Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge

In an area that is now famously known as "S*** Town" thanks to the wildly popular NPR podcast, the Cahaba NWR is a really special natural place.  Even if it's in an area you wouldn't necessarily expect. The Cahaba River is home to more species of fish than ALL of California, but it's best known for the lily that bears its name.

 Cahaba Lillies blooming along the shoals in the NWR

Cahaba Lillies blooming along the shoals in the NWR

The Cahaba lily blooms every May-June along the river. People drive from all over to come see them bloom. The shoals inside the wildlife refuge are the best place to see them. No picture will ever do these stands justice. It's something you need to see in person if you can.

I took the family to see them. It was a great excuse to spend time outside together, and our dog (instagram.com/theadventuresausage) loves it there. We hung out along the banks, played in the edge of the water, and just enjoyed exploring.

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I always seem to find the strangest creatures in the refuge. We found strange spiders, weird crickets, an a lizard that looked like a baby alligator on this trip.

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Make time to visit this unique place. Carry your bathing suit, wear water shoes or flip flops, and go explore like you did when you were a child.

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Hurricane Creek Climbing

I can't say enough about this little park. There is so much packed into so little space. It's an amazing place to spend a day even if you don't climb.

I don't even remember how I found out about the place but I stopped to check it out on a weekday afternoon while traveling back from Huntsville. At one time it had required a day pass to get in and had a permanent staff. Now it's free and unstaffed, so I didn't expect much.

The gatehouse is still there but empty except for the cobwebs filling the windows. The parking lot was gravel and nice, but totally empty except for me. Just past the gatehouse, I found the remnants of a cable car ride (it looked more like a mine car) that lowered people from the upper ridge to the base of the canyon. I felt like I was walking into somewhere that had been long forgotten. The natural version of a ghost town.

The trail splits in multiple directions as soon as you step onto it. I chose to follow the trail right, which was made of steep rail tie steps that followed the cable car remnants straight down the canyon. The payoff at the bottom was immediate. After a very short hike along the base of the crag, you are met with a massive, and stunning, overhanging roof.

 The roof, facing back toward the trailhead.

The roof, facing back toward the trailhead.

As you approach the end of the accessible part of the crag on that side of the canyon, you'll find the "Stairway To Heaven". It's another rail tie staircase, but this one is built into a seem in the crag just wide enough for a human body. It's steep and usually wet and leads to the trail at the top of the crag.

Below the crag is a beautiful stream that runs through the middle of the small canyon. (There is a crag on the other side too) Someone has built a small dam which has created a great little swimming hole that we have seen people enjoying on our later trips to the park to climb.

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Did someone say climbing? As the story goes, one of the original employees was a climbing enthusiast who envisioned the park as a training ground. There is a slab that varies in height from 30-40ish feet tall at a slight angle. It was set up nicely with multiple rap rings along the top, and a nice wooden platform at the bottom. It as a handful of top rope anchored routes along its length that progress in difficulty ending with a bolted route at the end for the first time lead climber. You can tell it was well thought out and would still be great if not for moss and dirt all over the routes. At one time, I imagine this was a fantastic place to learn. While its still fun, the routes are filthy and scary slippery when damp.

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 Jon braving the ice-like moss on the bolted portion of the slab.

Jon braving the ice-like moss on the bolted portion of the slab.

There are maybe a dozen bolted/anchored routes in the park. They're all on the same side of the canyon as the park entrance. Some routes have rap rings on top of the crag. Most routes have shuts as anchors. There are a few bolted routes, but the first anchor of at least 1 of them is 20' off the ground. There are ample trees for natural anchors and infinite opportunity for first ascents. I'm not sure anything has ever been climbed on the other side of the park. If so, it's not documented anywhere I can find.

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Every route is dirty, there seem to be spiders on every hold if not moss and water, and nothing is taller than 60-70',

BUT...

This place is just fun! It's a tiny little oasis in the middle of nowhere and you won't have to fight a crowd even on weekends. If you're tired of the same old crag and want to mix it up, Hurricane Creek may be worth checking out. If not for the climbing, for the natural beauty.

The Rumble On The Ridge 2018 | NICA Alabama Race 05

What a great season! We can't wait to see you all again next year. The last recap video of the season. (insert crying emoji here) We had a blast with our guests from NICA National, NICA North Carolina, NICA Georgia, and the new NIC league in Oregon! Until next year, happy trails!

70's Trans Am Number Two! | Work Vlog

One of the companies I am the creative director for is a custom car shop. Matrix Muscle Cars has built several award-winning vehicles, and I get a front row seat to the madness. In recent months the guys have finished TWO 1970's Trans Am builds. I documented some of the process for the second one in this vlog.

 

Crank Down In Tiger Town Race Recap | NICA Alabama Race 02

Grrrrrrrrr!

Nick is racing across Tennessee... without a bike! Am I the only one who thinks running is crazy? Even crazier is the fact that his race preparation means the video editing fell to me. You should be worried!

But we had lot's of awesome stuff for me to pull from so it should still be fun to watch. It has lots of race footage, a new segment on volunteer/staff positions, a new race nutrition segment, the top 3 racers and teams in every category, and more race footage.

Since a lot of the racers aren't on FB, we are trying Youtube to make it easier for them to watch.

Climbing at Sandrock | I almost broke my ankle.

What a weekend. This was supposed to be an awesome an much needed climbing weekend. It turned out to be a near end for me. I actually feel lucky I only hurt my ankle. Had Jon not grabbed ahold of me I would have tumbled of another ledge to a very rocky, very hard landing, very far below. Despite the drama, and weather stopping almost all the climbing, we all had a blast!

I had a climbing fall (or 3) in the dark at Sand Rock / Cherokee Rock Village. Everyone tried to keep positive but we thought the ankle was fractured. I didn't want to ruin everyone's climbing trip tho, so I bit the corner of my sleeping bag (and prayed for rain!).

Climbing at Yellow Bluff

Yellow Bluff is one of our favorite Alabama crags. There is no access for setting up natural anchors or top-roping, but there are plenty of bolted routes so quickdraws are the only rack you need. It's a unique wall to this area and worth checking out. The hike in is short and the surroundings are fantastic. Here is a short vlog from a recent trip that shows off the excellent climbing and surrounding area.

 

A quick day trip to Yellow Bluff for the new years weekend. We started 2018 a few days early by teaching Ethan(Ian) to lead climb on some great sport routes in North Alabama.

Bouldering at Horse Pens 40

Some rough clips and a few photos from a fantastic day of climbing with awesome folks.

 

Below are some photos taken with my phone during the day.

Cardiomegaly - Is my heart killing me?

I woke up Monday morning with severe chest pains. Can’t move, can’t breathe, face turning white chest pains. So I did what any red-blooded American male would do in the situation. I got in the car and drove straight to work.

After a long weekend of mt biking, show hosting, and photo/video shooting, I drove home from the NICA Space Race at the Huntsville Space & Rocket center feeling exhausted but good. After unloading gear and taking a shower, I went to bed.

 Riding through Rocket Alley during laps of the course on Saturday.                                  Photo by: Andrew Garza

Riding through Rocket Alley during laps of the course on Saturday.                                 Photo by: Andrew Garza

I woke up Monday morning with severe chest pains. Can't move, can't breathe, face turning white chest pains.  So I did what any red-blooded American male would do in the situation. I got in the car and drove straight to work. "It'll get better as the day goes on," I told myself.

I tucked myself away in my office behind my wall of monitors and got to editing. Periodically people would stop by and poke their heads in to check on a project or say hello. More than once people noticed that I was visibly uncomfortable and asked what was wrong or commented on how pale I was.

Eventually, my boss told me to leave and go to the hospital. I have to think or feel like I'm dying to step foot in a medical facility. Since I did feel like I was dying, I obeyed the command and left for the doctor.

I spent the next several hours answering a million questions about the level of pain I felt, getting blood drawn, having x-rays and EKG's done. After all was said and done, I was informed that there was good news and bad news. The good news - it wasn't a heart attack. The bad news - my blood pressure was elevated (130/89), my resting heart rate was twice what it normally is (98bpm), and worst of all my x-rays showed that I have an enlarged heart. I was told to immediately contact a cardiologist and schedule an appointment. Since it was 7pm, scheduling would have to wait until the morning.

Seeing those results really scared me. I'm extremely active. My resting heart rate is usually in the mid 50's and my normal blood pressure is low enough that most nurses take it a second time because they see a guy my size and think the test was wrong.

“Look, I’m eating this for lunch and hot wings for dinner. Let’s face it, the doc is going to tell me I can’t have them anymore so it’s my last supper!”

The really scary part is that both sides of my family has a history of hearts killing people early. I spent the evening turning over every possibility in my mind and reading one too many medical web pages. Would I have to take medicine every day for the rest of my life? Would I have to have surgery to repair my heart? Would I have to give up cycling, hiking, steak, hot wings, or sex? She'll probably deny this, but my wife said that was her first concern. She said the Viagra commercial that says, "Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex." kept replaying in her head. I guess it's good to know she doesn't just love me for my money. ;)

Tuesday morning I called and made an appointment with a highly recommended cardiologist. The earliest he could see me would be Wednesday afternoon. My internet research had taught me that once the kind of damage that causes an enlarged heart is done, it's permanent unless repaired with surgery. It would be another day and a half before I had any real idea of the severity of damage done to my heart. 

I bumped into a couple of friends at lunch. They invited me to sit with them and I explained what was going on with my heart as I waited for my food. Just as I finished explaining what the doctor said, my large plate of BBQ showed up at the table. They looked at the plate, then at me, then back at the plate with big questioning looks on their faces. I said, "Look, I'm eating this for lunch and hot wings for dinner. Let's face it, the doc is going to tell me I can't have them anymore so it's my last supper!" We shared some laughter, then prayer, and as lunch came to an end I realized I still had a full 24 hours to go before I would get any answers.

I spent the evening in my back yard, listening to an audiobook about hiking the Appalachian Trail. If I was going to die, I might as well start planning to accomplish the rest of my bucket list early. I ended up sleeping in my hammock under the stars. I woke up outside Wednesday at 5am and couldn't go back to sleep, so waiting for 2:30pm was excruciating. I just wanted to know what was wrong with me and what it meant for how I would live the rest of my life.

We walked into Alabama Cardiovascular Associates and got checked in. Shortly after sitting down in the massive waiting room with what seemed like 100 other people, my wife pointed out that at least 99 of them were twice my age. It was funny and terrifying all at once.

Eventually they called me back and started a series of tests. I smiled a real smile for the first time all day when I saw test results popping up on the screen. My resting heart rate was 56. My blood pressure was 120/81 on one arm and 119/80 on the other. 

I spent another 30 minutes giving family history, descriptions of my pain on Monday, and details recorded from the heart rate monitor I wear while cycling. After that, the cardiologist spent a while listening to my heart and checking me out.

From the details I had given about the pain and the test results, he was able to determine that my pain was unrelated to my heart. He said x-ray's are not a reliable way to judge cardiomegaly.Even better, he told me that the tests, my heart rate data from cycling, and listening to my heart told him that it was perfectly healthy.  He gave me no instructions other than to continue the weight loss I've had over the last month.

The chest pains were most likely due to Costochondritis from carrying heavy video gear in a backpack rig all weekend. The pain caused my shortness of breath which caused the spike in heart rate. It's now Thursday and the pain is pretty much gone.

Tomorrow I'll be back on my bike or hiking up my next mountain. I'll probablly have wings for dinner too.

Hometown

Over the past few years, I've been spending a lot of time photographing the places from my past. This includes a series of photos taken over the period of a few years. I've shot with the x-system cameras and film cameras and I never seem to run out of things to shoot when I go back.

Dairy Farm

There is an old dairy farm just down the road from where I live. I had a roll of HP5 with me and a "new" film camera to test one afternoon as I passed this place at sunset. Here are some of the frames from that roll. While I love my 4x5 large format camera, I would only have been able to take 1 or 2 of these shots had I been shooting with it. Sometimes 35mm is easier because I can make more photos in a shorter window of time. For a run-and-gun session Im happy with a couple of these.

Spanish Fork Utah

Utah is a beautiful state. For anyone who has lived most their life in the southeast, it can be a little overwhelming. There are large stretches of road between towns and amazing views in every direction. Here are a few shots from my last trip out there.

Urban Afternoon in 35mm

I found myself in an area I love to photograph with a little time, a couple rolls of film, and a camera in my bag. I burned a roll of Ilford HP5 which I later developed in New 55's R5 Monobath. I love that stuff (even if it is the most toxic stuff I've ever used in the darkroom).  There are a couple of print-worthy shots from the day which I'll eventually share, but here is the stuff that didn't quite make the cut.