End Of The Line GilChrist Blue Springs State Park @ High Springs, Florida

At the end of a road trip, I think Americans look for an epiphany. As we age, the road less traveled is more about introspection than a place. Visiting eleven Florida parks in five days, the common thread for myself is a calm in motion and at rest.

This journey is now beyond the constraints of ego, rather a gift of time spent with nieces and a nephew. The lesson from a hospital bed a year ago is converting possibilities. An opportunity for them I hope, looking into a future with road trips and experiences of their own into reality.

In these images of water, earth and sky, there is a liberation from the confines of an ivy drip. Freedom from the mindset that rationalizes consuming emptiness transmitted over a wire or radio signal. My aim is never a question of where, rather whom I share this fragile existence with. Before life’s undertow takes one’s last breath, step forward, drive on and reach out into the cool blue water.

More: https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/gilchrist-blue-springs-state-park

Sunday Walk To Fern Hammock Springs @ Fort McCoy, FL

This cluster of vents is located at the back of Juniper Springs Recreation Area. Always best to visit when the park opens. The morning silence gives way to Cardinals, turtles and hikers.

More information check out;

http://www.flsprings.com/content/fern-hammock-springs

October Afternoon In Madison Blue Springs @ Lee, FL

 

Sometimes secrets are just a left turn off the highway on a road trip in Florida.

More Information:
Madison Blue Spring State Park | Florida State Parks
https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/madison-blue-spring-state-park

Madison Blue Spring
http://www.flsprings.com/content/madison-blue-spring

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The Glow Of A Blue Springs July Descent @ Orange City, FL

Dive #74. So what ya’ might already know about Blue Springs in Orange City? The surrounding waters are popular for swimming, free diving and floating away on inter-tubes during warmer weather. If lucky, you might even see gators basking in the sunlight and other indigenous aquatic life moving around the waterline.

Approaching the spring head, the strength of the current increases significantly. At times, one can walk or swim on the far right in the shallows avoiding possible over exertion. The fallen tree laying across mouth of the entrance is about 15 – 20 feet deep depending on rain fall. After breaching this depth, if certified for cave diving, you can choose to go down all the way to the cavern between 90 – 120 feet. We stop at a depth of 55 feet. For my outing, it is one of two diagnostic runs for checking equipment and physical recovery from a surgery in March 2018.  Some may describe the dive as pedestrian but, Blue Springs provides a nice warm up if out of practice before heading to the big blue ocean or new to diving. Looking skyward in the crevasse, bubbles illuminate in the water column while exhaling into the penetrating sunlight. The imagery is eerie yet, calming.

Before the trip, the folks at Seminole Scuba dive shop did offer tips on an early arrival with a possibility of sighting a baby manatee. How early is the question? Due to the high volume of traffic, the park does get full on summer weekends. On this Sunday, we arrive at 6 AM, a full two hours before gates open at 8 AM. The rangers close the park around 9 AM due to full capacity. Being the first divers in line, the payoff is viewing three adult manatees and two calves around the boil prior to our descent. This marks the first time I see these gentle creatures while scuba diving.

Bits of advice should you make your way out to Blue Springs State Park in Orange City, call the front gate a day ahead. The spring run closes in fall and winter because manatees use Blue Springs to stay warm during colder weather. Get there at least an hour before open. If diving, bring hard copies of your certification cards. This Florida State park will not accept electronic copies. If diving or swimming isn’t in the cards, one can opt for other water borne activities like kayaking or hopping onto a riverboat ride on the St. John’s.

Drift Diving Rainbow River On A Sunday @ Dunnellon, FL

 

Dive #73. What could I tell you that you don’t already know? Florida is more than beaches, sun and humid weather. The Rainbow River basin offers a break from that cliche with some of the most crystalline and refreshing aquamarine waters in the state. The eel grass bowing to the changes in current offer a dream like quality on recollection. In the footage from March 2018, the Gar and the Blue Gill that pass in and out of focus reinforce this sentiment. Feeling the pressure from small fresh water boils on the riverbed pushing against your hand only heighten the visceral experience. As a flashback, the moments interrupt even the most mundane tasks like washing dishes unexpectedly. Some folks might even use the word surreal.

To learn more about Florida freshwater fish;
http://www.myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/freshwater/

To catch river boat ride for diving;
http://www.rainbowriverwatertaxi.com

Dark Water in Paradise Springs @ Ocala, Florida

 

 

 

 

Dive #71. What else can I tell you outside the video? Paradise Springs is one of two Florida locations where diving a cavern to 100 ft can be done without an additional Cavern Diver certification; however, you’ll need proof of your Advanced Open Water certification. The other site is Blue Grotto in Williston, Florida. Before heading out to Ocala, Florida, double-check each diver brings enough money for covering the cash only entrance fee of $30 in US currency. If claustrophobic and/or fear the dark, there are other unique spring experiences perhaps more suitable like Devil’s Den. Lastly, while this family owned operation does offer air-refills and some equipment, be sure to square up any boutique gear needs ahead of schedule. During our visit, the nearest local dive shop less than a mile away, remains closed for business all Sunday.

After parking and paying the entrance fee, divers get to watch a homemade instructional video. This underwater guide provides a play by play of the descent including fossils in the walls, the guideline, assorted man made figurines and the max depth death sign. Some aspects of the surrounding area do get left out like the fog evaporating into the morning sunlight just above the watery entrance. Right above that view, a closed circuit camera is peering over the dive platform. Which makes one wonder, ”Why so many gun shell casings are littering some of the steps to the opening below?”

With that introduction out of the way, Florida freshwater springs are well known for providing excellent visibility and year round temperatures of around 70 degrees F. They make ideal targets for testing out dive equipment, physical and mental conditioning. Submerging into the mouth of the spring, the sun illuminates the water giving way to the next chamber. Looking backward, a bluish hue emanates over the debris mound recalling a church alter or a theater stage. The second portion of the cave is vast in width and height. The space is more than adequate for three pairs of divers. Moving into the third portion of the cavern, the space narrows. Glancing back to the surface, I can always see the lit opening. Following the guideline, the experience feels effortless.

At the bottom of Paradise Springs, it’s easy for your vision to fill with saturating white from a camera lighting rig. This is exactly what occurs on our little adventure. What follows are moments of complete darkness. For myself, a surge of endorphins make my heart race. With eyes still attempting to adjust, my emotions peak into a panic attack. At the same time, my dive partner slowly moves to photographing another limestone wall facing in the opposite direction. He is unable to hear the tapping on my tank because of a hoodie covering his ears. The catch for myself is cycling off blood pressure medication, specifically Beta Blockers. Beta Blockers happen to suppress your body’s natural adrenaline response. Without them, it’s like being exposed to “raw untamed power” that fire up your fight or flight response.

Now, any calm person knows Paradise Springs is devoid of any current, sharks, gators, devils and demons. We’ll “mostly.” With both of my dive lights operational and the entrance above, the challenge is relaxing and managing air consumption until re-establishing visual communication. After about five minutes of holding the guide rope, and burning through a ton of air, fear gives way to calm and an engaged dive buddy for an air check. In the open ocean, there are many other factors beyond your control. This is why I love Florida springs for diving. It’s about as close to ideal conditions a diver gets for trial run outside of a pool.

Whether you dive or not, on Beta Blockers or know someone, I suggest reading up on the many side effects of this powerful class of prescribed medications. Here is a starter article that might peak your interest; Side Effects of Beta Blockers and Weight Gain

More Information:
https://www.floridadiveconnection.com/paradise-springs/

3 Days of Dives @ Key Largo, Florida

Diving is a lot about metrics, air consumption, depth, ocean current, water temperature and more. The experience is colored by each diver’s focus. My experience for this set of dives could have been characterized by all the small details that can go wrong. Days later, I’m still itching from the stings of baby jellyfish across my legs and arms. Small knicks on my hands, knees and elbow are still healing from contact with fire coral and barnacles. Pondering all the possible adjustments for improving gear and physical conditioning for the next dive, I choose to recall the minutes differently.

I remember the hammerhead shark swimming by on an ascent.

I remember the turtle speeding away from the light of my flashlight during a night dive.

I remember the stingray gliding above the sand and reef.

I remember moving about the hull of a boat wreck with barracudas.

I remember big blue.

Three days out from this trip, I can still close my eyes in silence and feel the rocking of waves on a boat, back and forth repeatedly. Men aren’t meant to be under the glow of office fluroscents. Men are meant to be under the open sky.

 

 

 

 

 

Unexso Shark Dive at Shark Junction, Saturday, June 28th 2014 @ Freeport, Grand Bahamas

For my 26th dive overall, I had selected a trip out to Shark Junction with Freeport’s Unexso dive shop. For traveling across the Atlantic from Port Everglades, my buddy and I had picked up a day cruise from Balearia Bahamas Express from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Bahamas for $120 US. Summary on the commute, it was about seven hours total working through customs. In retrospect, I had wished making this kind of effort for a multi-day visit.

After arriving in Freeport, the next major step was the 30 minute taxi ride to Unexso. For reference, the location of the shop was in the market place next to the Pelican hotel. As far as equipment rentals, we had asked for the $40 upgrade to rent BCDs, fins, regulators, weights, and a mask; however, we had opted to bring our own masks and dive computers. The push on the dive computers, the shop had skipped on wanting to attach our wireless transmitters to their regulators. After a brief meal and rain storm, the boat had headed out to sea. Getting to Shark Junction had took about 10 minutes. During this time, Jarvis, our shark feeder, had provided a rundown of the forthcoming action under the water. One reservation about this excursion was sitting statically on the sea floor. The reason for sitting in a single file profile for the divers was reducing any room or motion for open jaws. Apparently, the grey reef sharks had a disposition to key off sudden movements when hunting prey. The dive instructions on hands was keep them close to your body and avoid moving them out into the open water.

Descending at Shark Junction, all the visiting divers were placed in a row along the front of a downed boat. From here, we had prepared for the underwater show starting with a hungry stray grouper. Unfortunately for the grouper, he was shushed away but not before becoming irate, changing colors from dark brown to a white pattern and back. After few moments, the dive master had started working from right to left in front of his audience doling out food to the hoarding sharks. The sharks had behaved very similar to hungry dogs waiting for a treat. On the flip side, the several grouper in the area were fairly head strong constantly trying to sneak in for a bite. This underwater adventure had lasted for about 30 minutes before shifting to an ascent.

On the returning cruise ship, a passenger had asked me about my fear of sharks on the dive. The response was simple “My only fear was running out of air.” After watching sharks feed in close proximity, it was extremely obvious the focus of their attention, fish. If you had wanted to personally challenge your phobia of sharks, suggest a similar dive. The only question for myself that remains was,”What kind of sharks to see next?”

Read More:
Balearia Bahamas Express (ferryexpress.com)
Unexso Grand Bahama Island (www.enexso.com)
Grey Reef Shark (Wikipedia)
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Runyon Canyon Park @ Los Angeles, California

On a trip to the west coast of the US, a longtime friend had invited me out for a hiking excursion into Runyon Canyon Park @ Los Angeles, California. At the entrance, we had picked up bottles of water available via a local hiking association. This was important because of the sunny arid weather and trail length. For the ascent, there were paths ranking from basic, intermediate and advanced.

My buddy and I had selected the basic incline for our morning hike. Heading up into the first leg of trail, we were provided with view of downtown LA on the horizon. Before arriving at the first lookout ridge, the trail had switched from asphalt to loose dirt. At this overlook, we had a more complete view of LA including the emblematic Hollywood sign.

Heading toward the next ridge, we were treated to various flowers including even a yellow bloom from a massive cactus. Moving up the clay mountain top, I had noticed a sign with the following text “Beware of rattlesnake nesting areas.” Then the thought had crossed my mind,”What are the odds of sliding down the orange clay fishers into a bunch of snakes? Hmm.”

After reaching the final overlook, we had started maneuvering down the hill side. Exerting less energy on the decline, I was able to better focus on distant views of LA and the surrounding hillside for snakes. Yet, despite all the foot traffic and fear, the park still had provided a calming place to connect with the outdoors. This had fulfilled all the promise of exploring California while traveling for business. This was time well spent, even if for just a few passing moments in time.

Runyon Canyon Park is located at 2000 N Fuller Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
Admission:Free
Facility Hours of Operation:
Monday – Friday: Dawn to Dusk
Saturday – Sunday: Dawn to Dusk

Read More:
Runyon Canyon Park (laparks.org)

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Padi Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Class @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

In the middle of January, I had signed up for Advanced Open Water class down at Seminole Scuba @ Lake Mary, Florida. Fresh off a cold and a possible new hernia, I had pushed myself to hit the road with my scuba buddy in completing this upgrade to my diving repertoire. During our adventure, we had hit the following underwater areas off the Ft. Lauderdale coast.

1. Rebel
2. Oakland Ridge
3. Hog Heaven
4. The Caves
5. Tenneco Tower
6. Barracuda Reef

On the lessons learned front, I was treated to a reality check on a few different technical items. One, I had definitely needed a thicker wetsuit for managing my threshold for hypothermia (i.e. 3mm vs. 5mm). According to our instructor, Johnny G. Thomson, I was shaking like a tree on a windy day. Some might say not a big deal but, this had definitely kept me from fully enjoying the dives. On the physical front, I was eating up my Nitrox like a drunk sailor on shore leave. After the first day, I had thought I easily lost a few pounds looking in the mirror just from the extended exposure.

Second, having to switch to a spare air cylinder due to overconsumption of Nitrox, I had forgotten to switch the mix on my dive computer down from 31% to 21%. That oversight had forced my Viper Air to lock out reading my PSI. At that point, I was a bit frustrated and crestfallen. During that process, I had also unexpectedly experienced moving down from Nitrox to normal air mix. I had suggested skipping that switch if at all possible. A normal air cylinder definitely had a stale dry aftertaste. On the plus side, I had picked up a tip on modifying my regulator for better air management. Additionally, I had kept in mind to ask for a bigger tank on rental the next go around.

Third, on buoyancy, I was down to a body weight of 150 pounds. This was a swing of 10 lbs. from taking Padi Open Water class. Eight pounds of weights in either salt or fresh had seemed much for managing my buoyancy with the least amount of effort. I had targeted to cut this in half for my next outing.

Fourth, never leave your personally verified Nitrox cylinders unattended on shore or charter boat. Despite the personal labeling, I had one fellow diver pulling my buddy’s and my personal cylinders without our knowledge. Either through being lazy, or just being rude, I was extremely pissed off by the potential of coughing up money for a missing cylinder. On top of that, we had depended on the lowest Nitrox mix for our deepest dives. What was this guy thinking?

As far as the big picture stuff on the trip, I had continued growing to love being out on and in the open water, whether deep or at night. Every dive so far has had a different pay off. It was cool to finally get below 100 feet; however, the emotional payoff on this dive trip was the accommodating staff from Seminole Scuba and my dive buddy. Their passion for diving had shone through any technical challenges for myself. Sometimes it was more beyond the wildlife you encounter but, the comradery. To that end, I had looked forward to planning my next dive post my hernia surgery.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

Padi Advanced Open Water @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida @ GarzaFX.com

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Padi Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Class @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida @ GarzaFX.com

Padi Advanced Open Water Scuba Diving Class @ Ft. Lauderdale, Florida @ GarzaFX.com

Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

dolphintall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

Shark dive @ West Palm Beach, Florida

Inquiring about suggestions for my next dive, Paul Shepherd @ Seminole Scuba had floated the idea of a forthcoming shark dive down in West Palm Beach, Florida in mid-January. For some odd reason, I was enamored by this thrilling prospect of viewing these animals while diving. I hadn’t voyaged into the water with a shark since seeing one back in the Bahamas as a teenager. One of the requirements for this dive boat excursion was taking the Padi Advance Open Water class. In lieu of Advance Open Water class and Nitrox training, Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures had offered an introduction to Nitrox. Nitrox for the uninitiated was a different mix of oxygen to nitrogen. Standard air cylinders carry 21% oxygen, a Nitrox cylinder had normally ranged from 32% to 34% oxygen with some variation. This increased oxygen formulation had enabled longer dive times, less fatigue and shorter surface intervals. One important downside for Nitrox was possibility of oxygen toxicity at certain depths.

Hitting the open waters on the charter boat Wet Temptations, the congregation of divers had started gearing up while receiving our pre dive briefing. The first new check on this adventure was learning how to verify the Nitrox mix. This process had sounded easier than done with the boat bouncing up and down in the surf. Looking back at stats from my Suunto Viper-Air dive computer, I had lost anywhere from 300 to 500 psi across different cylinders learning to get a readout. With 15 minutes until drop off, the crew had thoughtfully reminded us to get ready our BCDs and regulators. The inexperience of being on my first dive boat was exhilarating with the call of “Dive! Dive! Dive!” Descending on the first of three dives, I had approached around 85 feet in depth. Right out of the gate, I was treated to sights of a turtle, a wreck, a stoic barracuda and a fleeting bull shark. Despite any previous apprehension of sharks, the event was extremely serene. The big excitement for myself was on ascending in the water column. Taking the 15 foot safety stop, I had run low on air consumption. Additionally, I had struggled with getting caught in my reel line for my safety sausage while climbing back onto the boat.

Before arriving at our next dive spot, the wind had placed a chill across my body generating hypothermia. Luckily, the vessel had a hot water hose and snacks for mediation of the surface winds. The second dive was equally calming with a bounty of lemon sharks. Now, what I had come to discover lemon sharks really don’t pose much of threat to humans. They had tended to go for smaller prey (i.e. parrot fish etc..), specifically for the probability of success. Watching the various approaches of lemon sharks, they had seemed curious but, equally cautious. At no time had I felt any sensation of being threatened. On the third dive, we had seen a few more lemon sharks coming into proximity of a reef. The same emotional refrain had repeated.

The importance of this dive was having a new appreciation for this misunderstood seafaring creature. Despite that new perspective, I had still garnered a healthy respect for sharks in their natural habitat. After all, I was only a surface dwelling mammal. This was without question, one of the most enthralling experiences of my life. To that end, I had wanted to say thanks again to Paul Shepherd @ Seminole Scuba for another fracking great recommendation and a shout out to the attentive crew from Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures.

Now can someone get me another breath of Nitrox!

Read More:
Lemon Sharks (Wikipedia)
Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures (scuba-adventures.com)
Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures & Marine Life Art Gallery (facebook.com/JimAbernethyScubaAdventures)

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Image courtesy of Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures & Marine Life Art Gallery: https://www.facebook.com/JimAbernethyScubaAdventures
Sharks! Dive! Dive! Dive!
Image courtesy of renegade399

Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

dolphintall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

Waters off Blue Heron Bridge @ West Palm Beach, Florida

In the last post, I had spoken of connections to people in your life alluding to the past, present and future. One of the pretenses for getting scuba certified wasn’t merely having new angles for adventure with a good buddy but, connecting to my father. During adolescence, my father had taken my brother and me along for various fishing and snorkeling trips while living on Andros Island, Bahamas. Commuting three hours from Orlando to West Palm Beach, I was on the verge of making a connection to my past.

For better part of 2013, I had spent quite a number of days in fresh water springs across the state of Florida. With the prospect of my first salt water dive, I had tempered my exuberance with knowledge of recent cold front sweeping through the state. Usually such weather changes had followed with rain causing turbidity in most kinds of water bodies. Before entering these briny shallows, my buddy and I had walked a rough outline of our dive plan. With the change from fresh to salt water, we had itemized a couple of technical challenges for emphasizing; buoyancy, water current, and air consumption. Putting technique aside for a moment, I was jazzed about the prospect of seeing tropical aquatic life again.

Working through technical objectives, I had loaded up another 2 lbs. of weights for a total of 10 lbs. for this salt water dive. For myself, extra weight in my buoyancy control device (BCD) had made me sink like the Titanic. For the next salt water outing, I had concluded sticking to 8 lbs. as a starting point. With the tidal shift, I had noticed a strong current on the surface water passing underneath Blue Heron Bridge. To offset, my friend had suggested diving on the bottom. In reality, the push of the current wasn’t diminished much at around 15 feet of depth with drag of the dive flag. The remedy for current was let the drift of the tide move us as necessary, otherwise swim, swim, swim! With respect to air and energy consumption, we had agreed to surface intervals for snorkeling for preserving air. In total, we had three mini dives achieving an excess supply of air of at least 1300 PSI out of 3000 PSI (i.e. pounds per square inch).

Despite reduced underwater visibility of about 18 feet, the main attraction for day was the aquatic life. Navigating the waters parallel to and beyond Blue Heron Bridge, we had seen an eclectic grouping of creatures. It was great mentally rattling off different things including; parrot fish, an urchin, juvenile Queen and Black angelfish, barracudas, Sgt. Majors, a solitary stingray, juvenile yellow Grunts and the chunks of Sargasso seaweed. With this exuberance, there was an interlude of seriousness regarding safety protocols when diving.

During the course of the excursion, we had maintained a healthy distance of about arm’s length to max of 10 feet snorkeling between us. Transitioning from one makeshift boat reef to another, I had remembered turning to check for my dive buddy. I wasn’t able to locate him within a 360 degree view, then up and down. Recalling dive protocol to surface after a minute of searching, I had almost conceded looking for him; however, I had seen a blurred silhouette on the edge of visibility. On closer inspection, it was my friend. He had tangled himself in the dive flag string. Approaching him, he had finished unraveling most of the string sans a loop around his fin. With a brief assist on the play, he was back in business gladly handing off the spool for the dive flag. The point of this scare was respect nature whether underwater or out on a mountain top, keep a visual connection to your buddy tight and avoid overloading on new gear. Now, my friend and I probably had thought skip on the melodramatic bit but, in the wild, a slip here, a mistake there, equals a dirt nap.

Speaking to past connections, almost a decade had gone by since my father’s passing. The taste of salt water and views of tropical fish had recalled great adolescent memories hanging out with him. These moments had ironically connected to one hour flights east of West Palm Beach to Andros Island, Bahamas. My parting thought for you, what had being underwater stirred inside of you?

Phil Foster Park (pbcgov.com)
Lake Worth Inlet Beach Cam (pbcgov.com)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

dolphintall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information: website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

 

A final taste of the Appalachian Trail

After spending three days in Georgia, my good friend and I had hiked from Amicalola Falls out to Hawk Mountain. Waking on our last day on the AT, we had viewed the sunrise cresting over the horizon with the intermittent sound of birds. This vision had seemed like something between Sauron’s flaming eye from movie Lord of the Rings or the appearance of the Good Witch from film Wild at Heart. In these moments in the sun, we had drank some water while enjoying our makeshift breakfast. With dwindling food supplies, we had discussed our options for the day. Part of both of us had wanted to stay longer on the AT; however, another part of us had yearned for a hot plate of Chicken Parmesan @ Oliver Garden. With the dawn just breaking, the later impulse had won out. The plan for the day had encompassed hiking 17 miles back to our vehicle at Amicalola Falls State Park. The physical challenge for the day was exceeding our personal best for traveling this terrain in one day, 8 miles.

After packing up, we had walked back on the AT traveling at a reasonably good pace. With this tempo, we had predicted returning to Amicalola Falls by dusk. Returning to the top of Springer Mountain, we had eventually revisited the southern terminus for the AT. This time, clouds hadn’t obscured the mountains in the distance. This was a memorable sight for anyone living at sea level or Florida most of their lives. After another round of photo ops on Springer, we had moved back down the trail.

What I hadn’t expected next, the grind of the last couple of miles with the setting sun. Along the way, a few issues had cropped up for us. For myself, water and carb loaded food had run in short supply for energy. For my buddy, there was the additional weight of his belongings and the number of declining slopes on his knees. Engaging the last 6 miles of a series of ridges, I had thought, “Just one more mountain.” Seeing another ascending trail after another, I had felt crestfallen. After a while, I had focused on traversing step after step on the ascents. Removing the emotional impact of any topology changes, the logic was to keep my motivation on the earth below my feet. In the last two miles to the end, my friend had took the lead hiking. At first, it was little demoralizing to switch roles. Though, the motivation for keeping up had beat back the accumulating exhaustion from my two concurrent trips to California and Georgia. In the end, this switching of horses had provided us with the necessary daylight on our way back to the top of Amicalola Falls. After taking another brief break above the Falls for the restroom, we had quickly navigated down the side of the mountain face.

Returning to our vehicle finally, looking worn, we had smelled awful. One of the most gratifying parts of this arrival was turning the ignition on in the garnet 96’ Ford Explorer. After sleeping nights in the 20s and 30s F, the onset of heat blowing on our cold bodies was a cathartic experience. With the rumbling of the engine, we had drove out of the park turning right onto the darkened highway. We were searching for our destiny with Chicken Parmesan @ Oliver Garden in Gainesville, Georgia. After about 30 minutes, we were seated at an Olive Garden. Soon after, we had received some bread sticks with soup and salad. Savoring our food, we had pondered the day and the road ahead. This trip had meant different things to each of us. For myself, it was an expression of wanderlust, companionship, and physicality. The final taste of the Appalachian Trail was continuing to foster the idea to be truly wild at heart with adventure.

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Read More:
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (IMDB)
Wild at Heart (IMDB)

Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

shrimptall

Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information: website: www.seminolescuba.com phone:  407-333-8856

Hawk Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Kicking off a third day of hiking in Georgia, my friend and I were coming down Springer Mountain heading toward our destination of Hawk Mountain on the A.T. The first mile on the trail was a soft downward descent. Clearing the mountain, we had encountered a few different creek crossings until reaching another wooden shelter. This shelter was open faced with two floors, a picnic table and two wood window doors opening on the second level in the rear. It had appeared the last occupants left in a rush. They had left a tarp, toilet paper, a t-shirt and few other pieces of trash. Needing to take “nature’s break,” the outhouse was thankfully not too far away. While at the outhouse, I had read a posting on the wall regarding the methodology regarding composting of human waste. Apparently, the process had included a two year breakdown with some general upkeep.

After our interlude, we had continued our trek coming to a medium sized bridge going over a creek appearing more like a river. From the horizon, the water had rolled through the greenery at a slight incline with the vestiges of snow fall on the ground. The rumble of water passing underneath had provided a serenity similar to listening to the cadence of waves on a beach. After collecting filtered water, we had moved back onto the trail. Walking only a few hundred feet, in the corner of my eye, I had got a glimpse of a small open air campsite down the slope. As curiosity took over, I had decided to scale down to take a closer look. Appearing in my vision, a series of rocks had wrapped around some cold grey ash. Just past the ash was a downed log where a person could easily sit gazing into this water way. I had wanted to stay longer but, our goal lay further up the mountain ridge. Rejoining my friend, we had proceeded up the side of mountain for a mile or so until bumping into another set of hikers making their way toward Springer Mountain. We had swapped information about the Hawk Mountain shelter and details of building a fire atop Springer. At this point in the day, the sun had raised the temperature a considerable amount. My buddy and I had shed most of our upper layers of clothing to avoid overheating. The bright sunny day was a welcome contrast to the gusty cold overcast previous one. During the last two miles of the trail toward Hawk Mountain, we had seen a few military helicopters conducting maneuvers. At first, I had thought maybe a rescue operation but, according to my friend’s guidebook, standard training fare.

Arriving mid-afternoon at the Hawk Mountain shelter, we had run into another group of travelers from earlier in the morning. While getting settled, we had snacked and refilled our water. Later in the afternoon, we were joined by an older gentleman. He had inquired about the general direction of the water. After some instruction, he had hiked on. Returning later, he had managed to go five miles over the next ridge top looking for water versus just down an opposing slope. After some casual conversation, one of our fellow shelter guests had started collecting wood to build a fire. This day, I had opted to cough up my bag of Doritos as kindling. I had seen YouTube video demonstrating their flammability. After trying the wet wood, the dry Doritos had proved the means to start the fire. Though, one of the other travelers had mocked the idea of carrying the Doritos, saying “Why pay for something, when you can get something for free.”

With the onset of dusk, I had opted to sequester myself socially allowing my buddy the autonomy to talk it up with our visitors. I was looking forward to get good night’s rest after the previous evening on Springer Mountain. With the evening in full swing, the sound of military helicopters had filled the night air a few times. This sound was a bit of a buzz-kill wanting to get away from “civilization.” Laying on my back, I had listened to the fire and fellow hikers for a bit slipping into unconsciousness. It was the best rest on the trip up to that point just for the dreaming. These unconsciousness dreams I had not remembered. For dreams becoming a reality, my dreams, I had believed that’s a different thought altogether.

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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida

On the last Sunday of 2013, around 4:30 am, I had received a text from a good friend while asleep. The text was the start of a conversation for selecting a pick-up time for heading out to Manatee Springs State Park @ Chiefland, Florida. By chance, I had awoke around 5:30 am responding to his text with “Ready to go in 30 minutes.” The irony, my friend and I had reversed sleeping schedules by chance. Usually, I had perked up earlier in the day; though, this morning was different. Our travel plan had evolved as early as Thursday. Since then, I had checked the weather report, water clarity, and any manatees blocking spring access; however, accommodating out of town friends and family, we had pushed back our initial target date from Saturday to Sunday. With my buddy’s arrival at 6 am, we had embarked to our water borne destination tossing my gear into his back seat.

A big concern for this fresh water adventure was air management and site selection. Neither of us had known a great deal about this locale in advance. Our tentative objective was scout the two bodies of water at the park; Manatee Springs and Catfish Hotel. Less any onsite objections, we had wanted to expend 1000 PSI (i.e. pounds per square inch) out of 3000 from our scuba tanks per body of water. Another unexpected variable was weather. During in car conversations, we had both noticed the unusually warm temperatures in Orlando, Florida. Beginning the drive, the skies were slightly overcast with little to no rain. Entering the last hour of the drive, a heavy deluge had begun falling. For the most part, passing storms in Florida had provided a shelf life of about 15 minutes. Intensifying with the sound of thunder and flashes of lighting, this front had matured beyond that characterization. For a scuba trip, we had wondered what kind of omen this might mean at Manatee Springs State Park.

After commuting just under three hours, we had pulled into the park’s main gate courtesy of my friend’s snappy driving. Flashing our Florida State Park Annual Family Pass for admission, we had cleared the gate. Though, we were immediately re-directed to diver check-in. During that process, one of the rangers had entered exclaiming, ”You are going to get your hair wet out there today.” My response was, “Somehow, I don’t think that’ll be a problem scuba diving.” Despite the dreary overcast skies, this happy banter had reinforced our cheerful road demeanor. That good karma, I had believed in manifestation of slowing the rains and an end to the thunder and lightning.

Afterwards, we had followed the road down a bit until parking. From here, we had engaged in walk-through of Catfish Hotel and Manatee Springs. Two things had immediately caught my eye. One, a sign for snakes, which in all of my Florida travels, I had seen only once before at remote beach on Honey Moon Island. The second, a layer of bright puke green algae had obscured about half of the water’s surface at Catfish Hotel. Now, I hadn’t really worried much about any snakes with the air temperatures dipping to 68 F degrees with no sun; however, the green algae had just reminded me of an out of control toilet or sewer. The notion of submerging myself into this water hole had just invoked the idea of filth. The phrase,”Ewwwh!” had epitomized my feeling exactly.

Post our walk-through, we had suited up selecting the deepest body of water, my favorite of course, Catfish Hotel. Moving down the steps for entry, much to my relief, my buddy had entered first. He had inadvertently caused a wake clearing a path in the algae. In this wake, I was now able to see clear water below. With this opening, I had mitigated my earlier disgust. Putting off use of my regulator, I had swam out to the center of the water. Agreeing once more to general subsurface plan, we had descended into Catfish Hotel. We had maneuvered into the base of the depression moving to threshold of the cavern going to Manatee Springs. Throughout our 12 minute dive, we had seen various fish including, yes, hand sized catfish. Coming about to 40 feet in depth, we had pulled parallel to the cavern opening. After pivoting off some submerged tree logs, I had come within view of a corner pocket off this cavern threshold. In this pocket, I had seen a medium school of small fish. Because of the lack of surface light penetrating the darkness, I wasn’t able to get a make on a specific type of fish. With a maddening curiosity, I had wanted to investigate them further. Though, due to my lack of cavern diving credentials, I had redirected to ascending into the middle of water column. During that moment, I had recalled recent discussions of mishaps by unqualified divers and swimmers dying this year at Wekiva Springs, Silver Glen Springs and Eagle’s Nest. Later in the day, my dive buddy had forwarded a great YouTube video summarizing the dangers of cavern diving by the untrained called, ”A deceptively easy way to die.” The point of the video was the mental seduction of what appears safe to the inexperienced precipitating in a life ending event.

After an allotment of time for a safety stop, we both had resurfaced switching out our regulators for snorkels. Out of the water, I had turned down to see my friend pulling himself up an exit ladder. A layer of green algae had covered the top of his body. Luckily, I was spared a similar fate by following in his wake to the water’s edge. Walking to Manatee Springs, he had told me of his misfortune of sucking algae into his mouth from his snorkel. He had described the sensation as extremely unpalatable. To freshen up, we had quickly immersed ourselves into the pristine clear blue waters of the Manatee Spring boil. From the spring head, we had used our snorkels to acclimate to the physical layout of submerged area. After going back up against the current, we had took a moment to rest to our heart rate before switching back to our tanks. Soon after, we had descended into the spring.

The main attraction for this 25 foot deep area, the strong underwater current. To close out the day, I had decided to place myself directly in path of this raw power. After equalizing a few times, I had grabbed firmly upon a rock at the threshold of the spring opening. The pressure forcing me back was substantial. My right hand had flexed to maintain a firm grip. After a moment, I had shifted to two hands onto a larger rock. Wanting to share in the experience, I had signaled my friend down. I had encouraged him to hold onto the adjacent rock. After settling on the bottom, we had felt the current’s force breach our masks with noticeable amount of water. Periodically, we had exercised pushing the water out with air from our noses. Despite the display of nature’s unbridled will, the current was extremely relaxing, almost enthralling.

With air starting to run low, I had perched myself  atop another submerged log. After catching my friend’s attention, I had made a few hand signals mimicking sexual gestures for humor sake. In response, my friend had motioned to the surface. He wanted to share in the beauty of the light rain breaking the surface tension. The cascading effect from below had appeared almost like drops of silver.  After this observation, we had concluded with another scuba safety stop. Leaving the water this time, we had packed our equipment for departure.

This day was marked by grey clouds and spattering of rain. Raining days were defined by most people as depressing in general. This one was different. Reflecting on the whole experience now, it had took the mundane into the realm of magnificent. This experience was rooted above and below the water in appreciation of physical exploration, mental renewal, and joyful friendship.”If everyday had ended that way,” I had thought,”Text me whenever! I’ll be ready to go in 30 minutes.”

Manatee Springs State Park
Address: 11650 NW 115 Street, Chiefland, Florida 32626
Phone: (352) 493-6072

Read More:
Manatee Springs State Park (Florida State Parks)
A deceptively easy way to die (YouTube)

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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Springer Mountain, Georgia on the Appalachian Trail @ Chattahoochee National Forest

Measuring life in metrics, getting to the top of Springer Mountain was 8.3 miles from starting at Amicalola Falls State Park for travelers unfamiliar with the journeying to the Appalachian Trail; however, I had traveled so much further beyond maps or miles. I had carved out a mental image from films, a friend’s listing of favorite books, and a mutual wanderlust. The objective of the day was reaching the southern terminus, aka tip, of the Appalachian Trail (AT) on this mountain top.

At the start of this Sunday, the view atop Amicolola Falls had gave way to the Blue Ridge mountain range below a clear baby blue sky. The mind’s eye aside, climbing Amicalola Falls’ steps a second day in a row had become a welcome break from hiking in the cold damp darkness of the night before. After soaking in this gaze for a few moments, we had quickly retraced about two miles of progress from the previous evening. We had reflected on the decision to turn back momentarily being the “right choice” and “smart choice.”  With that in mind, the next revelation of the day had come in the discovery of a clearing for an open air camping area. It was just past the previous night’s turnaround point. Any second guessing our decision had quickly washed away with daylight illuminating a clear sight of stout mountains and leaf less trees. The day’s hike had continued from there in a rhythmic manner; ”up”, “then down,” “up,” and “up again.”

During our first major mountain ascent, this pattern was interrupted by a descending party of about ten people. Out of common courtesy and easy passage, we had pulled to the side of the trail. While eating a snack of pop tarts, a little blonde girl stepping down the path had wished us a Merry Christmas. This innocent act had colored our physical activity in a different range of emotions. A common bond of community had asserted itself beyond our solitary activity. Before starting up again, an elderly gentlemen had asked about the trail below. In his response, my travel companion had described the steep decline and his preference for stark inclines instead. The gentleman’s response was, “You’re going to get plenty of that shortly.” So we had begun our hiking rhythm again. Until late afternoon, we had marched taking impromptu breaks for water, food, bathroom, and of course photographic evidence!

Approaching the final three miles of our trek, we had started to experience cold gusts and snow flurries. At first, I had thought the snow some form of fungus or tree decay. Not seeing snowflakes since the age of 18, it had provided a degree of personal wonderment and euphoria. In contrast, the brooding grey clouds had sparked some personal concerns. Having lived in tropical zones most of my life from Florida, the Bahamas and Singapore, I had wanted to limit my exposure to the elements with the onset of dusk. The elevation and chill were one set of tenable question marks. I had thought, “What of water in its various forms; sleet, rain, snow?” Water had offered the greatest potential for transforming this rocky landscape into something seductively dangerous. Regardless of the answer, I had not wanted to find out in the dark of night.

Fortunately, we were close to reaching one of two trail shelters and our final destination. The first landmark denoting our proximity to this first shelter was a wooden blue sign pointing down to water. Navigating down the slope to a tiny creek, my friend had graciously volunteered for water extraction duty. At the creek, he had used a manual filter pump for collecting water. While waiting for his return, my mind had drifted into mischief. Up to this point, I was channeling a certain degree of seriousness, unwieldy for such an adventure. The idea of mooning him from a downed log had popped in my brain; however, the biting cold wind gusts had wiped that idea clear into oblivion.

With my buddy topside, we had walked about another half mile to signs pointing to the first wooden shelter. Scouting out the shelter for a few minutes, another pair of hikers had converged on our location. We had exchanged information relating to portions of the trail. After deciding to press forward, my friend had leveraged this opportunity for maxing out our water supply near this shelter. With the three of us remaining, we had stopped any physical activity while chatting. The immediate impact, we had all begun getting painfully cold in our hands and feet. During my wait, I had started moving about in circle compensating for walking on the trail. With my friend’s return, we had headed out on the last two miles of journey.

After picking up our walking tempo, we had arrived in short order at the demarcation for the southern terminus of the AT. In this clearing, two metal plaques had adorned rock along with a log book and statue. The only disappointment were the clouds obstructing the mountain top overlook. After breaking from photo ops, we had pushed on to the final destination for the day, a mountain top shelter. At this multi-level wooden shelter, we had encountered several other travelers. They had placed a tarp over the front opening to reduce the wind gusts. They had also attempted building a fire; however, the cold wet wood  had kept the fire from being viable. As far as sleeping for the night, the other travelers had conceded the elevated loft area for my friend and me. After eating some food, we had prepped our sleeping bags and clothes for slumber. During the night, I had focused on trying to keep my fingers and toes warm. I was bit paranoid with the rating on my Coleman sleeping bag. Before sundown, the temperature was around 30 degree F. What I hadn’t known, according to someone else’s gauge, the temperature dipping into the 20s.

Eventually, daylight had returned to the mountain top with warmer temperatures. Also returning, was our desire to move on from Springer Mountain. Our next destination, Hawk Mountain, was already brewing an image in our mind’s eye. Measuring life in moments, this was a start to another great day of wanderlust on the AT.

Read More:
Springer Mountain (Wikipedia)
Springer Mountain (GeorgiaTrails.com)
Review: Appalachian Impressions (GarzaFX)
Review: National Geographics’s America’s Wild Spaces: Appalachian Trail (2009) (GarzaFX)

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Sponsored by Seminole Scuba

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Get to know Paul Shepherd and his competent team at Seminole Scuba in Lake Mary, Florida, whether getting certified or making a once in a lifetime trip like AFRICA 2014.

More Information:
website: www.seminolescuba.com
phone:  407-333-8856

Amicalola Falls State Park @ Dawsonville, Georgia

On the morning of Saturday, December 14th 2013, I had embarked on 8 hour plus drive to Amicalola Falls State Park in Dawsonville, Georgia. What had made this destination so alluring after a prolonged business trip? An unrepentant desire had filled my head with a need for physical adventure serving as counterpoint to the mundane nature of work in IT. Why now? For some of the road trips earlier in the year, sometimes the amount of “time off” hadn’t allowed the proper conclusion for random excursions. This go around, I had requested a whole week off. Earlier in the year, I had visited Vogel State Park, Georgia and some of the surrounding hiking trails. It was one of the best times outdoors ever because of precarious descent of up-tempo mountain side hiking despite, tempting fate with one wrong slip at dusk. Yet, beyond the scope of that hike was the untapped desire for convergence onto the Appalachian Trail by way of Blood Mountain. This idea had sat dormant after the last road trip into Georgia. As with any good master plan, the seed for a return was planted long ago in my friend’s mind. All that was required, a response to the question,”Wanna do anything this weekend?” Of course, I had formed the answer to the question well in advance. Free will was a beautiful thing. Now, the specific details for this hiking trip, I hadn’t mastered at all but, enter my buddy’s advance preparation. Even without that consideration, I had probably signed up in my current mental state for anything outdoors sans nuclear war.

After a supply stop in a Cumming’s Georgia Walmart, we had pushed for the final portion of our drive. Arriving in the state park off-hours, we had registered with park’s log book for hiking the A.T. Around 8 PM Eastern, we had headed out to the park trail going toward Amicalola Falls. With light from my friend’s head lamp, we had forged toward the sound of falling water. At the base of ascent, we had seen a sign cautioning strenuous activity of 175 steps. I had figured,”Not too bad.” Though, in my haste to get moving, I had left the top portion of hiking bag chest strap undone. This oversight had doubled the amount of effort on the ascent. At the beginning, I had enjoyed the exertion on my body; however, at the end of the night, it had caused some cramping in my right calf. In contrast, it had still beat sitting in car or airplane for hours on end. After clearing the 175 steps, we had both worked up good amount of perspiration. Completing the 175 steps and a walk across a wooden bridge, we had seen another sign for strenuous activity a few moments later. That sign had outlined a step count of 425. I had thought, ”You got to be kidding?” With some angst, we had eventually cleared those steps as well. About 2 miles later into the hike, we had started the approach trail toward our final destination of the A.T. With the cold wet dark night, we had let common sense prevail agreeing to double back to beginning of the park until daylight. Staying on premises, we had camped out in the first shelter to make way for the next day.

The good news the following morning, the views of the falls were astounding on ascent. The great news for you, there was road side access at the base and top of the falls for those with less of an inclination to cover the 600 combined steps. Amongst the four waterfalls in Georgia and Florida I had seen, Amicalola Falls, claims a special place in my memory with backdrop of the surrounding mountain range. That view had kicked off the 2nd of 5 days in Georgia. If you had decided to travel the Southeast, strongly recommend taking a trip out to Amicalola Falls State Park @ Dawsonville, Georgia.

Amicalola Falls State Park
Address: 240 Amicalola Falls State Park Road, Dawsonville, GA 30534
Phone: (706) 344-1500

Read more:
Appalachian Trail (National Park Service)
Amicalola Falls State Park (Georgia State Parks)

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Perfect Day @ 42

On Friday, December 13th, 2013, I had awoke two hours into a red eye flight back to Orlando, Florida. Being in a plane crash when twelve years old, sleeping in-flight had become a foreign concept until now. After an exhausting 80 hour work week in California, I had fell asleep with earphones on listening to the all too familiar, Tron Legacy Soundtrack. The big bonus of the early morning was discovering the flight time being four hours versus, the initial westbound trip of five. At 3 am Eastern, I had already thought, “Good way to start the day.”

Getting home from the airport around 5:30 am, I had wanted to generate a self-induced insulin spike for another round of sleep. Scarfing down a banana, a big spoon of peanut butter, a magnesium pill and cup of orange juice, I had set course for slumber on my Spartan two inch mattress pad on the bedroom floor. For those unfamiliar with this Spartan affair, it was physical and mental conditioning for various road trips for the back of my ’96 Ford Explorer or some hiking shelter. Plus, I had experienced feline fluids once too often on a decent mattress but, urine that’s another story for another day. Fading quickly into unconsciousness, I had received the best sleep in two weeks in two hours. Waking up a few hours later, I had begun unpacking my luggage before heading to 10 am doctor appointment. Before leaving my place, I had received some impromptu affection from my cat Patch. Stroking Patch’s soft orange white ears, I had reflected, “Great to be home again!”

After a quick interlude reviewing blood work with my family doctor of 13 years, I had started driving to Altamonte Springs AMC Movie Theater for a noon showing of “The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.” En route, I had fielded a call from a good friend. Taking a moment from his workday, he had sung “happy birthday to you” in his low masculine southern inflection. With his father’s passing about a year ago, I was moved. Think the act had meant a lot two both of us. After all, only my mom had called to wish such tidings that way. Wrapping up the call, I had thought, ”The Hobbit can suck, it’ll still be a good day!”

Arriving at the AMC Movie Theater with another friend, I had purchased my ticket going straight to the overpriced concession stand.  There, I had mentioned receiving a free big soda on your birthday; however, the line employee had wanted an actual print out of the email offer. With some managerial escalation, I had coaxed them into scanning the barcode directly from my iPhone. With the elation of victory, I had clinched my fist with arm halfcocked blurting out the phrase, “Money!”

Returning from the movie, I had wanted to finally watch, BBC’s 50th Anniversary episode of Dr. Who, “Day of the Doctor.” Though during the morning, I had accumulated quite a few well-wishing messages from Facebook, email, texts, and voice mail. Some people, I hadn’t heard from in a few weeks to a quite a few years. I had concluded time better spent exchanging responses before becoming self-indulgent. Dr. Who being a “Time Lord”, I had thought in Yoda speak, “He understands changes to space time continuum, yes!”

With personal affairs in order, I had turned on my Apple TV and LCD television to watch Dr. Who. Needless to say, I hadn’t kept up with the last two seasons of Matt Smith as “the Doctor.” The anticipation for this episode had come from fellow fan feedback and John Hurt as special guest star. Without providing any spoilers, I had completed the episode with joyful smile and even a semblance of a tear. As the late Lou Reid had sung, “Oh, what a perfect day!”

With the theme of Dr. Who fresh in my mind, I had headed out to pick up another friend for Karaoke. Arriving at the bar around 10 PM Eastern, we had discovered the facility closing without an ounce of entertainment. Improvising, my friend and I had gone around the corner to another restaurant with live music. With a ginger ale and margarita in tow, we had hatched a gestating idea. That idea was going back to Georgia the next day to hike part of Appalachian Trail. With excitement of the idea keeping exhaustion at bay, I had figured,”Why not?”

I had started the day with just wanting to be home and get to a doctor’s appointment. The irony, I had experienced so much more in moments than any wrapped gifts can contain. Think a lot of people had characterized me in my 20s and 30s as being stoic, inward and dark. Trolling around in my early 40s, I had hoped to be a catalyst for illumination. To my blog’s refrain of “What is inside you?”, on 12/13/13, on this day, it was a “Perfect Day @ 42.”

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Read More:
Lou Reed, Perfect Day (Wikipedia)
Appalachian Trail Conservancy (Appalachian Trail Conservancy)