Travel: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Last weekend, Aimee and I made the haul up to my family’s cabin in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. It actually sits in between Maggie Valley and Cherokee, about a 1/4 mile away from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ve been visiting here several times a year since birth, so it has been fun to find new things to do, as well as experiment and challenge myself with photography.

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Beginning in 2001, the National Park Service began an effort to reintroduce elk into the area. The process has been extremely successful, with a sizable population now thriving, and easily visible at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. Being that its an easy drive from the house, elk-spotting has become a bit of a Carter family pre-dinner tradition.

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For the camera nerds, I rented the Nikon 200-500 f.5.6E for this purpose. While it is certainly a neat lens for the price, this thing is enormous and heavy. It doesn’t travel well, and the slow 5.6 aperture is tough to use in anything but the brightest light. Let’s just say that I understand why wildlife lenses cost upwards of $10k-$15k now.

I’ve been photographing the Oconaluftee Visitor Center for as long as I’ve had a camera, and visiting for as long as I could walk. For this visit, I focused in on various textures of the pioneer settlement.

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When the weather cleared up on Sunday, we drove over to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park. There is a tower at the top, built in 1959, and a great example of the mid-century modern style monuments that were built under the Mission 66 program.

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The hike to the tower and around the base was surprisingly icy. A brief little walk into the surrounding spruce-fir forest revealed an near winter wonderland of left-over ice from the previous night.

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On the drive home towards Cherokee, we stopped at a hiking trail on the side of the road. There are literally hundreds of miles of trails throughout the park, so I’m not sure what the name of this one was, or what exactly it was headed towards. We walked for around four miles though and found some great spots.

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If you planning a visit to the area, please do not hesitate to contact Aimee or I. We’d love to give you some areas to check out or places to eat. Thanks for checking it out!

Camera Specs

Nikon D850 | Nikon 200-500 f.5.6/E | Nikon 24mm f.1.4G | Nikon 58mm f.1.4G

Japan | TYPE ONE

TYPE ONE was one of the spots that I was most excited about visiting in Japan. For those that might not know, TYPE ONE is the workshop facility of Spoon Sports, a popular tuning and parts company for Honda enthusiasts. Along with Mugen, Spoon is one of the oldest Honda tuning companies, opening up in 1988 in Suginami.  They have created many race cars, from third generation Civic hatchbacks, to the top of the line NSX. 

When we arrived at TYPE ONE after a thirty minute walk from the train station, we were invited in by one of the employees to the upstairs showroom. Although there was a language barrier, we were invited to look around and take pictures. 

The first car we noticed inside was a meticulously restored Honda S800. A progression of the brand's first sports car the S600, the S800 offered a larger, more modern engine, capable of revving to 10,000rpm.  Although the car was designed with the idea of importing it to the American market, no S car would be sold in America until the S2000 in 2000. 

All of the racecars at TYPE ONE sported Spoon's trademark blue and yellow liveries. Their road cars usually wear a black and white combo. 

We'd like to wish the gentlemen at TYPE ONE a huge thank you for allowing us to visit. The shop is extremely impressive, clean, and inspiring. For any automotive enthusiast, this is a place that certainly needs to be on your list. 

Japan | Exploring Tokyo and More

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with Japanese culture. I'm not sure if it was my parents or grandparents that bought me my first Godzilla film, but that's what kicked it off. From there, it has blossomed into a love for the art, aesthetic, food, and automotive culture of the islands. Visiting Japan has always been "on my list", but it was never immediate. I certainly wasn't saving up for it or anything. However, when my friend Cory Mader ran across a cheap airline ticket to Narita several months ago, we decided that we had to jump on it. The flight left from Los Angeles, but that was fine, I could get there. 

Despite the affordable plane ticket, living in Japan for a week is not a cheap affair. While other southeast Asian countries offer extremely favorable exchange rates, the yen to dollar value is very near equal. That is, ¥100 is pretty much equal to $1, so everything is essential priced at a 100x multiplier when comparing yen to dollar. A ¥1000 burger in Japan, would cost $10 in America, for example. So that being said, your money goes about as far in Japan as it does here, and neither of us had a whole lot of it. 

For lodging, we located an AirBnb in the Toshima ward off of the Otsuka train stop. The apartment consisted of three rentable rooms with a common kitchen and bathroom. It worked perfect for us. Walking onto the twelfth floor balcony gave us some incredible views of the city as well. 

Our plan for day one was to get in as many sights as we could, primarily traveling along the Yamanote rail line. This would cost us between ¥140 to ¥200 per ride, so fairly affordable. Adding our entire day of train travel up ran us about ¥1500. Our goals for the day were Toho Studios in Shinjuku, Type One Motorsports in Suginami, Akihabara, and finally Ikebukuro to meet a friend of ours that would take us to a car meet that night.

We started our morning by briefly exploring the area around Otsuka station, outside of our apartment, as well as getting some breakfast. The area was a fairly quiet part of town, with most of the residents making their way to work or school. We hopped on the train to make our way to Shinjuku first. 

To be 100% honest, neither Cory or I were especially enthralled by Shinjuku. While it was certainly great to see the peeking Godzilla head, the rest of the area was obliviously a spot for night life, and at 8:30am, there just wasn't a whole lot to do. I grabbed a Krispy Kreme to compare, determined that it was in fact a Krispy Kreme, and we headed to our next destination.

Getting to Type One Motorsports was a bit of a hike, even after the train stop in Suginami. Type One is the workshop arm of Spoon Sports, a popular Honda parts manufacturer and a pilgrimage spot for enthusiasts. We had a thirty minute walk to the shop and really enjoyed seeing a more relaxed, quieter view of the city. 

Our visit to Type One was great, but I'll save that for another post. After we finished, we made our way back to Otsuka for some Japanese curry and to drop off our various goodies we'd acquired. 

Eating at Curry House Coco was one of our favorite parts of trip. While I know that its a chain, it's delicious and cheap. If you haven't had Japanese curry, its fairly easy to make here in the states, with easy-to-cook pre-prepared roux packets available in the Asian section at most grocery stores. Pair with it white rice and some fried pork and it'll make for a perfect fall or winter dinner. 

After lunch, we got back on the Yamanote line and made our way to Akihabara. Akihabara is the mecca for otaku culture, and while I'm not exactly an anime fan, its just something that you have to experience once. 

Our final destination for the night was Ikebukuro, which was a stop away from our apartment at Otsuka. This was obviously a shopping district, and was the busiest and brightest stop in our trip. When you think of Tokyo nights, Ikebukuro is the type of place you are thinking of. 

We met our friend Keisuke around 8pm here, and he drove us to Daikoku Parking Area for a car meet about 30 minutes away that was not accessible by train. We had an awesome time there, but again, that's a story for later. 

We ended up getting home that night around 1:30a after being dropped off in Ikebukuro and realizing that the trains stopped running. We had a 45 minute walk home, and crashed. Day 1 was over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alaska II

I think my favorite stops of the entire trip were Juneau and Scagway. I've been to both of these cities multiple times, but really got to see and experience some new things this time around. The Mendenhall Glacier was the big event for Juneau. Just a short 15 minute bus ride out of town, it was one of the most amazing sights of the entire trip. 

The immense amount of rain that the area had seen prevented us from getting as close as usual, but the sheer size of the glacier was still impressive. 

After touring the museum and watching the video, we started on one of the park trails. While we were optimistic about the three mile loop, steady rain and a lack of appropriate gear convinced us to turn around about halfway through. 

There were several markers to indicate where the glacier extended to in the past. The glacier has been retreating from the area since the late 1700s. 

After our hike, we were pretty eager to find some food, preferably in a dry spot. Luckily, one of my favorite restaurants is in downtown Juneau, a small pierogi shop named Pel'meni. These little dumplings are the perfect snack after a long, cold, rainy day. Offered with a variety of toppings, these little guys can be had in potato or beef varieties, 16 for $7. The shop is run by one guy, who was blasting old Beach Boys vinyls way too loud. I loved every minute of it. 

Dad had also found a killer king crab place last time he was there, and of course, we couldn't pass that up. If you have never had king crab, don't do it, as it'll only ruin every other crab for you in the future. 

Our next stop was Scagway, a former mining town now turned tourist destination. The city is setup like many downtowns, lined with shops, restaurants, and museums. We'd done all of that before and we wanted something different. We picked up some trail maps from the National Park office and set off for the day.  

This trail led to an awesome little cove covered in sea grass, algae, and muscles. We relaxed here for about an hour just taking in the views. 

Our last day was a day at sea, but the ship did take us to see the Hubbard Glacier. While the Mendenhall Glacier was certainly impressive, it doesn't hold a candle to the Hubbard. The captain was able to take us to the minimum legal distance, a half-mile away, and it was mind-blowing.

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The finale of the trip was a train ride from our final stop, Seward, to the Anchorage airport. The tracks largely followed the Seward Highway, and offered some classic Alaska vistas. 

Thanks again for following along! If you can, find a way to get to Alaska. You won't regret it.