Where To Next?

If you are the type of person who travels often then you probably know the excitement of “Where to next…?”  Some lucky folks simply watch ticket prices to exotic locals and purchase the ones that are a steal.  “A trip to Thailand?  Sounds great!”  While I wish I was the kind of person who could whip out my credit card and buy myself a plane ticket to Southeast Asia or the Sahara or whoever, my funds are more limited.  Most of my travel is within the continental US.  Now, that said, this is a HUGE country with just about every biome represented, and each region has it’s own unique flavor and personality.  I didn’t really appreciate the vastness and diversity of my own country until I lived a different country.

Visiting a famous local in Tacoma, WA with my awesome west coast relatives.

Now it’s May, I already have had one glorious adventure this year, but I am thinking ahead.  Where to next indeed.  Sometimes I am attracted to a place because of it’s famed attractions, like the French Quarter in New Orleans, or the mountains in Durango.  Other times I want to see the people who live there, like visiting family in Washington or Minnesota.  I go to San Francisco as frequently as possible because I’m madly in love with the city (and it helps to have an old friend there).  

Representing my friend’s bike polo team in the most favorite city, San Francisco

This summer I’m feeling Tennessee.  I have not spent much time in the east or south of this country, so it would be exciting to explore the local culture there.  I have a cousin that I would love to spend time with.  It seems perfect.  So now, time to watch those ticket prices!

Exploring northern Minnesota

Thoughts On An Early Morning Hike in the Mountains

Dog and I went camping again yesterday in the mountains (where else?).  I am normally and early riser anyway, but especially when I am camping and haven’t slept too well anyway.  I am excited to see the morning after a long night in the tent.  I was much warmer on this trip (thanks to a better sleeping bag, kindly lent by my roommate), and extra blankets.  Dog was perfectly comfortable, sans blanket.  Still, when I woke up and saw sun creeping across the sky and heard the birds chirping away in the cheerful morning chatter I was glad.  The air outside the tent was coooooold and I regretted my decision to leave my blanket nest, but Dog was ready to go so I didn’t have much of a choice.  April in the city of Denver is much warmer than April in mountains, and the air had a special spring chill.  Refreshing and sweet, but cold.   Anyway, I layered up, and after a hasty breakfast Dog and I set off on the trail.  Here are some reflections on early morning hiking.


1) You will meet a whole different set of birds.  I WISH I WISH I WISH I hadn’t left my new Rocky Mountain Bird identification book at home, but I could tell even without it that the birds I was seeing and hearing in the morning were different from the ones I encountered in the day and evening.  For one thing, the woodpeckers- a species different from the kind I was used to in Wisco- were voracious, and their pecking echoed all around the forest.  Dog and I had a good time watching all the early morning birds swoop around and call to one another.

This woodpecker was attacking the phone poll.

2) If you prefer the trail to yourself, you’ll have it.  I did see two trail runners go past, but apart from that we had what felt like the whole mountain to ourselves.  Most of the other campers were still asleep, and the day trippers weren’t in the park yet.  The stunning views of Panorama Point were OURS, muahahaha.  I also felt less inhibited about sitting down in sunny patches to catch my breath or to snag a snack.

A blurry goofy picture of me playing around with the self timer on my camera near Panorama Point.

3) The freshness of the air and the sun coming up behind peaks and trees is unbeatable.  Yeah, I’m sure the air is always fresh up there, but something about the brisk temps and bird chatter just made the scent of the trees and chipper mountain streams fresher.  It was a joy just to breath.  Stopping to take great big lungfulls of air I was also in awe of the views of the sun rising from behind forested peaks.  It wasn’t dark when we set out from camp, but there was definitely a sharp contrast between the places on the trail where tendrils of sunlight had sneaked in and where it hadn’t.

The change of night to day.

4) The feeling of accomplishment when you saunter back into camp having completed a somewhat grueling hike while everyone else is just starting their day.  I took a one hour victory nap in my tent to celebrate.  So did Dog.

How My Time in Botswana Helped Me Find Roller Derby

It’s kind of a cliche that travelling or doing a study abroad trip help you to “find yourself”.  Don’t get me wrong, they often do.  This post is not about some cathartic moment out in the African bush being surrounded by elephants and figuring life out.  (If you want to read about that, you better hope that my submission for a travel writing scholarship gets picked- then you can read allll about those kind of moments).  

This is about how my friend Diana came over to my dorm room and innocently asked if I wanted to watch a movie that she liked.  Since Diana is one of the coolest people on the planet I said sure.  The movie was Whip It and it’s all about a girl in rural Texas who stumbles across the sport of roller derby when it was in the beginning of it’s modern day incarnation in Austin.  The movie is directed by Drew Barrymore, who also acts in it, and also features some people you might not expect to see out on the track, like Kristen Wiig (my personal hero), Eve, and Ellen Page.  

Anyhow, if you’ve seen it you know: it makes roller derby look reeeaaalll glamorous.  And the sport it glamorous, to some degree, in a sweaty-dyed hair-tattoos-and-glitter kinda way.  Modern day flat track derby doesn’t look like Whip It much, apart from the relationships between skates.  That is dead on.  I didn’t know any of this when I watched the movie though, so I fell in love with this broken bones kind of excitement for the whole rest of my stay in Botswana.  When I returned to the states I brooded over my new-found roller derby love.  In Bots, there is no opportunity for derby, or even just roller skating.  Suddenly back in Madison, WI there was an established league and a rec league waiting with open doors.  

Ah, Bots
Diana, her sister Maria, and her wonderful mother

Shit, bluff called, now I needed to act.  So I spent a summer learning to roller skate around my neighborhood on $7 used roller skates.  In the fall I joined up with the Mad Wreckin Dolls who taught me how to actually skate, how to fall safely, how throw a hit (appropriately), and how to take one.  I learned how to block and how to jam and I was even voted MVP jammer, a feat which is still my crowning athletic achievement.  

Wreckers!
#12 S.P. Arrow
That’s me as a jammer

I stopped skating eventually as life got busy and I began to value my free time more.  I still skated outdoors for fun on my Frankenstein outdoor skates built from various pieces of other skates.  Now here I am Denver, CO and the siren song of the track is calling.  Today I purchased my new WFTDA insurance- something required for all skaters- and I have all my gear ready to go.  I start skating again on Thursday.  Here we go, game on, cheers to a new adventure.

I have Diana, Botswana, and Drew Barrymore to thank for it.

Solo Camping Is A Practice in Meditation

It’s gotta be about 30 degrees inside the tent and even though I’m swaddled inside blankets, a sleeping bag, sweatpants, a woolen shirt, a sweatshirt, thick socks, and a hat I’m too cold to sleep.  Dog is snuggled up by my feet and appears to be impervious to the cold.  I don’t know what time it is (there is no way I am reaching my arm out of my cocoon to check my phone) but outside the night is very very dark.  At this point I hear soft and deliberate footfalls outside my tent.  They stop near my head and I hear sniffing.  What the hell is that?  I locked all the food in a cooler in my car and was careful not to leave any wrappers in the tent with me.  Whatever it is it isn’t human, that’s for sure.  It is also sniffing around inches from my head, separated from me by just the thin wall of my tent.  Dog hasn’t noticed anything and is still asleep.  I can’t decide if this is good or bad.  The list of suspects for my visitor includes raccoon, squirrel, fox, deer, mountain lion, and bear.  The footsteps circle the tent and come back to sniff near my head again.  I am completely still and thinking irrationally what if it is trying to smell me?

Flash back to fourteen hours earlier and I am standing in the Denver flagship REI staring at a display labeled “Bear Protection”.  There are all kinds of air horns, sprays, bear-proof canisters, bells, and whistles.  Bears were never a big deal back in Wisconsin.  Out here though, I am knowingly camping in bear territory, and even though it’s still early spring I’m not sure if the bears are still hibernating or not.  What if one of them woke up early and is hungry?  I ended up leaving with just some small and necessary purchases (headlamp, camp soap, socks) but I was still thinking about wildlife as I drove away.

I borrowed a tent and a sleeping pad from my roommates and loaded up the car with gear, food, and the dog.  We were headed to Golden Gate Canyon which is not too far from Denver, but which feels remote due to it’s vastness.  There are a handful of year round tent sites up on Reverend’s Ridge which are available on a first come first served basis.  Since it was a Sunday I was hopeful that there would be a site available for us.  Up a 19% grade and through some dizzying switchbacks we drove before we got to Reverend’s Ridge.  We lucked out and got one of the last sites.  The whole area was in a forest of aspens with views of snowcapped mountain peaks visible between the trees.  The air was cool, crisp, and clean.  There was a fire ban in effect so most of the other campers were off hiking or taking in the sights instead of sitting around a campfire.  As soon as the tent was set up and the sleeping gear was inside Dog and I set off to find a trailhead.  Nearby was the Racoon Trail, which was deceptively listed as being only a little over two miles.  With the hike from the campsite, it was more than three and included grueling uphill climbs, stunning panoramic views, and tough rocky descents.  Since it was a looped trail it deposited us back at camp tired, exhilarated, and hungry.


Camp was a little busier as people got down to business eating dinner and cracking open beers.  Dog and I ate our dinner and then headed out to explore the area.  Most of the camping loops were closed for the season so the landscape was peaceful and populated mostly by noisy little birds.  The sun was beginning to set and Dog and I decided to do a little night time walking in the woods…mostly so that I could try out my new headlamp. The temperature was dropping, but I was feeling snug and smug in my warm clothes.  *Side note* I have felt plenty of disdain for girls who wear nothing but their identical outfits of Northface fleece, leggings, and Uggs/moccasins, but I wore my newly thrifted Northface pullover jacket and was nothing but impressed with the warmth and comfort.  I think I might live in it forever.

Camping alone is a kind of meditation.  When you are out there with friends, a partner, or family members you play games, you cook meals together, there is often beer; all in all it is a rambunctious social event.  When solo, you are silent and thoughtful.  You fall into rhythm with the daylight, the cold and the warmth, the wind, and the animal sounds.


With no campfires allowed (I probably couldn’t have made a decent one on my own anyway) the campsites were all fairly dark.  Here and there larger groups had multiple lanterns or kept their car lights on.  I had Dog decked out like a Christmas tree between her light up red collar and green harness light.  For myself, I wore my headlamp.  I got Dog and I packed us up cozily inside the tent and spent some time reading.  It was the last time until daylight that I would feel comfortable.

Back to where I began.  I lay awake listening to the animal outside my tent and tried to think rationally.  This was difficult because I was sleep deprived, cold, and afraid.  The foot steps were too delicate to be a waddling raccoon, and too heavy to be a squirrel.  I doubted a bear could walk with that much grace either (phew).  The only things that I could think of as being an attractant (besides my tasty human self) was the dog water dish, which I had left outside.  In that case, perhaps my visitor was only thirsty?  A thirsty little fox even?  This was a comforting thought.  My visitor returned to circle and sniff three more times.  Later, I would look for footprints and find none.

The rest of the night was sleepless, but uneventful.  I was glad to see the run come up and decided to get out and hike around a bit to get the blood flowing and thaw.  Dog and I found a place to watch the sun come up.  It was dazzling and made up for the cold night.  I tried and failed to take a nice photo with Dog, so it’s just a picture of me.


As the sun came up the morning began to warm up too.  Dog and I returned to camp for some breakfast and I re-cocooned myself in the tent to read and wait for the air to warm up even more.  Around the camp people were beginning to stir.  My neighbors had left sometime in the night, but everyone else was making breakfast and sleeping, or packing up their sites.  We played a game of fetch and then decided to go on one last hike before heading out.

The last hike was on Mule Deer Trail, which proved to be just the right combination of hot and dry and steep to be utterly exhausting.  Instead of hiking along forest trails and dodging patches of snow we were exposed to the wind and sun (not quite strong) in a huge open meadow.  The trail skirted small streams and wound down and then up, up, and away into the foothills.  It seemed like rattlesnake country.  I was constantly dry mouthed and Dog was panting.  The sites were beautiful, but we needed to make it back to camp in time before our parks pass expired.  At the snail paced we were going, it was going to take a long time.  That hike took a lot out of me.  It might have been rewarding under different circumstances, but I was just tired and thirsty.  I was so happy when we finally made it back to the car.  Leaving a good campsite is always bittersweet.  We waved goodbye to our little spot and began the descent back down.  The temperature rose and the cheese its ran out.  Finally back at home I was sore and tired and so was Dog.  We both took long naps.

That was our adventure.  Next time I will bring more blankets.

The Travel Item You Should Never Be Without

I want to talk to you today about a travel item that can keep you warm, cool, safe from who-knows-what creepy crawlies, and is silky smooth.  It is THE SLEEPING BAG LINER.   Oh yes, those of you who have one probably just went “Yup, yup, yup that sucker is magic.”  I got mine when my mom took me to REI before I went to Africa.  We did a major haul (just think what those dividends would have been if we had been members…) and the liner was something of an afterthought.  Here Is the link to the kind that I have.

Claim 1: It keeps you warm.  It does; if your sleeping bag or blankets just aren’t cutting it by themselves then this handy addition will help keep in the heat.

Claim 2: It keeps you cool.  It does; if you are sleeping somewhere hot (like Africa) then you can sleep in just the liner, sans blankets and sans sleeping bag.

Claim 3: It will keep you safe from creepy crawlies.  When I went with a group of friends on a trip to Mozambique we stayed in a hostel our first and seconds nights and everyone woke up with weird bug bites EXCEPT ME.  I slept in just the liner and woke up with the same itch-free skin I went to bed with.

Claim 4: It is silky smooth.  It is; mine is made of silk.
*I don’t work for REI or the maker of this product, I am simply writing about a product I love.

Hiking-grams

It’s beautiful outside today!  The sun is shining, the snow is gone, and the weather is about 70 degrees.  In other words, it is a glorious day to be outside exploring some new terrain.  I, however, am not outside, because I am on the cusp of what feels like a cold and I am trying to stay low-key enough to beat it.  I put together some of my favorite snaps from my hiking trips in my post today as I daydream about them inside with my mug of tea.

Rocky Mountain National Park…the dark clouds heralded snow.
My first ever trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. We saw plenty of the famous elk!

This view is thanks to Eldorado Canyon State Park.
Dog and I stumbled across a herd of deer at Red Rocks.

Eldorado Canyon State Park
Roxborough State Park

What To Read On Your Next Trip

Spoiler Alert: these book recommendations are subjective, so make your own choices!  These just happen to be things I personally have really enjoyed.

It’s only February, but after two weeks of sunny weather in the 60’s and 70’s I couldn’t help but start to daydream about summer road trips.  I spent a good deal of time on REI’s website researching which backpacker’s tent to buy…Anyway, whether you are taking a roadtrip or flying somewhere far away you will probably want some choice reading material (besides this blog of course).  Here are some books I have recently read and really enjoyed.  

1) The Claire Dewitt mysteries by Sara Gran: Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead.  This is the first book in the so-far two book series and it will simultaneously feed and satisfy your curiosity.  The book takes place in New Orleans just two years after Katrina and the city is still pretty much in ruins.  Claire Dewitt is the [self styled] best detective in the world.  She is called back to the city she once loved to find a missing DA.  This book is much more than just a crime-detective-mystery story though; it’s about a woman who lost her best friend and could never solve the case, a woman who lost her mentor to petty theft, and a woman who is pretty much Bat Man.  She is the hero people deserve but not the hero they need.

Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway is the second installment, and actually the book I read first after stumbling across it in the library.  This book has Claire back in her hometown of San Francisco and investigating the murder of an old lover.  It turns out he might have been more important in her life than she gave him credit for and the idea is killing her- literally.  

2) The Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis: this memoir covers the story of how Aspen was raped her second day of college and the falling out from being disbelieved and shamed by everyone from the college to her own mother.  Aspen picks herself up, leaves school, and thru-hikes the Pacific Crest Trail.  Since I have my own aspirations for hiking that fabled trail I was quite enthralled with this book and couldn’t put it down.  

3) Unmentionable: The Victorian Ladies’ Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese O’Neill.  This books is a witty, hilarious, and informative guide to surviving the 19th century without dying of consumption of being put into the asylum for “hysteria”.  The author has done her research and will answer all your burning questions, such as: what to do with my menstrual rags when they’ve been washed?  How can I avoid getting consumption from the wrong water temperature in my hip bath?  What kind of lead is okay to put in my face cream?  Ultimately, you will learn that just about everything in your filthy, smelly, and desititute 19th century life will give you consumption, so just accept it now.  *this book is exceptionally funny to read aloud to others.


5) The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway: this is a book I am actually still reading, having snagged it on impulse from the library when I was checking out all of my PCT trail guides.  It is a great piece of historical fiction, so what along the lines of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.  This books has tragic romance, people jumping through time, and great plot twists and turns.  I am excited to see how it all plays out!


That’s my list!  I am always on the hunt for new and exciting reading material, so I usually have about three books “going” at one time.  These six were some that really stood out for me.  Happy reading folks!

Fosnick Freaki Tiki and The Canadian Border

This weekend I had some quality family time while up here in Washington state.  My Aunt Julie (you may remember her from previous posts) has a particularly impressive tiki bar set up in her backyard.  It’s not just some lights and a tiki sign, it’s a way of life and a state of mind.  The decor is situated in an area off of the main garage that has a roof and a brick wall on one side.  There is a fireplace and a cast iron stove built into the brick wall and rows if twinkling candles on top.  Along the back wall is a refrigerator for all our drinks, an actual bar, and an eclectic collection of tiki masks, signs, and lights.  There are also more candles.  In the summer guests can enjoy a banana plant and a tiki fountain, but in the damp and chilly February air we huddle in chairs and blankets near the cast iron stove, listening to a tiki channel on Pandora, and sipping our coconut (or wine) drinks with our little tropical umbrellas.  Tiki here is more than the sum of the decor and drinks though; it’s mainly about laughing with old friends and family, escaping from responsibilities for a bit, and enjoying a taste of the island life even though it may be bitter outside.  Like I said, tiki is more of a state of mind.


On Sunday my aunt, uncle, cousin Jackson, and I all got into the card and drove about three hours north to visit my other aunt and cousins up near the Canadian border.  I can’t really stress this enough: my aunt’s property line is also the line between the US and Canada.  That means that her grassy yard is American soil, while the road next to it is Canada.  I couldn’t help but think “Help!  Justin Trudeau please come and save me from the greedy old men in DC!”  Then I daydreamed about the Canadian PM for a while…I wonder if I can buy a poster of him and hang it above my bed?

On our way up north we stopped in a place called Birch Bay.  It was stunningly beautiful and the skies were icy blue and crystal clear.  I could see the Canadian Rockies in the distance, the northern cousins of my familiar Coloradan Rockies back home.  The temperature was so much milder than what I thought it would be.  I was pretty comfy in my REI fleece, jeans, and waterproof boots.  Thank you Teva!  I was able to help launch an old driftwood tree into the chilly water without fear of the dread wet boot and wet socks.


At my aunt’s house we gathered everyone- two aunties, seven cousins, and one uncle into a car and drove to Peace Arch Park where the border between British Columbia and Washington passes and goes out into the bay.  It’s acceptable to wander around this tiny patch of Canada without passing through the Big Bad Border.  I didn’t have my passport, or I would have been all over Canada.  It was nice to meet some new cousins and spend time with other’s I haven’t seen in over a decade.  We ended up going out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant.  The food was tasty, albeit odd to find in a Canadian border town.


The sun setting over the bay was the cherry on top of a beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest.  It was a long drive back to Puyallup and I was quite glad to crawl into bed that night.

Seattle Day 3: 10 Things I Hate About You

I don’t hate Seattle and that’s not what this post is about.  It’s about that iconic movie from the late 1990’s with Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles.  Tere’s a baby Joseph Gordon Levitt in there too.  If you haven’t watch it: Stop.  GO directly to Netflix.  Watch it.  Return.  

This photo of the main cast of ’10 Things I Hate About You’ ruthlessly stolen from Google.

I have loved this movie for a long time, and it is one of my favorite Heath Ledger movies (I’m still not over his death, FYI).  I don’t know why it never occurred to me to visit the high school where the movie was filmed and set before, but it finally did on this trip, and my aunt and uncle were kind enough to drive me there.  The real school is called Stadium HIgh School and it is in Tacoma, WA.  I will say this: it really is as beautiful as the movie makes it look.  We were able to go down to the famous stadium field (a location so spectacular that many famous people have used it, such as past presidents and even musicians like Louis Armstrong) and I was so excited in the geekiest kind of way to walk around the place where so many scenes from the movie took place.  I mean, the part where Patrick Verona sings and dances away from the school security guards?  Come on, that is cool.  


After the stadium we walked around the giant red bricked building itself.  We learned some interesting history about it, like the fact that it was originally built in the 1880’s as a hotel, but a fire pretty much wrecked those dreams.  Then the burned out shell was used a storage before being rebuilt just after the turn of the century.  Today it stands as a beautiful and famous high school, although I’m not sure how excited the actual students are about that.  We made our way to the main entrance (another popular filming spot) and had to compete with other tourists and a group of skateboarders trying to film themselves.


After touring the grounds we left to explore a nearby thrift/junk/antique shop.  My uncle and cousin went to a heavenly smelling burger and shakes place while my aunt and I explored the old treasure crammed into the shop.  She came away with a chess set and I found a little UW husky pin with ’89 on it.  A pin as old as me, from the university, purchased across the street from Stadium.  The perfect little remembrance.  

Later that night my aunt and I tiki’d in the brisk PNW winter air, but more on that later.

Seattle Day 2, and The Seedy Underbelly of Puyallup, WA

It’s Day 2 here in Seattle, WA and so far this day is magnificent.  I mean, if you ignore the blasting wind and off and on rain.  It would be quite pleasant and mild without the wind, but c’est la vie.  Last night I learned all about the seedy underbelly of life as a parental in Puyallup.  Puyallup is a small city south of Seattle. It looks all cute from the outside- coffee shops, pizza places, schools, neat little houses- but as I learned the people that live in those neat little houses are bloodthirsty.  It all began when my aunt, mother of my cousin, Jackson, who is in 6th grade, not-so-innocently invited me to join her for a meeting with some of the other parents to discuss a 6th grade class party at the end of the school year.  It’s February now, and school lets out in June, so they have four long months to discuss exactly how they are going to ruin the end of their childrens’ last year in elementary school.  Sure a party for the kids sounds like a good idea, and it would be, if it weren’t for their thin, blonde, bored mothers, who want to throw a party for themselves that the kids get to tag along to.   The meeting of the Beasts was held in a house that reminded me of the model home from the show Arrested Developement.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about: STOP.  Go to Netflix.  Watch the show.  Proceed.  Anyway, this was a house filled with wine and the worst intentions.  We sat there for around 40 minutes as they discussed their plans for the party.  We left at the chitchat descended.  Almost nothing had been accomplished.  It was an interesting social experiment to listen to these mother’s who clearly could not hear themselves.  Good luck 6th graders.

On to today!  Today I slept in, which is a rare feat for me.  I managed to catch the last Sounder train into the city, and I got off at King Street Station, which is right in the middle of Chinahtown.  It’s also where I got off yesterday to wander around. Having trekked the area already, I caught another train further north and disembarked in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where I am currently sitting at Oddfellows Cafe enjoying my cappuccino and a cup of soup.  Both are delicious.  It’s quite crowded in here (it’s the lunch rush), but the waiter/barista working behind the counter I’m sitting at was friendly and helpful right off the bat.  I managed to gesture that I needed a laaaarge cup of coffee and he understood immediately.  This cafe is sizeable, and mostly seems to be a restaurant.  The decor is turn of the century chic, and there is apparently a bookstore attached.  I can’t wait to investigate that!  All of the servers look like people I want to be when I grow up.  The cappuccino is fully living up to Seattle expectations (and the adorable sea foam green mug and saucer, with a tiny spoon and cube of brown sugar doesn’t hurt).  The soup is a minestrone and is hot, spicy, and savory.  Perfect on this blustery day.    

That’s all for now.  I’m about to finish my drink and head on to the bookstore.  More later!