Glamping, Take Two

Trying this whole “glamping” thing again – in the summer this time!

Last year, for my 40th birthday, my wife organized a camping trip for the two of us down in Tennessee, just outside the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Specifically, this was a “glamping” trip, where we’d have a big canvas safari-style tent with a king-size bed, a toilet, running water, a shower, and a fireplace. Camping, but with style!

Unfortunately, my birthday is on November 17th, which means we made this trip in the later-half of November – just about 2 weeks before the camp site closed for the winter. And we also had the bad luck to arrive just as a cold snap moved through the area, so even though we were a bit further south, it wasn’t far enough south and the temperatures dropped down to just about freezing. (It actually started sleeting as we arrived!)

So we found ourselves in a canvas tent in 33°F (0.5°C) temperatures, with a dinky little wood stove that burned through the 2 or 3 pieces of wood you could fit into it very quickly. Suffice it to say, we did not have the best time at night – having to get up every few hours to stoke the fire and add more wood. (My wife did most of this fire-tending, bless her, which meant she didn’t get much sleep.) Mornings weren’t any better – although there was hot water for the shower, the air inside the tent was still quite cold, as it took a long time to get the fireplace going enough to really warm things up.

Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago, when my wife stumbled across another “glamping” site, this time up in the Hudson Valley of New York. We both agreed it looked like a very nice site, and somewhat on a whim, we decided to make another attempt at this “glamping” thing and booked ourselves in for a weekend. We figured that we’d have a much nicer time camping in the summer than in the late fall!

So we’re heading up to the Hudson Valley soon, to try our luck with this “glamping” thing again and see if we can have a nicer experience – and also to try again at unplugging from the outside world for a few days to relax. During our last glamping trip, my wife was unable to really relax, as circumstances at her job required her to attend to things and even do some work while we were there. Hopefully this time we can both turn off our phones (or at least stop checking our work email) and really enjoy the experience for a while. (Fingers crossed!)

Regardless, I will post an update here once we’re back and let you know how it all went!

A Lonely Social Media Vacation Report

Being off social media for a while was good, but it started to get lonely, so… I’m back!

Over a month ago I decided to take a break from social media for a while – a social media vacation, if you will. Ultimately, I’m glad I took a break – my social media was starting to consume me instead of the other way around – but at the same time, I’m also glad to be back again. This is because, and I know this might sound kind of silly, but being off social media was… lonely?

It’s strange how loneliness is still kind of a shunned topic these days. Although we’ve become much more open to talking about depression, and how it’s not your fault and so forth, when it comes to loneliness, the common perception is still that the root cause of it is something you’ve done to yourself. “Get out more,” “join a club,” or “make some friends” are things that people might say or think.

Easier said than done.

In my case, I work from home full-time, so all my interactions with co-workers are done online. Outside of work, I have no close friends nearby, and so all my social interactions have to be done either online or else very infrequently. Given this, taking a vacation from social media effectively meant taking a vacation from almost everyone I knew.

“But Keith,” I might hear some of you say, “aren’t you an introvert? Don’t you like being alone?” Ah yes, a classic misunderstanding. There is a big difference between “being alone” and “being lonely.” Also, being an introvert doesn’t mean wanting to be alone all the time – instead it means more needing to be alone, sometimes.

As for the “alone” vs “lonely” thing, these are obviously not the same thing. I can be alone (no one around) while not being lonely (because I just spoke to someone, or because I’m interacting with people remotely). Likewise, I can be among a huge group of people (not alone) but be very lonely (not feeling a connection to any of them).

And this circles back to my social media vacation experience: because I am often alone (sometimes weeks go by where the only other human being I see in person is my wife), cutting off my social media experience cut me off from my major way of interacting/connecting with people – which naturally left me feeling a bit lonely after a while. (Luckily I did allow myself other communication methods during my self-imposed social media vacation, such as private chats and email, which helped keep me from feeling totally isolated.)

So while I’m glad I took a break to sort of re-calibrate myself, I’m also glad to be back and using social media again (though I plan to be a bit more strict with it, lest I end up in the same place again). It was good to use this blog as an outlet rather than tweeting everything, and I plan to continue to use it – in case it’s not obvious, I do actually really enjoy writing!

So that’s my report on my experience with a little more than a month away from social media. If you find yourself feeling consumed by social media in a similar way, you might try taking a break from it as well. It’ll be hard at first – goodness knows it was for me as well – but I do think it’s worth doing every now and again.

On Camera Bags

A while back I decided to upgrade my camera bag – my old one had served me well and had traveled around the world with me, but it was starting to show its age and also it was a bit of a tight fit for all my gear.

The larger Lowepro sling camera bag
The larger version of my old camera bag

So the first thing I looked at was, naturally, just the next larger model of the same bag. This would still be the sling-style bag I prefer, just with slightly more room (and, as a bonus, a mounting point for a tripod on the side of the bag).

However, size is hard to judge from pictures on the Internet, so I decided to have a look at bags in person – heading into NYC to visit B&H photo (such a fun place to visit!).

While I was there I happened to look at a few other bags, taking into consideration size vs weight, storage options, etc. And as it happened, I noticed a different sling-style bag – one that was more of a backpack shape. It lacked the extensive padding & huge pockets of the bigger bag I had originally come to see, but it had some attractive features – mainly an added pocket for my laptop, which would come in very handy when I was traveling.

Mindshift sling style camera bag
The “backpack” style bag that caught my attention

Unable to make up my mind, I ended up getting both bags – figuring that at the least I’d have options in the future to take whichever bag best suited my needs at the time. I also thought that I’d primarily use the bigger bag, with the backpack-shape bag reserved for when I needed to travel light and not take all my gear with me.

However, as it turned out, I’ve actually only used the bag I’d originally picked out – the larger version of my old bag – just once, while the backpack-shape bag has come with me almost everywhere (and I’ve also somehow managed to fit all my gear into it, so I’m not missing out on anything).

Part of this is just the simple fact that the backpack-shape bag is, by virtue of the material & less padding, a lot lighter. It’s also a bit easier to access while I’m out – I can reach all my lenses with its one big pocket, whereas with the bigger bag I’d have to undo 2 clips and unzip the main compartment all the way (due to the way the dividers & padding are arranged).

The inside of the Lowepro sling bag
The bigger bag has these dividers – which provide good padding, but make it hard to access some items in the bag quickly.
Lowepro sling bag fully open
To get at all of the sections in the larger bag, you have to open it up all the way. This can be awkward to do while the bag is slung over your shoulder.

Additionally, it also has a holder for a tripod either on the side or strapped across the back – and that side holder can also double as a water bottle holder, which is very handy on hikes and photowalks. The straps across the back can also hold other things besides a tripod, such as a light jacket – which has come in handy on several occasions.

So, in the end, the bag I thought I’d only use occasionally has become my primary use bag – while the bag I thought was a perfect upgrade sits unused. I’m very glad I went into the store and actually looked at bags instead of just picking one out based on specs and pictures online!

2019 Summer Road Trip

Who plans a summer road trip just to see a bridge? We do!

So, this past Memorial Day weekend my wife and I embarked on one of the longest road trips we’ve ever done – driving down the east coast to Cape May, NJ, and then along the shore to the Chesapeake Bay, over the bay and back up north via Richmond VA, Washington DC, Baltimore MD, and of course a large portion of the NJ Turnpike.

The idea for this road trip stretches back years and years – when my wife first heard of the “Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel” and decided she’d like to see it someday. So back in January of this year we decided that it was time to finally make this trip, and we started planning and booking hotels.

Eventually we settled on the long weekend of Memorial Day, plus an extra day for traveling (Friday – Monday). We’d drive down to Cape May NJ and explore the town a bit before catching the ferry over to Delaware, where we’d spent the night in Ocean City in Maryland before heading down a bit further to Chincoteauge in Virginia, and then finally onwards to the bridge/tunnel – with a final overnight in Richmond, Virginia, before the long drive back home.

The trip started a little bit late on Friday morning, mainly due to the fact that my wife had been in Ottowa, Canada, during the week and due to severe thunderstorms had been delayed there overnight Thursday – meaning I was picking her up at the airport very early that Friday morning, instead of early the prior Thursday evening as originally planned.

However, we got on the road and made good time down the Garden State Parkway to Cape May, where we stopped at a brewery (Cape May Brewing) for lunch & some very nice beer (with a suitable wait before heading out again).

Cape May ferry
A beautiful day for a ferry ride

Then it was the roughly 90 minute journey across the Delaware Bay via the Cape May ferry to, uh, well, Delaware! But we didn’t dwell long in Delaware, setting our sights on Ocean City Maryland, where our hotel awaited us.

Ocean City was a bit of a shock for the both of us – we’d never been anywhere like this, and we’re not used to this sort of tourist-focused area. “It’s like another world,” we kept saying to each other as we drove down the main road, past hotels, mini-golf courses, and other curiosities.

Nevertheless, we had a good nights sleep there and set out again the next morning to explore the barrier islands via the parks on Assateauge Island: Assateauge State Park and the Chincoteauge National Wildlife Refuge.

These islands were beautiful to explore – though I wish there weren’t so many people there (and that I’d had the right equipment on hand to qualify for driving on the beach) and we had a few very nice walks (and one not-so-nice walk that took us through the woods that were filled with mosquitoes after we’d mistakenly decided to forego bug spray). We even saw the famous wild horses (or ponies) of the island – though I didn’t stop to take their photos, as there were too many other people around.

Sunset over the bay
Sunset over the bay

One stop we did make along the way was at Wallops Island – because I, as a huge space nerd, couldn’t help but stop at the NASA installations on Wallops Island.

We spent the night at Chincoteauge before pushing on to the main event: the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel.

It was at this point along the road trip that my car, the Keithombile-E, really hit its stride as far as fuel efficiency was concerned, topping out at 41 MPG – a remarkable feat for an angular SUV that weighs nearly 4,500 pounds! That little 2.1 liter twin-turbo diesel can really sip fuel when on flat roads with almost no stopping. (In case you can’t tell, I was very proud of this achievement!)

We only got a photo while it was at 40.6; it hit 41 MPG shortly after.

Finally though, at long last, we approached our goal: the bridge. We’d known that it was going to be big, but we were not quite prepared for just how big it was. We had already decided we’d cross the bridge 3 times: once going up, then back, and then across one last time. The first crossing was done almost entirely in silence as we took in the experience: over the first span, then on to the artificial island in the middle of the enormous Chesapeake Bay, the into the tunnel, then back onto the bridge again, then another artificial island and tunnel combo, and then the final span.

Selfie just before the start of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel

What a marvel of engineering! It’s a shame that the islands are closed at the moment (they are adding a second tunnel in each direction) – because apparently there was a restaurant you could stop at on them, and I wish we could’ve done that – it would’ve been very cool!

After our first round-trip over the bridge we stopped off at Cape Charles to visit another brewery (and completing the “cape-to-cape” portion of our trip).

Cape Charles Brewing Co. Beer
This brewery had some very good beers!
Oversized cans of beer from Cape Charles brewing
The beer was so good that we bought a few cans to take home with us. And did I mention the cans are HUGE?

We filmed our final crossing (my wife did all the picture-taking and filming since I was driving), and then it was onwards to Richmond for our final stay of the trip.

Although the hotel we stayed at in Richmond had a fancy roof-top bar, we didn’t make much use of it – we were both very tired by the end of the day and so we went to bed rather early.

We got up early the next day and started out on the long push for home – roughly 5 hours straight from Richmond, VA up to Morristown, NJ. With the holiday weekend ending we didn’t want to delay for too long lest we encounter bad traffic – which we had thus far mercifully avoided.

Once again, my faithful Keithmobile performed admirably, making the trip home an easy one. We only had to stop once – and that was for me, not for the car! We arrived home safe & sound (and relatively early in the day – about 12:45pm), and that was the end of our epic roadtrip!

Final MPG: 38.1
Final MPG for the second half of the trip: 38.1 MPG. Not too shabby!

All in all it was a great trip – we hit very little in the way of traffic, we got to see a lot of neat places, and we were comfortable the entire way. We were glad to be home, but we were just as glad we did this trip. Now given the success of this trip, who knows… maybe another road trip will be in our future? We’ll see!

A Bit of Scary Weather

Tornado warnings? Take shelter now? Oh my!

So last night a line of severe thunderstorms rolled through our area – which is nothing unusual – but then both my wife and I looked down at our phones and saw something that nobody wants to see: a tornado warning urging us to seek shelter immediately.

Emergency Alert: Tornado Warning, Take shelter now
Well, shit.

Now, tornados are not a normal occurrence here in New Jersey – they do happen, but it’s rare. Still, this was my first time seeing an actual tornado warning as opposed to a watch – and checking the details showed that this alert was based on radar-indicated rotation, not an actual sighting. Still, we decided that it would probably be best to take shelter anyway – just in case. (I was born in the midwest and lived my first 7 years there, so I have a healthy respect for tornado warnings.)

So we quickly grabbed our pet carrier and shoved two very confused & grouchy bunnies into it (they were in the middle of their dinner) and headed down into our basement.

I wasn’t terribly worried – tornadoes in this part of the country tend not to last very long due to the terrain, so the odds were in our favor in that regard. Plus, even if there was a tornado, it might not have touched down, and it probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful as the ones you get in more open areas. Still, with the heavy rain soaking the ground and strong winds, there is always the possibility of a tree coming down on the house. We trim and maintain our trees pretty well for this reason, but you never know.

So that’s how we found ourselves sitting in the basement with the bunnies for about a half hour while we waited out the storm. Our house was built on a 2-3 inch concrete slab on top of steel I-beams, so the basement is a very safe place.

Bunnies in their pet carrier
The buns did not appreciate having their dinner interrupted.

In the end, the worst of the storm ended up passing just to the north of us, so we didn’t get much more than some very heavy rain.

So, that was our sort-of close call with severe weather – our first real bad scary weather incident in our house. Thankfully nothing really came from it (at least for us; others in parts of the state were not so lucky).

The buns got back to their dinner and everything returned to normal.