Fishing in Canada

Earlier this month I went on a father-son fishing trip to Chimo Lodge in Ontario, Canada. My dad and I try to go every other year or so with a group that has been going every year for almost two decades.

The trip starts with a 2 day drive -or 24 hours if you do it in a straight shot like my dad and I this year (thanks Hardcore History for keeping me awake through the night)- until we reach Red Lake, Ontario. From there we take a chartered float plane to a private lodge with no one else around for tens of miles.

Because the chain of lakes is only fished by 10-20 people a week every summer, the fishing is always great and the scenery is pristine. This year I caught my biggest fish ever!

You're guaranteed to see wildlife at Chimo. There's an occasional moose sighting (and the looming threat of bear attacks), but the real highlight is the bald eagles and other birds of prey. We clean the fish we keep, and the lodge manager takes all the guts to "Eagle Island" every other day. What results is a feeding frenzy. This year I rented the Nikon 80-400mm and got some fantastic shots of the bald eagles.

Chimo is beautiful during the day, but night time is no different. The evening sky is among the clearest I've seen, and every night as the sun sets a group camps out on the pier, on watch duty in case the Northern Lights come out. They're usually visible at least one night every year, and this time we got a particularly good show!

Finally, I had a little extra fun this year. I decided I would create a fake ad campaign, highlighting some of the great aspects of being "At Chimo." I staged the primary image in an area I could guarantee no one else would be around, and the others were repurposed from appropriate shots I took while there. Altogether it was a fun exercise.

As always, I had a great time at Chimo. Hopefully I can go back soon!

And the sky was ablaze with light…

Last night almost didn’t happen. The park was pretty crazy yesterday. I’m pretty sure I’m not allowed to discuss the radio chatter I hear in my NPS vehicle, so let’s just say everyone in the world was in the park yesterday and everything possible went wrong. That’s an exaggeration, of course. In fact, considering the situation yesterday, park staff did an amazing job keeping up with everything.

I know I’ve probably mentioned this before, but Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the country, with 9-10 million visitors each year. Now, considering some of the absolute best views are during a 2-3 week window in October, a very decent chunk of that 9-10 million descends upon the Smokies in a very short period of time, hoping to see some of the wonderful fall foliage in peak color.

The road to Clingmans Dome (the highest point in the park) isn’t all that long. Less than thirty miles, I think. But when you consider that it’s all mountain roads (with some very creative routing through, around, over, and in between mountains), it takes almost an hour to travel those thirty miles. That is, unless everyone and their grandmas (literally, old people can’t get enough of the fall colors) is also heading up and down the mountains.

You can imagine how much that would increase my drive up, I think it ended up being just under two hours. But that wasn’t nearly the worst of it. You see, as I drove up to Clingmans to hopefully catch sunset, I encountered the greatest and most astonishing traffic… “phenomena” that I had ever seen. Thanks to the combination of heavily increased visitation and the difficulty of mountains roads (what I’m getting at is that most visitors become absolutely terrible drivers as soon as they enter park boundaries), there was a line of cars literally bumper to bumper, waiting to get down the mountain and out of the park, for the first twenty miles of my drive.

I couldn’t believe it. Every time I rounded a corner, crested a hilltop, or emerged through a tunnel, I expected the line of vehicles to be over… but it wasn’t. Now, the first thought a person has in my situation is obviously, “Wow, that really blows for them,” but there is an even more important thought that took awhile to hit me. “Wait. If I keep going up, I eventually need to come down. That means… I’ll be in that line, too!”

So as I continued up the mountain, I was grappling with the option to surrender, turn around, and begin the long, long trip down sooner rather than later. I could only imagine how bad these drivers would be in the darkness of the mountains. I almost did it, about three or four times, but I had a feeling. It sounds completely cliché, but I had a feeling the sunset was going to be a good one. The sky was completely clear - which is actually bad, because a good sunset needs clouds, just like a good movie needs Bill Murray. Still, when I walked out of my apartment, I had a strong feeling. So I kept going.

And, boy, was it worth it. It was crowded at the top, but I found a good spot and was blessed to witness a wonderful show.

The sun looked marvelous as it descended towards the horizon, and it lit the mountains in a subtle way that you can really only see here in the Smokies. It’s even difficult to capture it on camera (but I’ve been trying my best!).

It’s amazing how quickly – and foolishly – that crowds clear out. As soon as the sun ducks out of sight, everyone seems to think the show is over. But if you’ve ever truly watched sunsets before, you know that that’s just when the show is about to begin.

And sure enough, it wasn’t long until the sky looked like it was on fire. The faint reds and yellows from several minutes before burst onto the clouds and painted them with most vibrant hues.

It’s easy to accuse someone of over saturating their sunset and sunrise photographs, and most of the time people do it as much as they can get away with. But these photos have truthfully seen very minimal editing, none of which altered the colors.

The sunset was really a blessing, and I was so happy I decided to make the drive all the way up. While I’ve had well over my fair share of beautiful sunsets and sunrises, the Smokies never cease to leave me in awe.

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The rest of the night was a completely spontaneous choice, but again, one that I was glad to have made.

Many of the photographers that come to Clingmans Dome of sunset have fairly large rigs. But I’ve only seen someone else with a professional camcorder once while I’ve been here. So I guess we’re a rare sight and immediately make visitors think we’re an even higher level of professional, because I had a strange amount of people come up to me on this particular day and ask me if Clingmans was a good place to watch the stars.

My answer, though not backed up with experience, was obviously yes. “It’s the highest point in the park,” I’d say to them, “and if the sky is clear, I can’t imagine a better place to see the stars.” “And the bears rarely bother anyone up here. In fact, they’re fairly small and don’t typically go after humans at all,” I added to one particular visitor who seemed worried about safety.

And as I was donning my (not)Ranger Mike personality as I spoke to all these people, I thought, “Wait, I actually haven’t spent a night watching the stars the entire time I’ve been here!” I was shocked, and honestly quite a bit disappointed in myself. So there was only one choice.

I went back to where I had parked, which was pretty far from the heavily trafficked area and got enough distance between me and any potential headlights, and just laid down on the ground.

Slowly, as if each was cautiously revealing itself for the first time, millions if not billions of stars began to populate the night. There were so many that in some instances it was difficult to discern between individuals and clusters. The Milky Way washed across the sky, from horizon to horizon. Shooting stars appeared in an instant, but seemed to hang for hours in my heightened state of perception. It had been far too long since the last time I gazed up at the sky, yet just like each time before, I was simultaneously overwhelmed and reassured by how minuscule I felt in the grand presence of the cosmos.

I still have a lot to learn about photographing the stars, and these certainly don’t do justice to what I saw. But I thought I’d share these anyway.

Days Three and Four: Waterfalls, Trails, and Five Whole K's!

And I thought doing my video work was hard! “Lugging equipment around everywhere is the worst!” I would complain to myself. Little did I realize that tourists really have it worse off. Doing legitimate hikes and activities day after day really takes its toll on you. I mean, I’m just 23 and I woke up stiff on Saturday!

Anyways, there was no time for resting. My parents and I had more scheduled for today, so off we went.

Our first stop was Grotto Falls, off of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Thanks to Gatlinburg garbage bears, traffic there was pretty terrible, but my parents, of course, didn’t mind the opportunity to see some “wildlife.”

Once we got to the trailhead, my parents found out just want I meant when I said it would be crowded on the weekends. We finally found parking (a quarter mile away, well, maybe not that far) and started up the short trail. And you know what? It worked. It was actually so foggy on Saturday, that we still had some privacy on the trail. Seriously, it was hard to see past 100 feet, even less than that at times.

After hiking the roughly mile and a half and passing some rather poor examples of parenting, we finally got to Grotto Falls. Then we proceeded to completely hog all the best photo spots.

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After the falls, I got my parents to do something that I have actually been meaning to do the whole time I’ve been here, hike the Appalachian Trail. That’s right all 2,000+ miles of it. Well, not really. But we did get to hike roughly 1/1000

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of the trail (and don’t forget we had to hike it back, too!).

You know, if you really just looked at it on the surface level, it was just another trail. But in reality, the AT just had a different feel to it. There’s romanticism, struggle, accomplishment, nostalgia, and all sorts of other feelings all tied up in what is really just a very long stretch of three-foot-wide deforestation.

Appalachian Trail markers, definitely not mistakable for patches of guano, moss, mold, or snow

The hike was really enjoyable, and we saw quite a few hikers, though most of them were just day hikers. Even more interesting, most of them were fairly elderly and had each been to the Smokies at least five times, some more than ten.

She’s thinking, “I could totally live in here overnight if I had to.” (She totally couldn’t)

I don’t know if it was the all the old people who were more ambitious that them or the Appalachian Trail pins I gave to them when they were ready to turn back, but suddenly my parents were excited and ready to keep going a little ways. By our estimates, we had gone between one to one and a half miles, and the thought of only having gone 1/1000

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of the AT was unacceptable to them. So we trudged on and ended up having a very enjoyable and rewarding hike.

Seriously, autumn here is awesome!

I don’t remember when I took this, but it sure is a great view

We ended the day earlier than the previous two, and my dad was very happy we had time to hit up the local brewery to catch some of the Notre Dame game. He was paying for dinner, so why would I say no?

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Sunday morning was even harder to overcome than Saturday. I woke up (after sleeping the past few nights on a couch, and my dad on an air mattress), and thought my knees would never bend again, which was pretty bad since I had a 5K to run that day.

The gods of unfortunate situations were watching over us, however. My mom was starting to feel kind of sick, and the fog was thicker than I’ve ever seen it before. So our planned morning hike turned into driving around looking for a view bute really just finding this everywhere.

This pretty much sums up the view the whole day

Still, it wasn’t a wasted day. We descended back down under all the fallen clouds and made the strenuous .1 mile hike to see Cataract Falls, which is normally just a trickle but was actually a decent, little waterfall since it had started raining.

Then came the main event of the day, the Pi Beta PhiveK, which I had signed up for back when I first arrived in the Smokies. However, I had only trained for about two weeks, minus a few days here and there. Still, I was hopeful that all the hiking and high altitudes of the past month would help me be in somewhat passable shape.

I set what I thought would be an unrealistic goal of twenty-five minutes for the five kilometers. I also started off the race way too fast. Excited by the opportunity to blow past a bunch of nine and ten-year-olds, I quickly pulled ahead of all but two people in the race (one of which ended up finishing in something ridiculous like fifteen minutes), but by mile two, I was pretty gassed. Plus, I had already been passed by a girl (I don’t mean to be sexist, but in the moment it hurts a selfish man’s pride a little bit extra).

To make matters worse, I turned my head to find a pack of what I could only assume to be members of the girls’ high school cross country team. Now, I’m quite a cross country veteran, having run for a whole year in high school and even making it on the top seven for one race, and I knew what these girls were doing. They were running as a group to pull each other along and build of one another’s strength and determination. However, it was only a matter of before one or two of them finally made their move and pulled away.

My adrenaline-filled, egotistical brain said “Go!” My cramping lungs and stomach said “Stop!” And to be completely honest, I think I ended up doing something a little in between.

Still, I managed to hang in there and only get passed by one of the girls. I was heaving for air as I crossed the finish line, but at 23:18, I did way better than I had expected. Regardless, who wouldn’t be proud of representing Smokie’s Team!?

While I was racing, my parents got to hit up some local art shops, which I know my mom was happy about. They picked me up from the race, and we headed to the airport so they could get back to real life in Chicago.

Overall, I was really happy my parents were able to visit. The park is such an amazing place, and I’m glad I was able to share it with someone while I was here. I can’t wait to come back and share it with a few more people (I’m looking at you Emma, Kelly, and Joe!)

Plenty of room for more of you next time!

With my parents gone, and less than two weeks left in my stay, it’s time for (not)Ranger Mike to get back to work!