Traveling: Colorado

“Investment in travel is an investment in yourself.” - Matthew Karsten

A friend of mine recently set out on a month-long trip across America. He hit the pause button on his career, packed his car, and left. He had no itinerary, no timeline. Upon his arrival home, we met for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. The conversation quickly turned inquisitive when he asked me why I haven’t driven out west.

For me, traveling can be overwhelming. The idea of planning where to go and what to see stresses me out. I'm much more comfortable with day trips or escaping for a weekend getaway than planning a trip for multiple days far from home.

I’ve always wanted to venture west but life, as it often does, has been in the way. I held back from extended travel due to my feeling of obligation not to miss a day of work and a mild obsession with saving money. Why spend money to travel when I have everything I need at home? It made sense to me for a long time.

So there I sat, eating chips and salsa with my friend when he began to reflect on why he thinks travel should be a priority. "There is nothing wrong with taking time to see the world,” he says."We are conditioned to choose a path to success. Society tells us we should choose a profession quickly and work diligently to acquire things. If we feel the need to explore the world or find ourselves, or if our normal life's plans are derailed, people don't usually understand it."

As he wrapped up his thoughts on society, travel, and healthy minds, I wrapped up my thoughts on the bowl of tortilla chips in front of me. We began hypothetically tossing around the idea of driving out west. He was pretty convincing and I felt inspired. We paid our bill, walked outside to my car and, standing in the rain, I asked, “How long would it take to drive to Colorado?” We googled the distance and found that it would take around 22 hours of driving. Taking turns driving, we could be there by the end of the day tomorrow. I could even bring my laptop and work from coffee shops we find along the way.

It's important to stop here and note that you really have to watch out for crazy ideas and hypothetical situations. If you are wise, you'll change the subject before those ideas turn into reality.

In a spark of insanity, I told him we should pack up and drive to Colorado immediately. I dropped him off at his house, went home, and packed the car.

Surprisingly, the entire six-day trip was ultra-affordable, thanks to my Prius' high fuel efficiency and car-camping ability. Furthermore, our daily activities were mostly free of charge. We even met some kind folks in Arapahoe and Winter Park who gave us free "swag" in the form of hats, t-shirts, and energy drinks. The following photographs document our trip to Colorado.

DENVER, CO (Elevation = 5280 ft.)

The capital and the most populous municipality of Colorado is situated just east of the Rocky Mountains. I walked around downtown, watching people and bicycles go by, enjoying the creative details of Denver.

THE FLATIRONS | BOULDER, CO (Elevation = 8,148 ft.) 

The Flatirons are rock formations in the western United States, near Boulder, Colorado, consisting of flatirons. We began walking a short trail leading to The Flatirons and, before we knew it, we were on our way to the peak. The view at the top was fully worth every second of the hike.

FRISCO, CO (Elevation = 9,075 ft.)

Frisco was founded by Henry Recen and was built because of the mining boom in the late 1800s. Walking the streets of Frisco, you really feel the old western history here. For a unique experience, check out Frisco Emporium, filled with antiques and unusual treasures.

DILLON, CO (Elevation = 9,111 ft.) 

Named for Tom Dillon, an old west prospector, Dillon was built as a stage stop and trading post. We stayed overnight in Dillon for most of the trip as it served as a wonderful hub to venture out of and connect with towns west of Denver. This town was a favorite due to the friendly people, accessible stores, and an abundance of hiking and water sports located so close by.

ASPEN, CO (Elevation = 7,908 ft.) 

Founded in 1889 during the area’s silver mining boom, today operates as a high-end ski-resort. Aspen was lovely and pristinely manicured. I didn't take many photos here but there are beautiful slopes and neat stores and cafes all around.

ARAPAHOE BASIN, CO (Elevation = 10,780 ft.) 

An alpine ski-area located in the White River National Forest, among the highest skiable terrain in North America. We arrived and followed the sounds of live music and commotion to a central location at the base of the ski lifts. A race had just begun and we walked up just as the festivities were kicking off. We rode a ski lift up the mountain to gain an aerial view of the event. 

Loveland Pass, CO (Elevation = 11,990 ft.)

Located on the Continental Divide, west of Denver on U.S. Hwy 6, with twisty road access that is particularly treacherous during winter months. This was a moderately strenuous hike. We made it to the top of Grizzly peak at 13,428 ft.

Winter Park, CO (Elevation = 9,052 ft.)

Winter Park began as two small settlements, Old Town and Hideaway Park. Today, it is the longest continually operated ski resort featuring over 3000 acres of award-winning terrain. We pulled up on Winter Park and from the parking lot could hear loudspeakers calling out contestant's names, the crowd cheering, and music filling the mountains. Stumbling upon a professional mountain bike competition in Winter Park was truly an awesome experience.



Exploring The Blue Ridge Parkway

We were sitting on the deck, watching the news, when my dad looked over and said "you know, I was thinking we could ride the Blue Ridge Parkway." So, we made some quick plans, started packing up some overnight gear, and wen't outside to practice strapping everything to the bikes. I had never done something like this, so it took me a while to get the ropes tied just right.


Day one:

On Monday, June 12, we left from Peachtree City, Georgia and traveled 125 miles north on I-85 through Atlanta to I-985 though North Georgia and stopped for a break at Tallulah Gorge State Park.

From Tallulah Gorge, we traveled 65 miles to Cherokee, North Carolina and ate Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch. The Blue Ridge Parkway was only 5 miles down the road. We took a quick photo at the entrance and pulled off into the mountains. 469 miles of unknown roads lay ahead.

Immediately, the landscape was captivating. So much, in fact, that dad became entranced and couldn't look away. Unfortunately, he was still connected to his bike, which was drifting off into a grass ditch. It literally happened in a flash and all I could do was look on in astonishment. Grass began to fly around as the bike slid back and forth as on an ice rink. Like something out of a movie, a masterful stunt performance, dad managed to keep it under control and came to a stop a few feet before a drop-off. We slowly pulled up to the overlook to compose selves, vowing that the next 459 miles would be free of mishaps. Spoiler Alert: no more mishaps occurred

During the North Carolina portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, there were a lot of tunnels. There are no lights inside the tunnels which make for an eerie ride-by-headlight until you see light peek out from the other side.

[From Wikipedia] "Most of the work on the tunnel digging was done by hand and provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. Little machinery was used with the intention of creating manual labor in depressed economic times. They did have for tunneling truck-mounted water-cooled compressed air drills called "Jumbos." After the initial holes were drilled into the substrata, dynamite was used for blasting away the rock."

The roads switch back and forth through winding roads, some of which reminds me of my Appalachian Trail hike. We crossed Lick Log Gap, which was one area that I hiked. The entire route was rife with stunning views accessed by overlooks positioned along the road every few miles. Throughout the first day, we passed many motorcycles, a Corvette, and a lot of photographers who stopped to take photos of the mountains.

After 75 miles, we decided to stop in Asheville for the night and grabbed some food at Oyster House Brewing Company. Dad got oysters and fries and I had the best grilled chicken sandwich I've ever eaten in my life, no lie. (And I eat a lot of grilled chicken sandwiches) We stayed at a little motel called the Asheville Inn.

Day two:

When we woke up the next morning we discovered, over delicious McDonald's coffee, that my tail light lens had fallen off somewhere during yesterday's ride. At 9:10 a.m. on Tuesday, I rode to the nearest AutoZone and pick up some red tape to make the repair. Leaving Asheville, we entered the most mountainous stretch of the ride and could only average 30 miles per hour along the twisting road. We stopped after 24 miles at Craggy Gardens Visitor Center for a break and spoke to some fellow travelers. We first met Roy, who had an affinity for bicycles. He spoke about a cross-country bicycle trip he took in the 1970's and how he loved machinery. He also told us that, though he has never owned one, he loves motorcycles. We met an older gentleman who has lived in Maui for 40 years. He worked for Dole and moved to Hawaii to help them with their canning process. He decided to stay. (The fellow in the photo below is not him, just a guy who was also from Maui and apparently appreciated Maui Brewing Company. I'm assuming they knew each other.)

Roy told us that we absolutely must visit the highest peak in mainland eastern North America, Mt. Mitchell. It was only 13 miles up the road. The sky was overcast and we wouldn't have a clear view from the top but it is the highest peak we are talking about. So, we had to check it out.

It was getting close to noon and our stomachs needed more than coffee. 25 miles up the parkway we found a town called Little Switzerland. Here, we ate sandwiches and mapped out the remainder of the day, aiming to get as far as we could while realizing we had a very long way to go. It began to rain. We pulled our bikes under a carport and talked with fellow motorcyclists until the rain passed. Our plan was to travel 50 more miles to Boone, North Carolina by nightfall. Surprisingly, the road along the way was flat and relatively straight, allowing us to cover more distance than we expected and we knew we could tack on an additional 64 miles and make it to a town called Roaring Gap. Along the way, we stopped in Wilkesboro at a sign that read, "...Hang down your head." We listened to The Kingston Trio sing this folk ballad on our iPhone.

We arrived in Roaring Gap before nightfall and stumbled upon High Meadows Inn, a quaint and endearing motel. On the property, is a wonderful Italian restaurant, Nikolas, which was exactly what we needed.

Day three:

To the end. We left Roaring Gap and headed for Roanoke, 110 miles away. The road here consisted mostly of rolling hills and we covered a lot of distance pretty quickly. We arrived at Fancy Gap by mid-morning and stopped at Cockerham Food Mart for more coffee and a Royal Pine Car-Freshener. I wanted to see if I could heighten my riding experience by making it smell more... real. It mostly just blew around all over the place and flew off ten miles down the road.

23 miles up the parkway, we stopped for rest at Mabry Mill which has been a blacksmith, a wheelwright shop, then became a sawmill. Then, in 1905 it was used as a gristmill. Near the water in front of the mill, I found a Diamondback Water Snake and poked it with a stick.

We reached Roanoke by 11:30 a.m. and ate Bojangles. Dad has a special place in his heart for some Bojangles chicken. I ate a rice bowl, as it was the healthiest thing on the menu. After Roanoke, we have 120 miles to the end at Waynesville. Traveling on, a good distance up the road we came upon a black bear and her cub. [side note: bear cubs may be the cutest thing in the entire world.] We didn't know what to do as we sat there staring into the eyes of a couple bears maybe 30 yards away. We revved our engines. Immediately, the bears high-tailed it across the road. Mamma bear disappeared into woods and her little cub scurried quickly up a tree. I was unable to get any photos of this event as we were on bikes and my gear was packed away. Just take my word for it, it happened and the little cub was adorable.

When we were 35 miles from the end, dark clouds quickly gathered overhead. We had seen this before along the way and had always escaped without a drop so we weren't worried. This time It rained hell's fury down upon us. Dad had time to throw his rain suit on. I was not as fortunate to remember to pack my suit on the top of my gear and didn't have time to go through it all. The storm raged around us for about 15 minutes, during which, I became entirely soaked. My shoes, jeans, and leather jacket were all wet and made for a very cold, miserable experience. The clouds parted about 10 miles from the end and, though wet, I was happy. We finally reached Waynesboro and immediately made our way to Pinky's Car Wash where the bikes would get a much-needed cleaning. Behind a row of pine trees lining the property line between Pinky's and Mc Coy's Furniture Co, I changed into dry clothes.

We did it. We rode the entire blue ridge parkway in three days. It was time to rest and prepare for the long ride home.

During our adventure, we covered a total of 1,325 miles and came across two turkeys, two snakes, two deer, two bears, one rabbit, and a lot of squirrels.

Cloudland Canyon: Somewhere in Northwest Georgia

Creating opportunities to explore state parks can be exciting and rewarding. One night, while getting ready for bed, I decided to find out what the top rated parks in Georgia were. I googled “Best State Parks in Georgia.” At the top of the list was Cloudland Canyon, a park noted for its rugged, pristine landscape. Stephanie, a Google reviewer, had this to say, "One of the most beautiful places I have ever been" and rated it a whopping 5 stars. Stephanie sounded like she knew her stuff, but it was over three hours away in the most north-western corner of Georgia. I briefly thought about seeking out this park in the morning but dismissed it as silly and closed my laptop. Just before I fell asleep, I changed my mind.

The next morning, I made a cup of coffee and packed my camping gear into my car, still not sure if I was going to actually go. I mean, I didn't really plan this out. I grabbed extra batteries for my camera and pointed my car toward the interstate. I was on my way before I could think it through or decide against it. By mid-afternoon, I made it to the park, spoke with an employee at the check-in lodge, set up my campsite, and went out to explore the park.

Stephanie from the Google review was right. This place was completely off the charts. There were overlooks with breathtaking views and landscapes I’ve never seen before in Georgia. I was shocked to see cliffs this high and rock faces this steep.

I had some time to kill before heading back to camp, so I walked down a trail and past a sign that said "Waterfall" and had an arrow pointing the way. I assumed that meant some water gently spilling over a few rocks as waterfalls do in Georgia. The trail was no big deal. Just sets after sets of stairs down to the bottom of the canyon.

When I arrived at the bottom, I discovered that "water gently spilling over rocks" is not at all what they meant. They one hundred percent meant real waterfall. This joker was overwhelming, especially if you were expecting something else. I stood in front of the waterfall and just appreciated the moment. It was amazing.

After some time, a nice couple walked up behind me and were flirting with each other but they sounded like they could have been a bear.

Startled, I left the waterfall and made my way back to camp and to cook ramen noodles for dinner. Inside my tent, I read a book and quickly fell asleep. A tree fell down somewhere nearby around 11:00 p.m. and I texted a friend about it. It also sounded kind of like it might have been a bear.

The next morning I woke up early, packed my gear, and rushed off to the canyon overlook for a sunrise photo. This view was actually what sold me on the park.

Cloudland Canyon is chock-full of some of the most pristine wilderness Georgia has to offer including waterfalls, canyon overlooks, and trails. With stunning geology and vibrant woodlands, there is so much to appreciate about this tucked away gem.

Yes, this park is far-removed from Atlanta and yes, it would have been fine to stay home or ride my bike and read a book that day but I was feeling curious. Sometimes that's all it takes. That, and I had picked up some CDs from a thrift store a couple days before so the thought of a three-hour car ride wasn't that bad. The playlist consisted of Anthology of Bread, The Counting Crows, and The Beatles 1967-1970 disc one.

Finding Yourself on The Appalachian Trail.

Exploration. Every time I say that word I immediately picture Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea trekking across Western America. Covering wild landscapes, communicating with vastly different cultures, navigating by compass in uncharted territory, and eating horse meat for dinner. For me, exploring usually just means driving on paved roads, hiking for a bit, and setting up camp in sites complete with fire pits and restrooms. Anyway, the point is exploration sounds exciting whether we’re talking early 1800s or modern day.

Around the middle of 2016, I started to obsess over the idea of doing a multiple day hike somewhere relatively far away and decently cut off from society. Instinctively, probably because it just sounded pretty awesome, my first option was to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. I just needed to convince a friend to go with me on this adventure. I picked up the phone and gave my best trying-to-play-it-cool sales pitch to longtime friend, Colby. I confidently said, “Hey man, I’m going to hike a few days on the AT at the beginning of the year. You in?” He immediately responded, “I’m in dude,” and the planning began.

I was excited about this trip because this meant I could justify purchasing a bunch of new outdoor gear and start researching bear defense maneuvers. Colby and I spent weeks reviewing equipment, comparing reviews, and coming up with scenarios that called for, you guessed it, more gear! I even made the decision to switch to an entirely new camera system just to save weight in my pack! I shoot with a Fuji XT-1 now primarily because it was better for this trip than my Canon setup. I was excited. We picked out a date, March 9, 2017, and a section of the AT, Winding Stair Gap to Nantahala Outdoor Center, which was 30 miles long and should take 3-4 days depending on our speed and weather conditions.

Lets fast forward to March 9. We drove from my hometown, Peachtree City, Georgia, to the Nantahala Outdoor Center to drop off our car where we will finish the hike and hired a wonderfully kind lady named Mary to shuttle us to Winding Stair Gap. Mary’s car came to a stop an hour later and we jumped out. We asked her to take our photo before we headed for the trail. And then we started walking.

Day one was full of fast-paced hiking and loads of nervous energy. We were so glad to finally be on the Appalachian Trail. The first few miles went by so fast and we came to our first checkpoint before we knew it. Siler Bald. We took a short break. Our legs were aching and, though we were supposed to make camp at mile four, we kept hiking. At that point, we were relying simply on excitement and wonder to get us to the next checkpoint, Wayah Shelter, before nightfall. We didn’t account for the steep incline up ahead.

Our excitement and wonder, the fuel we had been running on, soon wore off and we ended up running out of fumes. The night was approaching quickly. We decided to make camp on the side of the trail somewhere between Wayah Gap and Wine Spring. This was not ideal by any means but we were happy to stop hiking. We ended the day around seven miles or so. We made a campfire and listened to Ryan Adams and Prince.


The next morning we set out uphill for Wayah Bald. Wayah is Cherokee for Wolf. Apparently, Cherokee hunted Red Wolf there long ago. When we arrived, we met a fellow from Georgia who had hiked from Maine through the winter and was almost home. He hit the trail two weeks after getting out of the Navy. He had a scraggly beard and talked about all of the wild things he had experienced on the trail over the last few months. It was motivational. We left with our spirits renewed and managed to make it past our initial checkpoint for the day to Rocky Bald. We ate like kings, made a fire, and camped on top of the bald. The forecast called for rain but that was no big deal. No storms. It was beautiful up on the bald and we went to sleep.

I woke up in the middle of the night to roaring winds and pounding rain and what sounded like… thunder? I called out for Colby, in his hammock about ten feet away. No answer. I sat in my hammock trying to figure out if this was a dream and it was at that moment that my question was answered. The brightest light I’ve ever seen and the loudest sound. It was enough to convince me I was definitely awake and this was definitely happening. Colby finally woke up and we decided the best place to be was anywhere other than at the top of the bald. We packed up all of our gear and ran down the mountain as fast as we could, which was not fast. Battling the wind, rain, and freezing temperatures, we got a tarp up at the base of the mountain. Here we stood to plan our next move. We made a small fire to warm our hands and helped each other re-set our hammocks. Soaking wet, we went to sleep.

On the third day, we woke to find ourselves in wet clothes but relatively warm. We were pretty tired from running around last night, but we were pretty determined to knock the trip out today and finish strong. Off we went, heading for Nantahala. Because we hiked so far the second day (and ran down the mountain the second night) we had around a nine-mile hike to the end and all day to do it. About mid-afternoon, we made it to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Three days. We did our four-day hike in three days and, though we were completely spent, we had just enough energy to drive back home that night.

Hiking this section of the AT was both more fun and more difficult than I had imagined. From planning the trip to the actual hike, it was a great learning experience. Spending a few days on the trail gives you an opportunity to re-center and find yourself.

The Art of Sailing

I’ve wanted to learn how to sail for quite a while. The thought of understanding how the ropes and sails work, however, has always been intimidating. It almost seems impossible how a sailboat even works. I repeatedly decided to put off learning how to sail.

A month ago my friend, Brett, called and told me his father-in-law purchased a 35 foot Beneteau sailboat and needed to transport it to Georgia from North Carolina. He asked me if I would be interested in getting a crew together and sailing it to Georgia, learning how to sail along the way. Immediately I said, “Yes, I am in”, not knowing what that even meant.

A five-man team was assembled consisting of myself, Brett, Steve (Brett’s father-in-law), Chris (a sailing instructor from Atlanta), and David (a friend of Chris’ and avid sailboat racer). We flew from Atlanta to Raleigh, drove to the dock where the boat was waiting, and began to prepare the boat for its four-day journey south. Brett and I sat on the dock that night, looking at the horizon and wondering what in the world tomorrow was going to be like. It felt like the night before the first day of high school and we were riddled with anticipation.

The first day on the water was spent learning what the various ropes were called and what they did, going over safety precautions, and learning how the sails worked in relation to the wind. About mid-day, the two veteran sailors said to us “OK, so let’s sail. Show us what you’ve learned”. The three of us, Brett, Steve, and I, look at each other like “Are they talking to us?”

We hoisted the main halyard, let out the jib, reeled in the sheets, and synchronized the sails together as best we could. Almost immediately, David was yelling for us to “hurry up.” “You’re losing the race, we are falling back.” This ultimately added two things to our process: complete excitement and immense pressure. But, we did it. We were sailing and the boat was silently cruising through the water.

The second day was spent in Oriental, North Carolina, where we learned how to rig the ropes to the sails. All of the working ropes on the boat needed replacing and, luckily, there was a marine store a block away from where we docked the night before. Throughout the day, we intimately learned how to install and use halyards, sheets, and furling lines. Learning this skill was equally as great as actually sailing.

The third day we headed to open water and sailed the entire day at sea and everyone was drowsy from the Dramamine we frantically tossed back that morning. Up and down, back and forth the boat rocked. All day long. It was great being at sea, but it was not as calm and relaxed as I assumed it would be. That afternoon, a rainstorm caught us and before we knew it we were getting blasted with rain and wind. We worked the sails, reefed the main, and eventually pulled everything together to head for land. We were exhausted.

On the fourth day, we made our way to North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We spent the day in the Intracoastal Waterway in order to avoid rough sea and in climate weather. Losing a day in Oriental meant that we would not make it down to St. Simons, which we initially set out to reach. I don’t think any of us were disappointed, however, due to the incredible journey behind us.

I learned more about sailing in four days on the water than I had in the last month of reading and watching youtube videos in preparation. You may laugh, but I was so excited and anxious for this trip I watched everything and read all that I could. Almost none of it made any sense. There just isn’t anything like diving in head first and learning while doing.

Thank you, Chris and David, for your patience with us on this trip. You handled our ignorance with understanding and grace and taught us so much about the mysterious art or sailing. Also, to Steve, thank you for bringing me along on this trip. I had a great time getting to know you and spending four days talking, laughing, and enjoying your sailboat with you. Lastly, thanks, Brett, for thinking of me when planning this trip and for pulling it all together. It was all just so great.

SAILING LOG | French Connect Sailboat

Thursday, May 26

7:00 p.m arrived at dowry creek marina in Belhaven, NC and loaded boat for departure

Friday, May 27

11:50 a.m Departed dowry creek marina in Belhaven, NC

8:20p.m. Docked at Oriental, NC

Saturday, May 28

In slip in Oriental, NC changing rigging from 11:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Sunday, May 29

7:23 a.m departed Oriental, NC

11:30 p.m. Anchored Wrightsville Beach, NC

Monday, May 30

8:18 a.m departed Wrightsville Beach, NC

10:05 a.m stopped for gas in Carolina, NC

11:00 a.m departed Carolina, NC

6:05 p.m. Arrived at Myrtle Beach Yacht Club

Tuesday, May 31

12:45 p.m. Departed Myrtle Beach Yacht Club for Atlanta, GA by car.

A Little Bit of Somethin': A Toyota 4Runner

I was taking some photos last night and when I was done I turned and walked toward my car. It was late and I really wanted to go home and eat a slice of pizza. But, my car was just sitting there looking great and wanting her picture taken. So, I obliged.

Cars are just great and we love them. Whether it was the first time you sat in the driver seat at 15, trying to forget that your opinionated parent was just two feet away, or the first time you paid for a car with your own hard-earned money, you have loved a car. Some cars, like people, are better than others.

I’ve had my fair share of cars. My first was a red 1992 Honda Civic DX hatchback. I loved it, absolutely. I’ve owned a lot of cars since then and typically wouldn’t keep a car longer than 2 years. These days, however, driving is more about reliability and getting to work each day and less about simply having fun. (not that driving should ever, ever be boring) My last two vehicles have been third generation (1995-2002) Toyota 4Runners and they have been perfect.

The reason I love this car is that it does absolutely everything right. With every single vehicle I’ve had there has always been a caveat. Either it was fuel efficiency, or room, or reliability. With this one, there just isn’t anything like that. It’s fine on gas, it gets me where I need to go every time (knock on wood), I can work on it myself, and I can haul just about anything I need to.

Her paint has chips, driver seat has some rips, and the steering wheel has a little play, but then again, so do most of us. She’s only two-wheel drive and though she'd like to get muddy sometimes, she’s OK with that. So am I.

She’s not a new Range Rover or Mercedes. She isn’t going to impress your law school friends or compliment your new fancy watch. She drinks too much coffee, wears blue jeans, and listens to Matchbox Twenty. "She’s got a little bit of somethin' and God, it's better than nothin'."

If You Build It They Will Race

The Magnolia Soapbox Derby is the epitome of community involvement in Macon, Georgia. The derby began back in 1936 and underwent a new beginning in 2009 when it was moved downtown to Magnolia Street. -- my church, Ingleside Baptist, saw an opportunity to be a part of this ever-evolving community event.

So, after gathering some information, figuring out a budget, and mustering up a bit of salesmanship, I approached the lead pastor of Ingleside, Tim McCoy and our new young adult pastor, Blake Jenkins. They were all in. “Great” Blake said, “but can we build an X-Wing fighter from Star Wars?" The answer was obviously yes and build it we did.

It was 100 percent an Ingleside team effort -- Steve Mann, Facilities Director, being the design genius. Steve and Alan Harris, a Facilities team member, built the car. Rebekah Rainer, Bookstore Ministry Coordinator, and Emily Coleman, a Missions Ministry team member, painted the car. Blake organized a team of himself, Clay Scott, our Contemporary Worship Pastor, and two church members, AJ Freeman and Dana O’Leary. 

Fast forward to the day of the race -- we built it and our community came out to support. We didn’t come close to winning but we DID place Best in Show courtesy of the cheering crowd and gave away a 1,000 ice pops for free. Not to mention there was an X-Wing fighter barreling down Magnolia Street with the Star Wars theme song blasting out of the speakers surrounding the race track. 

I owe a big thanks to New City Church for the inspiration and to Ingleside Baptist Church for backing me up. If you don’t have a church home you should check out Ingleside (saying that in my humble, completely non-biased opinion, y’all).

Lastly, special thanks to Eric Robbins who served as our official Star Wars expert, who also worked tirelessly the day of the event to make sure everything went off without a hitch. (You rock dude.) Here's a couple pics of him (and me) geeking out.

A Bike in the Back Seat

My first bicycle was a yellow Schwinn sometime around 1987. After a few falls and skinned up knees, I learned to ride that bike without training wheels. I believe it was purchased from a bicycle shop on Main Street in High Point, North Carolina. You can’t miss the place. A giant red bicycle stands on top of the square brick building. Bicycles have been sold there since at least the early ’80s.

In middle school and high school, I went through three bikes. The first was a blue Diamondback Viper. The second was a red Haro Shredder. BMX was huge in the ’90s and anyone with a clue about what was cool was into the X-Games. BMX pros like Matt Hoffman, Dave Mirra, Jay Miron, T.J Lavin, and Ryan Nyquist covered the pages of BMX magazines and, subsequently, my middle school binders. I never had the time, patience, or guts to try any real tricks, but I rode the mess out of those bikes and, in a way, though I was just like the guys in the BMX magazines. The third bike was a green/blue fade Mongoose Switchback mountain bike. This was a great bike to take on a long ride because it had gears. This was, in fact, my first bicycle with gears. This was the bike I took to college when the BMX craze subsided and I needed a more efficient means of getting around.

After college, I wanted a bike to cruise around town on and occasionally take to Piedmont Park in Atlanta. I looked for weeks and found a Cannonade M700. I had always dreamed of owning a Cannonade. They seemed like the best bike you could ever have. It was the epitome of a “fancy bike”. The coolest thing, to me, about Cannondale was that in the 90’s they came out with a mountain bike with a “head shock” that added suspension under the headset and before the fork. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I wouldn't mind owning one of those head shock bikes one day. It would be red, of course.

Eventually, I got into road cycling when a friend Adam mentioned he was going to train for a 100-mile bike ride, a “century ride.” As insane as that sounded to me, I started researching road bikes and, before I knew it, I was driving to Warner Robins to look at a Trek 2300. Now, the thing about bikes in general, if I had learned only one thing, is that components, the gears and brakes and little things about a bike, matter the most. This bike I was looking at, while older, was a nice bike and I was getting a great deal buying a high-end bike used rather than a lower end bike new. So I bought it. I had no idea how to ride it, but I learned and trained hard. Eventually, I pedaled that thing for almost 7 hours across 100 miles of Carolina shoreline. I will always love that bike and the hours spent in saddle are some of the best I've ever spend riding.

When I bought the Trek 2300 I did research, as I tend to do, about the history of Trek, it’s bicycle technology, any partnerships they have, and just the brand overall to better understand what I’m riding. I get kind of obsessed over things like that. One thing I learned in my research was that Greg Lemond (more about him in a second) started a brand of bikes that partnered with Trek. The Trek 2300 (my bike) had an identical twin on Lemond’s brand called the Lemond Zurich. The only difference between the two bikes was that the Trek was made of aluminum and the Lemond was steel. The difference in the frame material changes the feel of the bike, the comfort, the agility, etc. One is not better than the other, just made for slightly different riding styles. Honestly, I just liked the classic look of the Lemond frame. 

[Greg Lemond was a professional cyclist of the ’80s and ’90s. in 1986, he became the first non-European to win the Tour de France. In cycling, especially American cycling, he is a legend.]

Last week, while looking for a bicycle for a friend, I came across a Lemond Zurich in my size. I drove an hour to look at it, rode it around a parking lot to test the fit, and drove home with a smile on my face and a bike in the back seat.

Interview: Veteran Leon Forest Herring, American Hero

I recently had the privilege of meeting with Mr. Leon Forest "Red" Herring in his home in Macon, Georgia. As I pulled up to his house, I noticed two things that immediately made me grin. The first was the square dancing bumper sticker stuck to his truck bumper. Apparently, at 97 years old, Red still has moves on the dance floor. The second was that he was in his back yard turning wrenches on his lawnmower. He had to get it fixed because, as he put it, "when I hit a bump, the steering wheel turns. I need to get the play out of it."

He is one of the few who can still recall what it was like to be in the service during the Second World War. I asked him some questions to better understand what it was like. It was a conversation I won't soon forget.

Could you explain what your job was while in the service?

I was a First Class Machinist’s Mate on a naval destroyer. My job was in the auxiliary gang.  We took care of all auxiliaries from stem to stern.

How did you join the military?

Well, I was in the Navy before the U.S. entered the war. I joined the Navy after working from the railroad. My father had died and my mother was living by herself so I started to feel like I wanted to return home. I had gone through boot camp in Virginia and I recall sitting in a church on a Sunday morning. The pastor stopped preaching and made an announcement. He said that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. Now, of course, the sailors started raising cain wanting to get back to duty. I didn’t realize entirely what was going on and still wanted to get out of the Navy. In the morning, I went to the doctor, who had written a survey on my behalf, and he said he would send it to Washington for approval. If they approved it, I’d be out of the Navy and if they reject it, they’d send me back to duty. It was then that I realized that we were going to war and I knew what was going on. I said “send me back to duty” right then and there. I went back to duty in Charleston to board the ship on Christmas day. Our first meal on the ship was Christmas dinner. We left Charleston to Norfolk to gather supplies and ammunition and later headed to San Diego.  From there, we went straight to Pearl Harbor. When we got to the Pearl, there was still oil covering the surface of the water and bodies were all around. They were recouping bodies from the water and we patrolled the waters in our destroyer.

red shaking hands.jpg

Did you ever think that the USA would enter the war?

Oh, no. I didn’t think anything about going to war. That was the reason I was getting out because we didn’t think anything of it. Once the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor, that was when everything changed and we knew we were at war. That changed everything for me.

What can you tell me about the attitudes of your fellow sailors and yourself before and after Pearl Harbor?

All the guys who were young enough were scared. The guys who had been in service for a while were excited to get in the fight and kill the Japanese. Me? I was scared.

How did you keep in contact with your mother during war?

I wrote her letters. After we started operating in the Pacific, I had a name for each ship I was with. She knew where we were at all times and we would correspond through letters.

What are your fondest memories from the Navy?

Well, I happened to get into a job that I was familiar with. I was in engineering or machine shop all the time and I operated the motor whaleboat. When the Japanese were signing a peace treaty with the U.S. we were patrolling the waters in one of their harbors. We were seeing how large the harbor was for ships to enter. The captain said we were going to go to the bank and each of us would step out of the boat and touch Japanese soil. That way, we could say we were among the first to touch down on Japanese soil. That was a good moment.

There were really many instances that I was proud of.

One time we were escorting a seagoing tug boat and they had an accident on board in which a man was injured by a snapped cable. We had a doctor on board our ship so we transported him to their boat. I remember the huge swells at sea would take you up high and down so low you couldn’t see your ship only a block away. We go to the tug, loaded the injured guy and transported him to our ship so he could get medical treatment.

What was the toughest part of being in the service?

Witnessing the people killed. I was assigned a pallbearer to bury the dead. We would bury them at sea. We buried a skipper at sea. It wasn’t a pleasant job at all.

Once, we took a suicide plane. It was horrible. I did get to stay on a hospital ship for a while and was treated well. My battle station was alongside the control room, where the radio equipment was kept. My room supplied power to the ship. I was not at my station when we took the plane. But, when I arrived at my station after it hit, I cleaned up the water and I found pieces of a human body. Walking through the alleyway topside, I remember seeing dead bodies. I remember seeing Gary was floating in the water with his body twisted around. He was without any clothes on and blown half in two. I went up to the deck and was laying there with a kid who had his feet blown off. I had a little bit shrapnel, but that was all I could tell. My friend Pete and I started trying to help the guys laying on the deck. We gave them shots of morphine to help them. I later found my immediate chief laying under a gun with his foot laying across his chest and his arm was gone. I remember taking my belt off and making a tourniquet for his arm to stop the bleeding. Reagan, the chief engineer electrician was laying on the number one hatch and I picked his head up and told him we were doing all we could to get help. He rolled his head, looked at me, and said, “well, I guess I’ve acted like a baby hadn’t I, Red?” That was the last thing he said..

How would you describe the experience to someone who wasn’t there?

I don’t know of any words to do that.  You do your routine work as long as you are alive, knowing that you could be killed in a flash.

We call your generation “The Greatest”. How do you feel about that?

I'm proud of that. I’m proud of the time I spent in the service and I’m thankful that I was able to do what I did and come home.

The lessons we pass down.

Walking around downtown Macon soothes my soul. That may sound exaggerated or dramatic but that’s about the only way I can put it. I moved here three years ago from midtown Atlanta, seeking a stable job and a start to my career. So three years later, we are still here. It's interesting the way things grow on you. The things I felt I'd miss the most about one place became the things we valued in our new location. For instance, I loved how diverse Atlanta was. Piedmont Park is a kaleidoscope of culture and only two blocks from our condo on West Peachtree Street. You could hop on a bicycle and take a spin around the park to find a sea of people hustling around with mouths eating chili dogs, hands throwing frisbees, and eyes staring at the clouds. In this one place, you could watch life go by like a weird movie. It was peaceful and hectic at the same time.

But all this "diversity" often reminded me of this glaring fact: there are a lot of people in Atlanta. They stand in a lot of lines and create a lot of traffic that I had to sit in. Macon, on the other hand, especially downtown, is much the same but without that congestion. The people I encounter around downtown Macon still come from many walks of life, still arrive with hearts full of the day's offerings. I sit and watch them and I think ‘Where are these folks coming from?’ What master plan brought them here, to the heart of Macon, where their paths would intersect with my own?

Do they look at me and wonder the same thing?

Did the lady in the blue Jeep get that promotion she was hoping for? Did the lawyer grabbing a quick lunch spill coffee on his tie again this morning and show up late to work? Does that guy on the corner need my money and if so, why isn't he working? What did their parents teach them? And what, if anything, might they remember about that instruction?

All these people, all these stories, all these different ideas, dreams, and memories. I got to wondering about a subject that some of us share: the lessons we learned as children. Among all of these people walking around, there are ideas, thoughts, lessons, floating around that have been passed down by parents and loved ones. Walking around downtown Macon, I asked random people one simple question and recorded their answers assuming we all might have more in common than we realize: what lesson did your parents pass down to you?