On the Trail to Big Baldy

Big Baldy Trail Forrest

Recently I made a quick trip up to Sequoia National Park. It was my first time and it was an easy 3 hour drive up to the park’s entrance from Los Angeles. I was blown away by the size of the great Sequoia trees, their trunks wide enough to accommodate a two lane highway. The mountain trails were unlike anything I have every hiked – steep, secluded and full of cougar, bear and fire warnings. The warm smell of desiccated pine needles filled the air, bringing home the reality that my surroundings could spontaneously combust and trap me in a fiery maze.

I brought my Canon 7D, but I was lazy for most of the trip. I took plenty of photos with my iPhone 4S and posted Instagrams of the General Sherman Tree (the largest living thing on the planet), Moro Rock, and the surrounding mountains and forests. I just didn’t bring out the big gun until I summited Big Baldy. It was a 4.4 mile round trip with about a 650ft gain in elevation, topping out at 8,209ft. Not an overly tough hike, but I wanted something I could be sure to get in and out of before the sun began to go down.

Big Baldy Trail Mountains

I made it to the top of Big Baldy by mid to late afternoon. I finally pulled out my 7D with my new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens. That’s when I shot the photo at the bottom of the page. It’s an image of the Great Western Divide, a tightly packed, impenetrable wall of rock that spanned the eastern horizon and separates part of Sequoia National Park from Kings Canyon National Park. You can even see the plume of a “small” forest fire burning on the far side of the mountain range, bringing home, once again, the dangers of the extreme drought.

I took some time to take in the view, have a snack, and shoot a bunch of photos from the summit. Then I packed up my bag and slung my camera over my solder. I really liked that the 24-70mm had a locking mechanism that kept the zoom from telescoping out as I hiked down Big Baldy. A little ways down, I snapped the middle shot (above), a rocky ridge that protruded out, adjacent to the Big Baldy trail.

The photo at the top of the page was taken only a short way down from the ridge photo. I saw the spot on the way up and snapped a couple pics with my phone, but I had to capture it with the 7D. The sun was in a great position, allowing for the long shadows of the trees to give the location a more enchanted feel. This hike was the first time I felt like nature could suck me up and make me disappear. All it would’ve taken was a wrong step or a hungry cougar. This shot captured that emotion for me.

On Top of Big Baldy

So I didn’t end up taking a ton of photos. I didn’t even give them a good look for over a month. But I’m really happy with these three. I cropped them all vertically a bit to give them a wider feel. I also desaturated all of the images with the black and white layer adjustment filter in Photoshop. I added the filter and then took down the opacity to around 50%, allowing the color to bleed through. For some reason, I really enjoy putting type over photos, so that’s why I made the titles. I used ITC Giovanni Std for the main titles and Helvetica Neue LT Std for the trail specs.

I hope to shoot more photos like these in the near future, next time with a little more purpose. I can’t wait to go back to Sequoia. There are so many hikes and climbs to explore. I really need to make it a 3 to 5 day stay. I bet there are some amazing starry night time-lapses waiting to be captured out there. Hopefully the government will get with it, because until the shutdown ends, none of us will be visiting a National Park. Sad times.

Make sure to click on the photos to get a full-size image. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.


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My First Skydive – Crossing Off The Bucket List

My first skydive

A lot of people proclaim that they would never jump out of a perfectly good airplane. For me, skydiving was something that I always wanted to try. I knew I would eventually get around to it. That mindset went on for years. Yeah, I’m going to skydive. One day. Why then, did I keep putting it off? It wasn’t fear, really, or money, it only costs about $200 for a tandem jump, not a huge cost to do something life-changing. I think it was simple inertia that held me back. If I wanted to skydive, I’d have to plan a day, find a place, and drive there. Sounds exhausting, right?

So, what got me unstuck? I happened to be shooting video for an adventure web series that I was attempting to create. This particular webisode was going to be about Bridge Day. It’s a B.A.S.E. Jumping event held on the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia. They close the bridge to traffic for one day a year and allow people to jump off (with a parachute, of course).

I was looking for people to interview, so I sent out a tweet with the hashtag #BridgeDay. Next thing I knew Ashley Mead (Skydive Chick) was messaging back. We met up and we had a great little interview about her recent foray into skydiving and her boyfriend’s participation in Bridge Day. After the interview, I mentioned how I always wanted to skydive. Ashley said that they jump close to where I lived and that I should come join them. I told her that sounded great and we exchanged info.

At first, I was going to put off the chance to go skydiving. Then I caught myself. This is my chance. Why am I putting this off? So, within a couple of days after Bridge Day, I decided to call Ashley. We scheduled a day when we could both meet at the drop zone. A couple of weeks later, I showed up and made my first skydive. It was a little scary, but it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Our first parachute malfunctioned so Tod, my tandem instructor, had to pull the reserve. We landed safe, and we joked about how I got two free falls for the price of one. What a ride!

Now, what is on your bucket list that you’ve been putting off? The skydive took me about 5 minutes to plan an schedule. Don’t let inertia keep you from having experiences that change the way you look at the world. Decide today, toss out your excuses, and make a memory that will last a lifetime. Get unstuck.

For fun I’ve included the video from my first skydive. It’s pretty embarrassing, especially the amount of horns I throw, but it’s something I will never forget. I hope to do it again sometime. Maybe with you!


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Elysium – Pretty Potential

Elysium

Pushing an agenda without emotion, without connection, is like yelling at someone to change, instead of teaching by example. One leads to reaction, to anger. An affront has been made. You don’t know me. Why should I listen to you? The other leads to respect, a desire to learn more, a willingness to inspect our own thoughts and actions, and to, just maybe, find new ways of doing things that can better ourselves and the world around us.

In a movie, our connection is with the characters, with their stories, their hopes and dreams. If we do not believe they are real, or care about their motivations, it all becomes a meaningless parade of images. Sometimes it may be “cool,” filled with action and special effects, but in the end, we leave feeling empty. Why didn’t I care about this film? It looked so beautiful. It had a great concept and theme. It was loaded with great actors. But I just didn’t care. This is how I felt after watching Neill Blomkamp’s movie, Elysium. It was all agenda and action and little emotion.

Most of my complaints stem from the pacing of Elysium. It felt too compressed. This type of epic allegorical material feels more at home in a two and a half to three hour film, something the likes of a Lord of the Rings (2001) or Gladiator (2000). It sounds strange to complain that a movie I was disappointed in felt too short, but allowing the time to establish an epic new world, and giving the characters the breathing room to grow and become real, is what seemed to be lacking. It felt as if the story arch was all peaks and no valleys, all action and no emotional content. We go from cliche flashbacks, to establishing the main character, to establishing the setting, to showing the battle between the rich and the poor, to a power struggle between the leadership of Elysium, all in an extremely short period of time. We are never given the time to learn who these people really are. I don’t “care” that there is a struggle if I don’t “know” the people who are struggling.

In the establishing flashbacks, we see our lead, Max (Matt Damon) and his love interest, Frey (Alice Braga) befriend each other, and dream of one day going to Elysium. Yet we never really get to know who they are. Flash forward to the present, when Max and Frey meet again in the hospital. This reuniting is so brief and so anti-climactic that it barely creates a context for an emotional relationship to develop. Max eventually sets up a date, but when the time comes to go on said date, Max is already well on his way to death. Frey discovers Max outside of her hospital and takes him back to her house. This could have been a great opportunity to build their connection. Instead, Max is mostly incoherent and he quickly passes out on her bed.

The next morning, Frey’s dying little girl attempts to make a connection with Max. She tells the fable of the hippo and the meerkat as a plea for help, but Max decides it is too dangerous to take her to Elysium, so he rushes out the door. In fact, he never makes a decision to try and help. The decision to help is made for Max, when Kruger (Sharlto Copley) and his clan capture Frey and her daughter, and they all end up prisoners on the same ship. By rushing all of the scenes where emotional connections could have been made, Blomkamp loses his audiences participation in the story.

For all of its failings, this is a movie I will probably watch again. I really do appreciate what Blomkamp is trying to do in Elysium, and there is a lot to love about the world he creates. I’m a sucker for futuristic dystopias. This movie has the perfect combination of cold clunky technology, gritty grimy alleys and futuristic military weapons. It brings back my love for the film worlds of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and James Cameron’s Aliens (1986).

There is so much visual and story potential built into the world of Elysium. Blomkamp’s mistake was focusing so much on the setting, on creating great action scenes, and on the thematic material, that he forgot to develop the characters into living breathing humans that we could fall in love with. Without a strong emotional connection to the characters, we are left with what becomes heavy-handed social commentary and a hollow shell of pretty action.

But this is about making art. And art is about taking risks. I am happy with where Neill Blomkamp is going. He is pushing his art and trying to make something that will evoke change in the world. I hope he keeps pushing. I hope this is just the beginning.


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Awash in a Sea of Distraction

The Branch in the Sun

You wake up to the sound of a text. You roll over and respond. You check your email. You check your Facebook feed, you’re Twitter feed, your Instagram feed. You like and respond to some friends’ posts. It’s been 20 minutes, since you woke up. Now, you get out of bed.

You turn on the TV, while eating breakfast, to “catch up” on the world. On your way out to work, you see something beautiful, something you should stop and take the time to enjoy, but instead you whip out your phone and Instagram it, giddy to see how many likes you will receive. At work, you rush to finish tasks so you can have more free time to respond to texts, check your email, check your Facebook, check your Twitter. On and on and on. Finally, you come home and fall into your couch to watch some mindless reality TV. After all, you deserve to relax.

But when do you have time to be you? We give up our humanity when we allow ourselves to be so overcome by distraction. We have no time to observe and enjoy the people and things around us. We lose our ability to focus, to mull over ideas, to form our own opinions. We become powerless to the system, losing the best of ourselves in the race to finish mundane tasks, so we can get back to our “social” sugar rush.

Our phones, our computers, our iPads, and our TVs are vampires, sucking up every last drop of our precious time and attention. Is it because these devices are innately evil? No. It’s the Resistance, that part of our brain that would rather frolic in the field of easy distraction, full of instant feedback, than face the void, start a health and fitness program, write a book, learn a new skill, or spend more quality time with the family. It’s scary to form your own opinions and put them out there, to take responsibility for your life and make an effort. Out there awaits rejection and failure and pain. No, it’s better to stay wrapped up in our electronic womb, where we can observe, and like, and post inanities.

Take a stand! You can win back your time. There is more of it waiting for you than you can imagine. Start by deleting social apps from your phone. Unless your job requires you to be on call, turn your phone off when you go to bed, and leave it off in the morning, until you’re ready to head out the door. Download apps for your computer like Rescue Time, to track and show you how much time you are wasting aimlessly browsing the web, or get Freedom, the app that allows you to turn the internet off for a selected amount of time. If you are really daring, you can even deactivate your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Just do it for a week, you wont lose your account information, but you will gain a ton of time. Finally, turn off your TV. At least keep it to one or two of your favorite shows a week. If you did all of these, how many hours per week do you think you would get back? Two, five, ten, twenty?

The urge to check your devices will be strong at first, but soon it will fade. Suddenly, you will begin to think more clearly, notice more of your surroundings, and have fresh chunks of time to fill with those “all important goals” that you have been putting off. If you can stick with it, notice when you are backsliding, and correct your course, you will soon be living the life that you “never had time for.” Stand up. Take charge of your time. We only have so much of it. No more excuses.


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It’s Due. It’s Past Due.

Overcome Procrastination

Many times while trying to create, whether it’s writing, filmmaking or web design, I hit a wall. I just can’t seem to get myself to do the work. The anxiety of thinking about the hours it will take, or the possibility of making something of inferior quality, overwhelm me and create inaction.

Think Back

That’s when I started thinking, when have I come up against this wall before and pushed through? When have I felt nauseous at the thought of doing the work but managed to finish on time? A time that comes to mind are my final years of college at Bowling Green State University. I decided to transfer there to pursue a degree in film. I became so set on learning as much as I could, and getting straight A’s my last couple of years of school, that I would not let anything stop me from accomplishing my goal.

There were times when I had a large paper due, or a project that needed finished. I had built up so much anxiety and resistance to finishing the work that I would make myself sick. I’d have to go for a walk, or drive around town, or watch a film. Something to relieve the pain of the moment. Then it would hit me. If I do not get this done now, and if I don’t work hard to make it good, I will not get strait A’s this semester. I will break my streak. I will fall short of my goal.

This pressure would be enough to break through the worst bout of procrastination. I would do the work, and it wouldn’t be so bad. Many times I actually ended up enjoying it, and wishing I had started earlier, so I could do even more work and refine the project.

What I now try to remind myself of, is that I may feel resistance when it comes to doing creative work, sometimes extreme resistance, but I have been able to sit down again and again in the past and push through it. Procrastination only prolongs the negative feelings. It only numbs them a bit. Taking action and facing your work head on is the only way to get it done and feel good about yourself.

Clear Goals

Having the clear goal of getting all A’s in college probably made it easier to get to work. I knew what I had to do to get those A’s in very simple terms. Do the work on time, and get the A. Don’t do the work and fail. It’s not as clear now that I’m doing the work to make art, or money, or to improve a skill. It’s hard to judge what you need to do to meet your goals when you no longer see the immediate effect of falling short. There are no grades in life. But you can do your best today, and you can repeat tomorrow.

So when I’m feeling anxious from now on, I’m going to remind myself that I want straight A’s in life. My work is due. In fact, it’s past due.

Now What?

Find a time in your life when you’ve felt extreme resistance to completing a task, but you managed to complete it and do a good job. What did you do to push through? What were your goals or obligations that pulled you through the pain? When you figure that out, use it to fight resistance now and in the future.


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