Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jackson: The Town of Lost Degrees

 Recently, I have had the privilege to relocate; from Jacksonville, FL to Jackson, WY, in an effort to get closer to the kind of lifestyle that I wanted to be living. I don't think I possibly could have picked a better place to live and play than Jackson Hole. With Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park within two hours and thirty minutes, respectively Jackson is in the heart of some of the wildest country Mother Nature has to offer. There is Jackson Hole Mountain Resort twenty minutes from town and Snow King Resort which is literally in town giving me a variety of options for winter fun. The town and surrounding areas are full of people who want to be "outdoor bums," focusing their life and energy into recreation more than anything else (most of them have college degrees too).

  The town itself is comprised of about 10,000 people, but some good bars, good shows, and good people make the town an awesome place to socialize as well. The more famous bars include the "Million Dollar Cowboy Bar" where the bar stools are saddles, The Silver Dollar (at The Wort hotel), and the Snake River Brewpub. Quite possibly one of the most fun things I've ever done is Happy Hour at The Deck (found at the top of a free gondola ride at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort). It is hard to beat having a beer with some friends and looking out over the whole valley. This will serve as my preliminary, new-to-town, I guess that makes me still a tourist kind of, review. I will have many posts on great hikes and locales and will keep everyone updated through the winter.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Traveling, The Human Experience


   Spin a globe, point at a map; now wherever you're pointing (unless its an ocean in which case do it again), chances are there are people there who have a distinct appearance, language, and culture. For those of you who have traveled out of the country (cruises and resorts don't count) you are probably already nodding your head in agreement. Growing up in the United States we tend to develop an attitude of superiority and feel as if the whole world should just speak English and watch one of the "Big Four" Sports. However, the reality is much different; the world is comprised of individuals, just like yourself, who seek to do the same things you do in life like find their place in society, find love, and raise a family (or none of those if that is what you prefer). Traveling is a truly eye-opening experience and can provide you with some valuable lessons in history, culture, and can serve to humble you.

   The history of modern civilization in North America extends back to the Spanish exploration of the "New World," with the oldest settlement in the United States being St. Augustine in Northeast Florida. The history of modern civilization in Europe though, extends back to, let's say, the Minoans and Mycenae at approximately 2700 BCE. This means that when traveling Europe, you have the opportunity to visit sites of civilizations that flourished thousands of years ago. For example, in Spain, you can visit numerous Roman ruins and even view old Roman cities such as Cordoba, which still have a number of Roman architecture still standing. This is an opportunity to feel the magnitude and longevity of humanity and serves as a lesson in the rise and fall of civilizations.

   A result of the long history of many parts of the world (we will continue to use Europe as an example), is that they have a unique history, outlook, and language that combines to create cultures very different than our own. Culture is one of the most interesting aspects of travel, as it gives you a very different perspective on life than the materialistic, "success at all costs" mentality often found in the United States. Across the globe you will find cultures in which men live at home until their late 20's, social life is found in the streets, the future is behind you unseen while the past is in front of you clear as day, and language in which the context and perspective of words lead to a different view on life. Learning about another culture is an invaluable lesson that can lead to more understanding from both yourself and the people you learn from and can lead, to in my opinion a more understanding world.

   Upon traveling to other places and learning about their history and culture, you will find yourself realizing the gravity of reality. That is to say, humans are humans everywhere, the only difference is the way in which we see the world. Hopefully, upon this realization you will be humbled and realize that this even applies to the people you meet every day; that is to say, the culture they grew up in affects their view on the world and explains the decisions they make much as the culture you were raised in affects the way you see the world.

   In a world of unprecedented technology, globalization, economic failure, and social woes, we find ourselves at a turning point in time in which understanding each other is more important than ever to the success of the human race. We have the ability to communicate and do business instantaneously with people around the  globe, an opportunity that previous generations could not even fathom. Let us then remember the opportunity there is in traveling to learn about various histories and cultures and let us be humbled to the point where world peace is not merely a fool's dream, but a reality. So get out there, travel the world, meet some cool people, and become a citizen of the world, not just a citizen of your own biases.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Emergencies in The Great Outdoors

   On the suggestion of my friend Cain I am writing today about emergency situations while in The Great Outdoors. I won't get into any Bear Grylls type stuff (no drinking your own urine here), this is merely a basic guide to common situations that arise outdoors. These situations vary in type and nature, including dangerous weather, injury, getting lost, and wild animals. While reading, make sure you remember these three rules from 1) Avoid Danger 2) Don't Panic 3) Be Prepared. For the sake of length I am going to break these situations up into different posts, starting today with dangerous weather.Dangerous weather for our sakes will consists of thunderstorms, extreme cold or heat, and wildfire especially with these occurring already this summer across the United States.

   Thunderstorms are one of the most dangerous natural phenomena as they can occur seemingly out of nowhere and bring with it large bolts of charged electricity known as Lightning. According to The Weather Channel there are an average of 57 deaths by lightning a year (tied with Tornadoes) and can strike as far away as ten-miles from the actual thunderstorm. Florida is considered the "Lightning Capital of the U.S." with an average of 1.45 million lightning strikes each year and 25.3 strikes per square mile, has the most fatalities from lightning (460 from 1959-2009) and had ten cities on the list of the top fifteen metropolitan areas with lightning fatalities per square mile. However, that is no reason to avoid going outdoors, just make sure you check the weather before you go out and follow some easy pointers.
  1. Follow the 30-30 rule or after you hear thunder begin counting and if you see lightning in under 30 seconds it is time to seek shelter. 
  2. Avoid open areas, get off the water, get away from rocky areas and caves, and don't stand under tall trees or objects. 
  3. If you can't avoid being in one of the aforementioned situations then get to the lowest place possible and crouch down in the Lightning Safety Position.
    Extreme cold or heat are easier to prepare for because they are much easier to predict than a storm or fire, but can be even more deadly and painful. Being the summer we will just focus on extreme heat, but be sure to check back come fall for tips on extreme cold. Extreme heat is the most dangerous weather with 8,015 deaths in the United States from 1979-2003, more than the other natural disasters combined according to the Center for Disease Control. An exact definition of "extreme heat" does not exist, but it is any temperature substantially hotter and/or more humid than is usual for the region and can lead to over 7 different types of heat related illnesses (you can find the various heat-related illnesses and their symptoms at WebMD). Prevention is the key with heat-related illness, so follow these steps to prevent succumbing to the heat:
  1. As much as I hate to use the cliche," If you can't take the heat, get out of the sun." It is the truth. If you feel you may be at risk for any of the heat-related illnesses then get into an air conditioned environment or at the least, find some shade.
  2. Hydrate
  3. Hydrate
  4. Hydrate with a sports drink or other supplement that restores the minerals you lose through sweat.
  5. Dress appropriately for the sun. Wear a hat, light clothing (fabric and color), and check out some of the Sun Protection Clothing they now make.
  6. Apply a high SPF, broad spectrum, waterproof sunblock and make sure you wait at least 30 minutes after application before going into the water or it will do you no good. Reapply frequently.
  7. Don't go into The Great Outdoors alone. Make sure you have a buddy with you because the last thing you want is to be passed out or ill with no one to help you.
   Wildfires are the easiest to avoid and so I will also talk briefly about prevention. Colorado has seen some bad wildfires so far this summer and many other states in the west and southeast see them frequently. They are large, grow quickly, are difficult to stop, are very unpredictable, and destroy all in their path. If you hear about a wildfire, or see massive plumes of smoke, GO AWAY; the only thing you can do with a wildfire is to get a safe distance away from it. On the other hand at least we can stop them from occurring, as our friend Smokey the Bear says," Only YOU can prevent wildfires." Follow these campfire safety steps so you aren't  'that guy' that burns down the forest along with peoples' homes and livelihood:
  1.  Check out the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection's Fire Danger Level and please, if it says the danger is high, avoid campfires.
  2. If you are going camping make sure you check with the National Forest, National Park, State Park, etc to see if campfires are permitted.
  3. Research proper campfire safety 
  4. Don't throw cigarette butts, coals, or any other hot or smoldering thing on the ground. Just because you think it is out doesn't mean it can't spark a fire.
  5. Make sure your fire is completely out. Pour water over it, cover it with sand, just do what you need to do to ensure there are no hot coals left.
   Apologies for the long post, but I want to ensure that you are prepared for this summer and all the fun that can be had. By always following these safety precautions, you can make them second-nature and ensure that your fun will never be ruined by heat stroke, getting struck by lightning or burning the forest to the ground. Above all else, use your intuition; chances are if you stop and use common sense, most disasters can be avoided.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Traveling Cheap and Eating Healthy

   This blog being called The Awesome Guide to The Great Outdoors and Travel, I felt it was time to impart some travel knowledge, specifically how to travel with a budget and to eat healthy. If you prefer 4-star accommodations and fine dining then this may not be beneficial to you; however, if you enjoy campfires, Road Trips, and don't mind making your dinner, then by all means continue reading. I have traveled extensively on the road in the western United States and Canada and the southeast U.S. I also take some information from Men's Fitness and from articles regarding travel and health. The first step to any Road Trip is planning and when I say planning that doesn't mean planning every detail as some of the best Road Trips are one where your itinerary is open to change at any moment. When I say planning, I refer to planning for the necessities like lodging, equipment, gas stops, and food.

   With the exception of fuel, which I will get to, lodging can be the most expensive part of traveling if you don't plan appropriately; so plan appropriately. My recommendation is to camp as much as you can or a great suggestion from the article is to use CouchSurfing, a site that allows you to find an open couch or room to stay in for free, with their mission being to spread cultural experiences through meeting new people. Campsites can be somewhat difficult to find, so you will want to look up sites along the way like KOA, which usually have showers and maybe even electricity if you are willing to pay. The most cost effective method though is to look up National Forests along the way, whose mission, according to the first Chief of the Forest Service Gifford Pinchot is," to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run." They possess an astounding 193 million acres of land (the size of Texas), so you can rest assured knowing that you will have National Forest along your path and to contrast the National Parks, you can pretty much camp anywhere in a National Forest, just be on the lookout for hunters and dangerous wildlife.

   As far as equipment is concerned, think of where you will be traveling/what time of year and ask yourself," What is the weather like along my route?" This means being prepared for rain, cold weather (even in the summer), and heat. My recommendation is to bring gear that is cross-functional, like a rain shell, which will keep you dry, stop the wind, and in the summer most likely will be good enough to keep you warm. If camping along the way, don't forget a rain cover for your tent and a change of shoes (or sandals/flip-flops which can double as shower shoes too). Making a list before you pack and checking things off as you put it in your car is the best way to go about preparing to ensure that nothing vital is forgotten.

   The next step to preparation is planning for gas for your car. You hopefully have an idea just how many miles you can get on one tank of gas, but if you don't start figuring it out before you go on your trip, as it will come in handy to be able to estimate the distances you will be able to travel (make sure you underestimate because if you make extra stops or get caught in traffic you don't want to get stuck on the highway with no gas). Use either GoogleMaps or MapQuest to map out your planned route and take note of the larger towns and cities as those will be the best places to get gas (gas stations in the middle of nowhere are few and far between and usually more expensive to boot), stock up on food, and in many cases have some interesting history/sightseeing to do in or around the city.

   One of the hardest things to do when Road Tripping is to eat healthy, especially with the myriad of fast-food options you will surely have on your route. The trick to avoiding the drive-thru is to get a decent size cooler and hit the Supermarket for snacks (think fruit, nuts, veggies, and trail mix is a favorite and great for energy), sandwich material (PB&J, meats, whole-wheat bread/pita, hummus, or whatever your favorite sandwich is), and dinner. Dinner is the best meal because you can buy plenty of supplies like meats, pasta, and sides that with a little preparation can be made into a meal you might eat at home. This will provide you with the fuel you need to stay alert and active while driving, sightseeing, and of course, enjoying your Road Trip.

   Hopefully, after reading this and taking advantage of the hyperlinks in the article you will have a basic understanding of how to Road Trip with a budget and eat healthy along the way. Don't forget what the poet Robert Frost said about The Road Not Taken," Two roads diverged in a wood, and I---I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."

 Here is a song to get you started Road Trippin'

Road Trippin'
Red Hot Chili Peppers

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Importance of Outdoor Recreation

   Outdoor recreation and ecotourism have made a recent surge in popularity, with guide companies seeing a definite growth in their customer base, even with the recession. Coupled with the fact that many cities and countries are opting to provide more outdoor opportunities to tourists and their citizens (this unfortunately, has been affected by the economy), we have seen an increase in the number of parks in cities, State Parks, and National Parks. However, many opponents of outdoor recreation expenditures view the spending as frivolous and unnecessary. I am here to say that the reality of the situation is quite the opposite, we need to actually increase our spending in the area because it brings more money into the community, it is cheap for users, and promotes an active, healthy lifestyle.

   The old adage," You have to spend money to make money" is true when one looks at the economy of a city or country in relation to its outdoor recreation opportunities. Now I know you are biting your tongue not to tell me what an idiot I am, but you must first examine the economic multiplier effect (how an economic action ripples through the economy). Lets start out with an example, lets call it Recville and Recville has an economy that is stagnating and has trouble attracting new business; however, let us note that Recville doesn't have any outdoor recreation to offer, but has plenty of public land and terrain at their disposal. Since they are desperate they decide to listen to City Manager Clinton who wants to turn some of their public land into a State Park that will offer camping, mountain biking, and kayaking. Upon completion, Recville is now able to offer their citizens something to do in their free time that won't cost them much, which in turn creates happier citizens and therefore happier employees. Recville now has a bone they can use to entice new business growth and as more businesses come in, the more jobs are available and the more money is put into the economy, creating a city with a growing economy and happy citizens. Great real life examples are cities such as Las Vegas, Denver, and Salt Lake City, all of which are renown for their outdoor recreation opportunities and all of which are listed in the top ten on just about any list of top cities in the U.S.

   Right now according to the in the U.S. more than one-third of adults and more than fifteen percent of children are considered obese (CDC), a problem which leads to all kinds of complications later in life such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. This is a very real problem and one not soon to go away in an era of fast-food and video games (although both of those sectors are beginning to market healthier options to be fair). The solution is easy, get people outside, get them moving around, and show them that it is far more fun out in the sun, than inside with artificial light and artificial food. I have no real solution on how to get people outside, as we can't force them (can't be violating Constitutional Rights), but if we start educating children on the importance of staying active and eating healthy, much as we educate them in History or English (then again maybe a new approach is needed for that too?!) we might be able to see a real change in the United States, one in which the population is not only active and healthy, but as a result happier.

Check out Oh to be Young and Poor for tips on cheap fun outdoors.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, Jacksonville, FL

     This past week, in between a month long bout of rain and Tropical Storm Debby, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park (known as just Hanna Park), located in Jacksonville close to Naval Station Mayport. This park is a little different because it is one of the few recreation oriented parks sponsored by the city as opposed to the state or fed. The website for Hanna Park states, "Experience Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park with its sandy beach, freshwater lake, wooded camping sites, natural dunes and naturescapes that defy the imagination."

     Hanna Park is home to some of the best in recreation that the Jacksonville area has to offer and provides a little something for everyone. A rarity amongst  parks, it possesses not only mountain biking trails, a 60-acre lake, camping, picnic areas, but one of the best surf spots in Northeast Florida (the poles). I had the pleasure while growing up to attend their Jr. Lifeguard Camp (no longer there) and was always amazed at the variety of wildlife present. As much as I hated the camp starting at 7am every morning, the early hours provided the best chance to spot dolphins which can frequently be seen and we took advantage of it to paddle-boarded or kayaked out to interact with them (check state and federal laws before you do this).

     Nestled up against the beach you find dunes with some boardwalk nature trails through them, as well as more hiking and mountain biking trails farther inshore. Always make sure you are on the lookout for Banana Spiders, which are known to grow quite large and being venomous a bite from one will leave you with a nasty sore and possible allergenic responses or scarring. The mountain biking trails are a challenge that will push any rider and provide some good thrills along the way. Narrow trails winding through a scrub-type forest, the rider must overcome sharp turns, low hanging trees (complete with hanging spider webs), large roots, and some nice up and downs that will burn some serious calories.

     Overall, Hanna Park is a definite place worth visiting if you are a tourist or a local of the area, as it has hiking, beaches, mountain biking, camping, picnic areas, and provides excellent opportunities to see a variety of wildlife. The park is usually open from 8am-8pm and will cost 1$ per person before 10am and $3 per car after 10am. Make sure you bring your sunscreen and some snacks and fluids as you will most certainly need all of those, especially in the summer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oh to be Young and Poor

     So, you are anywhere from just out of high school, in college, or a recent graduate (recent can be stretched a few years) and with an economy and job market in the pits, it is important to be frugal and let's be honest, it can be very difficult to have a good time without spending money. However, I actually have an easy solution for you; Go Outside. Thanks to historical figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir (the father of the National Parks) and more recent help from organizations like the Sierra Club, we are actually lucky enough to have outdoor recreation opportunities all around us that are either free (because of taxes), or will cost you only a few dollars (the money usually goes towards park improvements). Go online to the National Park Service Park Finder or check out L.L. Bean's Park Finder to find National and State Parks close to your location.

     However, if you happen to be in school, specifically at a public university, chances are your school offers some great outdoor opportunities to you for free, the caveat being you have to show them a student ID. For example, the University of Florida has facilities on Lake Wauburg and offers students, faculty, and staff everything from kayak and canoe rentals, a Frisbee golf course, mountain bike rentals (with a trail to boot), and even a massive climbing wall that will challenge you both mentally and physically. Just search your school's website for the recreation section, usually found paired with your gyms and intramural sports.

     Next time you are being lazy and just mindlessly browsing the web, check some of the above resources and next time you start feeling like you need some fun; step outside, take a breath of fresh air, and have a good time at a low cost in The Great Outdoors.

Here is a picture of University of Florida's Lake Wauburg: