Christmas in the Caymans, 2019

So this was the last 2019 trip! You might be wondering how on earth a teacher affords all this! Well, almost all of these flights were free with my Sidekicks companion pass on Southwest and she had accumulated enough points from that perk (a credit card offer) to basically make almost all the flights expenses during this year for damn near nothing! Hotels/Airbnbs and rental cars were a different story, but we managed to do most of all of that on the cheap, especially splitting between 2 people.

I usually go to Indiana for Christmas, but I had been there just 3 weeks prior so we found one last flight to the Caymans that fit the free flight bill! So other than a brief visit to Niagara falls 15 years ago and a day in the Bahamas from a cruise, this is the first time I have been out of the US!

Merry Christmas from the Caymans!
They take Christmas pretty serious on the island!

So, there is a conversion rate problem here and things are kind of expensive. That being said, we found a hotel, Sunshine Suites Resort, right across the street from the beach hotels that was decent and about the cheapest we could find. The good news is it was a sister hotel to the resort across the street so we were allowed to use that hotels amenities. That was a great perk! Other than lounging on the gorgeous beach the entire time we did do a couple other things! We got on boat and went to a place called Stingray City. It was not without some trevails. The boat broke down a bit and it was a little weird…but we got to Stingray City and it was pretty cool! My friend was a chicken and wouldn’t get off of the boat! Afterward the boat took us to a snorkeling spot to do that for a bit. Later on in the trip we took another boat up to the northern part of the island and did a nighttime kayak trip through waters that had a bioluminescent plankton (the videos and pictures did not come out well).

I made NO adjustments to this selfie. Look at that water!
Close encounter with a stingray! Footage on my gopro from a random stranger.
Snorkeling in the Caymans! Gorgeous! Using my GoPro Hero Session 5. It’s a pain in the neck camera, but it does a great job when it works!

It was a short trip but was a lot of fun and was a new out of the US experience for me!

Overall impressionsPros: Gorgeous water. Super friendly people. Neat things to do. It is pretty close to home! Cons: Exchange rate stinks. And I think we were the poorest tourists there. You will spend money quickly here.

The Adventurer Final Word:
4 stars! Really awesome place but be prepared to open your wallet, which cost a star for me!

Macy’s Parade, NYC, Nov. 2019

Whoo! Lots of fun stuff in 2019! So, I am a pro musician and trumpet player down in Florida. In my area there is an adult marching band. It is mainly much older people than me and just more amatuer level than anything. It is also about 500 strong and they travel the world. I did not know playing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was on my bucket list, but here we are! I went with the Sidekick, as she used to live in NYC and was itching to get back to visit.

So the Macy’s thing was a good year and a half in the making. The buddy who I met up in Colorado the first trip and also who had the birthday that brought me down to South Florida this same year was also in the marching band. We were two of the “horses” so to speak in the trumpet section and planned on doing the Macy’s thing. So, we did. It’s NYC. It’s late November. It was about as warm and windy as you might expect! A couple notes about the Macy’s situation: 1) The Choreography of both the performance and the logistics has to be spot on perfect to be put on the TV telecast. 2) The practice for the parade and those logistics happens at like 1 or 2 AM and then from there its to breakfast and then lining up by 8. Not a short day at all! The Sidekick and I did a little New York stuff when we got into the city. The entire band was in a hotel just behind Times Square, so a super convenient location for sure. We did the performance, it went off pretty well! The Sidekick and I did some exploring of the city that night and the following day.

Me on TV!
Evening Rehearsal. Not the 1 Am one…
Behind the scenes!
Climbable thing in the city.
Pretty Holiday Scene in the City.

Early Sat we got up and ubered our way to Laguardia. The sidekick was back to Florida and I was off to Indiana, first.

Overall impressionsPros: A neat once in a lifetime experience! NYC is a lot of fun and plenty of stuff to do. Cons: Cold and windy in the winter. Probably too busy for my liking. The band has done 2 Macy’s parades in only 11 years. If it comes up again, I have little desire to do this again.

The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! Just because so few get a chance to do the Macy’s Parade. NYC is cool too, but probably wouldn’t be a 5 star without the Macy’s Experience.

Colorado. Salida/Great Sand Dunes National Park/Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park/Telluride/Denver. July 2019

National Parks Counter: 11, 12

Right off the bat, this is probably one my favorite trips, so far. I was with the Sidekick, we saw 2 national parks, almost every area of the state, and did LOTS OF COOL SHIT. Stops included: a wolf rescue, Great Sand Dunes National Park, whitewater rafting in Buena Vista, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Telluride, Denver, Breckenridge, and Golden.

So right out the gate we did something really, REALLY cool. We stopped by a now defunct wolf sanctuary. It seemed to be run by a pretty weird eccentric older guy who seriously loved those wolves! Pretty ragtag operation, but we got to actually physically interact with these guys. Some were half breeds too, but they all needed a place to sleep and someone to care for them. This was in a very small town called Guffey, elevation at a very surprising 9000 feet! Very neat experience and it was free! But we each made a donation to help out the critters!

Cute wolves! They’ll rip your arms off if you aren’t cool! Pic by the Adventurer.

We made our way to our base of operations for the next two evenings: Salida, CO, population like 15. Ok, not really, but it is small. The town itself is situated along the Arkansas river in a fairly ideal spot surrounded by mountains. It is about an hour and a half north of the Great Sand Dunes but also only a little south of the whitewater rafting location, and also directly on the road that we needed to take across the state in a couple days.

The Adventurer in front of the Arkansas River in Salida, CO. Picture by te Sidekick.

The Great Sand Dunes are really neat! We rented sand boards/sleds from the nearby town and went adventuring! There are plenty of hiking and mountain type opportunities there but we committed to just hanging out on these sand dunes. And they are not little humps of sand either! Super fun trying to sled down these dunes but I was terrible at it! Just terrible! Nicki was a a little better. And the children around were just whipping around these things like they were nothing. Very annoying, kid!

Grand Sand Dunes National Park. Not the best picture in the world, and I don’t like getting roads in pictures like this, but it does give you some sense of the terrain and the dunes against the mountains! Picture by the Adventurer.
Hmm. Adult language…I promise this is harder than it looks!

After a night out and about in Salida (that means the one nearby bar that was open!) we got up early to head to the Adventure Company in Buena Vista to raft a spot in the Arkansas called simply, The Numbers. This is a pretty difficult stretch, class IV and V, with a bunch of rapids in short succession, and they are just numbered instead of properly named. Now, this was late July and usually by this point the rivers have settled down a bit. Unlike the previous year’s Royal Gorge, late June and already settled down water, this summer the water was crazy high. In fact, I do not believe they could even open this stretch to rafting until a week or two before we went, so it was exciting. Best part: no raft ejections this time!

The Numbers section of the Arkansas River out of Buena Vista. And wow, I kinda forgot how fast that water was moving! There might be some questionable language on any of these videos….

After rafting we hit the road and headed toward our evening destination in a town called Placerville, just outside of Telluride. En route we had a planned stop at another national park, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison. So this place was definitely cool to look at, but there is not a terribly large amount of things to do, or even much hiking, outside of stopping at overlooks and the small treks to the edge. Don’t get me wrong, it was spectacular, but the canyon is literally almost straight down (it is called the black canyon because some parts are so narrow that sunlight doesn’t really ever make it through) and so that means not much in the way of trails. If you are the type that loves to experience cool things while driving or close to the road this is a cool one and very neat to see!

Painted Wall in Black Canyon of The Gunnison National Park. Photo by the Adventurer.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The river is called The Gunnison. Photo by the Adventurer.
The Angler Inn. Our lodging in Placerville, outside of Telluride. It was much cheaper than staying in Telluride! Photo by the Adventurer.

We made our way to south through a really gorgeous stretch of road that at times reminded me of the mountains in Alaska. But, I guess this is the reason they call parts of this area the Alps of America. So this is where we pulled an audible. The plan was to make a brief stop in Telluride before it got dark that evening, go to Mesa Verde National Park about an hour or two down the road the next day and then head back to Denver the following morning. After our short evening visit and dinner in Telluride, it was decided to spend the next day entirely in Telluride. Telluride is spectacular and we were both needing a more relaxed day without driving 200 miles round trip. Telluride is a ski town, but even in the summer it was cool AF. We spent the entire day there. There are a couple breweries/pubs in the town. There are, of course, some excellent hiking opportunities. We hiked a jeep road that leads to some crazy mountain road that nutty people will drive, but hikers use it as well and it goes up to a sweet tall waterfall, Bridal Veil Falls. There is also a free gondola that goes up the mountain and over to another town even a bit higher in elevation called Mountain Village (all ski resort type stuff). It was up here that I learned that high elevation and alcohol are not a great mix! An IPA up there had my head spinning like crazy, but down in Telluride, about 1000 feet lower, I was just fine. Speaking of beer, there are a couple cool spots to grab a brew! Telluride Brewing Co. is just outside of town and cannot be missed. The Smuggler Union Restaurant and Brewery is tucked away in a corner of Telluride proper. Some really good beers and some delicious food can be found here!

Telluride from the gondola. Photo by the Adventurer.
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Bridal Falls on the Jeep trail outside of Telluride. Photo by some random stranger!
Fun observations from my travel buddy.

The next day we got up and headed in the general direction of Denver. It was a lengthy drive and unbeknownst to us, the time we left could not have been any later due to a thing that happened later! In preparation for this drive we found a mountain top amusement park in a town called Glenwood Springs. The drive near Glenwood Springs on I-70 is pretty amazing, basically driving at the bottom, along the river, of a deep canyon. As we got into the town it started raining quite heavily for a bit so we stopped to eat lunch. As the rain cleared we parked at the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and got into the line to take the gondola up the mountain. It was about this time, or right when we got up to the park that we found out that I-70 had been entirely blocked by a mudslide from that rain! Had we been like 30 minutes later, maybe less, we would have had a SERIOUS problem. I think the interstate was closed the rest of the day and if I remember correctly the detour to get back on the way to Denver was a large number of hours. Eek! Anyway, the amusement park on the mountain top was AMAZING. The Alpine coaster…legit. That is some fun crap!

The SUPER FUN Alpine Coaster. And be warned there is some sporadic but very adult language in this one!

We finally made it to our AirBnb in Arvada, just outside of Denver. We hung out around Denver one of the days we had left. We checked out this area called the Mall, and outdoor corridor of shops, restaurants and the like. We did spend a day checking out Red Rocks, and then exploring Breckenridge. Breck is another really awesome ski spot. After doing some light exploration of the town, we saddled down to a beer at the Breckenridge Brewery. That Vanilla Porter is delicious, but they actually sell it here in Florida, so I had some other brews! Afterward, we did a pretty decent hike in the afternoon, something called Mohawk Lake Trail. We didn’t make it quite to the end as it was getting late, but we went pretty far and to one of the lakes nearish the end.

The Adventurer in Breckenridge. Photo by the Sidekick.
The end of our trail in Breck.

The wrap up of our trip was a morning spent in Golden. We found a little mountain hike and a cool bar to finish up our trip before heading to the airport, Ace Hi Tavern where the Sidekick gave a great narration using the map in the bar!

Nicki narrates our trip!

Overall impressionsPros: Two national parks. Telluride is amazing. The white water rafting was outstanding fun. Not scenic really, but super intense! It was awesome getting up close and personal with actual damn wolves! Cons: Just a lot of driving, which cannot be helped. Maybe, as I said for the previous year, there is too much to do!

The Adventurer Final Word:
5 Stars! If you haven’t experienced Colorado, and I don’t mean Denver either, you are missing out!

Southeast Roadtrip. Savannah, GA/Congaree National Park/Asheville, NC/Great Smoky Mountains National Park/Clayton, GA. June 2019

National Park Counter: 9, 10

Ok, so this one actually came before the California trip as well, and I forgot it too! Oops! Anyway this was a road trip my buddy Matthew took with me. He lives in Guam but comes to Florida to visit often. We have been throughout Florida so much, and I have the travel bug so I suggested we take a road trip out of state when he got here. The. plan: leave for Savannah, GA on day one, and stay the night there; get up the next day and drive to Congaree National Park; from there head toward Asheville and make an overnight stop there; get up the next day and go to Great Smoky Mountains National Park; stay the night in Cherokee, NC; travel and stay the day and night in Clayton, GA; return to Florida. In other words: a lot!

Unlike literally EVERY SINGLE OTHER TRIP in this blog, this one had not so good weather. My good weather streak ran out, so things were not ideal. It was not terrible…but not ideal. I had hope to do some more exploring in Savannah, but unfortunately it was pouring so dinner and a quick stop at a brewpub was it. The next morning we stopped at Congaree National Park, SC, home to some of the largest cypress trees in the country, and is some kind of special bottomlands hardwood forest. It was sparsely attended, very serene, very green, and there was not a ton to do aside from a boardwalk hike that turned into a small trail through the immediate area. I understand there is some kayaking and canoeing that one can do on the Congaree River if one desires.

This was pretty much it for a quite a distance! Taken by the Adventurer.
Some of these cypress trees are over 150 feet tall! Taken by the Adventurer.

After departing Congaree we decided to stop at a place called Chimney Rock, just outside of Asheville. There was some good hiking around the area and it seemed really neat. But the weather was not great, we ran into a copperhead, and it was ho hum because of all of that. I could see how it would be spectacular in good, non snakey weather though!

Chimney Rock by the Adventurer.
The view on this day from the top of said Chimney Rock….Taken by the Adventurer.
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The Adventurer acting goofy on the hike up! Taken by the Matthew.

My buddy and I made it to Asheville and did some of the same things I did just a year earlier. No pictures or further commentary because I just wrote about that trip a few days ago! So the next morning we drove from Asheville up to Gatlinburg, TN. There was a new Skybridge situation they had built there and it seemed worthy of checking out before going into the Smokies. It took a lift to get up there and unfortunately while we were up there storms moved in and we got stuck for a while. Annoying, but what can you do?

Selfie time! Oops on the reversed lettering…but this is the skybridge. The middle is all glass.

When we finally got down it was time to get into the Smokys. Before I get to further into this and it sounds like a not so good experience: The Park itself is splendid and a real gem – easy to see why it’s the most visited national park! Obviously, this was June, so heavy crowds were to be expected but it was pouring and I was hoping that the silver lining could be less crowded. But, no. It was crowded AND pouring rain. My hiking aspirations went out the window. We drove awhile in the park and managed to get some better weather in the Cades Cove area…and the dumb long line of cars slowly inching their ways through the area. The weather turned annoying again so we basically just finished the drive south through the park and checked into our Airbnb in Cherokee. We found a cool short trail to a neat waterfall before heading to dinner. While at dinner it cleared up and the sun came out! I told my friend: “Hey, let’s go back into the park.” So we did, and it was much nicer experience. We decided to try the drive up Clingman’s Dome at around 7 or 8 o’clock, which was a mistake. The sign said exactly how many miles it was to the summit and I don’t know if I ever watched the tenths of miles click off on the odometer so closely! I couldn’t tell you if the drive was crazy scary and exposed or not. It’s like we were driving through a cloud the entire time! We eventually made it to the top and did the short hike up to the top of the observation deck. I assume from the signs up there that you can see miles and miles, but we could see like 15 feet.

Smoky Mountains later in the day. Taken by the Adventurer
An old mill in the Smokies. Taken by the Adventurer
Cades Cove, taken by the Adventurer.
A close encounter with a friend, photo taken by the Adventurer.
Mingo Falls, Cherokee, NC .
Photo taken by Matthew. This is the end of a pretty short trail. I doubt you are supposed to go where I was standing.
And…selfie time from that spot!

The next day we headed down toward Clayton, GA. I was there just the year prior and it is only an hour or less from Cherokee, so a return was warranted. We hiked Black Rock Mountain, the Tennessee trail, from start to summit, about 2.5 miles or so. The year previous I had just driven up to the top, but the summit was actually off in the woods. We did the Tallulah Gorge hikes which I had already done before we saw goats on top of a country store, and had dinner at the restaurant I had been to the last time. Protip: if ever in Clayton, GA, check out fortify kitchen and try their homemade butter…you can buy a big container of it, and it’s not cheap but OH SO GOOD. After the long trip back to FL, this trip was in the books!

Many goats are on top of this store. And watch for droppings from above…
The big falls in Tallulah Gorge, taken by the Adventurer.
Summit of Black Rock Mountain! Taken by Matthew. Take the Tennessee Trail

Overall impressionsPros: Two national parks. Smokys after the crowds and rain cleared out. Clayton, GA (again)  Cons: Weather. Smoky’s with the crazy crowds and not so good weather. Congaree is neat, but not much to do there.

The Adventurer Final Word:
4 Stars! It was a cool roadtrip for sure. Had the weather been better if might have been close to 5 stars.

Miami/Everglades National Park/Biscayne National Park/Islamorada. Feb. 2019

National Park Count 7,8

I might have mentioned at the beginning of the blog that I would try to keep everything in some semblance of order. Done pretty well so far! However, I forgot this one. And it’s going to be a short one. The FIRST trip of a very travel heavy 2019. The friend I went to Colorado with in 2018 had his 50th at a restaurant in Islamorada, one of the northern Florida keys. He, his wife, some friends and family made the 6 hour drive from the Tampa area on Saturday and were to come back the very next day.

I went ahead and left Friday morning with the intent to stay in the Wynwood area of Miami. Think of a grungy industrial, craft brewery area and you got it! I also was meeting up with a former student of mine from many years ago who works in Miami now. He lives in a high rise in an area of Miami called Brickell, so we cabbed it down there and checked out some cool spots for the evening. Miami is NUTS. It’s huge. I had been down there once or twice when I first moved to Florida and its either grown like crazy or I just forgot. Anyway, Saturday morning I got up and tid a tandem drive by of two national parks near Miami.

Miami at night.

I first went to Biscayne National Park and to be fair this visit is not really even a visit. I walked around outside along the shore a bit and checked out the visitor center, but the bulk of the park is off shore in the waters and islands off the coast. I simply didnt have the time it was going to take to get out to the islands and …. walk around them like any other offshore island in Florida.

Some may not know this, but the entrance to Biscayne National Park is literally like 30 minutes from the entrance to the Everglades National Park. So I zipped it over there real quick like! I went in, found a visitor center and found a short hiking experience down the road a bit and called it a park. I had been there once before is some fashion…and to be honest? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…Florida is not that varied really. Once you have seen one swampy alligator infested marsh you’ve seen em all!

The locals of the Everglades.

Off to the 2 hour drive to Islamorada. I have done this drive all the way to Key West before, and it is very pretty. The water is gorgeous! If it were not so far from me I would go down there much more often. The Fish House is a super awesome place to go if you like seafood! I apparently did not take many pictures on this trip. Weird. But it is what it is!

Overall impressionsPros: The water down in this part of Florida is great! The keys are cool for sure. Two national parks (ho hum as they are for me) are within a stones throw of Miami. Cons: The scenery is not very good unless it’s the waters around the keys. It’s not easily accessible from me. The keys themselves are still a good ways from Miami and the traffic is a nightmare.

The Adventurer Final Word:
3 Stars.

California. San Francisco/Santa Rosa/Sonoma/Napa/Muir Woods. June 2019

The New Orleans crew, dog included (well traveled dog!) had already booked this California trip before we booked that New Orleans trip I believe! Destination: wine country!

As a prelude I will say that I really had to idea what to expect from this trip! I had never been to California before. I did not know what the terrain was like, what the weather was like, and I used to be fairly non-discriminate in my wine drinking! I came back very impressed with this area of California and somewhat a wine snob!

We landed in San Francisco later in the evening and got a start the following day! We spent the next two days in the immediate San Francisco area. I had never been to San Fran and never to California either. The nice parts of the city were definitely nice and it was definitely HILLY. We rented bikes and biked around the north shoreline from the piers and out to the Golden Gate Bridge. I do not believe many people know there is a fort under the bridge that is a national historical park. The basically built the bridge over it…kinda neat! Beautiful sights of the city from that area. We then biked over the bridge. It’s longer than I thought! And lot of people running/walking/biking. Cool experience for sure! We continued over the bridge biked down into Sausalito. This is a really neat looking town! It reminded me of towns you would see in Greece or Italy with the way the houses were built into the hills. The great thing about the biking excursion was that you could ferry the bikes back across the bay, so doing the biking and the ferry past the bridge and Alcatraz all in one! That evening we stopped by and visited some supposedly famous San Francisco Bar called the Tonga Room…a place that seems…like it shouldn’t be successful, or even popular. It’s like a kitschy ass older folks place with a young crowd and a big barge in the middle of a swimming pool with a live band? I dunno, weird.

The Golden Gate Bridge over Ft. Point National Historic Site. Photo by the Adventurer
The Tonga Room in San Francisco, taken by the Adventurer.
Alcatraz from the ferry back from Sausalito. Photo by the Adventurer

So the next day we got into our rental truck and headed north, over the bridge and out of the city back to Sausalito. Such a pretty spot! And we wanted to take the dog there and get a nice lunch! Afterword we headed up the road to Santa Rosa, our home base for the next several days.

Sausalito, CA. The business part of the waterfront is behind me, but it’s a pretty place! Photo by the Adventurer.

Our AirBNB was in a really neat, quiet spot kinda at the bottom of a large hill/small mountain, it was probably good that we had a truck for getting up and down the road the house was on! And, the best part? It was conveniently only about 1 mile from a really nice winery with killer views and pretty lavender fields! To clarify, Santa Rosa is in Sonoma County. Wineries could open at 10 but they had to close by 6, I think, and you could buy wind by the glass and drink on the property in Sonoma, which was not something you could easily do in Napa as we found out later.

The view from Matanzas Creek Winery, near our AirBNB. Lavender in the foreground, grapes in the background. Taken by the Adventurer.

Santa Rosa is also home to a world renown brewery called Russian River Brewery, named after the area close by where there are also lots of vineyards. So, we definitely had to check out that scene!

The tap list at Russian RIver Brewery. AKA Beer Mecca. Some of the beers on this list are among some of the more highly rated beers in the world! Taken by the Adventurer.

In addition to visiting wineries in Sonoma County, we also ventured off into Napa County next door, and down to Napa proper. But, it was quite irritatingly different! Apparently there was an old law in place for older wineries and a new law in place for newer wineries that dictated whether or not a winery could sell a person wine by the glass to be consumed on the property. You could spend a fortune buying a whole bottle of course, or spend for a proper wine tasting event (which we did a couple times) but if you wanted one glass of that wine you just tasted and liked, you might not be able to. Lame! Sonoma county had no such laws, so Sonoma became the preferred spot!

Castello di Amaroso in Calistoga, CA, Napa County. Spoiler Alert: this is a new castle, built to look old. Taken by the Adventurer.
The group enjoying wine in a cave at the Hans Fadden WInery. The lady who served us said it was on the county border but inside of Sonoma, so wine by the glass! Taken by the Adventurer

In addition to lots of winery stuff we also took a really cool hot air balloon flight over the Sonoma area!

Morning mist over Sonoma from a hot air balloon!
Naw, it’s gonna be pretty light. …. CRASH.

On our way back to to the airport we made a stop at nearby Muir Woods National Monument. Super large redwoods! Surprising that it is just right outside of the city! Protip: the drive down hill to this spot is intense also.

Muir Woods National Monument.

Overall impressionsPros: Lots of close alcohol access 🙂 Great scenery, much better than I expected. The balloon trip was super cool if not a bit pricey! Cons: Not really any. Getting around San Francisco was a little annoying and time consuming and I would say that was the only gripe, and they only affected the first day and a half or so of the trip.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars! Highly enjoyed this trip! Very relaxing, beautiful, and great wine!

New Orleans, March 2019

The beginning of 2019 brought some new travel opportunities! My bff Nicki (from here on out, the Adventurer Sidekick) got a sweet deal with a Chase Southwest credit card. For a little spending within a set time period she got a decent chunk of points with Southwest and a companion pass for the rest of the year! Translation: she got a super awesome travel opportunity and I got to tag along! Our first trip was to the big easy, NOLA, with Nicki’s pup Charlie, and our friend Katie! This was my first time here. *There may be some slightly inappropriate pictures in here…it is NOLA after all!*

This was a spring break trip, second half of a week in mid march. We got into town, no rental car, just uber/lyfted or used the street car stop close to the AirBnb. So we got situated and headed out! First stop was a snack and beverage at a staple called the Columns. Seems like a swank little place on St. Charles Ave.

The friends in front of the Columns. Photo by the Adventurer.

From there we found a roof top bar called Hot Tin and checked that out. Killer views of the city from here!

View of Nola from Hot Tin taken by the Adventurer.
Some interesting curtains in the Hot Tin bar….

Now for the rest of this trip…there was a lot of good food, drinking, late nights, and some awesome music! One restaurant of note was the Court of Two Sisters where I had some delicious baked oysters. I also found some tasty…but how the hell do you eat these? boiled crawfish.

Delicious oysters at this restaurant, taken by the Adventurer.
These probably would have been much better had I any clue how to eat them!

Other highlights during the trip: having a drink at Willie’s Cocktails, getting a Huge Ass Beer, Nicki and her dog getting a psychic reading (?), loving on the dog in general, meeting and hanging out with one of the Walking Dead Cast members, checking out the Carousel Bar, looking in on the Jazz National Historical Park and seeing some great live music!

Street cars are pretty important to NOLA.
Katie and me at the Carousel Bar. Photo taken by the Sidekick.
Dont’ be fooled. You can get damn near a 6 pack of beer in that Huge Ass Beer thing!
The pup had a GREAT time after….
…getting a psychic reading!
This place was very underwhelming….
…but Cafe Negril on Frenchman Street was kickin! Photos all by the Adventurer.
The gang plus Olivia (not her real name!) from the Walking Dead!
Three friends kickin it in the Big Easy!

Overall impressionsPros: Fun, relatively easy to get around, and many options for party type things, great food, great music! Cons: Lots of tourist trappy type things, I’m too old for this stuff, the Bourbon street smell is …not pleasant.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Four Stars! The trip itself was a fun one! I am not sure I will ever find myself in New Orleans ever again, but it was definitely worth stopping in, especially with some friends!

Solo trip to MA and VT, Sept 2018

This was my last trip of 2018! If you read the previous entry on my June trip to Colorado you may recall that one was supposed to be my first ever solo trip. It was half solo, so this one became my first full solo trip. Now you may think to yourself what is so special about this area? Well…there really isn’t anything! But, I was looking into a fall whitewater rafting option and came across the Deerfield River in Western Massachusetts. There are only so many fall rafting options to be found and they are almost all dam release, like this one was, and that means sporadic days are available to raft. A quick bit of research found a Southwest airport in Hartford, CT, and a quick drive up to the Shelburne Falls, MA area where this company, Crabapple Whitewater has a spot and some weekend rafting trips! I didn’t pick the area just for that. My research into the area showed a driveby of New Hampshire was possible, a good hiking option in Burlington, VT, and a loop to another mountain spot in extreme Western Mass.

After flying into CT (is there a point for this state to even exist?) I headed north toward Shelburne Falls, MA. It was a surprisingly pretty drive! I have been to Boston a couple times, but never out in the main part of the state. Very pretty, indeed. My Airbnb was right on the Deerfield River, near a local landmark called the Bridge of Flowers. I spent the afternoon and evening in the quaint little river town. A good spot to here a brew and some surprisingly good homemade bar food was the West End Pub and if you are looking for a more high end sit down experience check out Blue Rock Restaurant!

Deerfield River in Shelburne Falls, MA. Picture by the Adventurer.
The Bridge of Flowers over the Deerfield River. Photo by the Adventurer.

The following morning was an early start to the rafting company. I was a little nervous about the whole situation due to being solo. I ended up getting lumped with a group of early 20s Granite Staters (I looked that one up!)….and these dudes looked the part, let me tell you! The rafting experience was fun! As I learned along the way a dam release river starts off pretty tame, but gets progressively more challenging as you go down stream. This one basically started with baby rapids and culminated with a big class IV at the end. There were some new experiences this time though! Our guide found places where we could actually get the boat to stay in one spot in a rapid while the raft dipped down into the water to …flood? was pretty neat!

Fun new whitewater thing, to me, that seems like a generally all around bad idea!
The last rapid of the run!

After the river experience it was off to Burlington! I had never been to Vermont or New Hampshire and the road north from MA north into Vermont before cutting over to Burlington basically straddles the state line so I had to make a stop! I do not remember the name of that town at all…but it was very New England looking, big white church in the middle of the town and all. I stopped at a bar and grill and had a burger and some New Hampshire beer and called it a new state!

The drive across Vermont to Burlington was very pretty. The whole area is actually very mountainous. Despite being fairly short they looked just as big as any I had seen (low base elevation of the land)! Driving into Burlington you could see the big 4000 footer overlooking the town that I had picked to hike. It is called Camel’s Hump, is the second or third highest point in the state, but at that particular location it is high enough to have a tundra summit. How bizarre! Burlington was a really cool place but expensive. It’s about Asheville size, has that same eclectic vibe, but is clean and fancier rather that dirty and grungy. I got there Saturday afternoon and the entire downtown was blocked off into a big pedestrian event. I wandered into a couple pubs for live music and a beer. I found out pretty quickly how “interesting” Vermont people are. I asked a bartender about the Magic Hat Brewery and was quite surprised at the “we don’t talk about them” response I got. How weird. More on that later. It was an early night for an early hiking start the next morning.

Downtown Burlington, VT. Picture by the adventurer.

So the next morning was the Camel’s Hump hike. I took a trail called the Monroe Trail which connected with the Long Trail (this is actually a part of the AT) that hits the summit of Camel’s Hump. I started around 6 or 7, early enough to be ahead of most people on the way up. It was very serene, very quiet, and the weather was pretty perfect! At some point I decided to take a side trail to find an old plane crash, but unbeknownst to me I went the wrong way and the section of trail I was on…not one human was spotted. I actually slipped pretty good down a small rocky opening, no problems, but be careful! Had I been hurt, who knows how long I would have been there! Eventually my side trail got me to the Long Trail and I was able to make my way to the summit. It ended up being about a 10 mile trip! The top was disappointing due to weather. The tops of these mountains are anything if unpredictable with weather. The last 1/8 of a mile or so on the ascent, the temperature plummeted, the wind picked up, and the fog was pervasive. Usually there are spectacular views across the state from up there. I could see about 25 feet. Oh well, win some, lose some! It was still an awesome experience for me. Afterward I came back into town STARVING. I found a delicious menu (but expensive) at the Farmhouse Tap and Grill. Note: You will not find any chain merchant in Burlington. I think I saw a Dunkin Donuts, and that is it. Everything else was a local place, which is super cool!

Camel’s Hump o nthe way into Burlington. Picture by the Adventurer.

Other things I discovered in Vermont included the answer to my Magic Hat question, the world’s tallest filing cabinet and a neat park called Red Rock point. Let’s start with that filing cabinet. So, randomly, seemingly in the middle of an open grass lot in the town sits a very tall filing cabinet -well, set of filing cabinets attached to each other. There is thick graffiti on it up to a certain point. There also happened to be a brewery adjacent, Switchback Brewing Co. Sitting down for a beer I noticed normalish sounding beer names but then “Connector IPA.” I chatted up the bartender about this beer’s name. He informed me that right next to the brewery was to be an end point of a highway to alleviate Burlington traffic (it might smallish but yes, there were traffic problems). And due to red tape of some sort or another it never got done. Ah. That filing cabinet? Yep. Every 4 years that passes without a road they add another 4 drawer filing cabinet on top. It’s about the most damned Vermont thing I can possibly think of. I also asked him about that Magic Hat situation and learned that they sold out to a bigger regional brewery, so essentially Magic Hat was/is dead to them! Ah, Vermont. (I did make it to Magic Hat, by the way and I still liked the beers :))

The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet…it’s been a few years now, so there could be a new stack on top! Photo by the Adventurer.

Red Rock Point is a pretty cool spot. It is right on a point overlooking Lake Champlain with view out into the New York Mountains. There are a couple miles of hiking trails in the park, and is very easy, but nice, and the part along the lake is very nice. It is elevated maybe a good 50 feet off of the surface of the lake so don’t do anything stupid!

The next morning I was off toward the Adams, MA area and Mt. Greylock for my last hiking stop. On the way I got sidetracked and found some neat old fort ruins at a spot called Crown Point Historic Area right on the NY/VT border.

Ft. Crown Point Ruins. Picture by the Adventurer.

From there I decided to audible my day through the sticks in New York. And after having a near gas shortage experience in a huge area of no cell signal in the middle of nowhere NY I managed to make it North Adams, MA. My Airbnb was actually really close to Natural Bridge State Park. I had planned to hike Mt. Greylock the following morning, but there was road up to the summit and I was very sore after the Camel’s Hump hike, so that afternoon’s drive up was good enough. And then the following morning I hiked around and explored that state park. Neat spot, but nothing awe inspiring. Finally, my big loop took me back through my first couple stops, I found the Yankee Candle factory back near the interstate and I had an hour or so to kill exploring historic Deerfield, MA. Then, it was back to Florida and the last trip of 2018 was in the books!

Monument on top of Mt. Greylock. Photo by the Adventurer.
Old school house in Historic Deerfield, MA. Picture by the Adventurer.

Overall impressionsPros: The whitewater rafting was very fun, if not super challenging. The hike at Camel’s Hump was great. Burlington is worth a second look for sure and I would definitely consider another Vermont/Burlington Trip Cons: There wasn’t really anything super amazing about any particular part of this trip. If I ever find myself up in this part of the world again, it would probably be just Burlingtown and maybe other parts of VT.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Four Stars! Rafting and hiking and a cool visit to Vermont!

Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park/ Boulder/Denver/Colorado Springs. June 2018

National Park Counter: 6

First of all, I logged in today and see that I have likes and views! If you all see this, thank you! I did not actually expect anyone to have stumbled upon my humble site yet! I have not posted it on any of my social media places yet, so even my friends and family have yet to see this!

So, very soon after getting back from the trip to Northern Georgia I was off again! The genesis of this trip was an idea to do a solo trip on my own. I had never done that. I was sitting at a Rays game with a trumpet player colleague and good pal of mine and was discussing this plan with him. (I had pegged down Colorado but I was thinking more in the fall.) He told me he and his wife were planning on going out to Colorado to visit a pal out there in June and I should tag along for part of the trip! I thought about it for a couple days and booked it! We would be flying separately and I was still going to be doing part of this trip on my own, and was excited about it!

I believe I flew in on Tuesday. A couple things immediately came to my attention as not meeting expectations, First of all, it was about 9 million degrees out. Secondly, I was not entirely sure I had not mistakenly landed in Kansas and thirdly, WHERE WERE THE MOUNTAINS?! Contrary to popular belief Denver is actually not in the mountains. There are mountains past Denver, but Denver is not in the mountains at all. Mind blown! So, I hopped in the lyft to get to a car rental place in Denver proper. Protip: it is sometimes MUCH cheaper to rent from a site far enough removed from an airport to get around their sphere of fee influence. In this case it was like more than a 100 dollar difference, even with 60 bucks in lyft rides! Anyway, I got my rental car and it was go time!

From Denver I stopped for a case of water (you will drink water like its going out of style out there) and drove straight to Estes Park. This was actually unplanned but I was to be staying that evening in an airbnb in Boulder and could not get in until sometime later in the afternoon and I had several hours to spare, so I thought, hmm…let’s check out this Rocky Mountain National Park thing! The drive between Boulder and Estes Park was pretty damn cool. It basically follows a small river, through a canyon with no cell signal for large swaths of the drive. And when you get over the last hill going into Estes Park what a view! At an elevation of around 7500 feet or so and surrounded by these huge peaks it was quite the sight! Even though I had a few hours to kill, of course that wasn’t much time to do anything. I drove up the main road, Trail Ridge Road, through the park all the way up to its highest spot at just over 12000 feet. I jogged to the top of a hill at 12005 and surprisingly had no elevation problems! As a reminder of what a small world it can be, there was a lady working in the visitor center at that spot who actually lives nor far from me here in St. Petersburg, FL and had even seen a performance of the big band I play with! So then I headed back down toward Boulder.

Elk on the side of the Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo by the Adventurer.

After getting unloaded at the airbnb I found myself in downtown Boulder to get some supplies and grab a couple beers at a local bar. Be sure to check out Midnight Sun and Pub in downtown. Boulder is a cool little place to visit for sure! The next morning, Wednesday, I got up and it was hiking time! So that airbnb I picked wasn’t just any random airbnb, I picked it for its location within walking distance of the trailhead for Bear Peak, an 8500 feet elevation mountain that I wanted to hike. The hike started off not too exciting. I did the NCAR trail which is mainly a fireroad and the first 30 minutes or so (and last 30 minutes or so) are just in the blazing sun. Once in the forested area it is much nicer! I did attempt the summit trail, but I was alone, and there did not seem to be many people at all and I shied away. I also had to meet up with the friends in Denver in the afternoon so I couldn’t dilly dally. I do regret not finishing that peak and it might be on a return trip some day! But anyway, I did hike the entire length of the fire road and got some pretty killer views at the top, including of Denver which was a decent distance away! On the way down I took a side trail up another area of the mountain toward a Batcave. Seriously. It was a cave for bats! That was a pretty fun trail with some scrambling. I believe it is called Mallory Trail or Mallory Cave. I found a hiking buddy and I am glad I did because I think I would have got lost…and I think she was a little lost as well, but with both of us paying attention to the land we got up there and back down. Despite the boring fire road part, this was a really cool hiking area for sure!

Start of the Bear Peak Hike.
View over Boulder from Bear Peak. National Center for Atmospheric Research in the foreground. HIke started somewhere on the middle right side.
Photo by the Adventurer.

After finishing that hike I met up with my pals in Denver. We hit an area of town called RINO which is big brewery/hipster kind of area. It is a fun spot for sure and there is some really good beer going on there! I enjoyed Ratio Beerworks, and there was a cool outdoor beer market, if you will, in that area as well. This is a neat spot to visit if you get a chance to be in Denver!

The next morning the crew got up and headed south to Colorado Springs. We had a date with a whitewater rafting company in Canon City. We used Royal Gorge Rafting and Ziplining Company. This stretch of the Arkansas river is usually pretty challenging but I understood the snow pack that winter was light so the run was mainly class III, but it was still super fun and the Royal Gorge itself was a great experience! I actually got knocked out of the raft on this one….it wasn’t my fault! We went askew and the guy across from me fell into me from across the boat…my buddy also went out there too! Despite the fear of going out in a rapid, I actually was mulling over staying in the water! This trip was HOT. It was 108 or 109 air temp…and the water was in the 60s. It felt great! But alas we had to be back in the boat to finish her up!

Oops! That’s my leg. The head is my pals.
The whoopsie moment is about 2 minutes in

So all fun and games aside there was one scary moment, though, and a cautionary tail. An older lady, probably mid to late 50s, and not in great physical shape, went out in a rapid and had to be rescued…it was alarming! She ended up ok and in our raft, but she went out in a legit rapid and then managed to get caught in some rocks but in a spot where we could get to her. As fun and exhilarating as it is, don’t do it if you are not in great shape, at least not the harder, more technical runs! It was a super fun trip, I would have preferred a little more difficulty, but what can ya do?! After finishing up and grabbing lunch, we all stopped at the Garden of the Gods and did some exploring there for a couple hours. The group split again. My friends went back to Denver and I stayed in Colorado Springs. My airbnb was near a brewery with some delicious pizza called Cogstone Brewing Co., and also a city park called Palmer Park. If you ever get a chance to hit Colorado Springs, there are several other cool things to do there but I highly suggest both Garden of the Gods and Palmer Park. Both have some good outdoor activities and killer views of Pike’s Peak. Garden of the Gods will offer you the quintessential Pike’s Peak through the GoG rock formations while Palmer Park will give you the mountain looming over the city view!

Pike’s peak over Garden of the Gods. Photo by the Adventurer.

I really cram things into short periods of time! My last full day in Colorado got me up super early to make the drive up to the top of Pike’s Peak. What a cool experience! Some gorgeous scenery, pretty lakes, and a pretty crazy drive up to 14K plus feet! Despite no troubles with altitude at 12K, 14k was a totally different story. I got out of the car and almost fell down! I was quite concerned! After slowly acclimating in the visitor center (BTW, the donuts they make there are well known, and they are legit!) I was ready to venture back out again. I had planned to hike about a mile down from the summit to see a particular feature down the trail…I made it a couple hundred feet and was feeling ok, but then I turned around to go back to the car and get my back. And, that was all she wrote. As soon as I started back up the spins came back. So, I just hiked around the summit for a while, taking in the views! Side note, it’s COLD and windy AF at the top of these mountains! It was 42 degree and gale force (at least) winds up top, and about 90 and fairly calm at the bottom! At the bottom of the mountain is this tourist trap called the Cave of Winds. I stopped in briefly and was on my way. I took side roads from Pike’s Peak back to Denver which took me to another hiking spot in a tiny town with no cell service.

Summit of Pike’s Peak.

The last night in Denver and I think we went back to the Rino area. The next day was my flight home but we weren’t done yet! We got up early and made a quick stop to visit Red Rocks Amphitheater. Super cool place! Loved the vibe and energy of the Saturday morning yoga and exercise crews there! Plus there is a museum of sorts open and free to the public inside the bowels of the Amphitheatre!

Overall impressionsPros: Pretty much everything. The drive and experience to the top of Pike’s Peak, while not as ideal as hiking the whole thing, is a must do. RMNP is world class and a serious competitor for coolest place ever.  Cons: Not many. The air is very dry. That causes lots of issues for me, but that’s about it. If anything, not a con for Colorado but a con for me, there is so much to do that it’s hard to filter out things to do to maximize enjoyment rather than number of things done, but yet, I would not have cut any of these experiences from my trip!

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars! I do not particular care for the city stuff, but the outdoor stuff is superior and Colorado is super cool to visit!

Clayton, GA/Asheville, NC. June 2018

In early June, my troupe and I (3 humans and 2 dogs) crammed into an old Rav 4 and headed up ten or so hours to Northeast Georgia. Why you might ask? Well, my best friend’s old dog was ill and she wanted to do a last hurrah with the pup, so that meant a road trip! We looked for cool spots within a reasonable drive and found Tallulah Gorge just outside of the small town of Clayton, GA. Further investigation found a world class, serious white water rafting outfit based in Clayton, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a very close proximity to Asheville, some ziplining, and some great hiking! So Clayton and Asheville it was!

We stayed at a pretty amazing AirBNB on top of a mountain called Screamer Mountain in Clayton. I cannot rave enough about this place. It is called Halfway to Heaven, at an elevation of about 3000 feet. The place was 3 stories built into the side of the mountain, each level had bedrooms, a bathroom, AND a balcony looking out into the mountains. For three of us for 6 nights its was only like 1000 bucks, so not bad at all (fewer nights actually is not a good deal with a hefty cleaning fee).

View from the AirBNB taken by the Adventurer

One day was reserved for a 6 or 7 hour Whitewater rafting excursion with Southeastern Expeditions. It was a class 5 run, and it was not messing around. That was some fun ass, dangerous stuff, and I LOVED IT. We found some pretty awesome restaurants and bars in the town as well. Pro tip: there is a butter you can buy in bulk from the one restaurant called Fortify Kitchen that is OUT OF THIS world delicious! We spent a day visiting and hiking in Tallulah Gorge. This was sort of the big draw for this area. They call it the Grand Canyon of the east, and it sure is spectacular! We also spent a day going to Saluda, NC to zipline with a company called The Gorge. I had done one previous zipline in Florida, of all places. It was pretty much a flat zip ten feet above the ground. This was a serious (to me) zipline experience for sure.

Short dramatic clip of a class 5 in the Chattooga River. GoPro on my head!
Ziplining, well, rappelling The Gorge. Photo from the company.
Tallulah Gorge and Hurricane Falls, taken by the Adventurer.

In addition to all of that, we took a two day diversion up to the Asheville area. It was my first visit there and…it’s ok…little too dirty, hippie scene for me to be sure. But, there was some good beer, of course! We also went to check out the Biltmore House. Granted we got there close to closing of the ticket office, but for 70 dollars a ticket, I feel it’s overpriced. It’s cool to look at, the inside is definitely some good American history, and the gardens are pretty…but 70 bucks? Naw. Protip: Go to the FREE balcony overlook at the Omni Grove Hotel, but buy a drink to be nice!

Me enjoying a tasty beer at the Omni Grove Hotel, taken by the Adventurer Sidekick.
View of Asheville from the Omni Balcony, taken by the Adventurer.

We also ventured up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain and explored! I hiked to the top of the peak from the visitor center, my first mountain summit! To get there is a hike with a lot of exposure on some ladders and ropes. Awesome technical hike. It’s listed as difficult but I don’t think it’s that bad. The girls sat in the parking lot, drank beers, and staged pictures to look like they actually did the hike :)!

Trail info sign, taken by the Sidekick
You can hike the Mountain from quite a bit down below. We chose to drive up to the visitor center and the Mile High Suspension Bridge and then I hiked the 2 mile round trip from there. The peak in the picture is the one I went to. Taken by the Adventurer.
So, the trail is a lot of ladders and cables. Look closely and you will see that is a ladder in the back of that crevasse. I was not even all that easy wedging into there! Taken by the Adventurer.
And example of one of the cables on an exposed edge. Taken by the Adventurer.
Killer views for miles and miles up top! Taken by the Adventurer.

One more day back in Clayton to prepare for the journey back. I explored a little more out on my own and drove up to the top of Black Rock Mountain. I saw some good hiking opportunities there and actually found myself back a year later! More on that one later!

View of Clayton from Back Rock Mountain.

Overall impressionsPros: Clayton is a nice and not too touristy mountain town. The whitewater rafting is KILLER. The ziplining in Saluda was great. Grandfather Mountain and the Blue Ridge parkway are beautiful and the hiking was great. Cons: As nice as Clayton is you will probably find yourself at the same two or three places if you are going “out” and there is not a lot to do outside of what I did. Asheville is not as great as advertised. The Biltmore house is underwhelming for the price.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars! I definitely suggest this mountain get away if you need a short week or an extended weekend that’s no more than a state or two away! EDIT. I initially gave this one 4 stars for the drive. However, as fun as the trip was and the fact that it IS within one day drive, I am revising to 5 stars. I don’t really know what I was thinking. I made it a point to come back to the area the very next year and would like to make it an annual stop at some point!