Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Naples, FL: Scenes from Vanderbilt Beach and Surrounding

Here are a few shots (mostly the beach!) on the trip to Naples. Dad and I both took a lot of photos to email to my mom, which we did almost as a livestream, and which she loved. You can follow along all in one go:

We had a bird friend we saw on two separate days. It was beautiful and fun to watch.

This was the view from our hotel room on the first day during a clearing of the rain. Our hotel was on the beach but you can see it was still a bit of a hike to get from the room to the water.

It was rainy and chilly but we still went down to the ocean right away. Then we turned around and went to the hot tub. (The weather was not beach weather for most of the time we were there, unfortunately.)

We were lucky enough to get to run outside one morning (of four) and this was our reward - a truly brilliant sunrise that followed us for the whole run.

We finally got to see the water without any rain clouds...

And my last day there (Saturday) was wonderful until about 2pm.

Dad and I went on a long walk and watched this yacht doing some crazy maneuvering. We had no idea what was going on (it was about 3:30pm in these shots, although it looks - and felt - much later due to the pink clouds) because the ship was acting kind of weird. We think it was a sunset cruise that got to its destination several hours early.

This is my favorite house along this part of the beach. The courtyard is just amazing and the whole thing looks so stately.

Dad got into the water for a couple of minutes near sunset. Then we went to the hot tub :)

Before leaving for the airport (I had a later flight) we got to watch the sunset. Despite the clouds, it was really nice, and a great way to end the trip.

I think I say this all the time, but the Gulf is really the way to go if you visit Florida. The beaches are white and soft and the ocean is warm (as a kid I remember it could be actually quite warm even in December -- it was 69 degrees for my kayaking trip) and much calmer than the Atlantic. Either way it's Florida, but if I could choose I would always go back to this general area for the beach.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Naples, FL: Kayaking on the Gulf of Mexico

I had a couple of days in between Winter Term and our spring semester before classes started back up. Dad asked if I wanted to join him for his conference in Naples again this year, and the dates happened to be the exact days that I had off. Coincidence? I can't really say no to Naples so off I went. I had a lot of work to do, actually, but work is easier by the ocean and/or pool.

I did find some time to not be working :) The weather was actually not that great for most of the trip (rainy and windy), but finally Saturday morning the sun came out and it warmed up to around 70 degrees. I decided to go kayaking on the Gulf of Mexico while Dad was in his conference.

On the beach near the hotel was a stand (Naples Beach WaterSports) where you could rent kayaks, stand up paddle boards, wave runners, etc. (and also could sign up for parasailing, but it wasn't available this day). They opened at 10am (which is different from the sign that says 9); I was there about 9:45 and instead of waiting around, came back about 10:30. The guys working were nice enough and got me all set up with a single person kayak and life jacket (and waiver form signed) within a few minutes. I put my stuff - towels, shoes, cover up - in a cubby and put my phone, ID, and money in my newest water toy, a FRiEQ waterproof case*. I bought one several months ago when I saw it had a good coupon code pointed out by Lifehacker (it was $6) but hadn't used it until this trip. It was totally worth the $6. I put my phone (and usually my ID and a credit card - that was about all it could hold) in it almost every time we went to the beach, and nothing got wet or sandy. I was very pleased. Not sure it will replace my GoPro (which I forgot at home) at least for water sports, but it will let me bring my phone along and not worry about it getting wet. But all the photos you see once I get in the kayak are from my phone inside its waterproof case.

Getting into the kayak and out to sea was fun. As I was getting ready to get in, they asked, "Have you ever done this before?". Well, not in the Gulf, I replied, but I have been kayaking. Not sure what they would have done with me if I had said no! But one of the guys held the kayak and I got in, then he helped push me out while I also used my oar to get out. Getting over the crashing waves took a little bit of effort (although not as much as I expected) and then I was out on the ocean.

I was instructed to stay within about 50 yards of the shore (the swim zone), and that is what I did. My dad says I look like I'm much further out to sea in the photos but I promise I was in line with the orange bobbers that designate the swimming area :)

The cost to rent the kayak was $30 for an hour, which is a lot if you're used to renting on lakes (at Griffy in Bloomington it's $7/hr, for instance, and on Monroe it's $15/hr), but I thought it was pretty fair for the ocean. An hour is a long time when you are fighting waves. But I had a really great time and am glad I took advantage of the sunshine to get out on the water.

Looking north up the shoreline from Vanderbilt Beach, where I started. I made it almost to those trees (mangroves) you see next to the tallest building in about 30-ish minutes. Then I turned around since I wasn't sure how long it would take my tired arms to get back.

(One thing about the FRiEQ - I had no idea about water spots over the lens area. So a lot of photos wind up being kind of bad because of that; sorry!)

This view is looking south back toward the rental area and our hotel. It took me about 20 minutes to get back, with frequent stops.

The two most fun parts of kayaking were sitting on top of waves coming in and kayak surfing on my way in to shore. If you get a chance to kayak in the ocean (or a really large lake with waves) try it out!

* That's an Amazon affiliate link. I would never link to something I didn't actually use and like. This thing is awesome!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Cataract, IN: Cataract Falls (Upper and Lower) on a Warm Day in Winter

Today was such a nice day (50 degrees on February 1st?) that I took a short detour on my way home to Cataract Falls. I've written about it before here, too. On this trip I spent about 30 minutes hiking and taking photos, from about 5:15-5:45pm.

The Upper Falls were full thanks to the melting snow. The noise was almost deafening, which is what I like when I visit waterfalls.

I crossed the bridge to the other side of the river to try to catch the sun on the water. The trails are a little narrow on that side, but easy to navigate, and they weren't too muddy yet.

As the sun was going down, I tried to catch it in one of the windows of the bridge. The light was so nice this evening (more like spring and less like winter).

Here's a shot outside the window from above.

I also popped down to the Lower Falls. They were even more stunning than the Upper Falls and equally loud today. I would like to bring a book and sit by the water for a few hours at this spot.

If you haven't been, Cataract Falls SRA is one of the hidden gems in Indiana - two waterfalls and plenty of hiking trails make it a wonderful place to spend time at. It's beautiful in all seasons and worth the few extra miles off of US 231 that it takes to get to. The cost is now $7 per in-state vehicle if you don't have a State Park Pass ($50 for the calendar year), but sometimes no one is there to take your money, like today. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Bloomington, IN: First Day Trail Run at Lake Monroe

Happy New Year! Hope your year is off to a great start. We had friends over for the midnight festivities, then yesterday I headed out with some other friends to run it all off.

All around Indiana, the state parks hosted some kind of first day run/walk/hike/ride. Lake Monroe hosted a run/walk for the 3rd year in a row. 

The event is well done. You can either pre-register beforehand online or register on site. Both were $15 with the money going to events at the lake, but pre-registration also got you a $15 gift card to the restaurant at the Fourwinds. Either registration got you a meal ticket to a buffet at the Fourwinds after the run. The event is untimed and non-competitive, but of course you can do as fast (or slow) as you want. There were two routes you could do, a short 1.55 mile or a longer 4.26 mile. My friends and I did the 4.26 mile route.

There was a very hot bonfire going before we started that we stood around, since it was around 30 degrees.

The run or walk itself started at 3:30, with a series of announcements happening for 10 minutes before then. This was the only part of the day I didn't like. The announcer lady a) couldn't be heard and b) made us move from the bonfire to c) described in excruciating detail every turn of the course. Standing in the cold for 10 minutes before going to run is a bad idea. She lost most everyone after about 3 minutes because everyone just wanted to get out there! The trail was incredibly well marked, there were volunteers stationed at any turn that was potentially confusing, and there were even a bunch of photographers stationed around, so it was almost impossible to get lost or left behind. No need to make everyone wait like that for so long.

Finally we started on the run! Steph, Rhonda, and I got caught behind a lot of walkers at the start and finally made it out to open space, only to get caught behind walkers during the first woods section which was single file. At the time it was frustrating (at races - which this wasn't, of course - the slower people or walkers are made to start at the back, so this doesn't really happen) but it turned into a blessing in disguise. The section through the woods at the start was all uphill. All three of us were not feeling 100%, and we wound up being forced to walk a lot of the uphill here due to not being able to pass people. This, as we found out, ended up giving us a lot more left in the tank later in the game when we had a million more hills later in the course.

My phone lets me take photos by pushing the volume up button (instead of having to tap the screen, helpful when you have gloves on), so I carried it with me and snapped a photo every once in a while. Here are some photos from the course -- there were woods, grassy fields, hills, downhills, views of the lake, puppies, lots of people of all ages, and sunshine:

And an hour later, the finish chute! Our fitness trackers told us we went about 4.3 miles in just around an hour. Trail running is a lot slower than road running (a lot more hazards to work with) and a lot of fun.

After the run, we were all starving and happy to go inside the Fourwinds for the food. They had quite the spread, and also had water and Gatorade. There were unhealthy things (fried mushrooms and jalapeno poppers) as well as tons of healthy food (bell pepper slices and tons of fruit), and even pizzas. We all wound up going through a second time when they brought out different food (meatballs and chicken skewers). It was a great way to end the event.

Growing up my dad would always make sure we ran on the last day of the year and the first day of the new year -- finish and start strong. This event (and all the others around the state) was a great way to start off 2016.