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!

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.

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!

Cafe Life: Seattle

I got off the plane in Seattle, WA about two hours ago and it has taken me this long to get a bowl of cappuccino in front of me.  This is the CITY of coffee.  I couldn’t be more excited about that fact, and I am currently sampling my first taste in a cafe called Zeitgeist, located near Pioneer Square.  I’ve been to Seattle a few times before, but my knowledge of the city and it’s neighborhoods is very minimal.  Thus when I got onto the train that heads from SeaTac into the city I pretty much picked a random stop somewhere in the middle of the map.  I ended up in China town and started walking.  It’s been raining heavily off and on- and I mean it pours for ten minutes and then the sun comes out, and then repeat.  I dashed inside Zeitgeist after ignoring several other cafes that looked more chain-y and less interesting.  The theme in this cafe is appropriate: world exploration.  There are old globes scattered around, blown up black and white photos of children looking at globes, and old coffee pots and various caffeine making machines on display.  This place was clearly once part of a factory: the ceiling goes up and up and is a networks of beams and cross beams.  One wall is brick, one is drywall, and one is a big window looking out into the nearby streets.  Zeitgeist is pretty size able and business is booming.  The baristas are polite and efficient, dare I say even friendly.  Friendlier than I would be in a Seattle coffee shop during rush hour, anyway.  

The other patrons here look as though they all have important financial or marketing jobs.  Everyone looks to be under forty and well dressed.  There are plenty of open Macs on the counters lining the big windows.  At the tables energetic young professionals talk about whatever they talk about over delicious looking sandwiches and salads.  I’m clearly a traveler with my two backpacks and my casual clothing, but not really all that out of place.  

Next to my trusty iPad is my big beautiful bowl of cappuccino.  There’s plenty of espresso under that foam!  It tastes much like a cappuccino I might have had in Denver or Madison though, so the jury is still out on all the coffee hype and what that tastes like exactly.  Now the sun is coming out again,so hopefully it’s still out there when I leave Zeitgeist and continue my exploration.  Is that a National Parks store across the street…?

Getting Ready for Seattle

My trip to the great state of Washington is less than a week away and I’m starting to loose focus on regular activities like work, household chores, etc.  If you’ve read previous blog posts you might be familiar with my less-than-great habit of getting so excited about a trip that I over-prepare mentally and then end up frantically packing at 3 am the morning of my flight.  The trip will be less than a week, but that just means that I’ve accepted the challenge of packing maximum exploration into a few short days.  Good thing Seattle is the city of coffee.

So far my preparations include: purchasing more cat food, knowing where my backpack is, and researching craft coffee shops.  Yeah, reeeaalllly practical.  I have a jam-packed work week between now and Thursday, so the next time I write might not be until I land in Seattle.  

Things I Learned Hiking With A Dog


I love dogs (and cats.  I’m adamantly both a dog and a cat person) and I work with them every day.  Growing up my parents constantly adopted rescued dachshunds who had various scars and sad stories, but who turned into cuddle bugs and snuggle monsters.  I worked in shelters consistantly after graduating college, as well as being a dog walker and a receptionist at a vet clinic.  Yeah, I’ve seen some dogs.

It wasn’t until recently, however, that I lived with a dog who is- shall we say more a dog in the traditional sense of the word?  I refer to her as Dog on social media, where she has been cropping up a lot lately, and she receives a fair amount of attention.  Dog looks like a big black German Shepherd and she loves people, she loves adventure, and she loves exercise.  My roommates say that Dog doesn’t sleep, she waits.  Waits to play or run or explore.  She just waits.  Dog comes to work with me a couple of times a week, but on my days off I have started taking her out on hiking adventures.  This is Colorado, after all, where both dogs and adventures are the lifestyle.  Hiking with just a dog and no other human companions has taught me a thing or two.


1) You WILL become tired long before the dog and she WILL constantly look back at you with a disappointed look on her face.  Bless Dog’s heart, she always waits for me…except for yesterday we we descended a trail on a mountain side that was coated with ice and snow.  I ended up “surfing” part of the way down as Dog pulled and I clung to the leash, unwilling to let go.

2) No matter how sociable dogs are when in the dog park/doggie day care/a friend’s house/the neighborhood, etc meeting another dog on leash can be stressful.  The dogs might be tired or on edge from the hike, or picking up on whatever it is you the leash-holder are struggling with.  They don’t necessarily want to become friends with every other pup on the trail, so just greet the other hikers politely and move on.

3)I hope you packed dog-appropriate snacks!  If you didn’t pack some specifically for Fido then at least did you bring some that are safe to share?  I fully expected that half of my little Baybels cheese wheel would disappear into Dog’s maw and I’m okay with that.  Of course, the car was also stocked with a variety of treats so Dog could have a little power snack to reboot after the hike.

4) Dogs don’t chatter and they don’t get bossy about which trails to hike.  Well, maybe some dogs do…I enjoy hiking with friends too, but there is something wonderful about the peacefulness that comes from taking in a breathtaking view in silence with your canine by your side.  Dog is very good natured and listens pretty well (my roommates trained her well) so no matter how exciting or dull the trail I pick it, she’s enthusiastic about it.  That’s rare in a friend.

5) Don’t be a douche- bring plastic bags and throw away your dog’s waste!  Do not just leave it hanging from trail signs.  That is disgusting and lazy and hello!  Part of bringing the dog means taking responsibility for them!  Ugh, rant over, just pick up your dog’s poo please.

If you’re inspired to take your adorable canine for an adventure be sure to check if your intended destination allows dogs on the trail.  The rules can be kind of convoluted (like that many state and national parks allow dogs in campsites and anywhere cars go, but not on hiking trails).  Make sure you leash Fido too, because no matter how well behaved she is, there are bears and shit out there, so watch out.

Also, shout out to the Alt National Park Service for their bravery  and dedication to science and truth.  If you appreciate their work follow the link and show your support.  Follow them on Facebook or Twitter as AltNationalParkService.  Don’t forget Rogue NASA!