Monday, October 27, 2008

Prince William Forest Hike

After pouring rain on Saturday, Sunday dawned with bright sunshine and dense fog. As I drove down to Triangle the fog was vaporizing off roads, tree tops and roofs of houses and by the time we started our hike, it was gone and the sun warmed our backs as we trudged through the forest.

This is a much prettier hike than I had imagined. Not really much of a workout as the terrain is relatively flat, but the trail often crossed over or ran parallel to creeks so the scenery was enchanting in the the morning sun.

The autumn colors had not peaked but still splashed the forest with oranges, yellows and reds that contrasted with the many greens still clinging to the branches.

We had lunch on a riverbank, sitting on a blanket of fall leaves with glinting rocks, and quietly chatted as we munched our healthy lunches of nuts, energy bars, tuna and fruit. We all gasped as without warning a blue heron glided low over our heads and disappeared downstream as silent as a ghost.

The tree above caught my attention with its carpet of pale green sphagnum moss, the kind used to line hanging baskets. It was soft and springy to touch and was the exact same hue as the lichen growing on the trunk of the tree. It covered only an area of about 20 feet wide and then stopped suddenly, making me wonder what conditions it needed to grow only in such a small area and not spread further.

This was our small but friendly group captured by the 10 second timer on my camera. The guy second from left, Marc, amazed me as being the most organized and prepared person I'd ever met on a hike. He was a great laugh and I was itching to grab his rucksack and rummage inside to find what amazing useful things it held. In his portable treasure chest, he had a hand held radio, a beacon locator, GPS, a snakebite kit, a trowel, a whistle, a compass, handwipes and plenty of other goodies I hadn't found out about. A lot to carry, but not for a guy used to having his small daughter on his back when hiking.

Along the way, we stumbled across this little chap on the side of the path. We'd come across a turtle earlier but he was less friendly and had closed his shell door in our faces, not wanting to humor me and let me take a photo. This one was far more accomodating and even managed to give a little grin. What a cute little mooey! That's 'face' in Britspeak.
We probably hiked about 7 or so miles before we reached the parking lot. Not a bad workout for the day.

Shenandoah Wine & Balloon Festival

On Sunday, 19th, I joined some Brit friends at Long Branch for the Wine & Balloon Fest. It was quite windy so we weren't very hopeful that we'd see balloons in the air, but at least there was a great wine selection to sample from and plenty of other amusements. We rushed to get our free glass and then headed immediately to the wine tents. This was obviously so we would avoid the rush later on as more people arrived and definitely not because we were licking our lips in anticipation of an early liquid lunch.
After an hour and a half though, we found that the wines were all starting to taste the same so we headed towards the vendors that were offering a more substantial repast.

Pumpkins were plentiful and there were many stalls featuring the orange orbs decorated in humorous and garish manners or just heaped in piles.

These faces were very appealing and were decorated with acrylic paints.

There were also rows of wonderful old cars and trucks lined up with their proud owners sitting close and eager to answer questions.

The car above caught my eye as I'd never seen the underside of a hood with a mural before. It was very impressive and I loved the abundance of chrome.

I was really pleased to see 7 or so old fire engines which I spent a long time looking over and taking photos of. I was intrigued to see a bulldog fire mascot on the Mack above. I know that the mascot is usually a dalmation dog so had hoped to get an explanation from the owner, but unfortunately never saw him.
We spent an hour or so chatting to 2 gentlemen who were with one of the balloon crews and learned that it was probably too windy for them to fly. The breeze had picked up and now had a biting edge but we doggedly sat and waited for the final verdict. As we chatted, I learned that the balloons are made out of nylon and the baskets are crafted here in the States. The outfit costs upwards of $20K and a pilot's license is required to fly them. They will also avoid flying in winds above 10 knots, (11.5 mph).

Eventually the final decision came that no-one would fly but BB&T decided to set up for the crowd's benefit. Everyone excitedly drew round the van as a large bundle was unfolded and spread out and the basket rigged up. Fans were directed into the balloon's opening and as it filled, it gently hovered over the crowd like a silk cloud. It was great to be allowed so close up as they prepared the balloon and as I took the shots below, I welcomed the heat from the burner.

After only about 15 minutes, the balloon was vertical and anchored to the ground with several ropes held by men. It slowly bobbed and swayed in the wind and as we left to find our cars and head to a warm pub for dinner, we were happy we'd stayed the course to witness it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

SGIA Atlanta, GA

Very early on Wednesday, 15th, I flew with some colleagues down to Atlanta to see the SGIA show. The show highlights the latest innovations in digital imaging and we were there to research firsthand the technology that applies to our business. We stayed in a hotel with spectacular architecture and the photos below show the foyer looking upwards to the 55 levels reminding me of the Alien movies. The elevators zoomed quickly skyward like in a sci-fi movie and the whole place was a photographer's paradise. The pink structure was the focal point in the bar area and changed color every few minutes.

The photo below was taken from my room's 36th floor looking down to the foyer and bar with the light structure in the middle.

The outside entrance of the hotel had a wonderful water feature which vehicles circled to pick up or drop off residents.

This photo below shows the Atlanta skyline from my room.

At the show, I visited one of my favorite areas showcasing screen printing and the equipment used for printing. T-shirts were being printed here with 11 screens, layering colors with gel and glitter.

The artwork below was featured all over the show promoting Epson printers; here Joe and the 2 Mikes grabbed an opportune moment to pose with the painted lady. A smaller poster made its way back to our offices.

The printer below was my focal point. I've been researching these printers for 3 years assessing various companies and their machines. How remarkable that a desktop printer can produce a printed shirt as simply as printing a sheet of paper. The machinery was hypnotic and drew crowds of amazed onlookers. The techology still has a long way to go but there are a couple of these printers which are worth investing in now and which produce vibrant prints.

Aesthetically, the booth below was one of my favorites. Their products had no relation to our company but their stand was definitely eyecatching.

Another crowd draw were the vehicle wrap stands. This is another method of advertising which has really taken off and developed in leaps and bounds. It was fascinating to watch how these wraps were applied and the attention to detail that was required to complete each vehicle.

This frog looked a little lonely at his table so we grabbed a photo op but Mike seemed to hold a grudge against the poor fluffy defenceless critter.

I couldn't resist a photo of what must be the oldest working laptop in the world. What a chunky lump of plastic!

After a whirlwind tour we left late on Thursday. Our visit was a soaring success and we left with a pile of goodies to enhance our business and a lot of valuable information. Due to the economic slump, the show was not attended by as many people as in previous years, yet this worked to our advantage as we were able to walk around unimpeded and strike some great deals. Roll on next year in New Orleans.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mount Vernon Trail

On Saturday, my friend Debbie and I drove down to Mount Vernon and offloaded our bikes to cycle the Mount Vernon Trail. It was a beautiful day with bright sunshine and a slight breeze and after a false start when we had to dash back to the car and pump up our tires, we set off.

Along the whole route, the landscape changed constantly. One moment we were cycling along wooden boardwalks across marshy terrain and then we'd be on an open path with grass on one side and the Potomac on the other. Many people use this trail and we shared the path with other cyclists, walkers, joggers and skaters.

The new Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge is an amazing piece of architecture and I was awed to be able to get so close to it and see it from a different perspective from the drivers who course its surface. We cycled along side it and also underneath it where the sheer enormity of it forced me to stop and just stare.

About halfway along the trail, we wound our way through the streets of Alexandria that flanked the river. We stopped on seeing the van above offloading its cargo of noisy but friendly parrots. The keepers were setting up their stands on the sidewalk and letting people have their photos taken for a donation towards the care and training of these birds, most of whom had come from abusive backgrounds. They were gorgeous and I could've spent all afternoon with them, they were so attentive.

The small shops in Old Town Alexandria were all geared up for Halloween with windows and doorways decorated for the occasion. The guy above was on the side of the trail enjoying the sunshine with a coffee whilst catching up on some TV.

After leaving the hustle and bustle of Old Town, we were once more on the open path, this time heading towards Roslyn. We passed the Ronald Reagan Airport ,with low flying planes taking off, and the Navy and Marine Memorial with its gulls flying over the crest of a wave.

Cycling through Lady Bird Johnson Park and past Theodore Roosevelt Island, we then crossed the Potomac and ended up in Georgetown to stop for a well deserved lunch and a photo.

The canal passing through Georgetown is pictured above alongside Debbie and I with our bikes, ready to start on our way back.

On the way back, at Theodore Roosevelt Island we passed a lady on her bicycle pulling a trailer with three chihuahuas inside. They looked very pleased at being carted around and not having to lift a paw except in welcome!

Looking across the Potomac, you can see many of the landmarks in D.C. including the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Below is the Inner Harbor in Maryland with the Gaylord Hotel in the middle.

Peddling through Dyke Marsh Preserve, I noticed a woman crouching down in the undergrowth with a camera, and being nosey, I had to stop. We had a great chat about the garden spider which I'd photographed in the past but not seen as large as the ones I saw here. We both squatted side by side leaning forward with our cameras and Laura was actually brave enough to reach out and touch them. I took a photo of her taking a photo so the image would show how large these spiders were.

Debbie and I were very impressed with the thought that went into this trail. Along its course were water fountains and the photo below is of a water fountain especially for woofers. The bowl even has a pawprint in it. We also passed two trail wardens who walk along the paths offering help, water or first aid.

By the time we'd got back to the car, we'd cycled between 38-40 miles, but because the trail was so pretty and so easy to navigate, it seemed like much less. Only later did my sensitive posterior remind me of the time spent on a saddle!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Harpers Ferry, WV

Last Saturday, I drove to Harpers Ferry with some fellow Brits where we spent the day strolling round the town and catching up on news. I parked at The Hilltop Hotel so I would have a good workout at the end of the day walking back up the steep hill. I was surprised to see no cars in the parking lot and then shocked to see 'caution' tape strung along the front of the hotel. It looked run down and had a neglected aura about it. I walked up to the doors and looked into the foyer, saddened to see how empty the entrance hall was. This was once filled with old paintings, ornaments, rugs and antique furniture. Further investigation with my nose pressed to every window I could find found that all the rooms were empty.

I chatted to a local who informed me that the hotel had been bought by a large company, (he didn't know who), along with quite a few other houses in the vicinity. The hotel would apparently re-open in 3 years time. Digesting that news, I headed down the hill to the town to meet up with the rest of the crew.

All the buildings in the town are old and it's easy to feel like you're stepping back in time. As well as reenactments with people dressed in period costumes, the frequent trains passing through and blowing their whistles lends an air of an industrial working town.

Making our first stop at a restaurant for lunch was a must as most of us were starving and I decided to try a cheese beer soup in a sourdough bread bowl with a bottle of beer on the side. The beer was great.

After lunch, shops had to be searched for souveniers and in my case, photos to be taken. I loved these glass globes above.

It was great meeting Abe Lincoln above who gave a very interesting, if lengthy, talk on life in Harpers Ferry while he was president. I strolled down to the river and managed to snap these guys below coming back from a whitewater trip splashing and paddling past the 3 ducks who managed to continue dozing on their rock.

Mary and I snuck off from the others and headed to the portrait shop where we had tremendous fun dressing up in period costumes for a photo session. Picking out the outfits was wonderful especially as we didn't have to worry about any colors matching our accessories since the photos would be printed in sepia. We had such a laugh but would've enjoyed it more if the Jack Daniels bottles weren't empty!

Later we walked up past the church to the graveyard where we sat on some rocks and enjoyed this spectacular view.

The graveyard was immaculately maintained and I saw these old Harper graves dating back to the 1870's. Just after sunset, we all separated to go home, most of the others taking a shuttle bus up the hill to their cars, while I tried to work off my stodgy lunch with a routemarch back to the Hilltop Hotel, bidding it a fond farewell and fervently hoping it wouldn't become a commercialized chain hotel stripped of all character when it reopened.