"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

44 Through the Door

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 We celebrated my 44th birthday tonight by grabbing some tickets to see the Nashville Predators hockey team hosting the Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. This was our first time seeing professional playoff hockey in person. Before the game, we made arrangements with our friend, Chris, to meet up for dinner beforehand at Big River Brewery & Restaurant. Chris has limited season tickets and since his wife had to work late tonight, he invited his friend, Stewart, along and he joined us for dinner as well. Our friend, Ryan, was also going to the game and stopped by our table for a couple of pre-game beers with us. Our tickets were in the lower bowl and in a very nice location. They were about 20 rows off the ice and against the first retaining wall with no one directly behind us. The game was fast and ferocious with the Preds falling behind rather quickly, 2-0. They battled back to tie in an exciting 2nd period; got behind again, 3-2, and drew again to a tie at 3-3 when the 3rd period started. Then the wheels came off and the team got dismantled rather quickly and easily with three unanswered goals by the Ducks. It was a resounding and stunning 6-3 loss. Not the greatest way to end one's birthday, but it was a good time and there was still a lot of excitement. Plus, the Preds weren't dead yet as the best-of-seven series moved back to Anaheim tied at two games each. (Happy Note: The Preds went on to win this series 4 games to 2!) Friday, April 22, 2011 With the Good Friday holiday upon us and my birthday just a couple of days old, we grabbed a cheap rental car at the airport and packed up for the rest of my birthday present from Ashlee, a weekend road trip down to the North Georgia mountains for some hiking and relaxing. We broke up the 5 hour drive with a stop in Chattanooga for a late lunch at Blacksmith's Bistro & Bar in the St. Elmo area at the foot of Lookout Mountain. This funky little restaurant sits near the famous Lookout Mountain Incline entrance, islanded off between two busy streets. We sat outside on the patio with cars whizzing by us in different directions. The food was surprisingly good, plentiful and unique. We had nice large gourmet burgers, a heap of yummy fresh fries and a fried shrimp-roll appetizer that was very tasty. Thanks again, Groupon.com! With our bellies full, we headed on east briefly into North Carolina via our beloved Highway 64 (we have traveled this road many, many times in our early pre-blog years as a couple, hiking and canoeing in the mountains of TN, NC and GA) and then dipped south into Georgia to the tiny town of Lakemount which sits on beautiful Lake Rabun which was our final destination. The weather cooperated nicely despite a forecast of showers and we pulled into the Lake Rabun Hotel well before sunset. The historic hotel built in the 1920's is lovingly maintained and gets rave reviews. We could see why very quickly. Its beautiful grounds and charming woodsy lodge-like interior (downstairs lobby, photo below) are eye-popping. With only eight rooms currently available, it is also fairly hard to get into without advance reservations. We were set up in the Andreae Room on the second floor which had a view of the lake across the road as well as the hotel's front garden and koi pond. The room's original fireplace has been converted to gas, but still retains it's charm. The hotel is almost as well-known for its restaurant and we had reservations for dinner there tonight. The food was delicious (especially the homemade pimento cheese, served warm for dipping) albeit too much since we had eaten so well and so much so late in the afternoon in Chattanooga. After dinner we enjoyed a little time out on the second floor public balcony with our new friends, Chloe and Meow, the hotel's resident cats. The hotel retains its 1920's charm by not having TVs in the rooms although there is a public sitting room downstairs with one in it. We were too stuffed and tired to make it downstairs, so we opted to curl up in bed with a movie on the laptop that we brought along (Wedding Date - a hilarious romantic comedy) and that worked out great as we drifted off to a peaceful sleep in the ultra-comfortable bed. Saturday, April 23, 2011 We arose not so early this morning (in fact, we missed the complimentary breakfast served from 8 to 9:30), but still in the A.M. as the chill moved out of the mountain air and the sun flooded the area for what looked to be a great spring day. Waterfalls were our destinations today and we had several in our plans to seek out and hike to before the day's end. This beautiful area is chock full of falling water and includes several cataracts that have eluded my collection of over 300 visited in the last 20-plus years, many of which we have visited together. First up was nearby Angel and Panther Falls which are reached by a mile-plus hike from the Rabun Beach Campground. Angel Falls is reached first and by the time we arrived at it, a rather large group of ladies in a hiking club were slowing moving on past it to Panther Falls which lies a short, but steep, distance beyond in the same cove. The falls which can dry up in the summer months was running nicely thanks to an abundant amount of spring rains lately. We opted to check out Panther Falls later since the trial was narrow to get to it and we wouldn't be able to pass by the large, albeit slow-moving, group ahead of us. We backtracked to our car (finding another creature out enjoying the spring weather, photo above) and consulted my now rather aged hiking book of the area and attempted to find a smaller falls nearby, but could not locate the trail head. Our stomachs were starting to growl from missing breakfast, so we opted for an early lunch before pressing on to our next waterfall. We stopped at a small deli/cafe in the area called Annie's at Alley's which is housed in another historic building of the area. We had large, bountiful sandwiches and fresh, red-velvet cupcakes. Not a bad little find! Our next waterfall was not hard to find. In fact, Minnehaha Falls is considered one of the most beautiful in the area and with a short, albeit steep, hike in to its base, it is also one of the most frequently visited. It is amazingly lovely for sure with it's stair-step design, great green canopy of framing and beautiful rock colors. We were fortunate enough to get some alone time at this beauty before a throng of people descended upon it with their loud kids and louder dogs ruining the tranquility of the moment. Trying to guarantee more solitude and a more peaceful setting, we next opted for a longer hike to two waterfalls in a very remote area. We drove over 6 miles on a forest service road (the book said it was more like 9 miles) that we kept expecting to be too rough for our rented Nissan sedan, but it trudged along nicely and the road was quite manageable up to the parking area at the trail head to Holcomb Creek Falls and Ammons Creek Falls. Well, we got what we came for, that's for sure. There wasn't a soul out here with us. These two creeks fall wildly and beautifully in a steep cove of huge trees. It was a tough climb in and out of over a mile each way, but well worth the effort and the long, slow drive back in here. By the time we got back to the car, the sun was dipping behind the high mountains and we were ready to call it a day with four waterfalls visited and over 4 miles of serious trail hiking recorded. We showered and rested up when we got back to the hotel and opted to have dinner across the road tonight instead of the hotel. That was our only mistake of the trip. The place looked promising, but in the end was a real disappointment. We choose not to mention it's name here in this blog so as to keep criticism to a minimum. We got back to the room and put a cheap bottle of bubbly on ice that we got at the local Wal-Mart that afternoon...yep, it's a great state that sells wine at the grocery store...come on Tennessee, get off your "moral laurels" already and join the modern world. Oops, more criticism. Sorry about that. Back to a more positive focus and the good times that were had. We opted for another movie in bed (this time, Proof of Life - one of our favorite action films). Sunday, April 24, 2011 We woke up in time for breakfast this morning and man, did we miss out yesterday! It was delicious, and we were able to eat outside on this beautiful Easter morning under a canopy of trees with a view of Lake Rabun. Not a bad substitute for church, and we figured The Big Guy didn't mind since we were sitting out among some of his best handywork. After breakfast, we packed up and said goodbye to the beautiful hotel and its super-friendly staff and headed back the way we came. We definitely want to come back to this area when the opportunity arises. Perhaps rent a lake house for a long weekend in the summer, or again at this time of year which is stunning with all the spring colors. We stopped for a bathroom break back in Tennessee on the Ocoee River at the lovely visitors center built back during the 1996 Summer Olympics. We stretched our legs with a nice walk on a few of their maintained trails and bridge over the river. We met up with Ashlee's family that afternoon in Chattanooga for Easter brunch at Tony's Pasta in the Arts District...it's always a crowd-pleaser. We got back home in time to drop the rental car at the airport (you couldn't even tell it had been "off-roading" in the N. Georgia mountains). Addendum: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - We had a great 3-course dinner and wine flight at Miel in West Nashville tonight for "Dining Out for Life" which benefits Nashville Cares with our friends, Danny and Brenda. Our friend, Caroline, was also there and a few other folks we know from her Christmas party which happens to be where we met Danny and Brenda.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Reno-Tahoe Weekend

Friday, April 15, 2011 -- Ashlee had her biennial corporate conference in Spokane, Washington, last week, so we decided to meet up afterwards in nearby Reno, Nevada, today for a long weekend visit to the area. Rob had arrived a day earlier and explored some of the Reno breweries (see his blog for more on that) and to play a little poker.
When Ashlee arrived at the Reno airport this morning, it was early enough to have breakfast downtown at Daughters Cafe. Despite a little slow service, the homemade food was delicious and unique. We started with some small hand-made sweet potato doughnuts which were decadent. Our main breakfast course consisted of a plate-sized Dutch Baby (think somewhere between a crepe and a pancake) for Ashlee and a huge omelet for Rob with goat cheese, apples and walnuts. Both entrees came with a side of delicious bacon as well. The restaurant is located near the Truckee River which flows through the middle of the city and has a very nice river walk accompanying it. The Truckee's path through downtown Reno is fairly swift-moving and tumbling, enough so to even accommodate kayakers. Downtown kayaking is not the only thing that makes Reno unique. Unlike it's "big sister" gambling town down south called Las Vegas, Reno seems more of a real town than just a playground. There are historic, vibrant neighborhoods scattered throughout the city limits, some sitting on high hills overlooking the city and ringed even higher by part of the snow-topped Sierra Nevada Mountains. Overall, it's quite a picturesque little city. There seems to be a lot of pride in being from or living in Reno. And why not, The town is clean with beautiful vistas in all directions and the residents (at least the one's we encountered) could not have been nicer.
After a little more exploring along the river walk, we headed south toward our real goal for the weekend, famous Lake Tahoe. While checking out Reno was on the agenda, seeing and experiencing as much of the natural wonder that is Lake Tahoe and it's surrounding mountains and forests would take up most of the rest of the weekend. It's about 50 miles from Reno to Tahoe and on the way you pass through the outskirts of Nevada's capital, Carson City. It's actually a quaint little city in comparison to bustling Reno with a ton of history of its own. We took a quick detour to check out the state capitol building which is a beautiful structure made of local sandstone and built among a large grove of cottonwoods. Continuing south as you crest Spooner Mountain on Hwy. 50 and see Lake Tahoe below for the first time, it's quite exhilarating. It's sheer size is daunting and the snow-covered mountains looming over it are what make postcard dreams. We were staying in the hamlet of South Lake Tahoe which is just over the Nevada state line inside California. It's a great little town to visit any time of the year with amazing ski access in the winter and unlimited lake access in the summer.
We chose to stay at very unique little place called 986 Park Hotel & Spa. It's an old motel that has been restored to a boutique hotel. What makes it unique is the fact that the "restoration" from cheesy motel to lovely hotel/spa has all been done with mostly reclaimed materials. Reclaimed wood and tin covered the place in decorative, tasteful ways. But it goes beyond just walls and trim; the front desk, the bar in the lobby, the tables throughout the hotel, the wardrobes in the rooms, etc. are all made from reclaimed wood. Our room itself was large, comfortable and quiet throughout our stay. We would definitely stay here again on another visit. Thanks to Jetsetter.com for recommending it and providing a great sale price.
We had an early dinner in our room of warmed up pizza from Zpizza over in Reno that Rob had picked up the day before. It was a Thai-flavored pie and the fresh, organic ingredients that this west coast chain is known for were still great tasting even reheated the next day. After eating, we donned our thermal undergarments and readied our warm clothes for our most anticipated planned activity of the trip -- a full-moon snowshoe tour. Neither of us had been snowshoeing before, let alone after dark in the moonlight. We were a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect as we drove a half hour around the gigantic alpine lake to the North Lake Tahoe Regional Park to meet up with our guides at 7 PM. The materials provided to us said we probably needed flashlights and waterproof shoes, and we had neither with us, so we stopped in the one place that was open after 6 PM and found both. It just happened to be a CVS pharmacy. Hey, you take what you can get.
We were scheduled to have 17 in our group, but only 13 showed up, so after a half-hour of waiting and the sun setting fast behind the snowy peaks, we got a quick tutorial from our guides, Kerry and Sander, on how to put on and walk in snowshoes. We then set off on our two-mile trek. The trail we were on was packed down pretty well with about a foot of snow which made for easy maneuvering over it. We picked up the art of snowshoeing fairly quickly and easily and are happy to report no trips, falls or face-plants. It seems that the key to snowshoeing is the fact that there is no slipping or sliding which makes for an easy, steady pace similar to hiking. It had been partly to mostly cloudy for most of the day and we weren't expecting a lot of moonlight, but we were pleasantly surprised when the full moon made an appearance from behind the clouds as we crested our first hill for a quick break. The brilliance of the moon glistening off the snow made our flashlights unnecessary. The pine and cedar forest we were moving through was very quiet and still except for a distance zephyr wind you could hear much farther up the mountain. Our guides gave us a good amount of information about the area, the lake and the surrounding flora and fauna during our trek. We took our longest break about a mile in atop a high ridge with a view of Lake Tahoe below. The moon was now in full view and it was an experience that is hard to describe in words...and even hard to capture in pictures, but here's the best we could do with the little camera we brought with us. Kerry and Sander provided us warm beverages which were tasty, but not really necessary since the movement and mild temps made for a pleasant evening for a moonlit stroll.

This was the last full moon hike of the season that was offered by the tour company and we feel really privileged and fortunate to have gotten this experience. Our last half of the walk was in pure full moonlight and the clouds pushed away and the stars shone brightly as well. We really enjoyed this experience and can't wait for another chance to snowshoe. Just to keep things in perspective and show that not everything always goes our way, while we were having this great snowshoe experience, the Nashville Predators were going down to the Anaheim Ducks in the Game 2 of the first round of the NHL Playoffs by a score of 5-3 and so did the money we had put on them at one of the state-line casinos that afternoon. Oh well, you can't have everything.

We got back to our room and were pretty tuckered out from the snowshoe trek. We warmed up the last two slices of Zpizza and called it a night. What a great first day in Tahoe! Saturday, April 16, 2011

We slept in a bit this morning and let the temps warm up outside as the sun finally crept up over Monument Peak looming some 3,000 feet above our hotel and into the valley that holds Lake Tahoe. We headed southwest this time around the lake with two waterfalls as our targets to visit. Our first stop along the winding Hwy. 89 that twists and turns high above the lake (with a noticeable lack of guardrails in many places!) was Emerald Bay. This large crescent-shaped inlet with it's own little island (Fannette Island) nestled in the middle of the bay is so exquisite that it doesn't even look real. Despite it being mid-April and the temps moving easily into the 60's by 10 AM, the amount of snow still clinging to the steep ridges dropping to the lake was tremendous. At times were were driving through snowbanks at least twice as tall as the car. As we turned into the entrance for Emerald Bay State Park, we got our first bit of bad news. "ROAD AND PARK CLOSED." Bummer. We were a couple weeks too early for access to the park and the trail to Eagle Falls. We headed down the road a bit for our second option, Glen Alpine Falls, at the far end of Fallen Leaf Lake. The road to get to it is very small and we figured it would be closed as well, but we kept going and were greeted with a completely cleared road. We took our time not only because the road was narrow and curvy, but because the views were amazing. Fallen Leaf Lake is pristine and the cabins and bungalows surrounding it are very nice without being over the top. This would be a great place to come back and rent a place for a week or so in the summer. When we got to the south end of the lake and the main road ended, we knew we were close, but there were no indications where exactly the falls were. There was supposed to be easy access from a small forest road and while we saw the sign for the road, we did not see the road itself. That's because it was under about 6 feet of snow! A friendly local gentleman told us that it was only a 10 minute walk up the "road" to the falls from where we were parked. Maybe we should have rented snow shoes for the day? He assured us it was packed down pretty well and should be too hard to get there. The snow was packed down fairly well and after a bit of slipping and sliding, we made it to the overlook of Glen Alpine Falls which was roaring with snow melt run-off. What a beautiful place and so worth the effort! We were able to experience this beautiful place with no one else around or a beautiful sunny morning. We again felt very privileged and fortunate in terms of timing.

We headed back to South Lake Tahoe and parked at our hotel. We were starving for lunch by now and decided to walk a mile back the way we had just come to The Brewery at Lake Tahoe for lunch. We intended to have a big lunch and we were definitely sampling some brews, so the walk was planned and necessary. The food was tremendous (best chili dog ever according to Ashlee) and the beer was top-notch. We each had a sampler paddle of their 9 available beers with their American Pale Ale and their Brown Ale being our favorites. The walk back was slow, but, again, necessary in terms of calories consumed and the effects of 45 ounces of beer on each of us. We contemplated renting snow shoes and perhaps going back to the entrance of Emerald Bay State Park and trying to get to Eagle Falls on foot, but the afternoon was bleeding away and we weren't sure we could get it done before darkness set in. We opted instead to walk across the street (after a bit of rest in the room) and take a ride on the Heavenly Gondola which whisks you up to the top of Monument Peak to a tremendous overlook and then on to snow-sport central at the heart of Heavenly Ski Resort, the largest in the area. The cost for the gondola is as steep as the grade it takes you up and the fact we had done something similar in Switzerland a few years back perhaps made us a bit skeptical of it, but overall it was a nice experience. We got a private gondola going up and the first-stop overlook is tremendous. The second stop, the entrance to the ski, snowboard and tubing trails was as busy as Times Square with people going in all directions to the numerous different trails offered. We stopped in a very cool outdoor bar for another beer ($8 a bottle! High altitude, high prices??) and enjoyed people watching for a while before taking the ride back down with a few other folks. We took another short drive as the sun was starting to set over to the Cave Rock Boat Ramp where we could get down close to the waters of Lake Tahoe. We couldn't resist taking our shoes and socks off and dipping our feet in the cold, cold water. After about 20 seconds your feet would start to turn blue, so, yeah, it was really cold. We got back to the room and rested up a bit and decided to stick with the theme of the day in terms of eating (and drinking) and walked north a quarter-mile or so to Stateline Restaurant and Brewery for dinner. This brewery is a little fancier than the one we went to earlier in the day, but the food was very good. We slowed down on the beer consumption with just a half-pint ordered for each of us. Another great day in Lake Tahoe. We hated the thought of having to leave this beautiful place tomorrow.

Sunday, April 17, 2011 Our flight out of Reno wasn't until 1:40 PM, so we were able to sleep in a little before getting packed up and saying goodbye to our lovely hotel, the great town of South Lake Tahoe and the beautiful lake itself. The weather was perfect again as we headed north back to Reno. We stopped for an early lunch at the famous west-coast fast food joint, In-N-Out Burger. The burgers and fries were tremendous and this place deserves all the hype it gets. Our flight home included a plane change in Denver. We rented a great movie starring Robert Duvall called "Get Low" off of I-Tunes to pass the time. After boarding our jet to Nashville in Denver we got quite a surprise when Wynonna Judd and her band boarded the plane behind us. I guess times are tough for everyone and you save money anyway you can. We had a little bit of fun coming up with inside jokes about the situation. Here are a few of the best:
"That's the best Wynonna drag queen impersonator I have ever seen." "Times must be tough in country music. Look who's in the B Group on Southwest." "I am sweating like Wynonna in the B Group line of Southwest." In all honesty, she seemed very gracious and down to earth (you have to be to fly the "cattle herd" style of Southwest Airlines). She waited her turn to get on and off the plane and made no demands during the flight. Someone sitting beside us said she was happily signing autographs at the Denver airport as well while waiting to take off. But that's Nashville "stars" for you. They never make much of a fuss. It was an interesting and nice finale to another great trip for us and the Reno/Tahoe area is definitely on our MUST RETURN LIST.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Indians, Gingers and Guidos - Ethnic Night Out in Nashville

We had another tasty dinner at our favorite Indian restaurant, Bombay Palace, over on West End Avenue in Nashville with our Meet-Up group of "Couples Without Kids." Afterwards we met up with our friends, Danny and Brenda, (who happen to be a couple with two great kids) and traveled over to Zanies Comedy Club to catch two of our favorite comedians who are frequently on one of our favorite TV shows, "Chelsea Lately."
First up was Brad Wollack, whose short stature and flaming red hair make quite the first impression. Brad's a writer for the ""Chelsea Lately" show and he has a razor-sharp wit. His stand-up skills are still in need of a little polishing, but overall he was very funny. Ashlee has a real fascination with all "gingers" as she refers to them with her biggest crush being the flaming red mophead known as Brett Dennen who we will be seeing again in concert here in Nashville next month. Until then, Brad was a fine substitute for her addiction and he couldn't have been nicer to us while taking the great photo above along with Brenda after the show.
Next came Chris Franjola whose tall thin frame and large teethy smile (Chelsea calls him "horse face" right to his face while also constantly questioning his sexual preference) are quite the contrast to tiny Brad. Chris has been at this stand-up thing a bit longer and his delivery is smooth and effortless. His observational humor and 40-something bemoanings were hysterical. Such as: Is there really anything more sad than listening to Journey songs nowadays sung live by a "Filipino" instead of Steve Perry? Is there anything more funny than Chris' impression of that sad event? We think not!
As a bonus to us, the two guys we came to see were actually opening for the main act of the night, a guy named Bret Ernst. Despite the name, Brett's a self-described Italian "guido" from the Jersey Shore before that meant something. His routine was dead solid perfect and definitely deserved top billing despite "only being on 'Chelsea' once." We howled at his stories of growing up in in the 80's as a n'er-do-well kid who was always in trouble, but who really only just wanted to rollerskate to his favorite song if it weren't for the likes of jerks like "Tony" who ruled the rink. We all know or have known guys like Tony throughout our lives as well, and we agree with Bret that sometimes you gotta just say "hey, F%#& Tony!! Let's skate!!"
Afterwards as the clock moved past midnight, our foursome stopped by the infamous Hustler Store downtown for some smirks and wisecracks of our own. A funny way to end a funny evening of good times and laughs.