2018_08 Scotland

My first trip to Europe, thank you Scotland! We stayed in a small community about an hour north of Edinburgh called Kilconquhar. It is a coastal area and very rural. From there, we staged trips out as far south as Edinburgh, as far north as Pitlochry, as far west as Stirling and as far east as Crail and St. Andrews. It was an excellent trip to get acquainted with a large area of the country which will certainly guide my choices for a revisit! Next time it will be spending longer lengths of time at a location, to really get to know the place and people. We didn’t get to meet many people this trip.

Highlights of the trip include The Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh. This is a bucket list item for so many people. I’m grateful I had a chance to go. I would really like to do a vacation to Edinburgh during the festival months to catch the Highland Games and Fringe Festival.  The city is every bit of what I would have expected – a real European city with crazy old buildings and architecture.

Aside from Edinburgh castle, which is amazing – the rest of the trip largely involved traveling to smaller towns and cities that have castles that are in various states from ruin to having been preserved so well that you can at least imagine a small bit of what life might have been like…  all of them beautiful.

I realize you can’t possibly take in everything there is to know in a single week but the bit of history I learned about Scotland gives me an incredible sense of respect for the many people who fought for their country – another amazing experience for me.

The short story is – very scenic country, lots of sheep, insane history of fighting, food is awful (which is only partly true).

So – the food.  Largely, you can get food that is very good but you’ll pay through the roof for a fine culinary experience, which we did a couple of times. If you can find places where younger (millennial generation) people are cooking, you will also be very happy.  But try and eat at long established places that serve standard fare and you’ll understand what I’m saying.  

First off, you have to try haggis and experience the repulsive feeling you get eating sheep liver, lung and whatever other organs they put in a blender and shape into an awful meatloafy thing and pass it off as anything you’d ever willfully eat.  I stuck with a strategy that most things deep fried are pretty tasty , so I opted for the haggis croquettes.  Two bites and I was done.  Actually, I was done at bite #1, but decided to reinforce the awful experience with bite #2.  Never again.

Secondly, don’t expect steak or anything that you can get cooked less than well-done to come out as anything less than well-done, regardless of how you ordered it.  That was my experience.  No seasonings, bland, well cooked meat is the way of life here, so it seems.  I hope, for the people of Scotland, that I’m absolutely wrong but that was largely my experience.  Also – know that protein is not a big part of what seems to be a Scottish diet.  Lots of fats and carbs.  Where I could enjoy a very nice soup and salad with grilled chicken, I’d say they gave me 2-3 oz. of chicken…  I’m used to making 8oz. of cooked meat with each meal!!  So that was very different.

I could carry on, but it wasn’t as big a deal as I’m making it.  I enjoyed the difference in culinary culture.

Once again, I’ll stop and let photos tell the rest of the story.  I cannot wait for a day that I return.  I have at least 3 more trips to Scotland in mind.  Festival season, getting out to the west and seeing what seems to be the most beautiful parts of the country, and the north…  experience the most northern parts of Scotland, especially the people!

2017_07 Paramotoring or Powered Paragliding

The few times in my life where I had the opportunity, I’ve managed to do things that of the people I know, few have ever done.  I love that about my life and is something I am most pleased with.  If my life were without adventure, I’d be very disappointed.

 July 2017 will not disappoint!  Headed to Montreal, Canada to train and become a certified paramotor or powered paraglider (PPG) pilot.  Powered paragliding is something my brother and I have been talking about for years, having first seen people power kiting on the beach but thinking that was just insanely risky to do.Technically, there’s no FAA license or any kind of requirement for training to do this sport.  However, it is made very clear that you would be foolish to get into this without formal training, preferably with a certified instructor.  Suffice to say, we are training with one of the most qualified PPG pilots in the world today.  I’m confident that we will have all the knowledge and practice needed to fly safely.  From hiking open glaciers to kayaking remote ocean waters, camping in the wilderness to snowshoeing across avalanche prone areas, tenting in winters on snow covered mountains to summer grizzly bear country, this is most surely the largest investment I’ve ever made in a hobby and the most risky outdoors activity I’ll have ever done.  I cannot wait for my first solo flight.  It will be terrifying, exciting, and a moment that marks a childhood goal of mine, to fly.  I never expected that I would realize this by sitting in a harness with nothing around me but my wing above me and my motor behind me.  I created a separate page for this, as it deserves its own chapter in my life.  I am looking forward to sharing these amazing experiences.  Yippee!  Living life thankfully, knowing I’m forever blessed with His favor and Grace.  Thank you, God.  Thank you, Jesus – for looking out for me, my health, my family, for allowing me to share and experience this life in this world, for all I recognize and for all I’ve yet to realize as your blessing.  I know you have my back, you will keep me safe, alert, skillful and will fulfill my destiny and all of my days.

Equipment: 

Air Conception Nitro 200 engine Titanium Full Race frame

Paramania Revo 3 powerglider (specs)

Crispi Airborne GTX boots

Training: 

Paratour.com

August 2017

Keep in mind that I’m sharing with you not the experience of a seasoned pilot but someone who gave 110% and what I think of the experience having fell short of my expectations.  The truth is I’m 46, discovered I’m more out of shape than I thought and my timeline to get this done, in hindsight, was unrealistic for my current ability.  I think that’s fair.

We are back from training and still processing the experience.  The good news is: 10 flights, all done without mishaps, got to climb to more than 1,000 ft. above ground level and my last flight was probably about 20 minutes.  Not bad for a week and a half of training!  With that said, parts of it were dreadful and parts were nothing short of incredible.  I sort of need to get out of the way what I wasn’t prepared for; what I wish was different about the experience.  First, the training field.  I’d like to be gracious because everyone at Paratour is professional and cares deeply about safety.  However, the field we trained in was less than desirable.  It wasn’t an “elephant in the room”, so to speak.  We talked about it, how the field has large irrigation ditches that easily fill with water.  The weather didn’t help – it rained nearly every day.  The mosquitoes were out of control.  These things made training difficult and, over time, dreadful for me.  I dreaded going to that field.  

Most days involved 6-8 hours of intensive training and being exhausted physically and mentally really took its toll.  Where I really found myself concerned was during takeoffs.  Flying and landing were straight forward, always felt safe and really had fun flying and landing.  Takeoffs were just downright terrifying.  There’s a lot happening during a takeoff and if you’re a seasoned pilot, it appears very natural and amazing.  If you’re not, it involves three things going on in your left hand, two things going on in your right hand, arms in the air, spread apart while a 50lb pack is on your back with a propeller spinning just a foot and a half away from your head and you MUST run with your head up and chest out or you’ll never get in the air.  All of that and you have to run like your life depended on it and steer the kite so it stays directly above you as you do all of the above.  Like I said, I need to get this part out of my system because this part, really, it sucked.  Deep breath.  Now I can tell you about the much cooler parts.

There is no practical way to describe what it feels like to take off.  There’s this point in running, steering and throttling up the motor when you are gently lifted and no longer on the ground.  Where some people might think this is the scary part, it was a major relief for me.  I didn’t crash on takeoff, I’m headed in a safe direction and climbing.  Thank you, God.  I’m going to be safe.  I’m in the air and all is well.  You climb fast and there’s no time to wrap your head around what you’re doing (and smiling because this is freaking cool!) because you have to focus on flying.  When I did have time to shift my thoughts to, “WOW, I’M FLYING!”, it was really nice.  Real pleasing feelings about how I’m making this happen and what I’m accomplishing.  It was 5 and a half days of grueling training before my first flight.  I was ready.  You do all of the stuff I mentioned above, you’re in the air and have the instructor’s voice in your ear using comms to guide you.  At some point I lost communication.  As I’m climbing I’ve got a lot going on in my head to stay calm and recognize that the wing is very stable.  I’m having difficulty getting into my harness seat and so that was a distraction because it wasn’t fitted right and I won’t be sitting properly for this flight, kind of like half way in my seat.  It was fine, just not as comfortable as it should be.  But where is the voice of my instructor?  First turn around the field, I hear him.  I’m at 100 feet.  Second turn – took a while for him to tell me it’s time to turn, but I hear him and make the turn.  200 feet.  300 feet.  500 feet.  1000 feet.  Why do I not hear my instructor?  I’m starting to come out of the stupor of first flight newbieness and realize I’m really waaay up in the air and, turning my head, I can see that the field is waaaay behind me.  Like 1/4 to 1/2 a mile away.  Uh-oh.  Something is wrong.  At that point it didn’t take long for me to make some executive decisions and make a turn back to the way I came.  We practiced signals in preparation for an event like this and it was happening.  I’m using my legs to signal that something is wrong.  The instructor knows we lost comms so he’s seeing my signal acknowledging it.  Most everything that was signaled to me, I understood.  Some misunderstanding on my part that, fortunately, didn’t create a problem.  Comms were restored when I got closer and I made a near perfect landing.  Wow, that was intense!

There were 9 other flights after that and I can tell you that the only one I truly enjoyed was that last one.  20 minutes in the air using a beginners wing that’s safe, stable, slow, and comforting.  It would be my last flight and it was great.

Texas Gravel Biking

Although I don’t think this cycling genre applies exclusively to Texas, there are some insanely excellent gravel trails to bike throughout the Lone Star State and I am absolutely going to do this one day.  First thought is hill country or possibly some serious flatland riding through remote regions.  Would be nice to couple with a river or stream crossing where you might be able to swim.

Google Images: Texas gravel scenic trail

2018_05 Curaçao

What was supposed to be a trip to Vegas to participate in the Badass Dash (which was very cryptically canceled for unknown reasons) has now morphed into what should be a very relaxing vacation in Curaçao.

Never been there before and very excited to see a new caribbean island, we’ve situated ourselves on the northwest part of the island, secluded and peaceful, this is how I’m going to ring in my 47th birthday – perfect!

Plans include snorkeling, relaxing, snorkeling, relaxing, snorkeling, and relaxing.  Somewhere in there will be eating.

No detailed itinerary, I’ve planned just enough of the trip to establish what I need and leave the rest open to discovery and adventure.

One week in tropical paradise, I cannot wait.

**Update 10/28/18

I’ll let a few photos speak for themselves if you’re wondering if going to Curaçao is worth your time, money, effort, etc…

 

Lots of great memories.  A great trip to have substituted for my 47th birthday and our Vegas Badass Dash that got canceled.  I can’t let this post go without giving anyone out there a head’s up about traveling around Curaçao.  I think a lot of people prefer to stay with a hotel and maybe grab a bus or some kind of tour to venture out beyond Willemstadt.  That’s never been my style and although I think there are places in this world where that kind of trip is necessary, for reasons of safety and security, Curaçao is definitely not one of them.  

Although our travels around the island never came with any issues, we were warned about being wise to stay away from certain areas.  I can tell you where ever we went, I didn’t ever let my guard down.  We did end of being the victims of some crime, but only to the car we rented.  No issues with people, otherwise.  The house we rented has to be one of the best houses on the island.  All the way out on the west side in Soto, we were in a very isolated area.  All but a few locals live nearby, which was comforting when things went wrong.  The place didn’t have a driveway area.  So we had to park on the other side of the street, in a little dirt pullout in front of what was “woods” (scrub brush, etc).  One of the days, we chose to spend the whole day at the house relaxing.  It was a super day.  Some time between the last evening and that evening around 6p, the front end of the car was stripped!  We didn’t even realize it getting into the car.  It was only pulling away, that the scraping of parts on the ground caused me to stop and investigate.  Imagine getting out of the car and seeing this…

 

I can tell you that it’s been a very long time since I’ve ever felt like a victim of anything.  Thankfully, neighbors stopped by, offered their support and explained that this is really the extent of the common crime you see throughout the “ABC islands”.  Car parts.  They don’t want to hurt people, they don’t want your belongings.  They want your rental car parts.  Ok – I can live with that.  I half laugh, because nearly all my friends and family laughed saying, “they stripped your KIA RIO?!?”

All is well.  The biggest crime for us was the time that was stolen from our trip.  In all, close to 10 hours invested in dealing with the issue.  We basically lost a day because of it.  Like I said, all is well.  

I mention this not to dissuade you from traveling to Curaçao or anywhere around the island.  I mention it because I would encourage you strongly to pay for the supplemental insurance on the car rental.  There are other ways to be insured for this kind of thing, but paying the extra cash will save you a ton of time and having to front money to pay for repairs before being reimbursed for it. 

So the trip was definitely an adventure.  We vacationed in Curaçao a little differently than anyone else I know, staying in a house in an otherwise very quiet part of the island.  We snorkeled a TON and loved it – got to do some open water swimming and exploring, away from the beach, which we haven’t done much before.  We relaxed like rock stars, visited a new place, learned a little more about traveling, and always looking forward to our next adventure.

Trans-Siberian Railway

On the must-do list… a trip to Siberia because I don’t know many people that would actively seek out this part of the world.  

And a link to an old mainstay of inspiration to travel off the beaten path – Lonely Planet.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-tips-and-articles/the-siberian-welcome-the-best-guides-along-the-worlds-longest-train-journey/40625c8c-8a11-5710-a052-1479d276afe5

Asian Carp Fishing in Peoria, Illinois

Another “Reluctant Outdoorsman” find on the Outdoor Network.  Asian carp fishing on Peoria Lake / Illinois River.  The festival is held in Bath, IL although it is clear there are nearby towns that now offer charters, adventures and experiences that will surely make you happy learning this completely bizarre way to help catch this invasive species.

peoria asian carp festival

When they say they fly, they weren't kidding
When they say they fly, they weren’t kidding