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Canoeing through the Everglades

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A feather from a roseate spoonbill

In December, a few friends and took a five day canoe trip through the Everglades. I saw more wildlife on this trip than any backpacking adventure I’ve ever had. The paddling was mostly quite easy. The mosquitos were voracious. Solitude was not to be found between all the fishers and the campers. But all in all, this was one of my most favorite trips ever. I would go back in a heartbeat.

For some pictures of wildlife that I couldn’t include in this post, check out this album.

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Written by notatypewriter

2016 February 15 at 10:03 pm

Posted in Trip reports

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An album review of Brad Paisley’s “Moonshine in the Trunk”

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I’m not your traditional country listener. I never grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line. I’m an atheist. I am generally a bleeding-heart liberal. That being said, I strongly feel that some of the most creative lyrical wordplay and poignant music are being created in this genre. Plus, it makes for good driving music, so I continue to listen.

Brad Paisley is one of the more interesting artists in the genre. He always has some kind of message in his albums, but his attempts are often muddled and ham-fisted (see the “Accidental Racist” controversy). He has a keen ear for prodding his conservative base with a more liberal set of politics and social views. This infuriates liberals because he doesn’t go as far as we would like. Contrast this with Kacey Musgraves, whose first album was unabashedly liberal, courted controversy, earned wide praise from liberal commentators and media, and even gained some commercial success. Paisley will never be confused for Musgraves, but in return, he has wider commercial appeal. I’m not enough of a firebrand to demand that Paisley use his platform as a bully pulpit, but I understand the choices he made.

The fine line that Brad Paisley walks is why I enjoy listening to his music. His melodies are generally unoffensive. His lyrics are usually quite clever. Some of his songs espouse politics that appeal to me.

Overall, Moonshine in the Trunk is pretty decent. It’s not a traditional country album, but it isn’t pop, or bro, or rock country either. Half the songs are boring party songs, but the other half are full of thoughtful lyrics. However, it is pretty annoying that this album intersperses the party songs with the thoughtful songs and I get whipsawed from being absolutely bored to thinking about the lyrics.

Crushin’ It – A friend of mine really likes this song, but I think the narrator’s resignation to alcohol is kind of sad. (“I figured this out in college […] that I was going to wind up near the bottom […] but I’m the king of getting unwound”) It’s a basic party song, but it isn’t as uptempo as the quintessential party-country band, Florida Georgia Line.

Clever lyric: “It’s been a long time / Since […] I nailed it as they say. / I guess I’ve been in a dry spell but that’s about to change”

River Bank – A fun song that is best thought of as a summer anthem. In the song, the narrator enjoys his life because he has filled it with rich experiences rather than wealth.

Clever lyric: “But we have got each other and gas in the tank / We’re laughing all the way to the river bank”

Perfect Storm – This song is Brad Paisley’s best song on this album. It’s a classic Brad Paisley love ballad. Just go listen to it.

High Life – In this song, Paisley makes fun of our litigious society and a minor legal controversy he got into. Unfortunately, frivolous litigation is a safe target to criticize so I award him no points. I also have to wonder about whether Chick-Fil-A paid for this song, given all the mentions.

Moonshine in the Trunk – party song, but it’s fun

Shattered Glass – In this song, a narrator sings to his daughter hoping that she will break the glass ceiling. I really like this song, but I criticize the narrator’s passivity with regard to the glass ceiling. (“It’s fun for a guy like me / Sitting here in your shotgun seat”.) Men have at least as much (if not more) responsibility as women to remove the glass ceiling. This might be a prime example of Brad Paisley walking that line between commercial safety and radical politics.

Limes – party song

You Shouldn’t Have To – A love ballad that misses the mark. It’s probably unfair to compare this to “Perfect Storm,” but the songs are on the same album, so it’s unavoidable. This song seems to be all about a man doing things that a woman stereotypically doesn’t want to do. My problem with this song is that while “Perfect Storm” feels individualized to the quirks of a particular woman, this one seems generalized to all women which feels mildly sexist.

4WP – This is one of my favorite songs on the album, but only because I follow country music drama. The fight between bro-country and more traditional country has been going on for the past few years with heavyweights weighing in on all sides. While the lyrics and imagery of this song are lifted from the bro-country milieu, Brad Paisley sings with an inflection that makes me think he’s satirizing that subgenre. I could be wrong and Paisley could be a full bro, but that uncertainty is what makes this song fun to listen to.

Cover Girl – Boring song, but sounds fine.

Gone Green – Very traditional sounding country song with lyrics that either makes fun of the environmental movement, or makes fun of rednecks for treating environmentalism initially with disdain but then resort to it for economic reasons. I’m not sure and honestly it’s kind of a boring song. Also like the background vocals here.

Clever lyric: “I swear to God on a stack of Nooks” I suspect we’ll still have book Bibles around for these kinds of ceremonial things because the books aren’t really used as books. Instead, the books are symbols that transmit a shared culture through generations. That symbolism isn’t the same with a Nook, so we’ll still have bibles.

American Flag on the Moon – I’m a sucker for patriotic songs, so I love it. I hate the children’s choir though. What a gimmick. Paisley opens up with a reference to Congressional gridlock, but spends the rest of the song describing how America has achieved greatness by doing things.

Country Nation – This song might be the most commercial thing I’ve ever heard. That said, it does its job well.

Me and Jesus – This is a solely acoustic song that really shows off Brad Paisley’s good voice.

Additional reading:

Written by notatypewriter

2015 October 31 at 11:45 am

Posted in Country music

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Okay IHG mattress run opportunity on Labor Day weekend

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Across the DC region, rates for IHG hotel rooms on Friday and Saturday of Labor Day weekend have fallen into the $60s and $70s.

By combining two promotions from IHG, you can earn 11,000 bonus points, along with whatever points you’d normally earn from hotel spend. You should also be able to combine this with 6% cashback from Mr. Rebates.

I’ll break down the numbers after the break.

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Written by notatypewriter

2015 August 31 at 7:00 pm

Documenting two mattress runs with IHG and Hyatt

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I recently got into the world of travel hacking. One of the techniques these folks use is “mattress running,” where they spend nights at cheap hotels to earn points to spend at expensive hotels. Typically this doesn’t make any sense, but occasionally, hotel chains will offer seasonal promotions that starts to make some sense.

Essentially, you’re buying points with the hotel chain, but with a lot more rigamarole. The usual caveats with points currencies apply, in that you’re exchanging the flexibility of hard currency with hotel currency that they can re-value at any time they want.

In order to do this, you have to find a cheap hotel to stay at. I live in the DC area, where there are a lot of hotels in business areas that have cheap rates. The two areas I look at for this area are the Dulles and Gaithersburg areas for weekend nights. I haven’t yet found a good area for weeknights, so if you know of anything, please leave a comment or shoot me a DM on Twitter (@ENOTTY).

I try to make these mattress runs a sort-of “staycation” so I feel like I get a little more out of these stays. By staying in the Dulles area, I’ve been able to visit some sights that I’ve wanted to see, such as Udvar-Hazy (free + $15 for parking) and the NRA musuem (free). When I stayed in Gaithersburg, I had a great time learning about Civil War battle tactics at Monocacy National Battlefield (free).

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Written by notatypewriter

2015 July 24 at 8:24 pm

Trans-Catalina Trail backpacking trip report (February 2015)

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For four days, I hiked the Trans-Catalina Trail (TCT) from Avalon to Starlight Beach via the Trans-Catalina Trail and back to Two Harbors via the West End Road, with visits to nearby peaks via side trails.

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My goal for this trip was to test my physical abilities and learn more about myself and my gear. To that end, I constructed an itinerary that covered approximately 15 miles a day on the Trans-Catalina Trail while carrying a typical backpacking load.

The hiking was strenuous, both due to elevation profile and hiking distance and the weather was hot with highs of about 80 F and lows of about 50 F (above average for February). The trail has no tree cover. (I saw evidence of wildfire, so it might have all burned down.) In fact, most of the trail is actually hiking along wide dirt roads made for vehicles. I did like how there is a mile marker at every mile so counting down the trail and keeping an idea of hiking pace is easy to do. (I averaged a slow 2 mph).

All camping is done in designated campgrounds (reservations here). Each campsite has a fire ring, a picnic table, and port-a-potties. Potable water is provided via a spigot in all campgrounds except for Parson’s Landing, where rangers will deliver water to you. Firewood is also delivered to campsites in lockers. Campers pick up a locker key in town the before going to the campground. Critters are very active here so I recommend bringing a hard-sided container (or an Ursack) for food. (I wish the Conservancy provided food lockers.)

All-in-all, I did not enjoy the TCT as much as other backpacking trips I’ve done. The trail was boring, mostly hiking along a gravel road with little vegetation. The road also contributed to the feeling that I wasn’t really getting away from civilization, especially since from most places on the island, I could see either Two Harbors or Avalon. Furthermore, the road is built for 4x4s with diesel engines, so many sections had ridiculously steep up and down grades. I only enjoyed the views after the airport, so the first day was especially boring to me. However, I did enjoy rerouting off trail around a herd of bison.

I like this trail for its length and its safety. Help was never more than a cell phone call away, and bail-out points were everywhere. In that sense, it was a good way to test myself but I don’t think I’d do trail for the views. (I would, however, recommend kayaking and hiking side trails from the boat-in campsites. While I didn’t do this, the views are just as nice and kayaking is easier than backpacking.)

Catalina Island is located off the coast of Los Angeles. The island and its wilderness areas seem to be managed by the Catalina Conservancy, which is a private non-governmental organization. The island has a whole suite of services mostly geared to your typical luxury traveler and weekend outdoors enthusiast, such as gear hauls, shuttle services, fine dining, and luxury hotels.

For some of the resources I used on this hike, see my Pinboard.

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Written by notatypewriter

2015 April 5 at 12:11 am

Budget hotels in New York City

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This is a list of budget hotels in New York City. Thanks to its density and its destination as a major tourist destination, NYC has an atypical hotel marketplace with a wide range of choice that extends beyond your typical double-occupancy room.

If you’re traveling alone, this list is made for you. I’ve tried to find hotels and hostels that cater to solo travelers. In general, I’m making three categories: 1) tiny single-occupancy private rooms with shared bathrooms, 2) hostels, or shared rooms with shared hostels, and 3) budget private rooms with private bathrooms. Some hotels can go in multiple categories.

I’ll try to keep this updated through my own research, but please leave a comment to keep this list updated!

Last updated: 2015 March 26

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Written by notatypewriter

2015 March 26 at 9:26 pm

Posted in Trip reports

Point Reyes National Seashore backpacking trip report (February 2015)

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For three days in February, a friend and I backpacked in the Point Reyes National Seashore, which is about 45 minutes north of San Francisco, California. The park offers hiking, boating, backcountry camping, and boat-in camping opportunities. There is even a hostel in the park!

The hiking was very easy, with mild climbs from sea level to relatively low elevations on well-maintained trails. Overall, the backpacking trip served as a gentle introduction for my friend, who was completely new to the activity. There is no need to find and select a tent site, the water is potable, and bathroom facilities obviate the need to dig catholes. Each campground tent site has a bear box, a picnic table, and a grill.

The weather was mostly foggy for all three days, which kind of killed our photography mojo. Temperatures were very mild, and never went above 70 F and didn’t seem to get below 40 F.

I recommend this park for beginners to backpacking or people testing out gear. While I haven’t backpacked the Lost Coast Trail, this area might also serve as a easy preview, given the apparently similar conditions of humidity, fog, wind, hiking on the beach sand, and keeping an eye on the tide.

For some of the resources I used on this hike, see my Pinboard. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by notatypewriter

2015 February 22 at 8:45 pm

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