My soul is redlining these days but I’ve discovered a few breaths and a few minutes to write. Thank you as always for reading and affording me an opportunity to be better understood.
It’s finally done! I’ve successfully turned my decade-long adventures discovering and exploring Florida’s freshwater springs into a photo book for friends, family and memories.
As far back as I can remember, my family took the occasional trips into the Ocala National Forest to visit the springs. Sometimes just for the day (we were always there at 7:45am sharp to be the first ones in), sometimes for a weekend of pop-up camping. They were little microcosms of vacation, parks nestled in an expanse of forest without cell phones or news. Only swimming, snorkeling, biking, hiking, a Game Boy, and the occasional game of Clue or Skip-Bo. Alexander Springs, Salt Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and rarely Juniper Springs: the springs of Florida. Right?
Not quite. Fast forward to early college when, as I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I discovered that (actually) there are over 100 springs in Florida, all over the state. Residing in all forms: national parks, state parks, county parks, private parks and clubs, backyards, government research facilities, even undeveloped public land. A quick trip around the net opened my eyes to the possibilities of exploration and discovery and I was instantly bought in. Coupled with a background in high-school photography and the purchase of a used Nikon D50 (thanks Chris!), I set out to see and capture every spring I could.
Hey all! For anyone interested in some Blue Ridge hiking guidance, here are all of the hikes Rob and I did on our annual October Blue Ridge trip this year, ordered chronologically and labeled with our distance and elevation gain. These differ a little bit from the published info (we sometimes combined trails and extended them).
We accomplished a pretty large increase in our hiking distance this year: 79.5mi, up from 55.4mi. I don’t know if my poor aching IT bands could take much more, but it didn’t feel all that crazy!
- Sam Knob (2.5mi, 557ft)
- Cat Gap Loop to John Rock (6.2mi, 1154ft)
- Grassy Creek Falls (1.8mi, 400ft)
- Crabtree Falls Loop (2.6mi, 577ft)
- Trout Lake Carriage (3.3mi, 300ft)
- Rich Mountain Carriage / Deer Park Loop (5.3mi, 756ft)
- Cascades / Tompkins (2.3mi, 272ft)
- Rough Ridge (1.5mi, 362ft)
- Bass Lake Loop (1mi, 20ft)
- Black Ridge Loop (3mi, 574ft)
- Fisher Peak Loop (2.2mi, 233ft)
- Bass Lake Loop Extended (2.8mi, 170ft)
- Price Lake Loop (2.2mi, 72ft)
- Elk Knob Summit (4mi, 971ft)
- Green Knob Loop (2mi, 515ft)
Before October, I’d never been to a real concert. There I said it. I’m lame. Sure, I’ve piled into a church bus to see Steven Curtis Chapman as a kid*, joyfully attended Rockapella’s Christmas special last year, and saw Hamilton with Rob in Chicago, but I’d never had to slip plugs into my ear holes and rock out in a large venue.
I’ve also been a big fan of CHVRCHES lately. I gained an interest in the band through the Rebel FM podcast, the Forza Horizon soundtrack, and their stellar remix of MS MR’s Hurricane. They were one of the first bands I binged heavily when I first adopted Spotify, and their Every Open Eye album dropped into my life with a bang.
One day this Summer I noticed their upcoming tour dates on Spotify. I’d missed them in Orlando around my birthday a few years back (chickened out on going alone) so I clicked through. One jumped out at me: Asheville, 10/9. We would be in Blowing Rock (a couple hours north) the week prior…maybe this could work? But no—we planned to drive back the Saturday prior to this Tuesday night concert. Drat. On a whim, I checked Kayak for flights to Asheville and was surprised to see extremely cheap seats from Sanford and back surrounding the exact time of the concert: departing at 5pm and returning the next morning at 9:30am. Could this work?
Another year, another birthday! Because it worked so well as an alternative to the Super Bowl, I held another limited Halo LAN party to celebrate. The afternoon and night were filled with Slayer, Hog Heaven, and terrible attempts at custom game types we always found some way to break. Halo 2 Anniversary multiplayer continues to feel like one of the best LAN experiences available.
The next morning Rob and I woke up early and met up with Ty at the Sanford airport to graciously accept an offer to fly up to Saint Simons Island, GA in a small prop plane—the first time I’ve flown like that since I was in single digits (and the first time ever for Rob).
It turned out to be a complete blast! Literally—it was the day after a cold front moved through, leaving us with beautiful weather and strong winds. After a thorough preflight inspection, we squeezed into the cockpit, ran through a takeoff checklist, taxied to the runway, and, with my stomach in knots, floated into the air.
We fought strong headwinds all the way to Georgia, taking a detour to Cape Canaveral to see the shuttle building and landing runway. Our direct path was up the Atlantic coast, and along the way we spotted many familiar landmarks as Ty spoke another language to every major tower we passed.
Once into Georgia we spotted Jekyll Island, the barrier island just south of our destination (and where Rob first showed off his just-acquired bike-riding skills only 18 months ago). The approach to the small, tower-less airport on Saint Simons was winding and fraught with turbulence—the plane pivoting from side to side all the way to touchdown (we survived).
Rob and I present a retrospective on our 2017 adventure of filling the Florida State Parks passport book. Sorry for the wind noise!
Last Wednesday, my friend Vic and I took off toward Charlotte for a couple opportunities at checking out the suburbs on the way to and back from Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I’m half-considering the move to Charlotte for a change of scenery and closer proximity to the mountains, but I also just wanted to get away for a bit and breathe some crisp, fresh, cold mountain air. Some thoughts and highlights from the trip!
- We unintentionally ended up at the same Arby’s on the way up and the way back. We got embarrassingly bad service both times, but nothing stopped those Chicken Bacon & Swiss from being delicious.
- The southern and eastern areas around the 485 (Charlotte’s beltway) are pretty nice! I could definitely see myself staying there if the opportunity was right.
- The typical places described as desirable north of the city (Davidson, Mooresville, Huntersville, etc.) are very crowded and the traffic / construction on I-77 was horrible by 2:30pm on a Thursday. I don’t think I could deal with that, but the parks and amenities on Lake Norman felt like they could be frequent visits.
- Our room at the Hemlock Inn in Blowing Rock was upgraded to…the same room Rob and I stayed in last October. Not complaining!
- Restaurants that remain stellar: Local Lion, Bella’s, Our Daily Bread. Those that weren’t so great this time: Capone’s, Blowing Rock Brewery. New find that is pretty solid: The New Public House’s breakfast.
- The weather and forecast only gave us a couple mornings’ worth of sunshine so we crammed a lot of hiking into those windows. Friday morning we hiked a trio of trails (Beacon Heights, Flat Rock, and Linville Falls Plunge Basin) and braved a starting temp of 25* Sunday for the Green Knob loop. On our dreary, wet Saturday, we stuck to the flat lake loops (Trout Lake and Bass Lake).
- I joined my team’s Daily Standup from the top of Beacon Heights.
- It snowed Saturday night and I was a nervous wreck, having never driven in snow. But uh, it was mostly just in the air, and literally everyone I asked rolled their eyes at me. It made for a really pretty Sunday morning hike atmosphere!
- Vic started a new Pokemon Go account on Wednesday and was level 21 by the end of the trip. Oh look a Wailmer!
All in all, a pretty great trip! It’s a nice holdover until Rob and I likely return for another early-October week in the mountains. For now, back to work finishing out the Spring semester and looking forward to an early-May trip out to the Bay Area!
We hiked a lot this year in the mountains! I figured I’d throw together a quick list of the hikes with some links to the trail maps and reviews. I’d recommend all of them, but details can be found in the previous blog post thingy.
- Day 1:
- Day 2:
- Day 3:
- Trout Lake Loop (1.2mi loop, 85ft)
- Day 4:
- Day 5:
- Day 6:
- Day 7
- Green Knob (2.2mi loop, 613ft)
- Day 8
- Rough Ridge (0.8mi out/back, 268ft)
Back at the beginning of October (which feels like forever ago), Rob and I took our now-annual week-long trip to the Blue Ridge to get some cooler weather, changing leaves, a bunch of hikes, and a ton of good food. I’m sick today so I figured I’d brush the dust off of these notes and post a little journal-style entry of the highlights. Enjoy, and feel free to reach out if you need any recommendations or want to hear about anything else!
We started out the trip with a rather fortuitous stop: the Amazon Treasure Truck was in tourist-town Orlando with SNES Classics. Despite putting us a little behind schedule, it was such a relief to snag one of those on launch day. And it turned out to be a huge boon for the trip! Over the week, we played through Star Fox, Mega Man X, and Super Mario World (all 96 exits!). Rob made it through most of Link to the Past, but we couldn’t quite clear that one entirely. It was an awesome dynamic; outdoor activities in the daylight and classic gaming at night.
An exceedingly spooky end to a hike in the Blue Ridge. “Welcome to the family, son,” as Rob has said literally every time he’s seen it.
Blogging is hard, guys. Focus is on the decline these days, and boy is it frustrating. I started writing an article about various updates in early February and got pulled away to other things, so instead, here’s one for April!
I laid out a number of goals for myself in a blog post earlier this year. Here are some updates! Exciting! Exclamation!
Budget Update: Budgets have been updated! Rob and I worked on establishing an updated set of goals for our money for 2017, and as we’ve rolled into the year, I’ve put that into action. Roughly 30% of my take-home pay is going to bills and shared spending, while another 40% is going into savings (both shared and individual). That leaves me with about 30% to budget towards food, gas, health, travel, and general spending, and I’m pretty happy placing that tension on my day-to-day budget while direct-depositing the rest. The money’s still available if I need it; now I have to justify needing it, rather than blindly spending it. It’s worked pretty well so far this year, even with the frequent travel.
Vacations: Vacations have been planned (and many taken by this point)! Trips this year: all Florida state parks (many trips in the bag already!), Jekyll Island (was awesome), a Appalachian-flavored road trip (fantastic and fattening), a tour of the Florida Panhandle (just got back), an extended weekend through SW Florida (May), a classic High Springs swimming trip (Sept), the annual week in the Blue Ridge (Oct), a few days in the Keys (Nov), and (probably) Chicago to round the year out. There are a couple potential slots left to explore (early June and July 4th weekend), but I’m pretty happy with being able to have so much of the year plotted. I’ve found that having something to look forward to helps get me through my down periods, and it also helps me be content with not always doing so much in my free time in-between.
Work: Some mild success to report! I had lunch with my department’s director (over Jimmy Hula’s, of all things) to discuss my situation. He agreed that a hybrid role between project management and development would be a great fit for me for the next year or so. As of the end of March, both the leaders of our PMO and Development teams have been informed of my wishes and should be reaching out to me soon. I just scheduled a lunch with the Development head, so after this week I should have a better idea of where things are going. Here’s hoping!
Blogging: I tried the article-a-week approach (50 sessions of light writing a year didn’t sound like too much), but it ended up being really difficult to fit into my life. It’s been pretty disappointing; I underestimated how much focus is needed to really sit down, block out all the distractions, and write, especially when that time is usually after a full day’s work. Instead, I’ll be writing when inspiration, time, focus, or opportunity presents itself, while working on ways to improve my focus when needed. If anyone wants to read anything specific from me, please let me know!