Summer Roadtrip: Denver to Duluth

I have never taken a solo road trip before. There was always a parent driving, or in the case of my African road trip adventures, a friend behind the wheel. Last Friday, however, I packed a copious amount of snacks, cleaned the car out, and prepared to drive from my home in Denver, Colorado, to my grandmother’s apartment in Duluth, Minnesota. Denver to Duluth. It has a nice ring.

The western part of Colorado gets all the glory, but the eastern part has it’s own beauty too
  According to google the trip would take sixteen hours (if I was good and kept to a tight schedule) and take me through eastern Colorado, all of Nebraska, cut across Iowa, and then north through Minnesota. Duluth is on the tip of Lake Superior in the northern part of the state. I slept very little the night before I left since that cats and the bunny were all staying at friends’ places and the apartment was a little too quiet for my liking. I finally had the car packed and was on the road at about 5:30. The sun wasn’t even up yet and there was a light drizzle. This cleared into a haze by the time the sun started to come up and made for a spectacular sunrise as I drove through the hilly prairie-like land in the eastern part of the state. I was so tempted to stop and get out of my car and take photos! I didn’t, and I regret it now.  

Nebraska seemed to take a very long time to drive though (not a suprise). I began to feel really tired on this part of the trip. I used a variety of tricks to keep myself alert. The old blast-the-music-and-sing-along. I will post a link to the Boss Lady Roadtrippin’ playlist, via Spotify. I also drank a thermos full of coffee in addition to a bottle of kombucha. Water was a great pick-me-up also. Finally I had to admit that I needed an actual rest. Somewhere near the eastern border of Nebraska I pulled into a pretty and shaded little rest stop to take a 45 minute catnap. I’m not sure what the elderly tourists walking in and out of the restrooms thought of a person just snoozing in their car, but no one bothered me.  

The sun was getting much lower in the sky as I passed in Iowa, and what a welcome relief it was to see pretty rolling hills and sunny forests instead of endless flat and dull landscapes. Iowa passed by uneventfully and it was almost dark by the time I crossed the state border into Minnesota (at last!). I could tell I was there even before the robotic google maps voice said ‘Welcome to Minnesota’ because fir trees replaced the maple and ash trees. The landscape was distinctly more north-woodsy. I pulled off into a small town to grab a bean burrito for dinner and was charmed by the Minnesota accent, which was always there, but which I never noticed much before. Or maybe it was just this one small town.  

It was late at night and very dark as I drove through heavily forested roads in the northern part of the state. There weren’t too many other cars. I was about twenty minutes outside of Duluth when I saw a wolf run into the road. Luckily I was not going fast, and since my brights were on I saw the wolf with plenty of time to slow down. Luckily he or she thought better of crossing the road and turned and ran back into the trees. Given how thick the trees were and how late at night it was I’m surprised that I didn’t see more animals on the road, but the rest of the drive was uneventful.
Around midnight I finally pulled into the parking lot of the apartment homes where my grandmother lives. My parents were both there to greet me. It was wonderful to have finally made it! 

Want to check out my custom-made Boss Lady Roadtrippin’ playlist?  Find it Here!

Cafe Life: Duluth, MN

If you spend some time driving up and down the [very steep] streets of Duluth, MN to find free parking, you will no doubt then spend some time walking up and down those same [steep] streets in order to find a cup of coffee. I did that, and I ended up sitting here at Duluth Coffee Company.  There is a sunny bench when you walk in, but to get to the coffee you venture into a dim and delicious-smelling back part of the shop where there is a counter to order at, a wall of guitars made out of what looks like drift wood, and Duluth-themed gear to bring back home.  The menu is straightforward and to the point: actual coffee drinks that promise a caffeine rush and plenty of flavor without making your teeth ache from a bunch of unnecessary sugary syrup.  Excellent.  I have ordered my usual, a cappuccino, and it’s excellent.  I also enjoyed not paying an arm and a leg for it (lookin’ at you, Colorado).  

There are a few locals chatting with the barista, and a mix of what I assume are other visitors.  I can tell that they are visitors because, like me, they pause to peruse all the Duluth-themed gifts for sale.  My friends back home would like that stuff, right?  It’s pretty quiet overall, with just a bit of conversation and some music.  It is a Sunday morning, and unlike some cities, this one seems to actually sleep in on Sundays.  The street outside- which is a main drag of the downtown area- has minimal traffic.  The temperature outside is somewhere around 68 degrees, and with the sun shining it’s a perfect morning to lounge around outside with coffee.  

Between the guitars made out of driftwood (and I see one made out of an old aluminum tin!), the collection of old coffee pots on the wall, and the handful of attractive people in here, I am definitely happy to set up camp and enjoy my drink.   This place could easily fall into the trope of tourist trap if it weren’t for the good coffee, interesting people, and comfortable feel that attracts regulars as well as visitors.  I don’t recognize any of the bands that are playing softly in the background, but I know that I like them.  My cappuccino is almost gone and it’s time for me to pack up and continue on my journey, so I will hurry up and post this now.  Cheers!

A Solo Roadtrip

This is the Tiffany’s necklace, the LBD, the sweet vermouth, the ice cream on a hot day, the- you get it.  This is the thing for travelers that you need to have under your belt.  This is the solo roadtrip.  I’m planning mine for August.

Alright, so my roadtrip will be less of a meander and more of straight shot towards an end destination, but I’m nervous and excited for it all the same.  The starting point will be Denver, CO and the end point will be Duluth, MN.  My mother’s side of the family is from Duluth so we tend to gather there every summer.  I’ve missed a few trips to Duluth here and there and summer just never feels complete!  This is the city on the Big Lake, a city of gentrified industry, great fish, great beers, great people, and a beautiful mix of the outdoors and a city lifestyle.  The “Minnesota nice” adage is alive and well in Duluth.  The drive should take me about fifteen hours, give or take, and I plan to make the drive in one day.  Since my work days are about that long it’s not exactly unusual to find me on the move that long of a time period, although I’ll admit I have never driven for that long in one go before.  When Mom and I roadtripped out to Colorado last October we split the drive into two days (we had my two cats and my two rabbits with us and those babies needed a break!).

I’m looking forward to powering through Nebraska and then having some more fun in Iowa and Minnesota.  My little Diana F+ camera will make a great companion to help document (as well as my trusty Nikon).  What things do you need for long road trips?  What secrets have you discovered for making a long trip a success?  I’ve written about this in previous posts, but here are a few of my favorite road trip items.

1) Coffee and water and snacks (duh).

2) Harry Potter OR Outlander novels on audiobook.

3) That said, I also need a sweet roadtrip playlist.  Sometime you just gotta blast that Florence + The Machine.

4) A comfy tee and shorts combo to throw on but still feel stylin’ in.  I’m ogling some great adventure tanks on Etsy right now…

5) My Nikon and my Diana F+ to document!

6) Great friends to text you and make sure you’re still in one piece!  This is a bit of a joke, but it’s also nice to be able to reach out and share things digitally when you are alone.

I’d love to hear what other people like to bring on their trips.  Maybe I can get some inspiration for mine! 

Being A Vegetarian Abroad

Plenty of people have diet restrictions these days, whether it’s a no-meat diet, gluten free, or no carbs not-now-not-ever.  I have been a vegetarian on and off again for 11 years.  The brief times times that I added meat back into my diet were because A) I eat really poorly at first and it was a contributing factor to a hospital stay I had in 2008 and B) I studied abroad in a non-veggie friendly country.  Now that said, when I was studying in Botswana one of my fellow American classmates was a vegetarian and stayed that way.  There are a lot of factors that go into the why of why people restrict their diet and I don’t want to go into all that here.  I am lucky enough to be able to eat freely if I choose and I have no major allergies, so I was able to add meat back into my diet with minimal fuss.  When I left Africa and landed in Germany I immediately- and with great relief- left off eating animals again.  Now I have reached a comfortable point where I occasionally eat fish (that’s called being a pescatarian) but eat healthy and well all the time.

That’s me at home in Colorado.  But abroad?  How feasible is it to be a vegetarian abroad?  When I was 18 I travelled around China with a group of students from my high school.  We had been invited on the whirlwind trip by two nearly-retired teachers who liked to bring students of fabulous trips around the world every summer.  I was able to stipulate ahead of time that I was a veggie person and so I didn’t have too much trouble eating whenever we went to a restaurant as a group.  My friend and I ventured to a grocery store across the street from our hotel in Beijing and did some exploratory shopping.  I think we came away with a bag of Hawaiian rolls, brightly colored candy, and a strangely shaped fruit that we later learned was dragon fruit.  However, if we were left to our own devices for a meal or if we were at some kind of cultural touristy type event there was inevitably some awkward situations.  Like the time we were in Shangai and a restaurant proudly served up a traditional city favorite: steamed chicken feet.  Or the Peking Duck (complete with it’s head, just like in A Christmas Story) we had in Beijing.  I ate a lot of fried eggplant in sauce on that trip.

In Ireland I had a little more trouble finding satisfying meat-free meals, but perhaps that’s because I just wasn’t very good at knowing what to order, or because I was still relatively unwilling to eat cooked vegetables.  Irish breakfasts feature sausage, black pudding, bacon- all that salty, fatty goodness, but they also serve eggs, potatoes, and fruit.  Lunch and dinner were a different story.

People always want to say, “But sometimes it would be rude not to try the food!” That is true to a certain extent.  I attended a funeral in Botswana with my host family and understood almost nothing of what was going on (my Setswana was basic at best). I spent the five hours I was there sitting in a plastic chair in the shade, watching a group of men skin, quarter, and hang cow meat in a tree to dry in the sun.  At some point some of the liver, which had been prepared inside, was passed around and each funeral-goer put some on their plate.  I had never had liver, and certainly never liver from animal I had see whole recently.  There was not a question though: when the large serving bowl was passed to me, I took a piece from it.  I found the taste bland, the texture terrible, and the sight disconcerting, but I still ate it.  That was probably the only I time I risked actually offending someone by refusing a meat dish.  People, as it turns out, generally want to be friendly towards their guests and with their friends, no matter how foreign the person is.  If you say, “No thank you, I do not eat meat,” they respect that.  World War Three is not going to start because you don’t want  a steak, so get over yourself.

I choose to eat meat in Botswana, but not elsewhere.  It made sense for me.  It made sense for the time, the place, and the circumstances.  I think that’s all you can do in any situation.

The Colorado Trail

Life has been pretty stressful lately- I’ve been searching and searching for a new apartment, and the place where I work was bought out by a corporation, which means the transition has been less than smooth- etc, etc, life, blah blah blah.  Anyway, it seemed like the perfect time for an escape into the wilderness.

If you are a hiker or a backpacker you have probably heard of some of the national scenic trails like the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT) or the Appalachian Trail (AT), or even the Continental Divide Trail.  Colorado is home to another long distance trail (although it is not a national scenic trail) called- you guessed it- the Colorado Trail, or CT.  This long path leads from Denver west to Durango and leads hikers over some impressive country.  It usually takes about a month to complete the 486 miles.  This is a baby nubbin of a trail milewise, compared to the PCT’s 2,659 miles, but you will pass through mountains, canyons, prairies, and national forests.  It is the best of Colorado.  I decided to take my first backpacking trip along section 3 of the CT, which according to the guidebook, was lovely and shaded and had great camping.  Sold!  Thanks to overtime pay and REI’s anniversary sale I had purchased myself an Osprey Aura 50 AG pack, so I loaded this [complicated] pack with tent, sleeping bag, a spare set of cold weather clothes, guidebook, and food for myself and Dog.  My roommate helped me pack, which was incredibly helpful since looking at my pile of items and looking at my pack, it seemed impossible that it would all fit.  But fit it did!  Then I remembered that I needed to pack water…If you have seen the movie ‘Wild’ think of the part in which Cheryl attempts to put her monster backpack on for the first time in the hotel room.  Yeah, it was a little like that.


The trailhead was about an hour southwest of where I live.  That means an hour of driving through rainy, misty mountains.  It was stunning.  My GPS was basically worthless when it came to finding the exact parking lot out there that I needed, but luckily the guidebook had directions.  It was chilly as I left the trailhead, and the sky was threatening rain, but I stayed dry and worked up plenty of body heat as I walked to stay warm.  The sun did come out intermittently, but the distant hills and mountain remained pleasantly misty looking.  As we walked, Dog and I passed clumps of huge boulders that formed mini-mountainscapes. Some of them offered stunning views of distant peaks.  The landscape switched between forests, to hills covered in felled trees, to rocky outcropping, and back again.  The trail cross crossed a small stream which gave Dog opportunities to hydrate.  There were plenty of mountain bikers and we passed several other backpackers.  Each time I saw a campsite set up I was tempted to stop and chat with the people there, but shyness won out and we kept on.  It was comforting to see them there, though.  There were several other trails, and even an abandoned Jeep road that crossed the CT, so every time I saw a little triangular CT trailmarker I felt a huge sense of relief.  Plus, finding those little buggers was something of a game.


According to the guidebook there would be good camping about five or so miles out near a water source.  That was my goal.  I walked for what felt like miles, and as the sunlight became more golden and the shadows grew longer I decided that if I didn’t find the campground by 6 pm then I would look for the closest available place to set up camp.  The idea that I got to pick my own site for the night was intoxicating.  Did I want to sleep at the base of a huge rock formation?  How about at the crest of a forested hill?  Or at the base of some trees near the stream?  Along the trail you can pretty much camp wherever, but there are definitely places that other hikers have used time and time again.  Why carve out something new when there were already established spots?  Just after six pm I heard water and I came around a bend in the trail to find my old friend the stream gurgling merrily  away around some huge fir trees.  A piece of flat land at the base of these, well covered in leaves and needles,  looked like a well-used sit.  There was even a campfire ring made out of rocks and some logs pulled together for seating.  It was just off trail and would provide water for Dog, leaving my two water bottles for me to drink from.  Perfect.  What I didn’t know at the time was that if I had kept going maybe five minutes more I would have reached the camping spot that my guidebook had described.  Instead I shrugged off my pack and in the evening light I made camp.  It was absolutely beautiful- Pike National Forest knows how to deliver- and I was glad to finally rest.  Dog of course was ready to play fetch with all the available sticks and logs. Two backpackers passed the way I had come and I waved to them cheerfully.  Then I was alone.


It hailed.  Dog and I huddled inside the tent.  When it stopped we peaked back outside for a bit.  I was pretty tired by then, so we made an early night of it.  Or tried to.  I read a book by the light from my headlamp and huddled inside my sleeping bag.  It was inaugural trip of my Marmot Trestles 15 bag which I had bought a few months back.  That bag kept me warm and toasty all night long, so shout out to Marmot!  If you read an earlier post of mine about camping back in March you might remember my difficulties in keeping warm at night.  This particular night, way out in the forest, it was cold and damp.  My tent kept me dry, and the sleeping bag was wonderful, but the air was the kind of cold that gets down into your bones and starts a slow shiver that you just can’t stop.  Dog was immune to the cold, but she did snuggle with me, which definitely helped to keep me warm.  I would link to a site where you can get one of her too…but you can’t, so instead just adopt a dog of your own from a shelter!  *That’s my official plug for this post.


In the cold and the dark my fear of bears began to grow.  I had asked my roommates what to do about the food in my pack since I obviously had no car to stow it in.  They told me that they usually just risked it.  They also mentioned tying the food in a bag up in a tree, which I was aware of but had never tried.  In my impatience to be gone I did not borrow any rope from them to do this, which was extremely foolish on my part, and now I was torturing myself with imagined scenarios of a bear nosing it’s way into my tent, being spooked by dog, and killing us on the spot.  It was spring, the bears were out, and they were hungry.  I had seen a “Warning!  Bear country!” Sign at the trailhead.  I was going to become a cautionary backcountry tale, I just knew it.  The fear was so great that I was basically lost it and froze, too afraid to hear something like shuffling paws, but too afraid to try and block out the sounds for fear I would miss my only opportunity to escape.  I could only hear the sound of the stream nearby and the wind in the branches.  At one point I even took Dog with me out into the dark night to try and tie up a stuff sack with my food.  I tramped awkwardly into the thick trees in an absolute panic, but as I gazed around I reasoned that if I didn’t do the thing properly I would probably just end up leading bears and who know what else right into my camp.  I ran back to my tent with a very confused Dog and decided that if a bear should find us the best course of action would be to throw the food bag out the backside of my tent and take Dog and run out the front, which was facing the trail.  Not a very good plan, but a plan nonetheless.  Let me just say that I have rarely been as terrified in my life as I was when I was in that tent worrying about bears (not to mention mountain lions).

With the aid of Harry Potter being read by Jim Dale on my phone I did eventually fall asleep.  I woke up to birdsong and early morning sun shining through the branches above me.  The stream continued it’s merry journey past the trail, but it sounded a lot better in daylight and accompanied by bird song.  Dog and I had breakfast and played for a bit.  A backpacker we had passed the day before stopped by camp on his way back up the trail.  He told us that the campsite I had looked for was close by.  He also told me that this had been a trial run for his thru-hike of the entire trail that he was planning on doing it in August.  I wished him a safe trip.  I felt a lot better by then and I relaxed, enjoying the beauty of the morning and experience of being out in the wilderness.

I packed up camp- it took my several tries to roll up tent and sleeping bag so that they would fit in my pack- and we began the trek out.  The sun was out this time, but it wasn’t actually that hot.  Since I had layered up in a long sleeved SmartWool shirt and thick flannel, however, I was soon too warm.  When Dog and I stopped for a mid morning snack I casually changed into a short sleeved t-shirt.  That’s the beauty of the trail- there’s not really anyone around.

We made good time back to the trailhead.  My body was unused to hauling heavy pack, so my shoulders and thighs were aching, but I felt basically sound.  It was with great relief that I stepped out of the pack when we (finally!) reached my car however.  We took some time to hydrate and then it was time to say goodbye to the Colorado Trail.  The trailhead was bustling with activity, compared to the ghost town it had been when we arrived the day before.  We hadn’t driven far before we saw a middle-aged man in biking gear by the side of the road with his thumb up.  I have never picked up a hitchhiker before.  In fact, it is fairly taboo to stop for one, especially if you are a female.  But I had Dog in the car (an excellent judge of character, by the way) and the man was clearly trying to get to the trailhead for some mountain biking.  So I stopped and learned that his name was Dan, his wife wad given birth to his son Wilder just 10 days ago, and then he had walked down the hill to his house, only to learn that he had left his keys in his truck, which was parked not far from the trailhead, just inside the boundaries of Pike National Forest.  I dropped him off at his vehicle and we waved goodbye.  I hadn’t even fully turned my car around to head away when he called out.  “Wait!  Do you want a cold beer for your trouble?”

Of course I did.  The whole drive home that beer sat in the backseat cup holder like a Medal of Honor.  I had completed my first backpacking trip, all on my own.  I had hauled all my gear out into the wilderness, set up camp, and then packed it up to haul it back without incident.  I had seen sights of immeasurable beauty on the way.  I had tested my own endurance and come out on top.  And I had chosen to be kind to a total stranger and been rewarded with good conversation and a free beer.  I have many things to learn (like how to hide food from bears) but I had made it.  So that’s the story of my first backpacking trip along the Colorado Trail through Pike National Forest.


If you want to learn more about the Colorado Trail follow This link.

Adventure Clothes

When I look at my clothes I see what I did, where I was, and who I was with when I wore them.  The shirts and dresses, pants, skirts, and bandannas are more than just cut and sewn pieces of cotton, silk, modal, polyester, lace: they are things that happened while I was wearing them and the people I was with.
When I travel (and this is not just me, I’m sure!) I oh-so-carefully select my clothes. This shirt and this pair of pants for this occasion, and a this pair of shoes in case it rains, and this dress to look stunning in. The problem is, I end up with a mountain of potential pieces and not enough room in my luggage. I sit and go through the pile: the maybe’s, the probably not’s, and the definitely yes’s. It can be hard to let go. Impracticality often wins. Spring? I’d like to believe I can wear my lace pineapple dress and not worry about cold or rain.
I have at least one dress that I love, but which I am not willing to wear because the last time I wore it was such a special and important night. Instead, I will admire it on it’s pretty floral hanger and think about that summer party. Again, I’m sure I am not alone in this.
At the end of last summer I went to San Francisco and I challenged myself to bring only one thing to wear. I found a pretty and versatile dress from Postmark (a la Anthropologie). I wore it faithfully for a couple of days and then decided that I really wouldn’t mind a pair of pants and a shirt, so I went to the Mission and scoured a couple of kitschy-chic thrift shops until I walked away with a pair of skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. Perfect. Those items are still in my closet and now I think of all my San Francisco adventures that happened when I wore them (abandoned racquet ball court in Golden Gate Park, anyone?). While I love my clothes, I think this might be an ideal way to deal with the stress of trying to decided which of my clothes make the cut. It’s wonderfully freeing! Just be sure to bring more than one pair of underwear, since no one wants to thrift that.
I am packing again and I pretty much have my selections laid out. I’m taking a break to type this, and even though I’m lounging in shorts and a t-shirt, I threw on a pretty pair of Seychelles heels that have been sitting in my closet all winter long. It’s time these beauties saw daylight.

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

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.

Gotta Pay the Troll Toll: My Last Day In WA


On my last day in the great state of Washington I finally ticked another goal off my list:the Fremont Troll.  Oh yes, it was everything I envisioned.
But first- I nearly missed the last commuter train (and only train) into the city that morning.  I had planned to meet up with two friends from my Wisconsin days for lunch and some city exploration.  Since it was my last day, and because our previous plans to meet up had all been foiled, I was pretty set on not missing that train.  I ran to the station.  And I made it.

My friend Cyrus picked me up from the University of Washington stop on the Link line.  We parked and walked down what I guess is referred to as The Ave.  The Ave is a street in the district of the UW that has all kinds of shop and cafes.  We stopped inside a fragrant smelling biscuit place for about two seconds before Cyrus declared that we were leaving.  When Stevie found us she suggested we get bahn mi’s from a little place instead.  Oh, that made my heart sing, that’s for sure.  I’ve only been a little bit obsessed with trying to create the perfect bahn mi sandwhich at home.  I just can’t get that darn tofu consistency right!  The restaurant Stevie took us to was small, busy, and hot.  The woman at the register who took our orders addressed Stevie and I as “sister”, and Stevie as “Miss Stephanie”.  The sandwiches didn’t take long to make and turned out to be quite sizeable.  We took them and walked to a little wooden seating area in a small harbor.  The sun was out and the air was warm.  It was a perfect place for lunch.  After that Stevie went back to class and Cyrus and I were left to wander.  As any respectable tour guide would he insisted on finding a spot to view “the mountain” which is, of course, Mt. Ranier.  It was a rare sunny day and the visibility was unbeatable.  We walked around the UW campus trying to catch that glorious view.  The campus was stunningly beautiful; it would have looked right at home with Hogwarts.

We finally did find that view!  My one photo, snapped with just my phone, doesn’t do it justice at all.  Mt. Ranier is what we would called a fourteener, or a mountain that is fourteen thousand feet.  It’s pretty visible from most places around the Pudget Sound in western Washington.  This volcanic mountain stands alone from the other mountains in the Cascade and Olympic ranges.  On grey days it is all but obscured from view.  This was not a grey day, thank goodness.  After our mountain viewing we tossed around some ideas about what else to do on my last whirlwind day in the city.  I though, Of course, I’ve still never seen the Troll... Cyrus was all for heading over to Fremont for a viewing.  “We can see their statue of Lenin too,” he said.

Wait- what?

Fremont calls itself ‘the center of the universe’.  No really, look it up.  This eclectic neighborhood in west Seattle prides itself on public art and quirky shops.  The enormous statue of Lenin was originally created and installed in Poland, but after one short year communism was on the outs and the statue had a long journey here and there before landing in Fremont.  That is just one of many stories about the crazy kinds of things you’ll stumble across in that part of the city.  There’s a wide variety of food on every block, and the inhabitants are only too happy to live in their strangely decorated apartment buildings and cross their fancy bridges.  I don’t mean to sound bitter, just a little jealous perhaps.  One of the excellent places we visited was called Ophelia’s Books and was a shop with two and a half (a loft) floors crammed with used books.  I didn’t even know about the spiral staircase leading to the basement until I couldn’t figure out where Cyrus had gone and I nearly fell down the stairs.  Among the shelves down there I heard the distinctive munch munch of a rabbit and sure enough there was a nicely sized hutch housing two happy looking bunnies.  A bookstore and rabbit home all in one?  Needless to say I happily purchased a t-shirt with their logo and a rabbit from a beaten up old cardboard box full of book related clothing.


Cyrus took me back to the train station and I caught the Link to the Sounder and then road it back to Puyallup.  My aunt and uncle were at an orchestra concert that my cousin was playing in, so I walked the short distance back to their house.  It was a lovely night; not too cold, clear sky with plenty of stars, and an overall feeling of accomplishment.  This trip was tremendous.  I don’t take vacations to relax, I take them to explore and experience, and I feel like I did both to the fullest extent.  I was able to spend time with family that I don’t often get to see, and friends that live far away.  I was able to tick some things off my list that had been growing a little dusty on said list over the years.  I saw new places and even got to leave the country for a little while!  Traveling solo has become second nature and I don’t know why I ever doubted that I could do it in the first place.  Yes, this trip to the PNW was everything I hoped it would be.  When can I go back?

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.