Super hiking above Wenzhou

trailhead

Daluo Mountain’s trail start at this lakeside village. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

WENZHOU, China – Most Americans who have even heard of this city of 9 million know it as a manufacturing and export city, but it is trying to enhance its leisure visitor credentials and has one attraction of major proportions.

Towering above Wenzhou, a coastal city between Shanghai and Hong Kong, is Daluo Mountain, a trail-laced retreat from a bustling metropolis where the best job may be leasing construction cranes. The number of high-rise buildings under construction is almost indescribable, but those manmade towers can’t rival Daluo Mountain.

My group of American and Canadian convention attendees kept looking out the windows as our bus charged up a two-lane road hugging the side of the mountain as the city grew smaller and smaller.

Daluo Mountain is in a region of ridges and valleys. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Daluo Mountain is in a region of ridges and valleys. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The bus dropped us at a little village tucked into a divot in the mountain just 12 miles from city center. Vendors had lively businesses selling snacks, water and a few souvenirs. Westerners, of course, are unusual here. The trails’ primary users are locals. Especially evident when we visited were college students, presumably from a sprawling campus at the base of the mountains.

East met West on the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

East met West on the trail. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Some local hikers had colorful accessories. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Some local hikers had colorful accessories. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

An hour-long, calf-challenging ascent was primarily on a concrete walkway through bamboo corridors and along ridges of deciduous trees that should have been showing autumn colors but that hadn’t started turning.

As we neared the crest of our chosen trail, views opened to several vistas that showed Daluo Mountain was part of a sizable ridge and canyon region.

Most of the trail was staircases concrete. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Most of the trail was staircases of concrete. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Instead of doing an about-face for the expected out-and-back hike, guides told us to press on. We noticed that almost all of the local hikers who had been with us earlier had returned the way they came.

Our continuation was on a more traditional natural-surface trail, and our reward was a placid mountaintop lake, which popped into sight when we emerged from a stand of trees.

We didn't expect a placid lake on the mountaintop. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

We didn’t expect a placid lake on the mountaintop. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The descent from the lake put us back on concrete staircases similar to those at the start of the hike, testing a different set of leg muscles. A stream that flowed from the lake provided a soundtrack for part of the downhill walk.

Our hike became almost a full loop. Our motorcoach met us a few hundred yards up the road from the trailhead in the village we had left about three hours earlier.

Urban planners have a grand scheme for cable cars, trams and visitor facilities, but what’s available now works quite nicely.

"Enjoy the excellent journey," indeed. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

“Enjoy the excellent journey,” indeed. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

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Dancing in the daylight

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

ZHANGYE, China — If you’d told me a month ago that I’d wake up one morning in the middle of China and shoot photos of a plump, matronly woman wearing a white mask, red shoes, red gloves, and a red jacket while wielding a gleaming silver sword as she danced before a smiling golden Buddha draped in what appeared to be a Go Big Orange beach towel, I’d have said, “Nah, never happen.”

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

(Photo: Tom Adkinson)

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Tai chi for me? Surely, you jest

The master was, well, masterful. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The master was, well, masterful. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The Smothers Brothers’ “Streets of Laredo,” Chinese version:

Tom Smothers: I see by your outfit that you can do tai chi.

Dickie Smothers: I see by your outfit that you do tai chi, too.

Both: If you get an outfit, you can do some tai chi, too.

WENZHOU, China — I should have known better than to sign up for the tai chi lesson.

I’m living proof that white guys can’t dance. At 6 foot 4 inches tall and packing a Medicare card, I have the wingspan of a pterodactyl and move with the grace of a wounded stork.

At least I wasn’t alone. Fifty or more fellow conventioneers had dragged out of bed at 7 a.m. and donned gleaming white tai chi uniforms that our convention hosts in Wenzhou, China, had loaned us.

"I'm trying, I'm trying."

“I’m trying, I’m trying.”

We assembled in a garden patio outside the Shangri-La Hotel along the Ou River, pointing and laughing at each other – some more nervously than others. The lithe and more graceful among us projected an aura of confidence. I didn’t.

It was clear on which end of the tai chi bell curve of competence I belonged.

Our chatter and selfie-taking ended abruptly when the master teacher and her troupe of fellow exercisers called for order. She looked regal in an embroidered jacket that complemented her bright red tunic and pants. Her followers wore dark green.

The tai chi team spoke no English, but interpreters barely needed to tell us to shut up, watch, and admire a demonstration by the master and her group. They moved in unison to the tinny sound coming from portable speakers. They glided like waves on an ocean, flowing back and forth, in and out, smoothly and gently. It looked so easy. It proved so difficult.

We formed rows and lines, much like a high school marching band or a corps of tentative ROTC cadets trying to learn close-order drill moves, but without a band director with a bullhorn or a glaring drill sergeant to maintain order.

Rows and lines -- like marching band or ROTC drill.

Rows and lines — like marching band or ROTC drill.

My uniform was size 4X. If there had been a breeze, my tunic would have billowed like a sail, and I might have moved more gracefully. At least the sleeves were long enough.

I labored to follow the leader. Her arms were making semi-circles and going clockwise, so why were mine going counterclockwise? Why did I move left when she moved right? Why does she look so comfortable while I feel like I’m in the fourth quarter of a tight basketball game?

In fact, I couldn’t help thinking about long-ago basketball drills. I was in a defensive crouch, but the goal was to relax, not to execute quick moves and achieve maximum reach. I felt awkward, but the music was soothing, and I didn’t see a coach ready to rent the calm morning air with a blast on his whistle.

Suddenly, I felt a hand on my back. One of the green-uniformed helpers had come out of nowhere. He placed his other hand on my abdomen and adjusted my posture – with authority. Apparently, my basketball crouch wasn’t proper tai chi form.

Individual instruction really didn't help.

Individual instruction really didn’t help.

The master instructor smiled sweetly – except when she grimaced with pain – as she watched her neophyte students make a mockery of her ancient art.

She wrapped the session up with a translated pep talk.

“If you do this at home just 20 minutes each morning for only three months, I promise you will get better and feel better,” she said.

Too bad my gleaming white size 4X tai chi outfit was a loaner.

The wingspan of a pterodactyl and the grace of a wounded stork.

The wingspan of a pterodactyl and the grace of a wounded stork.

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Ducking Donald and Hillary

Tai chi in Wenzhou. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Tai chi in Wenzhou. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

The People’s Republic of China shielded me from 95 percent of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign’s final three weeks. For that, I am grateful to the Chinese.

A business trip took me to Wenzhou, a city you’ve probably never heard of, but its 9 million residents have a hefty impact on world commerce. A journey out the ancient Silk Road followed.

CNN and the BBC were on most hotel TV menus, and only occasionally was access blocked to the Washington Post and New York Times websites, but why bother with the acrimony and drama of Donald and Hillary when diversions were so abundant?

For instance:

  • Hiking Daluo Mountain above Wenzhou
  • Admiring the waterfalls of Tongling Mountain National Forest Park near Wencheng
  • Encountering Buddha inside a mountain at the Guanyin Temple
  • Inspecting a street vendor’s produce in Zhangye
  • Laughing at the young couples shakily trying to navigate the city wall of Xian on bicycles built for two
  • Being captivated by the graceful moves of a tai-chi master teacher
  • Riding a camel across the desert dunes
  • Pondering why a cell tower was “disguised” in an evergreen tree in the Gobi Desert

Part of the 5 percent intrusion of American politics came from a 20-something tour guide in Shanghai, who surprised my traveling group crammed into a too-small minivan when she declared, “I tell you joke. You tell me if funny.”

The setup: “Donald Trump and Hillary both fall off a ship in the middle of the ocean. Who survives?”

The punchline (after a perfectly timed pause): “America.”

The minivan erupted in laughter.

Along the Daluo Mountain Trail above Wenzhou (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Along the Daluo Mountain Trail above Wenzhou (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Many Buddhas in Guanyin Temple (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Many Buddhas in Guanyin Temple (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

A waterfall selfie at Tongling National Forest (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

A waterfall selfie at Tongling Mountain National Forest Park (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Bicyclists along the ancient city wall in Xian (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Bicyclists along the ancient city wall in Xian (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Street vendor in Dunhaung (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Street vendor in Zhangye (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Camels along the Silk Road (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Camels along the Silk Road (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Gobi Desert "hidden" cell tower (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Gobi Desert “hidden” cell tower (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

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2013 – A Train Review

So, I was going through my archives and came across some pictures I had taken back in 2013, the only time I really took train pics until after I got my current camera.

There were only two instances of trains that year, but they were special ones.

I’d like to share these pics with you, as a way for you to relive those memories with me. 🙂

Windsor, VA: March 23, 2013
As part of the inaugural year of Norfolk Southern’s 21st Century Steam program, Southern Railway steam engine 630, on loan from the Tennessee Valley Railway Museum, lead an excursion from Norfolk, VA to Petersburg, VA and back.
My father and I headed to Windsor to catch her as she headed toward Petersburg. It was a crisp morning, with a mid-level cloud deck present, perfect for pictures.
A bit after 9am, we hear her lovely steamboat whistle break the silence. Camera at the ready, this is what I caught.

Southern 630 approaches Windsor.

Southern 630 approaches Windsor

The trees are filled with her steam.

The trees are filled with her steam.

630, looking marvelous

630, looking marvelous

My father, who, back in the late 70s/ early 80s, served as a fireman on this engine for steam excursions, watches as 630 puts on a wonderful show.

My father, who, back in the late 70s/ early 80s, served as a fireman on this engine for steam excursions, watches as 630 puts on a wonderful show.

Pelham, NC: August 10, 2013
A visit to my family in Danville, VA for my birthday was made even more special by getting to share my hobby with my young nephew Caleb. Bright and early on a lovely Saturday morning, we loaded up in my car and headed to Pelham, just south of Danville, to catch some action on Norfolk Southern’s busy Danville District.

My nephew, on my brother's shoulders, reacts to the loud northbound manifest about to pass us. The engineer gave him a small show with his horns.

My nephew, on my brother’s shoulders, reacts to the loud northbound manifest about to pass us. The engineer gave him a small show with his horns.

A southbound intermodal train approaches Control Point Swann with a special unit in the consist

A southbound intermodal train approaches Control Point Swann with a special unit in the consist

The intermodal takes the signal at Swann, with Norfolk Southern's Nickel Plate heritage unit looking good.

The intermodal takes the signal at Swann, with Norfolk Southern’s Nickel Plate heritage unit looking good.

A pacing shot of NS 8100.

A pacing shot of NS 8100.

Crossing Law Rd

Crossing Law Rd

I hope you’ve enjoyed these pictures. I welcome your comments.
Have a great day! 🙂

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Highball on the Main!

Hello there! I’m Gavin!

I’m the resident train expert, though I will concede I have a lot to learn.

I currently live in Christainsburg, VA, a lovely small town in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with my beautiful bride, Kathy.

Kathy and I with N&W 611 in April, 2016.

I’ve had a life-long love affair with trains, thanks in large part to my father. Before I was born, and even a bit afterwords, he was active with the Atlanta chapter of the US Railway Historical Society, helping run steam specials, to include being a fireman and engineer, on the Southern Railway in the mid-1970s. Going back a bit further, there is family heritage in the railroads, as his grandfather was a conductor on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Over the years, I have learned and studied the industry, from my father, my own observations, and Trains Magazine (a highly-recommended publication if you have a love of trains).

Last year, my lovely wife bought me a very nice Canon Rebel T5, that began in earnest my sub-hobby of railroad photography, which I am constantly honing my skills at. I even started an Instagram account especially for my train pictures (which you can find here if you’re interested). I’ve been known to roam up toward and into Roanoke for a good train picture, and even a bit south, toward Radford.

I hope to share pictures from my many train watching trips (a bonus to living so close to Norfolk Southern’s Christiansburg District), along with my thoughts on the industry, and, a train trip report or two.

All aboard!
-Gavin

611 B&W

Norfolk and Western 611 dirties up the sky in Christiansburg, VA on May 8, 2016.

A trio of Norfolk Southern heavy locomotives lug a mixed manifest up the Christiansburg Grade just south of Shawsville, VA on July 14, 2016.

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Not One Darn Fish! (But I Had a Great Time)

Hot Creek's setting is a picture-perfect mix of meadow and mountain. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Hot Creek’s setting is a picture-perfect mix of meadow and mountain. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

MAMMOTH LAKES, California (July 2016) – Labeling a totally unproductive fishing trip a good experience conjures up memories of Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty, who said, “A tie is like kissing your sister.”

It’s totally counterintuitive, but that’s still my assessment of three days on Hot Creek and the upper stretches of the Owens River just outside the resort village of Mammoth Lakes, California, the community that’s the capital of a massive, multi-sport outdoor recreational area in the Eastern Sierra.

This is mountain, canyon, meadow, stream, and lake territory. People come to ski, ride mountain bikes, photograph birds and wildflowers, hike, snowshoe, and fish.

The scenery alone was enough to stop me in my tracks, but I wanted to meet a trout.

And no wading, either, in Hot Creek. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

And no wading, either, in Hot Creek. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

There was promise at the start standing beside Hot Creek. Good stream flow, an excellent trout guide, blue sky. I was with two others. One of them – a total novice – hooked a hefty brown trout while our guide was giving her the most basic fly rod instruction. Of course, she didn’t know how to play the fish and didn’t land it, but that episode was within minutes of arrival.

“This is going to be great,” I declared out loud, but that was not to be.

Three days and hundreds, maybe thousands, of casts later, the scorecard showed a big, fat zero, and I had no images of a 20-inch rainbow or brown trout to show off back home in Tennessee. Zero, zilch, nada, nothing, strikeout, goose egg.

It’s usually a sad situation when all you can say is that you got a couple of half-hearted strikes.

This, however, was far from sad. The setting in the Eastern Sierra was so stunning, and so absolutely alien to me, that I wasn’t totally bummed out by not catching any trout. It was easy to paraphrase Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” by saying, “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Tennessee anymore.”

Hot Creek and the Owens River are modestly sized streams that in places flow through sprawling meadows that collide with snow-capped mountains. In one direction are the Glass Mountains, and in another other are the Eastern Sierra.

Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra tops out at 11,053 feet, and the streams are at about 7,000 feet. It’s almost a challenge to pay attention to the water when the landscape is so beautiful.

Hot Creek adds some extra visuals by sliding into a narrow canyon. It’s a serious downhill hike to get to the supposedly trout-laden water.

When Hot Creek drops into a canyon, it's a steep walk to the water. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

When Hot Creek drops into a canyon, it’s a steep walk to the water. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

I really don’t doubt trout guide Scott Flint, who said stream surveys indicate 7,200 fish per mile of Hot Creek. Flint leads the guide service at the Troutfitter in Mammoth Lakes and has been fishing Hot Creek, the Owens River and other area streams and alpine lakes since 1990, so he knows his stuff.

Trout guide Scott Flint coaches a fisherman on the upper Owens River. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Trout guide Scott Flint coaches a fisherman on the upper Owens River. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

He kept my expectations low from the start, although he was confident my friends and I would catch fish.

“Realize this,” he said. “This the most sophisticated fishing in the world. These fish are wary. The saying here is that the fish have PhDs.”

I recited another fisherman’s saying to him as we parted:  “That’s why they call it ‘fishing,’ not ‘catching.’”

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Information about all the calorie-burning activities in the area is available from VisitMammoth.com. Mammoth Lakes is south of Yosemite National Park and about three hours from Reno, Nevada, and five hours from Los Angeles.

 

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Where Mucking Is a Competitive Sport

Muckers

The sign that makes you look twice upon entering Tonopah, Nevada. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

TONOPAH, Nevada – A chance conversation led to my meeting a mucking champion, and that’s no typo. It happened in the desert town of Tonopah, Nevada, which is in the middle of nowhere between Las Vegas and Reno.

Me: “I saw a sign up the street that says ‘Tonopah, Home of the Muckers.’ Is that the nickname of the high school sports teams?”

She: “Absolutely. Want to know what a mucker is? I can tell you because I held the state record for female mucking for 22 years.”

Who could say “No” to a question like that?

My local lingo teacher was Donna Otteson, manager of the Mizpah Hotel and owner with her husband of Otteson’s World Famous Turquoise, a tourist-oriented mining business.

Donna Otteson: 22-year Nevada female mucking champion. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Donna Otteson: 22-year Nevada female mucking champion. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Donna was behind the hotel front desk, and the only possible improvement on our conversation would have been if I had met Donna at the hotel bar. She had a two-beer story.

Tonopah was – and is to a certain extent even today – big mining country. Settler Jim Butler got people stirred up in 1900 with a silver ore discovery, and by 1901, there were enough mines in the area to produce $750,000 worth of gold and silver, according Tonopah’s online history.

Muckers, she explained, were the guys in the old days of underground mines who loaded ore (muck) into ore cars so it could be rolled to the surface and processed.

Muck is a mix of silver (very little by volume), rock and dirt. Shoveling loads of muck was backbreaking, uninspiring work.

Backbreaking and uninspiring though it may be, mucking can get exciting if you introduce competition to the shoveling, and that’s what happens every Memorial Day week during Jim Butler Days. Donna described the festival competition this way:

“See that pile of muck? Shovel it into the ore car as fast as you can. That’s it,” she said rather matter-of-factly.

Men shovel one ton; women shovel half a ton. There also are team mucking events and events for youngsters. The first age category is 3-6. The kids in Tonopah must be tough little critters.

In 1992, Donna flew through her half-ton of muck in a time of 2:04. That’s two minutes and four seconds, not two hours and four minutes. It was a record that stood for 22 years when someone shaved three second off her time.

“I come from a very competitive family,” she deadpanned, offering only that to explain her success. She acknowledged that leg strength is more important than back strength, but the very thought of shoveling a half-ton of anything in two minutes makes me hurt all over.

Did she have a magic shovel, or even a special one?

“Nope. I used a regular rounded shovel, not a square one. You sometimes hit rock, and the round edge is better when that happens,” she explained.

So there you have it. My mucking curiosity led to a great conversation and an encounter with a champion. Discovering silver out in the desert would have been a bigger thrill, but meeting a champion was still a treat.

Tonopah information is at TonopahNevada.com, and Jim Butler Days information is at JimButlerDays.TonopahNevada.com. Because Tonopah is so far from big-city lights, it is considered one of the best places in America for stargazing.

Tonopah is known for mucking . . . and dark night skies. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

Tonopah is known for mucking . . . and dark night skies. (Photo: Tom Adkinson)

 

 

 

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Montreal, A Beautiful City With So Much To Offer.

Are you looking for a fabulous vacation spot that offers history, music, world class dining, festivals etc…? Then Montreal, Quebec is just the spot for you!

Montreal is a beautiful city with so much to offer. They hold the largest number of festivalsmontreal(1) each year, than any other city. From the Just for Laughs comedy festival to the Jazz music festival and so much more. The calendar of events is always full and no matter what time of year that you visit, you are bound to find something exciting and fun to suit your interests.

History surrounds you when you visit Montreal, in 2017, the city will be celebrating its 375th anniversary! What a perfect time to visit and take a stroll around the Old Port, or maybe even a calèche (horse and buggy) ride.

victoria-express-entryThe dining experience in Montreal can be considered second to none. Restaurants and bistros offer choices from all over the world, and of course, local Quebec cuisine! You must of course give the smoked meat and poutine a try! You will not be disappointed!

While the Canadian dollar is on the lower end recently, Montreal makes for a very affordable trip for those American travelers looking for something new to see and do. You can also find many great deals for travel, lodging and dining.

Treat yourself, visit one of the most beautiful cities in North America. Enjoy the food, the Old_montreal_street_sceneculture and the history. You will love every minute of it!

We absolutely love Montreal.

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Swim With the Dolphins With Neptune Charlie’s!

Are you looking for the adventure of a lifetime? Will you be visiting the Big Island of Hawaii? Do you want to have an experience that you will NEVER forget??? Then you MUST plan and book a trip with Neptune Charlie’s Ocean Safaris!

See how close the dolphins swam up to Willem!

See how close the dolphins swam up to Willem!

We were lucky enough to be hosted by this fantastic company again, on our most recent visit to the Big Island. They never fail to deliver on a wonderful time.

Everyone involved with this business is fantastic. From the owners to the office staff to the crew!

We had the best time. Our day trip consisted of swimming with pods of wild dolphins. We saw even more on this trip than on our last. These dolphins are not shy and swim right up to you! Time on board the boat is filled with laughter and information. The folks who work with Neptune Charlie’s Ocean Safaris are truly fabulous. So personable and so well informed!

DSC_0368

We also took a trip out for the manta ray swim one evening, but the weather wasn’t the most cooperative. We did see a few, but the water was murky this time around. We still had the best time! The sunset from on board, before the swim was beautiful, the conversation with the other guests and the crew was beyond enjoyable. And we laughed at too many bad jokes!DSC_0423

Neptune Charlie’s Ocean Safaris offers a variety of different trips. From swimming with the dolphins, to the manta ray dive, to whale watching. There is something for everyone. ScubDSC_0330a and snorkeling is offered. You can of course, bring your own equipment, but they are well equipped for everyone. They offer refreshments on board too.

 

I promise you, if you are making the trip to the Big Island, you must contact Neptune Charlie’s Ocean Safaris and book at least one trip with them while you are there. You will NOT be disappointed!

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