Athena and I have a standard walking path for her morning walk before I leave for work. This path wraps around a small man-made pond and has several dirt walkways that branch off from the Greenway. Our favorite dirt path goes along the edge of the pond between a cluster of small pines. When we first moved to Raleigh the pines here were extremely dense, but sense that time a beaver has taken up residency in the surrounding area. His favorite trees to chop down are pine trees.
No longer in the shade
No longer isolated
No longer, lost in the pines.
Instead, the land is open
and I see across the pond.
Where apartments are my sky-
There upon the ground, I see
the remains, where trees once stood
is now a shoreline covered
Whose points, no man could construct
but, were built instead by the
chomp of a beaver’s teeth.
Michelle and I were taking the dog for a walk the other day when we stumbled across the most random thing hanging in a tree.
Surprise! Someone had ruined their bike tire and felt the best place to hang it was in a tree. When we saw this I had a mix of different emotions. Clearly, I was shocked to see a tire hanging in a tree (it would be weird to expect a tire in a tree). But, then I my feelings were bouncing back and forth between ‘this looks kind of cool’ to ‘why the heck would you leave your tire in the woods!’ Michelle and I tend to get a little cranky when we see people leaving trash or broken parts in the wood.
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!
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!
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.
Michelle enjoying her morning coffee
Athena catching some rays
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!
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.
One tired pup from a day of hiking
Michelle kicked my butt in a game of cribbage
Athena was phased by the thunderstorm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
falls from the sky
beauty, I once
the greenest grass
March has ever
Spring no longer blooms all around
with fresh petals
* * *
North Carolina isn’t known for handling snow or ice very well. Heck, if there’s even the threat of snow it is likely to cause a State of Emergency to be declared in the rare event that we do have a snowfall. Some years the rarity of snow is enough to make a former Michigander wish for the snow. This winter has been a very strange winter for NC as February has been one of the warmest on record (and the temperature seems to change from 30’s to 80’s daily).
That is what made waking up this morning extremely strange as I discovered snow covering the new spring grass (in March!). First, I thought this was a result of lack of sleep due to the Daylight Saving’s time change, but Athena and I quickly discovered this wasn’t the case. It was really snowing!
Athena and I went on quick adventure to play in the snow, but those pictures and that story are for another post. If I ever manage to get caught up on my actual work and editing photos/videos I will upload those. This post is actually my response to Dutch Goes the Photo’s Tuesday Photo challenge: Bloom. When I saw this theme on Tuesday, I thought there was no chance of me capturing a great picture showing the birth of spring or of a flower.
However, I was wrong as this morning provided the perfect photo opportunity. The contrast between the blooming season of Spring and the snow answered the photo prompt challenge exquisitely (and inspired a little poem to boot!)
This post has been a little delayed in reaching publication. Mostly, I fell into the age old habit of shooting some epic GoPro footage and then leaving it on my computer unedited for a couple of weeks. So, this morning I finally had some time to work on the photo and video edits.
About two weeks ago, Michelle and I took Athena on a trip to Jordan Lake where we hiked the New Hope loop and let Athena go swimming. It was a beautiful and warm February day. You can watch the video of Athena’s adventure here.
* * *
The past week has been unbelievably boring! We have gone on no adventures or even squirrel patrols around the lake. Both of my two-leggers just choose to lie around all day sniffling, coughing, and blowing their noses. The male two-legger who loves stealing my rope hasn’t even had the energy for that! I fear they may both be broken forever.
However, there seems to have been a change in their demeanor, recently. I noticed the change in energy on Friday night as my male two-legger started stealing my toys and throwing them all over the place again (he seems to find it highly amusing to THROW MY STUFF everywhere and watch me pick up after him). Then we spent all of Saturday napping on the porch swing in the sun. I made sure to sleep on top of both my two-leggers to guarantee that they wouldn’t abandon me like they do during the week.
After a long week of minimal activity and a day of lounging on the porch, I was really beginning to grow restless. So naturally, I started stealing shoes and slippers and hiding them in my lair (underneath the coffee table). Sunday arrived with the sun shining, the earth was warm, and everything was starting to smell of spring (in February). I DESPERATELY NEEDED AN ADVENTURE!
I can only assume mom and dad knew this because after a Sunday afternoon nap on the swing the male two-legger asked if I wanted to go swimming. (I can only assume that stealing their shoes and slippers successfully communicated my boredom and will continue using this communication system in the future.) I LOVE SWIMMING! And I love car rides! And in order to go swimming, we needed to go on a car ride first!
The two-leggers loaded me into the adventure mobile and so I naturally posted up in the shotgun seat. Mom than told me to get in the back, but I didn’t want to sit back there so I ignored her. But then she tried to SIT ON ME! In order to avoid being crushed, I leapt into the back! I guess mom doesn’t know that I am supposed to ride shotgun in dad’s car. Oh well, I will just let them both pretend to be the alphas for this car ride. It’s good for their self-esteem.
After an eternity of driving we arrived at my favorite swimming hole: Jordan Lake. My two-leggers always bring me here during the summer to cool off. We started off down the New Hope trail and I immediately charged to the front leading the way as ‘first-leader.’ Now the two-leggers could ride in the back!
Our first stop was a little off the beaten path. We veered right, then left, and every which way in between to navigate the brush. Mom, who was holding my tether, refused to follow my lead and kept causing us to get stuck around trees by going the wrong way. In the distance I could see the water getting closer and could barely contain my excitement. But, my two-leggers refused to free me from my tether. Oh, the torture!
They ordered me to sit, but I couldn’t with all of this energy building inside of me. The two-leggers were insistent, so I compromised with a wriggling-worm of a crouch. This seemed to appease them as I heard the blissful words, “Go play.”
And I was gone! The muddy sand flying all around as I leapt in the waves and excavated rocks. Dig, dig, DIG! Splash, splash, SPLASH! My forelges became a furry as I dug through the clay. Soon, my white spots turned to brown, but I would just wash the mud off with a run through the lake. I even made sure to include mom and dad by shaking the mud and water off next to them. I’m sure they loved being included!
I thought this first swimming hole was awesome, but it was nothing compared to the second spot. We stopped at the New Hope Overlook where I tried to make some friends. They were floating on the water, but they wouldn’t bring their kayaks in to see me. No matter how much I begged. So, I decided to run alongside them as they drifted by me and I even thought about swimming out to see them. But, mom and dad said I couldn’t swim to see out there. Sadily, I had to just watch the floating two-leggers drift on by.
Athena sadly ponders, “Why won’t you stop to play with me?”
I really thought this photo looked cool as a black and white.
But, my sadness was short-lived as I began investigating the landscape of this new place. The lake had eroded the shoreline and turned the clay into a rock-like substances. Some parts were hard and rounded, while other parts were soft and malleable. There were even small fissures that one could pretend were canyons (if you were truly imaginative). My tail slowly started to wag as I knew what a dog must do here.
Flexing my paws, claws digging into the muddy clay I took a steadying breathe and took off! Running at a full sprint I climbed the bank and jumped the gaps, then landing at full speed on the other side. From the top of the bank, I would sprint down the slope and through the water just so I could one more charge back to the top. This time instead of running I decided it would be better to leap and fly from the highest part of the bank. Then, it was time for my best jump. I was sprinting towards the canyon when dad decided to stand directly in the center of my path. There was only once choice before me; I had to leap over dad, so I did!
Before we could leave this swimming hole, I had to inform all it was mine. To do this meant I must destroy a stick. I found one buried in the mud and I bit down hard giving it a tug. But, the stick refused to budge! So I pulled even harder and let out a growl (letting the stick know that my will would not be thwarted), until at last it gave with a loud resounding CRACK!
After leaping dad and destroying my stick, it was time for us to hike back to the adventure mobile. But, I knew my two-leggers were tired from our adventures, so I made sure to stop for extra smells allowing them to catch their breath. Once we were home I immediately sought out my throune where I curled up to nap. And during my nap, I vaguely heard the tv getting louder as the two-leggers increased the volume to be heard over my snores.
When I first saw that the Tuesday Photo Challenge for this week was nostalgia my initial thought was ‘How am I supposed to capture a photo that makes one wistful for the past?’ But, then I forgot that this weekend I would be celebrating my 26th birthday. What more do you need to inspire feelings of reflection?
How about a camping trip in February! Yes, I said a camping trip in February. Here in North Carolina this has been one of the warmest winter months in history, so Michelle and I decided to go on a camping exploration to celebrate my birthday. Combine these two events together and you have the perfect recipe for self-reflection and longing for the past with simpler times.
Here are a few teaser photos from our trip (a full write up will be posted after I edit some video and photos) with a short poem.
For this post I decided to use three photos with three photo-filters applied. My first step in editing a photo is to apply an auto filter. This adjusts color, contrast, etc. After I get a feel for the photo after adjusting color contrast I begin to play with other filters. For these photos I felt that using a vignette or black and white filter best captured the feeling of nostalgia. I am constantly amazed at how applying simple filters can completely change the story a particular photo is telling us.
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.
* * *
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.
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.
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.
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).
Kicking Michelle’s bike
The angry glare (or is it love?)
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)
I trip and fall over air
My poor bike!
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.
My last two mountain bike rides have had plenty of sunlight which resulted in a couple of opportunities for me to race my shadow while on the trails (Lake Crabtree County Park and the Carolina North Forest Trail system). It also inspired a little poem below. I hope you enjoy!
I see you there, stretching across the ground
Only a few yards ahead, but forever out of reach
The harder I work and the more effort I exert,
So you do too. Grinding away, as much as I do.
While the sun is out, you are too
Sometimes you are ahead (with the sun on our backs)
Sometimes you are behind (when we face the sun)
But, you are never ahead or behind, by very much
However, when the sun goes down or hides behind a cloud
This past Tuesday was an absolutely beautiful day in North Carolina. The sun was shining and everything had the smell of spring arriving in February. Unfortunately, this warm spell was short lived, but Michelle and I knew we had to get out and enjoy the moment. We took our Hammocks and walked the Greenway behind our apartment until we found the perfect spot to hang out. Suspended between the trees, we both caught up on some reading while Athena (the dog) rummaged through the leaves. Needless to say, it was the perfect ending to the day. While we were lying there, it occurred to me that the setting sun and surrounding scenery captured the Weekly Photo Challenge of Solitude perfectly.