Sunday, September 7, 2014

Red Rock Kayak Camping

What better way to experience your first overnight camping kayak trip than to take your whole family and friends along.  I relied on my experience of prior overnight bike and hike trips but packing for 7 people seemed to accumulate lots of stuff and I seriously doubt all the stuff would fit into the kayaks and that the kayaks would be overloaded.

The bad part of the Midwest, or at least Iowa, is that it's all heavily fertilized and chemically treated farmland around here.  So even with the great filtration system out there I don't want to drink that water.  That meant packing 9 gallons of water for a two night trip on top all the other stuff.  Surprising though everything fit into the kayaks without a problem

This trip was also the first time kayaking for our friends.  Even loaded down they didn't have any problems of their new found sport.  We all had an enjoyable 1.6 mile paddle from the Whitebreast beach to the Hickory Ride hike-in/paddle-in campsites. Oskar was our guide as I made him study satellite images of our campsite and the route to it.

No, these kayaks aren't ours but I just noticed now, writing the blog, that Oskar's kayak is the same one he paddled on our last trip.

The kids had a blast at the campsite.  Lots of swimming in the lake and kayaking around.

Hickory Ridge used to be time share campground. The layout of the wilderness area does give a hint of this.  Some electrical poles can be seen here and there.  The only structure still standing is a large shelter with picnic benches. Iowa National Heritage Foundation purchased the site after it had been vacant for 10-15 years.  Army Corp of Engineers now manages the 47 acres with eight camp sites of which four can be reserved.  Source: local radio recording  Additional campsite info  At present the water hydrant and vault toilet has not been installed.  A port-a-potty did exist which could have used a servicing.

Besides the usual animal sounds like coyotes howls and owls hoots we heard a whole bunch of dogs barking.  It sounded like a puppy mill was across the lake finger.  They did eventually quiet down for a few hours that night.

Next morning we paddled up the finger into the Campetine creek all the way to the Kennedy street bridge exploring on the way and watching a gray crane.

Yeah, we wimped out and didn't stay for the second night.  I knew there was a thunderstorm coming through the second night and was somewhat prepared.  I even brought a huge tarp along. But at the end we decided that there is not much gained from staying the night and instead headed back while we are still happy campers. 

One of the girls was picked up earlier in the day so I towed an unmanned kayak back.  Not fun at all. The kayak didn't stay in a straight line and zig-zagged around behind me.  It even got loose once which I didn't notice right away.  Towing Heidi in her kayak was much nicer.

One part we paddled past was rocky and neat.  I've seen other pictures of Lake Red Rock and there apparently many interesting shore lines to explore on the lake.  Certainly worth to come back sometime for another kayaking trip.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Springer Mountain Hike

Another short adventure with a co-worker in conjunction with a work trip. This time we picked a roughly 20 mile hike to Springer Mountain to spend a night up there. We were lucky to get flight that arrived 9:30am at the Atlanta airport which gave us plenty of time to do the hike on the same day.

Steps by the Amcalola Falls

The hike starts from the Amicalola Falls State Park where we paid $5 to enter and park overnight. For the overnight parking and hike we had to register at the visitor center. At first the lady there thought we would be going to the Hike Inn and suggested for us to park at the upper parking lot. Once she figured out that we were "section hikers" she corrected herself and told us to park right across the visitor center. With that we got to hike up the 600+ steps by the beautiful falls which turned out to be the most strenuous section of the whole hike. I guess this is a privilege that the Hike Inn guests don't get to enjoy.

Hike Inn & Appalachian Approach / Springer Mountain trail sign


Once above the falls, by the upper parking lot, the real trail began. Winding through the foresty hills up and down, the trail takes one up another 2000 feet until one arrives on top of Springer Mountain. Most of the view from Sprinter mountain is blocked by trees except for a bolder area to the south-west.

Panoramic view from Springer Mountain

Appalachian Trail plaque

Springer Mountain peak

Several hikers watched with us the sunset but left us alone for the night, either hiking back to the Springer shelter or the trail head north of Springer Mountain. With the gorgeous weather we decided to sleep under the stars and forgo our tents.

Sunset on Springer Mountain

Open sky from where we slept

Campsite in the dawn

After breakfast and some dilly dallying we started our hike back via the Len Foote Hike Inn, stopping by for some delicious homemade deserts. One of the staff gave us some expert advice on adjusting our backpacks as well. Surprisingly there wasn't anything really to improve on my pack. At the Hike Inn we also break down and finally weighted our packs at one of the scales that seem to be made available everywhere. Mine came to 30lbs, 10 less than I was guessing. Still I don't see a real reason to weight a pack.


Stairs by Amcalola Falls

Interactive route map

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Baltimore & Washington DC


My wife was in Baltimore for a conference so I took the opportunity to leach off her hotel room and visit the area. Thanks to grandma and grandpa who made this possible by watching the kids. ;)

Baltimore from the air

Getting from the airport to the hotel was a breeze with a combination of the light rail and two rides on the free circulatory bus.  After dropping my stuff off I searched for food and ended up exploring the charming Federal Hills neighborhood. I saw the Cross Street Marked and assumed it to be a grocery.  I was surprised though that this grocery had the length of a block.  So curiously I looked inside where I found an indoor marked like the ones in Taiwan. I'm quite surprised to find one in the US.  There are several in this area as I found out later.

Domino Sugar Baltimore

After lunch at the marked I wandered a bit more and saw the gorgeous view of Baltimore and the Inner Harbor from Federals Hill park.

Baltimore Inner Harbor

Biking DC

Since I've never been in DC and there were a few nice bike path I took the opportunity to ride with the bike into the city for a day.

Arrived at Union Station

The monuments were a slight letdown.  They appeared much smaller and less impressive than my mind had them build up to.  It's one of the issue having heard of them so much.  Maybe you should only visit them as a kid.  The white house of course was just a white building behind a fence.  Slightly interesting was Penn Ave. and the park behind it, just because of the diversity of people there.  As everyone probably expects there are small groups of people that demonstrate for some cause and think they'll change the world by doing that.  Truth is that so few people are at Penn Ave. that they get mostly unnoticed.  Then there are the small groups of tourists, quite often on Segways, to stop briefly to take a shot before rushing off to the next site. Surprisingly homeless people sleep in the park while daycare providers wheel toddlers in wagons through the park. It's just like any old park in big cities across the US.

Lincoln Memorial
Jefferson Memorial

Interesting things are the little less talked about side things that one stumbles across.  The Eisenhower Executive Office Building for example was architectural more impressive for me than the white house.  And the nature areas on the Potomac river while riding the Mt. Vernon trail are a nice sight.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Capitol Building

Mt. Vernon Trail

Dyke March by Mt. Vernon Trail

As for riding bicycle in DC it's quite nice and easy.  There are just a few things to keep in mind.  Unless you are OK with locking up your bicycle outside you won't be able to go into any buildings. That meant no Congress or Library of Congress visit with my Brompton.  Laws aren't enforced even though DC has a wast amount of police officers, park rangers, and other security personnel.  The DC bicycle map states that riding bicycles on sidewalks is prohibited yet all commuters were riding on and off the sidewalks as needed. I ended up riding on sidewalks as well since in some places it just made more sense. At first it was a bit queasy when riding past police officers and park rangers.  Right at the monuments I didn't ride and in the beginning even folded up and carried the Brompton since there was an explicit no bicycles sign.  But I gave up on that as well when I saw that the guide led the bicycle tour groups with bikes right up to the monuments. 

WWII Memorial Detail

Jefferson Memorial as seen from MLK Memorial

I met a coworker for lunch and we ate at Toki, a Taiwanese soup place which served lunch at the Union Market. The place had only seating for 6 people and a nice and apparently one of the shorter line of customers stood right behind them patiently waiting for their turn.  Some unacquainted customers asked if they could have  the soup to go or asked for a menu.  The cook nicely told them that he only serves this beef ramen soup with whole soft-boiled egg today and that he didn't had more soup bowels. While the soup was great, I think the exclusiveness added a lot to his business nostalgia.

Not everything is bicycle friendly

The National Cryptologic Museum sounded intriguing for the second day.  The museum could be quite interesting  in a geeky kind of way.  I also wouldn't be torture others with a potentially boring subject to them. And also I would have some rest from riding the bike.  Oh, and did I mention that it's free.  Well this plan fell apart when I was looking at Google map and noticed that none of the streets around there were visible in Street View.  This is due to the Fort Meade military base.  The only way to access the museum without military credentials is via the freeway and bicycles aren't allowed to ride limited access roads in Maryland. So, no Enigma or Hobo signs for me.

Must be a bicycle friendly hotel

Gwynns Falls

So instead I cycled the Gwynns Falls trail which had lots of interesting historical markers and text along the way. Part of the trail was on an abandoned road.  Especially the disconnected water hydrants gave the ride an unique feel of abandoness.

Gwynns Falls trail markings

Abandoned road

The weird thing I saw was the Terra Nullius. I still don't understand this. If it's truly free land then neither the local or federal government would be able to do any enforcement over this area. That isn't the case. If it were some interesting stuff would probably be occurring there. Instead it looks like a public park to me.


The following I rode down the Baltimore Annapolis Trail, which was another beautiful long trail. Cycling in Annapolis itself wasn't that great and the small historic downtown was crowded with tourists.  Unplanned and by accident I visited the Maryland State House and learned that it served as the capitol for a brief period.

Navy Academy and Annapolis

Maryland State House

More Baltimore

After my wife's conference was over we visited the Constellation and Fort McHenry.  It didn't click until I was there that this is the origin of the star spangled banner. At least now I got a pretty good grasp of the history around it.

Masts of the Constellation

Checking out the plastic cannons of the Constellation

Hanging out aboard the Constellation

US Capitol

The last day we saved for visiting DC.  For the first time slot I got us tickets to tour the US Capitol. On the tour we learned that to visit the chambers you need special passes from your state's congress men(or women) and you can even get exclusive tours from them.  While the representative offices can only issue passes for the House, the senator offices can issue passes for both. So right after the tour we went by our democratic senator's office.  The intern was kind of like "what the heck do you want here" but she did give us passes to the chambers after we told her we're from Iowa and made the request for them.  So I wondered how the republican senator's office would welcome us.  To our luck a few Iowans had made arrangements for a tour and the republican interns invited us along on the tour.

US Capitol in the sunrise

Iowa corn part of the US Capitol

Tourists in the Capitol rotunda

These private tours start right away off by going through the restricted access subway which is way cool.  Of course we saw several of the same rooms in the Capitol but having a different tour guide we learned lots of new things.  Unfortunately neither the House nor the Senate was in session so we didn't get to see them again but the tour guide told us we could come back in the evening when the Senate was in session.

Old senate office building subway monorail car

Russel capitol subway line

Needless to say we went back to the Capitol after visiting the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court across the street. Btw, I highly recommend sitting in on the Courtroom Lecture.  When we entered the Capitol building the visitor center was already closed.  It was just us walking alone past the security personnel through the Capitol building.  By that time I felt like "home" in this building which is super cool.  No sleeping was one of the strict rules for visiting the chambers.  After having experienced the Senate I understand why.  Not much was going on.  At one time Senator Harkin (Dem) was addressing the empty Senate.  Apparently it is normal for Senators to hold speeches to nobody but the cameras.  After a long time of nothing we decided to head back to the train and call it a day.

Library of Congress

Supreme Court

Staircase in the Supreme Court

US Capitol with secret service