Save your Digital Change with Acorns

Acorns is a very convenient app that allows you to easily link your check card or credit card, then rounds each purchase up to the next dollar amount.  The difference is deposited into an online account with Acorns.  After the spare change arrives in your account, you have the option to invest the amount into several different types of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).  You can also make deposits anytime or setup a recurring monthly amount to build up your savings.  Acorns does charge $1 every month to maintain you account and services, so expect to pay $12 a year out-of-pocket to easily save spare change in an additional account.

I use this app very minimally but you can see that over a period of time, you can really save money. I have my account setup for a monthly deposit of $20,  then anything else that is added to that comes from the round ups.  Looking at the graph, you can see that the app automatically took and invested $739 from my linked spending accounts over the span of 14 months. Keep in mind, this isn’t an enormous amount of money and mostly pennies on the dollar. However, the nice thing is that you often don’t even realize those tiny amounts are gone. Once you set everything up, you can pretty delete the app if you want and just log on the website to withdraw. This really allows you to forget about it while it saves your own money for you. Withdrawal is simply the opposite of saving.  Whatever amount you decide to withdraw can be directed straight back into the bank account you have linked with Acorns.

The downside is that I actually lost money using this app. I lost $11.78 due to the ETFs I chose to invest in. Then, add on $14 for the 14 months I have used the app and now I’m out almost $26 with a total loss of 3.5% relative to the total amount I had saved.  I can’t say I’m pleased with the data but it is what it is and a part of what I think is a good review. This might not be the case for everyone and your investment might not be as aggressive as the one I had chosen. However, there is no way around the $1 monthly maintenance fee.

As these apps begin to develop more, more and better features are always being added.  There is now a retirement investment and also an option called ‘found money’ where certain companies will invest a percentage of what you spend into your Acorns account.  The layout is very user friendly and has some decent statistics on your account activity.  I highly recommend this app if you simply want to save your spare digital change without actively doing anything other than minor adjustments once the initial setup is complete.   If you want to give it a try, please use my referral code below and it will get you started saving today.

Click Here to Save your Digital Change with Acorns! 

Healthy Eating with Ibotta

Ibotta is probably one of the coolest apps I have found in terms of saving money. If you haven’t heard of it  or have heard and not tried it just yet, I’ll try to give you the run down and use can use my referral code at the bottom to download the app if interested. Right now, you can use my referral and Ibotta will give you a $10 welcome bonus. You do have to redeem at least $20 in rebates to cash out but it doesn’t take that long, especially if you shop often.  This app is a bit different than the other apps and sites I have listed on my blog to earn cash.  Ibotta is a rebate based, mobile app as opposed to GPT sites that often pay by completing surveys.  It also is one of the most popular rebate apps on the market.  Ibotta was created with basically two main ideas in mind. The first idea is to reach retail consumers that don’t necessarily use coupons.  The second is to deliver access to those consumers for discounts on in-store items and bring people back to physical stores.

I personally use Ibotta for groceries only. You can now use it a retail giants such as Amazon, Walmart, Macy’s, etc. and also for traveling and local rebates on sites like and  Ibotta now supports receipts from 285 stores. So, the chances of finding your favorite stores are fairly high. There is no reason why you shouldn’t just try the app for at least one month. It literally pays you!

In Just over a year I have earned back $470, mostly from Kroger and Walmart, averaging out to literally $1 dollar a day since I started using the site in April 2017. Here’s where it really gets interesting. I typically spend $200 per month on food. I have a pretty lean diet and typically get similar items weekly.  At minimum and over the course of 14 months, I would have spent roughly $2800 in food. Using Ibotta, I have saved 16.7%, all refunded to me in Paypal. The numbers are simple but the key to using this app for groceries is learning how to understand your nutritional needs.

Sure, you can sign up, find stuff to buy,  and get rebates but is it all essential??  You do have to pay attention because it can be easy to spend more than your budget just to get rebates, technically not saving anything. I also take a rather healthy approach with this app mostly because I have a healthy lifestyle and I enjoy learning about science and nutrition.  I’m no professional in the field but having a basic understanding of macros can help gather the needed information to supplement your normal daily nutrition.  Knowing the most common daily foods you consume allows you to browse Ibotta rebates searching for things that might fit your same macros. (Ex. Frozen veggie meat in place of real meat, different kind of yogurt than usual, protein bars/ drinks,  etc.) This info is extremely useful for gaining muscle or dieting by exposing foods that could be preventing you from reaching a specific goal.

Once you get to the store, you can check the nutrition label and see if it fits your needs. If so, grab the deal! Sometimes, you can even get items for free.  If you’re interested in healthy eating and learning more about macros, feel free to send me an email or leave a comment. is also a good free site to track your food but options are limited.  For me, the app often influences purchases for sure. I often get things I don’t really need but those things are usually new things and the change is usually good. However, I don’t typically indulge. The rebates don’t stay for that long so you will benefit more if you typically make lots of small trips during the month. Just try it for yourself. For real!

Click here to get $10 and download Ibotta

The Digital Age – GPT Sites: End of the Year Follow Up

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In April of 2017, I started playing around with GPT sites and apps. I was simply curious how much extra cash I could potentially earn per month.  If anyone doesn’t know the abbreviations, GPT stands for ‘get paid to’. You essentially get paid pennies on the dollar to answer surveys, play games, click on offers, watch videos, etc. The list of GPT tasks goes on.  I had no real expectations but found myself with free time to experiment. Of course with a background in science, I decided to create data points along the way to actually see my progress.

When I first started, I really had no idea what to do or what sites were legit. Reddit and Google were my two best friends for learning which sites to try out. I posted a blog earlier this year about using a handful of websites to earn extra cash.  It was a straight-forward blog with a list of 12 easy to use apps and sites that could help you earn and save money.  You can also find a few of my favorite apps and sites on the right-hand column of the blog so anyone that visits the site can at least be exposed to them.  I wanted to write these blogs to try and explain these few GPT’s more in detail and talk about what you can do with them. This particular blog is essentially a follow-up after using those apps for nearly 9 months out of the previous year. Along with my individual data throughout the year, I have included a few new GPT sites I have discovered as well and will mention those later in the blog.  I know not everyone has time to do this kind of stuff so I figured a step-by-step guide might just be what you’re looking for if you’re interested in this kind of thing. I also wanted to add a few pics that I took while traveling in 2017 since this is mostly a photography based, travel/ hiking adventure style blog.

Miami, Florida

I want to begin by talking a little about my goals for even considering such an experiment.  At the beginning of this year, I had started to really focus on getting my finances straight.  Being self-employed means everything is work and the hustle is 24/7.   It’s definitely nothing like working 9-5. It doesn’t guarantee a paycheck like a 9-5 job either.  I’m not comparing the two as if one is better.  Like the saying goes, ‘different strokes for different folks’. I personally enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with being self-employed. I’m well educated and have extensive knowledge and experience in many different areas. This variety of experience often gives leverage when trying to reach my potential. The free time gives me the opportunity to learn new things, create, travel, and even do this kind of stuff where I eventually write these blogs and share them.

This idea for learning about GPT’s formed after taking out a loan to pay off dreaded credit card debt.  Multiple debts disappeared but now one large one had been created with significantly less interest.  After reading a fair amount on Reddit about these GPTs, I quickly became intrigued about how much I could actually earn from these sites. I wanted to see if I could pull enough cash to pay that new monthly loan payment or cover a couple of bills at the least.  I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t considered this before.  If you find yourself paying high-interest rates on multiple credit cards, I highly recommend consolidating.  Then, set up an easy system like I am about to explain to help you pay towards that consolidation sum, invest, or whatever you want to use the funds for.  

Graph 1: Individual GPT Sites and Apps

When I began this experiment, I became tremendously overwhelmed.  There are a ton of these sites that have big and misleading claims.  I almost gave up just assuming they were all scams. People typically bash this kind of thing and call it a scam because they don’t make a ton of money.   It’s not, by any means,  a ‘get rich’ kind of application.  Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of scams out there but hopefully, with this article, I can help you avoid them.  With that being said, I know what my time is worth and what I want to do with it is my decision. Time is definitely one of the downfalls for GPT tasks.  Most of them are time-consuming, low paying,  and often simply might not be worth the effort to you.  I get that. This is when I began to develop a more systematic and logical approach.  I needed some kind of structure in place to really accomplish anything from this experiment.

Stickleyville, Virginia

Out of nearly twenty legit GPT apps and sites, roughly a dozen or so were worth the time using them.  Only about half of those are the most active and yield the most earnings. As you can see from graph 1, there are sixteen sites that I have used most often.  You can see the yield of each site throughout the year since the month of April. This data has been sufficient enough to show me what apps and sites are really working to bring the highest yields.  As with most successful things in life, you keep doing those things.

Graph 2: Monthly Gain

Compiling all app and site earnings per month, illustrated in graph 2, you can see that there some months have produced a nice chunk of change.  “How much can I make?” This is usually the biggest and most misleading claim that I have found advertised by most people or sites.  Earnings are often referred to as something between $2-$15 per hour. In reality, you are working on the lower end of the spectrum but closer to $5-$6 dollars an hour. I know you’re probably thinking, “This isn’t even minimum wage!” I agree but don’t be discouraged just yet.  This isn’t about making a living, this is simply something to do in your spare time that can earn you extra cash. Besides even at this rate, you would only need to spend two hours each day to make an extra $200-300 per month. That’s up to $3600 extra you could save or even invest each year! It would also make a nice pot of cash for travel or hobbies.

When I first started using these sites, I didn’t make anything.  In May, the lowest month, I barely made more than $1 a day.  From July to September, I got more into it the flow of things and was spending more time learning how everything worked. These months I was averaging nearly $5 a day. Then, I had discovered a few new sites and apps. By December, these new sites had helped me to earn $8-10 a day.  The first big game changer for me was the addition of Amazon Mechanical Turk.  This is a bit different from the other survey style sites I had been using. Although there were plenty of surveys listed here, the pay is significantly better than the other sites and less time spent finding available tasks. When I say the pay is better, let me explain what I mean. If I complete a task and get $0.30 for spending three minutes or less, I am earning a minimum of $0.10 per minute.  This easily puts me at $6 per hour not including the time it takes to find the tasks.  On Mechanical Turk, you will often find tasks that pay $0.30 – $0.50 per 3 minutes. My goal has been to set the filter for $0.30 and click on tasks I am qualified for.  This filters out anything below $0.30 and lets me scan for times. I usually begin searching any tasks that will yield $0.10 or more per minute. After completing all tasks in that criteria, I move on to other sites and basically do the same thing.  It’s best to make yourself a daily checklist. This will ensure that you stay on course for your daily goal. Sometimes daily goals can’t be met. It’s OK. Try again the next day.  Also. remember to plan weekly for your grocery rebates. Over the 9 months that I recorded data, I saved nearly 20% on groceries using the Ibotta and Checkout51 apps.  This savings can definitely help offset your unmet daily goals.

The next three sites I have been using mostly for mining pennies on paid advertisements. This has been by far the easiest and most passive way to earn cash. I had an extra laptop that I started using specifically for streaming video.  Overnight, I pair the spare laptop with my primary laptop streaming video on both.  I also use my tablet to stream some as well.  Please make a note that you will need unlimited data to work these streams or you will quickly run over your limit.  One of best sites I had been using for this is called InstaGC. There are lots of different tasks available here as well as survey work but I have found this site to be most useful for only streaming video. You don’t have to watch or hear them but you must keep them running. The streams from VideoLoyalty and EngagmeTV have been pretty consistent. I do find some easy click tasks that help generate a few points and the weekly bonuses are nice as well. Prize Rebel is another one of the new sites I have used for video streaming. On top of the 24/7 stream, I have been completing “your daily survey” each day gaining an extra $0.80 and also allows me to gain the daily $0.13 bonus.  On most days, These two sites alone pull $5 per day.  The video streams will eventually time out so you do have to make sure you keep them running and also make sure that advertisements are being shown. You will also hit daily limits and can be blocked if you don’t follow their rules and restrictions.  Grindabuck is another very similar website that I use only for streaming video. One thing I like about Grindabuck is that they usually offer a higher payout than InstaGC and Prizerebel.  One of the other new sites I have working with is called Points2shop.  It’s a bit different as I have only used it for surveys. I have only been using this one for a short period but have received a payout already. The payout minimum was quickly reached but the actual payout took a little longer than I expected. This site works on two different methods. One method allows you to gain cash that gives access to redeemable online gift cards while another method builds points in which you can make purchases directly from the site or have them cashed into mailed gift cards. This is actually a nice site for good paying surveys vs the time spent.  One other new site I had  

recently started using is called Slice the pie.  This one can be a bit of a relief sometimes because it isn’t survey based at all. In fact, you are giving reviews on different kinds of items such as cell phone case designs, shoes, commercials, and can even rate songs.  This site usually pays between $0.5-0.10 per review but occasionally offers bonus reviews up to $0.20 per review.  I average about 100 reviews per payout ($10) and it goes into PayPal only. 

Graph 3: Annual Growth

As you can see in graph 3, I have been successful in steadily earning extra cash using these sites and apps.  Over the course of nine months, I managed to bring in around $1240.  Now that I know what to expect and how to navigate through these sites,  I expect that number to triple by this time next year as long as the rates stay consistent. Now, I’m going to share with you one of the coolest things about this entire experiment.  In the previous blog, I mentioned Stash If you haven’t heard of it yet, click the link or icon here and start yourself an account.  You won’t regret your decision. This is a simple newbie investment app that allows you to invest as much or as little as you want while learning how investments work.  I started putting all of my earnings into Stash. The $1240 I had invested is now bringing in a 10% return on average.  So, that’s another $110 added to my annual growth for a grand total of $1349 to finish out the year (nine months).  You definitely won’t get that return from any other savings accounts. There is a bit of an intermediate step to get everything into Stash. Several of the apps only pay non-Paypal gift cards.  Therefore, you have to use that money towards normal purchase via Amazon, then, deposit that displaced money from your bank account into Stash.  I basically do the same with my Paypal account since you can only link a bank account with Stash.

So there you have it! You have my proof, my data, my charts, and my word that these apps will get you extra cash. If a couple hours a day is worth your time, by all means, go for it! If you want to learn how to invest, have at it as well. If all else, take your earnings and go buy yourself something, go treat yourself, and most importantly,  just go have fun with it!   

Sawnee Mountain Preserve – Indian Seats Trail

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Atlanta, Georgia is known for being one of the busiest cities in the southeastern section of the United States. Many folks fail to recognize all of the excellent trails and state parks that you can reach within an hour’s drive.  This seriously is a city within a forest.  If you’re looking for something more mountainous, I also have a quick guide to 10 amazing places to visit in Georgia where you can fully experience all the nature and wildlife that Georgia has to offer.  However, these drives are significantly farther, especially if you start driving within proximity to the downtown area.

Nevertheless, all trails are worth it and I highly recommend checking out the blog.  This week I wanted to share, Indian Seats Trail, a relatively short, 4-mile roundtrip trail that has become a new favorite of mine. You can find this trail in the Sawnee Mountain Preserve located in Cumming, Georgia, or what Atlantans would call north Georgia.  For me, I don’t see north Georgia until  I reach the top of this little mountain. Sawnee Mountain is definitely one of the closest mountain hikes for me and definitely one of the nicest views I’ve seen around Georgia.  I live in Gwinnett County so I’m probably a little closer than the heart of Atlanta. I think it takes about 45 mins and covers a distance of maybe 20 miles or so from my location.  There are two entrances that will get you on the trail to the lookout.  The entrance I use is at the visitors center off Spot Rd.  From the visitor center, you take Laurel Springs Trail, the only trail at the center, and it will join into Indian Seats Trail. There is a fork in the trail here.  Take the right at the fork and you will head towards a parking lot. Going towards your left will lead you to the overlook. The parking lot is simply the other entrance about a 3/4-mile down Bettis Tribble Gap Rd.  Both locations can get you to the peak. Thanks to Alltrails and Google, a trail map is available.  You can also really see the size of that ridgeline from the map’s topography!  I hit this trail a few weeks ago just as the cold spell broke here in Georgia. It was still a cold, windy afternoon but I was aching to get out and hike.  Sometimes you just need that solitude to jumpstart your brain again. As soon as you get on the trail, it begins to wind up and around a short incline. After a few sets of switchbacks, the trail levels off just before heading up the last rocky incline that opens you up to the lookout.  Overall, I’d say this trail is medium in difficulty.  Throw a heavy pack on if you’re looking for the workout. There are some steep parts but they are fairly short.

Because of its proximity to Atlanta,  Sawnee Mountain is a popular spot nearly all year round.  At the top of the mountain,  you might find other hikers taking in the beautiful views.  I met a few youngsters and one old man hanging out on the overlook. The old man knew all the mountains nearby and even some over in North Carolina. Waterfalls, too!  It has always been interesting to me listening to other people’s stories about where they came from and where they’d been.  It’s rather inspiring at times, most times actually. The image above was taken from the overlook last in 2016 about this time but I wanted to think outside the box and experiment near the rock ledges. The last time I was here, I had just bought a camera and owned one lens, ‘the nifty fifty’, for only a few weeks. I took shot this handheld. Due to hard drive failure, I can’t access the actual settings of this image but I think I used a fast shutter speed on this, maybe 250. The 50mm that I have goes down to f1.8 as well, so I’m assuming I used a lower aperture judging by the focal point in the image.  Although the image turned out ok, I was a total newb at photography and hadn’t learned much about long exposure landscape shots. I was just talking the other day how my photography had become significantly better over the past few years. This year I was shooting with the same camera but using a 28-85mm mid-range zoom lens and an old-school manual 24mm lens.  Surprisingly, I captured a similar focal point shot as before but this time my settings were quite different and the results definitely show the improvements in my photography and post-editing skills.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a tripod handy for this shoot but luckily found a sturdy place to rest the camera between two tree branches and other times just sitting on the rocks. This really helped me steady out the 1/32 shutter speed. Shooting this handheld would have been blurry for sure or else, I would have had to crank the shutter speed up and lose all of that extra light.  Those were the same thoughts I had before but at that time I never thought about more light giving more detail.  ISO was set at 100 as are most of my landscape shots, especially in bright light.  Aperture was set to f/16.  I do wish those clouds had of been there, though.sawnee mountain, indian seats trail, lifestyle photography, cumming, discover georgia, alltrails, georgia trails, hiking, mountains, north georgia

And of course, I had to get a couple of Instagram selfie, lifestyle shots. The view is great here and I was hoping the sun to actually be in a different spot today but at least the colors of the setting sun allowed the images turn out well.  I wasn’t sure how the selfie images would turn out but I kind of like them.  I never do selfie stuff but I feel that these images really reflect the way I see myself.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  If so, these might be a few of those pictures for me.  Camera settings are the same on these selfie shots except I’m using a much wider angle, a 24mm, and the camera is sitting on the rocks.  It’s an old-school manual lens and really simple to use.  I set the focal point to infinity, close the aperture down to get a broader depth of field, slow the shutter speed, and try to stay in range of the remote.  A wide lens works really well for these kinds of shots helping to create a sense of size and depth to the image.

If you like these blogs, make sure to sign up and follow it at the top right.  Do the IG thing as well if you want. Comments for discussion and/or other hike suggestions are welcome, encouraged, and appreciated.  I am always looking for a good workout hike and also hikes where I can get a few killer shots to share. Happy Trails!

Hiking Essentials – 50-Mile Hiking Gear Review

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As we all know, some gear is worth buying and some, well, just doesn’t live up to the hype.  This past year, I began upgrading all of my hiking and camping gear. I  wanted to do a quick hiking gear review of the quality of these items as well as the comfort level.  These are strictly my opinions and I receive no incentives from any of the companies to write these reviews.  However, I do get a small commission from the sales if you purchase any items directly from my links.  Any bit of commission earned helps me purchase new products to test and to, ultimately, write these reviews. My goal is to share these reviews with all of you hikers and campers out there that might be interested in some new, dependable gear.
A couple of these products have been in my collection for quite some time but all of them have been with me for a minimum of 50 miles.  That might seem like a long way on foot but when you average 5-10 miles/hike, it adds up really quick. When you’re adding miles that quick, you need well-built, well-designed, and dependable gear.


Salomon boots, Salomon, Salomon quest 4d 2 gtx, hiking gear review, hiking gear, hiking, camping, pine mountain, hiking blogYears ago when I was first getting into hiking, I used to think boots or appropriate shoes were not that important.  I would usually opt for a cheaper boot and basically deal with weird fittings or aches in strange places. The worst part is when you begin making the decision to not even go hiking because you know your boots suck.  I had been hiking between 5 and 7 years with a nice pair of Merrell mid hiking boots. These boots were great. They were gore-tex, light-weight, had a great fit, and really comfortable.  Surprisingly, there was not a single leak the entire time I owned those boots.  However, when I started to do multiple day hikes, I started using a large pack and most of the time it would get pretty heavy.  This is when I noticed my feet were not so happy afterward.  I thought it might be my insoles and even tried to be more cognizant of the way my feet were hitting the ground. It didn’t matter, my feet still hurt.
After the first hike in my new Salomon boots, I knew that pair of Merrell’s was simply not built for the heavy pack load. That’s not to say they were not good boots for hiking.  There was almost no break-in period at all with the Salomon boots.  Right out of the box they were snug, comfortable, and had more ankle support than I’d ever experienced.  
I actually never imagined a pair of more comfortable boots than the Salomon Quest 4d 2 GTX. The soles are attached well, the seams are flawless, absolutely no leaks, and they even look pretty cool. The only disadvantage I’d point out with these is that they are a bit heavier than normal hiking boots and seem to be a warmer boot. Although, this can definitely be a benefit in colder climates.  I have put well nearly 60 miles on these now and impress me every time I lace them up. 


Socks tend to be way underrated for their importance on the trail.  Socks need to do and provide a few basic but crucial duties. They need to stay dry, they need to retain consistent cushion and comfort, and they need to stay together. I’ve noticed with cheaper cotton made socks, the first thing to suffer is dryness. As soon as the foot sweats, the socks begin to absorb all the moisture leaving you with wet feet. Hiking with wet or damp feet can lead to friction, wrinkles, breaks, and peeling in the skin exposing new sensitive skin layers that can lead to blisters and discomfort. The next major issue I usually find with cheaper socks is holes forming in the heel or the balls of the feet area near the toes.  Socks like these never retain their shape, cushion, or comfort and become pretty worthless after a short period of heavy use.
Today there are way too many sock brands out there but merino wool seems to be the common denominator and overall best material for hiking socks.  If you want to learn more about what type of sock to choose, check the REI’s guide here.  I recently purchased  Darn Tough brand so this review was triggered by this brand although they use the  These socks are uniquely designed and even comes backed by a lifetime guarantee. That alone was enough for me to test them.  So far, I don’t regret my decision.  I bought these with the boots mentioned above but I have worn them much more than the hiking distance alone.  I initially bought these specifically for hiking but they have really grown on me in my wingtips as well.  Hands down, these socks are built like a tank. They always retain their shape and comfort even when wearing several times a week for several hours at a time.  Sometimes they get a wash and other times they don’t.  It really depends on the level of perspiration. They’re simply a nice, comfortable sock. I will be expanding my collection on these soon.

BAFX trekking poles, Kelty Redwing 50, hiking gear review, hiking gear, hiking, camping, pine mountain, hiking blog

Trekking Poles

I had hiked for years and never even considered hiking poles. Maybe I was just young and never really needed them.  Last year, at 34, I was planning for a 16-mile hike in the Smoky Mountains and randomly decided to grab a set. This has been one of the cheapest purchases and best investment I have ever made.  I would not have been able to complete that hike without them.  I picked up a set of BAFX trekking poles for around $22 and have used them over a year now.  I can’t even count how many hikes these have been on.  They’re pretty much a standard attachment to my pack now.  I have had a few problems getting the adjustments to lock in place but they always end up working and always work well.  I highly recommend these guys. Sure, you can pay $100+ for brand name and carbon fiber poles but in the end, they all break the same.  I have read reviews that when the carbon fiber ones break, they tend to explode leaving them pretty much useless.   At least with a cheap set, you still have a bent pole to use for assistance if needed.


Choosing a pack can also be a bit overwhelming with so many brands and designs on the market. When it comes down to it, the most important aspect of choosing a pack is how it fits. You want to pick the right length of pack to match your torso. This way the waist belt and chest strap will be in the correct places to allow the pack to be pressed against your back but not resting on your shoulders. I’m 5’8″, 145lbs and only two packs seem to fit my body well. The Kelty Redwing 50L Pack which I own and is pictured above and another pack by Osprey. The Osprey pack was much more expensive and may have had the best fit but the Kelty pack suited my needs more with a laptop slot and more pockets for better organization. The Kelty pack also had a nice quick grab pocket where I stick my DSLR camera while on the trail. The 50L capacity easily holds all the gear I need for an overnighter or even multiple days on the trail. The pack has well-stiched seems, sturdy and strong zippers, and has an adjustment for nearly every parameter to get the perfect fit.  The pack has a built-in airflow design system to keep you cool and dry when wearing the pack for long periods.  Unfortunately, the pack does not come with the rain cover and that will need to be purchased separately.

Water Bags/ Water Container

Every hike needs adequate hydration. Without proper hydration or containers for staying hydrated, you could run into some potentially fatal situations depending on the intensity, climate, and remoteness of your hiking adventures. For most folks on short hikes, worst case scenario is being super thirsty. I often see people hiking long distance hikes with absolutely nothing. I, personally, like to be hydrated. On average, 60% of the human body is made up of water. Billions of individual cells that make up our body and the spaces between them are filled with water. Water is even integrated into the bloodstream. This is why our bodies work most efficiently when hydrated properly.  With all of the personalized tools available for hiking,  there is no reason not to have a water container of some kind.  Sometimes, it’s even a
good idea to have stored water in extra containers . You don’t really know what kind of situation you might experience in the wild so why not be prepared!?  I have a simple system where I carry an easily accessible container (Nalgene 32oz) that fits snuggly on the side of my pack. I also carry a larger container (Hydrapak Seeker 3L) that fits inside my pack or can be attached to the pack with straps. I have been on multiple day hikes where two of these containers barely got me through the hike because no water was available.  the good thing about these containers is that they’re built to last. They are definitely not indestructible but you don’t need to buy them that often as long as you maintain them and don’t lose them.

I hope this been a helpful topic and review for a few of these items. I recommended all the things I personally have because I have used them and I would not keep them in my working inventory if they were crap. However, You don’t have to pick these exact items for your hikes. There are plenty of similar and even better quality options out there. I thought this would be a good place to begin for anyone that is interested in hiking more or picking up hiking as a new hobby/ activity. With the proper gear, hiking can be a fun and rewarding experience. Feel free to comment, make suggestions, or requests about future products to test. If you like these blogs, you can follow them via email and I’ll send them directly to your inbox. Also, make sure to follow me on Ig if you like the landscape and urban photography I post.


Yonah Mountain – A North Georgia Gem

After a long bout of freezing temperatures throughout the southeastern US this January, temperatures soared to near 70 degrees here in Georgia this past weekend.  As an avid hiker and landscape photographer, there was no way I was about to sit inside and let this kind of day pass by. If there is one thing I like about what I do for a living, this is it. I love having the freedom to wake up, get a day’s worth of food together, pack my hiking/ camera gear, and take off on the open road. Well, maybe not so open near Atlanta with non-stop traffic congestion but hopefully you can picture what I’m trying to get at. 
I wanted to get a good workout on this hike and also wanted to see a nice sunset so I knew almost immediately where I wanted to go, Yonah Mountain. This little gem lies in the heart of the north Ga mountains.  It isn’t the tallest mountain in north Ga but it definitely provides gorgeous views and peaks at a towering 3166ft.  Just before reaching the trail-head, you can see the mountain very well from the highway as shown in the featured image at the top of the page.  Once you reach the trail-head off of Chambers Rd., the 2.3-mile trail takes you up a bouldering 1500ft in elevation. That’s roughly a 12% incline! Talk about working up a sweat! The views from the top are totally worth it, though.

I had been here once before and I was literally one of three people on the entire mountain.  However, today was incredibly busy with a line of cars leading all the way down to Chambers Rd.  I should have known it would be a hot destination location especially after such a cold spell that has been lingering around for far too long now.  There were even a few large sheets of ice still present at the top of the mountain. This caused extreme caution when I began exploring the cliffs to get some cool images.

In my opinion, this hike is considered a difficult hike. There are some flat areas along the trail but the continuous incline begins to take its toll after 45 minutes or so.  I thought I’d add a few pointers here if you’re deciding on taking a trip to Yonah Mountain for the first time. I advise bringing a small daypack, mostly something big enough to carry about 2 liters or more of water and a light snack. A protein bar usually works well for me depending on the amount of time I want to plan for exploring at the top.  It takes me about 50 minutes but that’s moving on with maybe one stop halfway to catch my breath and drink some water.  If you want to see the sunset, try and leave yourself at least 90 minutes for the hike just prior to the event.  You should also plan to bring along a headlamp or a small flashlight to use while hiking back in the dark. Make sure your batteries are charged!   If you have hiking boots, I highly recommend them over any other shoes mostly for the ankle support while climbing up and over large boulders that make up parts of the trail. If you have issues with your knees or any other joints, I’d recommend a set of trekking poles as well.
BAFX has a super cheap pair and very dependable (review here) but you can also find a nice thick stick in the woods if absolutely necessary.  It can be a bit tricky finding the trailhead if you’re not familiar with the area so just put Yonah Mountain trail-head into GPS. Make sure that your destination is just off Chambers Rd. and you will end up in the right spot. Last and def not least, the sheer cliffs at the top can be fatal if fell from so please proceed with caution. The dangers are not to be taken lightly here.  With all that being said, its a super fun and intense hike. So, opt outside this weekend and go check it out!  

Back Home

I grew up in Lee County, Virginia. Even though I haven’t lived there for 15 years or so, I still call it back home.  It sits in the most western part of the state.  It’s about half an hour or so from Kingsport, TN and about 45 mins or so from Middlesboro, KY. This county and the adjacent county, Scott County, house several mountains of the Appalachian mountain range. Powell Moutain, the one on the Tn-Va side, rises up 2500-ft. As the highway crosses near the top, you drive right into Lee County. Once you descend, you find Wallen’s creek near the bottom of the mountain and the creek cuts between Powell Mountain and Wallens Ridge, which rises 2000-ft as the highway passes through. 
The valley between the two mountains includes an area called Stickleyville, VA. If you travel along a small creek that runs through that area, you can easily find where I grew up. It’s basically a narrow curvy road just off highway 58 that leads to Blackwater Mountain and the town of Jonesville, Va. Going this way is what we referred to as ‘down the creek’.  This particular year,  like most years for the holidays, I went back home to visit but this time I had a new DSLR.  I decided before I had even left that I wanted to drive/ hike to a few of the places I had been to when I was younger to try and get some good shots for photography portfolio.  Unfortunately, as soon as I got there a gray gloom filled the sky.  With my optimistic mindset,  I wasn’t going to let that get me down so I decided to make the best of it.

When I was young, I found a cool place to go sit and think; collect my thoughts as they say.  The featured image is a view from this spot. If I ever needed to get things off my mind or write lyrics to a song, I would pack my guitar out here and strum away. The thing I loved the most about this spot was being able to be as vulnerable and naked as I possibly could.  I knew no one could hear me.  Although, the sounds do carry quite easily between mountains. And even if they could, there was no way they could make out what was doing. Who cared anyway! This allowed me to really be myself and reflect what is real to me. This was a huge stepping stone for me to become a real singer-songwriter.  The view from here looks up along what we called, Wallens Creek. 
It’s just a small creek that runs through the valley and eventually dumps out into a river.  About 2.5 -miles from here you take a right turn and you’ll be on your way up Powell mountain again. If you take a left, you’d most likely be on your way towards Pennington Gap or Jonesville.  I’ll leave those for another trip and another blog. Those rain clouds you see had moved rather quickly on me and nearly hindered all my prospects for photography while I was there. I spent time snapping pics around my Mom’s house and also throughout the land I once helped maintain.  I had never once realized the beauty of this place so much as I do now. I really owe it all to getting a DSLR camera last year.

log in pond (1 of 1)-2.jpgOver the next few days, I waited for the rain to stop. I didn’t plan for the rain at all so I figured I might as well take what I can get since I’m not here very often. While the weather was surprisingly warm for December, I decided not to let the rain spoil my trip and took off to see what kind of pics I get.  Of course, if there is a body water near, I’m bound to end up at that shooting at that spot before it’s over.  I played around for a while trying to get some shots of a few blue jays I had been following.  Then, I thought I saw the sun poking its head through the gray. Before grabbing my gear and heading off to catch a sunset, I played around with this pond and a log for foreground composition. The shot looked good, maybe better than anticipated for such a dreary and drowsy day. The reflections in the pond were killer!  One of the names on my list was Natural Tunnel State Park. I remember this park growing up mostly because the public swimming pool was nearby. I had only been to the actual park part with hiking trails a few times. I remembered a cliff, called lover’s leap and a huge tunnel that the railroad was run through back in the early 1900’s.  That was the extent as to what I remembered so I figured why not go back and photograph it. Once I got there, I climbed down to see the tunnel.
There were a bunch of Christmas lights and decorations there but with it being during in the day, they just seemed to be in the way of a decent pic. I snapped a bunch, may post one or two at some point but for now, I’ll leave them out. So I continued on and headed up to the peak known as “Lover’s Leap.” Legend says a white settler fell in love with a native American girl. Both plunged to their deaths from this lookout once conflicts broke out between the new Americans and the native Americans. Of course, I would have come here to get a potential sunset. I really didn’t expect the clouds to open up, though. At least not like they did! Sometimes it is all about being in the right place at the right time. This has been one of my favorite sunset shots ever. Large prints are available if interested.  

The rain was finally rolling out about the same time I headed out of town the following day. I had initially planned to try and get back to Atlanta as early as possible but once I passed this railroad trestle, I knew it was going to be a long trip back. Back in the early 1900’s, this was one of the highest trestles in the eastern United States. It rose to a whopping 167 feet above the Clinch River/Copper Creek junction. I’ve driven by this thing for years and never really paid much attention to it. They even had a parking lot to pull off and read about it. I managed to get some nice shots at random spots I stopped at along the way, well, before the rained started again.  It was almost dark by that time anyhow.
I’ll be on my way back to good ole Lee County in a few weeks. You guys should know by now that I’ll be taking my camera and you better believe I’m going to be getting some pics for a new blog.  I travel up into north Georgia, through the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, NC, and eventually make my way past Johnson City, TN, which will lead me towards back home. There is just so much everywhere I go that I feel inclined to take pictures and share it all with you guys. Feel free to share some places you know of as well or places you’d like me to visit, take some pics, and write up a blog about it. Make sure subscribe to my blog in the upper right corner and follow me on social media as well. I always have pics going up on Ig from all over the place. Until next time, safe travels!


10 Amazing Places to Visit in Georgia

It’s definitely that time of the year again and here in the southern states of the US, the great outdoors becomes a luxury as the weather starts to cool. The time rolls forward, we lose daylight, the nights become longer, the leaves fall from the trees, and before long, old man winter will be popping his head in the picture. For now, this is prime time to get out and enjoy nature but of course, you can enjoy being outside anytime of the year. There might not be any mountains here in Atlanta, Georgia but just outside the city and especially a few hours north can take you to some the best hiking trails the state has to offer. Over the past few years, I have been exploring the north Georgia mountains while photographing my travels.  I have put a list together containing 10 amazing places to check out around the city and north Georgia.  You should definitely check them out if you’re trying to get out and enjoy a little bit of what mother nature has to offer.

All pictures were taken by me.  If interested in prints, a few of these can be purchased as high-quality luster prints but only in specific sizes.  Feel free to browse my portfolio or simply click on the image.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch with any questions about different print sizes or if you’re interested in something not listed with a price.

(10) Toccoa Falls

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The first few destinations are all straight up I-85N.  If you wanted to just drive, you could hit all the ones on this route in a day.  For me, I like to have a day or an overnight at each.  I tend to explore and see what all I can find to photograph.  There isn’t much hiking here at Toccoa Falls but this is definitely worth a stop to see.  While traveling north and just shortly before arriving at Tallulah Gorge, you can find this majestic waterfall hidden about 15 minutes off the Interstate at Toccoa Falls College. Once you get on campus, you will locate the visitor center. You should be able to find parking here as well. You must go inside to gain access to the short trail leading up to the falls so you may want to call ahead to make sure they’re open, especially if its a holiday. There is a small fee to gain access.

(9) Tallulah Gorge

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If you’re looking for a place with hiking near lots of water, this should definitely be on your list. The gorge is not a place for swimming, though. You enter the State Park about 900ft above the actual gorge floor.  You can access the views from a trail system above the gorge or you can take the neverending set of steps all the way down to the gorge floor. I highly recommend.  The amount of water flowing through here is an incredible thing to experience from the floor. I do believe there are places to cross the gorge floor but I have never attempted to do so and would suggest to not have anything valuable in your belongings if you do try.  Also, make sure to check the dam release schedule ahead of time as you can’t access the gorge floor during these times.

(8) Black Rock Mountain

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The further you travel north in Georgia, the more mountainous the terrain gets. Black Rock Mountain State Park lies in the most North Eastern part of the state, right up near the TN and NC state lines. The park includes four other peaks that extend over 3000 ft in elevation with Black Rock rising to an elevation of 3640ft.   A trip here will guarantee many views of the surrounding mountain ranges, including the Blue Ridge mountains. The featured image in this blog post is a sunrise looking over towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. The sunrise image here is much higher in elevation than the featured image. You can really see the fog lifting creating a beautiful, hazy morning sunrise.

(7) Yonah Mountain

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From many views around the northern mountain ranges, you can always pick out Mt Yonah with its huge rock face.  The mountain itself is a beauty but the views from the top are incredible. Mt Yonah and next few spots can be found straight up I-985N.  The trailhead to get here can be a little tricky. So make sure your gps is taking you near Chambers Mountain Road. The hike to get there is an extreme 2.2 miles or so to reach the 3166ft  summit. This will put you right on the rock face. As I noted, the views from here are beautiful but there is extremely sharp drop- offs as you walk along the rock face.  Please be careful if you plan to hang around these areas as falls from here can be fatal.  Backcountry camping is allowed on the summit but make sure to get up there early to get the best spots.

(6) High Shoals Falls

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If you have an itching for more waterfalls, north Georgia is def a good place to start. I’ll be making a blog post on just waterfalls throughout northern GA, so make sure to sign up for my emails and I send it directly to you once I get it together. However, I wanted to share this one since its probably a bit rare to see it this size.  Heads up: there is a small creek to cross as you get off the main highway. However,  there is some room where you can park along the side of the gravel road and hike it. You’ll find the trailhead about a mile or so up the hill that will lead you down to two different falls actually. This was the larger of the two.  I made it here after some crazy storms had passed through the night before.

(5) Brasstown Bald

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If you are hiking anywhere in the area, you are more than likely to see Brasstown Bald sticking out from the surrounding mountains. Why? Because it has the tallest peak in the state of Georgia.  Brasstown Bald reaches a peak at 4784ft, pushing it just a bit taller than Rabun Bald which is the 2nd highest peak. I’ll be visiting there this weekend and will have some pics to share and a blog entry as well from that trip. Make sure to follow my blog in the email sign up over in the right-hand column to catch that. Luckily for those of you wanting to see the views from the top of Brasstown Bald, there is a paved highway that takes you to a huge parking area where you can access a short trail about half a mile from the top.  The trail is paved as well but very steep. You will find a large observation deck on the top where you can enjoy magnificent views in all directions. Note: If traveling here during the winter months, make sure to check ahead as this is one of the first highways to close in the state.

(4) Bell Mountain

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Bell Mountain definitely isn’t the highest mountain in the Hiwassee area but is no less interesting. In fact, It might be one of the most unique spots to visit.  There has been a lot of controversy over whether or not ‘unique’ is good or bad. This little mountain has a huge scar on top where it was mined in the early part of the century.  You can see its exposed top in the picture here.  This used to be a highly sought destination to catch the sunset after a day hike to the top. Today, there is a paved road that will take you all the way to the top. On top, there is a massive lookout deck giving you panoramic views of the surrounding mountains that tower over Bell Mountain.  There is also a vast amount of vandalism on the exposed rock at the top. If you’re in the area, this is definitely a drive to make but please leave the spray paint at home.

(3) Sweetwater Creek State Park

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Sweetwater Creek State Park is probably the closest you will get to the city but far enough out to really enjoy nature at its finest. This park falls just west of the city near Six Flags over GA.  You can find this gem right off one of the major highways (I-20W) that runs east and west through Atlanta. The trail system mostly goes along the water where you can enjoy spectacular views of the rapids, the ruins of an old mill, and might even encounter some Georgia wildlife natives.  There is an excellent campground where you can stay in a yurt or camp backcountry style with a tent and a firepit. Electricity is available here as well at each campsite.

(2) Amicalola Falls to Len Foote Inn

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Amicalola Falls State Park is an excellent destination if you’re looking for waterfalls, hiking, backcountry lodging or if you’re just itching to get your feet on the Appalachian Trail.  The state’s largest flowing waterfall lies within the park rising to a staggering 729ft. From the parking lot, you can choose to descend the 600 or so stairs that will take you along the falls all the way to the bottom.  Keep in mind, you do have to climb back up but it is worth it.  Also from the parking lot at the top of the falls, you can take the trail-head toward Springer Mountain/ Len Foote Inn. The 8-mile hike to Springer Mountain will take you to the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. You can cut that distance in half by branching off at the trail-head to the self-sustained, eco-friendly Len Foote Inn. Here, you can grab a room for the night and enjoy a nice shower, delicious dinner, and breakfast from the dining hall, all before heading back out on the trail. Reservations are required but depending on what time of year, you could prob snag a room spontaneously.

(1) Cloudland Canyon State Park

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This is probably the furthest drive you will make if you are driving from Atlanta. This huge Canyon lies in the most north-western tip of the state just before crossing over into Chattanooga, TN.  I had taken a crazy weekend hiking trip to The Great Smokey Mountains and this was a step along the way for me.  There is a lovely waterfall here as well.  However, I arrived here in the middle of a drought, so there was literally no water here! Feel free to see more pics and read all about the details of that trip here.  This park has about 10 miles or so of trails leading you around the canyon rim providing stunning views all around the canyon. There is also a trail that leads down to the canyon floor.