Triple Falls Trail – Dupont Forest, North Carolina

I was attending a conference in Asheville, NC, and had half of a day free.  Rather than stay cooped up in my hotel, and knowing there were hills in the area, myself and my colleagues, took a trip out to Dupont Forest to hike Triple Falls.

We didn’t have a lot of time – just about an hour and a half.  That worked well for the hike as it isn’t particularly long.  Also, there was a risk of rain.  There was a light drizzle in the surrounding area as we approached the hike, and a light mist at times for parts of the hike.  The light mist was nice as it cooled us down while we climbed the hilly sections.

Here are a few videos from the hike:

We made it to the top of the falls fairly quickly. Here are a couple of videos of the scenic view from the covered bridge that crosses the river just above the top fall:

Just as we were headed out of the covered bridge, which provided some protection from any possible rain, the rain really picked up.  It lasted for about 20 minutes and got us pretty wet. Despite getting soaked, it was a fun hike and I’m sure even more delightful on a bright, sunny day.

Here’s the GPS track:

Hiking in Silver Springs State Park

I was invited to give a presentation to a freethought group in Ocala and thought it might be a good opportunity to explore a little more of Florida.  I looked up hikes near Ocala and found Silver Springs State Park.  From what we were told by some of the people where I gave my presentation, Silver Springs used to be a privately owned amusement park and Florida’s first tourist attraction. Apparently, the park fell on hard times and eventually was taken over by the state.  Now it’s a state park with boat rides on the springs and some hiking trails.

My presentation was supposed to be in the early afternoon, so we decided to go to Silver Springs State Park in the morning, try to get a hike in, go to my presentation, and then come back for another hike afterward.

We got a bit later start than we had hoped as we had to pick up a few supplies before we left Tampa.  We got to the park around 11:30 and walked through the main area where they sell boat rides and have a restaurant.

Toren and Ryan at Silver Spring State Park
Toren and Ryan at Silver Spring State Park

We managed to get in a short hike in the primary part of the park before we had to leave for my presentation. We did a newly created hike called Creek Trail, which wasn’t much of a hike.  It looped around in a circle, with Silver Springs Blvd. on one side and Silver River on the other side.  It did give a bit of a sample of what Florida’s natural land looks like, but it was a very quick taste.  Here’s the route:

We had to leave after the hike to get to my presentation on time.  The presentation went well and then we went to a late lunch with some of the people who were at the presentation.  After lunch, we headed back into the park to do another hike.  This one was a bit longer.  It took us through some Florida wilderness and eventually to the Silver River, as seen in this photo.

Debi and Toren by Silver River
Debi and Toren by Silver River

The trail then looped back around.  This was called the Swamp Trail; here’s the route:

After that hike it was getting dark, so we headed out for a bite to eat and headed home.  It was a fun little outing.  No elevation gain, of course, but a good chance to stretch our legs in Florida wilderness.

Half Dome – Yosemite National Park

I was in Northern California on a speaking tour but had a couple of days while I was there that I didn’t have any speaking engagements.  I had combined the speaking tour with a conference I was attending in Seattle, the plan being that I would travel to several locations in California to talk about my books then fly to Seattle for the conference before heading home.

The day before I was to fly to Seattle ended up being free with no speaking engagements.  I knew that a few days in advance, so I decided to put in for a permit to climb Half Dome in Yosemite.  Whenever I tell someone from California that I like to hike, they invariably ask me if I have hiked Half Dome.  They all seem to think it is the greatest hike in the world.  In order to be able to tell them that I had hiked Half Dome, I figured I’d put in for the permit and, if I was lucky enough to get it, I’d make a quick trip out to Yosemite, hike Half Dome, then head back to Sacramento to catch my flight the next morning.

I had a speaking engagement on the 17th in San Jose in the evening.  I also found out I got my permit on the 17th, so I had to inform the people who were going to host me that night that I was going to drive out to Yosemite instead.  The presentation went well.  After signing books and chatting for a bit, I took off for Yosemite around 9 pm.  It was about a 4-hour drive.

I asked my wife to help me out by trying to find me a place to stay near or in the park so I could drive straight there, crash for a few hours, then start my hike.  She ended up finding me a cabin in the park.  Luckily, the office for the campground is open all night, so when I pulled in around 1:30, they were open, handed me my key, and gave me a map to show me where to catch the shuttle to the trailhead for Half Dome.  I headed to the cabin and went straight to bed – around 2 am.

I got up around 6:30, packed up, checked out of the cabin, then geared up and caught the shuttle to the trailhead.  There were quite a few people on the bus and most were getting off at the Half Dome trailhead.  After I got off the bus, I made a quick decision to take the steeper trail to get away from the herd of people.  It was a good decision.  After I reached the first waterfall (Vernal Fall) and first set of stairs, the crowds started to thin.

By the time I reached the top of Nevada Falls, there were very few people hiking on the trail.

I continued to push my pace as I still had to summit, hike back out, and then drive to Sacramento that night.  I passed a few people who asked me if I had a permit, as they didn’t and weren’t sure if someone was going to check for permits.  Sure enough, about a mile and a half below the cables, there were rangers checking for permits.  I had mine and showed it to them, but they were turning others away.

I made it to the cables after about 2 1/2 hours, where there was, unfortunately, a massive group of very slow climbers.  I ended up helping a woman who was afraid of heights make it up the cables, but it took me almost 45 minutes with her and her slow-moving friends in front of me.  I was happy to help and it made for interesting conversation.

After I got to the top, I took about 20 minutes to grab a bite to eat and air out my feet, changing my socks in the process.  It was still fairly early, but the heat was starting to rise and my sweaty feet need to breathe.

Wary that I would get caught behind other rather slow hikers on the way down, I didn’t want to stay long.  As it turns out, I did get stuck behind a very slow couple, but they eventually let me pass them.  It is definitely true that you can make good time getting to the cables, but the cables are a traffic jam just waiting to happen.

Here I am just below the cables with Half Dome in the background.
Here I am just below the cables with Half Dome in the background.

After getting past the cables, I tried to move pretty fast on the way down.  I did, however, stop just above Nevada Fall to let my feet cool off.  I pulled my boots and socks off and soaked them in the river for about 10 minutes as they were getting really hot.  It felt amazing.

From there, it was a quick trip back to the bottom.

Here’s my route:

Total hiking time was 6 hours and 45 minutes to cover 15.1 miles with 6,216 feet of elevation gain across the hike.

Half Dome was a cool hike.  Is it the most amazing hike I’ve ever done?  No.  It was beautiful in spots, and the waterfalls were really pretty.  But it has a serious competitor with Zion National Park, where the cliffs are equally amazing and the slot canyons are other-worldly.  I have been to lots of places that are stunningly beautiful.  I’d definitely do this hike again, but I think it might be more fun to hike half way and camp, summit, then hike out, giving yourself plenty of time to get stuck on the cables and to enjoy the river and scenery.  Sorry, Californians, Half Dome is cool, but it’s not the best hike I’ve done.

Point Lobos, California Hike

While on a book speaking tour in California, I had a few days where I didn’t have any talks.  One one of those days, while I was staying in Santa Cruz, I drove down the coast to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.  I was using my down time to get some work done but also needed some exercise.

I had to park along the freeway, as the parking lot was full.  As I walked in, I asked the woman in the booth what trails she would recommend for someone who wanted a good workout.  She suggested climbing to the highest point in the park, Whaler’s Knoll.  I made a note of that, then headed out.

Based on the map I had, I thought it made the most sense to try to do a big loop, with a side trip up to the highpoint for some elevation gain.  I headed mostly northwest, to begin with, worked my way around the edge of the Reserve, took a detour up to the top of the Reserve, then returned to finish my loop around the edge.  I ended up back where I started, doing about 5 miles of hiking and seeing most of the Reserve.

Sea lions nest on part of the Reserve.  While I was there, that spot was blocked off as there were babies and they didn’t want people disturbing them.  However, it was possible to still see the sea lions from a distance.  There were also a lot of birds in the area and some really pretty beaches.

I didn’t get the impression that there were a lot of good places to stop for a picnic, but if you’re interested in nature and wildlife, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve has a lot to offer.

My GPS route:

Things to Know About Traveling to Argentina in 2016

I’m on my second day here in Buenos Aires, Argentina and am slowly figuring out how life works here.  Here are a few of the things I didn’t know about that others may find useful.

  • How to get from the airport (EZE) to Buenos Aires:
    • When you arrive at the airport in Buenos Aires (EZE), there isn’t really a way to get to Buenos Aires via train.  I’m sure there is a bus, but most people take taxis.  You have a number of options, but most of the taxis take cash only.  However, there are a few that will take a credit card. You pay in advance and they’ll drop you off at your destination.  I used WorldCar, but there is also TiendaLeon, which is highly recommended.  These are called “Remis.”  You can get one of these just after you clear customs (which is after immigration) but before you walk out into the area where non-ticketed passengers are.
  • Getting money out of an ATM:
    • I was planning on using my debit card to get cash at an ATM when I got to the airport since I arrived after the government had gotten rid of the “blue rate” for exchanging currency and everything was a standard exchange rate.  I don’t use the money changers (e.g., Travelex) as they screw you over big time (your credit/debit card company will give you a good or the best rate).  Turns out, every single ATM in the airport was out of cash.  So, that sucked.  That’s why I was glad to find the Remis (see point above) that took a credit card.  I’ve since tried three other ATMs in various locations around Buenos Aires and my debit card doesn’t work in any of them.  I needed some cash to pay for a few things and started getting desperate.  Eventually I found out about Xoom. If you’ve got a checking/savings account in the US, this is a great, cheap way to send yourself some money.  They have a lot of places where you can pick up the cash (the primary locations are “]More[: Money Transfers” or “Giros” with a fair number of locations).  This worked really well for me.
  • Buying groceries
    • Now that people actually want to use credit/debit cards because there aren’t multiple rates for everything, any time you want to use a credit/debit card, you’ll need ID.  If you’re a foreigner, that means a passport.  I went to buy some groceries my first day here without knowing that and they almost didn’t let me purchase them.  I gave them my driver’s license, since I had it with me, and they let me buy the groceries, but be prepared to show your passport whenever you use your credit card.
  • SIM cards and cellphones
    • I brought my LG G3 from Sprint (I use ting.com as my carrier).  It has dual modes, so it will work on LTE or GSM.  I used it last year in Ireland, but it takes some configuring to get it working on GSM networks.  The day I got here, I bought a SIM card from Movistar for about $3.00 US, but for some reason you can’t actually pay Movistar for service.  You have to use a Pago Facil location to pay your bill.  The closest one to me has a line that takes forever (nearly an hour).  Also, they only take cash.  So, be prepared for this.  (FYI, the latest iterations of the Android OS for the LG G3 removed the option to adjust the APN; I had to download an app to let me do this after setting the network to GSM.  Once I did that and got the settings from Muvistar’s website, I finally get internet access on my phone.)
  • Cars and Traffic
    • I’ve already almost been hit by cars multiple times.  Cars don’t yield to pedestrians.  Be very cautious!
  • Uber
    • Going to try Uber tomorrow.  I’ll post here how it goes.