Sequoia and Kings Canyon

Again, I find myself way behind. Writing about experiences we had a month ago. Usually I have no excuse other than extreme procrastination. This time around though, I was honestly busy. It seems like every time we visit Ohio we manage to pack in so much, and this trip was no exception. In fact, we managed to squeeze in buying a house. Well, getting the highest bid at auction anyway; we’re still figuring out the finances and doing paperwork.

Our house!

But enough about Ohio, I want to jot down a few of my thoughts on our time in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park before they slip my mind. I’ll keep it short since there are plenty of other blogs to be written and contractors to call.

The beautiful Sierra Nevadas

We spent a full weekend exploring each of the two adjacent parks. And, on the adjoining weeks, we stayed at interchangeable state parks in the area. Both campgrounds sat on a manmade reservoir about 20 miles outside of town and were designed for southern California agriculture. In many ways Kings Canyon and Sequoia are interchangeable parks. Both are managed as one unit under the National Park Service, boast enormous trees, and act as a gateway to the high Sierra’s. However, the two parks hold distinct personalities.

Zach and General Sherman – the world’s largest tree!

In Sequoia National Park, Liz and I donned our backpacking gear for the first time since Joshua Tree and headed to the park’s foothills. While Californians may call them foothills, they sure seemed like mountains to me. The trip provided solitude, great wildflowers, and views of snowcapped peaks. Ohh yeah – and a rattlesnake. One thing absent from the hike though was the parks namesake – Sequoia trees. To get to the world’s most voluptuous tree, we had to drive a few thousand more feet up the mountain.

Lots of wildflowers!

The next weekend, we headed North, to Kings Canyon. The park’s main attraction – other than more overgrown trees – is its massive granite walled canyon. Our first day in the park, Liz and I drove through the canyon to the road’s end and hiked Mist Falls. Again, we encountered a rattlesnake, although this time I was ready with camera in hand.

Rattler!

The second day, we took a short hike up Big Baldy and were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the surrounding valley before being engulfed in clouds. After hiking, I wanted to track down a bear in the deep woods, so we found a rugged off-road trail and drove until trail conditions forced us to retreat.

A foggy hike down

I really enjoyed our time in both parks and would recommend them to anyone looking to add more outdoor activities to their Yosemite vacation.

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Engagement In Redwoods National Park

There’s no doubt that in the past four years together, Liz and I have been fortunate enough to visit plenty of well-known travel destinations. Among those places include two of the world’s most renowned wine regions – Napa Valley and Tuscany. Fortunately, even after our recent second visit to Napa Valley, neither Liz or I have grown to “appreciate” the allure of expensive wine. I don’t know the gratification that comes with being able to distinguish the subtle differences between a mass produced $15 cabernet or a reserved $60 bottle, but I believe I’m better off for it. It’s that lack of distinction between a cheap wine and a pricey one that most likely leads me to view Napa Valley as overrated. Sure, in Ohio I can’t get a glass of wine in a painstakingly crafted replica of an Italian castle. But, then again, in Ohio I wouldn’t be charged $30 for a small tasting.

Castello di Amorosa 

While staying in Calistoga, besides visiting Castello di Amorosa and Francis Ford Coppola Winery, we stopped by a state park for a short hike (to offset our wine consumption.) Driving in, we both had a feeling of déjà vu – the parking lot, the entrance station, it all seemed so familiar. After examining the park map, it became apparent that we had pulled off at the same park a few years earlier when looking for a hike. This wasn’t the first time this has happened to us either; last fall we found ourselves in the same shopping pavilion in the Seattle area that we had visited previously. It’s moments like these that make our world feel a little smaller.

Zach climbing a tree in Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

From Napa Valley, we turned north on the 101. We setup camp at Elk Prairie, a beautiful campground that boasted spacious sites, plenty of wildlife, and numerous hikes. The first night we kept it simple, opting for a short hike that departed from our campsite and took us through old growth redwoods.

Redwoods are the tallest trees in the world!

Saturday, however, we decided to kick it up a notch and drove up to the Klamath stretch of the Coastal Trail. As you might guess from the name, the hike parallels the Pacific Ocean, never venturing too far from the shoreline. About a mile in, a side-trail breaks off and leads down to a hidden, rocky beach. It was here, secluded on our own private beach, that I asked Liz to marry me. (She said yes!) Originally, my plan was to wait until Sequoia National Park, when we next planed to go backpacking, but the time felt right. We ended up hiking another few miles along the Coastal Trail before taking a break to call parents and tell them the news. That night, we went out searching for somewhere fancy to celebrate the engagement. I hadn’t made reservations since the area seemed out of peak season and I wasn’t sure I would be proposing yet. After being turned away at two fine establishments, we found ourselves at the town diner which turned out to be surprisingly good.

We’re getting married!

We spent the next week in the nearby town of Eureka-  home of one of Liz’s new favorite breweries – Lost Coast. At the time she hadn’t discovered their Great White witbier though, so we didn’t stop by. We did, however, make time to visit the mall and figure out her true ring size. My best guess was a size too large and we needed to mail it in for adjustment.

Giant banana slug 

From Northern California, we drove back down the coast to San Francisco to catch flights going our separate ways. Liz headed back to Columbus to spend the weekend with family while I headed to Salt Lake City for skiing and my cousin’s bachelor party.

Joshua Tree

At what size does a pond become a lake? I’m not sure. I’m not sure if size even matters. I would Google it, but since the road to Death Valley doesn’t offer 3G coverage the question will remain a mystery, at least for the next few hours. What I do know, though, is that Joshua Tree Lake Campground takes a heavily liberal interpretation of the word ‘lake’. The manmade, fenced-in puddle is barely larger than a standard above ground pool. Still, the ‘lake’ constituted the largest body of water I saw for a week.

Liz and a Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park stretches over a half million acres of the Mojave Desert. And, like much of Southern California, the areas water supply can’t meet its demand. Within the park boundaries, it’s prohibited to drink any of what little water you might find in order to give the wildlife a chance.

Plenty of water for cacti

After driving several hours through the barren desert of Eastern California on a stretch of road more sparsely populated than Nevada’s “Loneliest Road In America”, small, run-down plywood houses – each nearly identically built – began to litter the desert valley. Some sported a stable of rusted clunkers while others showcased sun-worn boats that likely hadn’t seen water in years. Later in the week, I read an article that reported child services taking custody of several homeless children living on a lot with 50 cats on the same street as our campground.

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A beautiful valley in the park

Although, the community as a whole was far from destitute. Amongst the smattering of abandoned trailers were lavish stucco retreats and land trust transplants. Not-so-hidden between these two extremes was a constant flow of vacationers. It was amongst the later that we dwelled – straddling the not-so-thin line between making Joshua Tree our home for a week and exploring the highs and lows of Joshua Tree National Park.

An after work hike

Throughout the work-week we made time to hike Ryan Mountain, scramble on massive boulder piles, place dead last in a local bingo-hall speakeasy trivia night, off-road dive, and became an unwitting voguer of an outdoor softcore photo shoot.

Great views!

The highlight of the week was our first backpacking trip of the year. The 18 mile loop – from the Boyscout Trail, past Willow Hole, through Rattlesnake Canyon, and back to the Boyscout Trail – took only a day and a half but left me feeling like I fully experienced the park. After a quick staring contest with a passing fox, Liz and I entered three of the slowest and most challenging miles of hiking we’ve ever faced. Navigating our way through a boulder field up and down unmarked mountainsides, it took us eight hours of climbing, jumping, and retracing routes before spotting our first fellow hikers in half a day. The three miles of scrambling claimed two Nalgene bottles (one shattered and one lost 30 feet down a boulder cave) before we wised up and secured our remaining water with carabineers – holding in place our diminished supply in the middle of the Mohave. After emerging from the mouth of Rattlesnake Canyon, we followed the national park road to the Boyscout trailhead and setup camp a few miles into the high desert.

Good luck finding a path through this!

The remaining hike Sunday morning was a cold stroll through a field of iconic Joshua Trees (actually a yucca plant – not a tree.) Next on the agenda was our typical Sunday morning routine; packing up the trailer and hitting the road. Next week’s destination – LA.

On The Road Again

After spending most of the past few months in Ohio visiting family and celebrating holidays, the time finally came to hit the road again. As you might expect, February isn’t the most amenable time to live out of a travel trailer. So we headed south, looking for warmer climates. What we found instead was rain. Lots and lots of rain. For all the good fortune we had last year with weather, this year seems determined to change that.

We didn’t let a little water deter us from our planned stops though. First up was Lincoln’s birthplace near Hodgenville, Kentucky. Since Liz kinda has a thing for Lincoln, there was no way we were going to avoid this detour. This certainly wasn’t the first time we found ourselves near attractions capitalizing on the late presidents fame. In Illinois, we passed a town boasting to be where Lincoln got his start – the old Illinois capitol where he practiced law. In Washington DC, we walked past the Ford Theater where Lincoln was shot, and up to the Lincoln memorial where his larger-than-life figure now looks out over the capitol. In Kentucky though, the president is memorialized with a peculiar stone mausoleum that protects an era-appropriate log cabin – once thought to have been his childhood home.

Lincoln’s Symbolic Birthplace Cabin

Further south, we met our first national park of the year – Mammoth Cave. This was my third time to the park and our third cave in the past year. Still, a visit wouldn’t have been complete without a cave tour. Opting for Frozen Niagara – an early tour that explored less than half a mile of the world’s largest cave – left us with enough time for a short hike and a long drive to Memphis.

A picture from the hike because caves are difficult to photograph

While we spent most of our time in Memphis sipping on Pike Place roasts in various Starbucks, we also hit up a few local joints including Memphis Made for a flight of beer and The Dirty Crow for a round of dive bar trivia. Since Memphis is best known for its blues music, we visited the old Sun Studios building, a small recording studio where world-famous names like B.B. King, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley got their start.

A picture of the Million Dollar Quartet hanging where they stood

Saturday, before packing up the trailer and continuing on to Arkansas, we headed back to Shelby Farms Park, where we played a round of frisbee golf earlier in the week, for a 5k race. While rain most likely deterred many from competing, it certainly didn’t stop Liz, who placed 1st of all female runners and around 5th overall.

Need to make an award corner in Lucy

Tahoe

After a few great weeks in Hawaii, it was time to head back to our car and trailer in San Francisco. So, for the third time this year we found ourselves spending the night in an airport parking lot. And, since we’re pretty sure spending the night in an airport parking lot is frowned upon, we found ourselves again trying to inconspicuously disembark the shuttle and sneak into the trailer. 100% success so far (knock on wood).

Hawaiian Airlines has the best in-flight meal (free wine!)

The next day we headed northeast to Lake Tahoe – starting our long journey back toward Ohio for the holidays. While we were too late for swimming in the lake, and too early for skiing, we were still able to find plenty to do. Wednesday, we went on a short hike, passing the hordes of salmon that had made their way up the stream to lay eggs. Then, tried out a new disk golf set at Bijou Park. Thursday, we went on another hike, climbing Maggies Peak and finally spotting a bear at a reasonable distance for the first time this trip.

Question, which kind of bear is best?

After rounding out the work week, it was back on the road, driving East into Nevada. On our way to Great Basin National Park, we stopped in Ely, a small town along “Americas Loneliest Road” to watch Ohio State come back to beat Penn State while playing video poker and drinking a beer or two.

Liz won $20 playing Keno!

While we didn’t spend long in Great Basin, we made time to hike through a bristlecone pine grove, seeing some of the oldest living organisms on the planet. The trees can live thousands of years and stand strong hundreds of years after dying due to the fact that their wood grows slowly and tightly enough to prevent rot. Beyond the bristlecone pine grove, we hiked to a glacier before turning around and hitting the road again, destination Salt Lake City.

This tree is older than the city of Rome

Maui

Growing up, I was always taught that the United States lies within the continent of North America. While this may be true most of the time, it isn’t true of Hawaii – technically located in Oceania. The Aloha State is also the most recent state to be admitted into the union and the only state to be composed entirely of islands. Although less obvious to a reader of the Wikipedia article on Hawaii, and most shocking to me when driving around Maui, is the state’s climate diversity. In a single day, we passed through both dessert and tropical rainforest, swam in the ocean and stood on top of a mountain, basked in sweltering heat and shivered in the cold high-altitude wind.

Happy to be in Hawaii!

We arrived in Maui late Wednesday night, leaving both our car and trailer behind in a pricy San Francisco parking lot ($17 a day adds up quick when you leave it for 19 days – I just hope they don’t charge us for two spots!) Since the airline skipped on a meal or even a snack, we swung through McDonalds for a taste of the island before heading to our Kihei AirBnB.

The first of many great rainbows

The next day, we made great use of one of the seven vacation days we took to drive The Road to Hana – a world-famous trek around the island’s east coast. Taking advantage of the time zone shift and our already early morning habits, we started before the sun rose, beating the crowds to the first few stops. While I don’t want to bore recalling all the incredible individual locations, I think a few deserve mention.

No idea what kind of tree this is

In one of our first stops, at the Garden of Eden, we were greeted by a flock of crazy ducks and peacocks before strolling through a botanical garden that showcased some of the wildest plants I’ve seen, like the rainbow eucalyptus.

Liz wants to attempt to grow these in Ohio

After a few more stops at waterfalls and swimming holes, we made it to Liz’s favorite pull-out, Wai’anapanapa State Park. Here, the Pacific meets ancient lava rocks with tremendous force, creating captivating collisions shooting water high into the air.

Initially stood too close and got soaked

While our last stop was in Halealaka National Park, where we hiked the Pipiwai trail up to a 400+ foot waterfall, it certainly wasn’t the end of the road.  Against rental car recommendation (or mandate?) we opted to complete the full loop rather than retrace our steps. It was perhaps our best decision of the day. The drive back was incredible! A sunset from the ocean-side, cliff-side, narrow, one lane road. A wind-torn lava field with cows roaming the gravel road. A breathtaking mountain-side bay, complete with an overturned SUV a hundred feet below that served as a not-so-subtle reminder to look at the road ahead every now and then.

Waimoku Falls

Friday, we headed up toward Halealaka National Park. First, though, we stopped half way up the mountain to zipline. It was both Liz and my first time ziplining and I figured there’s not too many places better to do it than down a mountain in a tropical rainforest. While I think we both enjoyed the experience, there isn’t a need to do it again. We spent a lot of the remaining day in the National Park, picking up some great litter and hiking a way down into the eroded volcano top.

Halealaka Crater

Saturday was our last full day on Maui and we had yet to snorkel, despite flying out with the snorkel straws (that what they’re called right?) we’ve been driving around the country with since we went in Florida. So, we headed to a store, purchased some masks, and drove to Black Rock – a popular public beach in the resort part of the island. There we encountered a few sea turtles and countless tropical fish while floating around. And, since swimming quickly works up an appetite, we headed to the Paia Fishmarket where I was able to chow down on one of those tasty fish.

Snorkel Time!

Sunday was our last day in Maui, although not our last in Hawaii. From there we were off to the Big Island to meet up with Liz’s family and watch her brother compete in the Ironman World Championship. I don’t know if I’ll make it back to Hawaii, but I know that if I do I’ll put Maui back on the agenda.

Ohio / Rainier

It’s interesting how our perception of time is always changing. Sometimes the last half mile of a difficult hike can seem to last forever. Yet, the whole weekend seems over as soon as it starts. I have been very fortunate (or maybe unfortunate) in the past nine months. Nearly everything has flown by. To help keep things in perspective and not lose sight of the amazing adventures we’ve had while experiencing new ones, Liz and I often ask each other “What were we doing a month ago today?” and “Where will we be in a month from now?”. Perhaps the most interesting part of the time change phenomenon is that while the days seem to speed by, I’m always shocked at how long ago the things we did just a few weeks before seem.

It’s already been 3 weeks since Rainer!

Perhaps the fastest time yet this trip was the whirlwind week we spent in Ohio. We had planned on spending two weeks in the Seattle area, but CoverMyMeds offered to fly us in for the work week, so we jumped on the opportunity to catch up with friends and family (and work).

Cymanski Family Reunion 

On Sunday night, Liz and I took a red-eye from Seattle to Columbus and headed straight into work. After work, Liz picked up her sister, Megan, and drove up to Ashland to get dinner with her parents and grandparents. Meanwhile, I took a series of Ubers from work to our AirBnB and back to work again to find a charger for my dying phone before seeing Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats at the LC. Tuesday, we caught up with a group of friends from work for volleyball and trivia. Then, on Wednesday, I managed to stay upright on my first Segway tour. And in the evening Liz and I headed our separate way to grab a few drinks with coworkers. Thursday, we drove up to Canton to see my family and hiked the beautiful new Fry Family park with baby Zion in tow. Then, Friday morning we drove back to C-bus, put in a day’s work, and flew back to Seattle. By the end of the week Liz and I were exhausted. Although, we still had a full weekend ahead of us.

Uncle Zach and Baby Zion

Due to our late arrival in Seattle, we opted to sleep in the airport parking lot (which I’m sure is against some sort of rule). Then, the next morning, we met up with Mark and Ben, my friends from college,  and headed to Mount Rainier. While Ben has twice summited the 14er, it was the first time in the park for the rest of us. Even though we didn’t attempt the technical summit, we did make it up to the Muir basecamp – one of my new favorite hikes. To get to the basecamp, we hiked up about 5,000 feet and across the Muir snowfield. Although going up rewarded us with some spectacular views, it was going down that made the hike.

Camp Muir

The heavily packed snowfield not only allowed us to hike to Muir basecamp without sinking in knee-deep every-other step (like we would the next weekend hiking the South Sister near Bend) it also allowed us to glacade down. For those who don’t know, glacading is just a fancy word for sledding without a sled. Enough hikers had gone before us that nice slick chutes ran down the snowfield, adding a new dynamic to hiking I had never considered. Pro tip: bring a heavy-duty trash bag to act as your sled.

Glasading!

The next morning, before driving Ben and Mark back to Seattle, we hiked up to the nearby Eagle Point to get a panoramic view of Mt Rainier. I hope that someday I can head back to make it all the way up to the summit, although going it to the basecamp is a worthwhile hike in of itself.

Drinking our summit beers!

Canada Part 2 (Banff)

We spent nearly a year planning our trip prior to hitting the road – marking points of interest on a map, researching car and lodging options, and reading about the national parks. In all that time, I don’t remember ever discussing taking our trip beyond the US. Yet, for the second week this summer, we found ourselves in Canada. This time, instead of a remote island on the French River, we stayed in a campground within the city limits of Calgary.

Oh Canada!

While visiting a brewery in Calgary, Liz and I met a few locals who made a point to remind us that Canadians tend to know a lot more about the US than we know about their affairs. So, for those unaware, Calgary is Canada’s third largest city with about 1.3 million residents. The city lies about an hour east of Banff, Canada’s first national park. And it played host to the 1986 Olympics, a fact the city continues to heavily lean on more than 30 years later.

Looking back, nothing in particular stands out about our time in Calgary. We drove past several old ski facilities used during the Olympic games, spent a limited amount of time downtown, and got the cars oil changed. In short – I don’t feel a strong desire to head back any time soon.

The one picture we took in Calgary

On Friday, after work, we made the short drive west to Banff National Park. After setting up the camper at Tunnel Mountain campground (an enormous campground with over 500 sites!) we headed into the town of Banff. The town sits within the national park and has the vibe of a large ski community, even in the heat summer. While in town, we decided to swing into the park visitor center to plan our weekend. There, we were ‘greeted’ by a warden (what they call their park rangers in Canada) who informed us that “you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do” in the park and that there’s “nothing that you need to see”. Thanks for the guidance Sophia.

Beautiful Banff!

Like most weekends, our time was primarily spent hiking. Saturday, we climbed the Cory Pass Loop – a strenuous hike that follows a seemingly endless set of switchbacks before leading up a picturesque mountain ridgeline. The trail then crosses through a mile of rocks and boulders before entering a densely-forested ravine that follows a creek down the mountain. The trek was tiring but a great way to start our weekend!

One of many breaks on the way up

On Sunday, we got up early and drove to Lake Louise. Perhaps the most popular destination in the park, the lake was already crawling with tourists early in the morning. We were able to escape most of the crowd by hiking around the lake and up to a remote tea house. The tea house is staffed by seasonal workers who hike in on several day rotations and cook all the food on site with supplies air dropped in by helicopter. After munching down a heavy piece of chocolate cake, we continued up the trail to check out the glaciers.

Great cake and great views!

While I don’t know if Banff is a good representation of all of Canada’s national parks, I felt like their park system is managed very differently. While the US national parks often contain guest lodges, a small handful of gift shops, and restaurants to service visitors, Banff plays host to a far larger commercial enterprise. From the town of Banff, located in the park, to the railroad track, the ski slopes, and the trans-Canadian highway, Banff seems to specialize in accessibility, not conservation. That’s not a slight to the park though – I think both Liz and I really enjoyed our weekend and I’d love to make it back again someday to see the park from its ski slopes.

Better glaciers than Glacier

Michigan’s UP and Minnesota

Saying goodbye to the Powers Island, a place Liz has always loved and I grew to love over the week, we hit the road again. Back to the United States. We entered the US through Michigan’s upper peninsula, stopping to pick up two cases of Alexander Keith at the duty-free shop in Sault Saint Marie.

One last Canadian sunset

The next morning, we drove across the UP on our way to my Aunt Susan and Ed’s house, where we would be spending a few days. I always forget how big the peninsula is; the drive from Sault Saint Marie, on the far east side, to Hancock, in the northwest, took a solid five hours.

Beautiful drive across the UP

The days spent in Houghton/Hancock were jam packed with exciting activities. The first day, after setting up our trailer in my aunt’s yard, we headed up to Ed’s cabin on Lake Superior for grilled steaks and a hike overlooking the lake. The next day, Ed, Susan, and I went mountain biking in the morning. Getting back on a trail after such a long time was a little intimidating at first, but I eventually found my groove. As we got back from biking, we noticed a swarm of bee’s leaving one of their hives. After tracking down their landing spot, Ed got out the chainsaw and cut a few small trees down to get to the swarm and move it into a new hive box. That night, we went on a hike up Mount Baldy and picked a few handfuls of wild blueberries before dinner at the picturesque, lakeside Fitzgerald’s Hotel & Restaurant. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to our already wonderful vacation.

So many bees!

Monday, it was back to work. Hancock had a nice local coffee shop, Cyberia, where we camped out in their loft during the day. Tuesday was our last full day in the UP and we spent that night in Houghton with Susan and Ed. We had a great time during our short visit and are glad we’ll have another opportunity to see more of the area when we return to backpack in Isle Royale.

Wednesday afternoon, Liz and I packed up and drove to Duluth, MN. Our campground was situated on top of a ski resort, and, while it was closed for the summer, we rode an alpine coaster they built down the hillside.

Duluth Harbor

Early Saturday morning, we headed north to Voyageurs National Park. Our primary source of Nation Park research comes from “Your Guide to the National Parks” by Michael Joseph Oswald. For the most part it’s an excellent resource, with maps, recommended hikes, activities, and campground information. The book also offers “best and worst of” lists that offer guidance on the best parks for backpacking, beaches, biking, ect. One list, titled “Do Not Detour For”, should be revised though. The parks that make the cut (or don’t really) include Hot Springs, Biscayne, Cuyahoga Valley (sorry Ohio), Saguaro, Channel Islands, Lassen Volcanic, and, yes, Voyageurs.  While I can see an argument for Cuyahoga Valley and certainly Biscayne – I don’t for Voyageurs. Liz and I had a great time!

This view is worth detouring for

Saturday morning, we picked up a canoe from a local rustic resort and paddled 5 miles across the lake to Kabetogama Peninsula. From there, we backpacked back about a mile and setup our tent at another, smaller, lake on the peninsula. While canoeing we only saw a small handful of other boaters and, on the peninsula, we were only accompanied by wildlife – including a fawn and doe that wandering by our tent a few times. I’d highly recommend the park for anyone looking for nature and solitude. My only advice would be to come prepared for bugs while not on the lake – lots and lots of bugs. We were able to keep them at bay with a campfire we kept going throughout the day though.

Sunday morning, we paddled back to the parks visitor center, ready for the next leg of our journey – the first state I hadn’t been to before our trip – North Dakota.

Utah To Ohio

Moab, the self-proclaimed mountain biking mecca, located in the Utah desert, is not a hotbed of wireless hotspots. The small desert town that hosts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year may be known for its outdoor recreation but finding a decent place to put in an eight-hour work day proved to be its greatest challenge. For starters, the town is distinctly deficient of a Starbucks – our go-to office on the go. Instead we resorted to hoping between laundry mat, crowded local coffee shops, and the campground provided Wi-Fi, which, while quick enough to work for, had a nasty habit of disconnecting every 8 minutes, leaving us to reconnect to the company VPN. While connecting to the VPN is generally trivial – doing so every few minutes quickly becomes cumbersome.

Looking for wifi

Besides seeking out the town’s Wi-Fi options, we visited the Moab Brewing Company and one of the two local national parks – Arches. Arches is home to the iconic Delicate Arch along with over 2000 other natural stone arches. Unfortunately, most of the parks roadways were under construction, so we were limited to the parks front half. Still, I think I was able to get a good sense for the whole park with the small handful of short hikes we did after work.

Delicate Arch

We will most likely make it back to Moab again during our trip to hit up Canyonlands National Park. We just felt as though there simply wasn’t enough time to do the park justice since we were on a mission to get back to Ohio by Memorial Day. Hopefully they’ll build a Starbucks in the meantime.

Driving through the Utah desert

After spending the work-week in Moab, we headed toward Golden, Colorado – home of Coors Light – to visit my college roommate Mark “Wildcard” Ferris. On the way, we had to cross the Rocky Mountains just after a late-May snowstorm had shut down much of I-70 the day before. Seeing Veil covered in snow while the lodges and slopes remained empty (closed for the season) made me want to stay and find a way to ski the mountains alone. But we drove on. While in Golden for the weekend, we made time for a jazz festival, a board game parlor with more old college friends, and a snow-covered hike at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Blizzard in the Rockies

Our next planned stop was nearly a thousand miles away, in Des Moines, Iowa to visit Liz’s brother Matt. On the way, we slept in Walmart parking lots on both sides of Nebraska – working in the morning and driving in the evenings. In Des Moines, Matt treated us to the local cuisine – some of the best on our trip up to this point. We also got a tour of the Dimond bike shop where he works as the head engineer designing and manufacturing high-end bicycles.

At a Des Moines Cubs game

On Saturday came the final leg of our first lap of the states – an eleven-hour drive from Des Moines to Canton Ohio. In under 5 months we drove 15,000 miles, visited 22 states and 12 National Parks, bought our new home on wheels, spent 2 nights in the hospital, and crossed countless items off our bucket list. Here’s to many more adventures to come!