2017 National Parks Tour

One of the best perks of my job is what we call PGL: Personal Growth Leave. Starting during our 10th year and every following 5 years we must take a mandatory month off with pay (4 consecutive weeks). This is something I’ve been looking forward to since I started at my job. My first PGL starts now.

My wife was also able to get the month off and in another 5 years my older son may be off to college and starting his own life. So, my family decided that this was our opportunity to take the trip of a lifetime to see some of the most beautiful locations in our country. We are taking the whole month of July and driving around the country to visit national parks, cities and other choice locations.

map

  1. Wanderlust Headquarters
  2. Niagara Falls
  3. Denver, CO
  4. Moab, UT & mountain biking, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park
  5. Bryce Canyon National Park
  6. Zion National Park
  7. Grand Canyon National Park (north rim)
  8. Death Valley National Park
  9. Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park
  10. Yosemite National Park
  11. Lassen Volcanic National Park
  12. Crater National Park
  13. Portland, OR
  14. Seattle, WA
  15. Glacier National Park
  16. Yellowstone National Park & white water rafting, Grand Tetons National Park & horseback riding
  17. Mount Rushmore
  18. Badlands National Park
  19. Madison, WI
  20. Chicago, IL
  21. Cuyahoga National Park

It’ll be a mad dash and by the end I suspect we’ll be more tired than we started. But hopefully we’ll be making memories that will last our lifetimes. Stories that we’ll tell when we gather for the holidays. Adventures that our kids can recreate with their kids.

Eventually there will be a slew of blog posts from the trip, but until then stay tuned to my social media locations for photos, updates and more.

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A Look Back on 2016 and Ahead to 2017

2016-featureA Look Back on 2016

2016 has come and gone and now is the time to reflect on all that was accomplished or not. I think that many would agree that it was a rough year with all of the musician and celebrity deaths, Brexit, the US election, the war in Syria, the Keystone XL pipeline standoff, and the proposed motel near the summit of Mount Washington. But for me (outside of celebrities, politics and global disaster) it was a pretty good year. Here’s a rundown of my goals for the year and whether or not I attained them:

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Hike: Mount Moosilauke

TRIP REPORT

In 2011, when I rediscovered my love of hiking, I knew nothing of this New England 4000 Footer list. My older brother and I hiked Franconia Ridge in clouds, gale-force winds and horizontal rain. Since Mount Lincoln wasn’t marked aside from a large cairn (which were plentiful on the ridge), I wasn’t even sure when we’d hit it. It wasn’t until the following year that I discovered the list and decided it would be the fuel to burn my hiking desire.

I was thrilled when my brother said he’d be there to hike Mount Moosilauke, the final 4000, with me as well. He had had a couple of kids in the last few years, so it had been hard for him to keep up with his crazy younger brother who’d seemingly hit the mountains every weekend. My kids were older and either went with me or were able to fend for themselves for eight hours while I trekked to New Hampshire and the more distant reaches of Maine. We made plans to hike and camp out the night before the big hike.

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A Look Back on 2015 and Ahead to 2016

A Look Back on 2015

2015 has come and gone and now is the time to reflect on all that was accomplished or not. I mentioned in my very first post nearly two years ago that I had come to a turning point in my life and that my focus was turning from my career and security toward those things in life that make me happy.

On the responsibility-side of the coin my family has made a lot of progress fulfilling the American Dream:

  • Melissa spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica fulfilling a Science credit toward her Bachelor’s Degree (which she will complete in 2016) and guest wrote the most popular posts on Maine Wanderlust
  • Melissa also closed her from-home Daycare business (after 12 years) and started working at a Daycare in Freeport
  • We moved off Long Island and into our first house in Gorham
  • Our boys successfully integrated into their new schools and love them
Ranch house with huge lawn

Our first house!

On the flip side of the coin (the gypsy-wanderlust side) I’ve had a year of amazing adventures with family and friends. I didn’t accomplish everything I set out for at the beginning of the year. But the purpose of lofty goals is progress toward a better and happier being and to enjoy the trip along the way, not to blatantly check things off a list. Those which are not accomplished are as valuable as those which are.

  • I completed my first winter hike of a New England 4000 Footer on January 2nd when I climbed Cannon Mountain with my brother and friend John
  • I didn’t snowshoe to the top of Mount Washington, but I did hike it with John on a snowy and icy November day with hurricane-force winds. And it was clear on top!
  • I didn’t complete my New Hampshire and Vermont 4000 Footers, but I only have two left in New Hampshire, one left in Vermont and four left in Maine.
  • I did not attempt the Hut-to-Hut hike in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I am still not in the shape for it nor have the endurance to hike for 24 hours straight. Maybe this year?
  • I did not attempt a solo, 1-day hike of the Presidential Traverse, but I did do a Super-Moonlit hike of Mount Adams with John in August.
  • My hiking buddies and I didn’t get around to a multi-day hike in the Adirondacks this summer. But, Michael, Jeff and I spent three days camping on Flagstaff Lake in the end of August and climbed four Maine 4000 Footers.
  • I did not get to Mount Greylock, so the high point of Massachusetts is still on my to-do list.
  • Michael, John and I spent an amazing four days hiking in the Sierra Nevadas in the Emigrant Wilderness.
Valley of trees with bright blue sky

One of the amazing vista from the Emigrant Wilderness

On top of those goals from the beginning of 2015, I also:

  • Started cycling to work rather than commuting by car and have completed more than 3,000 miles on my Surly Long Haul Trucker
  • Hiked Knife Edge and two 4000 Footers in Baxter State Park with my older son
  • Went on my first bike & hike trip where I biked from Maine to the White Mountains and back, hiked and back-country camped solo and completed the four 4000 Footers in the Sandwich Range
  • Got up hours before dawn in order to hike Mount Jackson for sunrise because I can (now that we’ve moved off the island)
Bike next to national park sign

Entering White Mountain National Forest, on bike

A Look Ahead to 2016

Keeping with the themes from last year and in an attempt to complete some of those goals I missed, here are my goals for 2016:

  • Winter hike more of the New Hampshire 4000 Footers, including Mount Washington
  • Complete the New England 4000 Footer list and make good progress on the New England Hundred Highest
  • Again I want to attempt a solo, single-day hike of the Presidential Traverse, and if I’m able to do it, maybe I’ll add the Hut-to-Hut in 2017
  • Do that multi-day, late summer hike of the Adirondacks with friends
  • Do a couple state high points, Mount Greylock in Massachusetts and Mount Marcy in New York are likely candidates
  • With it being the National Parks Service’s Centennial, I’d really like to get out to Utah with the family and do the five 38° North National Parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion (A California CondoR Beds in Zion)
  • I’d really like to get out to British Columbia with some of my hiking buddies to see the Canadian Rockies, hopefully Banff or Jasper
Arch-shaped rock formation

Delicate Arch (photo credit: http://miscosaspepiss.blogspot.com/)

Luckily for me, my family supports my wandering feet and I’ve been able to find a healthy balance between responsibility and the quest for inner peace. I think I’ve become a happier person as a result.

Thanks to all of you who have checked in on my little adventures, liked and commented on my posts, or followed me anywhere in the social-media-websphere. They might seem like small acts, clicking a like or follow button, but they give me a burst of confidence to continue writing which in turn encourages me to get out there and experience more. I hope your 2015 was as great as mine. Where will your wanderlust take you in 2016?

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
-Ernest Hemingway

References:
Banff National Park.” pc.gc.ca. Parks Canada. Web. 01 January 2016.
Jasper National Park.” pc.gc.ca. Parks Canada. Web. 01 January 2016.
National Park Service Centennial.” nationalparks.org. National Park Foundation. Web. 01 January 2016.
Utah National Parks.” utah.com. Utah Travel Industry. Web. 01 January 2016

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Hike: Emigrant Wilderness

Trail Report

Much like in 2014 when we hiked Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan, my coworkers and good friends John and Michael made plans to explore the wilderness away from our normal haunts by tacking a vacation onto a work-related trip. This time we chose a lesser known wilderness area within the Stanislaus National Forest called the Emigrant Wilderness. The Emigrant Wilderness is noted for its granite and volcanic terrain and beautiful alpine lakes. It became our target because it was only a 3 hour drive from San Francisco, relatively low in the Sierra Nevadas (it was April after all), it was easy to obtain a backcountry camping permit, it was below the 9000′ restriction on campfires and bear cans were not required.

As the date of our trip approached the forecast made it clear that we would not be experiencing the typical Californian climate. Though the weeks before and after our trip were sunny and in the 70s, the forecast for our week was in the 40s with threatening thunderstorms. On the day that our conferences ended the forecast still wasn’t great but it looked like the precipitation was going to be low even if the thunderstorms did manage to roll in. At the worst, the highest elevation forecast that was available predicted less than an inch of snow with temperatures in the mid to high 30s.

As we drove to REI and Whole Foods in Berkeley to get supplies we were still discussing whether to ditch the mountain plans and spend four days exploring Point Reyes, on the Pacific coast where the forecast was favorable. In the end it came down to the fact that we had planned our trip for months and flown from Maine to California in order to experience the Sierra Nevadas. The worst possible forecast would be a mild New England spring storm. So we headed to the mountains.

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Cerro de la Muerte: The Mountain of Death

Part of the Talamanca Mountain range, Cerro de la Muerte is the highest point in Costa Rica and rises 11,000 feet above sea level. Stories were told by our guide of past journeys and unprepared travelers who succumbed to the cold and rainy weather of the mountain, giving the mountain its ominous name. It is our luck that a highway now runs to the mountain’s summit as it gave our group an opportunity to plan a full day hike from the summit.

Because a one-way 10-mile hike would take the entire day, our professors decided we would  start at the top and hike our way down. The bus took us up the winding mountain road and we stopped for a brief moment at an overlook. Supposedly, one could see something of great significance but the cloud cover was thick and we couldn’t see anything, much to the disappointment of Prof J who had looked forward to showing us the view.

Viewpoint

Piling quickly back onto the warm bus, we continued our ride up to a point just below the summit where the bus dropped us off and we huddled in packs to keep warm.

It started raining.

Actually, raining is not quite the right word. It started spitting a drizzle that was cold and infused with whipping wind.   Propelled by his desire to not push us through a rain-soaked hike, Prof J wanted to turn back. As an intense non-lover of rain-soaked hikes, I certainly appreciated the effort to avoid such an experience; however, Prof D convinced his fellow chaperon that we could, in fact, find it in our biology-loving hearts to make the trek down Cerro de la Muerte.

So we hiked.

PARAMO:

The first part of our hike began at the summit and followed a barren trail through the paramo habitat. Characterized by cold temperatures, harsh slopes, and short shrubs, I could hardly catch my breath. My inner voice rang constant reminders to stay calm and breathe, reminding myself that I was heading down the mountain to more oxygen. Picking my way carefully over wet rocks and around damp shrubs, I saw no sign of wildlife. This part of the hike was quick, cloudy, windy, and cold.

Cerro 1

As we began to move into the transitional forest, the cloud cover began to dissipate and we were afforded incredible views of the valley. I turned a corner to unexpectedly see a rainbow arching over the trees ahead and it was in this moment I thought of Ben.

Benjamin LaMontagne passed away February 22, 2014 and every day I wear the bracelet his mother (my friend) gave me in remembrance of him. The purple and gold bracelet with the words “Remember Ben” inscribed on the top is a daily reminder to not only remember that Ben lived but to also live every moment of our lives in honor of him. When I rounded the corner of the trail and saw the valley, felt the sunshine, glimpsed the rainbow, I thought of Ben and took a moment to reflect on his life well lived.

Cerro 2

TRANSITIONAL AND CLOUD FORESTS

“Wait until you see the golden moss,” Prof D said. “You will feel such euphoria.” Considering the lack of cloud cover and small amounts of sunshine, the golden moss was not quite as euphoric as one would have hoped; however, it was quite a sight to see.

Golden Moss

Our guide thought it would be amusing to wear the moss as cover and hide himself amongst the trees:

Golden Moss Luis

Other photos from the incredible hike down Cerro de la Muerte:

Roble Cerro 4Roble Oak

Cerro 5

Cerro 3

A Song to Costa Rica

There comes a point (at least for me) in a long hike when I am simply moving without thought, shuffling my feet forward and hypnotized by the rhythm of the walk. The tall oak trees rose above me and birds called (though I did not see them). This is the moment I remember when our guide started singing and his song carried us down the mountain. 

He sang:
“Que linda es mi Costa Rica
la virgen de los Angeles bajo
y como la vio tan bonito
as cielo jamas regreso…”

And I listened.
“What beautiful is my Costa Rica
The virgin of the angels came
and it see so beautiful it never came back
Because it is so beautiful
They call it the Central America Switzerland.”

It is indeed beautiful.

Next time we leave Savegre Valley and head south towards Drake Bay and Corcovado!

Pura Vida

Pura vida: the simple translation is “pure life”…And it is a philosophy of life for the people of Costa Rica.  Pronounced “Poo-rah Vee-dah”, it is an expression of optimism and takes on many meanings depending on its context.  It could mean take it easy, live in the moment, relax, enjoy life, it’s all good…It’s also a philosophy best understood through experience: walking slowly through the colorful roadside market in Manuel Antonio, hearing the quiet song of our guide paying homage to his country, embracing the welcoming smiles of Costa Rican people at every stop, or the first glimpses of a Pacific Ocean sunset.

My introduction to and subsequent acceptance of the pura vida philosophy was immediate upon my arrival to Costa Rica when I realized my luggage had not made the connecting flight from Miami.  Silently kicking myself for not adhering to my usual protocol of traveling with all carry-on luggage, I walked with one of my professors (who, in the spirit of respectful anonymity, I will call Prof J) to the help desk to report my missing luggage.

“Hola.  Puedo ayudarlo?”  asked the young man at the help desk.

Years of high school French came flooding into my brain and it wouldn’t be the first time during the trip when I would open my mouth to respond in Spanish but French would threaten to come out.  I’m sure I looked pained as I stood staring wide-eyed, searching my brain for the Spanish equivalent of what I needed to say.

“Ho-la,” I spit out ungracefully and turned chagrined to Prof J.  He knew our itinerary (as well as Spanish) and would certainly be more effective in coordinating the delivery of my luggage.  After a few moments of conversation and a small bit of paperwork, we discovered my luggage was still in Miami and the gentleman at the help desk efficiently worked with us to get it back to me.

As we stood waiting for the printer to s-l-o-w-l-y churn out the multiple page receipt for my luggage, Prof J turned to me and said, “Pura vida.”

“What does that mean?”

“It is what it is.”

My general annoyance to the situation started to dissipate.  He was right.  I could choose in that moment to spend the next 3 days upset and annoyed or I could relax.  I acknowledged the foresight I had in packing a change of clothes in my carry-on and reminded myself that I was in a warm, welcoming country and not in control of anything except my own response to the situation.

So I accepted it: Pura vida.

WHERE WE STAYED: City Express Hotel

It was a fine hotel for our short stay in San Jose.  An easy drive, 5 minutes from the airport.  The rooms were clean and comfortable.  According to their website (noted below), it costs $98 per night for a double room.  The free breakfast was good as well: toast, eggs, fresh fruit, juices, rice and beans.  The only downside to the hotel stay was the required use of our room key in order to operate the elevator…

Hotel Room

Hotel Room

City Express San José Costa Rica

While I didn’t get a photo of it, the view from my shared room was a side-street view of San Jose and, in the distance, tall spires of a wind farm lined the edges of a far-away hill.

WHERE WE ATE: McDonald’s

Yes.  McDonald’s.

We had arrived in San Jose late at night and, much to the apologetic dismay of our tour hosts, all restaurants had closed.  Except one: McDonalds.  Dropping our luggage at our hotel, we made our way to McDonalds where I ordered the “Tico” Mc-Something Sandwich and enjoyed my first (albeit unauthentic) Costa Rican dish.

Note on a Lesson Well Learned.  My luggage was returned to me 3 days later and I was relieved to have access to clean clothes and flip flops; however, my husband will be happy to hear I had found myself much happier with less.  How easy it was to move between places with only my camera and a backpack of supplies.

Next post: We head to Savegre Valley and go on our first hike!