Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review for "The Old Man and the Wasteland" by Nick Cole

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  • Paperback: 148 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1461076382
  • ISBN-13: 978-1461076384
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (937 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,003,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

"Forty years after the destruction of civilization... Man is reduced to salvaging the ruins of a broken world. One man’s most prized possession is Hemingway’s Classic ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ With the words of the novel echoing across the wasteland, a survivor of the Nuclear Holocaust journeys into the unknown to break a curse. What follows is an incredible tale of survival and endurance. One man must survive the desert wilderness and mankind gone savage to discover the truth of Hemingway’s classic tale of man versus nature. Part Hemingway, part Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a suspenseful odyssey into the dark heart of the Post-Apocalyptic American southwest. A book lover’s action flick."

With my reading history, this book kept popping up in my suggested reading. It soon became one of my most anticipated reads....but not because of what you think.  Eventually I bought it. And waited. And waited. And waited. And a month later, I emailed the seller only to find that they never shipped it. So, I ordered again. It showed up a few days later. At that point, I was foaming at the mouth to read it.

As luck would have it, I had some 2nd shift radiography work, which meant a lot of slow time. I read this book over the course of two evenings. 

So, as it has been mentioned above, this work borrows heavily from Cormac McCarthey's The Road, which I reviewed and you can read about it here. Suffice to say, The Road is one of my all-time favorites, though it is an extremely depressing work. However, The Road is the most realistic expectation for the end of the world that I have found. Not only does the realism surround people's behavior, but the expected effects on the environment of some sort of large scale NBC attack.

The book was very interesting, straightforward, and easy to read. I certainly enjoyed it. However, there is nothing unique about it, other than it is fairly well written for content, though the plot is not deep. Obviously it is more of a short story, as 

The Old Man and the Wasteland follows the same road, but not to such an extent.It is a PG-13 edition of The Road.  Instead of 9 or ten years after the extinction event, the Old Man takes place 40+ years in the future after the event.  The environment is harsh, but not as harsh as The Road. In The Road, flora and fauna are all but extinct. The Old Man takes place in the Arizona desert, but other than references to fallout in other cities, the natural environment is the real challenge. The people are harsh, but also not as harsh as The Road. Though The Old Man deals with some unsavory characters, some that are as wild as animals, you can't help notice that, unlike the Road, he comes from a settlement. And, The Old Man talks of OTHER settlements. The people in these settlements work together in harmony. In The Road, there are no settlements, and every single person they come into contact with, or make mention of, is a savage bent on survival by any means necessary, notably cannibalism. Rape and murder are a rampant theme in The Road, where these acts could happen at any time. There is never any fanfare or lead up to that. If the man and his child are ever found, it is taken as gospel that these things will happen.  Although this book makes mention of that, it doesn't seem to as likely a threat to the old man. In both of his contacts with outsiders, his immediate response to seeing and meeting people is one of cautious optimize instead of shear terror. In The Road, killing people before they ever see you is a likely measure for preservation. In The Old Man, killing is never really considered, and the Man does nearly anything to avoid it. 

Like The Road, the main plot driver isn't the main character, but a child. Though the man (in both stories) has self-preservation on his mind, his thoughts and actions are almost always on and for the child. In The Road, the man is protecting his son. In The Old Man, the Man's reason to exist is his granddaughter. Neither has any desire to live for themselves, and the thoughts of suicide are always prevalent, though the Old Man considers only the idea of suffering from injury, where as the Man from The Road considers it as a release from the harsh environs that they must endure. 

As I have stated many times, The Old Man mirrors The Road, but it is almost polarizing, as if done on purpose. 

The landscape on in The Road takes place on the east coast, in areas that would have been considered the temperate heartland of America. However, the effects on the environment have made it a desolate and cold place, devoid of any sustenance. Hunger is the main concern and water is not. Conversely, The Old Man takes place in the Arizona desert, where the land has always been harsh and hot. However, necessity has caused the Old Man to learn to live on the land, particularly on the lands natural inhabitants like snake. Going hungry is never really an issue, though water is constantly on the Old Man's mind. 

Both of the men in the stories carry revolvers. The man in The Road starts with 2 bullets which he refers to as one for him and one for the boy. Eventually he discharges one to save them, leaving him with just one for the remainder of the book. The Old Man starts the novel with 5 bullets, leaving one empty slot in his revolver. He refuses to use it on men. It may mean nothing, but to me, the number of shots each man has and how he chooses to use them shows parity between the two works. 

Both men find an oasis of sorts. In The Road, the man chooses to leave it entirely and permanently and make his way to the coast, though the sustenance he leaves behind is more than he ever has in the book. In The Old Man, the Old Man also chooses to leave, but to bring his people BACK to the place.

In both works, the men die of what we assume is sudden onset organ failure brought on by radiation-induced cancer within hours of accomplishing their goals and we are left with the child becoming the focus of the work, though they were not the main character. 

The man in The Road has an inner monologue that is extremely negative and hopeless. Paired with the gloomy and dark landscape, the read is very depressing and bleak. He expects the worst from ever situation and the situation is always cold and dark.  The Old Man, despite being in his 60s, usually has a bright outlook, considering his situation. Similarly, nature around him is bright and warm, creating a very different feel. 

As with The Road, the how and why of the apocalypse really aren't given, which allows for a streamlined design with few questions or possibilities of plot holes. It does leave the reader with many questions on the past, specifically on WHY the Old Man has become an outcast (the reason is hinted at a Hot Radio) just as The Road has an event with the Man's wife leaving which leads us to assume that this is the reason for taking to The Road. 

I could think of more polarizing ideas, but you get the idea.

Overall, it was an easy read that kept me very focused, though the mental load is light. Although The Road leads readers to a lot of internal reflection and speculation, The Old Man is just a fun read. I have made the assumption that this was a short story that the writer hoped to wager into a full blown novel at some point. It left a lot of open ends on both sides.

Of course I was left with a lot of questions on just how much realism was in this work. My main question was this:  Why was the man so unwilling to kill others when he almost always knew what the outcome would be? Even in situations where he had ample opportunity to end it, he didn't and instead forced himself into even more grave danger. Surely, he would have dealt with these situations in his 40 years in the wasteland.

Anyway, a fun and easy read. 

I give it 3.5 Stars. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Army Cargo Club Tournament on Wilson Lake 3-21-15

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Tournament time on Wilson, you say? Well....alllrriiigghhhttt. 

The oft overlooked lake has been good to me. No, I'm not saying I am GOOD on it, just that I have been successful. Or lucky. Or both. Go read about it. 

As I said last week, most people only fish this lake because they want to keep up in their Angler of the Year points. Few actually put in efforts to learn the lake. Not I. I love this lake. It changes from day to day and forces you to be ultra resilient and versatile. At least, that's my story. Or, you could always go to the dam and throw swimbaits and A-rig. Ok, so you don't ALWAYS have to be resilient and versatile. But, I prefer to be. 

Ok, so if you read my blog post from last Monday, we may recall that we caught around 13 pounds of fish while prefishing for this tournament. I didn't give a lot of details and I didn't take any video. The former is because we figured out some things that were a little unique. The later was simply because the day was tough and I didn't feel like the 10 fish we caught (full disclosure, Brad caught most) were worth videoing. 

Now, if you look at my Fish of 2015 page, you would have known what we were planning on throwing all day.  Sure, I only boated 2 bass on Monday, but that was kinda by design. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. Anyway, the two baits were listed there. If you are lazy, click these links.

Brad has had some great luck over the last year on Wilson on the A-rig. I hate throwing it. Other than this one time that Josh and I caught fish during the NATA Open, I've never had much luck. Also, my surgically repaired shoulder hates me for 2 weeks after throwing it, so there is that. He knew it would work, the question was WHERE it would work, and just what A-rig setup would be "the one." Don't worry, I'm not going to give away his secret, because it isn't my secret to give away. Sure enough, the A-rig worked that day, though we had discovered that the fish were NOT on main river bluffs, as he had hoped, but instead were on main creek channels adjacent to secondary points, which featured standing grass. We would catch males on the grass line. One after the other. And, while they were good fish, they weren't tournament winning fish. So, we pushed the boat out to the next contour line and looked with his Lowerance units. Sure enough, we would find groups of 3s and 4s sitting on the 20 foot contour line. While Brad plugged away with the Rig, I used a mixture of baits from PowerTeam Lures jigs to Spro Lil John DDs. 

After we caught 2 nice females in the deep water on the Rig, we knew we had a plan, so we left them. And, as I said, I caught 1 tiny fish combined on all the OTHER baits I threw and 1 fish on the A-rig. Meanwhile, Brad caught 8 or so. 

If I knew anything, which I probably don't, I would say that the males had pushed up and the females were staged. 

That's where things got tricky. With colder air and at least 2 days of rain in the forecast, we had to make a few choices. We made the assumption that the colder weather and rain would push the fish back out onto the main river ledges, despite having caught all of our fish in creek channels. 

We were half right, I guess. Well, let me take that back. The weathermen were half right. The rain really never developed, though the temperature drop significantly. So, we weren't REALLY sold on the idea of leaving the fish we found Monday.....yet. 

The real decision came when we pulled into Lock 6 and saw that the parking lot was COMPLETELY covered with boats. Honestly, I have never seen more than 20 trailers in the entire lot. And, it was completely covered. Considering that we had seen more boats in Shoals Creek on Monday than anywhere else, our minds were made up. We assumed (correctly) that most people would either go to the dam or to Shoals creek. Come blast off time, we hit bluffs and everyone went up river to the dam or into Shoals creek. 

Though I was sold on the idea of throwing the A-rig and doing so all day, I knew that the A-rig was a selective bite type bait. Half the battle is having a limit, and I wanted a limit. So, while Brad threw the A-rig, I threw the OTHER bait that I knew would produce. I tossed the Luhr-Jensen Speed trap. 

I had a solid hit on my first cast, but the fish pulled off. The same thing happened several times on Monday. I questioned whether I had new hooks (which I did) or maybe they didn't really like the color. But, I tossed back in to the same spot and a measuring fish pounded it. Got him in the livewell and made another cast. Another fish smacked it, but held on. 2 keepers within 2 minutes. Within minutes of that, I popped another fish, but it was a 15 inch smallie, which had to go back in the drink. Brad managed to catch a nice stripper on the A-rig.

We finished covering that stretch of bluffs, which has been very productive for Brad. We had 2 keepers in the tank and several short fish on a single 100 yard section of bluff. And, it happened so fast that I didn't even have the camera turned on to catch all of it. It wouldn't have mattered, as it was too dark anyway. 

But, hey, it was a great start, even if the fish were small. 

On a second pass, the fish weren't as forthcoming, so we decided to hit some other main river bluffs were Brad has had luck. 

The 2nd and 3rd bluff yielded nothing, though I admit that we were fishing dirty water behind multiple boats. 

So, we started talking. If the bluff bite was on, but only in areas that most people would avoid, there was only 1 other bluff we had fished that had yielded fish. I had caught a nice 3 pounder on Monday on a Speed Trap in this pocket. So, we motored down and fished it. Sure enough, we caught a couple of fish, but they were really spread out and didn't have much size to them. The bluff came to the a small cove and it looked interesting, so we decided to fish it. I went to throwing a Spro Lil John DD on the main point and quickly picked up 2 fish, one of which was a good cull. As we entered the pocket, I threw the Speed Trap up shallow for another fish, but it was a few casts later where Brad changed the game. 

Throwing into mere inches of water, a fish freight-trained the A-rig. It stayed low in the water and it wasn't until it was 10 feet from the boat that we saw it. It was a massive brown fish. A 5+ smallie. And, it slid right in the net. Suddenly that small 8 or 9 pound sack had jumped to a respectable 12. 

Now, this area wasn't something that we had expected to produce. Instead of being a stretch of bluffs, it was a small pocket bracketed by bluffs and featured a pea gravel shoreline. 

So, we fished the whole cover, all the way to the other point, which is when Brad gave us another game changer. After sticking the A-rig to a rock, he jigged it free, where a waiting 4 pound largemouth was waiting. The fish engulfed the A-rig and within a few cranks, Brad had culled us up another 2 pounds to around 14. 

We were starting to feel really good about ourselves, especially since it was 9:35. But, we weren't out of the woods yet, and we knew it. Even though we had a limit and a kicker, we had at least 2 fish in the livewell that were small. I ventured a guess that a 3 fish sack from the dam could probably beat us. So, there wasn't time for back slapping. It was time to grind. 

So, we ground that spot for another 4 passes. We fished shallow again with limited results. It wasn't that we weren't catching fish, just the wrong ones. On one of the passes, we marked some nice arches that we surmised where females. So, we pushed out again and I went back to work with the Little John DD. That paid off, yet again with a 3 pounder. It wasn't a massive upgrade, but it was another pound and allowed us to get rid of one of the squeakers in the livewell. I guessed we were up to 14.5 pounds. 

At some point, I was fishing the speed trap when I snagged something. It felt it move and swim, but dang if it didn't feel like a ROCK. I was right on both accounts as I had caught a turtle. Luckily, I was easy to remove the hook and the dude went on his way and I managed not to lose any fingers in the process. That didn't make the final cut of the video, but I will upload it later. 

After grinding that spot for 3 or 4 rounds, we decided that either A) we had caught all the fish or B) we needed to let them rest. 

We decided to ride back into Shoals creek and see if it would produce for us, as it had on Monday. We had to wait in line (first time for everything) to fish where we wanted to fish. Indeed, Brad caught 2 fish in about 3 minutes while he was on the phone with our friend Taylor. It is funny to watch it in the video, because Brad never checks up. Granted, both fish were small. 

After running that spot, we decided that it wasn't going to be any help. We got to thinking, could we find areas similar to the one that had produced for us? That is, bluff walls book ending a shallow cove with pea gravel? Sure enough, we found 2 of them right next to each other. The first one was a bust, but the second produced a couple of fish on the A-rig, which didn't help us...but one fish off the speed trap that DID. It wasn't much, but it was a solid half pound cull. We had now gotten rid of all the small fish. Minutes later, I had a fish absolutely CRUSH the speed trap as I bounced it off some log jams. But, it ran right at the boat and pulled off. It could be the combination of a smart small mouth and dull hooks. It was the biggest fish I had felt all day. For all I know, it was the one we needed. But, what you gonna do? Straighten your cap and make another throw. That's what you do. 

With 1 hour until weigh in, I decided that I would put the speed trap down and go big. After all, the 3 largest fish we had came off the A-rig that Brad had been throwing. I hadn't throw the A-rig all day, instead throwing a mixture of the Spro and Speed Trap. The speed trap had produced all the numbers for us, pacing the day with around 15 catches. The Spro Little John had another 3, but all those catches had come off of main river contour breaks, which we would not be fishing. So, I picked up the A-rig. 

Not to spoil it, but I didn't catch anything on it. Brad did catch another smallie, which was slightly heavier than our smallest largemouth at 2 pounds even. I had guessed we had right at 16 pounds. Again, the issue wasn't that I didn't think it was enough, but that someone had caught 2 monsters to our 1. You can sure make up a lot of ground with 2 5+ pound fish. We spent that last hour looking for it, but to no avail. 

So, it was off to weigh in. May of the boats had weighed in already, and I spent much of my time talking to some of my friends whom I know from the fishing community who also fish this club. From what I gathered, everyone caught at least a few fish, but quality fish were hard to come by,The first bag I saw weighed in was over 18. The second was 15 and change. At that point, I just shrugged and figured EVERYONE caught them good. The last bag I saw weighed was Taylor's and it was also over 18 pounds. Ours went 15.97 and I figured we were just out of the money. That really didn't bother me. I don't like losing, but we caught a lot of fish and it was a pleasurable day. There wasn't much to complain about. 

And, I was honestly surprised when we made 3rd place. The weights were 18.39, 18.22 and then our 16 pounds. After that, there was a 15 pound bag, 2 13 pound bags and then nothing. That being said, I was really surprised that there were multiple large fish caught. There were at least 8 fish over 5 caught and the big fish was over 6! 

So, we won a little cash, which is better than no cash. I only lost 1 crankbait, which is always a win in my book. It was easily the best day I have had this year. Even if we didn't win, I would be smiling ear to ear. Wilson continues to produce for me, even when I don't fish the things I typically fish. 

My crankbaits, on the other hand, did take a beating.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fishing Report for Wilson Lake 3/16/15

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Not having a boat is tough. Let me rephrase: not having a boat after having a boat is tough. You never know how nice it is to be able to fish on your own terms until you don't have the ability. Luckily, I have lots of friends who I can fish with. This Saturday, one of the clubs I fish in is having a tournament in Wilson lake. To most people, Wilson is kinda like a fly-over state. It is located between Guntersville and Pickwick (with Wheeler in between, but Wheeler is still sorta relevant). Though I think highly of Wilson, and so do many other, most clubs put it on the schedule just to add some variety. As a result, most people fish it just to "check the box" on their way to Angler of the Year aspirations. 

Having family land on Wilson, I have fished it fairly often. Not nearly as much as Guntersville and Wheeler, but usually 5 times a year. As a result,  I have had some stellar trips, including many tournament wins. I know some good areas. 

My thoughts on Wilson? Well, without  going into a 10-page diatribe, I will sum it up as easily as possible. Wilson is a very short lake. Aside from a slight bend at mid-lake, you would be able to see from dam to dam.  There aren't a lot of creeks in it, though there are a good many cuts and draws. Along the main lake is almost entirely bluff wall. The creek channels, cuts, and draws, stay fairly deep, all the way to the banks, where it shallows up quickly. Flats are fairly far and few in between. As a result, Wilson fishes small.  To fish Wilson, and be consistent, you need to be a versatile fisherman. Wilson, for the most part, is a fairly deep lake, and as a result, the fish are constantly moving in transition, especially this time of year. You can always fish the dam, but that's a very popular spot this time of year. If you don't want to go that route, you are left to find fish with your electronics. Granted, I see a lot of people fishing shallow. I guess there are always fish shallow, but, again, consistency is the key. 

Let me put out a disclaimer that I am not going to give a lot That's for two-fold reasons. First, my partner asked me not to. Secondly, we sorta kinda figured out some stuff, and since I know several of my competitors read this blog, I don't want to tip them off. Yes, I am aware this is a bit of a departure for me. And, if this was any other lake, I probably wouldn't hesitate to give everyone the low down. Alas, this is a fly-over lake that no one takes the time to learn. And, I have taken the time and put in work on it. So, forgive me if I am a little hesitant to throw out my little nuggets. Come next Monday, I will let you all in. 

Next disclaimer: That doesn't mean that I found the motherlode. We didn't. We went looking for a pattern and some locations. I have several key areas that have always held fish. The issue with them, and Wilson itself, is that the ability for the fish to transition from 25 feet to 2 feet from day to day means that bait selection is THE KEY on this lake. You can flip for the same fish today that you caught on a deep diving crankbait the day before. And, I mean the EXACT SAME FISH. We found a pattern. The so much. Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on myself. Every single one of the spots I knew held fish...still held fish. 

Ok, so the water temp was in the mid-50s. I expect it to warm up significantly with the sunshine and rain over the next few days. Don't be surprised by 60 degree temps by Saturday. 

So, we started off fishing main river bluffs, as Brad had seen some lucky before.  While he led with crank baits and other power baits, I followed him up with a PowerTeam Lures Bull head jig in Susky Slayer backed by a Craw D'oeurve in Delta Destroyer. With the water cold and muddy, I wanted the fish to bite, and hold on. So, I doused the trailer in Hog Tonic. 

Within the first 5 casts, I watched my line zip to the side. There is no telling just how long the fish had been swimming with the jig. I checked for weight on the end, then slammed the rod back. The fight lasted about 2 seconds before the fish spit it out. I guess that was a wakeup call. Jig fishing is sorta new to me, and I admit that the finer aspects of jig fishing are sometimes lost on me. Notably, that you have to watch the line just as much as you feel it. If it weren't for the Hog Tonic making the fish hold on as long as it did, I might never had even known I had a hit. 

Without another hit on the jig, I picked up a square bill and tossed it around. Over the next hour, I had multiple fish slap at the square bill without hooking up. I was considering a color change until one actually hit it with some gusto. It wasn't terribly big, but it was something. In the meantime, Brad had landed 2 largemouth and a smallmouth off the main river bluffs. But, we had to run a lot of bluffs to get those few bites. 

I guess you could call that a pattern, of sorts. But 5 fish in 3 hours while hitting every bluff in sight wasn't exactly what we wanted to nail down as a game plan. 

We decided to move off the main lake and into some of the major creeks. Though we had seen few boats on the main lake, Shoals Creek was covered up with boats. We decided that we didn't want to spend too much time there, though we did catch a few 2-2.5 pounders on main creek channels adjacent to shallows. 

Moving up the lake, nearly to the dam, we found some other main creek channels that produced fish. Again, I don't want to give information away just yet, but it was the bait that did the damage, not the areas.

Brad was able to catch several quality fish, including this nice 4 pounder. 

Meanwhile, I decided to try something that I hadn't tried in a LONG time. I picked up the Bama rig. I bet it's been 2 or 3 years since I caught a fish on it. I finally had a quality bite that I thought was THE ONE. I fought it and fought it until it rolled on me. Then, I knew. I admit that it was a gorgeous blue cat. But, blue cats weren't what we were after. Brad suggested that I hold onto it and sell it. 

While Brad wracked up on one specific bait, I struggled while throwing a plethora of other baits that had produced. When I was satisfied that his bait was THE bait, I decided to start throwing it. I was finally awarded with a fish after struggling for nearly 5 hours from bite to bite. By the end of the day, we had caught a scant 10 fish, but the best 5 would have been 13 pounds. That's not going to be enough to win, but we weren't interested in killing them today. We wanted a gameplan. What's that gameplan? Well, I'm not ready to say. What I will say is this: I fully expect half the field to run to Wheeler dam to fish for smallies. Is that a good plan? Yep. Absolutely. We know that several quality fish were caught there yesterday. There are always quality fish there, including some magnum smallies, which is what you need to win a tournament. However, the dam, from my experience, fishes EXTREMELY small. Though this tournament won't be very big, the dam bite can't accommodate 10 boats, which is what I expect to be there. In full disclosure, there is 1 good rock pile at the dam that consistently holds a winning bag of fish. It's up to the boat that makes it there first, and who decides to grind it out, who will win. To do that, they must also deal with the elements, namely the insane amount of current that will be generated. There were 5 flood gates open yesterday and there is a lot of rain in the forecast. By Saturday, there may be even more gates open. For all I know, there may be so much current that it will be unfishable. I have seen it that way before. 

I expect 1 boat to have 18 pounds of fish from the dam, come Saturday. Ultimately, that will be the winning bag. That being said, there is a good chance that the dam may not be fishable, or that 10 boats will be sharing the winning bag, or that the fish don't bite at all. 

Which is why we will not be doing that. My plan is to cover water in the major creeks. We have a pretty specific plan, which I will talk about next week....if we win...or lose. One of those will happen, right?  Either it will be educational or humorous. 

My greatest fear is that the nice weather of the next few days in combination with the rain is going to push the fish back out of their current positions. It is likely to happen, so we will have to be versatile and we will definitely have to rely on our electronics. 

Ok, so who is ready for story time? Cause I got one to tell!

It was late in the afternoon and we were really dialing in our pattern, such as it was. We had moved to a new spot and were implementing "the plan." Brad caught the nice fish you see listed above. It was a nice 4 pounder and we were beginning to understand what was going on. We were going to pick up and move to another similar spot and try it again when we saw a guy waving at us. He yelled that his motor was out and wanted to know if we would help.

Of course we would help. What did he need?  He needed a tow. Well, Brad and I looked at each other. We knew he saw us catch a nice fish. I would think that a fisherman would be considerate when asking for a tow and say "hey, take your time." But this guy was in a hurry. So, we stowed our stuff and motored over to him.

How far did he need to go? He named some place, but neither of us knew where it was. So, he said "It's about half a mile."

No big deal.

At the 2 mile mark, Brad turned around and asked how much further. The guy said "around the next point." We didn't immediately see another point, so we kept going.

At the 4 mile mark, Brad stopped the boat and said "ok dude. You said half a mile. It's been over 4. Where are we going?" The guy pointed to the next point down, another solid mile. He said "you see that big boat dock with the white top?" Well, barely. It was a long way away. But, we had already gone this far.

We made it to the spot he had said. As I was unhooking the line from Brad's boat, the guy said "It's actually in the back of the pocket. Can you take me back there?"

Well, we already had a bad vibe from the guy. And, we had already wasted over an hour of our time and a lot of gas. So, I asked if his trolling motor worked. He said, "Yeah. Why?" I told him, "good. Cause you are going to need it from here."

We went on to tell him that we didn't want his money. We were happy to help, but the dishonesty was very aggravating. We would have towed him regardless, but knowing what we were into would have been helpful.

I don't like thinking the worst of people, but either this guy was extremely inconsiderate, or he was going to try to rob us. In fact, one of the sketchiest parts of the whole deal was that as we neared his destination, he got a paddle out of the locker, despite the fact that he had a working trolling motor. Additionally, he says he was a local. And, he had a phone...which he talked on several times. Why couldn't he call a friend?

Moral of the story is this: don't base your charity on the amount of effort it is going to take you, but know and understand the expectations up front. The Bible teaches us not to question our charity, but simply to give it. It tells us to walk 2 miles when asked to walk 1. It wasn't my place to question why he was on the other end of the lake with motor problems. Or why he couldn't call for help. Or why he couldn't have us tow him to the nearest marina. We are instructed to give help without question. Neither of us wanted his money. We would have helped regardless, even though it was inconvenient. But, it would have been better knowing what we were in for.

Also, always be aware of your situation. "Just a little bit further" is one of the oldest con games out there, and it can get you into serious trouble. We were aware that this guy was sketchy from the beginning. Most everyone, myself and Brad included, would ask for help working on the motor before asking for a tow. And, we would have considered other options, like towing us to the nearest marina...which there was one nearby. Could he just have been an inconsiderate person on hard times? Sure. Most likely, that was the case. But he could have been some guy who saw two young greenhorns that he could take advantage of.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Best5Zach's Best 5 Offensive Questions Heading Into Spring

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Spring practice is HERE and I am DYING to read, write, and talk Auburn football. 

That being said, I am going to try and avoid repeating the same stuff you have undoubtedly read from our beat reporters. Those guys get paid to give you their opinions, and those opinions are already all over the web. If I say the same thing, why would you want to come on the blog and read what I have to say?  I want you coming here to read a differing opinion. 

Ok ok ok. So a lot of it WILL be similar. After all, it's easy to see some of the glaring holes and huge story lines. It's easy to get SUPER HOPPED UP ON JEREMY JOHNSON. 

K. Well, I'm getting ahead of myself....

Let's talk offense, and before I get started...let's cherry pick what you have already read about. Try and read past a lot of the sarcasm in some of these bullets. 

CAP (SEC-leading rusher) is gone. Auburn will have to decide between Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson. 

Coates is gone. Duke returned. Whoop. Whoop.

Jeremy Johnson is a better QB than Marshall. 

Golson is going to slide over to center and replace Rimington Award winner, Reese Dismukes. 

I have to admit, the flavor I get from all of the articles I have read is that Auburn is upgrading errrwhere and that the offense will be bigger and better than ever. 

But Auburn losses almost all of its offensive production and *perhaps* the most valuable interior lineman in the modern era. It also losses guys like Uzomah and Fulse, who provided stability at their position for 4 years. Toss in a bonus early departure in Pat Miller and you have an offense that losses more men than it returns. 

Let's talk it out. 

The Jeremy Johnson Era

Am I excited about JJ taking over? Absolutely. But, in a different sense than most Auburn fans. College fans have this annoying habit of dismissing players who don't go out on top in favor of "the next man up." In this case, Nick Marshall exits Auburn as *perhaps* the greatest clutch player in Auburn history. Sound like heresy to you Cam fans? Sorrynotsorry. Cam is certainly the most dominate player to play at Auburn, and in the SEC, for that matter. But Cam didn't face the week to week struggle of winning games *despite* his defense....for two years. For all intents and purposes, Marshall was virtually UNSTOPPABLE. Yet, he didn't finish on top, so fans are eager to move on. Years from now, he will be forgotten as his stats slide down the ledger and we will forget the stats that matter. Things like how Auburn lost 3 games this year despite scoring 30 or more points. Of the 7 games he lost in his career, he was held under 20 points JUST ONCE. 

No. I am NOT excited because Johnson is a better QB than Marshall. 

I am excited because the QB that takes snaps on opening day won't be a total mystery. In 1994, I had pretty high hopes for Auburn, despite losing Stan White. Why? Not because I thought that Pat Nix was BETTER. But because, in the limited action I had seen (as a 12 year old, mind you), he wasn't worse. I was reasonably certain that Auburn wouldn't face "breaking in a new QB." Teams are extremely vulnerable, regardless of the rest of the pieces around them, when breaking in a new QB. Let's keep in mind that Auburn opens up against an EXTREMELY formidably Louisville team who has had a game wreaking defense predicated on turnovers. While they allow points, they are a top 10 fantasy team because of the amount of sacks, fumbles, and INTs they produce. Other than Houston, I can't think of another team that did it better in 2014. If Johnson hadn't benefited from playing time early in his career, I might actually be a Louisville lean, as it is a neutral site. But, Johnson has a handful of starts under his belt. His start against Arkansas in 2014 was nearly flawless. 

Now, let me clear up some things. Jeremy Johnson is a polished passer who can make every single throw, and do it with a cannon of an arm. Is he better than Marshall, as a passer? Yes. I think so, but not by as wide a margin as I read about. First off, regarding arm strength, we tend to dismiss Marshall's arm strength. This is the guy who had all Auburn fans salivating when his highlight reel showed him throwing a 70 yarder....on the run.  I think back to many throws he made, like one in the SEC Championship game where he threw a rope on a dead sprint to a tiny window in the endzone. I am not belittling Johnson. I am setting expectations. And, let's be real...we all really want JJ to be a success for reasons other than winning

Everything I read outright states that Auburn's offense with Johnson will be a pass-happy offense that will be much more efficient than the previous mode. I see Marshall's completion percentage put into question, but the truth is, Coates was targeted more than any other receiver by a wide margin in 2014, but he caught 40-something percent of those passes. Though he was rough in 2013, Marshall was as sharp and crisp as any other QB in the country, yet he had a receiver core that had struggles with dropsies, Coates most of all, who put that on display at the NFL combine, proved many of my observations about him. He needed another year in college

To sum up, again, Johnson is a different animal, not necessarily better or worse. Just different. To me, the arm strength comparison is a push. The accuracy is a slight edge to Johnson, though we have not seen him under real pressure. Escapebility and the ability to create yards has to go in Marshall's favor. Is there a reason for hype? Sure. Auburn won't take a big step back on opening day, and that is worth getting excited about. Will Auburn have an even better offense BECAUSE of JJ? Well, no. That depends on the parts around him, which is a lead into....

The Development of Receivers OUTSIDE of Duke

This time last year, I was preaching about how Auburn MUST develop other receivers outside of Coates, specifically a slot receiver. Duke came exactly as advertised, but Auburn really rolled when Bray was involved. Bray turned in his best year in 2014 with 40 something chain-moving catches. Louis continued his status-quo with another inconsistent year. I learned my lesson with Trovon Reed. You can get better in a lot of areas in college. You can get faster. You can get stronger. You can run routes better. But, if you can't can't catch. And, Louis can't catch. He is a fine speed-sweep guy. If he can get better blocking the perimeter, he can really contribute. But he will not be what Bray was. 

To that extent, Auburn must bring on the veterans who have seen so little playing time. Ray, Davis, and Stevens have all shown flashes any time they have been targeted. One might think that their limited use in the passing game may come down to their play away from the ball, but they are almost always in the game in running situations. So, I simply don't understand why they haven't been used more. It makes you wonder if they just aren't that good. These guys are good targets, but i haven't seen any game-breaking skills after the catch. What I have seen leads me to believe that they are at least AVERAGE. But, average doesn't win national titles. Auburn needs elite playmakers with the ball in their hands.  If these guys aren't it, who is? 

During the National Signing Day week, I wrote about Auburn's need for another game-breaking WR. Truitt has been billed as a shifty speedster who can take it all the way after the catch. But, we didn't see him do it last year after spending all year on the bench with injuries. Auburn signed two guys who both have the ability to fill in for Bray's absence and even provide an upgrade.  

Kerryon Johnson may be the next McFadden or Bush. Ok. So, I don't REALLY believe that. That isn't a slight on KJ, honest. I REALLY think he is a great player. And, I REALLY think it is amazing that Auburn retained him, despite the late push from every other school.  No, I believe that because I don't think Auburn is that lucky. Or maybe it's the step-child syndrome kicking in. Maybe it's my evaluation of his talent. So, though I don't think he is as great as those 2 guys, I do think that he is as flexible and electric as Auburn has seen. And, since he won't be the focus of the offense, it gives him the ability to really shine when he does get the ball.

The other option is Slayton, who really jumped out to me on film. I won't say much about him, but if you want my thoughts on him, go read them here. Suffice it to say that I am really excited about this receiver and what he can do. 

So, long story short, Auburn has Duke, which is AWESOME in and of itself. But, if the offense is going to evolve into a big time passing unit as everyone expects, the rest of the receivers need to come along...and soon. 

Who is Next at Tight End
Honest question here. I don't know. Now, I admit that I was puzzled this year with the limited use of the tight end, so many may say "who cares?" Uzomah is probably puzzled as well, as a good year in 2014 would have translated into a solid NFL pick. However, it wasn't in the cards and he saw fewer targets than many had figured. He was snubbed at the NFL combine, but showed out at his pro day. Auburn also losses fellow senior tight end, Fulse, who was more of an in-line blocker. Ricky Parks, a consensus top TE prospect, was kicked off the team TWICE. Who will fill in? Regardless of if the need is for a pass catcher OR for a blocker, Auburn lost a TON of talent AND experience....and no one is talking about that. I kinda want to see Braden Smith continue to line up out there. I don't know if he can catch, but I know he can block. The kid is an athletic monster who reminds me of JJ Watt. 

Next at Center
To me, this is the biggest question of the spring. This is the guy who makes all the coverage calls. Who handles the ball on every single play. Auburn is losing perhaps the best one it has ever had, and certainly the best in the country in 2014. Everyone loves talking skill positions, but this is the position where we lose the most talent and experience, bar none. How do you replace a 4 year starter who was the best at his position in the entire country? More importantly, how does this happen and no one talk about it? We all want to talk about who will get carries out of the backfield, but no one wants to talk about how or if the ball will get there.

The speculation is that Golson will take over center duties after sitting out a transfer year. The highly touted kid from Ole Miss is a terrific lineman who turned heads at Ole Miss before he left. He was one of the top prospects in the country coming out of high school. But can he play center in the SEC? I read things like "sliding over to center" like it's no big deal. It is. Which is why I stated that center was an understated need for Auburn at signing day. Auburn did land Kim, who was one of the top centers in the country. But, the last kid to start as a true freshman is the guy he is replacing. And, the chances of Kim being as good as Dismukes are.....slim. 

Auburn has Dampeer, who backed up Dismukes. That's about all we have heard about him. 

So, it's down to Dampeer and Golson. One of them will be making their first starts against a very good foe in 6 months. Sure hope we get the right one! I wouldn't be surprised if this battles goes into the fall. 

Will Auburn Copy Bama's RB System

Ok, so bear with me. This may be a stretch. 

Most of the conversation about Auburn's backfield has centered on who is taking hand-offs  between Barber/Thomas/Robinson. Or, if Thomas is going to take over the 2 back duties that Grant leaves open. However, I look at their skill sets and I wonder if we are thinking about this all wrong. We shouldn't be thinking in terms of hand-offs, but in total touches. We shouldn't be thinking about  forcing players into a mold, but how to better use them. 

Since Saban arrived at that stinky city on the river, Alabama has used a 2 (or sometimes 3) back system. Coffee and Ingram. Ingram and Richardson. Etc etc. To me, it has gotten better each and every year, culminating in 2014 with an absolutely electric backfield that took a backseat in Kiffin's pass happy offense. Despite not being as featured, Bama's system works, and works well. Auburn, under Malzahn, has used a differing approach. Though it also uses 2 backs, the backs are used very differently. Instead of lining up behind the QB, Auburn lines the 2md RB up all over the field, using pure speed.  It appears to me that while Bama's approach has gotten more efficient, Auburn's 2-back- attack was stifled outside of CAP. The speed sweep was not a factor in 2014. And, Grant wasn't featured in the passing game. Yet, Auburn used the same look all year without success. I imagine we might see more of the same in 2015, yet the current cast isn't set up nearly as well as the previous. 

What makes Bama's attack so efficient has been the use of backs in the passing game, a thing that has been all but forgotten by Malzahn. Whether it's hand-offs, screens, or short passes, Henry, Yeldon and Drake have been absolutely deadly with the ball in different ways despite lining up in the same position. I got to thinking about it. The more efficient use of Auburn's 3 backs isn't by putting them in different positions using them for only 1 use, but by using them in different ways from 1 position. Much like Drake, Thomas has shown promise with the ball in space after the catch. Robinson is a bruiser. Barber is somewhere in the middle. So, none of these guys can really be an every down back, yet, none really fit the mold of the backs Malzahn has used. 

The easiest solution would be to adopt the system that Bama has used. Line them all up in the same position and use them different ways. Auburn's offense has been labeled as using window dressing by moving players all over to confuse defense. But, sometimes the best camouflage is to use the exact same look to do differing things. Bama did this to near perfection for nearly a decade now. 

So, most fans are discussing which big time back will get all the hand offs and who will line up in Grant's place. But, I am willing to bet that we will see a departure from that in 2015. 

So, that's my best 5 questions for offense leading into spring. I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Product Review for Emerson Go Action Cam

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If you are reading this review, you know that I like to video nearly all of my outdoor adventures. Whether it's fishing, hunting, skiing, or just using it as a convenient way to capture family memories, these pocket cameras are the way to go.

Regardless of which you use, you need to read my writeup on the tricks and tips of using these cameras:

Tips and Advice for Videoing Your Fishing Trips

Of course, there is the issue of cost. The number 1 name of pocket cameras is GoPro. And, I have learned over time that you are usually best served to buy the top of the line model. If you buy a GoPro and all the hardware you need, you are looking at a $500 investment, which pushes a lot of people away. 

The best option I have found, price-wise, was the Emerson Go Action cam. Here is a direct link to the Emerson sales page on Amazon:

The first thing that will stand out to you is the price. At $52, it is drastically cheaper than a GoPro. It comes with most of the tools you need, just as the GoPro does. And, like the GoPro, the most notable item missing is the most useful and flexible one: The suction cup mount, shown below. Now, this is the GoPro name brand. There are much cheaper options. But, this one is hearty and well worth the money. I have two. Just make sure you keep a close eye on the hardware, as it gets loose and is easy to lose. 

Ok, so let's talk about the camera. First off, my uncle got this for me for Christmas, so let me thank him for that.

Here are the specs for the Go Action Cam, which only comes in 1 model:
  • 720P HD Video Allows You To Shoot High Resolution Videos For Your Extreme Sport Actives
  • Includes Waterproof Case, Camera Shield, Bike Mount, Helmet Mount, Helmet Band
  • 5.0 Megapixels Provides Crystal Clear Images With 4X Digital Zoom For Higher Focus
  • 1.77" Color LCD Display So You Can See What You Are Shooting
  • Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery, Micro SD Card Slot For Memory Expansion

Unlike GoPro, who only adds a digital viewing screen to their higher end models in the GoPro Hero 4, the Emerson has a color screen. This allows you to easily select your settings and set your viewing angle without guessing or having to review prior footage. 

Speaking of settings: the Emerson is much more intuitive with the menus and button selecting techniques. Where GoPro uses a series of 2 buttons to scroll and select, The Emerson has a "menu" button, an "up" and "down" button to scroll, and it uses the "capture" button on top of the camera for "select." It also highlights your selection to let you know exactly what you are selecting. In my experience, this is preferable, as you can unknowingly change settings or delete files from a GoPro without ever knowing what you selected. 

The camera comes with a maximum 720p video resolution, which is the lowest resolution you can use on a GoPro. The GoPro has up to a 1080p resolution. To be honest, I use the different resolution options on the GoPro to widen or shorten the viewing area only. I don't see much of a functional difference in the video resolution in terms of quality. I do see drastic differences in file size and battery life, however. The Emerson only has a few other choices.

Like the different models of the GoPro, there are only a few framerate choices and each are dependent on the resolution. For example, there are no frame rate choices under the 720p. Under the 480 resolution, you can select 30 or 15 frames per second. Honestly, I wouldn't bother using anything OTHER than the 720p resolution. The rest are too low to bother with. At least on the GoPro, you have some flexibility to dictate file size and battery conservation and still have useful settings. 

The Emerson has a 5MP resolution camera for still shots, as compared to the 12MP resolution for GoPro. That's a fair disparity, though I never use the still shot capability, anyway. 

The Emerson uses an internal battery, as opposed to a removable battery in the GoPro cameras. I don't like that, because you will have forced downtime to recharge. With a GoPro and a set of batteries, or a hard-wire kit such as the Cam-Do HardWire setup, you can shoot all day. So, personally, I don't care for that. That being said, the battery holds charge EXTREMELY well between uses. I charged it after Christmas and it still had enough charge to shoot a vacation 2 months later. 

I have not tested the waterproof case for the Emerson, but I will say that it doesn't look as sturdy or hardy as the GoPro waterproof case. Additionally, you cannot get a "skeleton" case, which allows you to protect the camera in a case while getting sound. That's a big bummer to me. Additionally, the side of the Emerson, which is used to access the memory card and micro-USB connection, doesn't have a waterproofing panel like the GoPro uses, though most GoPro users lose it. 

The Emerson does have a digital zoom. It is very functional for really zooming in on something close. It is not useful at zooming something outside of a 10 yard range. The picture quality degrades drastically with use of a longer shot. In my use, it is perfect to pull the view in close onto a fisherman on the deck of a boat from the mounting point on the console or the engine cowling. It would be useless for zooming in on action further than the front of the boat

I haven't done much dropping or battering of the Emerson, but I have with the GoPro. Judging by the reviews I have seen and the fact that 1 of the 2 cameras my uncle bought were DOA, I don't imagine the Emerson will stand up to beatings like the GoPro. 

The Emerson doesn't handle motion nearly as well as the GoPro. I don't know if it's an internal stabilizing software or a hardware issue, but the Emerson is jumpy while the GoPro produces smooth video under dynamic conditions. If you plan on set shots, then it won't matter. If you plan on mounting on a bike or car....good luck.

The Emerson doesn't use wifi as the GoPro. While the wifi drains battery on a GoPro, it is an invaluable tool. 


The Emerson is inferior in most every way to a GoPro. However, it is a designed condition, which keeps the cost down per unit. The camera is very functional and is a great buy for those on a budget, or who may want a sacrificial camera. I do acknowledge that there are some issues with manufacturing causing DOA conditions, but mine was not. The image produced is acceptable. The use of the unit is easy. And, for the price, it makes a great addition to your collection, though I wouldn't use it as a primary source of footage. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Presidents' Day in Gatlinburg 2015

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Here is the video from our visit to Cade's Cover

I started the long weekend off the right way....sorta. John and I fished Chickamagua. We didn't catch much, but we did get the lay of the land on our way to a few small catches. You can read the fishing report here:

But, on the way home, I got a text saying the baby was sick with a stomach bug.....GREAT! Stomach bugs suck anyway, but I really wasn't looking forward to heading the Gatlinburg with a kid with the runs. But, we paid for the trip months ago. After a trip to the doctor, they sent his "blood" work off for cultures. It would take 48 hours, so we wouldn't know WHAT he had until we were well on our way.

In the meantime, we tried our best to keep a diaper on him. But, he is 2.5 years old and likes to play. So, poop for everyone. Everywhere. All the time. 

We made a stop to see my sister and brother in law in Chattanooga and spent the afternoon with them. While we were there, we received a phone call from the doctor who told us he had "shigella." They called us in a prescription at the local Walgreens. On the way out of town, we stopped by to pick it up. Even though we called it in 2 hours ago, we were informed it wouldn't be ready for another hour. No thanks. We requested it be moved to downtown Gatlinburg, next to where we were staying. No problem. Right?

Since we weren't going to make it into town until fairly late, Alyse called the Walgreens to make sure it would be ready. Yes, they said. We told them we would be in town at 8. "Oh. That isn't good for us. We close at 7." 7??? On a Friday night? Ok. So Saturday morning? Nope. They are closed. :Facepalm:

We had it moved to Pigeon Forge. 

They came through for us. 

While we were there, we hit up Huck's Catfish Cabin, which Trip Advisor had suggested. I am not much for catfish, but the review said that they had "bottomless vitils" which consisted of slaw, white beans, and onions. It sounded like Cock of the Walk in Auburn, which I LOVE. So, we stopped in. The joint was POPPING at 8pm on a Friday night. I mean, SLAMMED! I was surprised how many families like ours were eating. Additionally, they had live music. I didn't catch the man's name, but he played guitar and harmonica and featured a lot of covers from Waylon to Dylan. He was excellent. 

But, they sat us quickly and had our vitils on the table as soon as we sat. The slaw is some of the best I have had. The beans were terrific. I was hoping for pickled onions, but they weren't. however, they went well with the white beans, which featured smoked ham. Terrific. 

I ordered the fried chicken fingers while Alyse ordered the fried catfish. The food came quickly. The 2 entries fed all 5 of us, with some help of the vitils. The tenders were hand-breaded and delicious, as was the catfish. The price was very comparable. The service was good. 

We finally made it to the condo where the weather was dipping into the teens. We couldn't spot an office to check in, so we assumed we used the elevator located in the parking garage to gain access. Access denied, as it took a code to open. Which we didn't have. We knew nothing of codes. Luckily, some nice people told us about the codes we would need and let us onto the elevator so we could get these kids out of the code. We didn't have the owners contact I was nearly certain that we were screwed...especially since there is no one on site that we could talk to. Luckily, Alyse got someone on the phone and gave them the correct info. We got the codes. Whew. 

After a long soak in the hot tub, we got the kids asleep. 

The next morning, we ate breakfast in the condo before heading to Cade's Cove. It's a LONG drive from Gatlinburg, but it is gorgeous.  The road twists and turns up the mountain with the river running adjacent. Now, I didn't get to see too much cause the road is narrow. And also because tourist do tourist things. 

Like, stopping on a hairpin turn to take pictures of their kids underneath an overhang covered with ice-cycles. So many dangerous things....and I was the one who puckered up. Maybe because I nearly ran over the mommyographer.  

There are many parking spaces that you can pull over and check out gorgeous waterfalls and rapids. The road was in great shape....just REALLY narrow.

We finally got to Cade's Cove. While we didn't see any bears, we saw a plethora of deer. At one point, we were watching 4 bucks chasing a doe (and chasing each other). We watched them spar and frolic. But, again, tourist do tourist things. Like jumping out of their cars and stalking after the deer to get pictures. Hey, don't worry about chasing them away from us people in our cars....where we are supposed to be! Or the mom who decided to parade her 5 year old boy to see 2 sparing bucks up close. Sorry. End rant.

The Cove was awesome! What a pretty drive! Only issue is, you better pack a sack lunch. It's a long drive to get there and a longer drive around the park. No restaurants the whole trip. Just a few snack machines, which weren't working. It's a perfect place to camp, however. 

We headed back to town and stopped to eat at Smoky Mountain Brewery, which we ate at on New Years Eve way back in 2009. 

It's right on the strip and it is simply fantastic. Naturally, they brew their own beer, which you can purchase by the glass....or even to go....with their growlers, mini-kegs, or even full kegs. Their craft beer is awesome. I like the Appalachian Pale Ale. It is a very hoppy brew with a crisp fruit finish. It will definitely wake you up! 

So, we chowed down on their amazing food. While we ate, we watched Auburn beat Georgia in basketball on one of the many TVs located all over the dining room. 

I can't say enough about this place, but I really don't have to. It stays busy ALL DAY. It is a must visit. 

We took it easy on Saturday night, as the trip to Cade's Cove (and all the food we ate) slowed us down.

Sunday morning we ate at the Pancake Pantry with some friends who happened to be in town. After seeing the line out the door, down the sidewalk, and behind the building the morning before, we decided to go EXTRA early. Initially, I was going to drive and park, even though it is less than half a mile from where we stayed, but parking in Gatlinburg sucks. Bad. There is ZERO public parking and they want money EVERYWHERE. So, I dropped Alyse and the kids off at the door and drove BACK to the condo. Then, I hoofed it in the 11 degree/stiff wind weather. Luckily, my H2o XPRESS jacket came through for me. I stayed warm, except for my nose, which froze and fell off. It is currently being sold at one of the tourist trap junk stores. Check out my review of it:

Product Review for H2O XPRESS® Men's Softshell XTREME Fishing Parka and Bib

We got right in the Pancake Pantry, although it was packed to the gills, which is saying something since they have wall to wall tables with little to no room between. Be prepared to have 4 other tables' worth of people knowing what you ordered. 

I had the red raspberry crepes. The kids had pancakes with chocolate chips. Alyse had standard pancakes. We added bacon and sausage. I can't speak for them (though they all destroyed their food) but mine was AWESOME. I only managed to eat 2 of the 3 crepes. I wish I would have taken pictures. Alas, I did not. 

By the time we left, the line was out of the door and down the block. Insane that people would wait out in the cold for an hour. But, I guess it's worth it to them. It was certainly good! It's worth the stop. Go early! And, they only take CASH!

We also hit up the Ripley's Aquarium since we had a couple of free tickets. The price for the 3 kids was $34, which wasn't TOO bad. We check out the Tennessee Aquarium and wanted to find a new one. This one isn't as big, but it has a great salt water tank with SHARKS!

Then we hit the road!