Skydiving and Other Adventures

It’s been almost a month since my last post, so here is another round up of stuff I’ve been doing to keep life interesting. And this starts off with jumping out of an airplane.

Skydiving

Free-falling during my skydive (Click to Enlarge)

As you can see from the video above, I jumped out of an airplane. Of course, it was a tandem skydive with an instructor who is equipped with a parachute, and so I’m still alive and have video and photo evidence to prove it. This was probably the most “extreme” activity I’ve ever done. I don’t consider myself to be an extreme sports person, but it seemed like a lot of people I know have skydived before, and that prompted me to seek out the opportunity. I waited until a discount showed up and went for it.

Jumping out of a plane from 2.5 miles above the earth was an exhilarating experience, and one of the coolest things I’ve done in my life. It was just really fun. I wasn’t as scared I thought I would be. This may be because at the skydive site, I watched many people jump out and land safely. I made up my mind I was going to jump, and I know I am in good hands and will most likely land safely, so I wasn’t really scared at all. The free fall was the best part during the skydive, but drifting down with the parachute open is quite the experience too, and very different from the free fall. The free fall overwhelms the sense because the wind blowing in your face, but when the parachute opens everything instantly becomes quiet and now you are slowly descending to the ground. For those thinking about skydiving, I definitely recommend it. I don’t know if or when I’d do it again though :lol: . At least I have skydiving checked off the bucket list.

Yadkin Valley Wine Tasting

Hanover Park winery
Hanover Park winery has a small, farm-like feel.

A group of travel buddies and I took a day trip two hours west of the Triangle to the Yadkin Valley for some wine tasting. North Carolina has wine-producing regions, even though the state is not particularly well-known for wine. I’m not a big wine connoisseur, but I am always down for wine tasting and visiting new places. I’ve visited wineries in the well-known Okanagan Valley back in BC, and also one in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate NY, and I was expecting to the wineries in NC to be more like the latter. The first winery we hit in Yadkin Valley fit the description. Hanover Park Vineyard was a small family-run place that operated out of a quaint countryside house, and one of the owners ran the wine-tasting for our group. It was a really nice experience talking to the owner, and also trying a dozen different wines is fun.

Raffaldini Vineyard
Picturesque views over Raffaldini Vineyard (click to enlarge)

Afterwards, we moved on to Raffaldini Vineyards and Winery, our second and last winery in our little tour. Unlike the smaller and more personal experience of our first stop, Raffaldini is much larger, fancier and more commercial. There was a dedicated tasting room that had plenty of people, and the vineyard had a gorgeous view of some nearby mountains. Again we did the full tasting, which was like 8-9 different varieties of wine, and than sat outside on the ground to relax and take in the scenery.

Even though we only went to two wineries, we did try quite a few varieties of wine, and I have to say I’m more into white wine than red, and I also like sweet/dessert wine better than dry wines. It was also also a good thing that I didn’t have to drive, because I was definitely buzzed after the two rounds of wine tasting.

Wilmington Day Trip

I took a little solo day trip to Wilmington on another weekend. At two hours away, Wilmington is the closest coastal area to Raleigh, although the city of Wilmington itself actually lies along the Cape Fear River. Of course, just a couple of minutes away lies Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach which face outwards towards the Atlantic Ocean. My first stop was to visit the USS North Carolina, a WWII-era battleship that is parked across the river from downtown Wilmington. I have an interest in military hardware, and I have never visited a battleship before.

Battleship North Carolina
The USS North Carolina showing off her big 16 inch guns.

At almost 730 feet long, the North Carolina is an impressive-looking ship bristling with cannons. It has three big turrets housing a total of nine 16-inch guns, and has twenty 5-inch guns and many other smaller weapons. It’s also a very big ship. When they say it takes two hours to tour the whole ship, they aren’t lying, since there are a lot of things to see underneath the main deck. I think I might have missed the engine room when I was walking through the ship, but even then I think it took me at least 1.5 hours. One observation I have is that these naval vessels are not made to accommodate tall people like me. I have to duck through all of the doorways and some of the corridors, and a six-footer who had to serve on the ship probably bumped his head a couple of times.

Carolina Beach State Park
The Flytrap trail at Carolina Beach State Park. Sadly there were no flytraps to be found.

My next stop was Carolina Beach State Park. While the park is located in the beach community of Carolina Beach, the park is actually on the river side. The park has boat launches and encompasses a variety of environments along the Cape Fear River, but I went there for only one purpose, and that is to see Venus flytraps in the wild. Venus flytraps are the most recognizable carnivorous plants in the world, and they occur naturally only within a 70-mile radius of the park. There is a trail in the park where visitors can see flytraps, so that’s where I went. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a single Venus flytrap, and that was after going through the trail twice. Venus flytraps are small plants, so I suppose if they are not right beside the trail then they’d be hard to spot. I did find one pitcher plant though, at least I saw one carnivorous plant in the wild.

Luna the albino gator
Luna is Fort Fisher’s resident albino gator. She is one of about 50 albino alligators known to exist.
horseshoe crab
Poking a horseshoe crab at the touch tank.

After stopping at the park, I continued south all the way to end to the Fort Fisher State Recreation Area. The recreation area covers a stretch of pristine beach and also salt marshes at the mouth of the Cape Fear river. It is also home to the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The aquarium isn’t big, but it does have some interesting aquatic animals on exhibits. The most unique one in my opinion was Luna the albino alligator. The touch tank also has horseshoe crabs which I’ve never seen up close before, so that’s kind of fun. Of course, there are plenty of other wonderful fishes and other aquatic animals swimming around in tanks too.

Fort Fisher Aquarium
The big marine tank at the Fort Fisher Aquarium
ort Fisher State Recreation Area
The view over the salt marshes.

Next up after the aquarium was a hike through the salt marshes to the observation deck at the tip of land mass. The beach is very close, but the salt marsh on the side of the river looks very different and full of grasses and other plants. Finally, I decided to go check out the beach. I didn’t plan on having a beach day, so I didn’t stay for long. It was a nice sunny day, so there were plenty of people on the beaches of Fort Fisher. The beach is a little on the narrow side though, when compared to the ones I’ve seen on the Outer Banks.

Fort Fisher State Recreation Area beach
No shortage of people enjoying the beach on a sunny day

The last stop on the trip was downtown Wilmington by the riverside. Wilmington’s historic downtown has quite a bit of character, and is mostly composed of three-four story brick buildings from the 18-19th centuries It actually reminds me of downtown Troy NY given the location beside a river and the type of buildings, but Wilmington is not as rundown and has more people than Troy. I had dinner at one of the popular restaurants and took a little stroll by the river before heading back home.

Wilmington downtown
Panorama of the view from Downtown Wilmington across the Cape Fear River (click to enlarge)

Overall, this was a pretty good day trip. There are still places like Wrightsville Beach that are in the Wilmington area that I didn’t get to visit this time, but I think I’ll go back there again if I stay in North Carolina. It’s a nice area with a decent-sized city with a historic downtown, and a number of beach towns nearby.

Carowinds

Fury 325 @ Carowinds
The Fury 325 is an impressive and intimidating sight.

The last adventure that I will put in this post is a trip to the amusement park. I haven’t been to an amusement park since… maybe my high school days, so it’s been a long time and it’s about time I rode some roller coasters again. We picked a pretty good destination in Carowinds. Known as “The Thrill Capital of the Southeast”, Carowinds is a large amusement park located south of Charlotte on the border between the Carolinas. Part of the park is actually in South Carolina, so this trip marked the first time I crossed into SC.

Of course, the main goal of visiting Carowinds is to ride on all of its roller coasters, in particular the Fury 325, the newest, baddest and tallest gigacoaster in the world. Our group started the day at the Fury, and we rode it twice. That was definitely the most badass roller coaster I’ve ever ridden on. That first drop from 325 feet up and the sheer speed of that thing is amazing. I rode the Fury three times in total by the end of the day. Some people in my group rode it five times.

Having ridden the biggest one in the park first, you’d think the other roller coasters would be boring, but actually all of the roller coasters in Carowinds have their own unique charm. My favorites among the others were the Nighthawk flying coaster which made you feel like Superman, and the Afterburn suspended coaster that had a lot of loops and twists.

Visiting Carowinds and riding all the roller coasters was definitely a fun experience. Carowinds is the closest amusement park to the Triangle region, but there are a couple other ones in Virginia that are within day trip distance. I wouldn’t call myself a thrill ride enthusiast, but visiting an amusement park once in a while is good way to have a fun time.

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