Tag: challenge

  • Story: Wave Runners

    Everyone has a story of something they did once upon a time, which, in retrospect, was probably not a good idea. This is one such tale.

    Flashback to the 1990’s. At that time, I was splitting an apartment in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a friend named Ralph, who also enjoyed outdoor challenges. As such, every now and then, when the weather turned foul, we’d telephone a wave report recording, which detailed conditions present on Lake Michigan.

    One stormy summer day, this report cited waves near Holland, Michigan, as high as 8-12 feet, including a stern recommendation to avoid coastal areas. Well, that was exactly what we were hoping to hear, and so quickly jumped into the car on a road trip to the south pier, demarcating the channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. Thirty minutes later, we parked and continued our trek on foot through strong winds and rain, toward the pier.

    This was a big storm, as whitecap waves crashed up and down the beach, surging far inland along the coastline. As we approached, it became apparent that roughly 20% of the pier was engulfed in waves at any given moment. This observation should’ve served as an omen not to proceed…

    However, after an extensive discussion it was decided that, though obviously dangerous, our individual attributes of bravery, keen sense of observation and quick reactions, respectively, were sufficient to undertake the challenge: which was, to see who could traverse farthest along the pier?

    Note: digital cameras didn’t exist on the market at that time, but I’ve included a few photographs taken many years later, which show the coastal landscape and piers:

    Relative to the second image – which is actually an aspect of the other pier, to the north – the storm we faced was significantly stronger and with much larger waves. In point of fact, unlike the common and predictably wind-driven pattern of waves rolling in uniform rows, what we encountered was less organized and wild, with waves crashing from both the front and side directions.

    Painted blue, bollards were positioned along the length of each pier. Were the situation to present itself where either one of us was unable to elude an oncoming wave, my friend suggested that the best course of action was to drop down onto the pier and secure oneself by clutching on to a bollard for safety.

    And so began the challenge.

    This endeavor was as difficult as it was foolish, as waves broke across the pier at essentially random intervals, all the time of which my eyes were glued on the water. Movement entailed both quick footsteps and brief sprints, scrambling on the concrete both forward and backwards in order to safely create space between potentially hazardous waves. It was a major adrenaline rush, to say the least.

    I’d estimate that I was approximately 50-60% of the way out on the pier when it happened. I glanced back to check on my friend, only to see Ralph hunkered down and clinging for dear life to a bollard…as he was swept away by a huge wave, washing him over the other side of the pier toward the channel, down into the rocks.

    I immediately moved back toward where he was, all the while watching over my shoulder to remain cognizant of approaching waves. From a distance of 15-feet away, I spotted Ralph among the rocks with only his head visible above water, and without a stronghold for safety. Glancing back once more, I then saw him suddenly disappear into a trough of shifting waters, sinking an estimated 5-feet among the rocks and vanishing, out of sight. There was nothing I could do to help him.

    Then, only seconds later, the water crested, lifting Ralph up and out of that den of death, tossing him like driftwood on to the rocks, where he latched-on and was able to dash up the incline to the top of the pier.

    We hightailed it back to shore as quickly as possible, never again to challenge such a storm as was experienced on that day.

  • Lessons From the Trail

    Chasing Waterfalls

    By definition, waterfalls are always moving, following gravity. And, at times, falls may disappear – flowing underground, or, with seasonal changes, run dry. Furthermore, though a waterfall may be visible, getting close for a photograph often poses significant challenges.

    During an early morning visit to Middle Fork Falls, my first time on site, it soon became apparent that the best views were from the other side of the river. Hiking around the upper plateau was easy, though views remained obscured by many small trees and branches. For a better perspective, I’d need to descend the steep hillside.

    Here, the hazards were many. In addition to steepness, several successive days of heavy rainfall had fully saturated the topsoil. Some footholds remained secure for no more than only a few seconds before giving way to slide in mud. On such a grade, stopping oneself from a slip might not be possible until some 50-feet below, on the rocks at waters edge.

    The ground was covered with rocks of varying sizes, each hidden under wet leaves, an issue which could not be overlooked. Small rocks wouldn’t support my weight, and large rocks – more flat than round – mirrored the angle of the slope, usually encased with a slippery, mossy-film and hazardous. So, I sought to use medium sized rocks as footholds, as these could be pushed into the ground some distance, binding long enough to provide safe footing.

    There were also some smaller, 1″-wide young trees, useful for stepping topside, though not trustworthy as handholds. Most useful were my trekking poles, without which I could not have proceeded.

    Next, I traveled to nearby Potter’s Falls, where, as I began to drive down into the gorge, was greeted by a substantial roar of water through the forest, and would soon face another sort of challenge.


    Potter’s Falls has an upper and lower set of falls, and the river – Crooked Fork Creek – has a bridge to cross. While taking photographs on the south side of the waterway, I observed a 25-foot tall waterfall some distance away, tucked among the trees along a hillside, though deemed the terrain too dangerous to traverse. So, I set off across the bridge to the north side for a better look.

    Crooked Fork Creek was full from recent rains, flowing high on the banks with fierce currents. If in the primary channel, one would surely be washed away downstream, thrashed into rocks and drowned. So, I thoughtfully set my sights on the safest options nearest to what may be defined as the edge, or shore.

    I could see the waterfall across the river, though many trees impaired my direct line of sight. And, there were dozens of rocks in the water (some quite large), several of which appeared close enough that I might be able to use safely as stepping stones – climbing toward a single point I’d identified as best from which to photograph the falls.

    Note: this particular waterfall has no name, present only temporarily and solely as a result of the deluge from recent rainfall, a channel from which to drain downhill into the river.

    Part of this challenge was to ascertain the most viable route via closely-situated rocks and trees, most of which whose trunks were underwater. So, standing back I used my eyes to follow a variety of potential pathways, those which seemed plausible, until I decided upon the best way forward.

    On slippery surfaces, it’s important to keep ones knees bent with each step, the movement of which need be slow and deliberate; indeed, one step at a time. Branches should supplement stability as handholds, if only for balance, and trekking poles are also very useful to test rocks and logs for movement before entrusting ones full weight.

    After approximately 20 minutes of slow progress from shore, I had only one gap to bridge – a final area judged too broad and slippery to step across. So, using my trekking poles to tamp unseen surfaces beneath the rolling, muddy river, I carefully walked a short distance through knee deep water, shoreside of the rocks and away from the channel, cautious with each step so as not to wrench my ankles between rocks.

    Climbing back out of the water and on to the furthest and final rock of my route, I learned then that the view for taking photographs was only decent, at best. Nevertheless, I’d safely navigated the first half of this challenge, which I considered a successful endeavor and worthy of sharing, herein.

    Thanks for reading & enjoy the great outdoors – safely!

  • Because It’s There

    Because It’s There

    Like the old saying goes about undertaking challenges: why did you climb the mountain? Because it’s there. You can go here – Redbubble, Society 6 and Pixels – to discover some great products and gift giving ideas for the upcoming holiday season, or anytime.

    Thank you!

  • Hiking Quote

    It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

    Edmund Hillary

  • Glass Watch Jigsaw Puzzle

    Glass Watch Jigsaw Puzzle

    This photograph features a puzzle which I was recently working on with family members. Puzzles can be fun and, at times, frustrating – and this rather complicated image certainly provided a challenge!

    I created this Glass Watch design several years ago, using modified aspects from photographs of old glass bottles. If you think that you might enjoy this puzzle, it’s available in my Zazzle shop – measuring 11″ x 14″, it contains 252 pieces.

    Here’s what it looks like completed:

    UPDATE: the puzzle has been solved!

  • Steep Trails

    Steep Trails

    Hiking the ‘blue trail’ of House Mountain in Knoxville, Tennessee, I encountered several quite steep, challenging areas – case in point. Please check out my gallery at Fine Art America for more. Thanks.

  • House Mountain in Knoxville, TN – Part One

    House Mountain in Knoxville, TN – Part One

    Part One: The Ascent

    House Mountain is located in Corryton, Tennessee, just 10 miles northeast of Knoxville, and, at 2,110 feet above sea level, it’s the highest elevation in Knox County. The actual mountain stands 1,000 feet above the surrounding valley floor, with a few different trails available for hikers to select. I chose the Mountain Trail (blue trail), which is 1 mile long.

     The following photographs are available as prints in my gallery at Fine Art America, and provide a fair representation (in sequence) of the challenging terrain along the trail.

    Despite a strenuous climb lasting for approximately 1 hour until I reached the 1-mile marker on the trail, the views along the way were wonderful! Huge boulders were strewn along the mountainside and, looking up, it sometimes appeared to be impossibly steep, where the mountain seemed to be leaning uncomfortably forward – a dizzying view!

    The Crest Trail sign shown above reads as follows –

    The Crest Trail traverses the top of the mountain and is 1.5-miles long from overlook to overlook, winding along the top of the ridge partly on public and partly on private land. At each end of the Crest Trail you can enjoy a splendid view. The approach to the East End Overlook winds through many large boulders. The East End Overlook provides a view of Clinch Mountain, the parent of House Mountain, and the ridge and valley toward Blaine and Rutledge. The West End Overlook provides a great view of Knoxville, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Cumberland Mountains out toward Oak Ridge.

    I first headed toward the West Overlook, took in the sights and then returned. Next, I hiked to the East Overlook – which, in my opinion and despite the aforementioned accolades, is a much more scenic & preferred location – before descending the Mountain Trail (blue trail) back to the car. Altogether, it was a 5-mile hike at a level of exertion certain to leave me sore by morning!

    The hike was a slow process, with matters of proper footing a real concern along the way. Steep drops in close proximity to the trail were a good reminder to always remain cautious. Rocks and roots served as steps in many areas, and wet spots from a few different springs were observed. In a few instances, trails diverted to skirt around large fallen trees, though most of the hiking was ‘obstacle-free’.

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  • Disc Golf Basket Puzzle

    Disc Golf Basket Puzzle

    With 252 pieces, this 11″ by 14″ disc golf puzzle will be both challenging and fun! Made of sturdy cardboard and mounted on chipboard, it’s printed in vivid and full color on an easy wipe-clean surface. Includes beautiful gift box with puzzle image printed on lid – for hours of puzzle enjoyment!