Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Aftermath

Other than stopping for dinner and fuel, we drove nearly non-stop from Denver to Elgin, IL yesterday. I took the Colorado-to-far western Iowa leg, and Aaron did the rest. He got us home early this morning - we got in and to bed at around 6:00am.  We slept until around 11:00am, and then were up to take care of things around the house.  The Jeep was dirty, in a bad way... so aside from laundry detail, a bath/vacuum for MaK was the order of the day. 

We both plan to putter around home tomorrow before the work week begins again... and we both have things to get back to. My schedule begins getting chaotic from this point until late next spring.

Even despite the vehicular snafu, this has been a really great trip.  I was able to see a lot of gorgeous country, talk to some fantastic people, embrace new learning processes and ideas, and consider other methods of continuing this journey I'm currently on.  I also found that with minimal availability, I learned to not miss social media too much.  While I do need to work with it to an extent (for some of the work I'm doing), I plan to back away from more than I had prior to the last few weeks.  Less subjection to the negative vibes, and instead use it to promote creativity and positive thought.

That said, anticipate some edited images in the coming weeks - I have quite the backlog now.

Thanks for following along these last many weeks, and extra special thanks to those who encouraged journaling of this trip.  It was a great practice, and I'm glad I could virtually take you with me.  :)

*pre-bath Patriot*

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Long Road Home

We started the day with the gorgeous view of snow-covered mountains outside our window. With partially blue skies, it was a much more welcomed site than last night's storm and chaos. The interstate looked to still be moving slow, but it was moving better than it had been. We'd made plans the night before to catch up with a friend near Denver this morning, so we hit the road in effort to make it to our destination by 10:00am. The roads were still rather sketchy - towards Silverthorne, we couldn't see pavement through the snow/slush/ice... but the closer we got to Denver, the better the road conditions became. We ended up being early rather than late. We had a wonderful visit and conversation with Alan, who made the 45 min drive from Boulder to meet us. I wish we could have stayed longer, but I was already dreading the long, flat drive again... so after a couple of hours, we headed out to tackle the plains states. 

That part of the drive has been mellow, for the most part. We saw lots of abandoned vehicles along the side of the highway - evidence of the crazy weather the night before. We stopped for dinner somewhere between North Platte and Kearny, NE. Now we are in far-western Iowa and I just handed the reigns of the Jeep over to Aaron to drive - I can't do it anymore. 

I can't say for sure whether or not we'll make it back without pulling off for the night - that'll probably be up to Aaron to decide. For now, I'm going to power-nap.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Red Rock & Road Closures

Really... never a dull moment.
Well, except for driving on the interstates - that can be coma-inducing.

But we seem to have unexpected adventure wherever we go - and today is no different!

We woke up to mid 40's and rain in Moab this morning - snow could be seen in the higher elevations.  We headed over to Moab Coffee Roasters for beverage and wifi - I had to be online at 8:00am local time to sign up for the first half of my winter high school game series, else I might not have gotten any work from that contract until after the first of the year.  Once that was done, we chose to head out and run Shafer Trail - one of the easier trails in Moab.  Yeah, yeah... we just had the Jeep fixed... but we needed to get it out to earn the almighty Moab sticker! ;-)  So, Shafer Trail was easily done in a couple of hours - and still as gorgeous as always.  It even had some angry clouds in the distance which were a lovely backdrop for photos.  We dropped back into to town for fuel and lunch before heading out... and chose to head up into Arches National Park and hop on the dirt roads, Arches Salt Wash/Salt Valley Road/Salt Valley Gorge Road, out of the park that ends at I-70. 

The drive on I-70 between eastern Utah and up until about midway through the state were essentially uneventful.  We often saw warnings to commercial motor vehicles that chains were needed before Vail Pass up until that point... but as we got closer, the signs then instructed those commercial vehicles to exit at mile marker 133, which was 40+ miles before the pass... and past that, we found out that due to heavy snow and wind, I-70 at Vail Pass was closed altogether.  The more Aaron looked, he was finding other interstate closures after the Vail Pass.  We kept going, thinking we'd go as far as we were allowed, and then possibly find another route to bypass the closures. The roads were pretty treacherous, unless you went very, very slow (which I'm not ashamed to do out here).  Vail Pass WAS closed when we got there, but we found a bypass and ended up back on I-70... but it was taxing to drive.  Given the weather, and the fact that it was well after dark, we chose to stop in Silverthorne for the evening.  We'll rest, let Mother Nature do her thing, and then continue on in the daylight hours.  After consulting with the weather, I'm seeing that the snow should end sometime around 2:00am... and hopefully the roads will be much, much better by the time we're ready to leave.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Land of the Red Rocks

Tonight, we are in Moab, UT... way up there in my list of favorite places. We had an uneventful day of interstate travel... not stopping too much other than fuel and bio-breaks. I considered coming to Moab, but I thought it was a lot farther away from our route home than what it actually is - but I was wrong. So we stopped here for the night, got some dinner at Pasta Jay's - a must-do whenever we're in town, and are relaxing for the evening. Tomorrow, we take a couple super-scenic (and super-easy) paths around town before continuing eastward.

Wordless on Wednesday

November 16, 2016

Leaving Las Vegas

Last night, we got the Jeep back from Discount Tire with 2 new shoes, we returned the rental car to the airport, and checked in at Luxor. After dropping our belongings in our room, we headed out to wander the strip... and kill some time before our 9:30pm showing of Cirque de Soliel's Zumanity at New York, New York. We walked between Luxor to just past Bellagio, watched the fountains, watched the people, and headed back to the theater. The Cirque show was awesome - it's billed as an 18+ show... so it's in Vegas, use your imagination. :D  A lot of sensuality, acrobatics, music, comedy... and some of it we felt closely related to our years in the Rocky Horror cast - wonderful show!

So this morning, we're headed back. Unfortunately by way of interstate highways. :P Google maps says 25 hours if we drive direct... we have the better part of 3 days, hoping to be back by Friday evening.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Jeep Repair - the Saga Continues...

I've been subtly reminded to tell what actually happened to the Jeep last week. My bad - sorry about that...
So when I last left you, I was headed to the Las Vegas airport, and I had left the Jeep behind at the dealer in Pahrump, NV. I got home Wednesday evening, had the next couple of days to decompress and get some things done at home... and prep for my full-day of photographing my first competitive cheerleading event of the season. Intermixed with all that, here's the lowdown on the Patriot.
When I had initially left it with the dealer, I gave them all of my pertinent info (and they had record of the Patriot in their computer, complete with warranty and roadside assistance information). I had informed them of what happened - the gravel/wash-boarded road, the 2 full-sized flat tires I'd endured, the rubbing, and that I had seen a bent component the last time I'd had the wheel off - and told them what I thought it was (based on what Aaron could find, and what I'd read online the night before).
Thursday morning, they called me to confirm a bent lateral arm and a damaged right rear strut. The lateral arm is what I had seen, and told the dealer about - I was not aware of the strut damage. At that point in time, they weren't sure that it would be covered by warranty unless it was deemed a factory defect. I gave that information to Aaron, and he wanted to call them directly. So he talked to them, tossed in some thoughts they hadn't considered, mentioned better-built aftermarket lateral arms, and they went back to work on seeing if they could get it warrantied. Aaron told them that it would need to be fixed regardless, so they made sure they got the parts and would begin work to get it road-ready again.
Friday evening I was contacted again and was told that they did not deem it a factory defect and that we would be responsible for the cost of the repair. I sort of assumed that would be the case, but I did make it very clear that I thought it was rather ridiculous that Jeep could advertise scenarios a whole lot more grueling than a gravel road for their entire product line... but breaking suspension components and bending a flimsy-designed part on a gravel road wouldn't be covered by a warranty. He agreed, but unfortunately wasn't able to do much more - he'd already brought the situation to the 'powers that be' twice, and had been sent back to give us the not-so-great news both times. We talked about how I'd seen other examples of this type of damage on a Patriot forum I follow, and he asked for me to send that information for his knowledge (which I did). But we're still stuck footing the bill - which isn't as much as I'd guessed it might be, actually. I wonder if that's just because of the part of the country where it's sitting now.
And then Saturday I got the call from the dealer that said the repairs were complete and that it would be waiting when we arrive on Tuesday (tomorrow).
So, the tires... Jeep offered to source and add the tires into their cost of repair, but thankfully when we had them ordered and installed at Discount Tire back in the summer, we popped for the replacement warranty. So we just need to get to Pahrump to the Vegas metro area on the donut spare, to the nearest Discount Tire, and have new tires mounted and installed. Aaron already contacted that location to order the tires, and let them know when we would be there. And he contacted them again today to learn that they have the tires ready for us.
We fly out tomorrow morning and should arrive around 11:30am local time, we have rented a car to get out to Pahrump so we can save on the ridiculously expensive taxi/shuttle ride... I'll drive the Patriot back into the Vegas area while he follows in the rental, and once the tires are in place, we'll return the rental car and be on our way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wordless on Wednesday

November 9, 2016

SoCal Trip/Return Home - Day 1 & 2

Soooo, I might as well get caught up before I head to bed.

Yesterday morning I headed out of my AirBnB house for the last time, and in the direction of Huntington Beach pier to photograph the surfers.  The initial idea was to get them with the lovely sunrise light... however it was quite foggy, so there wasn't much light to speak of.  Instead, I concentrated on their movements and action... and went for those shots.

Once finished, I headed out of town.  I stopped in Corona at a FedEx to ship the large 400mm lens back to Canon, and then turned in the direction of Death Valley.  Back to tackle the Racetrack before heading home.  I got back into Stovepipe Wells about 1:30pm, stopped at the general store to pick up supplies as I'd planned to camp at Racetrack overnight.  Once that was done, it was northbound with me... up 35+ miles to the Racetrack Road trailhead. 

The road didn't seem to daunting - to me, it appeared to be any average gravel, wash-boarded road.  I had been on plenty of them in the past, and didn't feel this was anything to concern myself over.  I did have 28 miles of it ahead of me, so I kept a consistent pace (not too fast though, as I recalled the reminders of sharp rocks).

I was doing pretty well, but then somewhere about mile 10, it happened... I lost the right rear tire to puncture.  So I got the Jeep to as level of an area as I could, and proceeded to put on my full sized spare tire.  At that point I decided that with nothing left but the factory donut spare as my last intact tire after the one I'd just put on, it would probably be for the best to turn back and get back on to the pavement.  So I got turned around and went a little slower back down the trail.  When I got about 3 miles from the paved surfaces, I lost the second tire - also the right rear - and also to puncture.  I considered my options.  Try to limp back down the hill on the flat and risk destroying the rim, or say a good word or two to the Jeep gods, put the donut on and creep the last 3 miles to pavement.  I went with the latter option.  Before I'd finished putting the donut on, a couple in a pickup truck stopped behind me.  They got out, checked to see if I was okay, and the gentleman put the 2nd flat in the back of the Jeep for me.  They chose to follow me down the hill in case I had other problems.  Fortunately, I had no more flats.  But i did notice a rubbing sound as soon as I hit pavement... so I pulled off to the side to make sure everything was good.  My friends in the pickup informed me that there were 2 other vehicles coming off the trail behind them, so if I needed more help... people were coming.  I thanked them, and they went on their way. 

It was nearing dark, and as I walked around the vehicle, I noticed the donut didn't look like it was on very straight - I thought maybe I didn't get it seated correctly and/or the lugs were loose.  So I jacked it up again, removed the donut, and discovered that it wasn't the tire at all - what ended up being the equivalent of the rear control arm was bent, and it was keeping the tire from being vertical and perpendicular to the ground.  Not good.  I was in an area where there was no signal.  The closest ranger station was over 5 miles down the road... so I didn't think walking that was a good idea.  Fortunately, I was prepared to camp overnight... so worse case, I'd stay put and flag someone down in the morning. 

But, then the next vehicle on the trail came up.  I flagged it down and asked if he knew if the ranger station was open (because I considered asking him for a ride that far), but he said he thought it was already closed.  A little at a loss for what to do next, the young man said he was going back into Stovepipe Wells, and offered to give me a ride back there.  I thought that would probably be the best idea - Stovepipe had cell coverage, food, lodging, and pretty much anything I might need to get help.  So I hopped in with Andrew from Portland, and his pup.  I learned that Andrew is a Nike-sponsored track & field athlete who was on his way from Portland to Flagstaff and eventually Phoenix.  Like me, he'd been on the road for a few weeks and was loving what the country had to offer... and he, to, suffered a flat tire that afternoon on the trail.  Go figure.

We got into Stovepipe Wells a little bit later, went our separate ways, and I sat down to call Aaron with my wonderful predicament.  I figured I'd be doing the calling, but as my phone battery was dying, Aaron took the reigns and made all the calls and did all the footwork for me (one of the many, many ways in which he's wonderful :) ).  After staying up for a few hours to see if a tow truck could get to me that evening, we finally learned that it wouldn't be until the next day.  So I got a room in the village, got cleaned up and went to bed.

This morning I got up and ready, and waited around quite awhile before the tow truck driver got there.  He was a really nice guy - his name was CJ and he was out of Bishop, CA... and he was pretty jazzed to be in Death Valley as he'd never seen it before.  So I hopped in with him, and we made the long journey to pick up the Jeep, and the longer journey to take it to the closest Jeep dealership, back in Pahrump, NV (that's how my roadside assistance operates).  Once arriving at the dealership, I was told that their service department was pretty swamped and that it might be a couple of days before they could even look at it.  Without an alternative, I left the Patriot with them, grabbed my important bags, and the dealer shuttled me to a hotel of my choosing.

I had a couple of options.  I initially had a job coming up this Sunday that I would have initially been home in plenty of time to do.  After the fiasco with the Jeep started, I contacted my person at the home office and told her it might be wise for her to see if she could find someone else to cover me just in case the Jeep couldn't be fixed and I couldn't drive back in time for the event.  But, once arriving in Pahrump, and once I got a loose timeline on repair, I thought that I may fly home... do the work... and then come back and bring the Jeep home early next week instead.  Iif she had found someone else to do the work for me, I'd just hang out here in this town until the repair was finished. After trading a few more e-mails with my contact, they still have the work available to me.  I made the decision to fly home.  I have a flight booked from Las Vegas to Chicago - I'll be home tomorrow night.  I'll work my event this weekend, and then I'll fly back on Tuesday morning next week... and with any luck, I'll make the rest of the drive back in the Jeep.

For now, I rest and try to figure out how to pack my 3 bags into 2 so I can carry everything on the plane.  My flight goes out tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, November 7, 2016

SSA13/SoCal - Sports Shooter Academy Highlights & Laguna Beach

It's been a whirlwind last few days. It's doubtful I can recapture everything, but here are some of the highlights of a great experience in SoCal.

Sports Shooter Academy. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Sure, I've known others who have attended in the past, and had spoken highly of their experience... and it was mostly those reviews which led me to apply in the first place. But the experience... wow.

Wednesday was the orientation/presentations/tradeshow day - that was fun and quite informative in its own right. But Wednesday was the day to get down to the nitty-gritty and start working. Wednesday morning I started by attending the remote camera session back at the hotel. The primary reason that I went was because the grouping of sports that I selected that day left me with the morning available. And although I had no intention of working with remote cameras this time around, it was a neat session to sit in on to simply become familiar with the equipment involved how it all works - as well as when/where to best use a remote setup. It's something I might consider attempting in the (not to distant) future.

That afternoon, I was slated to go to the Velo Center - a velodrome in Carson, CA to photograph the practicing cycling teams. This was the one event that I signed up for during this workshop that I hadn't seen or attempted before. I was anxious to give it a shot. I took the longest lenses I had (which ended up being a not so great decision), and I shot from all around the facility. Above, where the spectators sit... and below, inside the track... and around the apron of the track itself. I quickly discovered that the long glass was difficult to work with in this facility, and wished I would have brought my wider angle lenses. We stayed at this venue for 4 hours before returning back to the hotel for the first of 3 edit & critique sessions. Once back to the hotel, we selected our favorite images of the session... edited/cropped them... and then sat with various instructors - professionals in their fields - and they told us what they thought, what they would do differently, helped to see pictures within the picture... and gave the best insight as possible in how to move forward to improve. This, truly, was the most valuable experience. However, Wednesday night I was tired. I was frustrated. I didn't necessarily like what I heard from the instructors that night. I wasn't inspired, and I didn't really *like* anything I'd picked. Deciding to table the photo upload until the next morning, I went back to the AirBnB house feeling pretty defeated.

The next morning, I physically felt better. But I remembered how "bad" the images looked the night before, and that made me less and less excited to go back and subject myself to this for a 2nd... let alone a 3rd day. But I was in this for the long haul, and it was time to face the music. So back to the hotel I went for the morning edit/critique session. I looked at the 3 images I had picked the night before to submit for the daily slideshow... and to my relief, they didn't look nearly as bad as they did the previous night (sleep helped). So I uploaded them for the slideshow.

The daily slideshow showcased everyone's 3 best images. It gave all of the instructors (and the students) the opportunity to see everyone's images, and make comments (good or bad) as they saw fit. The instructors then selected the 3 best of each day, and those would be added to the next 2 days and then a 'best of show' would be selected at the end of the workshop, and winners would receive pretty swanky prizes. Some people got great feedback this way, others got comments about what should have been done differently... and sometimes images got no comments at all, either way. My first 3 images fell into the 'no comment' category - all 3 of them. I wasn't sure what to make of that. I wasn't upset... but I wasn't thrilled that I couldn't garner any sort of response. But I reasoned that maybe no response was better than negative response... and I moved on.

Thursday I was scheduled to shoot water polo and softball - both of which I have done before. Not much water polo, but I had seen it a few times. I'd done a fair amount of softball, and was looking forward to that. It was a long day of shooting, and traveling between colleges to get to the next game. But once I finished and returned back for that evening's edit/critique session, I felt good. I felt I had a lot of nice quality shots... shots that told stories... and shots that were more unique that what I typically take. I presented a handful of them to over half of the staff for comment that evening, trying to whittle the bunch down to 3. This was the night it was difficult to do that... as I had 7 that I really liked. Their comments helped, but I decided that I should sleep... and come back in the morning with fresh eyes to make the decision and upload. It was slightly easier to make a decision the next morning, but it was done and submitted for show later that morning. This time during the slideshow, all 3 of my shots got really great comments - all had aspects that the staff really enjoyed. And although none of them were selected for a photo of the day, I was pretty happy with the feedback I'd received this day.

After the presentation, we were ALL headed to photograph the same football game. Up until this point, we'd divided into 3 or 4 groups to cover events in different locations. It was certainly a challenge to go to the same event as everyone else and come away with something different than what the others were seeing - and I think that was the point. The game was great - lots of tension between the teams, the officiating staff, and the fans... which made for a lot of really fun moments. All the while, the entire instructor staff was also onsite (as they were in the previous days' events) to give suggestions in different game play scenarios, words of caution, and words of encouragement throughout the entire game - such a great thing to have! There are quite a few comments and words of wisdom that I will carry back with me - things that will forever live in the back of my mind until they, too, become second nature. Back to the hotel with us, to edit and have as many of the instructor staff look at our work as possible before the final slideshow of the week. I wasn't as excited about my images as I had been the day before - I was easily able to get my selection down to 4 or 5 images. Then by suggestion of the staff, I was able to narrow down which images I should take forward. I uploaded them that evening before heading back to the house to sleep.

Which brings us to this morning... the final day. The final slideshow... the final everything. After looking again at the images I'd uploaded the evening before, I still liked my selection and kept them... although I still think my day 2 images were the best of the bunch. Again, I got no favorites of the day... but my day 3 football shots also garnered positive responses from the staff - which was pleasing... and better than day 1.

It was an interesting experience - I went from being excited, to being discouraged, to being back to optimistic about my work. I received some invaluable feedback and suggestions and things to consider once I get back to work at home... some comments will live in the back of my mind forever, I think. Ha! But it's all good. It was fun, and I actually would love to come back and do this again in the next year or 2 - once I apply the things I acquired this time around, I'd love to come back for more.

Once the workshop was complete, I had the entire 2nd half of the day available... in which I met some photography friends that came down from the LA area and up from San Diego to meet near Laguna Beach to photograph, and generally hang and visit. That was a great time! We went to Shaw's Cove to photograph the people, water, sand and sunset... and then we headed up to Ruby's Shake Shack for dinner and conversation.Alex Bellanger, Eric Stoliker, Paula Contreras & Lorne - I truly appreciate you guys coming out on a Sunday night to hang out and photograph while I am here - you guys are great, and I can't wait to see you all again in Vegas!

Tomorrow morning, I head over to Huntington Beach Pier to photograph the surfers at sunrise before I have to return the gigantic loaner lens to Canon... and then I think I've decided to try to get back to Death Valley and make it up to the Grandstand and Racetrack Playa before sunset tomorrow night. I really wanted to get there on the way to SoCal, but just couldn't make that happen... I'm going to try and get there on the way out.

So here are some photos... I'm including my 3 uploaded images that I submitted each day, as well as some other fun things.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Wordless on Wednesday

November 2, 2016

SSA13/SoCal Trip - Day 11

Up early and ready to tackle Joshua Tree National Park.  I knew I would only have a few hours here, at best, before I had to finally make the trip into the Los Angeles area - I had to make the best of it.  I had driven through the night before, but with darkness brings the inability to see your surroundings.  :-P  So, this morning I drove much of the way back that I had during the night.  I stopped in a few areas, detoured some dirt roads, and stopped off to get some pretty nice scenes.  It's certainly unlike any other park I've visited to date - it has it's own very unique look. 

After spending about 3 hours in the park, it was time to go.  I had made arrangements earlier to meet some friends near Banning, CA - some wonderful folks that Aaron and I have grown to love in the past few years, and wish the distance between us all wasn't so great.  This was, so far, the first successful meeting of friends on my route (hopefully not the last), so that made me very pleased to see some familiar and happy faces.  Thank you Kyle & Diane for meeting me - and bringing me the fabulous blueberry scone!!  That was amazing!!  Miss you much!  <3

Up next was the search for a touchless car wash to remedy the dirty Jeep syndrome.  I didn't want to freak out my AirBnB host or her neighbors with an excessively dirty ride... so near Riverside, CA, I was able to fix that problem.  Mostly.  It's no longer crazy-dirty, but it will most definitely need a hand washing once I get back home.  But I did wipe out the Death Valley dust from the inside, and that has helped tremendously.

Move on down, move on down the road... to my final destination for the next 6 nights.  Costa Mesa!  I arrived here about 4:30pm this afternoon, met Sherry - she's a triathlon coach in the area, and she's currently training for the Ironman in Tempe, AZ that happens in a few weeks.  Along with her, I met Buster and Bonnie... the shih tzu mixed pups.  Super friendly, and already very ready to take over my bed.  Haha!  I unpacked, and settled in a little before heading back out.  I had requested a lens loan from Canon Professional Services before I left home, and had arranged for the lens to be sent to a FedEx location near my AirBnB host... so I had to go pick up the monstrous 400mm f/2.8 L lens - OMG!!  That's a lot of lens!!  And it's all mine... at least, until next Monday when I have to ship it back.  :(

Tomorrow is day 1 of the Sport Shooter Academy.  Most of it is classroom time, tradeshow time, and presentations by the chosen professionals in the field.  I'm pretty excited about working closely with folks that photographed the Olympics, the Superbowls, and various other huge sporting events.  Also a little nervous... but I know I'll find my groove in all of it, and it should be a fun time.  So the next handful of days worth of updates will be far different that what I've given you thus far - ready or not!

*some of my phone pictures from the day*