of a small passage that leads into a giant estuary called Charolette Harbor.  There are several towns around the harbor: Port Charolette to the north, Punta Gorda to the East and Cape Coral and Ft. Meyers to the south.  Our original intent was to fish this estuary for Snook and Redfish one day and then spend 2 more out towards the pass and the mouth of the harbor searching for giant tarpon.  Things didn't quite go as planned.

When we arrived in Ft. Meyers we were greeted with the tail end of a rainstorm that halted what was an ever growing hot streak of fishing in the area.  Turns out that mid-April is still a little early to bank on warm weather there.  While it was sunny - the days were cool, the mornings were downright cold, and the wind just wouldn't quit.  We heard a lot of the "you should have been here last week" kind of thing, as the tarpon had been driven out of the bay, but that wasn't going to stop us.  We had come across the country to fish so fish we did.

We ditched our plans to focus on tarpon fishing and instead spent 3 days with 3 different guides casting to various places within Charolette harbor and had a blast.  The fishing wasn't epic by any means, but the area is so absolutely full of life that even on a bad day there's still plenty of fish to be had.  We focused mostly on Snook - casting live bait (caught in casting nets every morning) into mangrove islands, but we ventured out a little for redfish and even spent one afternoon drifting for tarpon.

It wasn't the trip we hoped for, but it was fun, and Punta Gorda was a neat little town.  One of these days we'll return to get our trohpy tarpon.  For now though, I'll happily settle for getting to spend some time on the water with my dad again... well that and catching the biggest snook of my life :)

We arrive at our home away from home I wish they needed these signs here Early out on the water the first morning One of the many mangrove islands we fished around All of the guides had a boat pretty much like this one. Casting out for bait These little scale-less sardines are what the caught for bait One of the many small snook we caught One of the few larger ones The biggest snook I caught that week Apparently theres such a thing as saltwater catfish... who knew? This was actually an abandoned train station in the milky waters out by the pass We left without our prize... I hope we get to come back soon for another shot.
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Hello Rockford!
Posted - Feb 15th, 2012 9:47pm
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When you do as many silly things as I do, you have to have a very understanding woman in your life.  One who will let you fill the house with fog, not insult you while you do pushups at the airport, and be down with a tequila barrage on a random Tuesday night.  Fortunately I'm a very lucky man and have such a person in my world.  So when my attendance was requested at her step brothers wedding in Rockford IL I was in - even if it meant sending in Denny as my replacement for this years Idiotarod.

I've never been to Illinois, even less so to Rockford, which is just a few hours south of Chicago - so I didn't know what to expect beyond being cold.  No matter how many pictures I look at or who I talk to, it seems like my brain just won't create a real picture of a place until I've had a chance to breath the air and walk around for myself.

Rockford turned out to be a moderately sized town full of the standard afflictions of modern life (Wal-Mart, Target, Etc..) It reminded me of Flagstaff only with more interesting housing.  Some of the buildings have been there for a hundred years or more.  This includes Tara's brother Jacob's house which came complete with the previous owners ashes buried in a wall in the basement (a feature they found themselves).

While we were there we went ice-skating, attended a wedding at night in the woods, and danced our feet off at the town hall where the reception was held.  It was a pot-luck style affair, and it seemed like half the town showed up.  Jacob is one of those people you can't help but be drawn to.  Hes a throwback to a time when people worked hard, said less, and wore denim head to toe.  In fact, everyone we met there was welcoming and it reminded me of why I loved Flagstaff so much.

If you ever go to Rockford there are 3 things I'd put on your todo list:
  1. Get a vanilla creme ale at the Carlyle Brewing Co. Its a locals joint that sells the perfect mix of creme soda and nut brown ale - to die for.
  2. Eat in the basement of Der Rathskeller.  Fantastic German food at another local restaurant and bar.  They will stuff you to the gills and you'll ask for more.
  3. Go see a Jacob Holmes concert.  We got to see him perform one night at a local coffee joint.  Hes a tremendous bluegrass singer and plays like he lives in 1930.
Congratulations to Jacob on your recent marital addition and thank you Ann for taking us on a culinary tour de force of Rockford.  This post is a bit late and its actually been a few months since we went to there - I kind of miss it... I guess that says a lot about the place and I hope I get to visit again soon.
Rockford is apparently the birthplace of the sock monkey Some fabulously weird stuff can be found in the airport. Our home away from home while we were there. The front lawn of Jacobs house There are a lot of spectacular old houses there. There are a few really spooky looking houses too This is actually the house where Ann grew up Tara and I looking glamorous in the gift shop before Jacobs concert Billy adding some much needed blue steel to the mix Jacob tuning up Jacob shared the stage that night with an old friend of his. He even brought his dad up for a while to perform with him. This got Ann pretty worked up Tara and Billy trying to keep warm before the wedding The pathway to the wedding ceremony The wedding was quick, beautiful and cold as a witches... uh refrigerator I lost my camera for a while but heres a shot of Jacob performing again the reception The centerpieces were genius We ended up back at the ceremony spot the next day.  Here it is in the daylight Some of Taras extended family - her aunt, uncle, cousin, and brother It was cold but we went for a walk along the river They call these the Rockford Guardians Tara picked her favorite statue And I picked mine Taras dad and Ann along the riiverfront Did I mention that rockford is the home of Cheap Trick? Tara doing a little shopping (safety first) This is the basement of Der Ratskeller A half dozen sausages was their idea of a meal for 1 You have to love any place with a stained glass weiner-dog Nothing like ending a journey with a trip to Stake and Shake.  Why cant we have these here?
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Burning Man 2011
Posted - Sep 7th, 2011 10:33am
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Let me get this out of the way first: Nothing I am capable of writing or taking a picture of is going to adequately illustrate just how surreal, beautiful, or harsh an experience Burning Man was.  Its a place so wholly different from the norm, that since my return to the real world, things seem bland and devoid of character - like taking off a pair of colored glasses or leaving out the salt from your food.  It was a wonderful and unique experience, and though I can't do it justice - I hope that my description may at least inspire you to consider the journey yourself.

Officially, the trip to Burning Man should take about 15 hours from Phoenix.  In reality though - it takes much longer than that.  No one seems to get to the Playa (the dry lake-bed in the desert where the festival is held) without a number of random disasters.  We changed no less than 3 tires, and had to grind off 2 locks just to get half way there.  Then you have to pick up all the items you forgot or lost along the way, and finally once you arrive there is a long line of vehicles like overstuffed sausages waiting to get in.  Every vehicle is searched for free-loaders (those without a ticket)and if your unlucky enough to get pulled over by the local PD - contraband as well.

Fortunately we were able to bypass most of that fiasco thanks to some early entry passes our friend Jessica floated us.  We waited about an hour or so, rolled around in the dirt (as is the custom for first timers), banged a gong, and we had officially arrived at Burning Man!

Even though we were a little bit early, it wasn't that easy to find a spot to camp in.  Lots of areas were already roped off or reserved, and even the area we finally settled in turned into a bit of a land dispute at one point.  We made our camp just past 6:45 and Graduation.  The city is set up like a clock where the spokes are numbered from about 2:00 to 10:00 and the streets are alphabetical from the innermost "A" to the outermost ring "L".  The alphabetical streets do have names, but people constantly replace them so "Engagement" quickly became "Enlightenment" which turned into "Ecstasy" etc...  The system is easy to follow and we were just down the way from our friends at Radio Electra who were camped at 7:00 and "A".

That first day was a little rough - it took most of the night to finish setting up our camp and it was sunrise before I finally got to crash out in the structure I had worked so hard to build.  The Yurts worked brilliantly - they were dust-proof, warm at night and cool during the day.  They weren't as sound proof as one might think, but the further you are from the center "A" the quieter it is in general so noise wasn't that big an issue.  I had rigged a heavy duty exhaust vent to go along with the solar power system so the swamp cooler only got turned on a couple of times, but it too worked amazingly well and kept me cool during a 24 hour recovery period I required after a long night out.

So we had arrived, setup our camp, and finally gotten a little rest - thus began a series of strange adventures and rest periods that made up my burning man experience.  The festival seems split into several different phases - the daytime events, the nightly burn, and then the after-party which goes on till the sun rises.  At any point in that daily cycle you can also venture out onto the playa and check out the surreal art-pieces, go participate in some random occurrence (ie. march of the Waldo's - the unicorn stampede, or the gathering of bunnies), or just hang out at camp and watch the random shit parade which is constantly roaming by.

I can't say I was too successful at making many of the events.  As fun and as crazy as many of them were (Jamaican accent party, unicycling tutorial, flamethrowers 101, etc..) I either couldn't find the right place or when I got there the party was over.  I did have a great time though wandering around the playa checking out the art and just wandering around in general until I found something that sparked my interest.  I spent one whole night doing that until I ended up at this place called the "Avant Yard".  They were putting on a storytelling night kind of like The Moth that I missed in NY.  I had such a wonderful time there.  I even got up and told a story of my own.  It was probably my favorite night of the festival... at least until I drank too much, threw up, and had to be dragged off the desert into a random dome to sleep it off.  Special thanks to the kind souls who did that for me... whoever you are :)

Most of our camp spent the daytime napping and trying to keep cool.  Occasionally folks would venture out to center-camp to check out a concert or do some acro-yoga.  I think I spent most of days though out on the playa just sort of awe-stricken by the sculptures.  The pyramid containing the man was pretty impressive, but what really took my breath away was the temple.

I don't think I knew what to expect when it came to the temple.  I had donated towards that project as it seemed like such an important part of Burning Man, but I had no idea that it would be such a powerful place.  People write things on the temple walls they want to let go of or put objects of loved ones in there to burn along with the temple on the last day.  There are pictures, shoes, poems - I saw a wedding dress someone had hung up and written on it the words "I will love myself first".  Every time I went in the temple without fail I found myself crying.  Even just entering the main room made me choked up... it was weird and very moving.

When I was done sobbing and missing events, the nights usually began with some major object being lit on fire.  I've been to a bonfire or three but nothing close to watching a 4 story wooden horse packed with fireworks and kerosene go up in flames from about 50 feet away.  That night in-particular was pretty amazing as the person crying and laughing behind me turned out to be "Ohio" - the progenitor of the Trojan Horse Project (or so said his wife).

The nights usually ended after I was done gawking at the myriad of kinetic light sculptures that are fondly termed art-cars.  Light up party barges or psychotic neon death-traps would be more accurate descriptions in my humble opinion.  There were hundreds of them at a time on the playa - turning the horizon into a sort of state-fair midway on crack.  The lights, the dub-step music, even the dust they kick up are all ingrained in a picture in my head I can't seem to loose.  Every evening was a crazy parade of light, sound, and flame.

Thus went our days and nights until it was time to leave.  There were epic fireworks displays, the man burned (from which a giant ember fell out of the sky searing my neck) and eventually we found ourselves on the last day of the festival trying to start our vehicles for the first time in a week.  Stephanie was the unlucky winner of the dead battery contest.  This was followed up by her winning the stalled vehicle race and finally the overheating engine competition... basically her truck was loosing the battle.  After getting things running again though, Stef and Denny were anxious to get on the road so we joined them and made the long trek back to reality just before the burning of the temple.

In general - I'd love to say that Burning man changed my life.  I think for the last few years I've been on various excursions hoping to have some cathartic experience out there in the world that would mortar the gaps in my being or show me some new way of looking at things.  I guess I'm a little saddened to return with the message that it didn't... at least not wholeheartedly.  It did however brighten my world and spark my imagination.  I've never been quite as inspired by a place or heard myself say as often "next time I'll...".

To all the amazing friends I made out there, to the radicals at the Avant Yard, to Ohio, to my camp-mates, to Jessica and Chris, all the people who put so much work into making that a special place, and to my girlfriend who put up with my madness while getting ready for this thing - Thank you.  I can't way to see you all there next year.  I might even be done washing the dust off of all my stuff by then ;)
Our first nights camp in Beatty Hot Springs RV Park A couple of girls on a crushed out car selling stuffed animals on the way into Gerlach Brian gets his first view of the playa The line on the way in. Our home away from home - Camp Space Bear! Our morning shower Stefanies shelter under a shelter My yurt and all its yurtie accoutrements Radio Electra - Chris and Jessicas camp.  Thats Skip in the mad contraption. Chris and Jessica actually got married there.  Congrats you two! The camps at burning man are absolutely ludicrus... and have an affinity towards counches and scaffolding This one was a psuedo submarine base This one was a mini-burbon street. This one was a full on tiki-lounge And apparently this one was sometihng like Aladins palace? I nearly forgot about the roller rink camp I think I took this photo at 7am - folks just do their own thing 24/7 out there. Even those with just a tent put in the extra mile to be part of the experience Of course the truly unlucky ended up in tent city. The playa was full of wonderful sculptures. This one came alive in the wind. Giant Pez Dispenser.... Check. Massive Trojan Horse... Check Giant rocking chair with a huge rocking horse it it... uh... check! This Godzilla sculpture was totally cool As you got closer you could finally see... That it was made entirely of army men and toy guns! The rare playa oak 1 guess which regional sculpture this was... I found this piece about a mile out into the desert Lots of the sculptures were things you could take part in. At night, they showed a strobelight on this thing as it rotated and you could actully see the skeleton row. These are actually wind-chimes.   At night the fire in the base causes enough draft for the chimes to ring. Some of the pieces are just interesting architecture. And some of the pieces used others as part of their display The temple was the ultimate sculpture It was stunning at sunrise. And just as beautiful at night. A lot of the pieces were made with light in mind Did I mention the art cars? They ranged from your average pink elephant To your everyday desert party yacht. There were giant scorpions And giant praying mantii A lot of the vehicles were aquatically themed And a lot of them were just beautiful The cars ruled the night They belched fire and sound They were simply hypnotic I knew my father would appreciate this one Sculptures that were dusty and bland during the day came alive at night. You could see the whole festival from the top of this flower. Even our neighbors camp looked cool at night This is a shot of the Troy camp at night. In the center of it all was the man Fire dancers perform before the burn There is a massive fireworks display A series of huge explosions that melt off your eyebrows And the man finally succumbs Its really the people your with though that make the adventure And the people you meet A motely and wondeful bunch of humans indeed :)
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Headed to Burning Man
Posted - Jul 18th, 2011 8:56am
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Well its official - 2011 is the year I'm going to Burning Man!

For those not in the know, Burning Man is a week long event that takes place in salt flats (aka Playa) of Nevada.  Its a no holds bar art festival, a test of self reliance and desert endurance, a place to practice conservation and green living, a giant raving party 40,000 strong, and a spiritual event where people come to find themselves and share their dreams... or at least that's how I see it.  If I'm lucky it will be much more than that.  If not, then at least I get to go camping with my friends for a week.

Along with Jessica - who is our resident Burner and living Playa FAQ - I'll be joining Denny, Stef, Amy, Roig, and Cupp on this adventure.  Unfortunately McCoy, who originally signed on, had to bail on this one as he couldn't swing the 9 or 10 days it takes to make the trip.  His endless energy and unstoppable spirit are going to be missed, but he is pursuing his own dreams - something I think we are all happy to see.

So over the next 6 weeks I've got so many projects to finish!
- Build a Hexayurt
- Build a Swamp Cooler
- Create a giant shade system
- Light up my clothes and a Bike
- Make at least 1 crazy burner costume
- Outfit myself for a 10 day self-sufficient stay in the desert
- Sleep (optional)

Another year - another great adventure.  Here's hoping this will be one epic ride.
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Yosemite National Park
Posted - Jun 6th, 2011 8:19am
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I was just a few weeks away from going to Catalina for my birthday this year.  At the last minute though (which is about 4 weeks in airline reservation terms) I changed my mind and decided to visit some place new.  So the day before my 36th birthday with Tara at my side, I boarded a plane for Yosemite!

In truth we were headed for Fresno.  Turns out that's the closest place you can fly to the park without getting a 2nd mortgage.  We then drove from Fresno to Oakhurst and stayed at a place just south of the park entrance called The Queens Inn.  A funky little winery and renovated hotel from the 50's, it's a fantastic deal at less than $100 a night and only about a half hour away from the park entrance.

We left on Thursday and were returning on Sunday so we only had 2 full days to see what we could see.  Fortunately this site/page turned out to be a wonderful primer on where things were and what there was to do in that short a time.

We didn't follow that guide outright, but we did use it as a general game plan - spending the first day hiking through the giant Mariposa Forest, seeing all the lodges, and driving up to Glacer Point, then using the next day to go horseback riding and get drenched at the various waterfalls that litter the valley floor.

As you'll see in the pictures it was cloudy, wet, cold, and absolutely gorgeous.  I couldn't imagine a better time to see one of the most amazing places I've ever been.

Thanks to Phil Hawkins for providing exactly the information we needed to plan out our trip and to Tara for being a wonderful travel companion and a great adventurer.
When we arrived in fresno, we were greeted by fire! Something about going to Yosemite made me feel very American. Playing with my new camera (an EPL-2) Our new home away from home The path to their winery - just outside of our room. Everything about the Inn felt like it was post card worthy. Our private little porch that we never used. Not sure what you call this kind of decor but I like it. Tara emerges from our room ready to conquer the town of Oakhurst Ahh yes - The Purple Cow.  Crap store extrodinaire -- I highly suggest a visit. They have a lot of interesting shops in Oakhurst And even more interesting religious practices... But the churches there are really beautiful Yelp suggested this Cajun place  - perfect for a birthday dinner! Our first stop the next morning was the Tenaya Lodge just inside the park This is the Tenaya lobby - a great place to grab a quick breakfast before heading on. Me having fun with my camera again in one of the lodges hallways This is El guapo.  He was our guide for this trip. Most of these giant trees had names and stories - even the fallen ones. Required picture in front of ridonkulously large tree #1 Required picture in front of ridonkulously large tree #2 Required picture of us IN ridonkulously large tree These things just get bigger and bigger as you go up the mountain.  That pink spec at the base of the tree is Tara! Tara says look- a deer!! The deer in the park are absurdly tame.  Riding a deer home is a plausible activity. The one and only time Tara was proud to be called a tree hugger I attempt to look unafraid of the giant squirrels that must obviously inhabit such a place This is called the telescope tree - it's so big that even hallowed out all the way through, it was still alive and well. The pinecones were appropriately sized to feed said giant squirrles This cabin serves as a museum at the top of the forest.  Living there would make me feel like a dwarf After experiencing the beauty of the mariposas - we decided to experience the creepiness of the Wawona - another one of the lodges inside the park This place looked ripe for an episode of ghost hunters That's not to say it wasn't majestic.. One of the haun... er private cottages they have there. Another shot of the Adams family guesthouse Looking down on Yosemite valley from Glacier point On the far right you can see Nevada Falls.  Below that is Vernal Falls.  Both places I hope to hike someday. Half dome is an absolutely stunning sight.  It's hard to explain why a billion pound boulder is cool - but it is! Upper and lower Yosemite falls I swear this is a real picture of the Ahwanee hotel from up on Glacier Point.   New cameras do neat things! El Guapo suggests hiking half dome We loan our camera to a stranger with favorable results We dawn our best camera faces. This was the trail for Taft Point.... Seemed simple enough - just follow the footsteps to uh... whererver the last person went? This could have been the last picture ever taken of Tara but we decided to pack it in and return to the car before it got dark. The sun gave out about the same time we did that first full day in the park. El Guapo helped us find the stables the next morning My horse needed to eat everything in site -- apparently this rock looked deliscious Tara looking rather equstrian Bear Cave! We pause for a few minutes during our trail ride. Our morning ride ended as we rode across this bridge out by mirror lake. Hard for me to believe that places like this exist in California (which to me is one big city) Took this while we were warming up in the Ahwanees giant fireplace Dogwood trees like this were flowering everywhere! Upper Yosemite Falls Lower Yosemite Falls It got a little uh... damp there by the falls.  Fortunately we had these stylish ponchos! Swinging Bridge turned out to be another worthwhile stop.  Didnt really swing though? The path to bridalveil falls - this photo is now hanging in my room :] Bridalveil falls.  Very very cool.  Very very wet. El Guapo just chillin out by the river A look back at Bridalveil Falls Another photo that now hangs in my house The last photo I took of Yosemite as we exited through the tunnel back to reality.
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