Sunday, September 21, 2014

Caladesi Island State Park Florida

We paddled out across the blue green expanse, about two miles or so and it was like being explorers discovering a new and unknown paradise. Okay, other people had found it but with the wide open, uncrowded area of bay that surrounded the island state park the feeling of peace and freedom was amazing. We could see the bottom for most of the way out with schools of bait fish running through the clear water and an occasional stingray dashing across the white sand.

We paddled the kayaks to where we could get out and stand in the shallow flats, being not as prepared as the rest of the group, I spent more time keeping my kayak from wandering off. No one caught anything but a man on a paddle board came by and mentioned he could see a small school of bonnet head sharks, they are small hammerhead sharks and I was disappointed that I didn't get a glimpse of them. 

We all hung around  the pass, parked the kayaks and watched as a storm passed us by and the cool breeze was so welcome after paddling across the bay. I will have several paintings of this area with the storm and the silhouettes of fisherman. I also found some horseshoe crabs along the beach and interesting birds and wildlife. It was such a beautiful day and even though we didn't catch much, a bad day fishing is better than any good day at work.

How far is too far? Out of cell service, unprepared, stressed-

Our whole trip was originally planned around a trip to Kentucky and more specifically Dale Hollow Lake. We were going on a guided smallmouth bass trip and hoping the elusive fish wouldn't skunk us again. I should have realized how far off the map we were when we arrived at the lake with no cell service.

After a long day of travel through the southern portion of Kentucky, a two mile trek deep into the longest cave in the US-Mammoth Cave-a 400 mile long cave system. I was disgusted when they looked at me and asked if I was okay for the tour-I did just fine by the way, just fine. It's a dramatically large cave right up until you get into the depths where you are squeezing through tight areas-it seems every time we explore a new cave , there is always something different from the wildlife to the stalagmites and cave bacon, for Mammoth cave I would say it was the size of the ceiling and the history  that was literally etched on its walls.

After driving all day, we were ready to relax and enjoy our cabin. Unfortunately I learned that in Tennessee-we needed a youth license even though my son was only fifteen-can't find his social security card and can't buy his license without it, try to explain to someone on the phone how to find the paperwork where his number would be-unfortunately very weak cell service and short memory on my part made this very difficult. There was one place where we could use the cell, on the top of the mountain, in a small area where we must have looked like lurking criminals parked on the side of the road in the middle of the night.

Stressful, frustrating evening finishes out a rather exhausting day. Up early to go fishing, misplaced license, unprepared for eight hours on a boat and another day we end up fatigued instead of relaxed. I was the only one that caught a smallie and it was a pretty reasonable size. Now I realize that eight hours on a lake when your not catching anything is a bit tiring especially when it's unseasonably warm. It always seems that there is a point in a vacation where the fatigue or the cost of the trip catch up with you or perhaps its just the fact that face it, you always forget something or fail to prepare-in the end it's what you do with it that preserves the memory for the better.

Next on our agenda was Gatlinburg, an amazing ski town in south east Tennessee. I'll be honest I was looking forward to being in a  town that had lots of people and was less remote. First stop, a small barbecue shop that my son found in man vs food-it was in Knoxville Tennessee-Dixsons' Barbecue, the idea of finding great places to eat has turned into the texture of this trip and my son has not failed as of yet, Dixsons' was no exception. A very modest trailer with a very interesting cook who I would have loved to spend the afternoon talking with and in retrospect we probably should have. We had these ribs that had a spicy kick that we have tried to decipher but it was an incredible taste and well worth the trip. The presentation, wrapped in tinfoil and put in a paper bag, felt like locals and one actually did remorse the fact that there weren't as many true quality barbecue left in Knoxville-we were happy to have experienced it.

I fell in love with  Gatlinburg right away, even before we got to  Gatlinburg. There is a long road through Pigeon Forge with amazing buildings and tourist attractions that felt like we had taken a turn to fantasy land. From Dollywood to the Titanic and wonderworks-we were intrigued by the different activities that we could experience in Pigeon Forge and we definitely will return to explore all the bits of fantasy you can experience just in view of the Great Smoky Mountains. We were on to Gatlinberg and I was happy to get there.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Getting There: How far is too far? Road Trip Part 1

A view from a room at the inn-early mornin Montgomery Bell State Park

The annual spring break trip went off well if not for some lessons learned along the way.
Three things occurred to me on this trip, there is such a thing as too far, there can be too many plans in too little time and eventually a teenager emerges from your eager travel companion. It was a bit of a growing pain for both of us, I must admit.

So how far is too far? After two days of driving seven and half hours each day, I decided twenty hours round trip is the farthest to drive-this way if I you decide to make it in one day you can-the extra five hours makes it too long to make in one day for my preference, I’m sure other lovers of the road would probably disagree. We spent two days getting to the first area we were going to stay, granted we did go through some beautiful country and we did have lots of time to bond and take in the road.

In the Ouchita National Forest we got to see an Alligator farm, the Little Rock Zoo and some amazing lakes and forests, we missed the waterfall hikes I had planned because time was just not available. We had another four hours after we spent the day at the zoo and the alligator farm to get to Montgomery Bell State Park, I’m feeling fatigued and my son decides its time to put on his headphones and zone out-it’s going to be a long ride. Near Memphis we were trying to get to Charles Vergos' Rendezvous  barbecue but ended up getting in too late so next idea is Fried Chicken.

We have added food places to our list of places to explore and my son really picked well.
First food stop-Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken. It was one of those places that a crowd starts at the door and everyone sitting seemed like they were confident they were in the best place for an amazing meal. The atmosphere is relaxed and extremely comfortable, elbow-to-elbow with locals and the people were just so friendly. I met people from Dallas as well as people from around Memphis-we were seated next to a group of guys celebrating a bachelor party who apologized in advance for the chaos that was surely to ensue. The company and the atmosphere was alive, excited and I haven’t even mentioned the food yet. It delivered just as expected. You can order a few pieces or a half chicken, simple menu and just amazing taste. The coating is light but so flavorful and well worth the indulgence. You can tell when you have been to an amazing place to eat because it becomes part of the story, you remember it and the atmosphere of the whole exploration becomes flavored with the food and the place you found.

It was a long ride with a full stomach to Montgomery Bell State Park and lots of good conversation. I asked them if there were woods around when I booked a room at the park and they said the place is surrounded by the woods and they weren’t lying. We saw our first herd of deer cross the road and after weaving through the heavily forested road we were ready for a good night sleep. We woke to a beautiful view from our window, a misty lake surrounded by forest, a place we both would love to explore again but now we had six hours to get to Nashville and than to Dale Hollow lake-it was going to be a long day of driving.

The next food place my son found was the Pancake Pantry near Nashville, when you arrive,  there is a line out the front door that continues to grow, you know you’ve found another place for locals and tourists that have found a food paradise. So how special can pancakes be? It’s flour, water, a griddle and than whatever you add to flavor it, I stand corrected. Again, elbow to elbow to college kids and people from all over the country that have made a pilgrimage back to where they once lived, one thing about a place like this, you stand in line and learn about people, you gather stories from all over the country and suddenly strangers for a moment become friends. I ordered the Carribean- an amazing mix of coconut, pecans and banana goodness-he ordered the blueberry pancakes and I have never tasted pancakes the same, the lightness and the perfection of the fruit was something we will be talking about for a long time.

On to Dale Hollow Lake,

The spillway at the lake at Montgomery Bell State Park

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Road Trip Mimics Life

In our lives we experience cycles from the excitement of youth seeking happiness to the wisdom of age searching for purpose, so how does this relate to a road trip? I feel like a vacation is a small snapshot of our lives and the emotions and feelings we get mimic, on a small scale, how life changes and develops over time.

When we are planning for the trip, there is the feeling of hope and excitement. As in youth, we tend to dream big and create this amazing fantasy where even a short period of time will make up for all the time we worked hard to afford the costs of the trip. We make plans, we add places to the vacation and activities that don’t necessarily coincide with the actual reality of time or the lack there of.

I feel like half the fun of traveling is the planning, learning about new places and making reservations is all part of the experience. I like the anticipation almost as much as the actual experience. As time passes in the planning process we start to realize the costs and the reality that we have probably allotted enough money for half the experiences and have arranged two weeks of adventures into a weeks worth of time.

So goes youth, we grow into our lives, the realities we redefine and the truth that we learn as we get closer to the actual life we have planned. This is why the teen years are so turbulent, it’s like planning to dive off a ten-foot diving board only to realize it is a cliff that is one hundred foot above treacherous rocks. This is the point in the vacation where you get out on the road and all the questions start to occur; did I forget anything? Did I bring enough cash? Have I planned too much? There is an excitement at this point but there is still that feeling of stress as the miles pass by and we get further and further away from our safe and stable lives.

When we arrive at our destination there is a mix of panic, the flat tire, running out of gas, the credit card that gets declined or the hotel that has misplaced our reservation, it always seems that in the midst of the road trip something goes wrong. We are at the mercy of the road, we feel our lack of planning and the truth of the vacation we have planned, we start to adjust the time we spend, what we are able to do and what we need to plan for another trip. This is life and the reality of the path we chose, both the peaks and the valleys. This time I would equate with our post graduation and the experience we have with building our careers and raising our families, it is as frightening and stressful as it is filled with passion and fulfillment.

With age, we realize the actual truth of the road trip; it’s reliving the points of time, the restaurants you’ve been to and the things you’ve seen. Suddenly the fears and insecurities of being out on the road turn into the confidence of miles driven. I experience a clarity of mind, routine loses its weight on what seems possible, even as the vacation ends you are planning the next place to go, to experience life, the great highs and the insecurities of the lows. The ride home is the wisdom of looking back on our lives and realizing what we have accomplished and perhaps what we might have changed if given the chance.

In the final miles, we long for the routine we worked so hard to get away from and miss the pets we left or the comfortable beds we’ve abandoned. It is a feeling of full circle and yet at the same time whether it be sadness and regret or fulfillment and passion we have made our trip what it was but unlike our lives we can go and do it all over again the next time we have a chance to road trip.
Artistgordon - Find me on