Friday, April 5, 2013

Take Advantage of Traveling: The Importance of Saying Hello

I don’t know whether to call it coincidence or luck, but it seems that every time I travel I end up sitting next to someone fascinating. While I’m known for being forward and highly approachable, I have found that simply initiating conversation with the people in the confined space around you is easier than most people think. They’re usually just as bored and receptive to chit chat as you are- they just aren’t as comfortable with being the first to reach out. It’s dumbfounding to me the amount of people we share elevators or ride on the train with daily without ever acknowledging one another’s existence. Just think of how many simple “hellos” could have led to long-time friendships, pen pals, or even romantic partners...

The last noteworthy encounter I had was with an eccentric man in his late thirties named Eric. Eric and I were seatmates on an early flight from Minnesota to Seattle. I was heading out west for an interview, and he was on his way out of the country for a second bout of teaching English to kids somewhere in a remote part of Asia. He was very personable, and quick to share personal information about what he’d been up to while in the States. He had spent the last month in northern Minnesota, first visiting his parents and then retreating to a sauna in the middle of nowhere for some solitude and relaxation.

He asked if I’d ever been to a sauna in the woods. Admittedly, I had not. He raved about how wonderful the saunas in Minnesota are, and implored that I go sometime and experience one myself. He offered to let me skim through a book on Finnish saunas that someone had given him as a departing gift. The photos were enticing and beautiful, featuring rustic, A-frame sauna log cabins and square pools surrounded by pure white snow. Apparently the idea is to sit in the sauna for 15-20 minutes at a time, and then cool down in the pool outside after. It sounded like a recipe for getting sick to me, but also an experience. Once we landed, going to a sauna was officially on my bucket list.

Today I booked a weekend reservation for me and my friend Chelsea at the Larsmont Cottages on the north shore of Lake Superior next month. Something tells me it’s a lot less rustic than Eric would approve of, but he’d at least be proud of me for going. There are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors by hiking, biking, skiing, and fishing… though I doubt I will be able to convince Chelsea to fish. I’m sure we’ll make the most of the heated indoor pool, outdoor Jacuzzi and of course…old fashioned wooden sauna! I’m looking forward to it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to share my sauna story to a stranger en route.

I guess the point is that your mom probably told you not to talk to strangers, but that was more applicable when you were five. Obviously, be cautious of weirdos. But most people traveling are just like you- and chances are good they won’t bite. Worst case scenario, you try to engage in a polite conversation and they don’t want to talk. Best case scenario, you talk for whatever amount of time you have until your destination, and they change your life. I promise you’ll learn something. You may even be inspired to take a random trip somewhere new. The possible outcomes are endless, but they’re only possible with "hellos."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Boats for Florida's Tight Marinas

New Smyrna Beach

If you're ever in the area just north of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, from relatively calm water along the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), then you know it's a terrific area for boaters. It's also a great place for spotting some of the finest boats in the world that are capable of finely maneuvering some of the tightest corners for their size. It takes a skillful maneuver between the tightly packed waves to keep boats from getting swamped. Timing’s everything in a situation like this, and there isn't too much room for error.

Most fishermen wouldn't take a bay boat out in even moderately rough conditions. But it’s nice to have a hull that gives you the option. The 243’s deep-V has a 21-degree deadrise at the transom for rough-water running, but its draft is still 16 inches — making it usable for bonefishing or going after stripers in the rocks, and making it seem like you're doing some pontoon boating.

The windshield is the first feature to catch your eye on the 243, part of the optional hardtop. It’s a nifty item since it slides up and down, offering either weather protection or a wide-open window on the dog days. The standard helm seat/leaning post is also functional, since it has a wide bolster that either lets you lean against it in rough water or sit down for the long haul.

The boat is rated to hold 13 people, which is more a function of the foam flotation than the actual seating or fishing room on board. You could accommodate four adults fairly comfortably, five in a pinch, for any long-distance trips. The boat has storage space for 22 rods, which could be a bit overkill, unless you’re after different species. The hard-top also has four rocket launchers.

The boat, as noted, runs very nicely on both flat water and out in the chop. With a 225-hp Yamaha 4-stroke, a top end of 44.6 mph is reached. Everglades offers either Yamaha or Honda power on the 243. With the 225 Yamaha, according to the company, it runs at 26.4 mph at 3.9 mpg. It’s rated up to 300 hp. There are standard features worth noting on the boat, including the 6-inch stainless-steel cleats, lighted 32-gallon livewell, and red LED courtesy lights for night fishing. These lights are a handy item since they allow free movement without fish being alerted. The boat is loaded with fishing-friendly amenities, some originating from the company’s owners, the Doughertys.

In its ads, Everglades has been strongly pushing its father/son founders, Bob and Steve Dougherty, as industry-leading innovators. Another case of marketing hype? Not quite. Bob Dougherty had an impressive track record in helping build Boston Whaler during its early years into the powerhouse it became. Steve leaves a favorable impression on you, too, as he takes you around the facility in Edgewater, Florida. He points to a mockup of a new center console/hardtop that’ll be standard on Everglades’ new 28-footer. The center-console concept is like a futuristic mini-pilothouse, with automobile-style windshields that open fore and aft, Jeep-panel doors that slide out and even air-conditioning. The huge space forward has a head, Corian countertops and vanity. “Father and I worked on fresh ideas in order to make this boat unique,” says the younger Dougherty. “We wanted to be different from everyone else.”

In reality, the console could potentially be a tough sell, or it might be copied by competitors as the next great breakthrough. But the point is that at least it’s trying new ideas, walking the innovation talk. That’s also the case with Everglades’ proprietary RAMCAP building process, which has literally turned traditional boatbuilding inside-out.

Instead of building a mold and laying up fiberglass, Everglades pre-cuts and shapes the hull out of 6-pound structural urethane core foam (it has a higher density than the 1.8-pound flotation foams typically used by other boat-builders). Once shaped, Everglades then puts the core (the foam shape plus stringers) into a vacuum mold where they apply resin and fiberglass to form a “unibond” shape. The result is a single structure, which Everglades claims is unsinkable. Other foam-heavy builders work in the opposite direction, first creating a fiberglass skin, then injecting foam into a mold. That process can allow air voids to form inside the skin, which could potentially compromise structural integrity as well as creating a pock-marked fit and finish.

There are no fiberglass burrs or rough edges, even on the interiors. Everglades bills the 243 as a fishing boat that a family would love, but that may be stretching it a bit. The 19-inch gunwales are too low to have a small child on board, and the only seating besides the helm seat and front cooler seat are two flip-up seats
at the transom. There’s no way you’d allow a small child back there. But hats off to the designers for these seats, since they allow the transom to be used as a rear casting platform.

Fishing is what this boat is all about, really, and how it should be marketed. The bow area offers a good casting platform, with a 75-gallon in-floor fish box with macerator pump. Low, powder-coated bowrails offer an element of safety, but you could also use them as toerails if you want to stand on the gunwales and cast. The large livewell aft has a green-tinted Plexiglas lid so you can see baitfish without having to lift the lid every time. There are lots of nice little touches.

Fishing amenities abound. But in the end, it all comes down to the ride. You've been on earlier bay boats before, and some ran a little wetter than you’d like. By rights, you both should’ve been dripping wet — especially with you at the helm. But there’s very little spray on the windshield. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Toronto Travel Deals and Destinations

The CN Tower and the Toronto Harbor viewed fro...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Canadian city of Toronto is one of the most diverse in the world, with more than 100 languages and dialects being spoken there. Toronto attractions include the St. Lawrence Market, one of the world’s best food markets, Casa Loma, the Royal Ontario Museum, the CN Tower and so on. (Read more about these attractions in this Top 5 Places to Visit in Toronto article.) You can get great Toronto travel deals with a little detective work and research.

If you want to do some Toronto sightseeing, you can always get on one of the `Jump on and Jump off' antique bus tours that take you to the best attractions, sites, shopping places and events. Another place to put on your Toronto places to visit list is Niagara Falls, to which operators offer daily trips. Other Toronto attractions include the various amusement/theme parks, art galleries, casinos, sports venues, theaters and waterfront locations. All these make Toronto sightseeing an unforgettable experience.

A good way of finding the best Toronto travel deals is by searching various deal sites with travel getaways like Groupon. Off-season is your best bet for getting the really cheap deals, but it can get a bit chilly then. With a little patience, you can get fantastic Toronto travel deals even in the peak of the tourist season! Additionally, if you're coming from the States, trains are a great mode of travel worth looking into. Many rail tours are less expensive than flying or driving, especially when you factor in the cost of gas and parking. Regardless of how you get there, Toronto is a playground for people of all ages and interests worth exploring.

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Climbing in Longsheng China

Bergdorf bei Longsheng (China) wo die Yao inmi...

Day two of my weekend trip to the Guangxi province found me taking a full day trip to Longsheng to view the Longji (dragon spine, I think) rice terraces. The area is populated by the Miao people; a very small minority in China that is diminishing in numbers every year.  The traditional family of the Miao includes 4 to 6 children but this is not so anymore. Thanks to the child policies of the Chinese government the Miao are restricted to only 2 children per family. With more and more young men leaving for the big cities every year, it is only a matter of time before the Miao disappear. One interesting thing to note about the Miao people is that they are the “longest-haired village in the world” as quoted by a sign outside the village. It definitely adds a unique aspect to the village and to me it seemed like another one of those many odd, quirky, incredible things about China that makes it so great. You can get a sense of these people through language translation services, but you really need to spend time with them to get a true sense of their culture and customs. 

The night before (Saturday night) and Sunday night I stayed on the floor of a college student, Leo, in Guilin.  I found Leo through an amazing networking site called CouchSurfing.  I had never met Leo before but nevertheless he agreed to host me for two nights in his dorm room.  The CouchSurfing community is absolutely incredible; the people I have interacted with through this site have all been very nice and generous with their time, utilities, and accommodations.  Some people may be wary of agreeing to sleep in the apartment/house of a complete stranger and that is completely understandable.  However there are some precautions you can take to ensure that you are staying with a legitimate CouchSurfer and not some creep.  Anyway, being that it was my first time CouchSurfing I did not know what to expect but it turned out to be a great experience.  From now on I look forward to more CouchSurfing around the country and to hosting CouchSurfers right here in Xi’an.  I know it will lead to some great new friends and some great experiences.

Like so many occasions during my time here in China, I had no idea what to expect upon going to Longsheng.  We were treated to a performance by the Miao people which was a bit kitschy and touristy but it ended up highly amusing at the end when they reenacted a marriage ceremony with volunteers from the crowd.  Not much to say about it, it was vaguely interesting but not a mind blowing experience.  One interesting thing is that for some odd reason the Miao women show their love for you by pinching your butt.  The women formed a gauntlet leading out of the building so that everyone (including yours truly) from the audience got a good tushy squeeze. This is China, right?

From there we headed up the mountain and truly it was not what I was expecting.  There are literally rice terraces everywhere.  All up and down the surrounding mountains.  I mean these guys are industrious.  A lot of the terraces went unused and some seemed nearly inaccessible.  Being an engineer I found myself questioning the point of putting in all that hard work to create a terrace half-way up a mountain that is probably never going to be used.  Regardless, it definitely had a breath-taking effect on me.  Unfortunately pictures just don’t do the landscape justice.  I think it’s one of those things you really need to go and see for yourself to truly appreciate the magnitude and beauty of the place.  But until you manage to make it there (and you definitely should) hopefully these pictures will give you an idea of what it’s like.

After the previous day of biking and climbing my legs were none too pleased with ascending another mountain (don’t worry, it got worse the next day) but I forced myself to climb to the top alongside all the other tourists.  My body ached and protested and muttered some unprintables at me.  Completely ignoring it, I made it to the top and was paid off with some great views of the surrounding area despite the overcast day.