Medoc Mountain State Park Adventure

This past February I celebrated my 26th birthday at a campground. Since I am from Michigan where winter is usually marked by snow and cold this was something unheard of to me. When Friday arrived it was a beautiful day with temperatures hitting the 70s and the lows only reaching the 50s. Perfect camping weather!

Michelle and I loaded the adventure mobile and hit the road. The chemistry department hosts Friday evening seminars (3:40 to 5 pm), so we did not get on the road until almost 6:30pm that night. The down side is that meant we drove while it was dark and missed seeing new scenery while driving through northeast NC, but the perk was that we also missed the insane rush hour traffic of Raleigh. Trade offs.

We reached the campsite fairly late, but between the headlights of the car and some flashlights setting up camp was extremely easy. The easy set up was extremely exciting since this was our first time using our new tent. After Christmas we had bought a new 2-person backpacking tent from REI for a couple of reasons: First, after almost freezing to death on a camping trip to Falls Lake we realized that we needed a tent that could trap our body heat better in colder conditions. Second, we are planning a two week camping trip out west this summer and we wanted a small easy to set up tent for the drive out. Our new tent met all of these criteria! The smaller tent was a huge success! It was super easy to set up and kept us extremely warm on the second night when the low’s dropped into the 30’s!

GOPR0323 (2).JPG
Athena’s never been overly thrilled about mornings.

When I was growing up my family lived on a farm with a lot of access to wood. We even used a wood burning stove to heat the house. This meant that any time my family went camping, we could just grab wood from the pile to load the truck bed. But, now that Michelle and I live in the city we don’t have the same abundance of fire wood available and instead have to purchase our wood from the campground. However, if you arrive later in the night the park office is typically closed and you can’t get any wood for your first night at the campground. What a travesty! After a summer of arriving late to campgrounds, Michelle and I discovered that two of our local grocery stores sell firewood, so we no longer have to worry about arriving without firewood! All major crises can now be averted! Such as having firewood for a breakfast campfire in the morning!

DCIM100GOPRO
mmmmm…campfire coffee

Saturday was an absolutely beautiful day! The temperature peaked around 80 degrees and the sun was never hidden by any clouds. This resulted in the perfect conditions for lounging in hammocks and drinking campfire coffee! In my professional coffee drinking opinion (note, not actually a professional coffee drinker), the best tasting coffee always comes from a campfire (regardless of the coffee bean roast). Athena even spent some time catching up on rays in front of the tent as well.

After a long lazy morning lounging around the campsite, we decided that we needed to explore the hiking trails around the state park. We started out on the Discovery Loop trail which follows the Little Fishing Creek. Eventually, we reached a crossroads with a bridge that spanned the river and sent us down the Medoc Mountain Trail loop. Before starting the Medoc Mountain trail, we had to stop and let Athena go for a swim; it was warm enough that I even took of my hiking boots to play in the water!

GPExportPhoto-0001 (2)
Getting my feet wet in Little Fishing Creek!

Once we finished our hike, we headed back towards camp and started racing the clouds. Throughout the day the weather had changed from cloudless and sunny to a dark horizon. The afternoon was spent watching the dark storm clouds roll in, until eventually the rain arrived in the evening. Athena, Michelle, and I hunkered down in the tent to listen to the rain patter on our rain-fly, with only a little worry about leaks from user error during setup. Luckily, there were no leaks. While hunkering in the tent there were fairly frequent flashes of lightening and booms of thunder that had us considering seeking a safer location in the car. Meanwhile, Athena slept through the storm.

Luckily, the storm only lasted a few minutes. This was long enough for Michelle to beat me in a game of cribbage and for Athena to rest up after an exciting afternoon, but it was short enough that we still had time for an evening campfire. We were celebrating my birthday this week and it would have been a shame to miss an evening campfire, hobo pies, and s’mores. This camping adventure made my 26th birthday a truly remarkable day.

GPExportPhoto-0004 (2)
Toastin’ some mallows

You can watch video footage of our Medoc Mountain Adventure here.

These are some of my favorite pictures from our trip. I hope you enjoy them.

* * *

DCIM100GOPRO
This is my system for pouring coffee fresh off the campfire! Athena and I typically battle over who gets to keep the sticks
G0050431 (2).JPG
Climbed a rock! 
DCIM100GOPRO
Just me working on some breakfast
DCIM100GOPRO
Athena loves her sticks
DCIM100GOPRO
Queen Athena lounging in the camp
DCIM100GOPRO
Hiking through the pines!
DCIM100GOPRO
Michelle towering over me from the top of the bank.
DCIM100GOPRO
Classic bench photo!
DCIM100GOPRO
The density and sharpness of this photo is amazing.
DCIM100GOPRO
Starting the climb of Medoc Mountain
DCIM100GOPRO
Going up Medoc Mountain. I played around with some angles in my editing software to increase the drama of this shot
DCIM100GOPRO
I thought this mini stream was simply beautiful
GPExportPhoto (2)
Athena’s excited to go swimming!
GPExportPhoto-0002 (2)
Athena found an even bigger stick!
GPExportPhoto-0003 (2)
Athena contemplating life while wading Little Fishing Creek

 

Defying Labels: A Mini-Adventure

When I was a kid going biking or hiking wasn’t a specific hobby (at least where I grew up it wasn’t), they were both just activities that you did. If you were bored, you went for a walk in the woods or you grabbed your bike and started pedaling done the road. There was never a set distance I was trying to hit or a specific mountain to conquer. You simply stepped outside and enjoyed what nature had to offer. If it was mundane, you created something magnificent.

The smallest hills were transformed into mountains, the dirt road became a 100 mile race track. As a child I didn’t have to seek out adventures, they just happened. I made life an adventure. But, then you begin to grow older and the nameless activities of youth begin collecting labels. Once an activity has a label, the sense of wonder and adventure associated with it is lost. Why? Because labels have definitions and expectations, and if those expectations are not met then you did not truly experience that activity.

I first became aware of this fact after moving to North Carolina. Hiking and camping in NC is more than just a past time, it is a religion. A faithful following. You are supposed to dress a certain way, carry the correct gear, and use the appropriate labels. If you say hiking you better be climbing a mountain; otherwise, you are only going for a ‘walk in the woods.’ If you go camping make sure to specify if it’s car camping, backpacking, or in a camper. Keeping track of your sense of adventure can be easily lost amidst these labels.

That is why I purposefully force myself to seek the natural beauty, wonder, and amazement in my everyday surroundings. You can’t always climb a mountain, but that shouldn’t stop you from going on a hike. You can’t always ride your bike on epic downhill, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pretend that you do. Sometimes, you just need to get out side for the simple joy of being amidst nature.

Athena and I tried to do this yesterday. We went out and created our own mini-adventure in our own backyard. Using the right angle and some clever filters even a simple game of fetch can become rather stunning.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Of course, you can’t play fetch without teasing your dog some as well. Thanks to GoPro’s Time Lapse feature I was able to capture this epic shot.

happydog

After a competitive game of fetch, I felt inspired to take Athena out on the trail. I had recently watched Seth, from Seth’s Bike Hacks, attempt to transform his French Bulldog, drama, into a trail dog and was wanting to test Athena’s trail mettle. Athena has pretty good sprinting capabilities, but for anything longer than a mile she simply doesn’t have the ability to hang. Luckily, the ride around our lake is slightly shorter than a mile. She certainly did enjoy the short ride and run around the lake.

runningdog

There was one point while we were playing with the GoPro and searching for that perfect angle that I decided to work on my bunny hopping skills. The mythical bunny hop has eluded me for years, but every once in awhile I try to attempt it. This time I decided that hopping, or in this case running over, my GoPro would be a good idea. I may have failed at clearing my camera, but I got this awesome photo from the attempt. It almost looks like I am atop the world here…almost.

bunnyhopfail
Failed bunny hop attempt 

Finally, Athena and I went and rode on some super secret trails that crisscross the woods behind our apartment. Once again experimenting with lighting and angles gave me a pretty cool picture.

biketire

Overall, our mini-adventure Sunday behind the apartment was quite spectacular. It certainly was enough to wear the dog out for the remainder of the day.

 

Defining Expectations: CNF MTB Ride

I never leave for the trail head with the expectation of having an average ride or to be an average mountain bike rider. When I load my bike onto the carrier and start driving towards some singletrack, I pack up with the expectation that I will be the next RedBull Rampage God of mountain biking, king of the downhill! Sometimes when I get out on the trails I even manage to trick myself into believing these daydreams as I conquer new skill sections, shred through downhills, and occasionally manage to get air off a jump. But, then there are rides like the one Michelle and I went on last week at the Carolina North Forest (CNF) Trail system which remind you of reality.

* * *

gpexportphoto-0014-2
My perception of hitting this jump was ‘Man I am getting some serious air!’ The reality was only getting off the ground by a few inches.

We had decided earlier in the week that we both needed to get our bikes out and go for a ride. Sunday was supposed to be a beautiful sunny day with highs in the 70’s (it actually managed to break 80 for the day, talk about a warm February!) We talked about visiting the trusted and true trail systems of Harris Lake or Lake Crabtee, but I wanted to ride a new area this weekend. There are plenty of mountain bike trails in the Triangle, so I went to trianglemtb.com and started looking at our options. We have lived in Raleigh for two years now, but haven’t made a visit to Chapel Hill yet, so I started looking for trails in this direction. After a quick Google maps search we picked the CNF system.

Anyone who has ever gone on a mountain biking adventure knows there is a good amount of uncertainty in visiting a new trail system. First, there is the problem of finding the trail. Sometimes the trailhead is clearly marked and even has an official address and then there are the trailheads that don’t officially exist in Google. The CNF trailhead was the latter. Google Maps got us almost all the way to trail system taking us to the Smith Middle School, which was just a mile or two from the unofficial trailhead at Seawell Elementary School. Luckily, we were able to consult the TriangleMTB website to locate the actual trailhead from the middle school.

gpexportphoto-0002-2
An opportunity to race my shadow

The next problem that any seasoned rider will tell you about riding a new trail is interpreting the trail’s difficulty level. Whenever I visit a website providing reviews about a trail system I have noticed that every trail has a unique rating for each individual person. Person A will tell you that this is the hardest trail they have ever ridden, while person B will say the intermediate ranking should really be a beginner ranking. And, everyone always complains about roots.

Michelle and I immediately noticed that the CNF trail system is extremely rooty. There were literally roots everywhere! While I love the technical challenge of riding over roots and improving my overall MTB skills, I also love flowy trail systems that allow you to gain speed and zip between the trees. The high number of roots at CNF prevented me from gathering speed on the downhills (they kept knocking me off course) and made even the smallest climbs a major pain. In conclusion, roots will today and forever always suck. To add another layer of difficulty, the forest floor was bedded in dead pine needles that provided zero traction. Between roots and pine needles the overall flow of the trails were seriously impacted.

DCIM100GOPRO
Classic bike photo on the trail

Finally, the last concern you have when visiting a new trail system is about the trail markings. How easy will it be to get back to the trailhead? Most of the trails I have ridden this hasn’t been too big of an issue as they have been loops. Which means that as long as I keep right (or left) and stay on the path I will eventually make it home. However, there are some systems where the amount of crisscrossing trails make it extremely difficult to navigate. The CNF trails are one of these systems. As we were riding we kept getting confused as we would arrive at an intersection with three different branches and no signs indicating which trail to take. This made navigating the trails extremely difficult. It basically felt like we were trying to escape from a labyrinth.

gpexportphoto-0012-2
I thought the framing of this log with Michelle on the trail was pretty cool!

The problems of finding the trailhead, riding over roots, or even escaping the labyrinth of the woods are all part of the thrill of mountain biking. These challenges do little to hinder one’s ability to ride like a RedBull rampager. But, what does limit a person’s riding adventure is the individual rider. In this case, Michelle and I fell a long way from King’s and Queen’s of Downhill and landed squarely in the awkward Bambi category.

First, we just struggled. We struggled with roots, rocks, and pine needles sending us off course resulting in collisions with trees. But, mostly we just struggled with general clumsiness and ineptness. The prime example being that we stopped at one intersection to determine which direction to go. Michelle had stopped next to me and as I was dismounting my bike I kicked her bike knocking it over! Naturally, this sent her for a spill and resulted in me receiving a very angry glare. If that scowl at the end doesn’t say love, I don’t know what does (see sequence below).

My joy at her fall was short lived as I then proceeded to fall myself! The fall I suffered resulted in a very bruised ego as I was tripped by the air! (Literally, nothing physically happened to trip me other than I stepped backwards and then started falling.) As I fell, my bike went down and Michelle’s smoldering glare turned into a triumphant shout of “Ha! Karma [explicit]!” (see the sequence of my fall below)

Though our first ride on the CNF trails wasn’t quite as awesome as we had expected, we still had an amazing adventure and had a fun time in the woods. At the end of the day, that is the most important part about mountain biking: Having good adventures and fun. Finally, here are three take away lessons from our CNF adventure

1. Know how to use your GoPro

We started the ride and I kept pressing the wrong buttons on my GoPro. You would think that by now I could operate the thing.

2. Derailleurs are hard

Michelle accidentally started out the ride with her front derailleur on the third gear ring (aka the hardest gear to pedal in). She rode a quarter mile of the trail this way and was pretty exhausted afterwards. Make sure you are shifting to the right gears to give yourself the most enjoyable ride possible.

3. Print a Map

If the local trail website says to print a map before riding, you should probably do it. This would have made navigation a whole lot easier.

What lessons have you learned from you hiking or mountain biking adventures? What rides failed to meet your expectations? What odds have you overcome to make a mountain bike adventure epic? Please comment below.

gpexportphoto-0013-2
No matter the trail system you ride, mountain biking should always be about having fun!

Lake Crabtree Morning Ride-Video

Last week I posted a short write up about a morning ride I took at Lake Crabtree County Park. That post included some still shots from my ride, but I had not taken the time to edit any of the video footage yet. Yesterday, I finally had some time to sit down to edit and combine the clips into a short video. I hope you enjoy it.

You can watch the video here.

I’d love to hear your comments about the video or see videos of your adventures, so please comment those below.

All footage was shot using a GoPro Hero+ and video editing was performed using GoPro Studio.

Lake Crabtree Morning Ride

I first bought my mountain bike in May 2013 and it has easily been one of the best purchases of my entire life. This one simple purchase has lead to countless adventures, meeting new friends, and has even become a shared hobby between my wife and me. Even more importantly, mountain biking (and hiking) is a great way to explore the state (such as a visit to Occoneechee Mountain), country, or world that you live in. Since Michelle and I have moved to North Carolina we have been able to visit multiple trails around us in the Triangle area (Harris Lake, Lake Crabtree, Legend Park) in addition to several adventures in the western part of the state (riding Rocky Knob Park and Tsali Recreation Area). We even had the opportunity to experience a winter wonderland bike ride after a North Carolina ice storm!

Athena Morning Walk
Athena enjoying her morning walk before I leave for the trails

But, more importantly mountain biking is a great way for me to exit the city and reacquaint myself with nature. When I reach the trailhead and unload my bike from the car I leave behind deadlines, news headlines, and general stress. Once I start down that trail, there’s just me, my bike, and my ability to navigate the lay of the land. Luckily, I am blessed to be able to sneak out most Friday mornings for a ride at Lake Crabtree County Park before work. Here are some of the shots from this past Friday morning ride using a GoPro Hero+. The temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit and the ride started at 7:30 AM.

* * *

gpexportphoto-0008

The segment shown above is one of my favorite areas to ride at Crabtree! There is just enough of a decline slope here to give you some speed and the low berms give the trail a little added difficulty.

gpexportphoto-0011

I came across this mini-drop that seemed like a good spot to session (work on my technical trail skills). When I was setting up the camera I had no idea that the colors would have this much contrast.

The image on the left represents my constant failure to conquer this one section of the trail. There’s an uphill root section that creates a series of large trail obstructions. So far, I can only ride down them and I am still searching for the best line to ride up this section. Shown on the right is a cool image of the sun coming through the trees.

gpexportphoto-0017

I recognize that a photo of a bench seems random (and it is); I just really love benches. No real reason why, I just like the concept of benches with beautiful scenic overlooks.

gpexportphoto-0018-2

This may be my favorite photo from my morning ride. The sun hit me just right and I felt like I was racing my shadow for the entire stretch back to the trailhead (my shadow always had a slight lead on me and I was never quite able to catch up).

 

Occoneechee Mountain State Park Adventure

 (1-21-17)

When last Saturday finally arrived it must have been at the end of a long and slow work week because not even the threat of rain was enough to dissuade Michelle and I from wanting to find an adventure for the day. I thought about playing a good ole fashion game of Ultimate (nothing’s better than a game of sloppy muddy Ultimate), but Michelle doesn’t play and getting to the pick-up game at a reasonable time meant passing up on my morning coffee (it was nearing 10:30 am after all!). Obviously, Ultimate was out of the equation.

Then Michelle and I talked about hitting some singletrack, but after consulting Triangle MTB’s webpage we soon discovered that all of the local trails were closed due to poor conditions. Besides, the look of utter boredom that Athena gave us was a clear indication that she too was in need of an adventure for the day. But, where were we to go?

We wanted to go somewhere that was only a day trip from Cary and remembered our friends Matt and Amelia telling us about Occoneechee Mountain in Hillsborough. This was only about a 40-minute drive from the apartment and came with the world’s easiest to navigate directions (take I-40 all the way). After finishing a quick lunch, we grabbed the GoPro, loaded up the car, and were on the road. Our adventure was underway!

The Occoneechee Mountain State Park has about three miles of hiking trails with the longest being the Occoneechee Mountain trail. This trail circles the base of the mountain and will give you a great walk through the woods to the rock quarry and will connect you to the scenic overlook (I highly recommend pausing for a view at the bottom and top of the rock quarry). Overall, this trail is a pretty easy hike and doesn’t take too long unless you make lots of frequent stops.

photoshoot_occo
One of our many stops along the trail using GoPro’s time lapse feature

Michelle, Athena, and I started on the Occoneechee Mountain trail and made lots of stops to simply enjoy the many views and climb the occasional rock (or two). The large rock formations gave us lots of opportunities to pose for dramatic photo shoots using my GoPro’s time lapse feature while Athena experienced the life of a mountain dog leaping from boulder to boulder. Unfortunately, this trail borders I-40 for a short period so we constantly heard the rush of traffic in the background, but once we made it to the other side of the mountain there was a soothing quiet and simplicity in the air (that is only produced by a woods in hibernation).

athenarockquarry_occo
Athena enjoying the mountain dog life!

On this particular journey there was a hanging fog that clung to the trees and hid the top of the mountain from view. This mist added a surreal grace to the landscape that left us both breathless. Even with the landscape shrouded in fog you could still see for several miles overlooking the town of Hillsborough. I can’t wait to see this view on a clear sunny day!

After a short walk back to the trailhead we climbed in the car and drove to Hillsborough BBQ Company for some grub. We had just taken our jackets off and were preparing to sit down when the heavens unleashed a downpour (perfect timing for us!). Ordering an Irish coffee and hot totty we toasted our good fortunes at missing the rain. And yes, the pulled pork was delicious too!

You can watch the video of our Occoneechee Mountain adventure here.

Sunrise

Every dog owner is aware that your mornings must start a little earlier than you want. You need to wake up to feed the dog and then plan enough time to take the dog for a walk before you leave for work. When we first got Athena this extra time seemed like a drawback to owning a dog, but over the past three years I have come to appreciate this extra morning time. Occasionally, I even manage to get out of the house early enough to enjoy the sunrise (a feat unheard of before owning a dog). Today, was one of those days where the sunrise was absolutely stunning.

The sky was painted blue and purple with streaks of pink highlighting the clouds. A small silver dusting illuminated the sky as the moon refused to set, while the sun’s golden rays struggled to wash out the moon. Here are three photos that I think capture the painted canvas I saw this morning.

These photos were taken using a GoPro Hero+

sunrise1
The tiny silver dot is actually the moon! It looked a lot bigger in real life! Once again I used an HDR filter. 

 

sunrise2
A shot of the road passing by the apartment complex. The filter applied is HDR.

 

sunrise3
A shot from the lake behind the apartment. I used an HDR filter and adjusted the saturation, contrast, and brightness

Invitation

 

 

Michelle and I recently ordered some hammocks from Fox Outdoor Sports and decided to test them out this weekend. Behind our apartment there is a Greenway around a small lake that has several wooded spots you can stop to enjoy the tranquility of the surrounding scenery. This Greenway allows us to forget that we are really in the center of busy city. The poem that follows was inspired by this hammocking adventure and was written in response to the daily word prompt, invitation. The two photos were taken using a GoPro and I feel really capture the ambience of the location. 

treecanopy

Here we hang,

Suspended

            Hanging from

            Tree to tree

Beneath the

            Lofty pine.

Invited by

            Ambience,

            Of this place.

* * *

Here we hang,

Arm-in-arm

Below a

            Canopy.

Sky, painted

            Blue, brushed with

clouds of white.

Invited by

            Soul’s delight.

* * *

Here we hang,

Lost in love,

Ignorant,

            To the sounds

            That surround

Unaware,

            Of patrons

            Passing by

Invited by,

            Solitude.

* * *

Here we hang,

By hammock

            Lost in our

            Pseudo woods.

Forgotten,

            Is the city

            That surrounds.

Invited by

            God’s good grace

An ambience

            Given this place.

         hammockshot

Trail Bucket List

A brand new year is upon us and with that new year comes the traditional posting of resolutions:

The list can go on-and-on. Some of us will succeed at meeting our resolutions and others will fall well short, but the important thing is that we will all attempt to better ourselves in some way. One of the resolutions I made in 2016 was to start riding my trail bucket list.

arcadiadunes
Riding Arcadia Dunes, MI (2013)

What is a trail bucket list? Well, a trail bucket list is a list of your favorite mountain biking (or hiking) trails that you want to visit and explore. When I first started riding my Giant Talon 29er in Michigan there was one king trail that I always wanted to visit: Copper Harbor. However, before I could ever ride this epic trail I moved from Michigan to Illinois. And all I had left was a mountain of regret and dreams of missed opportunities.

rockyknob
A trail shot of Rocky Knob Park, Boone, NC (2016)

After Illinois, I moved across the country to North Carolina and discovered a new epic trail to dream about: Tsali Recreational Area. According to the Singletracks website, Tsali has been voted as one of the Top 5 trails to ride in the country and is located near Bryson City, NC. After growing up in Michigan and missing a chance to ride Copper Harbor, I knew that I couldn’t let Tsali become another missed opportunity. I couldn’t have another someday trail left unrdidden.

tsalibikes
Taking a lunch break at Tsali Recreation Area, Bryson City, NC (2016)

Michelle and I executed a trip to Bryson City, NC last October to visit the Great Smokey Mountains, take in the beauty of the fall foliage of western North Carolina, and shred some of the most epic singletrack NC has to offer. Tsali did not disappoint. The trail had amazing flow, a good balance between climbs and flowing downhill, beautiful scenery along Lake Fontana, and a great mountain biking lesson (always carry a small air-pump and spare tube; thank you to Tsali Cycles for helping to get me back on the trail).

flattire2
Learning a life lesson at Tsali. Always carry a spare tube and portable tire pump. (2016)

Riding the Tsali Recreation Area was a great opportunity to scratch a dream trail off my trail bucket list, but more importantly it took me to a new area of North Carolina and gave Michelle and I a lifetime of memories. I can’t wait to see what adventures unfold throughout 2017 as we continue to tackle the trails on our bucket list.

What trails are on your trail-bucket list? What trail is your Copper Harbor (a missed adventure)?

Some of the targeted mountain biking areas on my trail bucket list:

  • Moab, UT
  • Mountain Bike in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado
  • Trails around Charlotte and Asheville, NC
  • MTB the Triangle (Harris Lake, Crabtree, RTP Trails, San Lee, etc.)