Friday, May 29, 2015

The Call of the Wild

As long as I can remember, I have always loved camping. There is something peaceful and refreshing about getting out in nature, hearing the breeze blow through the trees, the chirping of birds and kids playing in the campground. Some of the strongest memories of my childhood were the camping trips we went on with family and when my brother and I were in the YMCA Indian Guides (now known as Adventure Guides). Whether it was going to the mountains or riding in the desert, it was always special. 

I remember being around 5 years old and my dad packing us all up in our station wagon and heading up to the local mountains in California. We had this big olive green canvas tent that looked like something out of M*A*S*H. We slept on the ground or on old army cots with wooden legs and trying to figure out how to unfold them was something akin to solving a Rubik's Cube. We ran around at night with the army flashlights that looked like a periscope. I remember my dad filling the Coleman stove with white gas and pumping the plunger a bunch of times before you could light it up. As a kid, these were fun times but you don't really think about how special those times were, you just took them for granted. 

Now, as an adult, those memories are very special to me. I love reminiscing at family gatherings at all the adventures my Dad gave us growing up. He was and still is one of the smartest men I have ever known and it seemed like he could do anything. Sometimes I wonder what his feelings at the time were when we went camping. Was camping with 3 kids and their friends stressful? When we first started camping, we did not have the modern conveniences or the products that set up so quick and easy like we do today. It was only later that he would buy a Camper that sat on his truck (and we had lots of memories in that for sure as well). However, for me, as soon as I pull into a site, I can feel stress melting away. I can forget about the daily hustle/bustle of work and life. It does not matter what else is going on in the world because for that weekend, it all just stops.
The sounds of a breeze through the trees or a babbling creek, this is the call of nature, the call of the wild. It's about letting go of the now and getting close to nature, going on hikes, riding bikes through a campground, going swimming in a lake or just sitting around a crackling fire. Our soul has a desire, a need to mend itself. Nature, in all its beauty can be the perfect medicine. 

In some ways, camping is a spiritual experience. Sadly enough, too many people are not taking the time to enjoy the wonders around them. We have a tremendous National Park System and every state in this union has their own state park system where camping is affordable and accessible. In addition to these, there are thousands of private campgrounds full of amenities for all walks of life. There really is no reason not to take advantage of these opportunities and see the natural wonders around us.

It is too easy to get caught up in the daily routine of life and forget about how camping can make you feel. For over 10 years I had not camped, it was too much hassle, took up the whole weekend, it did not leave me time to get things done around the house...there was always an excuse. It got to a point where we just stopped thinking about it.

Well, it's time to stop making excuses and get out and relive some of those childhood memories. Don't let the routine of life drag you down so that you can't get back up. Get out, get energized. It's time to mend your soul. 

What are your fondest camping memories from your childhood? Please share in the comments below.

Hope to see you round the campground, 
Jay T. 
Some images used in this post provided under Creative Commons License

Friday, May 22, 2015

Planes, Trains and Automobiles - Traveling for Work vs. Pleasure

I am on the road frequently, sometimes for pleasure, but mostly for business. Working in the tech industry, my job takes me all over the world. I have flown over 1.3 million miles over the past 15 years. On most of my trips, I end up at the airport at some ungodly hour in the morning, have layovers at distant airports and sleep in multiple hotels on a single trip. There have been times where I have woken up and not known what city I was in or where I needed to be that morning. 

I have traveled across Asia, Europe and all over the U.S. Many people I meet think it is exciting and exotic, and I suppose at first it was fun. However, anyone that does this for a living knows that things are not always as it appears. It can take 24 hours or more travel time door to door with long layovers in remote locations to get to my final destination. 

A typical trip goes something like this...You go from the airport to the hotel, try to get some sleep that night but usually don't. The next day, you get up and go to partner office for meetings, then jump in another cab or take the subway to next partner and more meetings. After 3-4 meetings that day, you finish it off with dinner with 1 last partner and finally back to hotel. After a full week or two, you finally go back to the airport for another full day of travel. 

Sometimes, your partners will take you to the most exotic restaurant in town and feed you things you only see on Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmerman. I have risked my life eating blowfish, I have had escargot, I have eaten lobster Sashimi so fresh the lobster was still moving on the bed of ice and there have been things I have eaten where to this day I am not sure what it was. Usually I look for anything chicken on the menu but that is not always an option. There has been a time or two where I wasn't sure I would be able to eat what was sitting in front of me, but you don't want to offend your partner so you find a way to choke it down (sometimes alcohol helps). My wife has learned over the years that when I get home, all I want is a nice, home cooked meal, usually tacos.

If you are in a country where English is not the primary language, forget watching TV to relax in the evening (assuming you are even awake by the time you get back to the hotel) as you will be greeted by 30 channels of TV shows but you will have no clue what is going on. You rarely get any time to "see the sights" and most of the time your view of the city is from a taxi window. Now, you will get to see some interesting architecture as you drive by and if lucky, snap a few pictures. Oh, and taxi drivers can give you every bit as thrilling a ride as the best roller coasters in the U.S., so keep your hands inside the car at all times. By the time you finally get adjusted to the local time, it's time to head back to the airport and spend the next few weeks getting back on local time.

So, the last thing I want to do when I get home is jump on another airplane for a vacation. Sure I have plenty of air miles but sitting in another cramped seat that only reclines a few inches is not going to be on the agenda. Sleeping in a hotel and hearing the sounds of sirens up and down the street is not what I look forward to on vacation. 

Nope, camping for me is what is needed after so many business trips. I like to get away on a nice road trip. Get out to a nice state or national park where I can sit in the shade and feel the breeze, read a book or go for a hike. I want to spend time with my wife and my dog and just get away from traffic, the crowds, the emails, the noise of the city. I will cover in more detail about the healing properties of nature in an up coming issue of Cool Tears so look out for that one soon.

Do you have stories from your life on the road? If so, share it here, would love to hear about your experiences...let's compare notes!

See you on the road (or in the air), 
Jay T.

Some images used in this post provided under Creative Commons License      

Friday, May 15, 2015

Strangers In A Strange Land - Making Friends While Camping

Camping brings opportunities and provides many benefits. It can bring you close to nature and mend your soul, bring families together that are separated by miles, and even provide opportunities to make new friends. When I was a kid, we knew every family on our street and most on the next street or two over. Everyone looked out for each other, kids played together, we even camped together. This was fairly common way of life so many years ago. However, it seems like times have changed, people get so caught up in their daily lives that people often barely know their neighbors. You may have a friend across the country that you met on Facebook and know everything about them but you barely know the person 50 feet from your front door. You might give a friendly head nod as they pull in their driveway or wave as they are mowing their lawn but you may not really know much else about them.  It shouldn't be this way, humans are social beings, it is part of our DNA. We band together because it makes us stronger and safer but also because it fills our need to have human contact and interaction. 

Camping has a way of bringing people together. While camping, people tend to open up more, embracing human interaction. But how do you meet new people, strike up a conversation? Some people are just not good at making new friends, they find it hard to get engaged. Perhaps they are shy or just awkward in social situations, but we all need and crave human contact. I for one have never been much of a social's never been easy for me to engage strangers in a crowded room. However, I have discovered a way that works for me to meet people while camping. While I did not do this on purpose, one of the best ways I have found to meet new people while camping is to inadvertently leave something at home. Everyone does it, the one item you forgot to pack, it might be a tool or lighter fluid for the coals, but there is always something.

In our case, it was a can opener. While on our maiden voyage with our trailer, we decided to celebrate our first night in our trailer with some steak, broccoli and ranch style beans. However, as we started to prepare dinner we realized we had no way to open the can of beans. So, we reached out to our nearest camp neighbors to borrow a can opener. It was the perfect icebreaker to start a conversation. As it turned out, it was their maiden voyage as well. We spent the entire weekend hanging with our camp neighbors and discovering that we had a lot in common. We enjoyed their company so much, we have stayed in contact with them and even went on other camping trips together.

We have been on both the borrowing end and the lending end. On yet another camping trip, one of our nearest neighbors was having trouble getting their coals lit due to rain the night before. As it so happened, I had an extra bag of coals that were dry. So, when they came over for some help, I was glad to provide some coals and help them get them started. In both cases, it turned out to be a great way to meet camp neighbors and make new friends.

Getting to know your camp neighbors can not only be fun, but also provide useful. Just like at home, camp neighbors that know one another tend to look out for each other. While not common, thieves have targeted campgrounds in the past. They might steal chairs, generators or coolers and friendly camp neighbors can help deter strangers from lurking around your campsite while you might be away. Friendly camp neighbors help form a sort of neighborhood watch.

So, next time you are out camping, leave your can opener at home and take a moment and get to know your camp neighbors. You just might make a lifelong friend and make your camping trip much more enjoyable. Oh, as for the can opener? Well, we never did get the can open as our neighbors didn't have one either but I am still glad we forgot to pack ours.

Some images used in this post provided under Creative Commons License

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Pedernales Falls State Park Review - Johnson City, Tx

Pedernales Falls State Park:
Located between Dripping Springs and Johnson City in central Texas, Pedernales Falls is a great place for the outdoor enthusiast and family camper. From the south Austin area, it took us about 35 minutes to get to the campground. The Campground is clean, most sites have plenty of tress and shade and there are plenty of hiking trails for all levels. There is wood and ice available for purchase if needed but no local store for grocery items if you forgot anything. The nearest store is either in Dripping Springs (about 8+ miles) or Johnson City (not sure exact distance)

The sites are single car wide but most are deep enough for an RV or Travel Trailer. Some sites are more wide open with sparse tree coverage while others are more secluded with lots of trees. There are about 70 sites total for the campground but it can fill up quickly so call before you haul and make reservations in advance!  There are also tent only/primitive sites as well.

Developed sites have power and water. Sites also have fire rings (assuming no burn ban) with a grill box as part of the fire ring. They also a picnic table and lantern pole as well as cleared areas for tents.

The low areas near the river are subject to flash flooding so be careful is rain is in the forecast.

The restrooms are cleaned daily and have shower stalls with hot water. They are within walking distance for most sites but they do have a few parking spaces by each bathroom in case you don't want to walk to them.

The park has a number of nature activities for the outdoor enthusiast. There are plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails for all age ranges. Some trails may be physically demanding while others are easy. The walk to the falls is fairly easy with stone steps down to the river front. Though the steps can be a bit steep for the less mobile but no more challenging that your typical stairway in a residential home. However, there are no handrails on those steps. The falls are one of the highlight features of the park and are quite beautiful but this is obviously subject to drought conditions.

There are equestrian trails for those that have horses. There is also a bird blind for those that enjoy bird watching. We saw a number of cardinals and several other species though we are far from experts on the subject.
There is a swimming area but we did not make it down there to check it out.

Fredericksburg is nearby and is a quaint historic Germanesque town with antiques, Museum of the Pacific (WWII), birth place of Chester Nimitz. It's also known for some of the best peaches you will ever taste.

Internet Connectivity at the park:
Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your perspective but expect to unplug during your visit there as cell reception was challenging at best in the campsite. We did manage to get 1 bar if we stood in the street in front of our campsite and could get emails/texts as well as make calls but surfing the web is not really an option. So it can be good in that it forces you to enjoy the park more and your electronics less but if you need good connectivity for some reason, you will be challenged to get anything at this park.

Note: Texas State Parks do not allow alcohol in public. Alcohol should be consumed inside.

Here are more pictures from the park. Image on left is of a spring popping up underneath a tree. Image on right is a branch/log stuck in a really tall tree.  Flood waters must have been that high in recent years.

Overall, this was a very nice park and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a great place to camp and enjoy nature. If you are in or passing through central Texas, be sure to stop in and visit the park.

Have a favorite park for camping? Please leave a comment below. We are always looking for great places to camp both around Texas and around the country.

See you on the road,
Jay T.