30 miles to Shuckstack: A journey thru the Great Smoky Mountains

Shuckstack Fire tower, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Photo by Clay Duda.

The sky opens up with a light rain as we head out out on the Lost Cove Trail around Fontana Lake. This short stretch of dirt will connect us with the Eagle Creek Trail, which we’ll follow into the remote stretches of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was 90-something degrees when we left the valley surrounding Knoxville, but here’s it’s pleasantly hovering in the mid-70s. I can’t complain.

On its face, a 30-mile hike in three days seems like a piece of cake. Equally divided, that’s only 10 miles daily–but as we’re about to find out, legs of this trip aren’t equal, campsites are sporadic, and there’s 5,000-feet of near-vertical mountain between us and the finish line.

Penguin Pursuit: A search for the tuxedo birds of South America

https://www.flickr.com/photos/magical-world/3113761444
Photo: Vera & Jean-Christophe/Flickr/CreativeCommons

Life, love, and the pursuit of penguins:

All my life I have tried to find what exactly it is that makes me happy. What I really care about. What makes me smile. What I enjoy more than sleeping my life away. (I really like to sleep.)

Over the years I’ve come to realize that happiness is not something you can find. It’s a way of thinking. Happiness is not circumstantial, it’s a decision you make to see the good in what you are given. It’s a choice.

However, love is not always a choice. You don’t get to decide who or what it is that you love. Love is just what makes you happy whether you choose to be or not. It’s an uncontrollable feeling of joy.

Two things I’ve found that I really love are 1) experiencing other people’s culture and way of life, and 2) animals! To have the privilege of observing someone else’s world, and being able to interact with them is just so amazing to me. Not only other people’s way of life, but different types of animals in their own habitats as well. Can you imagine getting to see a penguin colony up close and personal?! AHHHH! In my dreams! Well, it doesn’t have to be just a dream — for me or for you!

Review: Men’s North Face Kilowatt Jacket

FREEZE FRAME: Wifey does dishes while I take goofy-ass selfies. She's definitely my better half.
FREEZE FRAME: Wifey does dishes while I take goofy-ass selfies. She’s definitely my better half.
Review of North Face Kilowatt Jacket Mountain Athletics. Clay Duda. Borrowed photo.
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The North Face Kilowatt Jacket is easily the best activewear jacket I’ve ever owned. Then again, it’s the only true activewear jacket I’ve ever owned, so that might not be all that helpful. Instead of meaningless comparisons, let’s instead focus on the pros and cons of this jacket, and if it’s really worth the $130 price tag.

I’ll start by noting that I didn’t pay retail for this jacket, and if you’re looking to buy one now you can actually get a better deal than I did (see below). I snagged a size medium during one of REI’s first end-of-season sales this spring for about $90 after tax. I’m 6 foot, 180 pounds. The medium is slim fitting on me, which is exactly what I wanted in a jacket like this, although I could likely easily rock a size large (they only had mediums left on sale, so I have never actually tried on a large). The Kilowatt Jacket is part of the North Face Mountain Athletics line, which basically means it’s made for working out.

Since purchasing the jacket about two months ago I’ve worn it pretty much daily. It’s perfect for the wet, cool spring weather common here in East Tennessee, and it’s versatile enough to work for my daily routine that flip flops from active to sedentary to active to sedentary (yay, office life!). I use it for pretty much everything, from exercising (mostly running), commuting to work by bike (4-5 days a week), lounging in the office on dress-down days (which, honestly, is pretty much everyday for me), and walking the dog. No, the jacket isn’t exactly business casual, but it is nice enough to bum around the newsroom, and I’ve had anyone refuse to talk with me or make any off-handed comments about my attire being less-than professional.

To me, the $90 I spent on this thing has been well worth it, although it’s not perfect. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past few months:

The path to Chaos Crags at Lassen Volcanic National Park #TBT

Chaos Crags trail at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Photo by Clay Duda.

After moving to Redding, California in September 2013, this hike to Chaos Crags in Lassen Volcanic National Park offered my wife and I our first real dose the stunning beauty Northern California is known for. According to this old Word document I found, we undertook this hike in late October, 2013, a couple of years before I launched this little travel blog. So here it is, my first and possibly only #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) post of a hike from yesteryear:

Scenes from Carnaval in Barranquilla, Colombia

Carnaval 2016 Barranquiila, Colombia. Photo by Clay Duda.

Barranquilla is an industrial behemoth of a town on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, somewhat off the beaten path for tourists most of the year — that is, except for each February, when the annual Carnaval parade and festivities attract thousands from around Colombia and abroad.

Call it luck, but we happened to be spending the week in Cartagena nearby during this year’s throw down. We hoped a bus with a couple of friends we made at our hostel and set out for a day in the mix. I couldn’t bring myself to pay the 150,000 price tag (about $47 U.S.) for a seat in the bleachers to watch the parade, but we did spend hours roaming the streets, met some good people, and soaked it all in. I also managed to get pickpocket of my iPhone. On my birthday, no less. But otherwise it was a great time and quite a unique experience.

Barranquilla’s Carnaval dates back at least 100 years, they say, and has even been declared some sort of cultural masterpiece by UNESCO. Pretty cool, eh? It also happens to be on of the largest Carnaval celebrations in the world, and if you ever have the chance to attend I wouldn’t pass it it. In the meantime, here are a few pictures from the street scenes:

Getsemani street art in Cartagena, Colombia

Street art in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena, Colombia. Photo by Clay Duda.

Getsemani is a small neighborhood nestled just south of the tourist-saturated El Centro in Cartagena de Indies, a bustling city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It’s known for it’s posh eateries, as a hotspot for backpackers and budget travelers, and for walls adorned with color-saturated murals and street art. This is a visual guide to its narrow alleys and walkways — or at least some of the paint on its walls. Read more about Cartagena.

The highest point in Knox County, Tennessee

Melissa and Peaches sit on top of House Mountain in Knox County, Tennessee. Photo by Clay Duda.

When January gives you a 60-something-degree weekend (and just a week after snow at that!), you don’t ask questions and you go outside. My wife and I didn’t argue. We grabbed pit bull Peaches and set our sights on House Mountain, a pointy bit of hill just eight miles outside of Knoxville that also happens to be the highest point in Knox County, Tennessee, and off we went.

To the bayou at Fontainebleau State Park

Fontainebleau State Park north of New Orleans. Photo by Clay Duda.

A night’s antics on Bourbon Street was still taking its toll when my wife and I reached Fontainebleau State Park on the north banks of Lake Pontchartrain around noon. Thankfully our hikes — or strolls, rather — through the marsh lands turned out to be easy to navigate and not at all strenuous, even being a bit hungover.