Jan 212016
 

Looking for some great tips and inspiration for getting into–and surviving and enjoying!–the outdoor photography industry?  I recently had a blast serving as a featured guest on the very popular Take & Talk Pics podcast with Rob Krueger.

In this exciting one-hour episode titled “Go 4 It,” I share my story about how I got into this business and how I operate today in hopes of helping those who are either in the outdoor photography world professionally or are seriously considering it further their own interests.  However, even those who simply love and enjoy of photography as a hobby will hopefully also draw inspiration from our talk.

To listen to the podcast (free of charge), visit takeandtalkpics.com/go-for-it-colleen-miniuk-sperry or head over to iTunes to download via the direct link:  itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/take-talk-pics-rob-krueger/id982926616?mt=2.  Some of the key topics we cover include:

  • What my mantra “You Can Sleep When You’re Dead” really means
  • How photographing everything BUT landscape photography for several years helped me become a better outdoor photographer today
  • Why bringing curiosity to my work is my most important business practice
  • The one bad business habit I’d like to break
  • The three key things photographers can do to grow and succeed in the photography industry
  • And much more!

Need more convincing?  Take & Talk Pics founder and interviewer, Rob Krueger, had this to say in his write-up about our discussion: “Now Photo World it has been months since I have had an episode go much further than my usual 30 minutes of amazing content but today is nearly twice that. After getting to know Colleen a bit I knew that she had a lot to share with you as you grow on your own journey’s. Also I can’t even remember the last time I wet [sic] over all of my questions for an interview. I am glad to say that today’s episode is saturated with value…”

So GO FOR IT!  Have a listen!  You can sleep when you’re dead!

(And if you like what you hear or have additional tips based on your experience, please feel free to leave a comment about it here on this blog post or on Rob’s at takeandtalkpics.com/go-for-it-colleen-miniuk-sperry)

~Colleen

Jan 202016
 
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Paddling among the mangrove forest on the Buck Key Paddle Trail off the shores of Captiva Island, Florida

My toes curled tightly around the cool, white grains of soft sand as I looked to the angry inky clouds to the south.  Not again, I thought, shaking my head.

I apprehensively scanned the perfectly still, cerulean blue backwater bay to the east of Captiva Island.  Ruminations of my past felt as heavy as the muggy Florida air I now breathed. Only five weeks had passed since my mom and I frantically clung to life, paddling with all our strength and spirit through unexpected stormy six-foot swells on Lake Powell in Utah.  Staring into similar threatening conditions, I was hesitant to offer history such a hasty repeat invitation, especially during my first time climbing back onto a stand-up paddleboard since that harrowing event.

The cordial, clean-shaven 30-something-year-old attendant at the water sports rental hut at the ‘Tweens Water Inn broke my trance. “Let me check the weather forecast for you,” he said while spinning around to meet his computer’s keyboard.

“Heavy rain in 30 minutes,” he yelled back after a few seconds.

I slowly touched my red rain jacket and black waterproof pants, which hid my new black two-piece swimsuit. I dressed to get wet—rain or shine.  My concerns stirred elsewhere.

“What about wind?” I asked while stroking my chin and staring at the summoning sea.

“Nothing significant, just four-to-five miles per hour all afternoon,” he calmly responded.

“If the wind kicks up, does this bay see big swells?” I asked stoically, trying to learn more about the Buck Key Paddle Trail—an aquatic path I had never paddled on before.

“Not really, this area is pretty protected by Buck Key,” he responded, pointing to a mangrove-covered strip of land across the narrow Roosevelt Channel.

“If I go out for 30 minutes and the weather gets really bad, what happens?” I continued my inquisition without changing my scrutinizing gaze.

“You’ll get wet, but who cares?” he responded. “If you make it to the trail, you can hide out there until whatever happens passes.”

My eyes widened as a devious smile grew on my face. Like a pirate or rum-runner trying to outrun authorities (including the most dominant powers of them all—Mother Nature’s hurricanes), I too could find a safe haven in the sinuous waterways lined by twisted gangling mangrove roots. Perhaps history and I could play together nicely after all this morning.

“Let’s do this then!” I responded enthusiastically with a sharp clap of my hands.

He nodded with a grin equal to my own. While I filled out the legal paperwork, he effortlessly pulled a long stand-up paddleboard off the rack of many and then positioned it partially in the water to ease my launch from the gently sloping beach.

As I looped the board’s bungee cord over my large purple dry bag to secure it to my rented board, I looked up at him, “Soooo, how about gators?”

“What about gators?”

“Am I going to run into any out there in the bay or on the trail?”

“There’s a three-foot gator that’s been sunning himself in the bayou. You might see him before you turn right into the trail.  Here’s a map.”

“Do you know if he’s had breakfast yet?” I asked only half-jokingly as I tucked the laminated trail map under my dry bag.

He laughed but did not respond.  Nervously, I then added, “Here’s hoping so. Otherwise he’s going to have a yummy side of granola and peach yogurt with his six-foot tall human main course today.”

Kneeling on my board, I submerged my paddle and pushed the island’s beach away from me to start my two-mile journey under overcast skies—and more importantly, no wind.  However, with the line of dark clouds approaching, I swiftly headed to the lagoon’s entrance a half-mile away, paying little attention to the immaculate mansions and the old dilapidated boats (apparently used only by resting and grooming cormorants and anhingas) lining the canal.

When I arrived at the narrow opening for Braynerd’s Bayou, I balked. An unsettling three-foot wide cut beneath a canopy of eight-foot mangroves offered entrance to the Buck Key Preserve—and the water trail I was to follow.  I shuddered and thought to myself, “Where exactly did he say that gator rested?”

I inhaled a healthy dose of courage with the salty sea air.  I exhaled fear, hoping the nascent light breeze would carry it away.  Goosebumps emerged on my arms and legs, though I could not tell if my irrational worries or the chilly winds (or both) were the sneaky culprits.

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Great white pelicans float in Braynerd’s Bayou

Pushing the opaque waters away from my board delicately, I propelled myself a short 100 feet before the tree tunnel gave way to an open sky and a storybook tranquil cove. Brown pelicans flew overhead in a clumsy V-shaped pattern. American white pelicans floated like graceful swans. An occasional splash from a mullet leaping aggressively into mid-air reminded me of the unseen underwater world no doubt bustling under my feet. A chirping osprey overlooked this magical outdoor kingdom while roosting on his dead-snag throne like a somber-faced gargoyle warding off evil spirits.

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The Buck Key Paddle “Trailhead”

I stopped paddling in hopes of traveling unnoticed in this foreign and enthralling bay, but a subtle current pulled me closer to the northern edge of the bayou where the official canoe/kayak trail supposedly began. When I drifted in front of a small, cave-like opening in the mangroves, I searched fervently for a trail sign or marker—anything that could help answer my anxious psyche’s question, “You really want me to go in there?”

Unintentionally splashing my feet with drops of tepid water, I swirled my board around with strong backwards paddle strokes to survey my scene from left to right in search of a better option—and to spot that three-foot creature lurking somewhere around here. Along the western shore, I spotted a dark, long object. Gator or deadwood?  I was not inclined to paddle over there to find out.

Without any effort of my own, the beckoning waterway’s swirling flow casually rotated my board 180-degrees to allow me to confront the trail’s intimidating entrance once again. I snapped a few pictures of the watery “trailhead” as teasing raindrops started tapping the water’s surface. I extended my arm and turned my right palm face up toward the unleashing sky to feel the soft drizzly dance against my own skin. I took another deep breath, filling my lungs with the earthy, rotten-egg aroma pervasive in mangrove forests now enhanced by the onset of rain.  I grinned.  Time to play pirate.

I answered the trail’s call by dropping to my knees to avoid hitting my head on the low-hanging lanky branches hugging the waterway—and to prevent me from falling off my board into the three-to-four-feet of mangrove muck.  As I slipped into the trail’s grasp, I instantly felt transported to the Dagobah System from the Star Wars movies. Yoda could have dropped out of the trees without startling me.

I alternated paddling and pushing myself off the reddish-brown roots dipping their toes in the brackish six-foot wide channel.  As I weaved steadily through this sheltered dreamlike hideout, I studied Buck Key’s sandy uninhabited landscape veiled behind the wall of green. I contemplated whether I could survive off this land as well as the Calusa Indians once had among their shell mounds. Shy mangrove crabs scurrying among the branches indicated these little critters obviously could prosper here. I wondered if the pirates and rum-runners paused for even a second from their illicit business to appreciate the incredible beauty of their temporary surroundings similar to these.

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Collection of algae-covered shells on Buck Key

After a little more than a half mile of paddling, the shaded waterway greeted the undulating waves of the expansive Pine Island Sound. As if to tempt me to remain in the trail’s dry confines even longer, an elegant great blue heron swooped from one branch to another close enough for me to hear the flap of its wings slice smoothly through the sultry air.  Imagining my good fortune could not get any better, within seconds, a giant eagle ray jumped explosively out of the channel waters, flashing his black-spotted body and bleach white underside to the emerging sun—and to me gazing in awe a mere 100 feet away with my jaw dropped. I closed my eyes and shrugged my shoulders to curl around the warm, welcoming northerly breeze.  I counted my many treasures from this experience. I liked being a pirate.

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A juvenile osprey rests on a twisted mangrove branch – spotted en route back to the hotel’s marina.

With the fast-moving current threatening to push me quickly back into Buck Key’s embrace, I stood up on my paddleboard and shook the stiffness from my folded legs before digging my paddle into the sea to return to my hotel.

As I approached the resort’s marina, the same sun-tanned gent who had helped me launch earlier appeared from the rental hut with a friendly smile.

“Well, how was it?” he asked excitedly.

“Fantastic! The gator was apparently full!”  I joked as I nonchalantly slid my board into the beach.  “Seriously though, paddling through the tight canopy of a mangrove forest was so different than anything I’ve ever done.  I’m from Arizona, where I’m used to paddling under big open landscapes where you can see forever.”

He nodded his head as if he understood.

“Were you fine in the rain?” he inquired.

“What rain?” I asked genuinely, but then slyly smiled as I started humming Disney’s popular Pirates of the Caribbean song to myself, “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.”

 

Many thanks to the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau and the ‘Tween Waters Inn Island Resort and Spa for hosting the Outdoor Writers Association of America Board of Directors and Officers during our winter board meeting activities this past January.  Their outstanding support made this adventure possible.  If the thought of floating gently through a tunnel of green, communing with wildlife, and savoring the ocean air entices you, you won’t soon forget a paddling trip (via canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard) from Captiva Island!  I can’t wait to return…

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View of Pine Island Sound from the Roosevelt Channel

Jan 022016
 

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

Happy New Year everyone!

Happy 2016! May yours be filled with many new and rich experiences! Me celebrating reaching mile 125 on Lake Powell this past November. Photograph courtesy of Jacque Miniuk

During my blissful month-long break from the social media world following our harrowing, but completely amazing Lake Powell paddling adventure, I have enjoyed ample time to reflect on the many highlights—and a few challenges—that transpired over the past year in both my personal and professional life.  (The time also enabled me to write over 34,000 words for the adventure travel book I wish to publish encapsulating the exhilarating experience and profound life lessons I took away from our trip…and I still have about 50 pages of handwritten notes to transcribe!  I digress…)

In 2015, I celebrated my 8th year as a full-time freelance outdoor photographer/writer and relished many professional highlights, including but not limited to:

  • Released the expanded second edition of Wild in Arizona: Photographing Arizona’s Wildflowers book, which then won three categories in the 2015 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Best Travel Book, Best Crafts/Hobby/How-to Book, and the prestigious Best Book on Arizona.
  • Published my first photography instructional eBook, Seeing the Light in Outdoor Photography
  • Reached over $1,600 in donations from the sale of Photographing Acadia National Park to the Schoodic Institute/Acadia National Park to help support the Schoodic Education Adventure program.
  • Worked with a whole host of dear friends and new people in various photography workshops and camera club presentations across the U.S.
  • Received the OWAA Outstanding Board Member award for the second year in a row.
  • Introduced my poetry to the public via my blog.

Of maybe even importance to me, I had some of the most memorable experiences with my family and fabulous friends to date.  Moments like these (and too many others to list) certainly enriched my life this year:

  • Camping beneath the stars atop Hunts Mesa on the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops (AHPW) “Women’s Photo Retreat.”
  • Getting the entire campground at City of Rocks National Reserve to howl with the coyotes.
  • Camping and hiking around Lee’s Ferry with my parents during a spectacular wildflower bloom in the high desert.
  • Listening to a thunderstorm pass while taking refuge in an alcove covered in ancient rock art.
  • Staying up all night with my OWAA friends at the annual conference in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Taking Lava, my favorite Denali National Park sled dog, on walks while visiting my awesome friends in the park.
  • Swinging on an outdoor swing with my friends in Kananaskis Country in Alberta, Canada.
  • Outrunning waves on the beach with my AHPW Oregon workshop participants.
  • High-fiving my brother while catching arctic grayling.
  • Discovering beautiful new locations in Acadia, thanks to my local buddy.
  • Playing poker with one of my best buds while camping in a snowstorm.
  • Paddling 40 incredible miles on Lake Powell with my mom.

In this vein, last year, I became much more connected with the experience of making photographs and appreciated the immense joy I found in the little (and big) things while exploring my favorite locations and seeing new ones.  In honor of a wild 2015, I would like to share my favorite 16 photographs created last year.  Here goes, in chronological order:

 1.  “Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake,” Prescott, Arizona (January 23, 2015)
Before leading an Arizona Highways Photography Workshops at Watson Lake, I managed to sneak in a free day of my own photography.  The view – and Arizona’s gorgeous sunset – didn’t disappoint.  Read more about this image on my “Making the Image: Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake” blog post

Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake

“Sunset Serenade at Watson Lake” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

2.  “The Stone Butterfly,” Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada (February 17, 2015)
To see more photos from this geologically-fascinating place and hear some thoughts I had about photographing iconic places while visiting this park in February, visit my previous blog post “Icon (or Icon-not) Photograph the Icons in Valley of Fire”.

The Stone Butterfly

“The Stone Butterfly” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

 

3.  “Underneath It All,” Carl Washburne State Park Oregon (May 14, 2015)
Carl Washburne State Park has become one of my photographic “homes,” a completely nondescript location that speaks to me.  Even though I live in Arizona, I try to make it up to the mid-Oregon coast at least once or twice a year for extended stays to explore this lovely stretch of beach.  It changes constantly and I love seeing the surprises it offers, like these wind-sculpted dried sand patterns beneath the sand dunes.

Underneath It All

“Underneath It All” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

4. “On Becoming a Wave,” Cannon Beach, Oregon (May 22, 2015)
As those who join me on my workshops know, I very rarely pick up a camera while I teach (so as to focus on the participants’ needs and growth).  On the AHPW Oregon Sampler workshop, though, I carried my camera on our final sunrise shoot at picturesque Cannon Beach and ended up using it to help demonstrate how to get engaged with your subject so much so that you pretend that you are that subject.  In this case, several in the workshop group became a wave with me as they reached the beach.  The experience was so meaningful to me, I ended up taking home this image and later writing a poem about it–which you can read more about on my blog post “Making the Image and Poem: On Becoming a Wave.”

On Becoming a Wave

“On Becoming a Wave” (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

 

5.  “Frozen in Time,” Matanuska Glacier, Alaska (June 4, 2015)
When I stepped off the plane in Anchorage, Alaska to visit my friends, Jen and Michael, Jen surprised me and drove me straight to the Matanuska Glacier (given my love of ice, how nice was that?!).  I think I walked maybe 100 yards from the parking area before I completely lost my marbles upon seeing the most intriguing ice mud I’d ever seen.

Frozen in Time

“Frozen in Time” (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

 

6. “On the Edge,” Mistaya Canyon, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
While spending time with good friends, we made an impromptu stop at Mistaya Canyon.  I wasn’t initially feeling inspired to make a photograph at this popular tourist location until I sat and watched this tree watch the river rage by it.  By studying it, I was able to visualize and eventually create this image.

On the Edge

“On the Edge” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

7. Joy in the Little Things, Henry Mountains, Utah (July 19, 2015)
In hopes of escaping the heat (and to formally discuss plans for a new collaborative book…), I headed to the cooler high elevations of the Henry Mountains with my good buddy and very talented photographer/writer, Guy Tal.  We stopped en route for a short break, but when I saw this beautiful yellow salsify I just had to photograph with my macro lens…so it became a very long break on the side of the dirt road…!

Joy in the Little Things

“Joy in the Little Things” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

8.  “Unfurl Your Tendrils,” Henry Mountains, Utah (July 20, 2015)
Merely one day after I made “Joy in the Little Things,” we saw ample wildflowers while exploring the mountains, including this sego lily in unique form.  I tried to channel Georgia O’Keefe paintings when making this top down abstract/macro perspective.

Unfurl Your Tendrils

“Unfurl Your Tendrils” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

9.  “Palm of the Earth,” Cainville Badlands, Utah (July 20, 2015)
During my trip to the Henry Mountains, Guy and I decided to check out the badlands at much lower (hotter) elevations in hopes of getting a summer monsoon storm and dappled light. Instead we had mostly cloudy skies, but that did not stop me from falling in love with the area and seemingly endless compositions it offered.

Palm of the Earth

“Palm of the Earth” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

10.  “Stone and Lace,” Poison Springs Canyon, Utah (July 22, 2015)
Toward the end of my summer trip to southern Utah, we stopped by Poison Springs Canyon and found some gorgeous tafoni along the canyon walls.  I converted this mid-day photograph to black and white to help emphasize the form, shape, and textures – the color wasn’t important to my message so I eliminated it.

Stone and Lace

“Stone and Lace” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

11. “A New Day Begins,” Acadia National Park, Maine (October 7, 2015)
Due to warm weather and a lack of precipitation, autumn arrived to the coast of Maine almost two weeks later than normal.  While waiting for fall colors (and my workshop group) to arrive, I visited some favorite old haunts, like Monument Cove.

A New Day Begins

“A New Day Begins” (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

 

12.  “Splendor of the Season,” Acadia National Park, Maine (October 17, 2015)
And when autumn finally arrived to the coastal park, it didn’t disappoint (it never does!).  With the low sweet blueberry bush glowing its characteristic lip-stick red coat for fall, I headed to Cadilliac Mountain’s summit at sunrise to celebrate the season of change.

Splendor of the Season

“Splendor of the Season” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

13.  “Autumn Whispers in the Water,” Acadia National Park, Maine (October 19, 2015)
On my final day in the park, I became memorized by the palette of reflected colors in Jordan Stream.  To learn more about how I made this photograph, visit my blog post “Making the Image: A Whisper in the Water.”

A Whisper in the Water

“A Whisper in the Water” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

14.  “Sunrise Serenity at Warm Creek Bay,” Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona (October 28, 2015)
In preparation for our longer Lake Powell adventure, my Mom and I made a three-day trial run there in late October.  You might believe the reason I made this image was because of the colors in the sky, and you’d be partially right.  The primary reason I photographed here, though, is this is where my mom “cowboy camped” beneath the stars without a tent for the first time in her 64-years. I rolled over in my sleeping bag the next morning and snapped this image to commemorate this proud achievement!

Sunrise Serenity at Warm Creek Bay

“Sunrise Serenity at Warm Creek Bay” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

15.  “Frozen Flurries,” my friend’s windshield after a snowstorm in southern Utah (November 12, 2015)
Photographing ice on my friend’s windshield reminded me that a personally meaningful photograph does not necessarily start with a beautiful location, but rather a photographer’s own observations, curiosity, appreciation, and confidence to visually express moments and experiences he/she deems important…even in the most unusual places.

Frozen Flurries

“Frozen Flurries” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 


16.  “Reverie in the Canyon ,” Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah (December 17, 2015)
Needing some downtime to process the events from our paddle on Lake Powell and the entire year as a whole, I headed up to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to photograph ice in the canyons with my friend.  While we found plenty of ice, we also found beautiful iridescent biofilm floating on the creeks’ slow moving surface, which led to the creation of my final image of 2015.

Reverie in the Canyon

“Reverie in the Canyon” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

But wait, there’s more! Since I introduced my poetry this year, I will throw in my favorite poem I penned last July as a bonus:

“Around the Campfire”

The back of beyond
Hunches over the maddening voices
Of yesterday.  Time enough,
Cold enough to build a fire.

Tails of haunted demons whip
In the fury of the crackling flames,
Spewing embers that sear

Your cozy sweater
And singe unforgiving memories
Into your weathered and weary flesh.
A naked soul bared on stone watching,

Thirsting for answers to rise,
Rise out of the brazen ash,
Exhaling a soaring phoenix
In whorls of smoke.

Aspens rustle,
Clouds cry,
Freedom stirs
In the wind’s sigh.

Obscurities melt
Into the nothingness
Of the Earth. Welcome
To your life of rapture.

 

So what’s on tap for 2016?  I learned a whole lot about myself this year – as one often does when hardship shows up on your doorstep unexpectedly.  Among many other things, I determined I’m not a photographer who likes to write, but rather a writer who loves to photograph.  Also, my passion for helping others enjoy the Great Outdoors only continues to intensify.  To blend those two realizations together, I am adjusting my priorities slightly to focus on some super exciting new adventures and writing/book projects.  Stay tuned for more!

As we kick off 2016, I remain very grateful to you for your continued support, encouragement, friendship, and laughs through it all as allows me to continue to grow as a human being, live an incredibly fulfilling life, and keep pursuing my dreams.  So thank you!

Cheers to you for a bright and joyful new year!  As Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote above encourages, I hope you live 2016, “taste it, experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”  And of course, keep shooting!

~Colleen

Nov 292015
 
CMS and Mom at Put In

Jacque and Colleen just seconds before beginning our paddling adventure on Lake Powell just north of Hite (at the North Wash/Dirty Devil take out) last Tuesday morning. iPhone photo courtesy of my Dad, Bob Miniuk.

Hi everyone,

After three absolutely spectacular days paddling almost 40 miles on Lake Powell, on Friday morning, my Mom and I found ourselves in terrifying 6-foot swells (per the park ranger’s estimation) in between miles 110 and 106, where we feared for our own – and helplessly, each other’s -  lives for over three hours along the towering cliff walls.  We are physically unharmed, but are emotionally shaken.

A park ranger in police rescue boat literally just happened to pull into Forgotten Canyon on his rounds, where my Mom and I had taken refuge out of the winds and waves along a two-foot spit of sand at the base of a large talus slope no more than 10 minutes before his arrival.

In talking with him, he suggested conditions were going to get worse over the next 6-7 days with a large storm from California dropping more south than expected (which explained the swells despite having a “clear and calm winds” forecast…) and that a second storm following behind it.   Having just survived scary conditions, my Mom and I could not see ourselves enduring “worse” than what we experienced.  We are not above or stronger than Mother Nature.

We accepted a ride from Forgotten Canyon to Halls Crossing from the park ranger on the rescue boat.  My Dad picked us up from there yesterday afternoon, and we are now home.

As we work through a swirl of emotions – relief, disappointment, immense joy, sadness, pride, and everything in between – we are so grateful for a number of things:

  1. Our lives!
  2. Our glorious 4-day, 40-mile adventure through gorgeous canyons – no exaggeration, we had some of the best times of our lives out there together.  Might have been shorter than expected, but it was certainly no less epic!
  3. Help from complete strangers, especially NPS Rangers Anthony and Marty, when we needed it most.
  4. The amazing support from our family and all of you as we took on this journey.

The dream of paddling the length of Lake Powell does not die, it merely changes.  As those who have been on my workshops before know well, “The plan is the plan until the plan changes, and the plan changes often, so plan on it!”  I am going to use the time I had planned to be on the lake to stay under the radar and off-grid through mid-December to sort out the recent life-changing events and options for “what next?”

Stay tuned for more, including all the details of this unforgettable and incredible adventure on Lake Powell…I’m writing our amazing story as fast as my little hand can go.

Once again, we’re so thankful for all of your encouragement and support!

~Colleen

Nov 222015
 

What life boils down to for the next 14-days…an iPhone snap of all the material items we’re bringing for our Lake Powell paddle trip.

Whelp, after months of planning and preparation, it’s hard to believe that the big day has finally arrived!  We depart for Utah today, and will begin our ~150-mile paddle on Tuesday morning!

As we head out, thought I’d share answers to some of the most frequently asked questions I have received about this trip from others.  If you have a question about our trip that I’ve not answered below, please leave me a comment, and I’ll be sure to address it upon our return in a future blog.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————
Why, exactly, are you doing this?
I have many reasons, including but not limited to:

  1. As George Mallory once suggested about why one would climb Mount Everest, we are paddling the length of Lake Powell, “Because it is there.”
  2. Because we can (meaning my Mom and I are physically and mentally capable of taking on such a challenge.  And let’s face it, we aren’t getting younger so we might as well do it now…)
  3. Because I want to.  It is really as simple as that.  (And it’s funny how our society doesn’t seem to accept that as a good enough answer…I digress…)
  4. Not many have attempted to do it (I know a handful of men have accomplished the same feat on stand-up paddleboards, but I have yet to find any women who have).
  5. This is my big chance to be as adventurous as Pippi Longstocking, my childhood hero!
  6. I would like to share in an unforgettable adventure with my Mom and show her what true freedom and bliss feels like.
  7. I wish to disconnect from the world long to refresh and rejuvenate my mind and spirit for all the exciting opportunities ahead.
  8. Because I wanted a physical and mental challenge.
  9. Because there is a little voice inside my head that still isn’t sure I can…but I’m going to do it anyway!
  10. Because you guessed it, you can sleep when you’re dead!

You mean, you are not doing it to make a political statement? (Note: this question is typically followed by an in-depth dissertation about how the Glen Canyon Dam drowned the Colorado River OR how we have no water in the desert.)
While I do have fairly strong opinions about the Glen Canyon Dam and our water shortage here in western United States, the magnificent sandstone walls, the undulating waters, and singing canyon wrens do not hold any political positions; I see no reason why – while I am among their beauty and in their home – I should possess one either.

If I’m to make any important statement as a result of going on this journey it would be to remind everyone tuning in that, wait for…you can sleep when you’re dead!  I do not mean literally (as in we should run around doing things 24 hours a day).  I mean that when faced with an opportunity to do something or not do something, especially your dreams – no matter how big or small – I hope you feel inspired and courageous enough to just GO FOR IT!

You only get one life, and it goes in a blink of an eye, so why not fill the time you have with much joy, meaning, curiosity, wonder, and gratitude?  I cannot come up with a good reason not to, but if you do, please, by all means, leave me it in a comment below.

How far are you going?
We are starting at the North Wash/Dirty Devil take out, which is just north of Hite, and finishing at Wahweap Marina.  If we followed the milepost/buoys exactly, we are looking at about 141 miles.  However, that does not account for the many side trips and meanderings we will likely do…in the end, I would guess we will likely finish around 150 miles.

How long will that take?
Incorporating time for paddling, rest days, wanderings, weather conditions, etc., we are hoping to complete the trip in about 14 days.  We are in no rush and will not take unnecessary risks when faced with unfavorable weather (especially high winds).

BUT fellow photographers (and patient partners and spouses) know how fast “I’ll just be 10 minutes” can turn into an entire afternoon when you’re enthralled a magical place…considering this (and possible weather delays), we’ve packed food for 20 days.

Why are you going in November?
After I decided to pursue this idea, I checked my calendar and found the only time I could commit to a chunk of time within the next 12 months fell in this November and December.  I did not want to wait – now sounded like as good of a time as ever.

Although many have and will disagree with me, I feel it offers an absolutely ideal time to complete our adventure.  It offers the prospects of the cooler temperatures (compared to scorching summer weather), a reduced chance of brutal winds (as seen in the spring), and fewer boats on the lake than most other months (so we would have the lake to ourselves).

Won’t it be cold then?
Perhaps.  Don’t care.

Weather forecasts suggest temperatures ranging from low 20’s to mid-60’s.

My Mom and I completed our recent trial run at Lake Powell in 65-degree temperatures during the day.  We were so warm from expending energy and the sun, we actually wished it was about 10-20 degrees cooler.  At night, we were on the warm side of cozy during nighttime temperatures around 40-45 degrees.

We have packed winter gear, just in case, and our sleeping bags are rated to 0-degrees (mine) and -30-degrees (my Mom’s).  I’ve bet my Dad that we will feel warm most of the time…and I only bet on things I know I will win!

Are you insane? (or alternatively, “Are you crazy?”)
Not clinically, no.  However, I did just buy a selfie-stick (for use with my new fancy GoPro) so that may affect my status.

Will you be blogging or posting your process on Facebook?
In our fast-paced society where multi-tasking is not just the norm, but also expected, I wish to jump into this experience with open hearts and minds to soak every bit of the experience in without distractions.  So, no, I will intentionally not be blogging during our trip.

That said, beginning on Tuesday morning when we start our journey, you can follow our tracks recorded by my Delorme InReach tracking device by visiting https://share.delorme.com/ColleenMiniukSperry and use the password dreambig (one word) to login.  If I have my technology properly figured out, I might post a couple of messages via my Delorme to my Facebook pages at https://www.facebook.com/CMSPhoto (CMS Photography) and https://www.facebook.com/ColleenMiniukSperry (my personal profile).

How can we learn more about your trip once you get back?
I’ll likely write a blog upon my return, but I plan to write my first adventure travel book from this journey.  So stay tuned!

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Words cannot express how grateful I am to everyone who provided a song recommendation for our Lake Powell Paddle Playlist.  What an incredible mix of music from an incredible group of people!

In addition, I’m so thankful to those who have sent notes of encouragement and wishes for a safe, happy trip.  Your kind and uplifting words mean a great deal to me, and you can be sure we will carry every single one of your sentiments with us as we paddle along.

Wish us good luck…and good weather!
Colleen

Nov 172015
 
My Mom, Jacque, kayaking in Warm Creek Bay during our recent trial run on Lake Powell in preparation for our trip next week.

My Mom, Jacque, kayaking in Warm Creek Bay during our recent trial run on Lake Powell in preparation for our trip next week (taken while standing on my SUP).

Today marks T-7 days until the start of what will no doubt be a memorable SUP/kayak trip down the 150-mile length of Lake Powell with my mom, Jacque (in case you missed my previous blog post, visit “What’s SUP? An Epic Adventure Awaits” at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/whats-sup-an-epic-adventure-awaits).   I can hardly sleep at night, and that’s not only due to all my last minute preparations for our two-week adventure, but rather my overwhelming excitement to get this party started!

One of those last minute details calls for me to load what I’ve called the “Lake Powell Paddle Playlist” (try saying that three times fast!) onto my iPhone.  Now, when I put out the call to all of you to provide favorite inspirational song, I had no idea what to expect (other than I know they’d all be fantastic, of course).  But, I was completely blown away by the wildly diverse and incredible ideas you sent to help us paddle to when times get tough out there on the water and we need some positive vibes.

Thanks to those of you who sent musical recommendations in, I now have over five hours (!!) of sentimental, calming, heart-pumping, thought-provoking, and inspirational music to keep paddling along.  What I loved most was seeing each of your personalities shine through in your suggestions.  I also appreciated hearing from many of you the inspirational backstories of why the song(s) meant something to you.  I appreciate all who shared their heartfelt stories and songs with me.

As promised, here’s the current playlist with the Song – Artist (and my friend who contributed it) in no particular order:

  1. Thank You – Johnny Reid (Brian Hayward)
  2. Ballad of Edward Abbey – Tom Russell (Jackson Frishman)
  3. I’m So Glad – Cream (JP Bruce)
  4. Old Man River – Paul Robson (Rick Jacobi, Mike Hayden, and Richard Penney)
  5. Watching the River Run – Loggins and Messina (Lynda Holman)
  6. The Mary Ellen Carter – Stan Rogers (John McCoy)
  7. Happy – Pharrell Williams (Toru Kawana and Sheri Skocdopole)
  8. Beautiful Day – U2 (Toru Kawana)
  9. Miss Hesitation – Jesse (Robert Rader)
  10. Ridge Top – Jesse Colin Young (Robert Rader)
  11. Astronomy – Metallica (Robert Ford)
  12. Move Along – The All-American Rejects (Jodi Stemler)
  13. Learn to Fly – Foo Fighters (Jodi Stemler)
  14. One – Creed (Jodi Stemler)
  15. Steady as She Goes – The Raconteurs (Jodi Stemler)
  16. If Today Was Your Last Day – Nickelback (Jodi Stemler)
  17. Wherever I May Roam – Metallica (Jodi Stemler)
  18. Every Day is a Winding Road – Sheryl Crow (Jodi Stemler)
  19. Dreams – Cranberries (Jodi Stemler)
  20. Linger – Cranberries (Jodi Stemler)
  21. Pocketful of Sunshine – Natasha Bedingfield (Jodi Stemler)
  22. The Time of My Life – David Cook, (Jodi Stemler)
  23. Sweet Dreams Are Made of This – The Eurythmics, (Jodi Stemler)
  24. Carry On – FUN, (Jodi Stemler)
  25. Fly Away – Lenny Kravitz, (Jodi Stemler)
  26. Good Life – OneRepublic (Jodi Stemler)
  27. Paris – Grace Potter(Jodi Stemler)
  28. Apologies – Grace Potter (Jodi Stemler)
  29. Stars – Grace Potter (Jodi Stemler)
  30. Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls (Jodi Stemler)
  31. Outshined – Soundgarden (Jodi Stemler)
  32. Are you Ready – Creed (Jodi Stemler)
  33. Cochise – Audioslave (Jodi Stemler)
  34. Flies in the Vaseline – Smashing Pumpkins (Jodi Stemler)
  35. Come With Me Now – (Wish I Could) by Kongos (Brett Prettyman)
  36. Best Day of My Life – American Authors (Brett Prettyman)
  37. But Not Tonight – Depeche Mode (Brett Prettyman)
  38. Rolling in the Deep – Adele (Ron Niebrugge)
  39. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – (Ron Niebrugge and Mark Berry)
  40. The Moldau – Bedrich Smetana (Paul Vang)
  41. Cheerleader –  Omi (Amy Novotny)
  42. A Thousand Miles From Nowhere – Dwight Yoakum (Stan Burman)
  43. Imagine – John Lennon (Katie Bond)
  44. Dancing in the Dark – Bruce Springsteen (Kurt Repanshek)
  45. Stronger – Kayne West (Kris Millgate’s son)
  46. I Won’t Back Down – Tom Petty and the Heartbreaks (Kris Millgate)
  47. Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival (Monica Halveka)
  48. River Runs Red – Midnight Oil (Thomas Graham)
  49. Gooey – Glass Animals (Floris van Breugel)
  50. Feel Again – One Republic (Amy Minton)
  51. Demons – Imagine Dragons (Amy Minton)
  52. Stronger – Kelly Clarkson (Mary Gamble)
  53. We are the Champions – Queen (Mary Gamble)
  54. It’s My Life – Bon Jovi (Mary Gamble)
  55. What a Wonderful World – Louie Armstrong (Mary Gamble)
  56. Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Judy Garland (Mary Gamble)
  57. 10,000 Reasons – Matt Redman (Mary Gamble)
  58. Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) – Hillsong UNITED (Mary Gamble)
  59. Night Rider’s Lament – Jerry Jeff Walker (Tim Mead)
  60. Haiku – Doug Hammer (Carol See)
  61. Sitting on Top of the World – Amanda Marshall (Sheri Skocdopole)
  62. Where the Black Top Ends – Keith Urban (Sheri Skocdopole)
  63. Against the Wind – Bob Seger (Carlene Drake)
  64. Let it Whip – Dazz Band (Jacque Miniuk)
  65. I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – Proclaimers (Rob Miniuk)
  66. The Final Countdown – Europe (Rob Miniuk)
  67. The Valley Road – Bruce Hornsby and the Range (Jackie Klieger)
  68. My Sweet Lord – George Harrison (Jackie Klieger)
  69. I’ll Be There – Jackson 5 (John Penney)
  70. Con te Partiro – Andrea Bocelli (Sue Penney)
  71. Something’s Coming – Jim Bryant, Russ Tamblyn, Marni Nixon, & Natalie Wood (Sue Penney)
  72. Quiet Your Mind – Zac Brown Band (Christy Schroeder)
  73. Let it Go – Zac Brown Band (Ty Stockton)
  74. Paradise – John Prine (Phil Bloom)
  75. Spanish Pipe Dream – John Prine (Phil Bloom)
  76. Everybody – John Prine (Phil Bloom)
  77. The Bottomless Lake – John Prine (Phil Bloom)
  78. Say Hey (I Love You) – Michael Franti and Spearhead (Jen and Michael Raffaeli)
  79. The Sound of Sunshine – Michael Fronti and Spearhead (Jen and Michael Raffaeli)
  80. I Like to Move It – Madagascar 5 (Jen and Michael Raffaeli)
  81. No Scrubs – TLC (Jen and Michael Raffaeli)
  82. Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show (Mark Berry)
  83. Muddy Water – Daniel Jenkins (Lynda Holman)
  84. River in the Rain – Daniel Jenkins and Ron Richardson (Lynda Holman)
  85. Got to Give it Up – Marvin Gaye (John Divan)
  86. I’ve Been Everywhere – Johnny Cash (Barbara White)
  87. I Hope You Dance – Lee Ann Womack (Dawn Gould)
  88. Dead Man’s Party – Oingo Boingo (Rebecca Wilks)
  89. Too Much Stuff – Delbet McClinton (Rebecca Wilks)
  90. The Happy Wanderer – Friedrich-Wilhelm Möller (Tom Rust)
  91. River Road – Crystal Gayle (Lindsay Guthrie)
  92. Alberta Bound – Gordon Lightfoot (Lindsay Guthrie)
  93. Arizona, I Love You – sung by Rex Allen Jr. (Lindsay Guthrie)
  94. Roar – Katie Perry (Carol Gray)
  95. Hallelujah – Justin Timberlake(Carol Gray)
  96. All I Ask of You – Phantom of the Opera (Carol Gray)
  97. If I Had a Rocket Launcher – Bruce Cockburn (Bill Rau)
  98. Hold On – Alabama Shakes (Marty and Shirley Hill)
  99. Ends of the Earth – Lord Huron (Marty and Shirley Hill)
  100. Going Up the Country – Canned Heat (Donna Drake)
  101. Down by the Water – Decemberists (Donna Drake)
  102. I’ve Got the World on a String – Frank Sinatra (Donna Drake)
  103. Seven Nation Army – White Stripes (Donna Drake)
  104. Where the Streets Have No Name – U2 (Donna Drake)
  105. America the Beautiful (Ray Turkin)
  106. The Red Tower – Ah-Nee-Ma (Harald Johnsen)
  107. River of Creation –  Ah-Nee-Ma (Harald Johnsen)
  108. Light from the East –  Ah-Nee-Ma (Harald Johnsen)
  109. Canyon Dreams –  Ah-Nee-Ma (Harald Johnsen)
  110. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding (Chris Serjak)
  111. Scatterlings of Africa – Johnny Clegg (Chris Serjak)
  112. Cruel Crazy Beautiful World – Johnny Clegg (Chris Serjak and Marcia Fischer)
  113. Mighty River – Vusi Mahlasela (Chris Serjak)
  114. The Passenger – Iggy Pop (Marcia Fischer)
  115. Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac (Marcia Fischer)
  116. Radio Nowhere – Bruce Springsteen (Marcia Fischer)
  117. Ray of Light – Madonna (Marcia Fischer)
  118. Trouble Me – 10, 000 Maniacs (Marcia Fischer)
  119. Day Tripper – The Beatles  (Marcia Fischer)
  120. A Hard Day’s Night – The Beatles (Marcia Fischer)
  121. Wave – Antonio Carlos Jobim (Marcia Fischer)
  122. If I Had A Boat by Lyle Lovett (Marcia Fischer)
  123. Time To Move On – Tom Petty (Kim Vandenberg)
  124. Free Fallin’ – Tom Petty (Kim Vandenberg)
  125. American Girl– Tom Petty (Kim Vandenberg)
  126. Ticks – Brad Paisley (Ena Flynn)
  127. Online – Brad Paisley (Ena Flynn)
  128. Mud on the Tires – Brad Paisley (Ena Flynn)
  129. PM’s Love Theme – Craig Armstrong (Betsy Anderson)
  130. A Wink and a Smile – Harry Connick, Jr. (Betsy Anderson)
  131. The Magnificent Seven – The City of Prague Philharmonic, Paul Bateman cond. (Betsy Anderson)
  132. The Aviators – Helen Jane Long (Betsy Anderson)
  133. We will Rock you – Queen (Lynette Tritel)
  134. Rodrigo Solo – Rodrigo Y Gabriela (Lynette Tritel)
  135. Summer album – George Winston (Lynette Tritel)
  136. The Sun in the Stream – Enya (Rick Beach)
  137. Free Ride – The Edgarwinter Group (Judy Lovelett)
  138. Here I Go Again – Whitesnake (Judy Lovelett)
  139. On The Road Again – Johnny Cash (Judy Lovelett)
  140. Running Down A Dream – Tom Petty (Judy Lovelett)
  141. Send Me On My Way – Rusted Root (Carol See)
  142. Soak Up the Sun – Sheryl Crow (Carol See)
  143. Take on Me – Aha (Carol See)
  144. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper (Carol See)
  145. How You Live (turn up the music) – Point of Grace (Carol See)
  146. We Won’t Give Up – The Afters (Carol See)
  147. Carol of the Bells – Transiberian Orchestra (Carol See)
  148. I Found You – Louis Landon (Carol See)
  149. Family – Louis Landon (Carol See)
  150. One – Metallica (Kirk Forbes)
  151. Right Now – Van Halen (Kirk Forbes)
  152. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin (Don Eden)
  153. Sultans of Swing – Dire Straits (John Murphy)
  154. Number 1-4 – Penguin Cafe Orchestra (John Murphy)
  155. Start Me Up – Rolling Stones (Rusty Pinckney)

Isn’t it an amazing list?!  Thanks again, everyone, for helping to make this trip even more special to me!

A little later in the week, I’ll post some answers to FAQ’s I’ve received about the trip so far so stay tuned!

Colleen

Me paddling during our recent trial run on Lake Powell (photo courtesy of my Mom…wouldn’t you agree she did an excellent job placing me off-centered and looking into the photograph as well as keeping the horizon low to emphasize a cool sky, even if there were a couple contrails…not to mention the awesome reflection…all while trying to keep herself from falling out of her kayak…HAHAHA! Ma, ya done good!)

Oct 262015
 
Arizona_Glen Canyon National Recreation Area_00099_c

View of the sandstone cliffs near Lone Rock at Lake Powell from my stand-up paddleboard (SUP) this past August. I plan to SUP the ~150-mile length of Lake Powell this November.

Occasionally I get these harebrained ideas. Past notions range from wanting to climb Mount Everest in my 20’s (until I learned I really, really, really dislike hiking uphill) to making a pact after college with my talented and athletic friend, Jen, to train to try to make the Olympics in rowing crew (a sport I had never done, but she had  – and well – at the Varsity level at Stanford University).

Some pass with a hearty laugh and no further mention; some of the perhaps less ambitious ones happen…like standing in 80 mph winds just to see what a blizzard feels like in Maine or leaving at midnight to drive two hours to photograph star trails along the coast through the night.  Certainly not Mount Everest or the Olympics, but still fun and exciting nonetheless.

I cannot say how my latest silly idea came to be, but this time, it’s actually going to come to fruition. And soon too!  Starting in late November, I plan to traverse the length of Lake Powell, following the course of the Colorado River about 150 miles from Hite to Wahweap Marina on my stand-up paddleboard (SUP).

CMS SUPing_email

My first time SUPing in June 2013 on the Deschutes River in Bend.

Originally, I intended to do the float alone, but when I shared my plans with my parents, my Mom (whom we call the “Energizer Bunny”) immediately proclaimed, “I’m coming with you!”  So my 64-year old mother, Jacque, will act as my support crew, paddling with me in a double kayak with much of our gear for the two-week adventure.

Although I came up with the idea last fall, I became hooked on “SUPing” in Oregon during June 2013, when our dear friend from college Chris, his lovely wife Susan, and young son visited Bend.  At that time, my husband and I had temporarily moved to Hillsboro, Oregon – a mere three-hour drive to Bend – for Craig’s job.  Looking for an afternoon outing, the five of us ventured to the Deschutes River and rented two paddleboards. To make sure someone always had an eye on Chris and Susan’s little one, each couple paddled for about 15-20 minutes, and then came back ashore to switch.

From the first moment my shaky legs stood on that wobbly board, I was in heaven. Besides the rhythmic pace mesmerizing me in to a blissful and tranquil state, I became absorbed into the landscape. I felt as if I became an active participant in my surroundings, not just an observer of it. After that exhilarating afternoon, I could not wait to paddle again!

What's SUP, Mom?

“What’s SUP, Mom?” || My mom, Jacque, paddles on a stand-up paddleboard for the first time in August 2014 in Frenchman Bay near Bar Harbor, Maine.

Since then, I have taken a few lessons from some incredibly capable SUP’ers. Each experience only encouraged and inspired me to want more. After a memorable outing with my Mom on Frenchman Bay near Acadia National Park in Maine in August 2014, I started noodling on the idea of a grand touring adventure on a paddleboard “somewhere.” I tinkered with the idea of paddling the length of a U.S. coastline like Oregon, Maine, or even Florida. After a significant amount of research though, I decided I was not quite ready for my aquatic escapades to potentially involve sharks or alligators (at least for now…although I’m quite entranced by the 325-mile Maine Island Trail I just heard about…maybe that will be my next absurd idea…). With no scary creatures hiding within its waters (I think…right?!?), the idea of floating down Lake Powell emerged to the top of my list of crazy ideas that likely would never materialize.

Learning to paddle river rapids on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah on my 40th birthday (photo courtesy of my amazing guide, Alicia Wright)

Then I spent the morning my big 40th birthday this past April paddling the upper Colorado River outside Moab, Utah, where, among other things, I learned how to paddle on river rapids. And how to get dunked in them. And live to tell about it (I’m deathly afraid of water where I cannot see my feet. Ironic, huh?).  And how to keep keeping my paddle “all in” both literally in the water and figuratively in life.

Invigorated by the moving outing, I pondered later that afternoon over a piece of delicious birthday cake, “Life’s short. Why not SUP the length of Lake Powell?”  Blame the sugar high, but I could not come up with any reasons not to…well, except for one:  I didn’t own a board!

Fortunately, my husband gifted me an inflatable SUP for my most recent birthday. After spending much time gliding in lakes around Phoenix and in other lakes around the western U.S. with it, I decided to name my board “Liridon” (which means “free spirit” in Albanian) ahead of its epic journey at Lake Powell.  I call it “Lyr” for short, which means “god of the sea” in Welsh (and also in Irish if spelled “Lir”).

As I became more serious about pursing the trip, I checked my calendar and found the only window of time large enough to accommodate such an outing within the next year fell in this November and December. Although many have and will disagree with me, I felt like that was an ideal time to complete our adventure.  It offered the prospects of the cooler temperatures (compared to scorching summer weather), a reduced chance of brutal winds (as seen in the spring), and fewer boats on the lake than most other months (so we would have the lake to ourselves).  I mean, really, where do I sign up??!

This past August, I introduced Lyr to Lake Powell on a quick day-long trial run. Under a clear blue sky, I set out at first light to paddle for about six to eight hours where I hoped to cover about 12-16 miles. In the methodical pace of paddling in the warm, welcoming waters around the bay at Lone Rock, I reviewed many details about my November trip.  Would I survive paddling in 50 or 60-degree temperatures, 30 degrees cooler than this summer day? Yes, but I should buy neoprene booties just in case. Will I be OK paddling like this, non-stop, for two weeks? An emphatic yes.

Outside of solvable logistical challenges, the biggest question that crossed my mind, though, was how would the 14 days I had planned ever be enough? With all the side canyons and inlets and hidden coves to explore, how will I ever be able to stay focused long enough in the main channel to actually make it home?

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The first squall as seen from a sandy beach along Wahweap Bay.  Thunder boomed from this storm about 20 minutes later.

Growing cumulonimbus clouds to the southwest pulled me out of my planning trance. The forecast called for a monsoon storm to blow through later in the afternoon.  A sizeable squall was moving in early – and fast. I found myself about two to three miles out – and on the opposite side of the lake – when I heard thunder around 11 a. m.

I paddled to the nearest rocky beach, pulled my SUP out of the water, and waited to see what would transpire. As the winds swirled and the angry sky unleashed its fury, I tucked under my beached board to keep as much of me as dry as possible, curled up so that my back and head took the brunt of the hit. Stupidly, I had left my rain jacket and pants at my camp, thinking it was too warm and clear to need such things.

Then, I spotted lightning too close for comfort. Leaving the cover of my board, I found the lowest point I could find and away from the bushes (there were no trees in sight). I then immediately assumed the lightning position – even though it meant getting drenched. I spent the next 45 minutes squatting on balls of feet standing on top of my life vest. In hindsight, I should have tossed my metal paddle at least 50-100 feet away from me. Thankfully, my oversight did not cause a disaster.

The storm passed, but left in its wake a strong headwind causing one- to two-foot white-capped swells.  I sure did not want to paddle in the high winds, but I could see two more squalls on the horizon moving quickly towards me.  I needed to make the crossing to the other shore and the last couple of miles back to camp NOW, or I was going to end up sleeping on this shore.

I paddled sitting down, and mostly with my left arm to battle the relentless wind gusts and swells.  I kept repeating, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  After a few iterations, I added, “And if it does kill you, well, you’ve just been dumb.”

While questioning my own intelligence, I paddled ashore the sandy beach beneath my camp site in time to clean, dry, and put away my SUP (about a 20 minute process) before the next thunderstorm arrived overhead.  From the time I reached shore around 1:30 pm until the next morning, squall after squall (I counted eight in the waking hours) passed through the area with high enough winds to flatten my neighbor’s tent.

After my first trial run this summer at Lake Powell with Lyr, I was not only happy to be alive.  I was happy to feel alive!   And the outing only made me want my November trip to come sooner.

On a two-week tour, though, I know some challenging times will occur among the many memorable highlights, so I would like your help!  Tell me, what is your absolute most favorite inspirational song?

Please leave a comment below or shoot me an email with your suggestion.  I am putting together a new big playlist on my iPhone with whatever type of music you wish to offer – country, rock, indie, pop, and anything in between – so I can bring all the wonderfully positive vibes from my friends – YOU! – with me on my trip to listen to when I need a little pick-me-up.

In case you too would like to jam out to the inspiration of others, the AMAZING list of contributed songs has been posted on my blog at “The Lake Powell Paddle Playlist” at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/the-lake-powell-paddle-playlist.   You never know, you might need it during your own crazy ideas…I can’t wait to hear what you come up with!

Lucky Strike

“Lucky Strike” || Viewed from my campsite at the Lone Rock area of Lake Powell in Arizona, a lightning bolt emerges over the cliffs of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Oct 232015
 
Whispers in the Water

“A Whisper in the Water” || Jordan Stream, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available – click on photo to purchase yours!)

“Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”  ~Elizabeth Lawrence

While Acadia National Park no doubt possesses grand beauty, I oftentimes find myself marveling (sometimes for hours and hours…) at the little details and moments that make the landscapes so special.  While sauntering along Jordan Stream on my final day in the park last week (on my most recent two-week stay), magical reflections dancing in a small pool absolutely entranced me.  Thanks to a variety of trees donning their fall colors beneath a blue sky opposite of where I stood, the palette of colors – reds, yellows, oranges, pinks, and blues – changed constantly on top of the water.  I could have watched this interplay of light and hues all evening, but I knew I had to make a photo of this!

As I put my 100-400mm lens on my tripod, I decided I needed a little faster shutter speed to keep the undulating water from rending too much motion in the final photo.  However, I was photographing underneath a canopy of trees (in shade) in late afternoon light.  In other words, I did not have a lot of natural light available.  That’s an easy enough challenge, but I also had a polarizing filter stuck on the front of my lens (for almost two years now; I have tried it all, it is not budging) which meant I would lose one to two stops of light as a result.

Considering my circumstances, I settled on my widest aperture of f/5.6 and an ISO speed of 1600, which yielded a 1/40th of a second shutter speed.  Not as fast as I would have liked, but I was not willing to bump my ISO speed to 3200 to get to 1/80th of a second.  With how slow the water was moving, in the difference between those two settings would have been inconsequential – and would have increased the noise/grain in the final image.

After snapping numerous frames of just the water reflections, I evaluated my results.  I liked the general concept of the wave movement, colors, and light, but in the end, felt the images lacked some structure.

As I observed the colors and patterns change, nearby eddy would occasionally push leaves into my composition.  Sometimes a clump of five or six would enter my frame; on a few occasions, only one would pass through.  As they would float by, I felt like they were subtle whispers or messages crossing momentarily through reflections.  I originally kept them out of my frame because I was not sure if I could render them sharp enough with my shutter speed.  I figured I would give it a shot (or two or two hundred) though…it’s only pixels after all.  And they put the Delete button on the back of the camera for a reason, right? Right!

At first, I tracked a few leaves using autofocus, thinking that would be the fastest way to ensure the leaves rendered sharp.  I missed a bunch of great opportunities as my lens kept zooming in and out, trying unsuccessfully to pick up the requisite contrast to focus on in the ripples.  So I returned to manual focus and tried to track the leaves with my camera as they’d cross my view.  But trying to focus while tracking on a tripod became a comical exercise.  I could not hand-hold the camera steady enough at 1/40th of a second to get a sharp image.  Generally, you want your shutter speed to be faster than 1/focal length of your lens to ensure sharp images while hand-holding the camera.  In my case, this meant 1/400th of a second or faster…theoretically, I could have increased my ISO significantly, but again at the expense of much grain.

Instead of taking my camera off the tripod, I decided on a different approach – one I use while photographing people in the environment ironically.  I composed my frame with my desire background of the reflections, and then simply waited (and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. And waited….) for a leaf to come into my frame.  As Elizabeth Lawrence’s quote above suggests, I sat still and watched the leaves turn along the stream.  This experience alone was worth my time; if a photo resulted, it would be simply be more proverbial gravy on a heaping pile of delectable mashed potatoes.

Within the 70 attempts I made as various collections and individuals of leaves roaming through my composition, I managed to create the photograph of a single leaf (see above), one I titled “A Whisper in the Water” because of my emotional connection with it.  I really liked the lone leaf, as it conveyed more serenity and calmness than the groupings of leaves did – and helped express the concept of “whispers” I wanted to share.

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 100-400mm at 400mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6 at 1/40th sec., polarizer (by necessity, not choice, which did nothing for my photo other than slow it down).

Want to learn more about photographing Jordan Stream and other beautiful locations in Acadia National Park? Pick up an autographed copy of my guidebook Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How at www.photoacadia.com.

Sep 032015
 
What Lies Within Counts

“What Lies Within Counts” || Abstract, close-up view of a dandelion seed head from City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Sometimes while photographing, we arrive at a grand scene offering so much beauty that causes us to – rightfully so – feel quickly overwhelmed.  To overcome this unsettling sensation, I tap into mindfulness techniques as a way to become more aware and connected with our surroundings (as some of you have experienced while participating in my photo workshops).

When I intentionally slow myself down to express curiosity and gratitude for my surroundings, the process oftentimes leads to a “flash of perception” experience, or in other words, a moment where I say, “WOW, look at THAT!”  When I catch myself saying this (especially if I say it aloud while alone!), I know instantly it is my cue to break out the camera gear and start creating a photograph.

Without further exploration and definition, though, the “THAT” is difficult to bottle up and stuff into a rectangular frame successfully.  To help provide additional guidance to my compositions, I will frequently title my image before I snap the shutter.  If I have trouble condensing my thoughts into a short title, I will simply talk through what I am seeing, focusing on the shapes, colors, lines, forms, etc. grabbing my attention.  As I outline my thoughts, I pay close attention to the words and concepts I can express photographically.

In May 2015, at the Moab Photography Symposium, a frequent attendee and fine photographer introduced me (and eventually the entire audience) to his favorite way to connect what he sees with what he feels – a haiku – a technique he learned from famous photographer Eddie Soloway.  Using the traditional haiku form of three lines (the first and last lines requiring five syllables and the second, seven), a photographer describes what you see in the first two lines and then how you feel about it in the final line.

Having a great interest in poetry myself and having created haikus before in a different context, I immediately gravitated towards this new idea so relevant to photographers trying to understand their surroundings and ultimately, express their thoughts in pixels.  I’ve not only incorporated this process more regularly into my own photographic pursuits, but I now also offer it to my students during my photography workshops as another option for expressing what we observe.  In fact, I put the practice to recent use on my photographic outing last week.

While hiking one afternoon among the gigantic granite spires in City of Rocks National Reserve in southern Idaho, I came upon a meadow full of summer blooms – rabbit brush, yellow salsify, asters, and more – interspersed among the junipers and sage brush.  I spent a few minutes simply admiring summer’s abundance – and my fortunate opportunity to see it.  After observing for awhile, I noticed a small dandelion seed head off on its own in a small clearing in the middle of the busyness. I walked over to inspect more closely.

Joy in the Little Things

“Joy in the Little Things” || Abstract macro view of a yellow salisfy seed from the Henry Mountains in southern Utah (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Having recently photographed a similar, but much larger subject – the yellow salsify seed head – in the Henry Mountains this past July (see photo “Joy in the Little Things”  on the right) and again along the very trail I was hiking before reaching this meadow, I knew I wanted to get my lens as close as possible to study the intricate details of this smaller, but equally exciting, specimen.  To do so, I grabbed my 100mm macro lens and two 12mm extension tubes.

As I set up around the fluff ball, I started to think about how I would title my frame by considering why I picked out this exact subject.  Certainly, the intriguing shapes and structure contrasting the softness interested me.  But, there was more to it than just the visual appeal…

I came up with “What Lies Within Counts” to reference not only the dandelion within the larger context of its existence in the field and it’s relevance to life in general, but also the heart-like shape I saw (which is the shape of the out-of-focus bracts of the dandelion) that offset the bright white radiating shapes.

Immediately thereafter, in almost in a whimsical song, a haiku started to develop in my head, with the title of my photograph becoming the last line of the haiku:

Look Closely (A Haiku)
A busy field sways,
Veils one dandelion’s grace –
What lies within counts.

With the title and haiku as my guides, I tested a number of different compositions to fulfill these notions.  I eventually settled on placing the dandelion bracts as off-centered as possible to create a sense of asymmetrical balance while keeping the flower itself centered in the frame to allow for a natural vignette to occur (which is simply the edge of the flower appearing against the ground, blurred by a wide f/2.8 aperture setting).  Because of a substantial, but irregular breeze, I bumped my ISO to 800, which yielded a fast enough shutter speed (1/500th of a second) to help freeze the dandelion as it swayed in the meadow.

In addition to waiting for the breeze to calm momentarily, I also waited for a cloud to pass in front of the sun to turn the harsh, contrasty mid-day light into more pleasing, softer diffused light.

As I packed up, I still noodled on the title and tagline of the haiku as it related to photography.  In order to make our personally meaningful nature photographs, I certainly believe “what lies inside [the photographer] counts.”  By paying attention to our individual backgrounds, experience, knowledge, and interests – all the things that drive you to you say “WOW, look at THAT!” – leads to more consistent success and satisfaction in the image making process.

Just remember to look closely not just at your subjects, but at yourself as you do so…

Aug 192015
 

“Into the Great Wide Open” || Blooming canola field and clouds in Alberta, Canada (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

“The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” ~Don Williams, Jr.

Earlier this summer, while en route from my friend’s home in Calgary to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, my companions and I enjoyed seemingly endless views of blooming yellow canola fields along the highway.  For a closer look, namely in search for a red barn to serve as a pleasing contrast between the blue sky and yellow flowers, we turned down a random dirt country road to continue our scouting.  When we came upon this particular field while driving a dirt country road, we all agreed: we had to stop to photograph it (yes,despite no red barn)!

When I surveyed the scene, I knew immediately that I wanted to showcase the juxtaposition between the yellow flowers and the non-blooming green weave as a leading line through the frame.  To draw more attention to the contrast and to reduce the visual tension (thereby offering a greater sense of peace and harmony), I intentionally positioned the green shape in the middle of my composition and allowed even amounts of space for the yellow on either side to create a more symmetrical balance.  I also wanted to give a broader context to the path as if it were leading into this great big sky – and into a great big unknown – so I dropped the horizon towards the bottom of the frame to emphasize the expanse above the landscape.

As I perfected my composition with my 24-105 mm set at a 50mm focal length, the mid-morning sun kept playing hide and seek. One minute, the scene fell in completely diffused light.  Then, the next minute, it appeared fully illuminated. Knowing that a viewer’s eye would travel along the green (darker) area to seek the brighter part of the frame, I waited patiently for the sun to dance across only part of the field, specifically the top part, where the path ends and meets the sky.  For a mere few seconds, the sun cooperated before moving on and spotlighting a different part of the field out of my frame.

I stayed put for several more minutes, hoping this lighting effect would return to the top of the ridge, but alas, it did not, and I chose to move on to additional compositions under almost completely diffused light.  We never did find a blooming canola field with a red barn (found plenty of both, just not together!) but we enjoyed the journey to find it immensely.

When I returned home to process the image, titling it came very easy.  I named the resulting photograph after the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song, “Into the Great Wide Open” as that’s what I was humming while I made the image!

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 24-105mm at 50mm, ISO 100, f/11 at 1/250 sec.