Yosemite National Park

Growing up, a map of the world hung on my bedroom wall.  I put green stickers on the places I’d been and blue ones on the destinations I wanted to visit.  There was just one location that had both a green and blue sticker – Yosemite National Park.  I first visited the park with my family the summer before starting high school and after just a day in Yosemite, I knew I needed to return to climb Half Dome.   From the start of our trip, the park was one of the places I was looking forward to most and it was the perfect capstone to our three months in California.

Yosemite Valley

Due to a combination of things – waiting for the snow to melt and having to get back to Ohio for a wedding – we ended up in Yosemite over Memorial Day.  We knew that a holiday weekend in a park infamous for crowds would be rough but the payoff would be a four-day weekend with just one vacation day.

Spring is a great time for waterfalls!

A few years ago, they started requiring a permit to hike to the top of Half Dome.  Before implementing this system, on busy weekends there were 1200 people summiting; now they only give out 300 permits per day.  There is a preseason lottery – we both applied but neither got a permit.  The NPS released data on the 2017 lottery showing that over 10,000 people applied for a permit the Saturday before Memorial Day, meaning less than 3% received one. Fortunately, they save a few permits for day of lotteries.  Even though the odds were not in our favor, we got a Half Dome permit for Sunday!

Half Dome as seen from Glacier Point

Wanting to save our legs for the difficult trail the following day, we diverged from our typical park activity of hiking and tried out horseback riding … well mule-back riding! I hadn’t been on a horse since 2002 and I think my steed could tell.  I don’t know if I was especially bad at giving it directions or if Kip was particularly ornery but she wandered off trail to eat more than any other mule.  Zach, who grew up in proximity to horses, had a much easier time.

Zach and my mule Kip

The next morning, we woke early and headed into the valley.   I had heard of people starting the Half Dome hike anywhere from 2 am to 2pm.  We decided on a reasonable 6 am start time.  The first half of the hike follows the popular Mist Trail.  It was great to admire the two waterfalls without any other people around.  When we travelled back down that afternoon, the trail was unbelievable packed.  It was like walking through Cedar Point on its most crowded day.

Vernal Falls in the background

Half Dome rises 4800 feet above the valley below, roughly the same elevation gain as hiking from the Colorado River to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I like to think of myself as a fast hiker and given that we are the people doing the passing the majority of the time, I must be.  But when I hike with Zach, he makes me feel like a slowpoke.  By the time we got the top, every other minute he had to stop and wait for me.  It seemed like he was immune to the elevation gain, altitude and mileage.

Struggling to keep up with Zach

The final stretch of the hike, the part that actually takes you up onto the dome, is the most terrifying part.  The rock is granite which feels slippery and the grade gets up to 60 degrees.  To help, there are cables to hold onto and wooden rungs about every ten feet.  People are going up and down and passing by each other takes some careful maneuvering.  After a few rungs up, I was ready to turn around but I preserved and continued on to the top.  Once I got the hang of things, it really wasn’t too bad.  I never felt unsafe, just worried that I would feel unsafe at some time in the future.

The cables

The 360 degree views from the top were magnificent. We drank our summit beers overlooking Tenaya Canyon to the east.  I was too worried about going down the cables to fully enjoy things at the top but decent was just as manageably difficult as the ascent.  The seven-mile hike back down was easier than going up but by the end my legs were shot.  The tiredness was overpowered by feelings of accomplishment, exhilaration and gratitude.  We finished off a great day by watching the Cavs win Game 7 of the Eastern Finals.

A great place for a beer!

The next day, my legs were still very sore so we took it easy by driving up to Glacier Point.  Even higher than Half Dome, from here we got more great views of the park.  We did a short hike to Taft Point where we saw two BASE jumpers take off.  I couldn’t get within a few feet of the edge, I can’t imagine jumping off it.

Crazy BASE jumper

Having learned from previously wasting time looking for parking inside the valley, we went straight to the furthest possible shuttle stop and took the bus in.  We rented bikes and I spent a good portion of my energy was spent trying to avoid groups of pedestrians who liked to walk shoulder to shoulder and take up the whole path.  My one complaint about the park was that, at times, it was incredibly crowded.  But we managed to find some more secluded areas and enjoy the majestic beauty in peace.

Crowd at the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls

After only having seen one bear in the first sixteen months of this trip, we were blessed with three bear sightings in Yosemite! None were as exciting as our first time when we spotted the bear while hiking alone.  Every time this weekend, we joined an already formed crowd to watch the bear.  Still, a bear sighting is a bear sighting!

Bear!

On our last day in the park, we headed into the High Sierras via Tioga Road.  The drive takes you over 10,000 feet, offering great views of snowy mountains, crystal clear lakes, green meadows and more granite domes.  We bagged our second dome of the weekend, hiking to the top of Lembert Dome.  Much smaller than Half Dome, it was also much less crowed, providing tranquility the rest of our time in the park was lacking.  To cap off the trip, we hiked up to an overlook of Gaylor Lake.  Most of the trail was covered in soft snow, leading to each step sinking you knee-deep in snow.

Slow moving through the snow

A few weeks ago, I bought a collection of John Muir’s work and have been greatly enjoying reading about his experiences in the Sierras.  He is a fantastic writer and I would highly recommend reading anything by him.  He is full of great quotes but I’ll end with one of the most relatable.  After a day spent at the top of Yosemite Falls, he writes, “My first view of the High Sierra, first view looking down into Yosemite, the death song of Yosemite Creek, and its flight over the vast cliff, each of one those it of itself for a great life-long landscape fortune – a more memorable day of days – enjoyment enough to kill if that were possible.”  This weekend was one for the books – each of my days spent in Yosemite was the most memorable day of days.

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Spring in California

The past few weeks have been a busy for us! We got engaged, travelled back to Ohio for a week, and are in the middle of a marathon of weekends at California’s great National (and State) Parks. The blog fell out of priority but we’re trying to get back on track. To ease the pain, I’m going to zoom through the past few weeks in one post.

Lots of wildflowers in California!

Last year our company started holding a Fiscal New Year’s Eve party. Since we missed out on it the first time around due to hiking the Grand Canyon, we flew back to Ohio to attend the party and the other work events going on that week. We both left San Francisco Friday afternoon; I headed back to Cleveland, Zach spent the weekend in Salt Lake City for his cousin’s bachelor party. In a bit of unfortunate luck, my dad was running the Boston Marathon that Monday so I only saw my parents briefly before they left. Fortunately, I was able to have my grandparents over for dinner and wait out a tornado warning at my best friend Sammi’s house.

Celebrating our 4 year anniversary at the spot of our first date – The Melt 

Zach and I both arrived in Columbus Monday morning and began a work week full of activities. Between hanging out with friends and work events, we didn’t get much sleep. The highlight of the week was watching my sister Megan race on the Ohio State Crew team. Her novice eight boat won both races. You only get to see the boat for a few seconds as they row by, but it was exciting to see in person her hard work pay off.

Not the best spectator sport

Before we knew it, our time in Ohio was over and back to California we flew. We had a work week to kill before heading to Big Sur, so we hunkered down in Hollister, the largest city in San Benito county. We spent most of the week working and relaxing after our busy previous week. The weather finally warmed up, a little too much for my liking, so we enjoyed dusk runs through the very large campground (500+ sites). We saw more animals in the campground than we had any other week – loads of deer, many interesting birds, squirrels, a fox and a family of wild boar.

Fox

That weekend we traveled south to Big Sur – not a national park but a region full of state parks. Many of the best trails are closed due to frequent fires and landslides. The trails we hiked were great so I can’t imagine what the better ones are like! Unlike most weekends when we are in the middle of nowhere and left to cook for ourselves, there were some great restaurants in the area. We dined at the world-famous Nepenthe, overlooking miles of the Pacific coast. I discovered my new favorite beer, Lost Coast’s Great White, while watching the Cavs beat the Pacers at Big Sur Tap House.

Pfeiffer Beach

Since our campground in Big Sur was only an hour from a Starbucks, we spent Sunday night in the park and packed up early Monday morning. As long as our weekend accommodations are within a reasonable drive from an internet connection, we use this strategy to maximize our time in the parks. This work-week was spent at Sunset Beach State Park on the north shore of Monterey Bay. For those of us who live full-time in campgrounds, California has the worst State Park system. Almost none of their campgrounds have water and electricity hookups but still cost forty dollars a night. Sunset Beach was a beautiful park, and much cheaper than the other eighty dollars a night private campgrounds in the Monterey area, but after a week of washing dishes without running water, I was happy to move on to a site with hookups.

Finally the right weather and trees for the hammock!

Excluding Gateway Arch, Pinnacles is the newest National Park. In 2013, it was upgraded from a National Monument to a National Park, officially making California the state with the most National Parks. Unlike Gateway Arch, it actually deserves to be a National Park (read this for more of my feelings on Gateway Arch).  Our campground in Hollister was only an hour from Pinnacles, so one day after work that week, we headed into the park and explored Bear Gulch Cave.  It’s more of a tunnel than a cave but still a great way to spend an afternoon.

The trail to Bear Gulch

That Saturday, my brother and some college friends were racing the Wildflower triathlon which was not too far from Pinnacles. It was hot and hilly just spectating and I’m glad I wasn’t racing.  I will come out of my triathlon retirement one day but I’m not yet ready to return to the sport.  Matt did great, finishing 9th out of over a thousand racers. But, no surprise to anyone who knows Matt, it wasn’t quite as good as he was hoping. I didn’t get to see him much since he was racing for most of the day, but anytime with family is better than none.

Not our best picture, not our worst

The past week I had been fighting a cold, and just as I was getting over it, I came down with a sinus infection.  I spent the rest of the weekend blowing my nose and relaxing in bed.  I attempted to go for a hike but turned around a mile in, leaving Zach to finish it alone.  I was happy we visited the park earlier so I was able to see more than just the campground.  From Pinnacles we headed east to finish our our last few weeks of California in the Sierra Nevadas.

Serafini Family Vacation in Lake Tahoe

By: Nathan Serafini

On Friday, March 23rd, Zach and Liz joined the rest of our family (Tyler/Whitney/Sage/June, Becca/Robbie/Zion, Mom/Dad, and I) in what might end up being described as the first Serafini family reunion.  We spent a week using the Cold Creek Chalet as our base camp as we explored the surrounding area of Lake Tahoe; skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and general revelry occupied many of our daylight hours. Throughout the week we participated in psuedo-olympic trials dubbed the ‘Serafini Challenge’.  Each participant was responsible for creating a trial with the cumulative individual scores tallied at the end of the week.

In addition to the typical competitive shenanigans, our group also spent time exploring the expansive beauty the area offers.  The aptly named ‘Heavenly Ski Resort’ offered a picturesque view of Lake Tahoe and the snow-capped ring of peaks that surrounds it.  The location is right on the Nevada-California border and allows you to visit two states in a single run down the mountain.

Robby boardin’ in Heavenly

Snowshoeing was another winter activity we enjoyed during our time in Sierra Nevada.  We were fortunate enough to enjoy a perfect week with respect to the weather. The first 3 days were snowy and afforded opportunity to enjoy winter activities while the temperature was far from frigid.  Around day 4 most of the snow was melted and what was left continued to melt as the week went on. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the weather allowed us to enjoy the summer features of Tahoe as well.

Tyler snowshoes near Emerald Bay

Walking, disc golf, and enjoying each others company helped fill the remaining time.  I enjoyed the disc golf quite a bit and have continued playing since returning from this trip.  While the entire group was a little bit large for operating as a unit, we continuously were breaking off into smaller groups to take on the surrounding opportunities.  Some of the notable activities I participated in:

~A  walk alongside Fallen Leaf Lake(smaller lake south of Lake Tahoe)  with Tyler, Sage, June, Becca, Robbie and Zion. The homes surrounding this lake were beautiful and rugged at the same time.

Robbie and I near Fallen Leaf Lake

~A snowshoeing experience with Tyler and Whitney on the outskirts of Emerald Bay.  We this was during perfect temperatures nearing 50 degrees. T-shirts only, this was a great experience as it offered us ample viewing of the majestic lake.

~Disc Golf with Lori, Don, Zach, and Liz.  This was a part of the Serafini challenge that I really enjoyed.  The surrounding landscape made the laid back sport feel even more relaxing.  Tyler placed first in this event I believe.

~Sidellis Brewery visit with Robby, Lori, Don, and Zach.  Very good beer with a wide variety of choices.

~Cold Water Brewery with Zach and Robby after some disc golf.  This brewery may have been my least favorite. A little bit too much of a restaurant vibe.

~South Lake Brewing Company with Zach and Liz.  This was a open layout interior that had multiple enormous wooden single slab tables.  The beer was great, the people were friendly, and it was a great chance to spend more ‘small group’ time with Zach and Liz.  

~A 4v4 snowball fight with dodgeball rules.  All the adults participated in this battle that occured right behind our rented home.

~A Mexican night at a restaurant called ‘Margaritas’.  This was hard to manage with the large crowd, but it was the only time that the entire clan was eating out at the same time.

~Spending time with my niece Sage and reading with her.  She is a special kid and I wanted to capitalize on the time I had with her that week.  Her sweet nature as a big sister is truly endearing, she is setting the same good example as an older sibling that I received from Tyler.  I guess the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree!

Tyler, Becca, and Lori(Abue) play with June and Zion

~Wonderful vegetarian meal prepared by Tyler and Whitney.  Very flavorful dish and extremely hearty. I think everyone was happy to have a meal so healthy after eating out so often this week.

~Surprisingly fancy pasta bar prepared by Zach and Liz for the whole family.  They obviously work well as a team and delivered a great presentation and experience for their night to cook.  

Zach and Liz proudly display their feast

~Burgers in the sun at the California Burger Co. with Robby, Becca, Zion, Lori, Don, Sage, and June.  This was a particularly beautiful day and we sat out on the patio basking in the sun and the tunes of a talented acoustic musician.  Not to mention the Hawaiian Burger was something I would recommend to anyone in the area.

~Nightly board games that allowed everyone a chance to reconnect with each other and learn a little bit more about each other.

~A bittersweet final day after others had departed my parents and I (Lori and Don) drove the perimeter of the lake, walked through Tahoe city, and ate lakeside.  This slow day was the perfect cap to the week and gave the perfect time to reflection.

Just outside Emerald Bay

I still feel that I’ve only scratched the surface of the week.  It was truly one of the best weeks I’ve experienced…and I dare say I’m not the only one.  Spending time with family members you don’t always see is nice, but when the whole thing goes off without major incident it can be something special.  I had a great opportunity to learn more about my nieces Sage and June, my new nephew Zion, and my new sister Liz. I had the great chance to reconnect with Tyler and Whitney, who I haven’t been out to Oregon to visit yet.  Overall, it was the great kind of week that strengthens the foundation of the family. Happy to have made these memories with these people, and excited to see what memories any future reunions will bring.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park beholds many superlatives.  Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America. In 1913, the highest recorded temperature in the world, 134.1 °F, was measured at Furnace Creek.  During our weekend in the park, we also experienced some superlatives of our own.  Friday night was the windiest of our trip, the constant rattling of Lucy keeping us up well past midnight.  Gas at Furnace Creek was $4.47, easily taking the cake on most expensive fill-up. Death Valley’s extremes accentuate its beauty, wilderness and potential for adventure and led to a great weekend in the park.

Death Valley sunset

From everything that I’d read, Dante’s View was a must-see of the park.  Unfortunately, the road leading to it is closed for repaving until May, so we were unable to hike to the great view point. Instead, we started the weekend with a trail through Golden Canyon.  Like the rest of the Death Valley, the canyon was filled with interesting rock, dirt and mud formations, leading to a slow pace with Zach stopping often to take pictures.

Golden Canyon

Unlike most parks where the most interesting activities (to us at least) are day-long hikes, Death Valley was full of ‘road-side attractions’.  Devil’s Golf Course, the former bed of an evaporated lake, is so jagged ‘only the devil could play golf on such rough links’.  After visiting the eroded salt rocks, I must agree.  At Badwater Basin, there is a sign nearly 300 feet up a nearby cliff labeling sea level.  We got caught in a windstorm at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  I was left cleaning sand out of my hair for the next few days but it was a fascinating experience of the power of wind.

Devil’s Golf Course 

Badwater Basin

Mesquite Sand Dunes

We decided to skip the Racetrack, a dry lakebed with mysterious moving rocks, and took a drive through Titus Canyon instead.  The Racetrack is Death Valley’s most famous attraction but our lack of heavy duty tires and recent vandalism to the rocks led us to skip it.  While I don’t know what the Racetrack would have been like, Titus Canyon was splendid.  The variety of geologic formations in the park is astounding.

Titus Canyon

To finish off the weekend, we hiked up Fall Canyon.  I hadn’t seen the hike while researching the park and wasn’t expecting much. It turned out to be a great hike, taking us up a narrow canyon to a dry waterfall.  Even after a year on the road visiting amazing places, I’m still surprised by all the incredible but unrecognized places in the country. In Ohio, Fall Canyon would be a highlight of the state; here, it’s not even considered a highlight of Death Valley.

Fall Canyon

Death Valley is the largest National Park in the Lower 48 (another superlative!) and our weekend visit was not enough to hit up all the must-do’s.  We needed more days in the park but it was time to get back to a place with internet and head to Tahoe for a week with the Serafinis.  I look forward to returning in the near future to see the highlights we missed and find more off-the-beaten path gems.

Los Angeles

Leaving the beautiful, wild and remote Joshua Tree behind, we headed to the beautiful, eventful and populated Los Angeles.  Our budget didn’t allow us to stay too close to the city so we spent our nights nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains, about a forty miles northeast of the city.  Our two weeks in the area was a pleasant mix of city life, outdoor activity and relaxing.

Lucy and a sunrise

While in the typically sunny southern California, our bad luck with weather continued.  Los Angeles frequently nears the top of best climate lists, but we had cloudy, windy, rainy and foggy weather.  I’m not complaining because most of the people reading this are wintering in Ohio and I believe in making the best of what you’re given.  But it is causing me to reflect on the great weather we had all last year and hoping for sunnier times ahead.

Foggy Los Angeles

We took a few trips into the city but the infamous traffic deterred us from too many visits.  The Getty Center overwhelmed us with their immense art collection.  Griffith Observatory provided great views of downtown and the Hollywood sign.  Santa Monica was great people watching but the two hour, forty mile drive home put a damper on the night.

Santa Monica Pier

Just because we live on the road doesn’t mean we don’t have to deal with the typical day-to-day responsibilities.   Most time consuming, obviously, is working 40 hours a week.  But there’s also the mundane – dishes, laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping.  There’s the self-care – visiting the eye doctor and dentist.  And there’s the trip related – finding and reserving campgrounds, applying for hiking permits, figuring out where we want to go. We used our two weeks in Los Angeles to get caught up on these.

Hollywood

Channel Islands National Park protects a collection of islands off the coast of southern California.  Overnight and day trips to the islands are available, but a whale watching tour fit our  schedule best.  As stated earlier, we encountered some rainy and cool weather; luckily the morning of our tour was cloudy but dry.  We happily spent our time on the top deck, while the unlucky were getting sea sick below.

Whale watching!

According to the captain, grey whales are usually quite predictable, so once one is spotted, you should be able to follow along and watch it breath and spout.  We saw nearly ten whales during the trip but were unable to spot each more than once or twice.   The highlight was a whale breaching we witnessed just before the trip ended.   Although from a distance, it was breathtaking to see the giant creature leap from the water.  Zach valiantly attempted but failed to get a good picture of a whale.

A whale’s tail

The dolphins on the other hand were plentiful and photogenic.  Twice, our boat was surrounding by a pod of dolphins, some following along very close to the bow.   They appeared so happy and playful and it was a majestic experience.  

Up close and personal with a dolphin

We had a busy, eventful two weeks in Los Angeles, but by the end of our time, we were ready to move on. Next stop, Death Valley National Park!

Westbound!

Last winter we followed I-10 across the southern United States, from Tallahassee to Tucson.  This year we took the more northerly route of I-40 and paid the price. Living in a trailer is great until it isn’t.  As we travelled from Memphis through Oklahoma City to Petrified Forest and beyond, we faced nights below freezing and days not much warmer.  The nine days brought us six states, two national parks, two ice storms and over 1600 miles of driving.

Lucy doesn’t like the cold

The first stop on our 1-40 journey was Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.  Frequently topping the list of least exciting parks, we weren’t expecting much.   The smallest park*, it is also the oldest in the National Park System.  In 1832, forty years before Yellowstone became the first National Park, Hot Springs Reservation was the first land to be designated for federal government protection.  The park is more historical than natural and, although I love history, I don’t care much about where rich people bathed in the nineteenth century.

Not your typical National Park

The highlight of our time in the park was Superior Bathhouse Brewery.  You may be able to guess from its name that it’s a former bathhouse converted into a brewery.  We also went on a hike that was on par with most in Ohio.  If you ever find yourself in Hot Springs, Arkansas you might as well visit the park. Otherwise, I would not recommend it.

From Hot Springs, we worked our way back to I-40 and continued on to Oklahoma City.  This was our first campground to have storm shelters but luckily our visit preceded peak tornado season.  Even so, there were some windy nights that left me worried Lucy was going to tip over.  In OKC, we also encountered two ice storms that caused many accidents on the highways.  For all the miles we’ve driven in the past year, we have been very lucky that two flat tires and a few blown fuses is the worst we’ve experienced.

Oklahomans don’t need much snow to sled

We didn’t let the cold and ice keep us from exploring the city.  We played a game of Frisbee Golf – our new favorite free way to spend an afternoon.   We tested our regular golf skills at Top Golf. The employees were surprised anyone wanted to play in the cold and we had the place to ourselves.  I’m looking forward to playing again in warmer weather once the Cleveland location opens.

We hopped back on I-40 and spent a night in Amarillo, TX and Albuquerque, NM before arriving in Petrified Forest National Park.   Nestled in the Painted Desert, the park is filled with petrified logs.  Two hundred million years ago, a nearby volcano erupted, covering the surroundings in silica based ash.  The silica seeped into the logs and thanks to some permineralization magic, the wood was turned to quartz. Pretty crazy world we live in.

Looks like wood, feels like stone!

We drove the 27-mile road through the park and hiked every maintained trail!  That sounds more impressive than it was – there are only five trails in the park for a total of six miles.  In addition to the petrified wood, the views are quite spectacular.  Even though they’re over a thousand miles apart, Petrified Forest reminded me a lot of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

Quite a view!

With only 250 miles to drive on Sunday, we stopped at Walnut Canyon National Monument, a few miles outside Flagstaff.  It was a nice place to spend a few hours before continuing on our quest to California, where we’ll be spending the next 11 (!!) weeks. Our trek across the country was pleasant but I’m looking forward to doing more exploring and less driving in the coming months.

Walnut Canyon

And now a rant:

*When we visited Hot Springs, it was the smallest National Park.  As I was verifying that fact for the blog, I stumbled upon the news that last week we gained a new National Park.  For some unfathomable reason, Congress passed and President Trump signed a bill to designate and rename Jefferson National Expansion Memorial to Gateway Arch National Park. That’s right – the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is now a National Park – on the same level as Yellowstone and Yosemite.

I clearly am a fan of National Parks and think that the Gateway Arch makes a great National Monument or Memorial.  But it should NOT be a capital NP National Park.  At only 192 acres, Gateway Arch is nearly thirty times smaller than Hot Springs.  National Parks should be big, natural, and wild.  There should be hiking and biking, flora and fauna, mountains and oceans, deserts and forests. One could spend weeks exploring a park like Glacier and not see it all.  I haven’t been to the Arch, but I think it would be a stretch to spend a whole day there.  This change dilutes the title of National Park from something reserved for the best land America has to offer to a label given to any old man-made structure.

There has been a surprising lack of news on the topic and no official announcement from the National Park Service.  I’m hoping this is some sort of miscommunication and the park gets changed back to a more appropriate name.  Until then, I’m keeping the Gateway Arch out of my quest to visit all the National Parks.

Best of 2017!

All year I had been excited to write a Best of 2017 post, but when the time came I was burnt out and lacking the motivation.  After essentialy two months away from blogging, I’m ready to get back at it.  So, without further ado, our favorites from 2017:

 

Favorite Brewery

Liz & Zach: Tradesmen Brewery, Charleston, SC

The two story bar, built in an old house and managed by a husband and wife brewmaster/bartender duo offered the best beer flights we had all year. At $5 a platter, not only were they cheap, they contained several of the best beers we had all year.

 

Favorite Campground

Liz: Langhor Campground, Bozeman, MT

In order to have a reasonable commute time to a place with internet, we usually have to stay in cramped, noisy, developed campgrounds often lacking trees.  While they do have nice things like electricity, showers, and cell phone service, it’s nice to get away every now and then.  Nestled outside of Bozeman, Langhor Campground allowed us to do just that.  Our campsite bordered Hyalite Creek and we spent hours eating, reading, and relaxing near it’s shore.

 

Zach: Cave Spring Campground, Sedona, AZ

There have been a lot of great campgrounds this year but I think this one edges out the competition simply because it was the first with our trailer. After a few questionable AirBnb stints we decided to buy the trailer in Phoenix, AZ and immediately parked it in the Grand Canyon parking lot while we lodged with Liz’s family. Instead of heading on to spend the week in Las Vegas, like planned, we took a detour to Sedona. The campground – nestled in a unique canyon valley –  was fairly empty throughout the week and had a few nice hikes nearby.

 

Favorite Campsite

Liz: Robbers Roost, Big Bend National Park, TX

I think the picture below explains itself.  We were the only people for miles, the view was amazing and the stars were extraordinary.

 

Zach: Agnes Lake, Voyageurs National Park, MN

Like Liz’s favorite campsite, Agnes Lake offered immense solitude. Situated on a large lake on a larger island accessible by canoe, we only had to share the view with a mother deer and her doe (and a million mosquitoes).

 

 

Favorite Meal

Liz: Sakari Sushi, Des Moines, Iowa

You wouldn’t think that Des Moines would have some of the best food of our trip, but it’s been eight months and I’m still dreaming of Sakari’s shrimp tempura.

Zach: Red Curry Mac & Cheese, Jack of Cups, Charleston, SC

I’m no chef, but this one was so good I tried recreating it on my own (not nearly as good). The red curry sauce complimented the relish in a very unexpected and satisfying way.

 

Favorite Drive

Liz: Road to Hana, Maui, HI

We started the day in a genuine rainforest and ended in a certifiable desert.  Along the way we saw countless waterfalls, discovered my new favorite plant – the rainbow eucalyptus,  visited the largest temple in Hawaii, and watched waves violently crash on lava rock cliffs.  It’s crazy that people live here and drive this route daily on their way to work or school.

 

Zach: White Rim Road, Canyonlands, UT

The 100 mile drive was the perfect level of off-roading excitement I was looking for with our 4Runner. Liz and I took hour long shifts at the wheel avoiding rocks, climbing canyon switchbacks, and doing our best to share the trail with mountain bikers. Then, in our shift as a passenger, we were able to focus less on the obstacles ahead and more at the grand beauty of Canyonlands.

 

Favorite Concert

Liz: The Decemberists

2017 was a great year for live music! I went to two music festivals, Laurelive in June with Megan and Traveler’s Rest in Missoula with Zach, and saw some other amazing shows – Bon Iver, Garth Brooks, and the xx (my second favorite concert of the year).  But when it came down to it, the most memorable performance was the Decemberists headlining both nights of their music festival.  A live show should grow your appreciation for the band and, while I liked the Decemberists before, my admiration for their artistry increased and listening to The Mariner’s Revenge Song will always take me back to that concert. 

Zach: War On Drugs

Liz and I listen to a lot of music. According to Spotify’s 2017 ‘Year In Review’ we each logged well over 50,000 minutes of listing time. And, for me, it was the year of the War On Drugs. Not only did they top my chart for both most listened to artist and album, they also held 4 of the top 5 song positions (with one spot going to The Growlers). And, after seeing them in concert, they also hold the top slot for concert and live song. Watching them play Under the Pressure with a glitter snowstorm raining down on the crowd was surreal.

 

Favorite Run

Liz: LaPine State Park, Bend, OR

Having run 1,000 miles last year, I had a lot of options to chose from.  But LaPine State Park checked all the boxes for a great run route.  It was scenic – you can’t beat running through the ponderosas along the Deschutes river. It was peaceful – each run I saw, at most, one group of runners. And most importantly, it was flat.

Zach: Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Charleston, SC

Since we spent two weeks in Charleston, I had the chance to run across the bridge a few times. The best part of the five mile round-trip was the last mile – all downhill.

 

Favorite Hikes

I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

  1. Subway, Zion National Park, UT
  2. Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park, TX
  3. Rim-to-River-to-Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
  4. Muir Snowfield, Mount Rainer National Park, WA
  5. Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park, MT

2017 Stats

Miles Driven: 26,785
States: 34
National Parks: 25
Flights: 10
Flat Tires: 2
Emergency Appendectomies: 1

There were so many great experiences last year that didn’t get mentioned. We travelled more in one year than most people do in their lifetime.  And we get to do it again this year!

DC, NYC, and the Holidays

I took a few weeks off from working on the blog to relax and enjoy the holidays and a lot has happened in that time.  We enjoyed a great Thanksgiving with family, spent a week in Washington DC, returned to Columbus for a fun work holiday party, traveled to New York City, went to Indianapolis for a concert and are currently recovering from a great Christmas season.  Rather than write full posts on each city we visited, here’s a few paragraphs on each:

Washington DC

We left for DC the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  Lucy remained at Zach’s parents and we stayed at an Airbnb two miles north of the National Mall.   We had both been to the city before but not as adults.  Between the museums and memorials, we filled our schedule with free, educating activities.

Washington Monument

Being on the east coast and near the winter solstice, it was dark by the time we finished working.   Many museums closed around 5, so we had to get creative with our after-work activities.  We spent one evening walking around the monuments and memorials; they all looked spectacular lit up.  The Smithsonian art museums – the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum – were open until 7pm, so we spent a night at each.  Obviously, my favorite part was the America’s Presidents collection.

Jefferson Memorial

With our weekend, we took advantage of more free museums and activities.  Again, my favorites of the American History Museum were president related – the top hat Lincoln wore when assassinated and the desk on which Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.   The Holocaust Memorial Museum was difficult but important.   We toured the NPR headquarters where we saw Korva Coleman, Sam Sanders and the actual Tiny Desk they use for concerts.

We only took pictures of memorials

Columbus

On our way back to Columbus, we stopped by Canton.  Zach’s aunt Susan was in from the Upper Peninsula.  Although we were only there for less than 24 hours, it was nice to catch up.   We spent the work week in Columbus – as much as I love life on the road, I enjoy working from the office.  Along with my coworkers and seeing old friends, the free lunch, snacks, coffee and beer are a big reason.   The week ended with our holiday work party.  I had a great time at the official party, the official after-party, and the unofficial after-after-party.

The after-party at Pins

New York City

We booked a direct flight to New York, but the morning of we were informed the original flight had been cancelled and we had been rebooked with two layovers.  We considered trying to cancel the flights and just drive, but decided against it and suffered through eight hours of travel instead of what should have been a 90 minute flight.  We arrived late Sunday night at our Airbnb, the only place within our budget which was on the far side of Queens, about a 45-minute (on a good day) subway ride from Times Square.

Rockefeller Center

Like DC, it was dark by the time we finished working, but we still managed to fill up our nights with the best the city has to offer.  We attended two standup comedy shows and an improv show.  Zach bought me tickets to the Waitress (a Broadway musical written by one of my favorite musicians – Sara Bareilles) for Christmas and they put on a great show.  We went to an Italian restaurant a block from our Airbnb four times (if you ever find yourself in Jamaica, Queens, check out Paul Michaels Brick Oven Café!)

Great seats at the Waitress

On Saturday, we took a blistery ferry ride to Liberty Island to see the Statue of Liberty.   Although the crown was sold out, we obtained tickets to go up to the pedestal which gave us an interesting perspective of Lady Liberty.  On Sunday, we braved the cold and rode bikes around Central Park.  Before we knew it, our time in the Big Apple was done.

View from the pedestal

Indianapolis

We spent two nights at home before it was time to head back out.  This time to Indianapolis, to see Zach’s favorite band – The War on Drugs.  Four of his five most listened to songs on Spotify this year were by The War on Drugs.  They had played in Columbus while we were Hawaii so to Indianapolis we went.  The was concert great; I’m not a huge fan of their music but they put on a fantastic show. We left Indianapolis early on Friday and worked from the office Columbus before driving home in the evening.

We took zero pictures in Indy so here’s another of NYC

Christmas

Christmas is far and away my favorite time of year. Unlike most, I delight in snow and we were blessed with a white Christmas this year.  I love spending time with family, especially now that I’m not home often.   Zach and I are typically together 24/7 so we were happy to split up and spend time with our own families, but we also found time to see each other’s families.  The Christmas season seems to keep getting better and better as I get older.  I hope everyone had a great holiday season and New Year’s!  2017 was a great year and I look forward t0 what 2018 will bring!

Christmas with the Cymanskis

New Years with the Serafinis

Canyonlands National Park

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, I occasionally struggle with anxiety. I don’t like new situations with a lot of unknowns and I tend to stress over all possible worst-case scenarios, no matter how improbable they are. So, when Zach wanted to go on an overnight off-roading trip in Canyonlands National Park, I was hesitant. What if the 4Runner can’t handle the terrain? What if we do lasting damage to the 4Runner? What if we crash the 4Runner and need to get towed out of the canyon, which would cost thousands of dollars? What if we run out of gas? What if there is a flash flood? What if we get a flat tire and fix it, but then get another flat? What if we drive off a cliff?

Plenty of cliffs we could drive off

While I was trying to think of a strategy for convincing Zach this wasn’t a good idea, I got a text from Megan.  A few times a week, she’ll send a Quote of the Day.  It read: “Do not resist chances.  Take them like vitamins.  See what happens if you go five more miles.  Find you own way across.  Don’t worry about the bumps and bruises, you can handle them.  Don’t steer around the bits that scare you.  Go over them, through them.  Then there will be one less thing you cannot do.”  With those words of motivation resonating, I did my best to stop dreading the upcoming weekend in Canyonlands and, on my good days, even look forward to it.

Quite the view

In the end, as always, I had nothing to be worried about.  We traveled along White Rim Road, a 100-mile loop that takes you 2,000 feet down into the canyons below Island in the Sky.  The road was rough, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a car lower to the ground or less powerful than ours, but manageable.  Our pace was slow, averaging less than 10 mph, and our campground was at mile 77, so we spent a lot of time in the car on Saturday.   Zach typically drives 95% of the time, but this weekend I did nearly half of it.  The bumpiness of the road made the passenger car sick, so we switched off every hour.

Zach and the Green River

We reached our campsite in late afternoon.  It was the only site in Taylor Canyon, five miles off the main road.  We hiked to the base of a nearby rock formation named Zeus and Moses.  High above us were rock climbers at the top of what I assumed to be Zeus.

So windy I had to hold my hat on

Initially, we attempted to set up the tent but it was incredibly windy and after it blew away for the second time, we decided to sleep inside the car.   We moved all of belongings into the front seat and set up our sleeping mats in the back, which were barely short enough to fit.  Being in a canyon, it got dark especially early.  We had misplaced our petzels and the full moon made it too bright to stargaze, so we got to bed early.  Around midnight, I was awoken by a flustered Zach claiming a mouse had scampered across his back.  A bit skeptical at first, I soon believed him after I heard it scurrying around.  We tried to ignore it and fall back asleep but after Zach felt run by his head, we decided it was time to set up the tent.  By 1 am the wind had died down, we successfully set up the tent and slept peacefully, not worrying about a mouse darting around.

Best moonrise I’ve ever seen

The remainder of the trail was much easier than the previous day.  We finished the loop with plenty of gas and no damage other than a few small scratches from driving too close to a thorn bush.  After stopping by the visitor’s center to pick up Lucy, we headed north to I-70.  The goal was to make it back to Ohio by Friday night. 1,700 miles, 25 hours and 6 evenings of driving.

Taylor Canyon

Other than Sunday, which we spent in Golden, Colorado with Zach’s college roommate, Mark, we stayed each night in Walmart parking lots.  They’re free, conveniently located just off the highway, and often have a Starbucks nearby, meaning we don’t have to drive anywhere in the morning.  We spent one night in each state along the way – Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana – driving 4 or 5 hours each night.  Thanks to the nonsensical end of daylight savings, it got dark soon after we finished working.  Combining that with the three time zones we drove through, my circadian rhythms were all out of whack.

Driving through the snowy Rockies

Our first night after Canyonlands, I set out sunflower seeds to determine if the mouse was still in the car.  The next morning, only the shells remained.  We bought a mouse trap at Walmart that night, but in the meantime, I was constantly worried it would run up my leg while in the car.  The first night, with just a sunflower seed in the trap, we were unsuccessful, but, after adding peanut butter, we caught the little guy.

One last picture of Canyonlands

We arrived at Zach’s parents’ house late Friday night.  After five days of working all day, driving all evening and sleeping all night, I was looking forward to adding some variety back into my life.   And of course, I was excited to see family, friends, work colleagues and spend time in the greatest state in the nation – Ohio.

Salt Lake City: A Day in the Life

Bring! Bring! Bring! I roll over and unlock my phone, turning the alarm off.  Groaning, I pull the covers over my head, not ready to get out of the toasty bed.  After nearly falling back asleep, I start scrolling through Twitter, hoping the brightness of my screen will get my brain synapses firing.  In the meantime, Zach is up and nearly ready to leave.  He puts on his shoes which is my cue to stop grumbling and start getting ready to face the day ahead. I throw on my jeans, the first shirt I grab and then a few more layers – these late October mornings are getting chilly.  After brushing my teeth, Zach, who’s been patiently waiting for the last ten minutes, and I say goodbye to Lucy and head out to work.

Salt Lake City morning

Since we’re staying near downtown, in the factory district, the drive to Starbucks is short.  We place our usual order, two everything bagels, toasted with cream cheese, a grande black coffee for me, and a venti coffee for Zach.  We head to separate tables and get to work.  I spend the morning chugging along on my assigned issue.  I’m working on switching over some queries to a read-only database.  In laymen’s terms, I’m trying to make our system able to handle more people using it.  As usual, Zach’s morning contains more meetings than mine;  I only have my team’s daily scrum (our everyday check-in to ask for and offer help).

Hard at work (or hardly working?)

This rarely happens, but our Salt Lake City campground has a good enough internet connection to work from their lobby for the afternoon.  We head back during a break in Zach’s meetings for soup and salad in the camper.  It’s a nice change of pace from our typical lunch of sandwiches in the car.  I spend the rest of the workday in the lobby, which is conveniently located next to the laundry room.  I knock out a load while struggling to test my code changes.  I’m unable to accomplish much workwise but at least I now have clean clothes!

We took very few pictures in SLC

After work, I lay in bed for a short time, allowing my brain to recover from the day, and then change into running clothes.  I fell behind on my goal of 1,000 miles when I sprained my ankle in August, but I am working hard on catching up.  The past few days I’ve run from the campground, but today we drive up to Antelope Island, a state park 30 miles north of downtown.  The island, occasionally a peninsula (the lake is so shallow that its area fluctuates from less than 1,000 to over 3,000 square miles), is located on the Great Salt Lake.  A buffalo on the side of the road greets us– the park is home to one of the two herds in the state.  The mid-fifty temperature combined with great views of the lake and a 538 politics podcast make for a great workout.  I still feel good when I get back to the car; if it wasn’t for the grumbling in my stomach, I would have added on another mile or two.

The Great Salt Lake

On the way home, we pick up a pizza – black olives and pineapple, my favorite.  We eat and listen to the latest Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! laughing at all of Paula Poundstone’s jokes.  In addition to running 1,000 miles, I have quite a few other goals for the year – read 50 books, finish a third of my giant cross-stich project, keep this blog semi-up-to-date.  Tonight, I read 25 pages of my current book, The Happy Traveler, while Zach plays Roller Coaster Tycoon on the tablet.  Once he beats the level he’s working on, I work on my cross stich while we watch Band of Brothers.  Not quite ready to go to bed, we watch an Office episode and then another because they’re too darn funny to just watch one.  I remember that I haven’t brushed my teeth so I begrudgingly walk the six feet to the bathroom and do so.  I crawl under the covers, cuddle with Delilah – my zebra pillow pet, and try not to think about work as I drift into a deep sleep.