Tag Archives: hiking

Nothing Worthwhile Is Easy: My First Backpacking Trip

You may remember that last summer was my first camping trip in several years. I loved it so much that this summer I decided to take the next step and try backpacking. Because what on earth could be not fun about strapping on a 35-pound pack that’s as big as you are and trudging to a campsite with absolutely no amenities?

But that is exactly the point. The things in life that are the most meaningful, the most wonderful, are usually the things that do not come easily. I was reminded of that over and over again during our days in the woods.

It is probably no surprise that I spent weeks preparing for this trip – researching where to go, gathering tips from friends, taking stock of our camping supplies and spending an unmentionable amount of money on Amazon filling in the gaps and buying backpacking supplies, creating a meal plan and spending half a day shopping and prepping the food we would eat (for the curious, I plan to do a separate post on exactly what food I packed and what we ate – I spent a lot of time putting a plan together and it seems worth sharing). This was no small feat – weeks of work for a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip.

And then the day arrived, the day we would load up the car and drive to the Beaver Swamp Trailhead for the start of the hike. I have no doubt that Brandon could have carried his 50+pound backpack for an extended distance. Me, on the other hand, not so much. In fact, I was a little worried about carrying it at all. But you can bet once I got myself strapped into that thing, I documented the heck out of looking strong and sporty with my giant backpack.

Not wanting to overcommit on this, my first backpacking trip, I had found the perfect spot. Fish Lake (not to be confused with THE Fish Lake, the larger lake located near Mt. McLaughlin) is a small lake located in the Rogue-Umpqua Divide Wilderness. It seemed like the ideal spot for a first trip – it would be a 2.5 to 3-mile hike in (depending on the final campsite), we could set up a single camp for both nights, and would have access to many trails for day hikes.

I’ll be honest, the hike in was not as bad as I expected. Of course, that could be because I was somehow blissfully ignorant of the fact that it was downhill pretty much the entire way. Troubling thoughts of the uphill hike that would be required on the way out were far from my mind as I took in the scenery and enjoyed being outdoors on an absolutely gorgeous day. And the trail was clear, too, so there were few obstacles to surmount… Yet.

Sooner than I expected, we got our first glimpse of Fish Lake.

Surrounded by mountains still topped with snow, the small blue lake was quiet and sparkling in the afternoon sun. After a bit of searching, we found the perfect spot and set up camp. Most importantly, we set up the hammock with an unobstructed view of the lake.

We spent the remainder of the day settling in, relaxing in the hammock, reading, fishing, preparing dinner, and simply enjoying 100% of each other’s attention as we sat with warm drinks in hand and talked by the campfire, uninterrupted by technology or the need to do anything except be present and together.

When Brandon said he wanted to make a bow and arrows while camping, I kind of thought he was speaking figuratively. Apparently not.

That night, we (including Sydney) cuddled in the hammock as the sun slowly set and counted the stars as they appeared. Soon, the night was dark and the stars shone brightly in the kind of darkness that can only be found in the wilderness. I noticed I was crying, from the peace and beauty of it, from the perfection of sharing the stars with my love. I could not imagine being any happier and more content than I was in that moment.

Perhaps, other than the whole peeing in the woods thing (an unexpected skill that I have now mastered, by the way) backpacking wouldn’t be so bad, after all.

Cue music that darkly foreshadows things to come.

This is where things really started to become difficult. The silent starry night, the romantic campfire far removed from distractions, the perfect camping spot near the lake – all of that would come at a cost. And that cost would be sleep. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the unenviable experience of “sleeping” literally on the ground, but it does not seem to usually involve actual sleep. Despite our fancy new sleeping pads and inflatable “pillows” (which are not even deserving of the word), it really felt like we were basically sleeping on the ground, uncomfortable slope, pokey sticks, and coldness included. Not to mention the raccoon that came sniffing around (yes, all smelly stuff was hanging a safe distance away from the campsite) that Sydney and I were both certain must be a bear out to get us. Needless to say, there was not a whole lot of sleeping going on.

The next morning, exhausted, Brandon volunteered to be the first out of the tent to make the campfire and the coffee. Because he loves me. And values continuing to be in this relationship.

After a slow start that involved breakfast and fishing and staring blankly ahead at the calm water, we decided to spend the morning on a “nice little hike.” I estimated that the hike I had planned would be about 6-miles and “it didn’t look too bad.” Uh yeah, famous last words. We set off, marveling in the cool morning and the magical golden sunshine filtering through the trees.

It was not even 8 am.

And then there was this:

I do not exactly have the best coordination and walking across a moving body of water with nothing but a tiny, unflat log between me and getting soaked and/or a concussion from falling onto rocks? Not my idea of a good time. I was, however, quite proud of myself and relieved after I (slowly and painstakingly) made my way across. Surely the day was won after such a feat.

But no. There would in fact be multiple water crossings that day. Sydney and I both protested each time. She had it easy though. When she refused to cross, Brandon would pick her up and carry her. When I refused, he would impatiently insist that I stop being a baby and walk across the stupid log. Not fair.

And it was not just the water crossings. There were also the countless spots along the trail that were completely blocked by fallen trees. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the trails had not been cleared in a wilderness area early in the summer.

When I wasn’t precariously balanced while walking across a log, I was climbing over, under, or around one. And did I mention that somehow the trail managed to seem uphill for pretty much the entire day? And that the 6-mile hike turned out to be more than 10? Oh, and there were mosquitoes. And snow.

I think I’ve managed to make the case that this was not an easy day.

And yet, there were the moments that made it worth the effort. My sense of accomplishment each time I managed not to fall as I balanced my way across a log or climbed over an obstacle; the moment when, after we were certain we had somehow gotten on the wrong trail and would have to (to my horror) backtrack, we saw the sign confirming we were on the right path and not totally useless at reading a map; the picnic lunch we enjoyed atop a rock overlooking Buckeye Lake; being able to go an entire day without talking to other people (am I the only one who gets excited about that?); the privilege of getting to spend time in an Oregon wilderness surrounded by beauty – all of these things and more made the challenges of the day worthwhile.

I love this picture

Although I will admit this one last water crossing just about did me in.

We had thoroughly earned some relaxation. We spent the remainder of the day trying to move as little as possible and intermittently complaining about which parts of our bodies were hurting the most. We did more of our favorites – I read, Brandon fished, we napped, we were both perfectly happy. And, thanks to the strenuous 10-mile hike, we, almost, managed to get some sleep that night. Bonus!

She was so tired
She kept trying to get into the tent to go to bed

The next morning, we reluctantly repacked our bags. Although I am not certain whether the reluctance was more about leaving our little haven in the woods and returning to reality or whether it was a sudden realization that we would actually have to hike some more.

Of course, I still had not realized that the 3-mile hike out would be mostly uphill. That quickly changed. As I trudged along, my pack feeling heavier with every step, I comforted myself with the thought that at least this trail, which we had hiked two days before, would be clear – no fallen trees across the trail, no logs to cross. You would think I would have learned by now.

Just when I was ready to power through the last bit, Brandon and I having decided that, screw it, we were eating pizza when we got home, there was this little surprise:

The log he’s leaning against is the one we climbed over. I also found Brandon a “man bouquet” aka a really big pine cone

Yep. Somehow in the less than 48 hours since we had last been on this trail, a giant tree had fallen and rolled across the trail. It was a large enough obstacle to require taking off our backpacks and then boosting ourselves over the tree. From the moment I removed my backpack, all my stamina, the rhythm I had found moments before, was gone. Every single step of the remaining hike was painful and effortful. Every. Single. Step.

But I made it.

I feel like you can really see the pain in my eyes

Moreover, I would absolutely do it again. It may not have been easy, but it was worth every bit of it.

And that whole nothing worthwhile is easy thing? It’s not just about camping trips. I cannot help but draw the parallel to my relationship with Brandon. This was so perfectly illustrated in how the trip began.

What I have not yet shared is that my first ever backpacking trip got off to an especially rocky start. Dismissing the sort of funny noise that Brandon’s car was making as air conditioner related, we set out on the 2.5 hour drive to the trailhead. Approximately 2 hours into that drive, the sort of funny noise suddenly became a worrisome and loud noise, leading Brandon to quickly pull over the car. What we learned, to our chagrin, was that the serpentine belt was broken. Being unfamiliar until that very moment with what a serpentine belt was, I had no idea the extent to which I should be worried.

What I did know was that we were in the middle of nowhere, a solid hour away from anywhere remotely likely to have cell phone service, and even farther than that from a place that could help us fix the car. Imagine my relief when a nice family in a truck, likely out to camp for the weekend as we were, stopped and offered to help. They even offered to give us a ride to the market about 45 minutes behind us so that we could make the necessary phone calls. Imagine my disbelief when Brandon’s response was “No thanks, we will just limp our way back.” Despite my silent outrage and rising panic as I imagined us walking the 30+ miles back to anything resembling a building, I kept my concerns to myself as I watched the nice family in the truck slowly drive into the distance and out of sight. Brandon, love of my life, quickly explained that the car could technically function without the serpentine belt and his plan was to “limp our way back” inside the vehicle – thankfully, all limping was to be done by the Subaru, not by my feet.

What he did not explain, and what would later help me understand just how quiet and tense he was on the hour and half drive to the closest auto parts store, was that one of the systems operated by the serpentine belt is the cooling system. Without the cooling system, the car could overheat at any time. Oh, and by the way, the battery could completely stop working, too, because of some reason I cannot remember. Both not overheating/blowing up the engine and having a functional car battery seem sort of important. Needless to say, we were both quite relieved when we pulled into the Napa Auto Parts store in Canyonville, ironically across the street from the diner where we had stopped for breakfast a few hours before. Brandon, with his full knowledge of just how much worse the situation could have been, was especially relieved. We purchased the necessary parts and worked together, me using my internet searching skills and Brandon doing almost everything else, to replace the broken part that led the belt to break and then to reinstall the serpentine belt.

I mean, how can I not love this guy?
My invaluable contribution was finding a diagram of exactly how the serpentine belt needed to be installed

As we high fived and celebrated in the parking lot, apparently observed by the amused store workers, I was so thankful for what we have. No relationship is easy. There will always be the proverbial broken serpentine belts and moments spent stranded on the side of the road. And when those things inevitably occur, it is not easy to be patient with one another, to be kind, to not give in to fear and yell “What are you thinking, you idiot?” when your boyfriend declines the car ride back to civilization. But those moments of loving each other when it’s hard, being selfless and sometimes sacrificing your own wants and needs for each other, that is what makes a great relationship. It takes a lifetime of work to build and to keep a relationship worth having. I am going to get mushy just for a moment, but I love Brandon for the way he loves me when it is not easy to do so, when I am not easy to love. I am thankful that when Brandon is worried and frustrated, he can feel that way without directing those feelings toward me. I am thankful for the way we work together as a team. And I am thankful that even when things do not go as planned, we can still love each other through it. Because nothing worthwhile is easy.

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Baby, Let’s Get Lost

If you’ve somehow missed this fact, I will share it again: I love living in Oregon. I absolutely love everything about it. I especially love the random Saturdays when Brandon and I set out to explore. With no real destination in mind, the chance of getting lost, or stuck, and/or ending up nowhere in particular is great, but what is even more certain is that we will have a good time.

Thus, on a rare sunny winter day, we set out with the vague notion that we would find Golden and Silver Falls. Which we never actually found. What we did find in our meandering exploration was a completely deserted Loon Lake.

With the campground and all facilities closed for the season, we had the place to ourselves after finding a spot to park and walk in on foot.

I’m still not sure whether or not we were technically trespassing, but we did not see anything strictly saying we couldn’t be there. I mean we were not camping. Plus, Brandon likes to bend/break the rules every now and then.

Even though the sandy beach that is there in the summer was pulled in, presumably to prevent loss of sand due to increased lake volume, there was plenty to see. We hiked, we saw a waterfall, we scoped out the best camping sites for the next camping season.

It was an absolutely lovely day that we didn’t have to share with anyone else. The normally crowded campground was still and quiet. The lake, so busy in summertime, gave us an unobstructed view of its beauty. Sydney was free to roam and run to her heart’s content.

And, as we continued to drive around, aimlessly finding somewhere else to go (and finding ourselves driving down a rather potholed gravel road that probably isn’t intended for Honda Civics), we stumbled upon this:

I will happily get lost with Brandon anytime.

A Year and One Post Aren’t Long Enough

When I last left off, Brandon and I were in the middle of our weekend trip to Bend to celebrate our first year together, the first of what will hopefully be many years together. I had fully intended to share the weekend in a single post, but some things are too big for that. I am so thankful to love and do life with someone who can fit so much living into a single weekend.

And I love that, even when we are away on our adventures, we still find ways to incorporate the routines we love when we are home. For instance, one of our favorite things to do on the weekends is to go out for brunch. Unfortunately, one limitation of Roseburg is that there are approximately two places to go. It is a wonderful change of pace to do one of our favorite things in a place with a few more options.

Saturday we began the morning with breakfast at Riverhouse’s onsite restaurant, Currents. I really cannot think of a better way to start a morning than drinking a blood orange mimosa and eating huevos rancheros while sitting next to a river on a sunny day across from my favorite person. Well, maybe the day would be slightly better if that river were in Europe and not Oregon, but only slightly.

It may seem like a lot of food, but really we needed the fuel. I promise.

As you may remember, at the beginning of the year we had also spent the weekend in the Bend area. One of our favorite things that we did that weekend was take a cave tour. We toured the only cave in the area, Boyd Cave, that is open in the winter. The other caves are hibernation habitats for bats and are closed beginning in the fall. Brandon really wanted to see some of the other caves while they were open over the summer.

And that fact – Brandon wanting to go caving – leads me to this: sometimes, I wonder how we are together. Like when he wants me to watch shows about cars with him (which I do, because love) or when he convinces me to do things that require a hardhat. Sometimes we have very different definitions of fun.

Our first stop was Arnold Ice Cave, which is one in the system of lava caves that are sort of, technically, but kind of not really, open to the public. You see. People are terrible and do things like throw parties and leave graffiti in the caves. Which adversely impacts the cave habitat. Therefore, many of the signs marking directions to the caves have been removed to prevent people from finding them. So yes, in the summer most of them are not barred shut (a few are shut all year, although with Wanderlust Tours there are some tours that give you access to these otherwise completely closed caves – we had a great experience with them in January), but you have to do a bit of sleuthing to actually find them. And then drive down a gravel road or two.

Arnold Ice Cave, thus named because it was once a solid sheet of ice inside (and I imagine still is in the winter months) and at one time was even mined for ice to sell in the nearby city. We could tell that there had been some infrastructure in place. For instance, there was a parking lot of sorts along with the remains of a staircase inside the cave.

But any infrastructure was either no longer maintained or had even been actively destroyed. But that just means it is even more fun, at least according to this guy:

The descent to the mouth of the cave was reasonably steep and required a bit of scrambling. The cave did not go really far back. Although I can only take Brandon’s word for that because I got a bit stuck on the climb in because of short legs. And perhaps some unwillingness to further risk life and limb.

It was a fun spot to explore, though, and it was interesting to see how the cave, despite being in the same cave system, was distinct from the one we crawled through earlier in the year.

We initially planned to return to civilization and explore Lava River Cave, part of the larger Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It was, after all, on my Oregon Bucket List. Unfortunately, we were thwarted by white nose syndrome and honesty. White nose syndrome is a fungal growth that affects bats and is believed to be carried from cave system to cave system by human activity. The syndrome is deadly to bats. Who need to not die because they kill mosquitoes. Save the bats! Because Arnold Ice Cave and Lave River Cave are in different cave systems, we couldn’t bring anything into the cave that had been worn in another cave unless it had been washed. We could have lied when the nice ranger asked us about previous cave activity, but that would have just not been cool.

So on to an as yet unformed Plan B. After a bit of googling, we settled upon the short drive to Smith Rock State Park, which was also on my Oregon to do list.

Oh. My. Goodness. This place was beyond, beyond words. And the pictures come nowhere close to doing justice to the immensity of it all. I can’t even.

May I bring your attention to the seemingly tiny bridge that is actually built for humans to walk on even though this picture makes it look like something made for the scenery of a model train track. Also, please do not miss the switchbacks on that trail.

To get to Smith Rock requires a walk down into the canyon. Which was rather pleasant if one could ignore the pressing thought that what goes down must come up and that getting back to the car would require a painfully steep and not exactly brief hike back up the trail. Once at the bottom, there are many ways to explore the park.

One of the most popular trails, the 3.8 mile Misery Ridge Loop, is one that we would love to return and hike. Like, I must return and hike that trail one day. This day, however, we had nonnegotiable (because there was no way I was missing out) dinner reservations for which we were getting all dressed up, so we contented ourselves with walking along the River Trail.

He is just so handsome

Of course, by the time that we got back to the top, we felt like this:

Although hiking is usually our activity of choice, Smith Rock is a hugely popular climbing spot. It is also a popular spot for crazy people. As we pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car, we noticed someone slack lining across the canyon. I was on my way to pay the $5 fee for parking, so I excitedly asked Brandon to hurry up and take a picture of the crazy person walking across a death defying drop into the space between really tall rocks on nothing but a too thin piece of rope. I was sure this was a unique sight that must be captured on camera immediately to document the insanity before the person either fell or crossed to the other side. After all, there could not possibly be more than one such crazy person in the park.

The thing is, this was not an isolated event. The entire time we were there, we saw people doing this. Smith Rock must be some type of magnet for adrenaline junkies with no proper sense of danger.

As much as we would have loved to explore longer, as I mentioned we had dinner reservations. At Brickhouse. It was so delicious last time, that we knew we had to eat there again.

All cleaned up and ready to eat delicious food
Brandon ordered an old fashioned and I tried something close to a lemon drop with elderberry
We shared baked brie and roasted garlic to start, the kind of dish that is simple perfection
Brandon’s choice was the seafood pasta I had ordered the last time we were there. I may have stolen a bite. Or two or three.
Despite kind of wanting to be boring and order the seafood pasta again, I branched out in the knowledge I could steal some of Brandon’s dinner and instead ordered coconut shrimp.

Of course all of this, the amazing food, the even more amazing company, would pale in comparison to how the dinner ended. To fully appreciate this, you must understand that I am an Arkansas Razorback fan. In my family, watching Razorback football on Saturdays is second only to going to church on Sundays. At any given family gathering, at least 50% of those in attendance will be wearing Razorback red. This is not a thing that is taken lightly. Sadly, since moving to Oregon I have not been able to see much SEC football. That is why I hardly paid attention to the TV in the corner of the bar of the fancy restaurant where we were eating a sophisticated dinner, attention lovingly focused on one another as it should be during a romantic anniversary dinner. As I polished off the last of my coconut shrimp (because I’m not so sophisticated that I leave perfectly good shrimp on the plate) I happened to glance up and then return my attention to Brandon because we were, after all, on a date. And having your date stare at football the entire time is obnoxious.

But then I realized what I had seen. Of all things, THE RAZORBACKS WERE ON TV!!!

With all apologies to Brandon, who handled the situation with much grace, I became rather distracted. I was disappointed that they were losing to TCU, but thrilled to be watching the game. And then, with seconds left in the game Arkansas tied it up!!! I mean just picture this. I am all dressed up, in a nice restaurant, celebrating my one year anniversary and it is all I can do not to stand up and call the Hogs. As one overtime became two became a Razorback victory, I was inhibiting all kinds of noises that would have been entirely inappropriate. I would say that Brandon became acquainted with an entirely new side of me that evening. He even put up with the post-game texts between my brothers and me. Oddly, it was just so perfect. Of all the things and of all the days.

Because I was hyped on adrenaline by then, the only thing we could do was go back to the hotel and order dessert at the lounge. Because I so needed to add sugar to the mix.

It was another perfect day and the trip was not over yet.

Remember the Lave River Cave that we couldn’t see the day before? We returned on Sunday to visit there before heading home.

It has definitely been more developed than other caves in the area, but for good reason. The mile-long lava tube is the longest continuous lava tube in Oregon. The bridges and stairs at the beginning get you over the uneven and steep parts rather painlessly and then the cave continues on, the floor flat and alternating between sandy soil and rocky areas. In order to explore, you must have some type of light. We brought our own headlamps, but lanterns are available to rent if you don’t happen to keep headlamps in your trunk like Brandon. But really, who doesn’t keep headlamps in their trunk? It gets completely dark quite quickly and although the walk for much of the cave is relatively flat, there are unexpected rocks and dips in the floor that have probably caused a sprained ankle or two.

I think Lava River Cave is certainly worth a stop. Plus, it’s two miles of walking in what is essentially perfect climate control, even when it is hot outside. With temps in the 40s, you will want to bring a jacket, but it is actually quite pleasant. It was the ideal last stop before the drive home.

Brandon planned the perfect weekend. And then the last minute changes in plans and the unexpected surprises made the weekend even better. I look forward to many, many more adventures together!

Twin Lakes: The Third Time is the Charm

Those who know me well know that, at times, I have a tendency to forge ahead with a plan despite obvious contraindications. One could generously call this determination, but in reality it is simply stubbornness. Not one of my best traits. A perfect example? My “determination” to hike at Twin Lakes.

First attempt, April: I knew that it was probably a little early for the road to the trail to be open for the year, but I thought I would check it out anyway. I got about halfway up the 9 mile gravel road to the trailhead before running into snow, convincing me to turn my car around. I hadn’t exactly had good luck with driving in snow in the recent months.

Second attempt, late May: I had given the snow 6 weeks to melt and it was a nice warm day. Surely this time I could make it to the lakes. Weeellll, maybe not. I managed to make it a little further than last time before hitting the snow. One moment, I was slowly making my way up the gravel road, the next, I was driving in this:

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I again attempted to turn around, but this time was not so lucky. In the process of turning around, I managed to slide backwards and get stuck in the ditch. That’s right, for the second time in 6 months, I had managed to get stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Except this time I was alone.

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After several panicked moments involving imagined ways to harness Sydney to pull out the car and perhaps a few curse words, I pulled myself together and began figuring out a plan. I was beyond thrilled to note that I happened to be in a miracle-pocket of cell service (I’m not exaggerating when I say that is a miracle). Given that I did not have to hike myself out of there, my first plan was to call my boyfriend, who was working in Alaska, which was obviously helpful. He didn’t believe me, which is apparently becoming a trend when I tell him things like “My flight was cancelled and so I’m landing in Eugene instead of Medford” and “Hello love, I know you’re working, but I’m stuck in the snow and don’t know what to do so I’m calling you and trying not to cry.” I texted him a few pictures to assuage his doubts. Despite my love and confidence in him, you’ll be shocked to know that he couldn’t actually help me from far away in Alaska although to be fair, he called everyone he knew to see if anyone could come try to pull me out. I then began investigating other options, like calling a tow truck. While that would be an option, it would be an expensive one at almost $500. I then contacted my insurance and learned that I had roadside assistance. Apparently getting your car towed out of a random ditch on a snowy mountainside is considered “roadside assistance.” Relieved that a tow truck was on its way, Sydney and I settled in to wait the couple of hours it would take to get there.

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Once the truck arrived, it was a relatively simple matter to get my car unstuck. And the tow truck driver was considerate enough to hold in his laughter at my predicament and to follow me to ensure I made it safely back to the main road.

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My car was a little worse for the wear, but I was otherwise unscathed.

However, I was no less determined to visit Twin Lakes.

Third attempt, July: This time, I ensured we would be able to access the trail and I took along my two favorite hiking companions – Sydney and Brandon. This time, I actually made it to the trailhead.

img_0966From here, it is about a mile to the first lake, a lovely mile with lush green fields and panoramic views.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the two lakes, jumping into the cool water with its soft, ashy bottom for a swim, and simply relaxing in a beautiful place. img_0995

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We may have enjoyed swimming, but Sydney wasn’t such a fan.

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This was another perfect Oregon summer day. A warm, sunny day, spent hiking and swimming and exploring a gorgeous place with my love. It just took a few tries to get there.

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: 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: 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.

Roommate Reunion 2015, cont’d

Y’all gave me more gray hairs today… – Cora

Sometimes the best of friends are responsible for difficult conversations.  As the Oregon roommate reunion continued, a 2-hour drive to the coast was apparently the perfect time to have such a conversation. Which resulted in both more gray hairs and a headache on my part. Thankfully, Jessi and Shannon came to the rescue.

Excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to have any Tylenol, would you? – Jessi and Shannon

We spent Sunday afternoon exploring the small, coastal town of Florence.

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At literally every.single.store., Jessi and Shannon felt compelled to ask every.single.person we met for Tylenol. It was, after all, their fault that I had the headache in the first place. Unfortunately, the embarrassment I felt about the entire process sort of cancelled out any appreciation I felt. Really, what else are friends for than to stress you out and then embarrass you? Thankfully, we got to enjoy some Oregon coastal scenery, which seemed to make everything better.

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Guys! We need a selfie stick! – Jessi

Speaking of the coast, apparently we looked either completely desperate or completely pathetic in our attempts to take a group picture. A complete stranger walked over to us from another part of the beach to ask if we wanted to borrow her selfie stick. It temporarily felt like a new low. But then it was awesome.

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This picture brought to you by the magic of the pity offer selfie stick.
This picture brought to you by the magic of the pity offer selfie stick.

Cora, when are you going to Antartica? – Jessi

I don’t think I actually understand what it is that you do. – Shannon

Proof that even the best of friends don’t always understand each other. I’m going to Iceland, not Antartica. And don’t worry, Shan, I’m pretty sure that almost no one understands what I do, including most of my coworkers! Despite differences and brief misunderstandings and disagreements, best friends talk it out, help each other feel better, and have a great day at the coast in spite of it.

Can we take a picture for you? Oh, would you happen to mind taking a picture of us? Maybe just one more?(after looking at the pics and deciding they were not up to her rather high picture standards) – Jessi

After a beautiful day at the coast, I shared more of Oregon’s breathtaking and unbelievable beauty with Jessi and Shannon by taking them hiking at Crater Lake.

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We hiked Garfield Peak, which is not a particularly long hike, but it is rather uphill.

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Our strategy was generally to stop and take a picture whenever we saw something beautiful. Which was always. It was the perfect strategy for never admitting how out of breath we were.

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Take a pretty picture. Hike a few feet uphill and notice you’re winded. Suggest stopping for another picture (or ten), but certainly not because you’re out of breath.

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Hike. Run across someone else on the trail. Solicit about twenty pictures from them.

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Hike 10 feet. See a chipmunk which demands to be captured in a photograph.

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Stop and individually pose for the same picture x 3.

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Hike. An ultimately effective, but perhaps not efficient method of hiking. The view from the top, however, was more than worth it!

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The harder the better – Name redacted to protect the innocent

For the last day of the reunion, we decided we earned some relaxation. In addition to drinking lots of coffee, another roommate reunion tradition is getting pedicures. This time, we went all out and booked pedicures at the River Rock Spa at the nearby Seven Feathers Casino. Not only did we get to enjoy relaxing and much-needed pedis, we also spent time enjoying the lovely spa amenities. It was the perfect way to spend our last day together. Oh, and the quote? It was said to the man adjusting the jets on the hot tub. Obviously.

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I am so thankful for my friendship with Jessi and Shannon. We laugh, we cry, we reminisce, and sometimes we get on each others’ nerves. Jessi uses me as a human clothes rack. We love each other and the all too brief times we get to spend together.

I wish I could capture in words how well this picture illustrates the dynamics of our friendship!
I wish I could capture in words how well this picture illustrates the dynamics of our friendship!

Shannon and Jessi are the best kind of people and the best kind of friends. I look forward to each opportunity we have to be together. As long as we have been friends, it is not nearly long enough. Here’s to more memories, more gray hairs, and many, many more roommate reunions!

Couchsurfing in China: How to Fail at Travel Blogging

A travel blog may be many things. It may be a place to tell stories about far off places, a medium for sharing unique experiences, or simply a place to catalogue memories one does not want to forget. Regardless, one could argue that at a minimum there should be some communication of useful information. So today, I will thoroughly fail at travel blogging by utterly failing to communicate any potentially helpful information. You see, the thing about going to China and being an English speaker is that every. single. thing is confusing. There was not a single moment during my trip where I felt like, “I got this!” Even an attempt to buy a bottle of water independently failed miserably. Today’s post is a reflection of my continual befuddlement while in China. I cannot tell you where I went and I can barely tell you what I did. But at least I can share pretty pictures.

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One afternoon, Candi and Justin were occupied teaching classes and I wanted to explore a bit. One of their students, Kate, kindly offered to take me hiking on the mountain.

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Having been told multiple names for the place – perhaps Kuaiji, perhaps Da Yu – as well as being entirely unable to read the ticket, I do not actually know the name of the place that I went. I also do not know how much it cost; I simply handed Kate money and she purchased the tickets because, you know, she actually spoke Chinese. All I know is that the mountain is across from the campus, there were multiple spots to visit on the mountain, that I visited a Buddhist temple complex, and that I climbed a lot of stairs. Seriously, if you take nothing else away from this post, take away that there were seemingly endless stairs.

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See those seemingly tiny buildings way up at the top of the mountain in the background? Yeah, that was our destination.
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Stairs

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And more stairs

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And what do you know, more stairs

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Kate was a fantastic and friendly guide and I enjoyed talking with her, at least when I was not too out of breath to do so. That and the views from the top made the climb more than worthwhile.

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It was a perfectly clear day. The haze over the city is smog.

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Basically, this post will not be at all useful if you are planning a trip to Shaoxing. Although I can recommend climbing the mountain, I cannot tell you where to go or what it will cost. This post is also not particularly informative if you are simply curious about what I did while in China. Travel blog fail.