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Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label USA. Show all posts

Paddling The Hillsborough River, FL

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The Hillsborough River flows 54 miles from its head waters in the Green Swamp to its mouth in Hillsborough Bay, a portion of Tampa Bay, Florida's largest open-water estuary. From nearly pristine conditions, the river winds its way to Tampa Bay through rural, suburban, and urban settings.

My first introduction to SUPing in Florida happened on  the Hillsborough River where I enjoyed paddling my board to the heart of Tampa.

I also happen to live right across from Lettuce Lake Park  in Temple Terrace. Located at the north edge of Tampa, Lettuce Lake Park protects 240 acres along the Hillsborough River, providing a getaway for hikers, bicyclists, runners, and  all types of paddlers ( kayakers, canoeists, and of course paddleboarders ).

On one of the beautiful sunny days, I decided to go on a short adventure paddle along the river.

For the most part the Hillsborough is what is known as a dark or black water river. The water is stained reddish-brown by the tannic acid (the same thing that gives iced tea that reddish-brown color). It comes from the decaying leaves and other vegetation in the swamp.

The Hillsborough River has been favorably compared to the Amazon and the Florida Everglades as one of the great places to view wildlife. The Hillsborough River was chosen by "Canoe and Kayak Magazine" as one of "North America's Best Close to Home Paddling Adventures" in its May 1995 issue.

The River astounded me with its beauty and abundant wildlife. This would be a great trip for wildlife watchers, families, and those seeking the serenity of the outdoors.

TIP:  The above mentioned Lettuce Lake Park offers canoe rentals ( year round ), and nearby University of South Florida Campus Recreation has canoes, kayak, and paddleboards for rent.

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Kiteboarding Skyway Backside Beach, Tampa Bay, FL

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....beginning of November, and I'm still new to the area, and still looking for places to go kiteboarding, and people to go with...

...this morning I finally came across a group of people at Skyway Backside "beach"... the area is pretty decent for a beginner like me...though the launching area is relatively small ( especially with many people on the beach ), I had no problem launching my kite...Water level is knee deep, so I wasn't too concerned about getting stuck somewhere in the middle...

...a few people expressed their concerns about me flying my 2005 "C" kite...I have to admit, it's a bitch to relaunch it, and when the wind is gusty, it gets harder to control it...

...so, I guess, it's time for me to upgrade my gear...

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Back To Mc'Cormick's Cable Waterski, Wakeboard, and Cable Park, FL

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Last year, during my visit to Tampa, FL, I had a a lot of fun trying out cable wakeboarding for the first time !

This time, I invited my friend to join me. He's a complete beginner. As a matter of fact, he's never been on any board before. Zero skills, zero experience.

As I wrote before, the park has two areas : the main cable and Lil Bro, made for less experienced/beginners and/or younger riders. This is the best place to learn how to ride on a wakeboard if you've never been on one before.

It literally took him less than an hour to learn the basics. He told me that before he had tried to wakeboard behind a boat, and couldn't even pop up. After less than an hour of lessons at the cable park, he could pop up, ride, edge, and was ready for the main cable.

Two hours of riding was more than enough for us to get a great workout and have tons of fun !

So if you've never tried wakeboarding before, or failed wakeboarding behind a boat, try cables. It's easier, cheaper, and more fun !

Riding The Waves Of Hurricane Sandy

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Florida is an interesting place to be a surfer. According to locals, the surf here usually sucks. The west coast is flat about ninety percent of the year, and the east coast is fickle even with a category 3 hurricane hovering off the coast.

...but not this year...

The Megastorm, the Frankenstorm, or the Snowicane, or just plain old Sandy is coming to the East Coast. The rare mix is the result of Hurricane Sandy, a Category 2 storm now hitting the Caribbean, an unusually early winter storm coming from the West and a fierce Arctic air coming from the North. Those air masses are now predicted to combine with each other — right over the country’s most populated and developed stretch of real estate, including New York City.

If certain conditions come together to create the perfect storm, Hurricane Sandy could be a historic storm...

But  Sandy's greatest impact to the Tampa Bay are winds up to 50 mph, and ....shoulder high waves !

And as many die hard surfers say : " "On days when the surf is good, nothing else matters " ...

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SUPing At Sunset Beach, In Tarpon Springs, FL

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Not on your average tourist's radar, Sunset Beach juts into the gulf at the end of Gulf Road in Tarpon Springs. It's nearly a perfect spot to sit in the shade of the palm trees gently swaying in the breeze and watch the sunset.

This is the perfect beach to go to if you want to escape the crowds. True to its name, it is a spectacular place to view sun setting into the Gulf of Mexico.

Apparently, this beach is also popular among paddleboarders, and kite surfers.  In "winter months" ( are there "winter months" in Florida ? :)), the wind is nice and steady, enough area to launch your kite, and super safe for beginner kiters ( it's shallow, so even if you get stuck, you can always just get up and walk back to the beach ).

I took my Stand Up Paddle Board /windsurfer for a short evening session. I had a lot of fun, and the sunset was breathtaking !!!

Driving Through Death Valley And Mojave

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After visiting Grand Canyon NP, I headed towards California.
#1 attraction on my "Bucket List Of Things To See" - Death Valley National Park.

This is the "weirdest" National Park I've ever visited. There is no "official park entrance". Basically, Death Valley National Park is HWY 190 that runs through the park ( Death Valley got its National Park status only in 1994. The earlier legal status of Death Valley as a National Monument rather than a National Park was largely a political consideration ).

What does it mean to you ? No "official entrance fee" !!!

The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is the major Park Service interpretive effort in Death Valley. When I asked a ranger for a map, his first question was if I'd paid the park fee. So, if you don't care about the map, no need to pay !

TIP: Once again, don't be lazy and stupid ! Do your research before the trip ! If you just GOOGLE "points of interest death valley", you will find more helpful and interesting information than any ranger can provide !

My first point of interest was Zabriskie Point -

Zabriskie Point is an elevated overlook of a colorful, undulating landscape of gullies and mud hills at the edge of the Black Mountains, just a few miles east of Death Valley - from the viewpoint, the flat salt plains on the valley floor are visible in the distance
It's right be the HWY, just a short ( 5 min) hike. Snap a picture, and off you go...

TIP : If you REALLY want, make an extra effort to drive to Badwater Basin, the lowest place in North America and one of the lowest places in the world at 282 feet below sea level. Other than taking a picture by the sign, you really won't see much ( since I visited the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, I didn't want to waste my time just for that ).

Next was the Furnace Creek Resort. It was also weird. In the middle of nowhere, a resort !

Targeting wealthy visitors, they set out to create a luxurious oasis, hoping it would become as much of a must-see attraction as Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon.
Long story short, it didn't become a "must-see attraction". It hardly deserves spending 10-15 minutes, walking around the Borax Museum:
The Borax Museum at the Ranch at Furnace Creek provides the history of the property and key figures involved in the history of Death Valley and the resort. It offers a pictorial history and showcases artifacts from the past such as antique stagecoaches, mining tools and a railroad steam locomotive. It is the oldest structure in Death Valley.
TIP: Are you an avid golfer ? The resort features the world's lowest golf course (18 holes at 214 feet below sea level).

But my BIGGEST DREAM was to see SAND DUNES !

For me, "desert" has always been associated with sand dunes. Unfortunate, only less than one percent of Death Valley is covered with dunes.
Mesquite Flat Dunes are the best known and easiest to visit in the national park. From the parking lot, it's an easy hike to the dunes, but if you want to wonder a bit further, it'll become a challenge. Although the highest dune rises only about 100 feet, hiking in the middle of the summer is no "walk in the park".

Which brings me to my last TIP : when is the best time to visit Death Valley ?


Check out a new video of our road trip through Death Valley in winter ! 

Tips On Visiting The South Rim Of The Grand Canyon

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Visiting the Grand Canyon has been on my Bucket List for the past 5 years...

The Grand Canyon is one of the 7 "Natural Wonders Of The World" ( don't forget, there are many different types of "Wonders Of The World" ), and though it happens to be in this very country, I still can't believe it took me so much time to finally see it with my own eyes.

....unfortunately, it was absolutely opposite to how I dreamed/planned to visit this world famous Natural Wonder....

 NOTE: There is a big different between "visiting" and "exploring"  the Canyon.

"Visiting" mostly implies "stop by/drive by, take a bunch of pictures, and ,may be, do some light "exploring" ( short hiking, biking around the park, camping...)

 "Exploring" ( for a small number of people ) means hiking rim-to-rim or multi-day backpacking or rafting.

Hiking rim-to-rim and getting "close and personal" was my original plan/dream. But as I happened to visit the park during one of its hottest months ( middle of June with day temperatures in high 80's ), I had absolutely no desire even to try to reach the bottom of the Canyon.

So I lowered my expectations, and settled with the idea to see the Grand Canyon like a tourist ( yeah, I still hate myself  for that :) )

So, here are a few tips:

Driving Through Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona

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Monument Valley provides perhaps the most enduring and definitive images of the American West. The isolated red mesas and buttes surrounded by empty, sandy desert have been filmed and photographed countless times over the years for movies, adverts and holiday brochures. Because of this, the area may seem quite familiar, even on a first visit, but it is soon evident that the natural colors really are as bright and deep as those in all the pictures. The valley is not a valley in the conventional sense, but rather a wide flat, sometimes desolate landscape, interrupted by the crumbling formations rising hundreds of feet into the air, the last remnants of the sandstone layers that once covered the entire region.

There is only one main road through Monument Valley, US 163, which links Kayenta, AZ with US 191 in Utah. The stretch approaching the AZ/UT border from the north gives the most famous image of the valley, and possibly of the whole Southwest - a long straight empty road leads across flat desert towards the 1,000 foot high stark red cliffs on the horizon, curving away just in front.

The Valley Drive passes 11 numbered stops at the most scenic places, and a typical journey around the loop takes at least 2 hours. Tourists are not allowed to hike away from the road closer towards any of the formations, but even so the trip is very enjoyable.

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First Russian To Tandem Base Jump From A Cliff !

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The Guinness Book of World Records, here I come !

It doesn't always have to be a world record. Even an amazing "first" can be remembered in the GWR book.

During my recent road trip around Southwest, I had an amazing opportunity to try tandem BASE jumping in Moab, Utah.

Withing the past 3 years, there have been many things that I'd done for the first time. But it never really felt like it was such a big deal. Before me, there have been tons of people who've done skydiving, kayaking, paragliding, surfing, scuba diving and etc. for the first time.

But personally, I don't know many people who've done tandem BASE jumping off a cliff !!!

And after my jump,I realized that I'm one of few who can proudly say: " I did it !"

The company, Moab B.A.S.E. Adventures, has taken dozens of people from around the world on this exciting journey. And I just happened to be the first Russian to experience the extreme adventure of cliff B.A.S.E. jumping !

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Tandem BASE Jumping In Moab

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What are your thoughts when you're standing on the edge of a cliff looking down ? Have you ever felt the urge, this weird impulse, inside sensation to just jump ?
I have literally dreamed of this moment many times, and now it was about to happen...

It's true what they say : " Be careful what you wish for".

I month before my visit to Moab , I'd written a short post about Moab BASE Adventures that offered an unbelievable opportunity to try tandem BASE jumping off a cliff. I was so excited about it that I even added it to my Bucket List on Pintrest.

But when the opportunity presented itself.... I almost backed out !

It wasn't the fear of the drop itself, rather the fear of unknown...

BASE jumping is a relatively new sport, and tandem BASE jumping is even less known ( at least to an Average Joe like me ). Hence, there are a lot of questions go through one's mind : Is it safe ? Is it dangerous ? How high is the cliff ? How long is the free fall ? Do you need any specific training ? What happens if the parachute doesn't open ?

Though, no skydiving or climbing experience is necessary ( you just need to weigh fewer than 185 pounds and be fit enough to hike and scramble to the top), that's not the most important requirement.

When it comes to tandem BASE jumping, it's all about mental commitment...

That's probably why the company's first customers were climbers, skydivers, mountain bikers, people who are familiar with the feeling of "adrenaline rush", and are aware of the risks involved.

Tandem BASE jumping is not for everybody, it is not a roller coaster ride at your favorite theme park.

Now that I've done tandem skydiving, paragliding, and BASE jumping, I can say that there is something that sets BASE jumping apart from any other "extreme sport".

Most of the action in BASE jumping, at least at the novice level, occurs before the actual jump. In BASE jumping, the edge you're standing on is attractive in so many ways; it’s a boundary between the known and the unknown, the tame and the wild, the sane and the mad.

The range of feelings you're experiencing is enormous. Before a jump, you're filled with anticipation, fear, excitement, worry, anxiety, some more fear, and right before you're about to take a leap - tranquility…

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Seligman - The Beginning Of Historic Route 66 In Arizona

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U.S. Route 66 (US 66 or Route 66), also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road...

Route 66 embodies a complex, rich history that goes well beyond any chronicle of the road itself. Today, more than 85% of the original alignments of Route 66 are drivable, and many special places along the way are included in the National Register.

For me, one of those paces where I could get a glimpse of this famous highway was a small but delightful town of Seligman.

Founded in 1895 after the completion of the "Peavine" Railroad the railroad camp known as Prescott Junction officially became Seligman and was an important railroad stop along the line. Seligman embraced Route 66 wholeheartedly upon its arrival in the late 1920’s. The railroad and tourist traffic from Route 66 became Seligman's main source of economic security. In the late 1970's Seligman was bypassed by the Interstate and the Santa Fe Railroad ceased its operations in the town in 1985.

Nostalgia continues to be the mood in Seligman, with the town straddling the longest remaining stretch of Historic Route 66.

There is not much to see or to do in town. It took me just half an hour to drive through, stop by a few quirky shops, and snap a few pictures...

Today, Seligman marks the beginning of Historic Route 66 in Arizona. In fact, it was in Seligman that the move to preserve Route 66 began. Eventually those actions helped to garner the designation of Route 66 as a historic highway.

So if you really want to "experience" Route 66, swing by Seligman !

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