Category Archives: Featured

Italy: Cinque Terre

On Italy’s western Mediterranean coast — way up north on the front and top of the “boot” – is an area called the Cinque Terre (“five lands”).  It’s a series of five colorful little villages that have been hanging on the cliffs and hillsides just above the water for a thousand years.

A 2011 flood damaged a few of the towns and the trails and vineyards between them, so I explored only Riomaggiore and Manarola.  There aren’t really roads in the towns (they were built pre-automobile, of course; I parked a mile away and walked in).  The old passageways within the towns are narrow:  one writeup said they were purposely maze-like to thwart pirates who would try to land and pillage the towns.  Hopefully, the piracy rate has dropped in recent years.

Easily the nicest accessible view was a hillside overlooking Manarola and its tiny harbor.  The late afternoon light was okay, but I could tell it would get prettier and prettier as the sun set.  So I just hung out in Manarola:  had some lasagna, climbed up and down, watched the swimmers and window-shopped — taking another picture or 20 every hour or so til it got dark.  You can see from the series of pictures how the light (and thus the pictures) changed.


I did take a few shots of other things in the towns.  The wide shot in the group below is Riomaggiore, which is just a mile or two away.


A final note for photographers:  All these shots were with the Nikon D800 and the 24-120 f4 Nikkor lens.  The second- and third-to-last (after-sunset) pictures above were taken with ISO 1600, hand-held at 1/4 or 1/5 second.  The great color and noise-free images at 1600 are a tribute to the D800 sensor, but I was more shocked and impressed by the performance of the “VR” technology in the lens that allowed me to handhold 1/4 second and still get perfectly-sharp pictures (which was handy, because my tripod was approximately 5,000 miles away).  The final picture is at ISO 3200.   I did have a railing to stabilize my elbows.  As I often say, for those of us who attempted photography 30 years ago, modern cameras are indistinguishable from magic. 

Leadville Trail Marathon 2012: Formal Finish

Of 500+ finishers, I was the only one who somehow wound up crossing the finish line accompanied by an entourage of a dozen tuxedo-clad fourteen-year-olds.  It was as hilariously odd as it looks.  Lots of stories from a fun day.





Start with a regular, 26-mile marathon.  Put it on rocky, uneven, ground with lots of slippery, sandy grit.  Add in about 6300 feet of climbing (the rough equivalent of climbing up and down the stairs of the Empire State Building five times during the run).  Then move the whole thing up to the very-thin air of Leadville Colorado, so that most of the run is above 11,000 feet, and one section climbs up over 13,000 feet elevation.

What kind of idiot would sign up for that?

Here’s some perspective on that thin air:  Aviation regulations require that if a pilot is going to spend more than 30 minutes above 12,500 feet, he has to be on supplemental oxygen.  Remember, this is a guy who remains seated at all times.  At 13,000 feet, a given volume of air has only about 67% as much oxygen as it would at sea level.  My red blood cells were sure to be put to the test.

This was obviously not a recipe for achieving a personal-best marathon time.  The only goal was to see if I could get through it, alive and smiling.  The time cutoff was 8 ½ hours, and I’d decided I would count anything shy of 8:29 as a victory.

And . . .  I finished in 5:54!  In 196th Place (out of 509 who finished).  They published a separate set of “Flatlander” results (people who don’t live in the Rockies):  I was #33 out of 169 Flatlanders!  Good enough.

Incidentally:  Later in the summer, Leadville has 50-mile and 100-mile trail runs.  Seriously.  So if you think I’m a nut, come up and watch those guys.



There’s a half-mile, downhill straightaway to the finish line in downtown Leadville.  About three blocks out, I saw four or five young Hispanic boys – probably 13 to 15 years old — wearing tuxedos, about to cross the street in front of me.  I’m assuming they’d probably just left a quinceanera party (roughly the Latin American equivalent of a bat mitzvah).  They all wanted to “high-five” as I ran by.  Not wanting to slow down to dole out high-fives, I yelled, “C’mon.  Let’s go!” and motioned for them to start running.  They did.  About a block later, “we” encounted another group of a half dozen, who also started running with me.   And they flanked me the rest of the way to the finish.  My impromptu posse.

Surreal, to say the least.  Hilarious.  Leadville is a rustic mining town and I wouldn’t have guessed there was a tuxedo to be found within 30 miles.  And yet, somehow, my finish-line photo looked like that.



Coincidentally (sort of), I had five Houston friends in Leadville on race day.  Michele and Shane Merz and Mike Short drove me to the start line, pumped me full of pre-race Gatorade, and then spent the day chasing me around the course to cheer me on and offer up more Gatorade, powerbars, Payday bars, “Gu” and general moral support.  Their trip to the first checkpoint involved a frantic 1200-foot vertical climb of their own.  Apparently they drove back to town and purchased more suitable climbing shoes, then got the bright idea to rent 4-wheeler ATVs.  They spent the rest of the day chasing me around on those.  I’m pretty sure they had more fun than I did.

One point of interest:  Shane and Mike are the founders of MRE Consulting in Houston, which was a sponsor (long story for another day) of the Leadville Race Series, so the start-finish area actually had a banner ad for MRE.  Through a combination of Shane and Mike’s VIP status and my own stupidity (lost my assigned timing chip), I wound up wearing race number 3 – a number usually reserved for, e.g., the prior year’s #3 finisher or some other elite runner.  I got some perplexed looks back in 196th place.

Rolling into Leadville from Houston during the race was Ned Barnett.  He joined the fun at the finish line, just in time to see my black-tie middle-school posse escorting me across the finish line.  Huge thanks to all the Superfans for the fun, the moral support and the friendships.


Obviously, this is a post dedicated to my foolishness — not my photography.  So thanks to Mike Short for taking my camera and getting several fun shots before, during and after the race.  I carried a small camera with me on the course, though I probably should have calculated how much extra energy it would require to tote a 9-ounce camera up and down those trails.  A few of the shots are by other racers who were nice enough to stop and take my picture during the race.

Florida 2012: Panhandling with the Parkers


The beaches of the Florida panhandle – around Destin and Panama City – have sand as blindingly white as anywhere on earth.  Except for times when the seaweed mysteriously appears, the water is as blue as anywhere in the Caribbean.  But for the fact that it gets a little too hot in the summer and little too cold in the winter, these beautiful beaches might well be the most popular in America.  The area is sometimes disparaged as the “Redneck Riviera,” but as a native-born Redneck myself, I’m happy to claim it.

My sister has forged the wonderful tradition of taking her family to the Panama City Beach area every summer for the last decade or so, and most years I get to go join them.  It’s right next to Seaside, the notoriously-quaint town where they filmed The Truman Show.

Tyler is 23 now and lives in Chicago; Caitlin is 20 and in college at OBU; Grace still has most of high school ahead of her (she’s 15 but would think it important that I say “almost 16”).  Shockingly, the girls weren’t willing to get up with me before sunrise (on their vacation) for a sure-enough-genuine photo shoot, leaving me wandering the swamps by myself (camera in hand, of course) at 5:30a.m.  They did, however, agree to stand up and stand still long enough to take some fairly-glamorous-looking portraits on our condo balcony.  Those are all on separate pages.


That’s me in the black shirt.  That’s my sister, of course, in the turquoise top, and in the orangish gingham.  Her husband, Bill, is in the light blue.  The dark-haired young man is Caitlin’s boyfriend, Caleb.  Poor Caleb has been around the Parkers long enough he’s no longer afforded “guest” treatment, but he’s low-man-on-the-totem-pole in the Parker family vacation ranks.  This left him sleeping in a windowless closet/cell and schlepping the ice cooler to the beach each morning (‘til he faked a pinky-toe injury).  He was a good sport.  The dark-haired girl is Grace’s (shy) friend and basketball teammate/sharpshooter, Allie Glover.  Yes, Tyler has a beard – allegedly only as a temporary demonstration of his loyalty to the OKC Thunder during the NBA playoffs.  The sunglasses are because it’s very bright and sunny in Florida — not (just) because he’s gone all showbiz on us.


Cuba (Part 8) Olympic Spirit

 Part of a series from my recent trip to Cuba.  Part 1 is here.



One quick stop on our Tour de Cuba was at a Havana boxing arena where some of Cuba’s Olympic boxers train.  Despite its tiny size, Cuba has won more boxing medals in the Olympics than any country other than ours.  The folks in these pictures, though, are just boxers-in-training, not Olympic champions.  Like so many places we saw in Cuba, the facilities were tattered, rusting, flaking and crumbling, but that didn’t seem to slow these guys down.  The guy seated ringside (below) was the coach.  I declined the suggestion to join them for some sparring practice.


Cuba (Part 5) Club Tropicana

Another in a seemingly-never-ending series of my pictures from Cuba. 


Remember  I-Love-Lucy’s Cuban-born husband Ricky Ricardo?  Ricky’s 1950s New York nightclub, the Tropicana, was named for and patterned after the real and original Tropicana in an upscale part of Havana.  Barry Manilow could tout the fictional Copacabana only as “the hottest spot north of Havana,” because there was nothing hotter than Havana itself.  Back in the 50s, Marlon Brando (in real life and in Guys and Dolls) was whisking his love interest off to Havana for an evening of spicy, glitzy tropical entertainment.  Back then, the Tropicana was the most glamorous nightclub in the most exciting city in the hemisphere.

The Tropicana’s proprietors were promptly “interned” by Castro after he took power, but the Tropicana lives on.  Today the casino is gone and the crowd has more European tourists than chic movie stars, but the show is great and the showgirls still look just like the ones in the pictures from the pre-Revolution heyday.  It’s an icon I wasn’t about to miss.  You can tell by some of the photo angles that my seat was approximately one inch from the edge of the stage.  Which made for some interesting (if sometimes PG13-rated) pictures.

Since I get to control what goes on this site, you won’t be viewing any of the pictures of me dancing with a showgirl near the end of the show.  My crew of travel buddies all ducked and pointed to me when one of the dancers stepped off the stage in search of a dance partner.  Hey, the joke’s on them:  How many Americans can say they’ve danced at the real Tropicana?!?



Skip back to Cuba (Part 4) Kings of Cohiba