Snoopers Rock

Having lamented missing most of the summer, I was happy when my husband asked if I wanted to go for a hike today.  As I was reminded yesterday, the summer isn’t over yet.  In spite of it being one of the more hot and humid days we’ve had in a while, I was anxious to get outside and spend some time in motion.

My husband and I have different ideas about hiking, however.  I want to go at least 5 miles and am willing to go much further if there’s something to see.  My husband, who is on his feet all day, prefers to pick very short, easy hikes.  We compromised by choosing a place that had 3 overlooks and parked in the middle so we could bail if it turned out to be longer or more difficult than expected.

We headed out to Prentice Cooper Wildlife Management Area, which runs along the Tennessee River Gorge.  It’s a beautiful area.  Even the drive to get there is inspiring.  We saw wild turkey and deer along the way.

The down side of the wildlife management area is the popularity of ATVs and hunting.  Fortunately, between the heat and a predicted thunderstorm that never came, there were only a handful of ATVers and we didn’t hear any gunshots.  Both make me nervous when we’re hiking with dogs.

Twiggy, visiting with us for the weekend, and Tisen were very enthusiastic when we got out of the car.  We headed down what was called Snoopers Rock Trail, but it was really a road.  We were passed by a jeep and later a Hyundai sedan, but we weren’t sorry we walked.

The view is fantastic from Snoopers Rock.  Of the views I’ve seen of the river gorge, this was the best–the rock is perched above a bend in the river, providing scenery in both directions.

Unfortunately, when we headed off to the second overlook, it wasn’t clear if we were on the right trail or not.  We hiked through the woods enjoying the shade and the tiny wildflowers along the trail, but the moisture in the air was gathering like a cloud around us as we walked and the mosquitos reminded us why we used to use insect repellant.

When we’d walked about as far as we thought it was supposed to be to the next overlook, we decided it was time to turn around.  The trek back was all uphill.  I was shocked by how hard I felt like I was working–it wasn’t that uphill.

It felt great to be in the woods and moving.  Even sweating felt good.  I feel more alive when I’m pushing my body, even if it’s only a little.  The mosquitos I could have done without.  But, after all, it is still summer.

Tisen and Twiggy were far less enthusiastic on the way back to the car.  I guess I’m not the only one who hasn’t been working out.


Product Testing

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I was convinced I was born to row because I made it through a Learn to Row class without falling in the water.  Let me take another moment to brag–I made it through the entire two weeks of classes without falling in.

Fortunately, one of the requirements for the class was to get back into the boat from the water.  This is fortunate in that, having not fallen in, I didn’t get to learn this on my own.

Getting back into a sculling shell from the water is no easy task.  You have to get your body up onto the boat while holding the oars into position so the boat doesn’t tip back over again.  It took me several tries and I was badly bruised by the time I made it back into the boat.

Since then, I’ve been feeling like I was never going to fall in.  I’ve been rowing twice a week and I’ve managed to catch myself every time I started to tip.  Then, the other morning when it was about 54 degrees out, I did my usual route around a section of the river that is mostly still within sight of the rowing center.

When I got to the downstream end of my rowing route, as usual, I stopped rowing to drift by part of Maclellan Island and see what birds were out.  Just then, four Great Blue Heron came swooping overhead.  I turned to see where they were headed and the next thing I knew, my head was completely underwater.  I didn’t feel the boat tip at all; I was just suddenly submerged.

Fortunately, the river was still toasty warm.  But, I had a moment of panic.  Once I got my mind around the fact that I was, in fact, in the water, I realized several things:

  1. One oar had come out of the oarlock and was floating away from me and the boat
  2. The boat was completely upside down
  3. My iPhone was strapped to the boat in a waterproof case and cute little lifejacket
  4. I had lights suction cupped to the boat since it was dark when I’d started rowing–they were now completely submerged.

Accepting that there was nothing to do but get the boat back together and myself back in it, I swam after the lose oar, pleased to find that it does, as advertised, float.  I got the boat righted and was equally pleased to discover that my lights were not only still attached, but also still it.

I got the oar back in the oarlock and managed to get myself back into the boat in one smooth try like I’d been tipping sculling boats for years.  And, the moment of pure delight came when I confirmed that my iPhone had floated and remained dry inside its case.

For once, all products performed as expected!

The only down side was riding my bike home in 54 degree weather soaking wet.

Learning to Row

I took the Learn to Row class offered by the Lookout Rowing Club here in Chattanooga back in July, but rowing a sculling shell and cameras don’t mix well.

At long last, I got my husband out to the rowing center to help do some shooting.  In these shots, I am demonstrating some of the basic skills we learned in the class:  carrying the boat by yourself, getting into the boat without falling in, getting off the dock without falling in, and rowing without falling in.

Note the “without falling in.”  That is an important qualifier.  A sculling shell is a long and narrow boat; the fact that it doesn’t roll all the time is a denial of physics (and the result of long oars that float on the water’s surface).

In fact, during the first class in which we got into boats and pushed off the dock, I was the only person in my class who didn’t end up in the water, including the instructor.  This is such a remarkable fact that I have to think that perhaps I was born to be a rower.  After all, I once scraped my face eating a breakfast bar; the odds that I would be the only one to make it through the class without falling in at some point are pretty astronomical.

I did not fare so well on learning how to carry the boat.  In fact, I found that to be the most challenging part of the class.  It was also something I was determined to master because I knew I was going to be coming out to row by myself early in the morning and there was no way I was going to ask anyone for help.

First, I tried carrying the boat on my shoulder instead of my head.  I thought this would be more stable and give me better control over the boat.  It did.  However, I couldn’t see one entire side and I kept running into things like railings, buildings, other boats, and occasionally other people.

I eventually found carrying the boat on my head gave me much better visibility and the only time I ran into things was trying to put the boat back onto the racks.  I eventually learned to carry the boat in and out of the boathouse on my hip, place it on the slings out front, and then put it on my head to walk to the dock.  So far, I haven’t broken anything.

On this day, as I was rowing, my port oar popped out of the oarlock.  I was pretty proud that I managed to get the oar back into the oarlock without tipping the boat.  This is no easy feat–the oars are like training wheels and keeping both of them on the water evenly keeps the boat from rolling over.  For some reason, my husband didn’t shoot my amazing dexterity.  Maybe he was waiting for the moment when I would fall in?


Sunday has become unofficial hiking day.  Of late, I seem to have fallen into a new routine.  Saturday, I recover from the previous 5 days of hiking, biking, rowing, and yoga.  I do this mostly by laying on the couch with the occasional interruption of taking Tisen for walks.

But Sunday, Sunday I hike.  And this past Sunday, Pat needed to work, so it was the perfect opportunity to make my second attempt at Edward Point.  This time, Tisen and I would start at 10:30 in the morning instead of 4:30 in the evening.  We were mentally prepared for a rather challenging 6 mile hike, up and down Signal Mountain, scrambling over rocks.

This was our fourth trip to the Signal Point overlook.  It’s an easy walk down a paved trail from the parking lot.  We spent 20 minutes covering the 100 yards from the parking lot to the overlook–there were lots of places to sniff.

But the overlook is it for the suburban park setting.  After stopping for a couple of quick shots, we headed to the Cumberland Trail.  Even with its manmade steps, it’s not an easy trail.  Many people make it the first half mile to a “natural” overlook point over the gully that our trail would wind its way around.  But it involves clamoring down steep and big steps, jumping onto rocks, and stepping carefully.  Tisen did an amazing job navigating all the obstacles.

Every time we go on a hike that starts out with an accessible view, I notice the drop off in population as you get further from the parking lot.  We were still on the most traveled part of the trail, but already we were down to only 2 other people who we didn’t see until we made it to the overlook point.

Before we’d rounded the first blind turn, a Pileated Woodpecker called from so close to where we were standing that I was sure I would look up and see it clinging to a tree.  As I searched for the shape of this giant woodpecker, it called again, sounding slightly further away.  I searched frantically, watching for shadows against the dark forest floor.  When it called a third time, the Doppler effect kicked in–I could hear it moving away from us as it called.  I was bummed.  I haven’t seen a Pileated Woodpecker in quite a while–I would have loved to have gotten a shot of it.

We continued our hike possibly in greater safety now that the woodpecker was gone–I have a tendency to forget I’m walking on the edge of a cliff when I’m searching for a bird.

When we stopped at the first natural overlook, Tisen was already panting hard.  I got out his portable water bowl and tried to coax him into drinking water.  Tisen stuck his elbow in the collapsible water bowl and stared at me, pink tongue lolling from his black-and-white mouth.

Why I Don’t Cook

When I returned from my recent adventure in Vermont, I was feeling motivated to eat as healthy as possible.  I also triggered an addiction to lobster, having stopped in Boston on both the way there and the way back, indulging in lobster rolls in both directions.

As such, I got out my favorite cookbook, “The Ultra-Metabolism Cookbook” and found myself drooling over the Lobster Fra Diavalo recipe.

By luck, my noon meeting cancelled and I managed to spend lunch at the grocery store.  I bought the provisions necessary for a 3-course meal–salad, entree, and dessert.

When my day had mostly wrapped up (I did have one evening conference call with some folks in Australia, but it didn’t last long), I started cooking.

Now, this is a rather rare phenomenon.  Finding me in the kitchen usually means I’m making coffee, eating yogurt straight out of the carton, or perhaps doing something as creative as making a smoothie.  But on this night, I was undertaking making 3 courses all for the same meal.

I started thawing the lobster tails for the Lobster Fra Diavalo.  I made pomegranate salad dressing and prepped the salad.  I put on wild rice to cook without fully reading the instructions (quite the risk taker).  I served the salad around 8PM, right after my conference call was over.  Not bad if you ignore the fact I’d started prepping around 5:30PM.

I thought I’d started the rice too late, but then I realized the sauce for the lobster had to cook down, so then my rice was going to be done too early.  I turned up the heat on the diavalo sauce in the hope of reducing it faster.  While it cooked, I made up some chocolate sauce from a New Life Hiking Spa recipe available on their website.  I was going to serve banana “ice cream” and chocolate sauce for dessert.

Note the time in the photo of the lobster cooking on the stove.  At 9:17, I was still trying to reduce the sauce.  We ate our lobster at 9:30.  It was actually quite good, if I do say so myself.  But, can lobster ever really taste bad?

Next, I took frozen bananas out of the freezer only to discover they weren’t really frozen all the way.  I decided to try to make the dessert anyway.  I put them in the blender and tried to puree them into an ice cream consistency.  Between their unfrozen state and my crappy blender, they came out more of a pudding consistency.  I enjoyed it anyway.  My husband wasn’t so keen on the dessert.  The chocolate sauce was tasty, but sweetened with maple syrup (not from Vermont), it was a little too mapley for him.

All in all, I invested about 5 hours of my time between planning, shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up for this one healthy meal.  I texted my friend that I now understand why I have time to workout–I don’t cook.

The Necessaries

Our second hike in Vermont was on a gravel road that ran next to a stream.  The stream spoke the usual stream language, babbling to us as we walked.  Something we don’t always think about when we imagine the sound of a happily babbling stream is the way it seems to connect directly with our bladders.  Or, at least, mine.

I love the sound of running water diving and dipping and dropping over stones in a shallow bed as it makes its way downhill.  I love it less when I really need to use the non-existent facilities.  This is a case where perhaps the advanced hike might have been more accommodating–finding a private place at least 50 yards from water to go off and take care of one’s needs when walking along a relatively popular dirt road with a group of 15-20 people is not such a simple undertaking.  I endeavored to prove I still have good bladder control.  I made it to the turn around point, through the snack break, and about halfway back, but then we arrived at the juncture between the road and the stream.  The very thought of water rushing beneath my feet as it crossed under the road was more than I could bear.

I made a break for the woods and climbed up an overgrown hillside, bushwhacking my way to a private spot, trying to do as little damage to the hillside in the process as possible.  Fortunately for me, my selected site was in fact private and no one caught me in the somewhat awkward act of re-positioning clothing after the fact.

This, did however, evoke a memory from a long ago jeep trek up a mountain jeep trail near Ouray, Colorado in Yankee Boy Basin.  It was a trip I took with my father, brother, and elderly aunt to deliver my mother’s ashes to her favorite location in the world.  About half way up the jeep trail, my elderly aunt needed to use the facilities.  When I explained to her that there weren’t any facilities, she exclaimed, “What??!!!  They should have a bathroom if they’re going to let people come up here!!!”  The concept of wilderness was a bit lost on her.

I took her to find a spot in the woods.  I don’t think she’d ever walked through the woods except on a fairly flat and easy to follow trail before, let alone found a hidden spot to squat.  I found a secluded spot for her and walked around to another secluded spot for myself not far away.  About the time I was getting re-situated, I heard squealing.  I ran over to where I’d left my aunt and was greeted by two feet, pants circling the ankles above them, kicking in the air amongst the underbrush.  My aunt had fallen over backwards.  Now that is a sight I wish I could forget!

Thankfully, I managed to enjoy the hike in Vermont and leave un-traumatized.

Being Moderate

At the New Life Hiking Spa, everyone gathers outside the front door and the staff announces the hikes each morning.  They’re categorized into “Nature Walk,” “intermediate,” and “Advanced.”  The Nature Walk being mostly flat, a non-challenging surface to walk on (like a gravel road), and only about 4 miles or so in distance.  The Intermediate walks have more ups and downs, and may require a little scrambling over rocks.  The Advanced hikes are more vertical and are on “unimproved” trails.

While I might have opted for the Advanced or Intermediate hikes, I was there more for the company of my friend and less for the physical challenge, so I was more than happy to do the nature walk.  Plus, I wanted to shoot and I figured I’d have more opportunities on the nature walk than on an advanced hike.

This happened to be the day for the most difficult Nature Walk of the week.  It had a long, slow climb in the middle of it.  This worked to my advantage.  I got to take my time shooting because the group wasn’t moving as fast as they would have been on a flat trail.  I had time to shoot and then run to catch up to my friend.

This was even more perfect than I realized at first.  I got a great workout by running hard to catch up (when I say running hard, I mean any attempt to run on my part is hard–I don’t run fast or far or at all if I can help it).  We would walk along together chatting until the next photogenic subject appeared.

I would have hated being on an advanced hike and feeling like I was holding other people up every time I stopped for a shot.

Plus, the road we walked was lovely.  We were afforded many views of the mountains and lots of pretty open fields full of wildflowers.  The only slightly traumatic part was the graveyard near the beginning of the walk.  We had to wonder what kind of message they were sending us by not only walking us past the graveyard on the way out, but stopping there for our snack break on the way back.  I loved it for the photographic opportunities it provided, but it’s a little odd to snack amongst the dead.

We extended the hike by going past the trailhead to another trail that led up a hill to a lovely view of the valley below and mountains in the distance.  One of our fellow hikers was starting to worry us with his heavy breathing, profuse sweating, and red face.  It was hard to believe the hike was that much of a workout for anyone, but it was a pretty good uphill, I guess.  We were concerned he had heat stroke.  In the end, he, along with the rest of us, did survive and we left no one in the graveyard.

Bright Spot

After getting settled in and oriented on my recent adventure at a “hiking spa” in Vermont, my friend and I got ourselves together in time for the evening yoga class.  The yoga instructor was well-trained and seemed to know what she was doing.  She reminded me of my first yoga instructor in Columbus with a voice that combined happy with soothing.

Things were looking up.

We made it to dinner and things looked up indeed.  The dinner was really delicious.  There were two choices and I got the combo because I couldn’t pick between the two.  The portions were not as generous as I might have liked, but I consoled myself with the thought that it really wouldn’t be bad if I dropped a couple of pounds.

What was really exciting was the number of repeat customers.  All participants in the hiking spa sat at 4 large tables, so we got to talk to others who’d been there before and/or had been there for several days.  We got the low-down on the place and what to expect.

If the spa director is smart, he will start offering these repeat customers some sort of discount–they are his best advertisers.  One woman at our table was on her 10th visit to the hiking spa.  She is the one who told us it was more shabby than chic.  Her honesty made her more credible and her enthusiasm for the program made us more excited to be there.  She knew everything from the menu for each day to the hikes that would be scheduled.  I really think they should have hired her to do the orientations for new arrivals–we would have felt much more welcome and better informed.

In general, the people we spoke with at our table made us feel like we were joining a fun club with lots of cool people.  They were from all over the place–some from as far as London.  There was a doctor, a spa owner, a retail business owner, and a chemist who held several patents among the many different career choices represented.

The next morning, we got up early to attend the 7AM stretching class before breakfast.  When we walked out to the semi-permanent outdoor tent setup exclusively for the hiking spa fitness classes, the sun was barely visible through dense fog.  It was hard to tell it was nearly 7AM through the gloom of the fog.  The glow of the sun peeping through the thick fog made me happy I’d decided to bring my camera with me.

I would have preferred a short yoga class instead of  a boot-camp style stretching class first thing in the morning, but it was still nice to get unkinked before breakfast.  I just prefer to have calming music and be in a meditative state of mind over having a big, hairy guy leading us through marching in place and elementary-school-style stretches.  But, it definitely got us ready for breakfast.


Drive-by Shooting

Sometimes, I ignore what I’ve learned and regress to just snapping pictures.  They say the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results.  I’m not insane.  I just sometimes decide the awful results I know I’ll get are OK.

Sometimes, I just want to take snap shots.

That said, there is something fundamentally wrong about pulling out a Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-17mm f/2.8 lens on it and shooting from the passenger side of a shuttle van through the windows while moving at speeds up to 55 MPH.  I believe it violates the 11th commandment:  Thou Shalt Not Waste a Really Great Camera by Using it Poorly!

It’s times like these I wish I had one of those little compact point-and-shoots that you can pull out of your pocket and look like a typical tourist.

On the flip side, I hauled 17 pounds of photography equipment with me through 3 airports to get this far and I sure as heck was not going to fail to use my camera.  Unfortunately, when I look at these images, I can’t say I’m glad I did.

What does one do with crappy vacation photos that are too ugly to use for anything but too evocative of memories to get rid of?  If you’re like me, you probably have thousands of pictures that you can no longer identify what the subject of the photo was supposed to be or the subject is obvious but completely blurred or has a street sign coming out of its head or is underexposed, but it’s the only photo you got of that really great subject, so you hang onto it for dear life.

Sometimes, it’s better just to delete.

I’ve written before about the joy of an uncluttered life.  And how that includes an uncluttered hard drive.  So, this is my pledge:  I’m deleting all of these photos.  Well, I might keep the Psychic Gallery one.  And the one of the ski runs.  And maybe the church.  Why is it so hard just to hit the delete key?

But, I digress.

Continuing my travel story from two days ago, having safely arrived at the Rutland, Vermont airport, we were greeted by our driver, Terry, from Gramps Shuttle.    (I’m pretty sure there’s a joke in there somewhere.)  He knew our names, he greeted us like friends, we laughed all the way to the hotel.

Along the way, I shot anything and everything that was even semi-interesting.  The sign for a Psychic Gallery really threw me.  I pictured an art gallery that displayed psychic events instead of art.  Or perhaps performance art installations involving levitation or telekinesis.  Or maybe just a collection of fortunes from Chinese fortune cookies.  Terry enjoyed contemplating what it was, but he didn’t offer to stop to find out.

It was just as well–it would only have resulted in more bad pictures.

Getting There

When I was single, I went on a trip with a girlfriend once.  It was a ski club trip to Teluride, Colorado and there were about 50 of us on the trip.  I can’t recall ever getting on a plane to go on a get away with a girlfriend at any other time in my life.  Until now.

When one of my neglected friends back in Columbus decided it was high time for her to take a little time to have a fun for herself given that she’s spent about 30 years dedicating herself to making sure everyone else in her life was having fun, we decided to meet somewhere.

She suggested a spa.  I said, “Ahh!”  My friend suggested the “New Life Hiking Spa.”

I didn’t need to think it over–anything with the words “hiking” and “spa” in their name was too tempting to miss.  Plus, it’s in Vermont–one of the 12 states I’d never been to before.

The hardest part of getting our trip planned was finding time when we could both get on the phone.  We must have traded hundreds of emails and text messages trying to figure out an itinerary that would get us both to the Boston airport in time for a final flight to Rutland, Vermont so we could share a shuttle ride from there to Killington, our final destination.

When we called to make a reservation at the spa, the guy on the phone suggested we might find all the travel wasn’t worth it for a 3 night stay given where we were coming from.  He didn’t understand that it wasn’t about the destination.

I’ve never much believed in miracles, but I flew from Chattanooga to Atlanta to Boston while my friend flew from Columbus to Philly to Boston and we arrived within 30 minutes of each other with no lost luggage.

We had plenty of time to get to the Cape Air ticketing counter tucked amongst hundreds of JetBlue podiums and kiosks in Terminal C.  I can’t recall ever being asked how much I weigh when I checked in before.  They weighed everything I was carrying–I don’t know why they didn’t just have me stand on the scale, too, that way they would know I wasn’t lying and I wouldn’t have had to say my weight out loud while others were listening.

When we eventually got on the plane, it seated 9.  One passenger rode co-pilot.

I managed to take a few iPhone shots before having to shutdown my phone for the duration, but I longed for my 5D Mark III as we made our way over the mountains in the tiny Cessna with huge windows made for shooting.  I can’t recall ever being on a commuter flight that felt like a tour before.

In spite of a little turbulence and the great scenery, I managed to nod off, awakening just in time to see the mountains around Rutland.  It may have been my best travel day ever.