Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day. To Me.


It's now been (more or less) a year since we moved to Asheville and much like when I lived in New York City and never went to, say, the Statue of Liberty—we live mere minutes from several access points to the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, yet never use it. When I first toured the area last year when interviewing for my job, I took the Parkway back to the airport, and saw I families piling out of the car to enjoy the many trails and figured we'd be doing the same thing if we moved here. Um, notsomuch.

Anyway, I've been working on my photography of late, and decided I need to get up early and grab some sunrise pictures in the mountains. I've tried to get up, but could never rally, and get my ass out of bed.

I knew I'd have some more opportunity in July when Mrs F and the kids are away, but when I read that the Rhododendron are in peak bloom NOW, I figured I'd use the Father's Day Trump Card to take off in the morning and hit the road—with any luck I'd be home before anyone else was up. I set the alarm for 5:45, but Baby set hers for 5:10—I was good and awake now. Once Mrs F got her back to sleep, I made my escape. The weather was less than ideal, but around here ten miles one way or the other can be whole different scene (more on that later).

It's a slow and steady climb from Asheville's 2,300 foot elevation up to the Ridge. My first stop was at about 3400 feet, I'd missed sunrise, but it was pretty overcast so it didn't really matter. I had the the dog with me, the windows down and was really enjoying the drive. A little way further up, there was some okay visability, so I snapped off a few shots (the panorama upthread), but it was beginning to feel like the photo part of the trip was a bust, and this was turning into merely a scouting trip for a return with the family.

As I got up into the 5,000s and Craggy Gardens and the visibility was anywhere between a few miles and 30 feet. I shot some Rhododendron, and decided not to go any further ( I had hoped to make it to Mt. Mitchell). When I got back in the car, I took my first real look at the dash and about crapped my pants—the gas gauge was below empty.



For those not familiar with the Parkway, it can be miles between exits (30 or more) and even then, it's not like an Interstate with an Exxon at every ramp. It was 7:00 a.m., I was in the middle of nowhere, and the last thing I wanted to do was call Mrs F to come get me.

I could swear I had a quarter-tank when I left, and that should have been plenty, but I must have misjudged the gauge and then the long climb took its toll on fuel efficiency.

I then realized, "It's all downhill!"

I pulled out and began my descent. Cruising down the mountain in nuetral at a low idle, I decided I better kill the engine until I need it. It cost me the power brakes, but the slope, curves and banks made controlling the car a breeze. It was pretty fun actually...

My silent running had a completely unexpected advantage—the rabbits, wild turkeys, etc that had run for cover on the way up were all along the side of the road. Kinda cool. And then...along the bank I saw what I never dreamed I'd see...




I have a serious thing for bears. I love em. Everything about em. If there was Bear Week on Discovery Channel, you'd know where to find me. I have never seen a bear in the wild. Ever. My parents have a roll of film of a full-grown black bear in the yard at my childhood home—taken twenty years after I left for college. I've waited my whole life, and there it was: right at the side of the road. I coasted silently up, and stopped not twenty feet away.

Clearly a juvenile, I was more worried about the dog spotting him and barking before I could grab my camera. I still had my wide angle 17-35mm lens mounted, so he looks even further than he was, and it was set for my manual exposures in the fog at the top, so the photos are disappointingly blown out, and through the window glass (it was freezing at the top), but I managed to squeeze off six clean shots before he noticed me and took off.

I was positively giddy. I didn't care about the gas anymore, no matter what happened, this trip was a success.

I successfully conserved my fuel and made to a gas station at the bottom and returned home where everyone was asleep and there was no one to share in my glee. I climbed into the only available bed—Baby's toddler bed, and crashed.

Kid and Mrs F greeted me with iced coffee and donuts an hour or two later and at last I could show off my trophy.

All and all, a fantastic morning. I was ready to take the rest of the clan up there for a picnic when it cleared up in the afternoon. Or so I thought...

[to be cont'd.]

11 comments:

julie said...

Awesome about the bear.

Beautiful photos, too, of the mountains.

inkelywinkely said...

Great photos..You guys should come down here sometime- lots of crazy badass wildlife.

I am happy you had a good father's day. :)

steves said...

Pretty lucky to see a bear right by the road. We had them around where I grew up, but they were pretty reclusive. The last time I saw one was 4 years ago when I went hunting in Newfoundland.

Smitty said...

What a fun Father's Day story! What a great bit of luck to see that bear. The last one I saw was 3 years ago on a trip to the U.P. canoeing.

Bob said...

The bear is cool and all, but that last shot is awesome.

Mr Furious said...

Thanks, bob.

That's not the way it came out of the camera, that's after some post-processing to simulate High Dynamic Range photography. HDR is a software program/process that takes three separate exposures—an over-exposed shot to show detail in the shadows, a properly exposed shot, and an under-exposed shot to show details in the highlights (such as the sky) to create one photograph.

Normally a camera chooses to properly expose one area at the expense of another. To show the shadows, the sky blows out to white, or to show the details in the clouds, the foreground is too dark...

In the old days, film would capture a wide range and a good person in the darkroom (think Ansel Adams) could reveal it in the final print by over- and under-exposing (burning and dodging) different areas when making the print.

Mr Furious said...

All of that technical crap aside, I like it because it's the best one yet that I've taken that shows the "blue" in Blue Ridge...

You'll often see the purple in "purple mountains majesty" here too, but it's really hard to have it come across in photos.

Mr Furious said...

What's really crazy is that in the last photo, visibility is clearly many, many miles...those far ridges are probably dozens of miles away.

Yet, the panorama at the top is taken in almost the same spot—you can see the cloud cover coming in...and if you go around a bend or through a tunnel, all of a sudden it's not safe to drive because you can't see twenty feet.

We went up later that day, and Mrs F noted the sign that said "Roanoke 278 miles" and said, can I take this instead of 81? That'd be much more interesting..."

We ran into the same hairy conditions in the afternoon, and the kids were terrified.

She'll be sticking to the Interstate.

Mike said...

Very cool. Great story, great pics.

Deb said...

I've been waiting to see these! How FUN! Love the mood of the panoramic.

At one point in my San Francisco life, I worked in Sausalito and had to leave my beloved city every single day for a drive across the Golden Gate toward the worst job of my life. The upside? I would put my little sports car in neutral and cruise silently down the back hills of Sausalito and catch deer dining on the hillsides in the fog. Fabulous. Thanks for bringing that nice memory back.

Junior Bed Mom said...

I can't believe you climbed into the baby's toddler bed! I'm going to have to think about that when I buy a junior bed - something that is comfortable for me too!