Date posted: July 21, 2019 | Filed under family, finn, travel | Leave a Comment »

This is leg 4 of Friday’s journey from Baltimore to Lexington Park to York, PA, to Lexington Park, and then back to Baltimore. At about 0:18 you can see where I took this shot.

Date posted: May 5, 2019 | Filed under family, travel | Leave a Comment »

From Lifehacker: new rules for traveling to Europe. There are some plans afoot for next year (subtle hint) so this is good stuff to know. Not quite a visa, but another form of authorization.

Date posted: March 16, 2019 | Filed under shortlinks, travel | Leave a Comment »

Date posted: July 9, 2018 | Filed under family, finn, friends, travel | Leave a Comment »

Date posted: June 20, 2018 | Filed under family, finn, friends, travel | Leave a Comment »

As I mentioned in the last post, I was really nervous about the Scout doing a long-distance trip. I’d prepared everything else as much as possible, but the worry nagged at me all morning as I packed it up with our gear. That only took about 20 minutes (I was basically just stuffing things in there) and after getting Finley up and moving we were on the road by about 9:45. She and I stopped for some breakfast at Dunkin Donuts and then we hit the highway. It’s going to sound mawkish, but as I merged on to Rt 97 I talked to Rob under my breath and asked him to help me get Zachary to the campsite and back home so that we could show him a good time.

The ride down went without a hitch. We made great time to Easton, only having to stop for a five-car line at the Bay Bridge and were in Easton by 11. This never happens. Usually the Bay Bridge line looks like the traffic scene from The Day After. We did some repacking of Zachary’s gear, found some space for it in the truck, and then the three of us were off!

Roaring Point is about an hour south of Easton below Oxford, and the route gets much more rural the further south you go. We turned off Rt. 50 to head west towards the shore and were swallowed up by cornfields and blue sky. As we entered the tiny town of Nanticoke (traffic lights: zero) I stopped for beer, ice, firewood and bait, and talked to several different people about Peer Pressure (“Hey, I haven’t seen a Scout in years!”) before finding the campground at the end of a dusty gravel road. We checked in at the front desk and they gave us the lay of the land; our site was up in back by a giant field we’d passed on the way in. I cruised around the rows of long-term camp trailers and over a bridge to get to the tent area; we had our pick of all but one site. We had to walk the area to see what was available, because the heavy rains of the past weeks had made most of the sites wetland and I didn’t want to grind out the mud looking. We found that the sites furthest back and closest to the field were high and dry, so I put the truck in 4WD to grind over the bog in the middle and backed in to our site.

We pulled gear out of the truck and got our tent set up, put bedrolls down, organized the food situation, changed into swimsuits, and took a vote: fishing was first on the list. Collecting our bait and tackle we walked to the pier and scoped the situation out. I got Finley’s line set and got her casting, then untangled Zachary’s line and got him casting off the other side. Finally I put my giant surf pole together and got my line in the water.

They stuck with it for about an hour as we worked through most of our bloodworms, and then the lack of action caught up with us all. We moved over to the beach area and jumped in the water together, splashing and swimming until about 6.

Getting hungry, I corralled them back to the site and we got changed for dinner. I realized pretty early on that lots of my old camping gear had made its way out of my bins and never returned, so I was missing important food-related things like a fire grate, spatula, wooden spoons, long roasting forks, and a frying pan. While I had the kids hunt down kindling wood, I whittled the ends of three long sticks and set them in a cup of water to soak while we got the fire started. Luckily there was a lot of dead wood on the ground and plenty of pine needles, so within minutes I had a good fire going. I speared a hot dog on the end of each stick and showed them how to cook without dropping everything into the fire. Once the nutrition portion of the meal was consumed I busted out the S’mores and we had dessert. Victory!

After food I busted out our walkie talkies and had them test out the range by exploring the field behind us while I cleaned up the dishes. I was impressed by how far they carry, and felt secure about letting the kids roam the campsite by themselves–which they were happy to do. When I finished cleaning up the site I called them back, busted out laser tag and we ran around the site for about a half an hour shooting each other before the light started fading.

Now it was craft time. I’d bought each of them an LED flashlight, a length of paracord, and a handful of hardware to make lanyards, but it took me some time to improvise a way to set up the workspace and then remember the way to get the lanyard started. My phone was bouncing between two bars and NO SERVICE, so the internet was intermittent at best. I finally reverse engineered the lanyard I’d brought along and got us all started but at that point the light was almost gone and we couldn’t see anything. Before turning in we walked out to the field to look at the stars and realized that the moon was directly over our tent with Venus shining brightly right next to it.

Unfortunately, there was a live band playing at the camp rec center for Father’s Day. They started up at about 8 with a Hootie and the Blowfish cover and didn’t stop until 10:30, ending their set with a mashup of Sweet Home Alabama, Whoop! There it Is, and a G-rated edition of Closer. Yes, this is true. By this point the kids were half-asleep but grumbling, and someone suggested walking over to hit the singer in the face with a frying pan. That person may have been my daughter.

The next morning we woke to direct sunlight on the tent as it broke over the field behind us. I got coffee brewing and offered the kids eggs and bacon, but they each chose to try one of the freeze-dried meals I’d brought on a whim: Finn had eggs and bacon, Zachary and I split mexican rice & chicken. And they weren’t half bad! The bacon was a little chewy as was the chicken but for a simple heat-and-eat meal they weren’t bad at all.

Then we sat down and finished our lanyards, which took some patience and multiple attempts to master. Zachary got the hang of it first, and Finley picked it up right after that. When we ran out of cord, I cut the ends, melted the loops together, and we hung them on the walkies.

After gathering supplies, getting our suits on, and grabbing towels, we walked up to the office and rented a canoe for two hours. It turned out to be a three-person kayak, which was actually a bit better for us, as the freeboard was lower for the kids to make paddling easier. Life jackets donned, paddles in hand, I dragged it down to the water, put the kids up front, and pushed off into the bay. It took some time to organize their strokes (I had to tell Z to watch what Finn was doing so he wouldn’t bonk paddles) but after a few minutes we worked out a working rhythm and headed for the point.

The campground is named for a spit of sand that noses out into the bay and disappears at high tide; as the tide shifts the water from upriver hits the sand and rushes over top–less than a roar in our experience but loud enough to hear from a canoe on the bay. It was about a half a mile from the beach, and so just the right distance for the kids. We nosed onto the beach and explored the point, stopping to talk to two gentlemen casting long lines into the bay and walking out to look at the osprey nest at the tip of the sand.

They spent more time in the water than on land which was fine with me; I splashed and played as much as they did–the water was warm enough to be in for hours. The horseflies from the nearby marsh were fierce but we dove under the water when they landed, and as the wind picked up in the late morning they blew away from us. Up on the spit I noticed a turtle crawl out of the marsh to explore the tidal pool and brought the kids up to check him out.

We wound up keeping the kayak for four hours, taking a break from the water to paddle down past the pier and explore the other side of the campsite. Then we paddled back up to the point and jumped in the water again after stopping for a Clif bar.

At 12:30 we returned the kayak, bought ice, wood, and bait, and walked back to camp to get lunch together. I packed up more water and cheesy-poofs and we hiked back out to the pier to try our luck at fishing again. They did great on their second try, spending an hour casting until it got too hot, and then jumped in the water again. I continued fishing until I caught a small 3″ bait fish, showed the kids, and then hooked him to use for bigger bait. I’d paid $35 to a guy at a yard sale for a second-hand fishing rod for Finn earlier this year, and after rebuilding the reel it turned out to be a pretty good setup. The rest of the afternoon was spent alternately fishing, swimming, fishing and swimming.

At dinnertime we walked back to camp and put more dogs over the fire, then had a massive game of walkie-laser-talkie-tag in the deserted tent area of the campsite. During dessert I busted out the glowsticks and we decided to walk back down to the pier to watch the sun set over the water. As the kids sat and played with their flashlights and talked, I said a quiet word of thanks to Rob and poured a little of my beer into the water for him.

Our second night was much quieter without the band, and both kids went down hard at about 9:30. I’d forgotten to put my spare battery in the tent to charge my dying phone, so I laid quietly listening as a blanket of birds and cicadas settled in around us mixed with quiet breathing from both kids, enormously grateful that things had gone so well both days.

The next morning fog covered the field behind us, and a light drizzle dappled the top of the tent but–didn’t make it inside (I’d left the rain cover off to capture the cross breeze, so this was another lucky break) which was what woke me. Zachary was up first so we snuck out of the tent and I made him some peanut butter toast while my coffee brewed. We chatted for about an hour until Finn woke up, puffy and pink from sun poisoning. Dammit.

After breakfast I let them fart around while I packed up camp, pausing to have them help me with important stuff like their belongings and folding the tent. I found a better way to pack the truck for the ride home so the kids had the whole bench seat to themselves. After cleaning up the campsite and taking a few group photos we dropped off our garbage and hit the road.

At the end of the camp driveway I looked both ways to merge and spotted a lump in the road. Jumping out of the truck, I brought a surprised Eastern Box turtle back over to show the kids, and then ran him over to the other side of the road so he wouldn’t get squished. Stopping for gas in Nanticoke, I got out of the truck and was faced with an old-school gas pump with spinning numbers and a mechanical valve–something I haven’t seen in 20 years. Before I could get it started a nice man named Earl ambled out from the office  and started pumping for me. He and I and a local on the other side of the pump chatted about full-service gas stations and Earl’s odd choice of a retirement career before we got to $20 and I mounted back up.

The ride home was hotter than Saturday by about 20˚ and 100% humidity, so by the time we made it to Easton we were ready for some AC and a quick bite at Karean’s house. Finn and I got back on the road by 1:30 and she passed out in the back seat again. After an uneventful ride we were back home by 3. We laid Finn in the den with some water and debriefed on the couch before heading back out to unpack the truck.

The verdict: both kids had a great time and told me they want to go camping again, but they don’t want to go to a place with a live band. Check. Both of the kids were awesome sports about everything: fishing, canoeing, swimming, crafting, they were up for it all and didn’t complain. They got along great with each other and with me the whole time. I spent two days with both of them and didn’t lose my cool, didn’t lose them, and had a great time myself. All I can think of is how lucky and grateful I am to have the two of them in my life.

Date posted: June 19, 2018 | Filed under family, finn, friends, travel | Leave a Comment »

I’ll write a brief rundown of my time in Bogota because if I don’t get to it now I definitely won’t do it later. I was in country to shoot video interviews with two city officials in locations I hadn’t scouted in a language I don’t speak, so I was a little nervous about the results I’d get. Luckily I had a colleague from work joining me who was familiar with the program, speaks fluent Spanish, and knows how to operate video cameras, so I had a translator who could act as a second operator with me at all times. This made the trip infinitely more successful, because she knew what we wanted to accomplish and could shoot B-roll at different vantage points wherever we went, so the sheer amount of footage we left with was more than double that of my previous trips.

My flight was direct from Dulles, so I got in late on Monday night and waited at the baggage area for Valeria to arrive. We were set up in a beautiful hotel in the northern half of the city, and early Tuesday morning (5:30 EST) we headed to the partner office in town which we used as a base of operations. From there we shot a bunch of B-roll around the central eastern section of town, pausing only for a brief lunch and shooting until 6:30PM.

Wednesday we were up at 7 to shoot our first interview and met with our subject at a park along a bike path. I found a good vantage point and we filmed him speaking, then some B-roll of him biking up and down the path. Next we returned to the partner office and shot interviews with several of the bike-riding staff (much easier than grabbing random people off the street) before heading back to the hotel to offload data to an external drive.

We spent pretty much the whole time on the ground running, and if I didn’t have a translator I would have been sunk; UBER in Bogota is illegal, and for some reason their mapping service there is terrible. We wound up in several random places where the app told us we’d reached our destination, and we had to spend time explaining where we really wanted to go to the driver.

I bought a new LowePro backpack to haul the gear around in and found it much easier to use than the ThinkTank suitcase I inherited at WRI, while being able to carry about 90% of the suitcase’s maximum load plus my laptop. This made packing once for the day feasible so I didn’t have to return multiple times to the hotel to swap out gear, although it made the pack heavy. I got skilled at keeping it to the barest load possible with enough batteries to last the day and only the lenses we’d need; only once did I regret not packing the heavy zoom lens for some good B-roll shots on the second day.

Bogota itself is a beautiful city. It sprawls at the foot of a mountain range bordering the east side, at an altitude of 2,600 feet. The architecture is an eclectic mixture of old country and modern jumbled next to each other, much like Mexico City, and I spent much of the time I spent in vehicles craning my neck to take it all in. We saw both the good and the bad, from the upscale neighborhoods where we were staying to the slum and industrial areas away from the mountains. Because the climate is often wet (think of San Francisco, but much higher) there are exotic, vibrant flowers everywhere. Calla lilies were blooming in pots outside our hotel, and across the street, brilliant purple bougainvillea draped over a residential wall.

We used a variety of cameras, with two Canon 5Ds as our primary shooters paired with a couple of key lenses, a DJI Osmo (verdict: pretty frickin’ sweet), three GoPro Sessions, and my Fuji X-T10. The 5Ds were used for all of the interviews, most of the stationary B-roll, and a few long takes for timelapse effects. We used the Osmo for traveling shots outside the windows of our cab, some pedestrian shots, and some interesting footage while riding bikes. The Sessions I used for stationary time-lapse footage in different locations and handlebar-mounted footage of our interviewees.

In the afternoon on our second day we headed north to some of the taller buildings and tried to access their observation decks but were told they were all closed until the weekend. Undeterred, we UBERed up to the side of the mountain and took a cable car up to the peak of Monserrate, a scenic overlook and tourist destination above the city (at 3,100+ feet above sea level). From here I set up the 5D and all three GoPros for an hour, shooting wide vistas and detail shots of the city. While I was there a nice police officer named Hugo came over and tried out his English on me while I tried the few Spanish words I knew.

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I broke down my gear and walked around to find Valeria, and we stopped in to a cafe overlooking the city for a cappuccino and some pastries while exotic birds flitted through the flowers around us. When the sun got low in the sky, we huffed our way back up the steps and set gear back up to shoot it setting through the clouds.

Our final day on the ground began with a flurry of email as we tried to line up our final interview subject, the transportation minister of Bogota, and after nailing him down to a time, we went to the historical district and shot some B-roll of the original city square and surrounding streets. Then we jumped in a cab and headed to his office nearby. There we were faced with several lousy locations for shooting, but as I grudgingly set up in a bright and noisy hallway I glanced out into what had been a sunlit courtyard full of people and noticed it had emptied out after lunch. I grabbed my gear, told Valeria we were moving, and ten minutes later we were shooting outside with a vista of the mountains behind the minister in perfect light. Once that footage was in the can, we grabbed a steak and a beer at a restaurant across the street, toasted our success, and made plans to head back to the hotel.

My final evening was quiet, as Valeria had plans to go take a salsa class, so I transferred footage to an external drive and got all my gear packed for an early cab ride in the morning–I had to be at the gate by 7:15 the next morning. Even though I was up at 5:30 I didn’t make it through check-in, customs and security until 8, and ran to my gate. Once I was on my flight things were better, but it was scary for an hour or so there. The plane ride home was uneventful, and I was back at the house somewhere around 5PM.

Overall, despite the fact that I ran my ass off the whole time I was there and I don’t speak Spanish, I enjoyed my quick stay in Colombia tremendously. I’d consider going back there, with six months of intensive language training, for a long vacation with the girls.

Date posted: May 4, 2018 | Filed under travel, WRI | Leave a Comment »

There’s just way too much to catch up on posting here, even from before I left for Colombia. I’m laying in bed waiting for a melatonin to kick in so that I can be up at 5:30AM to catch an Uber (illegal here in Colombia, but not policed) to the airport. It’s been a whirlwind three days on the ground, and I’ve learned a ton of things that should come in handy for my next shooting trip. I’ve been traveling with a colleague from work who speaks fluent Spanish and that’s helped us out of a dozen jams throughout our trip. She was also handling a second camera, so we’ve got more than twice the footage I would have shot alone, and that’s an added bonus worth the price of the extra ticket.

The film we’re putting together is about the city’s attempt to put in a bikesharing system to capitalize on its miles of bike lanes. Bogota is huge, a sprawling city of eight million people nestled up the side of a mountain. The traffic is terrible, so we’ve spent about 8 hours in cars transiting from one place to another over three 12 hour days. The city wakes up early and goes to sleep late, and people are out everywhere all the time. We’ve had an excellent stay, met tons of friendly people, ate lots of delicious food, and enjoyed our brief time in the city. Now, it’s time for bed.

Date posted: April 26, 2018 | Filed under travel, WRI | Leave a Comment »

Date posted: April 25, 2018 | Filed under travel | Leave a Comment »

I’m laying in bed after a long first full day on the ground in Bogota. We got up at 6:30 (5:30 EST), had breakfast at 7, and were on the roof of a building shooting by 7:45. Apart from a half an hour for lunch, we were on our feet shooting all day, up until 6:30PM. There will be more to say about the trip (and the weekend) later, but right now, I’m going to bed.

Date posted: April 24, 2018 | Filed under travel, WRI | Leave a Comment »