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Desert Rats' Xmas in Big Bend

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The Maverick Trail

I finally have enough space on my hard drive to stitch a few pan shots together. But they are so inadequate.

One of the many lessons learned on this journey (afterall, that's what my trips are: to explore and discover) was that nothing can express or convey the expanse and vastness in places like the BB region. And I don't mean just the BB park. As a writer I try to convey not only what I see but how I see it; the mind's eye. I try to do the same with my photography, but my tools are limited. I need a good wide angle lens.

Nevertheless, both words and photography fall short of what exists down there (and other places). My ultimate joy is riding off-road through country like this. *That* is truly experiencing it. The only better experience is to live it; live there. I don't (yet), but I am grateful to people like Roger and Randy who do and truly know this country in all its flavors, all the good and all the bad.

I am just a visitor. But just like the dream I had as a kid of riding my horse around the country, riding a dirty bike around the country and getting out there off the driven roads is second best. And I sincerely thank Roger and Randy for being my guides and sharing their country with me.

So what I try to do here in my travelogues is to share it with others.

I have found that some roads capture me to the point of obsession. I must ride them, experience them. Just as Santa Elena captured me, so did a few roads (I use the term 'road' loosely). One is off the Maverick Rd. I found it on Google Earth. It climbs a short mesa which overlooks Terlingua Creek and Santa Elena.

I found the road but since the satellite image on Google Earth was taken, the split from Old Maverick Rd has been backfilled with desert debris. Nevertheless, it is still there; with an obstacle at the beginning. I predict that a small bike -80 or 125cc- could easily traverse the debris pile. Once over that, the rest of the trail is a piece of....... cobbler?

Next time I am there, that is a goal. I *will* get on top of that mesa. :trust:

SantaElenaMavrickRd1b.jpg


A view of Mesa de Anguila and the mouth of the Lady from the Old Maverick Rd.

MaverickRd1.jpg


A view from up the trail on the cliffside overlooking the exit of the Rio Grande as it bends and the mountains to the north. The views from this trail are fantastic. My goal next time is for a perspective from the water, down in the bottom of the canyon.

SantaElena1.jpg


On my journeys and travels I like to approach and experience places as a blank slate. A huge white board where first impressions are painted and written all over it without the cultural and physical preconceptions. To me, this is how you experience anything in the moment, that first glimpse, smell, taste, melody. Because you experience it as it really is. Not a preconcieved construction in your mind which filters out many impressions, objective and subjective. Many people arrive with so many expectations they shut themselves off from really experiencing anything.

I arrive as a blank slate, but it is soon layered with impressions, stories, facts, and history. One of my favorite curiosities is geological history. If you look closely at the land you can often times read its history like a book. The cliffs of Santa Elena canyon are an open book.

SantaElena3.jpg


Now to go on to my future homestead in the cottonwoods. ;-)
 
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TS, I assume you were on the Sherpa. How did it fare?
I was riding Sherpie. A few lessons learned there, too.

1. Rear suspension sucks. I bottomed out a few times, once really hard. I know, it's not a 'real' dirt bike, but my options are limited because I am vertically challenged. So I hope to improve the rear suspension by reinstalling the stock links (previous owner lowered it with Kouba links) and looking into another shock or spring for the rear.

Another issue for me is not only am I short, but I weigh about the same as a big feather. When I sit on the bikes they barely sag. So what is too soft for most is stiff or just right for me. I will have to determine what will work for me on this bike.

2. It needs re-gearing. For the really gnarly stuff -rocky hillclimbs and decsents, water crossings, etc- first gear was like dragging an anchor behind me (as Ed aptly described it) but second gear it was not adequate. Many times the range between second and third was too wide; third gear would bog down and second was too low.

I'll have to determine how to change gearing by changing out a sprocket. I don't think changing both will be necessary. And I don't care if I lose top gear speed; I have a street bike. The Sherpa is my 90% dirt bike.

One time I let my chest get puffy was when four of us rode up a sandy bank from a dry creek bottom. I and the bike made it up easily and I had both feet on the pegs; no problemo. The others didn't have it as easy. As Roger said often, the Sherpas will go almost anywhere. (he has one, too)

On the other hand, I bit rocks three times going up steep rocky inclines. I would be 3/4's the way up, feeling pretty chipper and proud that I was going to make it up and down I'd go. While part of that was learning to pick the right lines, I suspect partly also due to losing grunt in first gear.

I rode it on pavement going up and down the road to the Basin, and then on a solo ride on several miles of the River Road (Hwy 170). She's a screaming ball of fun provided the winds are not too strong. I sure could use a decent windshield, though.
 
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TS, When you lay the Sherpa down, can you pick it up by yourself. That's the only drawback I have with the 650. It likes to go over, but I can't pick it up by myself. I am looking for something that doesn't weigh as much so I can pick it up if it goes over when I ride by myself.
 

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Re: The Maverick Trail

On my journeys and travels I like to approach and experience places as a blank slate. A huge white board where first impressions are painted and written all over it without the cultural and physical preconceptions. To me, this is how you experience anything in the moment, that first glimpse, smell, taste, melody. Because you experience it as it really is. Not a preconcieved construction in your mind which filters out many impressions, objective and subjective. Many people arrive with so many expectations they shut themselves off from really experiencing anything.
Zen and The Art of Dual Sporting... It would make a great coffee table book... :trust:
 
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Re: The Maverick Trail

TS, When you lay the Sherpa down, can you pick it up by yourself.
Most of the time, yes. Once I was caught in a rut (pun unintended) and crashed to the side with my right foot caught under the rear wheel. Theresa was behind me and picked it up so I could get out from underneath (motocross boots are worth their cost!).

BUT...... I've learned that just like with Olympic lifting, if the bike starts to go past a point, don't try to save it. In OL, if the bar overhead loses balance, you can really hurt your shoulders and back trying to save it. Just let it fall by stepping out from underneath it. Same with the bikes. This happened when I went down a rocky hill with a sandy 90 degree turn. I didn't make the turn and the bike started to topple to the right. I tried to save it and pulled a muscle in my back. I finally decided to just aid it down slowly and David helped me pick it up.

I can pick the Sherpa up but the Whee, only 50% of the time.

Zen and The Art of Dual Sporting... It would make a great coffee table book... :trust:
Hey, now that's a great title, Scott. I like that. I'll consider it for the book! After all, that is the theme.
 
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Homestead in the Cottonwoods

Leaving the Lady we rode N up the Ross Maxwell Scenic Highway. Our first stop was the Cottonwoods campground which is just above the river's floodplain. Pulling in I was awestruck and all I could utter was "Whoah!!!!!". A grove of giant cottonwoods with their brilliant yellow fall leaves twirling in the wind, several mountain peaks lit aglow by the sun and several green-leaved oak contrasting all the mountain and yellow colors just blew me away.

Cottonwoods1.jpg

Immediately I envisioned a small humble cabin in the midst of the grove, dwarfed by the trees and mountain peaks and me living there. I think I would never leave if I did.

IMG_6723.jpg

People treasure, steal, kill and die for diamonds and gold. But to me, what lay before me was more precious than any of that. I wished (and still do) I lived 150 years ago right there, in a little cabin in that grove. A horse would be my transportation and I'd be happy.

It was too beautiful and beyond words.

I think Roger saw all that in my face because he kept grinning and asking me how I liked it. I was reluctant to leave but we had a date with ice cream at Castelon.

There were very few campers there. Maybe two tents and one small RV. Otherwise it was wide open. I think it may be a good spot to camp and spend a day around Santa Elena canyon sometime.

David, you really have to visit that spot sometime. I think you'll like it.

IMG_6735.jpg
 
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Top of the world

Sotol1.jpg

Continuing north we rode up to the top of a ridge for a view that would knock your boots off: Sotol Vista. Many prominent geographical points can be seen from here. And the road is....delicious.

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Mule Ears. Series of dikes shaped and aptly named like ears of a mule or horse. They were formed by molten lava flowing into crevices then the softer surrounding rock eroded away over centuries. Resulting spires and ridges are called 'dikes'. Many of these are all over the park area.

IMG_6746.jpg

Carousel Mountain. One amusement and interest I harbor is the naming of landmarks and places. Most of the names there have been accepted and in place for hundreds of years. Most names derive from terrain shapes or events that occurred on or near the location. Unlike modern trends, few are named after people. That, by the way, was mostly a European introduction. Indians used names associated with weather, legends, terrain and shapes. They were more descriptive names. The Spanish tended to use names associated with religious figures as well as terrain and its habitat. The Europeans seemed to be perpetually afraid of mortality and used names of people. Perhaps that immortalized people to them, or maybe they were just more egocentric: "We have to stamp our mark on the land! It's ours.!" We still do that; look at street names sometime.

I named the peak "Tiara Peak" because it looks like a tiara that would sit on a king's head. Ed named it "Castle Peak" because it resembles a castle turret.
Roger informed us of the official name. But notice how all of us used names associated with people. ;)

IMG_6747.jpg

The views are incredible from this vista. If you look closely at the background in the first photo above, a panoramic shot, you can barely make out the 'v' of Santa Elena canyon: 14 miles away by air, 22 miles by road. Ed and Roger absorbing it all. I think Ed was on the verge of sensory overload by that time.

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One of my obsessions, or passions, is light and dark contrasts: shadows. The desert here is a most obliging host for that; anywhere, anytime of the day. And it changes so quickly.

IMG_6759.jpg


Sotol2.jpg

Now if you look closely at the photo below, there are what appear to be two roads. I'll let y'all figure that one out. It's my secret ;)

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I caught Roger preparing a sermon for us.

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And his majesty overlooking his domain. ;-)

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Thanks for the guided ride, Roger. And sharing it all with us.
 
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Moon Valley

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So what does one do in the desert on a daily basis? It all depends on what kind of person you are. For those entrenched in daily visits to shopping malls, restaurants, coffee shops, and instant entertainment, you may find yourself bored within a few days. The nearest shopping center and fast food strips are 100+ miles away. Instant gratification here is of a different kind than what we are used to, and many don’t share the tenacity to make do with what is available or enjoy their own company for long periods of time.

Regardless, we are creatures of habit. Roger is settled in his own routine, which he shared with us. Having breakfast in the mornings at Kathy’s Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe near Study Butte satisfies his belly and provides a dose of gregarious gathering around the morning campfire to visit with locals and visitors.

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Because I’m not a morning person until I have at least half a pot of coffee (early morning communication consists of series of grunts), I usually chose to linger behind at the campsite and make my own breakfast. Stiffly crawling out of the comfy sleeping bag and tent was sometimes a regret. Although days were relatively warm, nights were usually near or below freezing and long johns became second skin. I was reminded of living in Maine winters, so I quickly adapted wearing layers over long johns and shedding appropriately.

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After making breakfast I usually wandered down to the Desert Rat Pit, Roger’s campfire site on a well-chosen outcropping. I soaked in the solitude and scenery below and let my head warm up to a state of life, fed by fantasies of exploring every inch that I could see, on foot or on a bike.

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Of course, there was a road that grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. So every morning and evening my attention was drawn to it. It was almost, no, it *was* a visceral response. Like a hungry dog watching and yearning for a big juicy steak on the ground near by; not really able to lunge forward, grab it and chew on it, savoring each morsel as it was swallowed. I knew I had to ride that road.

IMG_6797.jpg

David was well acquainted with the Ridge Road (my name) having ridden it before and then again on this trip. I listened to his KTM 450 wind its way up the incline and on to the top of the ridge. His accounts of the road only fed my obsession with it.

But I waited.

The others rode in.....

IMG_6808.jpg

and we all geared up for a Roger Rat Ride to a place he called 'Moon Valley'. By then, the core group of Desert Rats on Two Wheels consisted of our Fearless Leader, Roger, David, Ed, Hardy and I. The five of us became a close-knit group of comrades. And I've never experienced such a great group of riding buddies until then.

We headed towards Study Butte and left the tarmac at the junction of Hwy 170 and 118, riding north on gravel roads. Shortly we entered a valley and we were suddenly in some other time and space warp. We realized then why the locals call this 'Moon Valley'.

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We stopped in the road to take the surroundings all in, which was almost overwhelming.

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The area north of Study Butte is an ancient bed of volcanic eruptions. Dark volcanic masses of igneous rock punctuate the terrain, uplifting from under the earth's surface. The volcanoes have long since eroded or been pushed asunder but the ash beds remain, imparting the white-gray landscape resembling a lunar scape. Ribbons of iron oxide skirt some of the hill bases and blocks of igneous rocks, called 'bombs', literally coughed up and out by the immense volcanic pressure contrast starkly with the soft white and gray.

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Here we were, standing on this 80 million year old limestone bed with a history bared before us that none of us can truly comprehend.

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Many fossils have been found in this area and petrified crayfish burrows imply that at one time this was the bottom of a shallow sea. Rumors claim that early NASA astronauts trained riding the moon rover here, but I haven't been able to verify that. I wouldn't be surprised if it was true.

David must have hung back to take this photo* below before we turned around . I was too immersed in the landscape and my own private moon ride to notice ;)

DesertRats3-1.jpg

We left our own little lunar world and returned to tarmac to begin the hunt for blackberry cobbler and ice cream.

* Some of David's photos were downloaded on my laptop. With his permission, I'll post some of them with attribution and save him the hassle of fiddling with them. ;)
 

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Just curious, did you fiddle with the exposure settings in that first shot of the Moon Valley, or perhaps do a little post shot tweaking? I like the contrast between the deep blue sky and the greyness, even if it is the result of some artistic enhancing ;-)
 
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Wow... Just WOW..... Those photos are simply amazing! Great shots Elzi, you did good girl!:clap:


TS, When you lay the Sherpa down, can you pick it up by yourself. That's the only drawback I have with the 650. It likes to go over, but I can't pick it up by myself. I am looking for something that doesn't weigh as much so I can pick it up if it goes over when I ride by myself.
Jerry, I just saw a DRZ400 in the "For Sale" section. That would be just the ticket if you're looking for something lighter and easy to manhandle.
 
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Just curious, did you fiddle with the exposure settings in that first shot of the Moon Valley, or perhaps do a little post shot tweaking? I like the contrast between the deep blue sky and the greyness, even if it is the result of some artistic enhancing ;-)
Thats what it looks like , when you slow down from warp speed and take it all in . All I can say is its awsome . Ten days of nothing but sun and blue sky . A high cloud did come by for about an hour one day . SEYA
 
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Just curious, did you fiddle with the exposure settings in that first shot of the Moon Valley, or perhaps do a little post shot tweaking? I like the contrast between the deep blue sky and the greyness, even if it is the result of some artistic enhancing ;-)
No, sir. No enhancements or changes, except to slightly crop one of the photos. That's what it truly looks like.
 
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Elzi, your photography gets better with each trip. :clap:

You keep this up and I will have to break out my camping gear. :eek2:
 

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I guess living here in the hazy Piney Woods of East Texas, I sometimes forget how deep blue the sky really is when there isn't so much "atmosphere" in the way ;-) It has been too long since my last trip out West... uh... May of 07? ... yeah, that is far too long!! I think you would have enjoyed the scenery in the Az desert where we were putzing around ;-)
 
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Cobblering in the Basin

Lured by promises of delicious blackberry cobbler, the Desert Rats ascended upon the park, paid their dues, and ran the maze like good rats do. Our destination: the Chisos Mountain Basin.

This was the first time for two of our pack to visit the Chisos and the well-known Basin. I was not prepared for the meandering uphill road through Wonderland. The park road winds through a canyon, bordered by green trees and an assortment of desert and mountain plants. The transition from the desert floor to the heart of the Chisos Mountains was like riding through a magical tunnel. Gaping the entire way up, I merely followed the rat trail but deciding that I would return another day to ride and experience it in graduation. And I did; it was my Xmas present to myself.

We pulled in behind the Chisos Lodge and parked the bikes along the curb. They were dwarfed by the cliffs overlooking the lodge.

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We probably looked like a group of desperadoes coming in from the long hot dusty trail, which in a sense we were. Only we rode bikes rather than horses. Regardless, our waitress seemed to take us in stride and was friendly as we all ordered cobblers with ice cream and coffee. No beers, no whiskey, no stealing women and children, or shooting holes in the glass walls. We were pretty harmless Desert Rats, although we once in awhile heard the echo of Clint Eastwood-harmonica and twanging guitar.

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While waiting for food and coffee to arrive, I stepped out on the front deck that overlooks the basin bowl below and the basin rims beyond. The views were awesome, and I did feel as if I were in a bowl. As long as it is filled with blackberry cobbler and ice cream, I don't mind.

ChisosLodge2.jpg


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Having our fill of vittles and good coffee we rode back to base camp and the ritual of sitting in a close rat circle behind David's trailer to block the wind. Steve and Clayton joined us at some point. Steve rode his Wee Strom and Clayton, if I recall, was torturing little white balls with sticks on a desert floor somewhere nearby.

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Later, we sauntered down to the Rat Circle to enjoy a campfire and sacrificial story telling. Because the camera was on the tripod while I shot the full moon, I sneaked a video documenting the ritual and an expounding of campfire BTUs.

hehe. Sneaky Rat I am.

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Because I'm such a cold weenie and this desert road riding is such hard work, I was usually the first to excuse myself and crawl into the tent. Trust me; planning on how to remove outer clothing and immerse yourself into a warm cuddly sleeping bag in short a time as possible to avoid shivering is an art. I had plenty of opportunities to master it.

Sometime in the middle of the night, several times, I heard my buddies out there yipping and chorusing on the desert floor. Sometimes close. It was like a lullaby to my sleepy head as they sang me back to sleep.

Under a bright desert full moon.

IMG_6878-1.jpg
 
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Elzi, your photography gets better with each trip.
I practice what my Dad taught me: bracket, bracket, bracket. ;) I have ~ 1600 photos from the nine days. Not just because I bracket most of the time, but because I want to, and try to, capture almost everything I see there.

At some point on a ride later in the week I muttered to Ed, "I can't take anymore photographs. I'm burned out."
I lied.

I thought of you several times, wishing you could mentor me on macros. My few attempts were 90% failures. But those that did work are fantastic.

So get your camping gear out and get out there with us sometime!!!! No more excuses! :mrgreen:

I guess living here in the hazy Piney Woods of East Texas, I sometimes forget how deep blue the sky really is when there isn't so much "atmosphere" in the way ;-) It has been too long since my last trip out West... uh... May of 07? ... yeah, that is far too long!! I think you would have enjoyed the scenery in the Az desert where we were putzing around ;-)
Big Bend area suffers from pollution and haze, too. Some days worse than others. The day of the dust storm was bad, but that was our most awesome ride!!!! (our Double Secret Dual Sport Ride ;) )

Scott, my first love affair was with the Arizona desert, outside of the Tuscon area and then north up to the Mother Canyon. I was barely 18 yo then. Similar to the transformation experienced by Ed Abbey and Joseph Krutch, I was smitten for life. It just took me a few decades to move down to the southwest.

BTW, a polarizing filter on the camera lens helps to filter haze, enhancing contrasts. We can see it with the naked eye but capturing it with a camera is difficult without a polarizing filter. I hardly ever remove that filter off the camera anymore.
 

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BTW, a polarizing filter on the camera lens helps to filter haze, enhancing contrasts. We can see it with the naked eye but capturing it with a camera is difficult without a polarizing filter. I hardly ever remove that filter off the camera anymore.
:tab When I was still using the Nikon SLR, I had the same filter on most of the time. However, I now carry a 6 Mpix Canon Elf about the size of a pack of cigs. No filters for it. The trade off is that when I was carrying the bigger camera, I took fewer pics because it was such a hassle to carry everything, get it out, take the pics, put it away, etc,... The Nikon took fantastic pics! The Canon takes acceptable pics :shrug: Time is always the enemy. Good pics take time for me. I have to really think about what I want to capture, how to do it, what the light is like, etc... When riding with other people, I get to self conscious about constantly taking so much time and holding up everyone else.

:tab What are you using?
 
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The trade off is that when I was carrying the bigger camera, I took fewer pics because it was such a hassle to carry everything, get it out, take the pics, put it away, etc,...
Time is always the enemy. .....
I 'see' photos, images, all the time I am out on a ride or hike. I know instantly what I want in the frame; the composition is instantaneous. I routinely bracket for exposure; most times. Usually two shots are enough. And sometimes just one does it. I don't mess with using the LCD monitor and rely almost completely on a viewfinder that gives me a preview with set exposure and focus. I'd like to think I'm quick, but I know I'm not as quick compared to a simple and smaller point and shoot. But there's always a trade-off.

When asked I always tell someone to choose a camera that is convenient. Or they won't use it. I compromised with a Canon Powershot IS3. Not a full DSLR, but is more compact and has many more features than a point and shoot. I keep it in my tankbag, retrieved it and have focused and shot with one hand while the other hand is pulling in the clutch on the road.

I've added an extension tube which can accommodate filters and lens extensions (a wide angle lens extension is on my wish list). My biggest gripe is no cable release; I used one often on the old Nikon SLR I have. Instead I have to use the self-timer which is better than nothing and I use it exclusively for tripod and low light shots. And the sports burst mode rocks!

There are times I wish I did have a smaller point and shoot to use and I am considering a smaller Canon for carrying on the Sherpa. David's Canon (S650?) did a good job and I'm considering one like his. And it has a viewfinder.

I really want a medium-format Hasselblad :mrgreen:
 

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I 'see' photos, images, all the time I am out on a ride or hike. I know instantly what I want in the frame; the composition is instantaneous. I routinely bracket for exposure; most times. Usually two shots are enough. And sometimes just one does it.
:tab I have often wished that I had a bionic camera eye that could snap the view I see with my eyes. Too many times, I have been zinging along and see a "shot" and then in the next instant I am already moving on. If I could just snap the shot right then, when and as I see it, I would be so happy. Get home, plug the USB cable into the back of my head... download...

I really want a medium-format Hasselblad :mrgreen:
:tab We might have to start a fund for that :lol2:
 

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:tab I have often wished that I had a bionic camera eye that could snap the view I see with my eyes. Too many times, I have been zinging along and see a "shot" and then in the next instant I am already moving on. If I could just snap the shot right then, when and as I see it, I would be so happy. Get home, plug the USB cable into the back of my head... download...
Same here. I'll be riding along and smitten by an awesome view, only to turn around and not be able to capture the emotion. Maybe that's why they are called "memories" and not "thoughts."
 
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:tab I have often wished that I had a bionic camera eye that could snap the view I see with my eyes. Too many times, I have been zinging along and see a "shot" and then in the next instant I am already moving on. If I could just snap the shot right then, when and as I see it, I would be so happy. Get home, plug the USB cable into the back of my head... download...
:rofl: Too funny! I have often voiced the same fantasy, along with the flash drive I can insert into my brain and remove. (I 'compose' many essays/posts/etc in my head when riding)

I mentioned the bionic eye idea to someone on the trip (don't remember who) and I got a very weird look. When I mentioned the brain flash drive too, he stepped back. ;-)
 

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(I 'compose' many essays/posts/etc in my head when riding)
:lol2: I do the same thing, kind of writing the story as I go along, noting things of interest and how to work them into the narrative. Then when I sit down with my pics later, I start going over the story in my head and it all comes back to me. My biggest problem is trying to figure out what to leave out so I don't write a freaking book :doh:
 
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:lol2: I do the same thing, kind of writing the story as I go along, noting things of interest and how to work them into the narrative. Then when I sit down with my pics later, I start going over the story in my head and it all comes back to me. My biggest problem is trying to figure out what to leave out so I don't write a freaking book :doh:
I have the same problem. What I find helpful is to leave it for a day or so, proof it and edit out the extraneous, or edit for conciseness.

Of course, I haven't been doing that in this thread. :lol2:
But I am for the upcoming book :shock:
 
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