Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flying Through the Air with the Greatest of Ease




When I was a little kid, my parents decided it’d be a good idea to buy a boat and teach my brother and I to waterski. One of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome was where we were learning to ski.


At the time, we were living in Louisville, KY, and the nearest body of water was the Ohio River. There are really big barges that run up and down the Ohio River. And they make really big wakes.


I’ll never forget my first attempt at skiing. It’s not because I got up on the skis, but because of how much water I drank that day.


My parents coached me on how to get going: bend your knees, keep your skis straight and let the boat pull you out of the water. I was all set. Let’s get this party started.


I followed those instructions to a t. What they didn’t tell me to do was to let go if I fell. My dad most have dragged me for a hundred yards before I finally let go.


It took a while, but my brother and I finally learned how to ski. We even learned to slalom ski.


Then the kneeboarding craze hit andI had to get in on this.


We got a kneeboard and I started doing all of the little tricks: 360’s and sideslides mostly with a few jumps here and there. But one thing eluded me: getting enough air to do a flip. That is, unless my brother was driving the boat.


Scott loved pulling me on the kneeboard. Which essentially meant we were on the lake with some friends and he wanted to show off or get me killed. I’m not sure which.


He’d get me up on the board and in no time was making sharp turns and trying to churn up as much wake as possible for me.  He’d then go into what I consider the death turn, because I don’t think I ever made it out of this turn without wiping out.


Scott would get me outside the wake and make a really sharp turn. But instead of making a u-turn to change direction, he would cut back over the old boat wake and create an enormous tsunami of a wake.


I was holding on for dear life at this point.


They said I’d literally fly higher than the boat. I don’t remember much except seeing the water coming up fast as I nosedived into the lake, peeling back my eyelids as I crashed and burned.


I’d finally surface and the first thing out of my brother’s mouth would be, “Wanna go again?”


“Sure,” I’d say. I think I was still in shock at this point. Why would I ever subject myself to this much torture? Either that or there was a short period of amnesia from my head impacting with the water.


I never managed to pull many tricks on a kneeboard, so I have a lot of respect for people that can. That includes people who can throw some awesome moves on a wakeboard.


When I was in Roanoke Rapids a few weeks ago, I got to meet world champion wakeboarder Adam Fields. He’s from the area and learned to wakeboard on Lake Gaston where his family owns a house. It’s also where he operates AF Wake, his wakeboarding school.


I took a ride with Adam and some of his friends as they took turns wakeboarding, pulling flips and soaring through the air with the greatest of ease, just like the daring young man on the flying trapeze.


Their acrobatics were amazing. I never could have done that on a kneeboard. Of course they didn’t have to worry about my brother driving the boat.










Sunday, September 25, 2011

BASE Jumping for Joy


I’ve never really understood the fascination with skydiving. You jump out of a perfectly good plane, plummet several thousand feet, use a bed sheet attached to a knapsack on your back with pieces of string and hope that it slows your fall.

In the words of Commander Spock, “This is highly illogical.”

BASE jumping is even more confounding. (For the uneducated, BASE stands for buildings, antennas, spans and earth.)

But so is the attraction to the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, ID. It is the only bridge in the United States where it is legal to BASE Jump 365 days out of the year without a permit.

For the unprepared, it can be a tire screeching shock as you drive across the bridge and see someone leap over the side of the bridge. Even if you’ve driven across it before, it can still be a little unnerving.

It’s not usual to pull into the visitors center as you enter Twin Falls on Highway 93 and see a group of jumpers packing their chutes on the lawn. They have their canopies spread out as they meticulously unravel and unfold. Then they will straighten, fold, wrap and secure the one thing that will bring them back to this very spot to do it all over again. And they do this all under the watchful eyes and curious questions from busloads of tourists. All wanting to know when they’re going to jump again.

But now there is a new twist, Tandem BASE Jumping.

Just like tandem skydiving, TandemBASE in Twins Falls offers novice jumpers the chance to experience the thrill of jumping off a perfectly good bridge. The first time BASE jumper is strapped to an instructor and takes a leap of faith from a perch 486’ above the Snake River. Roughly a minute or two later, they land in the LZ on the canyon floor. And if they’re aim is dead on, they hit the bullseye painted on the ground below.

For me, I prefer to keep my feet on the ground and just watch. At least for now. Who knows what my next trip to Twin Falls will bring?




Saturday, September 24, 2011

There’s a Train Wreck Waiting to Happen


The Train Wreck in all it's glory



This is far from a man versus food challenge. At the Depot Grill in Twin Falls, ID, the Train Wreck definitely has the upper hand. It’s like bringing a knife to a gunfight. Unless you’re an expert with a knife and fork, you don’t stand much of a chance.


Trust me on this. I only managed to down about a third of a Train Wreck. I can only imagine the pain if I had been able to stomach more.


The Train Wreck is 6 pancakes about half an inch thick each, a pound of sausage and four eggs. That’s over five pounds of food. And you have 30 minutes to eat it all. That’s if you don’t throw in the towel before your time is up. Time is not on your side.


Two people have finished the Train Wreck. Only one has finished in the allotted time. His time to beat is 24 minutes. He’s the only one out of over 60 with a mark in the win column.


The secret? There are several. And that’s where the journal comes in handy.


Each person who attempts a Train Wreck gets to leave their thoughts in the journal. If you take the time to read it before you start, there are a few tips you will pick up throughout the comments:


Don’t drink the water! Or any liquids for that matter. It will only cause the food to expand more in your stomach. That goes for syrup too.


Plan ahead. Start practicing the week leading up to your attempt. The only person to win started eating 10,000 calories a day for the week leading up to the challenge. And yes, you will gain weight. Those aren’t fat free pancakes.


Roll ‘em fat. One tip that kept resurfacing in the journal is to cut up the sausage into six pieces and wrap them in the pancakes like a burrito.


Practice, practice, practice. If at first you don’t succeed, and chances are you won’t, you can always come back and try it again. People may question your judgement, but if you really like the pain, more power to you.


Most importantly, get a designated driver. Or someone to cheer you on or laugh at you. Because when you’re finished, you will not feel like doing much besides sleeping after this. Hibernation is probably a better term for it.


Oh, and good luck. You’re going to need it. Along with some Tums.




Yes, they are keeping score.



Everyone in the restaurant will know that you are the lunatic trying eat a Train Wreck.

The waitstaff makes sure of that.



Read the journal. It will give you a few tips and provide a little humor, too.



This is an after picture. That's two-thirds left from a Train Wreck.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It’s the End of R.E.M. as We Know It….






I started listening to R.E.M. back when I was a freshman in college. It was 1988 and Document was being played across campus. A couple of my friends, Frac and Tyler, had “It’s the end of the world as we know it” memorized from beginning to end. Which is not an easy feat. Every time it played at a party, the two would become the fifth and sixth members of the band, usually in a half to full drunk state.


I’ve been an R.E.M. fan ever since. Minus Frac and Tyler’s vocals.


It wasn’t until 1996 that I became an even bigger fan.


This was the year I got my first full time gig as a newspaper photographer. It was working at the Athens Daily News/Banner-Herald in Athens, GA. The home of R.E.M.


The band maintained an office in town at the corner of College Avenue and Clayton Street. They kept a low profile if they were ever in town. You only caught a rare glimpse of Michael Stipe here and there.


It wasn’t until October of 1997 that I would get to see all the members of the band. And that was for about five minutes. The most stressful and awkward five minutes of my photographic career.


It was the day the band announced Bill Berry was leaving R.E.M.


I was sent to their office downtown and kept waiting in the lobby as our entertainment editor interviewed the band. I don’t know how long I sat there, maybe 15 to 30 minutes.


As the writer wrapped up the interview, I was escorted into the room. Behind a folding table stood the band, lined up and ready for the firing squad. Me.


To their surprise I moved a little to my left and created a diagonal line instead of shooting them straight on. Then the pressure started. I knew I only had a couple of minutes before I got the boot. Problem is, my flash didn’t want to leave. Or fire for that matter. After every picture I had to ask, “Did the flash go off?”


I don’t how many shots I got off. Probably not many considering the time constraints. And even worse, probably only half of those were useable.


I felt like a true rookie. I’m sure the band thought the same.


The photo of the band ran on the front page the next day. I got a call from the band’s office. They loved the photo and wanted a couple of copies. I rushed to Wolf Camera and had a few printed and dropped them off. That was a great little ego boost, especially for a “rookie.”


Over the years, that photo has popped up here and there.


The first time I saw it was on the VH-1 show “Where are they now?” They showed a panned shot of the front page of the paper.


The next time was on the web. It was interview from 2008. Michael Stipe pointed out the picture hanging on the wall in R.E.M.’s office and talked about the day Bill Berry left the band.


Now, I find myself posting this picture on a day when the last three members are leaving R.E.M.


I still have this photo and I still have the memories of shooting the band that day. I also have a good collection of their music that still gets significant airplay on my itunes.


It may be the End of R.E.M. as We Know It. But as long as I have my memories and my music, I Feel Fine.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Comparing Apples to Oranges








Watching the students at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School in Collinsville, VA, I can’t help but think of Bill Cosby’s stand-up routine from the 80’s.


Cosby’s father tries to give his son a little perspective into his generation by telling a young Bill how “he walked to school 4 o’clock every morning with no shoes on, uphill, both ways, in 5 feet of snow and he was thankful.”


Isn’t it great how our parents try to keep us grounded on terra firma?


I didn’t have it nearly as bad as Cosby’s father.


Back in my day, the longest walk I had was to the bus stop across the street from my house. Home computers ran on a system called basic and the computer game of the day was called Zork, not World of Warcraft. A mouse was a little furry rodent. The internet was locked away in a lab and an apple was still widely considered just a fruit.


Today, you can’t find a classroom without a computer. The internet flows through the air. Learning is as close as a high speed internet connection and limited only by what you can type or navigate with a mouse.


Henry County Public Schools is bringing education even closer for their students. With help from federal stimulus money, every fourth- and fifth-grade student in the county schools has an iPad to use.


Deep down inside, wouldn’t it be great to go back to school and take advantage of this new technology?


As an adult, we do have to keep the kids grounded and pull out the “back in my day” stories every now and then. We need to show them where we came from, but it doesn’t mean we should keep them there.


Let them show us where we’re all going.


In the closing words of Casey Kasem, “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”