Category Archives: Nature

A Tale of Two Campsites

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of adventure, it was the age of relaxation, it was the epoch of new experiences, it was the epoch of familiarity, it was the season of sunshine, it was the season of snow, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to beautiful nature, we were going direct to misery. In short, we were going camping.

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Summer 2016 was going to be an amazing summer. Brandon was home, we had already kicked off the summer with a trip to Hawaii, and we lived in Oregon, the land of gloriously sunny and not horribly hot summers. This would mean months of hiking and floating the river and barbecues. And let’s not forget the ultimate summer activity, camping.

Here’s the thing about camping: my confident assertion that it is something I enjoy is somewhat undermined by not having actually camped in approximately a decade and the fact that when I had previously been “camping” I hadn’t actually been the one doing the work of camping. Sure, I had slept in a tent and cooked s’mores over a campfire, but I had never been the one to put up said tent or build the campfire over which marshmallows were carefully roasted. Despite this, I reassured Brandon that I both loved camping and that I absolutely would do my share of the work.

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Thus, with Memorial Day weekend in front of us, we loaded up the car and the pup and headed out to Hemlock Lake. Located in Umpqua National Forest, the campground is basic – up a gravel road in an area without cell service, the handful of $10 a night campsites consist of flat areas with fire pits and tables along with access to drop toilets.

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Determined to prove that I could do it, I happily set up the tent as Brandon unloaded the car. This was the kind of place where you had to bring everything you needed because the closest place to purchase anything was at least an hour away.

She was working hard
She was working hard

After settling into the campsite, we do what you do with a weekend in the woods. We fished, we hiked, and we sat by the fire playing cards (except neither of us could remember any card games and the lack of Internet service meant we sort of had to make it up – the key is to “remember” another “rule” at the right moment).

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Love him!

In my quest to demonstrate that I was not high maintenance and could contribute in a meaningful way to the camping experience, I believe I was generally successful.

Only two things came close to defeating me. First, the morning. I had a couple things going against me that first morning – the cold and the lack of coffee. Although it was almost June, there was still snow on the ground in spots and the mornings were quite cool.

See. Snow.
See. Snow.

I blame what happened next on being inadequately caffeinated and the slight disorientation of sleeping in a tent for the first time in years. Brandon was already up and about, building a fire and, most importantly, making coffee. I was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the day beginning in the forest and thinking of how lucky I was to love someone who makes such good coffee. That’s when the realization hit me. I was not going to be able to stay warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. Suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the comfort of my sleeping bag to then take off my pjs in the cold and put on equally cold clothing, I did the almost unthinkable. I asked Brandon – who had not only managed to get dressed like a real adult but then had started to do helpful things like make a fire – to warm my clothes over the fire. Let me repeat that. I, who had insisted that I liked camping and would not be high maintenance, asked my boyfriend to warm up my clothes before I would put them on. Bless the guy, he actually did it. And he did it with minimal scoffing. Not only that, after handing me my now warm clothes (and yes, they felt lovely, thank you very much), he suggested that I come sit by the fire and drink coffee while he cooked veggie breakfast burritos. Like I said, bless him. In case you’re thinking I’m a total slacker, I did do the dishes.

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The other thing that almost defeated my attempt to be a camper was the mosquitos, mosquitos so abundant and so hungry that no amount of bug spray could stop them. The worst was when we salvaged wood for the fire from the slash piles (because who needs to bring wood when you can spend hours finding it and chopping it to the right size with a somewhat dull axe?) and when we hiked.

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At one point in our hike around part of Yellow Jacket Glade Loop and up to the overlook on Flat Rock Mountain Trail, there was probably a solid half mile of a steady uphill climb when our choice was to keep going at the expense of being able to breath or to get bitten by hundreds of mosquitos, which would swarm relentlessly the second you stopped moving. We chose to keep going. I think Brandon was reconsidering the relationship by the time we got to the top, even when we got to pause and enjoy the incredible view. I may never know the full extent of his loathing because we couldn’t gather enough air to say words. That view, though.

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The lake is Hemlock, where we were camping

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If you look closely, you can see the pain in our faces

Finally, after realizing we had over a hundred mosquito bites between us, we declared defeat and left a day earlier than planned to enjoy the last day of the long weekend with luxuries like showers, flushing toilets, and clothes that don’t need to be warmed over a fire.

Despite the challenges, I did enjoy my first foray into Oregon camping, although perhaps I was not quite as helpful as I had led Brandon to believe I would be. Regardless, he was willing to give it another shot, which we did a few weeks later along the coast. This time, we stayed at an Oregon State Park campground, Sunset Bay.

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Oregon Parks does an incredible job developing and maintaining campgrounds throughout the state. Online reservations are almost a necessity in the summer, but a little pre-planning is worth it. This was camping I could do – electricity, running water, showers, access to stores.

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We even got dressed in real clothes and went out for sushi one night. Because we could.

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Thankfully, there were no mosquitos and the weather was perfect for hiking and spending time on the beach. We even bought firewood this time, so compared to Hemlock, it was practically like staying in a luxury hotel.

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There is nothing quite like hiking this section of the Oregon Coast Trail

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He did keep feeding me random berries along the hike that he swore were edible. Some were quite unpleasant. I still haven’t decided whether or not he was actually trying to kill me…

And you can’t forget the peace that comes from having nothing better to do than sit and watch the sunset with the man you love.

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But Brandon didn’t want me to have it too easy. So we gathered sand shrimp to use as bait in fishing for surf perch. This is an activity that involves wading into the swampy sand of low tide and using a plunger-like device to pull up wet sand and then spew it out, hopefully with a shrimp or two in the mix that then must be picked up WITH A BARE HAND and thrown into a bucket.

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Then the things, things that have poky feet and claws, must be picked up out of the bucket to be used as bait. One of us had a good time. One of us was mildly disgusted and made occasional whimpering sounds. I’ll let you guess which one I was.

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Sydney, however, was in her happy place.

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The last day we were there, Brandon suggested we go for a hike. Being somewhat tired from sleeping in a tent, I shared that a nice walk would be fine, but nothing too crazy. We had already been fishing and taken a hike along the coast the day before, after all. Sure, he said with a subtle gleam in his eye that I apparently missed, I have the perfect spot in mind. Nice, relaxing walk? I’ll let you be the judge.

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He did try to make up for it by writing messages in the sand and showing me pretty views, though.

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About 2 seconds after this picture was taken, Brandon put Sydney down. About 2 seconds after that she had managed to run across the beach, up the trail, and back to me. It may have been the fastest I’ve ever seen her run. She was not a fan of the “Lion King pose.”

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The final verdict after actually camping? Despite the inherent challenges and discomforts, it is something I enjoy. And something I continued to do throughout the summer. While I might have a preference for a campsite with amenities like running water, it is good to know that I am truly capable of roughing it a bit now and then. Well, I am as long as I have my coffee. Everyone’s got their limits.

Aloha Maui: Sometimes Travel Hurts

What could be more relaxing than a day at the beach? Toes in the sand, the warmth of the sun, the gentle sound of the ocean waves. Sounds like paradise. Of course, the postcards with a beautiful shot of the beach (see the picture above as an example) do not exactly show that “paradise” also means gritty sand in your swimsuit, usually a sunburn, and lest you forget, potentially painful encounters with sea life.

Of course, when Brandon and I decided to spend a day relaxing at the beach, we fully expected the paradise version. One of the benefits of our lovely bed and breakfast in Lahaina was the ability to access many of the guest benefits at their sister property, The Kaanapali Beach Hotel. This hotel, located in the resort area along the gorgeous Kaanapali Beach, has fantastic amenities and for us it was the perfect compromise – we got to stay at a quiet and beautiful B & B in Lahaina and still enjoy the benefits offered by a larger resort. Although we had to pay for parking in the hotel garage, the garage provided convenient access to the beach and we could use the parking receipt to get complimentary drinks at the pool bar for 2 hours after we initially entered the garage.

But rather than take time to stop for drinks, we headed straight for the beach.

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We settled into a shady spot and began our day of vacation bliss.

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Perfection!

Then we decided that simply relaxing on the beach was for losers. Brandon went snorkeling and we took a dip in the ocean.

And then my arm started to hurt.

A red welt developed and there were (increasingly insistent) shooting pains up my arm and into my shoulder.

Apparently I had been stung by a jellyfish.

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Small but surprisingly painful

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So we went in search of solutions. Various suggestions for managing a jellyfish sting that we encountered along the way included “pee on it,” “take Benadryl,” and “get really drunk.” We mulled the options over lunch and lava flows at Leilani’s on the Beach.

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Although the coconut shrimp and fish tacos were delicious and temporarily distracting, I became increasingly paranoid. The pain was legit, y’all. Typically not one to overreact to health concerns (seriously, I will probably die because I dismiss a heart attack as a panic attack, NBD) I was suddenly a hypochondriac convinced I was going to have permanent nerve damage and/or die.

In an attempt to both humor me and assuage my fears, Brandon forced me to speak to someone at the resort. I was overwhelmed by the response. They were immediately responsive and got me into contact with the on site doctor. He reassured me that I would not, in fact, die. He also shared with me the actual treatment for a jellyfish sting: run it under water that is as hot as you can stand for 5-10 minutes. It disperses the venom thereby reducing the pain. He also provided me with a topical pain reliever if I needed it. They even called The Plantation Inn, where one of the staff members checked on me later just to make sure I was okay. Really impressive service.

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Trusting the expert, I spent several minutes in a hotel bathroom running my arm under hot water. I only got a few weird looks. But let me tell you, it worked! Without any additional pain relief, the pain was significantly reduced and the swelling slowly diminished.

The moral of the story? The beach is more than just beautiful and if you happen to get stung by a jellyfish, hot water is the solution. Although you should probably drink a lava flow just to be safe.

Aloha Maui: Come Sail Away

I could imagine it: a morning spent relaxing on a sailboat as it gently moved through the waves resulting in perfectly windblown hair; being surrounded by colorful and bounteous fish while snorkeling in the cool and salty water made perfect by the sun shining down and warming my back; sitting next to Brandon while sipping mai tais and resting my head on his shoulder as we watched the waves. It sounded perfect. Usually when I travel, I like to enjoy a splurge or two. For my birthday trip to Maui, we decided that one of those splurges would be a sailing and snorkeling trip. After extensively researching the options, because that’s what I do for fun, we decided that Trilogy was the way to go. After another stop at Maui Coffee Roasters before leaving Kahului, we made our way south to Ma’alaea Harbor.

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Things to Know: 

  • You will not wear shoes (they get dropped off at the dock at check-in) and you will wear sunscreen. Lots and lots of sunscreen. But not the spray kind because that makes the deck slippery. And you should definitely reapply. Did I mention that you should reapply sunscreen? Because you will get sunburned.

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  • The company provides all of the necessary snorkel gear. I was especially excited to learn that they even have prescription masks available. Because otherwise I totally couldn’t see, which is kind of the point of snorkeling. They also have wetsuit tops available to help with the whole sunburn thing. The pain is real, y’all.

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  • The Trilogy tour to Molokini Crater is $129 per adult. The tour involves two stops for snorkeling. One at Molokini and then a second stop in a spot where sea turtles are often spotted. Of course all of this is dependent on the weather and can vary slightly .

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This is Molokini Crater. Because of the whole snorkeling and being in the water thing, I didn't exactly take pictures. Brandon did get some cool footage with the GoPro, which I may feature on the blog if it ever gets edited!
This is Molokini Crater. Because of the whole snorkeling and being in the water thing, I didn’t exactly take pictures. Brandon did get some cool footage with the GoPro, which I may feature on the blog if it ever gets edited!
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Our second stop was off the coast near Makena Beach and Wailea.
I got to see a turtle. I swam next to it for a bit (but no touching, it is like a $10,000 fine) and took this picture after getting back on the boat.
I got to see a turtle! I swam next to it for a bit (but no touching, it is like a $10,000 fine) and took this picture after getting back on the boat. You can kind of see the turtle.

 

Things I Liked (aka why I chose this company):

  • The crew and the opportunity to actually sail. The crew was enthusiastic and went out of their way to make the day fun. And this trip is not just about the snorkeling. One of the unique things about Trilogy is that they use true sailboats. Although the tour motors to the snorkeling sights, the day ends with the opportunity to sail. The crew even lets you help out if you want.

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Sailing in the rain. Before it got sunny again. Then windy. And then rainy again. Still fun!
Sailing in the rain. Before it got sunny again. Then windy. And then rainy again. Still fun!
  • The smaller size of the tour. We might have been running a bit late thanks to the coffee stop, so I rushed ahead to check-in while Brandon found a place to park and paid (Side note: there were spots muuuuuch closer and far less muddy than the one we ended up in. If you’re leaving from the far pier, keep driving around – there should be plenty of spots on the pier). On his trek he noticed another boat, from a company which shall remain unnamed. At first, he was horrified to think that said boat was ours – overloaded with tourists with inadequate space for everyone, it did not look like a good time. Thankfully, he was much happier when he finally arrived at the Trilogy boat. There was enough space for everyone to have a place to sit and there were trampolines at the front you could hang out on. The crew to passenger ratio was great.

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  • The food.  If you have read my blog, like, once, you know that food is high on the list of my priorities. So there is at least a chance that, despite what I said above, I chose this particular trip based primarily upon the reviews mentioning the delicious food. Maybe.
There were homemade cinnamon rolls
There were homemade cinnamon rolls
And mai tais
And mai tais
And a surprisingly delicious teriyaki chicken lunch
And a surprisingly delicious teriyaki chicken lunch
And more mai tais
And more mai tais

It was a really fun day that was worth every penny. The sailing was fun, the food was yummy, and the snorkeling was great. You know you’ve had a good day when at the end of the day your hair looks like this:

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The day was almost as perfect as I had imagined.

Aloha Maui: The Road to Hana

First, let me state the obvious. I am sooooo behind on this little blog of mine. I one hundred percent, absolutely, and completely blame the Oregon summer. I have been spending most of my spare time outdoors in the sun and usually on the water. I can’t wait to share more about how I’ve been having all kinds of fun camping, hiking, and relaxing this summer, but for now, let’s return to Hawaii. Because Hawaii.

For any first time (and possibly anytime) visitor to Maui, driving the road to Hana is a must.

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This curvy, quite popular drive with waterfalls around (almost!) every curve in the road is famous for a reason. I know there are approximately a million articles out in the world about where to stop and what to do (we relied heavily on the Maui Revealed guidebook). This will not be that post. For one, it was rainy, so as much as we absolutely enjoyed the day, there were times when we simply did not want to get out of the car and thus probably missed some of the “must see” sights. But I will share some of the pointers I found helpful.

  • Get an early start. We left our Kahului hotel before 8 am to beat the rush. We intentionally chose a morning when we were staying in Kahului to take our drive. We stayed at the convenient Courtyard Maui Kahului Airport our first two nights. It was incredibly wonderful to not have to drive far after a long day of flying and an 8 pm arrival on Sunday. And it made an early morning start that much easier the following day.
  • Bring supplies, a.k.a snacks and coffee. There are plenty of fruit stands along the way, but if you’re in need of coffee before you can be functional (not that I know anyone who could be described that way…), then Maui Coffee Roasters is worth a stop. Coffee = happiness = I become tolerable to be around. Also in the supplies category is gas. Start with a full tank.IMG_0558
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Whole wheat bagel with guava butter
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Now I’m ready to have a good day
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Love him. Especially because he did not hold anything I said before coffee against me.
  • Don’t let a rainy day keep you from having a good time. If you keep driving long enough, you might even find the sun!

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  • Find a decent guide and stop where you want to. There are even audio guides available that you can play while you drive. In a single day, there is no way to see every scenic or interesting spot. Spend a little time doing some research and prioritize what you want to see. But also, allow yourself the chance to stop if you find something intriguing. For instance, I knew I wanted to see the black sand beach, but the choice to stop for coconuts was completely impulsive. In other words, plan, but don’t plan too much.

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  • Do not rush. Listen, this road is curvy. And trafficy. And scenicy. That is a combination that equals slooooow. Do not feel pressure to drive fast, but if you are holding up traffic, be courteous, pull over, and let the cars behind you pass. There will also be many one-lane bridges. Take your time and enjoy the journey. Honestly, with an early start and not feeling pressure to go at a certain pace, we did not find the traffic troublesome.
  • At least consider driving all the way around. Most people will turn around in Hana, or just past it, and then drive back the way they came. This is largely due to the belief that the road after Hana becomes more rugged and dangerous to drive. It was no more curvy, in fact, often less so, than the road to Hana. Although the road was narrow, brief moments of bravery and a willingness to honk around blind corners were all that was needed. Even the gravel portions of the road were in good condition. Speaking from personal experience, if you have ever driven on a non-paved road in Oregon, you will be fine. We both loved getting to see another side of the island that was a marked departure from the lush scenery of the first part of the day. And there was much less traffic. And much more sunshine. I would say give it a go if you feel comfortable with even the smallest amount of risk taking.

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Using these tips, we had a lovely day viewing waterfalls

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swimming in the rain

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taking in the views while eating mangos and wearing flowers found along the way

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hiking Pipiwai Trail

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and checking out the remarkable O’heo Gulch, even if it was closed to swimming that day.

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We chased the sun and made some random stops along the way.

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We found a delicious spot for a Thai food lunch in Hana

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and stopped for fresh coconuts when we “needed” an afternoon snack.

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Most of all, we repeatedly stated how lucky we were to spend a day together in such an incredible place. And really, I think regardless of where you stop and what you do, that is what the road to Hana is all about.

A Wintery Week in Iceland: The Northern Lights

So after all of the posts and pictures of my fabulous trip to Iceland, the ultimate question remains: Did I see the Northern Lights? That is, after all, why I decided to brave the Icelandic winter and travel there in February.

And the answer is…

…weeeell, sort of.

Anti-climactic, I know.

During my overnight flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, during which I got a grand total of an hour of sleep, I spent some of my moments of wakefulness resting my head against the side of the airplane, looking out of my window into the inky black sky. Sometime around 2 am, I saw the faintest, most whispy of Northern Lights from the plane. They were faint enough that my eyes could not consistently capture their presence. And, although I was able to get a couple of pictures, even then the lights were ephemeral and transient, difficult to photograph. But see them I did, in the quiet moments of the early morning, in a plane full of sleeping people. For a few moments, I felt like they were all my own, the magical Northern Lights putting on a show just for me as I raced across a silent and dark planet.

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And that was it. The rest of the week, as each night approached, the clouds gathered, obscuring any opportunity to see the lights. Each day was tinged with a hint of disappointment as each night I lost another opportunity to see the lights. In that disappointment, I was reminded that travel is not always predictable and that there are certainly no guarantees. In fact, there are almost always things that go wrong, disappointments, and hard days. But that is also the beauty of it. Travel makes you choose: choose to see the beauty in the less-than-beautiful places, choose to enjoy the amazing parts of a day rather than dwelling on the things that do not happen (I’m talking about you, Northern Lights), choose joy in what you do rather than regret in what you do not. Travel, like life, is about the choices you make, especially when things get hard.

I say that to make the point that, despite not seeing the lights, I had a fantastic time. Of course, as I pondered this on the plane ride back, little did I know that my sense of peace in the face of challenges would be put to the test.

This has nothing to do with the Northern Lights, but it makes an amusing end to my stories of Iceland. Once back in Seattle, I had a 6 hour layover before my last flight home to Medford, where my boyfriend planned to pick me up at midnight. After burning time, it was finally 10 pm, time to board my plane and the announcement is made: my flight has been cancelled. Mind you, by this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, spent the day in two different countries, flown across several time zones, and eaten airport food for what seemed like days. I was not in an ideal emotional state. Apparently no flights were landing in or taking off from Medford.

As I waited in the line to rebook my flight while alternately calling my boyfriend and the airline, I felt like the best I could do was try to have a conversation without crying. This was complicated by the fact that I could not reach the person who was supposed to be picking me up from the airport. Despite my somewhat frantic calls and texts, my boyfriend, who, at that particular moment, I had to remind myself is actually a person whom I love, was apparently sleeping and unable to have a conversation about what I should do. You know, since he was the one picking me up from the airport and all. When I got to the ticket counter, I learned I had been rebooked on a flight. Tomorrow at 5 pm, almost 24 hours later. To put this in context, I could rent a car and drive home in about 6 hours. Option 1: Cancel my flight, rent a car and drive home (technically option 1 was the aforementioned flight, but as I said, not actually an option). Option 2: Catch a flight to Portland leaving in approximately 20 minutes (which my bag that I had checked on the way back due to liquid souvenirs a.k.a alcohol would not make), sleep in the airport (yuck!), then catch an early morning flight to Medford (which I later learned was also cancelled – I would’ve been stuck in Portland). Option 3: Catch a flight to Eugene in about an hour. Now Eugene is obviously not where I planned to be. Or where my boyfriend was planning to pick me up. But it is closer to home (honestly slightly closer than Medford) than either Seattle or Portland. So in my jet-lagged, exhausted, unable-to-talk-to-anyone-about-this-decision state, I chose option 3. Not necessarily the most logical choice, but the one that in the shortest amount of time got me the closest to home. I left a final voicemail detailing when and where I would be landing, confident that by the time I landed he would have some suggestion about how to get me home from Eugene.

The following text conversation occurred upon my landing:

Me: I’m here. In Eugene. Not sure what I’m going to do – I’ve thought about just taking a taxi to a nearby hotel, getting some sleep, and figuring out in the morning.

Boyfriend: Liar

Me: What??? (As I took deep, calming breaths to calm the quickly rising rage I was suddenly experiencing)

Boyfriend: You can’t trick a trickster.

Me: (emotional silence)

HE THOUGHT I WAS JOKING.

By some stretch of the imagination, he thought I was playing an elaborate prank on him, preying upon how much he had missed me the previous week.

I quickly disabused him of this notion with a mildly hysterical phone call, during which I outlined that I was, in fact, actually walking across the tarmac of the EUGENE AIRPORT while he was waiting for me at the (strangely silent, he realized) Medford Airport. Which was approximately 3 hours away. Did I mention it was midnight and that I had been awake for a really long time?

I just wanted to get home. So I decided to take a taxi. I had thought (hoped?) that my missed airport shuttle fiasco in Minnesota would be my most expensive taxi ride ever. I was wrong. At $250, this now became my most expensive taxi ride ever. Not really a record I want to break. But, I finally made it home around 2:30 in the morning with all of my belongings and my physical and emotional health generally intact. Plus, Brandon made up for the, um, misunderstanding, by picking up my dog so I could sleep in the next morning.

Perhaps my trip did not end in the best or most fun way. Travel is not always easy and certainly does not always go as planned. And yet, I love it. Less than a week after getting back, I was already planning my next trip (to Hawaii, for my birthday!!). Even when it is hard and exhausting and comically terrible, travel is worth it.

A Wintery Week in Iceland: Land of Ice

As I talked about previously, Iceland is a place where the impact of the elements is easily seen. Shaped by fire, Iceland is also a land of ice. With 8 months of winter, learning how to walk in the snow is a needed skill throughout much of the year. February is certainly no exception. Despite the snow and ice, I managed to only fall once. And it wasn’t entirely my fault because I was distracted by someone walking around in a storm trooper costume. Yes, you read that correctly. I fell only once even though I sometimes manage to wear entirely inappropriate foot wear. It’s a gift.

In my defense, the itinerary said we visiting Parliament. Which I thought would be a building. As in a place with floors sheltered from the elements.
In my defense, the itinerary said we were visiting Parliament. Which I thought would be a building. As in a place with floors sheltered from the elements. And for the record, I wore these very shoes all over Reykjavik without slipping. It was wearing my Sorrel’s when I fell. So there.

I quickly learned that we were, in fact, not going to a building. Rather, Parliament referred to the Althing. Held every summer at Thingvellir, the snowy site that we visited, the ancient assembly was the Icelandic lawmaking system from 930 until 1798. When Iceland separated from Norway in 1844, the Althing relocated to Reykjavik. The scenery at the ancient site is incredible, another spot where the separation of tectonic plates is evident. Thingvellir continues to be an important site to Icelanders today. And, as an added bonus, it is also one of the many filming locations for Game of Thrones.

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Iceland is also home to many waterfalls, partially frozen in the cold February weather. I got to see some of the most well-known ones during my short trip.

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Gullfoss

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Seljalandsfoss, which you can walk behind when the weather is a bit warmer and the ground isn’t a solid sheet of ice

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Skógafoss

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Although I live in a place where I can easily and often hike to waterfalls, they never stop taking my breath away. They never cease to be wondrous.

Ice even showed up in unexpected places. Like the beach.

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And I have to talk about the horses. Not exactly ice related, but they did have their soft winter coats to insulate them from the cold. But they must be spoken of. Because this:

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And this:

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Seriously, they were incredibly gentle and friendly. And beautiful and soft. Apparently, Icelandic horses are born with a completely one-of-a-kind smooth gait found in no other horses in the world. It is important to remember that the horses have a very specific diet that includes the worst of the worst kind of grass. Their stomachs cannot handle good quality hay and foods like apples and carrots can be disastrous. So, please do not feed the horses. Content yourself with taking approximately 30 pictures of said horses instead. Or riding them, something I did not have the opportunity to do.

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Of course, sometimes one can get a bit tired of ice. When visiting Kerith Crater and given the opportunity to walk around the rim, as a group we began the walk before having the collective thought that it was cold and windy and that it would look exactly like an icy hole in the ground whether or not we walked all of the way around it. Not worth it.

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Perhaps in the summer…

One of the highlights of my trip was hiking on Solheimajokull glacier. You know it’s going to be an, ummm, interesting afternoon when your guide starts with “Here’s a harness. Put in on so that I can pull you out if you fall into a crevasse.” Fantastic. There were also crampons and an ice pick. Suddenly it felt like the “hike on a glacier especially designed for beginners” was not so amateur after all.

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Especially when this sign greets you as you step onto the glacier.

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Of course, there was some sense of relief when we saw the people way up on the glacier. Certainly we, the beginner hikers, were not going all the way up there. We would surely just get the short and scenic tour just long enough to be able to sound awesome by saying, “Yeah, I hiked on a glacier today. No big deal.”

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Yep, so didn’t happen that way. We did, in fact, go way. up. there. At each point of interest where we stopped to learn about the glacier and it’s ever-changing environment, I would think surely this is the place where we will stop and turn around. But no. Up we would go, slowly making our way across the icy surface of the glacier.

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At the end of the 3-hour hike, I was tired and a bit relieved to see the parking lot again.

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But I was also feeling pretty accomplished. I had climbed up and down the often steep surface of a glacier. I had walked through caves and tunnels made of ice. I had remained upright. It was not an easy afternoon, but then again, the most amazing and worthwhile things in life are rarely easy. Welcome to Iceland!

A Wintery Week in Iceland: Land of Fire

Iceland is a land constantly shaped by powerful forces – the land of fire and ice. During my trip, I was able to see this first hand. I relaxed in geothermal springs, I hiked on a glacier, I saw geysers erupt and now dormant volcanoes, I walked through ice and snow. All of it was beautiful and powerful.

The heat in Iceland can be both violent and wonderful. In the wonderful category are the geothermal waters that are used to create thermal baths. One such location that I enjoyed while on my trip was the Fontana Geothermal Baths.

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Located on the banks of Laugarvatn Lake, the multilevel baths offer multiple temperatures, as well as the opportunity to dip in the chilly lake if you’re overheated. Or crazy.

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There was also a sauna available.

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It was a lovely and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. With one exception. There is a certain set of bath etiquette in Iceland that can be somewhat, ummm, uncomfortable for certain (prudish) Americans. That would be the expectation that one showers unclothed in a group shower prior to putting on a swimsuit and entering the baths. I kept reminding myself that I would never see any of these people again. It was certainly worth the temporary discomfort in order to spend a leisurely hour soaking in the warm baths. The spring at the site of the Fontana Baths is one of three in the area. The coolest, Vígðalaug, is where the pagan Parliament of Iceland was reportedly baptized into Christianity in the year 1000. The warmest, Bláskógabyggð, is used for geothermal heating.

The other bath I visited is the not-to-be-missed Blue Lagoon. The water in the lagoon is the result of a byproduct of the nearby geothermal factory. Built into the lava bed, the lagoon waters combine fresh and seawater, as well as beneficial minerals, silica, and algae.

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The lagoon has been moved and expanded over the years to accommodate the factory and growing crowds that flock to the lagoon. There are multiple price options for enjoying the Blue Lagoon. My group got the Premium package. This included a towel and bathrobe, a drink from the swim-up bar, and the ability to use an algae mask in addition to the silica mask available to everyone.

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Upon check-in, you are given a band that corresponds with your package. It gives you access to the spa treatments and can be used to purchase additional services and drinks. Anything charged to the band is paid upon leaving.

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Also, there is wifi. Which allowed me to have the coolest FaceTime conversation ever. Sidetone, it is amazing that technology lets you share cool experiences with someone thousands of miles away.

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There are springs both large and small located throughout the country. I think that for a first time visitor to Iceland, visiting the Blue Lagoon is a must. It is a completely unique place and popular for a reason. Because of this, however, it was quite commercialized and crowded. Although the lagoon was large enough to accommodate the crowd without feeling packed, the number of people were quite evident in the dressing rooms. My preference was the smaller, more intimate Fontana. On a return trip to Iceland, I would probably forego the Blue Lagoon (although again, I think you should go at least once) for one of the many other geothermal springs. Regardless of where you decide to go in Iceland, definitely bring a swimsuit and find some warm water.

Although the water in Iceland can be pleasantly warm, it can also be destructively hot. Approximately 90% of the energy in Iceland comes from geothermal energy, heat harnessed for productivity. The evidence of it is visible in steam and in geysers. In water much too hot to bathe in. In water hot enough to boil water and cook food.

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One such geyser – Strokkur

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The water can even be hot enough to destroy roads when the activity below the surface unexpectedly shifts and makes its presence known above ground.

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One afternoon, I had the opportunity to take a tour with the family-owned Iceland Activities. What I loved about this tour was that it is a family who takes small groups of people to do the things that they love to do in and around their home town of Hveragerdi.

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Located in a volcanic zone, the town of Hveragerdi lives with the constant threat of a changing landscape. They average a major earthquake every 10 years, not to mention the frequent minor earthquakes. Case in point, the hot springs on the hillside that we hiked up with our guide opened up literally overnight due to an earthquake in 2008.

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At the top of the hillside, we had the opportunity to sit on the quite warm ground as we learned more about the springs, ate bread and eggs cooked in the springs, and sipped hot chocolate.

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It's all fun until you get sulphur steam in your face...
It’s all fun until you get sulphur steam in your face…

With a return trip to Iceland, I wouldn’t hesitate to use Iceland Activities to explore more of the area.

Iceland is clearly a country shaped by “fire,” although at times it can look deceptively like ice. Take for instance the now dormant Eyjafjallajökull (don’t ask me how to pronounce it – I’m still working on “godan daginn” – good morning).

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The volcano erupted violently a mere six years ago, the eruption bringing attention to Iceland as flights throughout the world were disrupted by the ash from the eruption.

Then there is the line between tectonic plates that runs the entirety of Iceland. Now visibly cooled, the space between the plates as they move apart continues to be filled with magma far below the surface.

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This evidence of how the world has been shaped and built is rarely seen above ground, most plates meeting below sea level. Throughout Iceland, this divide between the North American and Eurasian plates is easy to observe and provides a fascinating glimpse into the forces at work in and on the earth.

This is a land in which the forces of nature are readily apparent, visible, and a part of daily life. As much as heat has shaped the landscape, so has ice. In my next post I will share more about the other forces at work to create the magnificence that is Iceland.