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South Dakota

What a jam packed two weeks! The Black Hills of South Dakota gave us plenty of adventure, new experiences, and unexpected beauty.  I had always thought of South Dakota as a touristy, dusty sort of place and I was happily surprised to be proven wrong.  While it has gimmicky tourist traps like Wall Drug, the state is also home to amazing tourist traps, like Mount Rushmore, and incredible, off-the-beaten-path escapades.

Happy to be in South Dakota (and drinking wine)!

South Dakota is home to two National Parks, the first of which we visited was Wind Cave.  Zach wanted to do a Wild Cave tour – a four-hour expedition into the cave involving crawling, squeezing, and climbing.  I reluctantly agreed.  I’m very happy I did.  I was picturing many more tight spaces, and while there were a few times I had to maneuver through a small opening, I never felt trapped.  It was so much fun that maybe, if software development doesn’t work out for me, I’ll become a cave surveyor. I would highly recommend doing a wild cave tour if you ever have the opportunity. Phone’s weren’t allowed but here’s a picture I found online of the amazing boxwork formation found throughout the cave.

Wind Cave has the most boxwork in the world!

The other National Park, the Badlands, was a bit of a letdown.  The best views of the park were top notch but it lacked depth and diversity.  As Zach put it, the park could be summed up in one view.  It’s an amazing view but once you see it, there’s not much else.  There’s no great hikes or other activities, nothing that can’t be done from the car.

Not too shabby of a view

The National Park Service also owns Mount Rushmore.  I, as a president enthusiast, loved it. My expectations had been set low by the multiple people who had told me the heads were smaller than they appeared in pictures.  Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by the size and quality of George, Tom, Teddy and Abe.  We arrived at dusk, with enough daylight remaining to walk the short trail and stuck around for the illumination ceremony.

Reppin’ the NPS

While not visiting National Parks, we spent a lot of time in Custer State Park.  Over the course of our three trips to the park, I came to truly appreciate South Dakota’s beauty.  Out of all the great things we did in the state, this is the one I would most recommend.  The winding roads, the abundance of wildlife, and the awe-inspiring views are not to be missed.

One day after work, we headed to Custer to combine three trails to make one epic hike.  We started at Cathedral Spires, big spiky rocks that attract rock climbers from all over the country.  Then we hit up Little Devils’ Tower, which had spectacular 360 degree views.  Finally, we cut across to Black Elk Peak – the highest point in South Dakota.  Here we had more fabulous views, supposedly of five states.

Cathedral Spires

Little Devils Tower

Black Elk Peak

Within the first minute of our trip back down, I fell hard and sprained my ankle.  It started swelling instantly but I got up, wiped away my tears and had Zach fetch me a walking stick.  We were three miles from the car and the only way of getting there was on my own two feet (Zach offered to carry me but, no offense to him, I didn’t think he could make it all the way).  The way down was rocky, steep and a struggle but we made it back just before dark.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve done but when there’s only one way out, you do what it takes.  It’s still a bit swollen and sore but it will hopefully be back in shape in time for Glacier.

Still enjoyed the views on the rough trip down

While not exploring the great parks of South Dakota, we took some time to experience the culture of the state.  We attended a rodeo in the nearby town of Deadwood.  In Zach’s words, we had a boot-scootin’ good time.  The Sturgis motorcycle rally, one of the largest in the world with more than 700,000 attendees, started our last weekend in town. Zach wanted to rent a moped to drive around the rally but luckily, he couldn’t find one.  I felt enough out of place as it was.

Zach got some great pictures (considering we were in the top row)

South Dakota was full of exciting wildlife! Buffalo (safely from our car this time), prairie dogs, so many deer, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, a grey fox, and mountain goats!  It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say there was more wildlife in South Dakota than all the previous states combined!

Bighorn sheep!

I feel like I’ve been ending most of my blog posts with ‘you need to visit this place!’ and I’ll do it again this time.  South Dakota is a great state with much to do and see!  Definitely worth spending some time in!

North Dakota

North Dakota. Zach’s first new state of the trip; my eighth new state. Although he can only remember being in an airport in Minnesota so I’m not sure I trust his state count. Layovers do not count as being in a state. We spent the workweek in Fargo – winner of the “Toughest Weather City” poll, thanks to its harsh winters and frequent flooding.  Luckily, we only experienced high temperatures and one strange thunderstorm that appeared to have pink lightning.

Beautiful post-storm sunset

In Ohio, we like to complain about the amount of orange barrels covering the roads but it is nothing compared to the construction going on in Fargo. It seemed like every other street was closed due to road work. In order to drive the five miles from our campground to downtown, we had to take four detours! In addition to construction, Fargo also has a surprising amount of culture. We went to a different independent coffee shop every day. A brewery put on The Office themed trivia that packed the bar to well over capacity. I thought I knew The Office pretty well but there were some teams that didn’t miss a question the whole night!

Literally the only picture I took in Fargo

We left Fargo on Thursday afternoon and headed west. We ran into a bit of trouble when our trailer got a flat tire along the way. Thanks to teamwork, we fixed it without too much stress and continued on to Bismarck where we witnessed a beautiful sunset from the Walmart parking lot we spent the night in.

I think we’re ready to be NASCAR tire changers now

Our final destination in North Dakota was Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We planned on going backpacking and, on Saturday morning, headed to the visitor’s center to pick up our permit.  The ranger warned us that our route was very difficult and seemed skeptical in our ability to find the way.  Undeterred, we headed out for the 18 mile Achenbach loop.

TRNP – where the Great Plains meet the rugged Badlands

The trail was by no means easy but we survived.  A few times we lost the trail, once getting over a half mile off it, but managed to find it again everytime.  We crossed the muddy Little Missouri twice, climbed up and down the hills of the badlands and traversed wide open plains.

This is how I traverse

The geology of the park is baffling.  I felt like I was hiking on the moon or Mars (or a planet with the oxygen and gravity levels of Earth.)  There were multiple times I looked around and said to Zach, “this is so weird”.  It’s hard to describe but here’s one of many strange formations we walked through.

What is going on with the dirt?

Along the way, we ran into a herd of buffalo on the trail. After taking pictures from a safe distance, we skirted around them.  Unbeknownst to us, a few had strayed from the pack. We rounded a corner and there was a very large bison, very close to us.  Bison, North America’s largest animal, weighing up to 2,000 pounds, are quite frightening up close.  Zach snapped a picture before we hightailed it out of there.

Zach is really upset the camera focused on the bush rather than the buffalo

About two-thirds of the way into the loop, we were feeling good and had plenty of sunlight left.  We decided to finish the whole trail that day.  There was cold beer and a nice bed waiting back at the camper and I wanted to prove we were fast and able backpackers after the talk from the skeptical ranger.  It seemed like a good idea at the time but the trail ended up being a few miles longer and more strenuous than we were expecting.  At that point, we were so close to being done that we had to finish.  By the end, I was exhausted and could barely keep moving. Walking 20 miles with a 30+ pound backpack is not easy.  We would have enjoyed it a lot more if we had stopped and camped along the way like originally planned.  But we learned our lesson and it made for a memorable day.

So thankful the last miles were on a flat road

Sunday, after sleeping in, we headed to the more popular south unit of the park.  Not feeling up for hiking, we drove to a prairie dog town where we saw prairie dogs (obviously) and some wild horses.  We said goodbye to North Dakota and headed down to  South Dakota for the next two weeks.

Prairie dog!

I had never heard of Teddy Roosevelt National Park until we decided to visit all of the National Parks. But I would highly recommend stopping by if you’re ever in the area.  The views are great and it’s pretty spectacular to see bison up close.  As Teddy himself said, “It is an incalculable added pleasure to any one’s sum of happiness if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly, how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.”

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.

Canada

When most people say Canada, they mean the second largest country in the world, producer of hockey players and maple leaf memorabilia, birthplace of Tim Hortons, poutine, and Justin Bieber. When I say Canada, I mean a very specific location – a small island on the French River off the Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada. This was illustrated when, about two hours north of Toronto, I commented to Zach that it was starting to look a lot like ‘Canada’.

This is what Canada looks like to me

The island is owned by family of family friends and growing up, we would head up to the French River every year with our family friends, the Youngbloods. We would spend the week tubing, fishing, swimming, picnicking and playing games. Many of my favorite and most memorable childhood experiences took place in Canada.  The countless days of trying to fit three people onto a tube with only handles for two and the endless nights of drinking virgin strawberry daiquiris and winning Euchre tournaments. Each year we spent a week in paradise and the other fifty-one counting down the days until we returned to Canada.

Megan is handleless

This continued through high school but busy schedules have prevented us from returning the past few years. The rest of my family headed up in 2011 after dropping me off at West Point, Matt was working in Des Moines when we returned in 2013, and my dad, Matt and I made it up for a long weekend in the fall of 2014. This would be the first time since 2009, which concluded 15 straight years of the trip, that all 5 Cymanski’s would be on Power’s Island.

My first trip up to Canada circa 1995

I spent the past three years telling Zach about Canada so I was thrilled he would be able to see for himself why I loved the area so much. Unfortunately, the Youngblood’s couldn’t make it up, but we would have Mike, our French River Sherpa.

Another old pic because there’s so many good ones

Powers Island is about an acre large with one main cabin on it. There is no power other than a generator which is sometimes run at nights, no internet, no cell service. We leave our cars at the marina and travel by boat for the week. The French River is at some points a rapidly flowing body of water and at others, such as where Powers’ Island is located, more like a lake than a river.

Powers Island

I had a fabulous week in Canada.  Not only was I in my favorite place in the world with my favorite people in the world, but I was also on vacation! To you, it may seem like we’re always on vacation, but we actually work 40 hours a week.  I love CoverMyMeds and am very thankful for everything they do for Zach and I, but it was nice to get away for a week.

Zach happy to not be working

We did all of my favorite Canadian things.  This was my first summer up since turning 21 and I took full advantage of that by drinking beer, wine, margaritas and  some non-virgin strawberry daiquiris.  We slept in, went tubing and water skiing, ate great food, took naps and played a lot of cards.  Unfortunately, I didn’t win the Euchre tournament this year, but I have won the most tournaments overall, so I believe that still makes me the best player in the family.

Waterskiing like a champ

The weather was great – mid 70’s and it only rained once.  Appreciating the good weather, we picnicked at both Lovers Lane and the Dallas.  Lovers Lane is an area with small rapids – gentle enough to go down in person.  While Matt and my dad were using the current as a make-shift endless lap-pool, the rest of us played in the rapids.  The Dallas is a much larger set of rapids.  No swimming here, but we hiked around a bit and unsuccessfully fished.

Riding down the rapids

Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows my family, we returned to the mainland a few times in order to run and did near daily open water swims. Due to life on the road, I haven’t been able to swim much in the past months but it was nice to get in the water.  I used to be the fastest swimmer in the family but now I can barely keep up with my parents and am blown out of the water by Matt.

Ready for a nap!

The end of the week came too quickly, especially considering we hadn’t seen a bear or a moose! Not only was I sad to be leaving Canada, I also was saying goodbye to my family for a few months.  The five of us are only together a few times a year so I cannot put into words how happy I was to be able to spend a whole week with my family in our favorite place. I look forward to seeing some (or all) of them in Hawaii in October!

Fam

I really struggled picking pictures for this post because there were so many good ones! We recently bought a DSLR camera so the quality of our pictures skyrocketed! Check out other pictures from the week here! Below is the video Megan made – it’s much more exciting than the usual clips of Zach or I walking around.

OHIO

After nearly 5 months away, we returned to the homeland.  I love traveling but was ready to spend some time in Ohio.  We completed our drive across the Midwest and arrived home just in time for Memorial Day. It was a great holiday weekend full of catching up with family, cornhole, and enjoying the fresh Ohio air.

Reunited Serafini siblings

In addition to seeing family and spending time in the greatest state in America, work was another reason to head to Ohio.  CoverMyMeds is very supportive of our nomadic lifestyle but they still would like us to come into the office occasionally.  Of the five weeks we were in Ohio, we spent 3 of the workweeks in Columbus.  I hadn’t realized I missed working in the office and I really enjoyed seeing my colleagues in person and being able to easily communicate with them.

Literally the only picture I took in Columbus

After working during the day in Columbus, we spent the evenings catching up with friends and visiting our old stomping grounds.  We continued our losing streak in volleyball and celebrated with porch drinking and late night Taco Bell.  Zach went skydiving and I played Harry Potter trivia – both equally thrilling.

Ready to jump out of a plane!

I thought my month in Ohio would be relaxing and full of free time. But between watching the Cavs almost win a championship, helping out the family firewood business and trying to catch up on my reading and running goals, it turned out to be quite busy – in a good way, of course! One of my favorite experiences was attending the Laurelive music festival with Megan.  Less than a half hour from our house, there were great bands, including some of my old favorites – like The Head and the Heart – and some of my new favorites – such as Johnnyswim.

So much sunburn

For a while, Megan and I had been talking about getting matching tattoos once she turned 18.  This was my first time back since her birthday so we wrangled my mom into coming with us and all got matching tattoos. The ‘C’ stands mostly for Cymanski but also for Cleveland – our city, Crestwood – our alma mater, and calm, confident – things we strive to be.  Or collected, creative, cool– really any positive C-word works.

Cymanski

Another reason we needed to come back in June was to meet Zach’s new nephew.  He was due mid-June but was late so we were worried we’d be gone before he arrived.  Luckily, he decided to make his appearance on Matt’s birthday (fitting since Becca and Robby got married on my birthday).  Zion is absolutely precious and named after one of my favorite stops on our trip! I’m sad to be missing the next few months of his life and can’t wait to see him (and everyone else) at Thanksgiving.

Baby Z!

Although I didn’t make it back for Megan’s high school graduation ceremony, we were in town for the more important event – her graduation party.  It worked out nicely that I got to see all of our family and family friends before leaving Ohio.  Lucy (our trailer) was up in Hiram for the day so we gave everyone tours of our new house.  The food was great, the rain held off for most of the party and tent only blew over before anyone arrived.  I still can’t believe my baby sister will be attending Ohio State in the fall!

The only picture of Meg and I from the party is an actual polaroid

Zach probably disagrees, but five weeks in Ohio didn’t seem like enough to me! I was sad to leave, more so than when we originally left in January.  But there’s so much of the country left to see and we have some great things planned for the coming months (check them out here)! I’m looking forward to returning home for Thanksgiving and Christmas but will spend the meantime enjoying every minute on the road.

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!

Zion National Park

We had heard great things about Zion National Park and it delivered! Prior to visiting, I thought it was over-hyped and wasn’t expecting too much but I sure was wowed. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and near the top of the best experiences of our trip so far.  We spent almost all our time hiking so I decided to rank the hikes we did from least exciting to my new favorite hike.

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.

5.) Riverside Walk

We had really been hoping to backpack the Narrows – a hike through a very narrow canyon which is considered the best hike at Zion and one of the best hikes in the whole country. Back in March, when the permits became available, we stopped at a McDonalds somewhere between Houston and San Antonio to ensure we got one of the limited number of overnight permits.

Found this on the internet since I didn’t see it in person

Unfortunately, the snow fall was extra high this year, resulting in a large spring run-off, leaving the Narrows closed until weeks after we visited Zion.  We settled for the Riverside Walk – a path that leads to the mouth of the Canyon, so I could at least see the start of the legendary trail (Zach had done a day hike in the Narrows when he came to Zion a few years ago with his family).

 I didn’t take any pictures of  the Riverside Walk but here’s our really cool campsite

Not that I was expecting much, but the Riverside Walk was a letdown.  Being the easiest trail in Zion, the path was full of strollers, elderly tourists and people blocking the way to take pictures of every squirrel.  I would avoid this hike unless you’re continuing onto the Narrows (which I plan on returning to the park to do).

And here’s the really cool coffee shop we worked from

4.) Emerald Pools

We fell a bit behind on blogging.  It’s been over a month since we were in Zion and it that time I’ve forgotten all but a few distinguishing details about the Emerald Pools.  It’s one of those hikes that would be amazing if it was in Ohio but gets overshadowed in a place like Zion.  There were some waterfalls, an emerald pool and, most excitingly, a rattlesnake!

The ranger said it might be a gopher snake, but I’m going with rattler

If you’re looking for a shorter, family friendly hike lacking scary cliff edges, this is the one for you.  Otherwise hit it up if you have an hour or two to kill (we fit it in between work and dinner on Friday).

3.) Angels’ Landing

You know a park has some great trails when Angel’s Landing is ranked third on your list of best hikes. The five-mile hike starts off modestly enough, but after reaching Scout’s Landing, which itself has spectacular views, it quickly becomes very strenuous.  Narrow, steep, with thousand feet drop offs on each side, it is not for those frightening of heights.

Heading up the spine of the landing

Neither Zach nor I are fans of heights but after turning around on a hike in Mount St Helens two summers ago due to the fear, I vowed to never again quit a hike because of heights.  But multiple people have died from failing off the trail, including someone a few weeks before our visit, so I was nervous but determined.

Zach getting close to the edge

The trail was more crowded than I would have preferred, especially given its narrowness. In the upper section, there are chains to hold on to in the more treacherous sections.  But with people moving both ways, someone must let go of the chains to get around the other.  Usually I opted to stand there and let them go around.

 Using the chains

All in all, it wasn’t as frightening as I expected and the views were amazing from the top.  There were some over friendly chipmunks which climbed into my lap to get the almonds I was eating and even went as far as biting my hand.  I, as a rule-abider and a believer that wild animals should find their own food, followed the signs saying not to feed the animals, and refused to share.

Vulturous chipmunk

I would strongly recommend Angels Landing to anyone visiting the park. I think any relative fit person without a debilitating fear of heights can do it. The hike is challenging without requiring any special skills and the views from the top are first class.

 Angels Landing!

 

2.) Observation Point/Hidden Canyon

 Observation Point is an 8-mile roundtrip hike with quite a bit of elevation gain.  The trail winds its way up the canyon before reaching a spectacular observation point.  You have a great view of Angels Landing, nearly a thousand feet below.

Angels Landing is the rock formation in the middle of the canyon

At the top, I talked to a guy that had done the previous year’s Ohio 70.3, which I had also raced.  While it’s by no means a small race, it was crazy to see a fellow compactor on the other side of the country.  We took the long way down, detouring into Hidden Canyon.  Along the way there were more chains, steep drop offs and great views.

So many cool rock formations

I deliberated for a while rather to rank Angels Landing or Observation Point higher on the list, but in the end, I went with this hike.  Angels Landing is very-hyped, rightfully so, but Observation Point has more stunning views and is longer with more elevation gain. It’s a leg-burner but I would highly recommend hiking it if you have the time.

My favorite picture from the weekend

1.) The Subway

This was our consolation prize for not being able to do the Narrows.  And it is my new favorite hike.  Only eighty permits are given a day, and we were luckily enough to get two.  There isn’t a trail but rather you follow a river upstream, crossing it uncountable times, navigating through boulders and climbing waterfalls.

Hiking up a waterfall

I love water, climbing over rocks and trail blazing and this hike had it all!

Writing super short paragraphs so I can fit more pictures

The titular subway is difficult to describe so here’s a picture:

The Subway!

There were pools of water at the end which extended the trail by about 100 feet so they weren’t necessary to swim in but we wanted to do it all.  They were very cold but we sat in the sun afterward to dry off and eat some snacks.

Swimming Pools (of chilly water)

Because the Subway requires a permit, it requires so planning ahead but I would highly recommend anyone traveling to Zion to at least attempt to get one.  They become available a few months ahead of time so be proactive!

Zach’s trail name is ‘The Trashman’

Since this blog took a really long time to write, I’ve created our Utah video in the meantime

Medford

There are a few things I miss about Columbus – the free lunches at work, the ability to drive home for the weekend, and Hounddog’s Pizza. But my favorite thing to do in Columbus, hanging out with Tyler and Whitney, wouldn’t have been possible even if we had stayed in C-Bus.  Zach’s brother Tyler and his family moved out to Medford, Oregon in December and we went from seeing them almost weekly, to not seeing them for months.  Since our springtime travels in the southwest weren’t taking us near Oregon, we left Lucy in the Las Vegas airport oversized parking lot and flew up to Oregon.

Oregon has so many waterfalls!

It was great to see Tyler, Whitney, Sage and June again.  Our first weekend, we explored the town of Medford, stopping by the local Comic-Con and eating at a local brewery.  After lunch, Zach, Tyler, and I biked up the local mountain, Roxyann Butte.  As a cautious rider, I enjoyed the way up, on a wide gradual road, much more than the way down, on a narrow, steep, rocky trail.  I rode my brakes the entire time and the guys spent most of their time waiting for me.

Biking up the mountain

On Sunday, we travelled south to hike Pilot Rock.  Our driver missed the turn and we ended up in California for a few minutes before turning around (our 13th state of the trip!).  The hike started out easily enough but soon became difficult due to steep, icy sections of trail.  Considering we had a baby and a four-year-old with us, things went relatively well.  The trail ended at the actual Pilot Rock, a very steep volcano plug.  Whitney and I headed down with the kids while Zach and Tyler made the treacherous climb to the top.

Zach and Tyler made it to the top of Pilot Rock

Unfortunately, we all had to work during the week but still managed to find time for fun.  Their house had the perfect backyard for croquet.  We got a little creative with the course setup which made an antiquated English game relevant again.  We also went to multiple wineries, including one within walking distance from their house.

Great wine, food, and company!

Nearly every night we played a game after the kids went to bed.  I love board games but there’s not a ton of great options for two players.  Luckily, Tyler likes games almost as much as me and we could usually convince Zach and Whitney to play with us. Euchre, Super Smash Brothers, Mario Party, Pirate’s Cove and my favorite, Agricola were all played multiple times throughout the week.

No picture of us playing games, so one of me and the Rogue River instead

My imagination and creativity were stretched playing Superhero Princesses with Sage. We both fought girl-eating giants and made macaroni-and-cheese soup for the prince.  I liked to think I was one of June’s favorites back in Ohio but she always seemed to cry when I was around.  Even though she may not like me, she’s still one of my favorites.

June liked Zach a lot more than me

The second weekend in Medford, we headed north.  Unfortunately, all the hikes we had planned were still closed due to snow so we headed to Crater Lake National Park. There was so much snow there – I was surprised it was open!

SO MUCH SNOW

The lake was breathtakingly beautiful and we didn’t let the piles of snow keep us from hiking.  There were obviously no trails visible so we followed the general rim of the lake, throwing snow balls, climbing up snow mounds and trying to jump as deep as possible into the snow.  Since we spent the past few months in the south, we hadn’t seen any snow.  I love winter so I was very happy to finally be surrounded by snow.

Crater Lake National Park

Before we knew it, Monday had arrived and it was time to fly back.  We had a great time visiting in Medford and are already trying to fit another visit in this fall. Thanks for hosting us Tyler and Whitney!

The Grand Canyon

For months, my brother Matt had been planning, preparing and convincing others to join him for a Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Grand Canyon.  The R3, as the experts call it, entails starting at one rim of the canyon, running down to the river, up the other rim and then turning around and running back.  It ends up being about 48 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing.  He talked my dad and our two friends, Will and Geoff, to join him.  They picked a weekend in April, late enough that the water spigots along the trail were turned on but before it got too hot, and we planned our trip around meeting them at the park and hanging out with my mom while the guys went on their adventure.

The grandest of all canyons

Apparently, the way we hang out in my family is by going on 18 mile hikes.  Not wanting to seem too lazy compared to the others, we decided to hike down to the river and back (a Rim-to-River-to-Rim if you want).  Although there were many signs warning against doing the hike in a day, we felt fairly confident we could make it, especially considering it was well under half of what the rest of the group was doing.

One of many signs warning us against going to the river in a day

We woke at 4 the morning of the hike and headed to the South Kaibab trailhead.  The guys needed an early start to beat the heat and the mules and, with nothing better to do, we took to the trail then as well.  The first hour was dark; we stumbled along with our headlamps before we were blessed with an amazing sunrise.  Zach and I had arrived after dark the night before so this was our first sighting of the canyon (excluding the previous times we had been to the park.)

The first glimpse of sun

The way down was so pleasant that we even decided to run some of it.  The canyon itself is the major draw for the park but seeing the Colorado River was amazing.  It was absolutely beautiful and I felt very accomplished for getting myself there (and soon to be back up) on my own two legs. Millions upon millions of people have seen the Grand Canyon but not many have crossed the Colorado River within. 

Crossing the Colorado!

After getting some coffee from Phantom Ranch and filling up on water, we headed back up via Bright Angel Trail.  As expected, the way up was much more exhausting than the way down.  It was also much more crowded, as it was now a reasonable time for hiking.  We took lots of breaks, ate plenty of snacks and tried to keep a lively conversation going.  It got pretty rough near the end but we all made it up in a decent state of mind.

Looking back at how far we’ve come

We had just enough time to take the shuttle to our car, shower and eat some food before we headed back to the trailhead to wait for the guys to finish.  At just about the time I was starting to worry, they made it back.  All were in great spirits considering what they had just accomplished.   We celebrated the successful day with eating pizza, watching basketball, and going to sleep early.

Happy to be done!

The next day, as my family headed back to Phoenix to fly out, we headed to Coconino National Forest.  On the way, we stopped to pick up the essentials for our camper – some plates, bowls, cups, a broom, a trashcan and some beer.  We spent the week at a campsite smack dab between Sedona and Flagstaff.  Although it had no electricity or water, it was a beautiful, secluded site that allowed us to become acquainted with our new home.

The road between Sedona and Flagstaff

Zach succeeded in backing it into the spot in less than ten attempts and we managed to set it up without it rolling away or breaking anything.  We took the next few nights to move our things from the car to the camper and figure out how everything worked.

Our first campsite with our camper!

While we weren’t working, organizing or sleeping, we were able to fit in a hike and try some of the world’s best chile relleno (as recommended by Zach’s mom).  Before we knew it, we were heading to the Las Vegas airport.  Staying in Sedona had been a spontaneous decision (we were originally supposed to spend the week in Las Vegas) and we look forward to returning to enjoy more time among the beautiful red rocks of Sedona.

 

Phoenix

After wrapping up our two-week stint in Tucson, it was off to Phoenix. And, to be honest, I was looking forward to this stop least of our first months on the road. “What is there to do in Phoenix?” I prodded Liz. “Tons” she replied. And, as it turned out, we found enough to keep entertained. In retrospect, I shouldn’t be surprised, having grown up on Ohio entertainment for years.

A Phoenix sunset

It helped that our stay was broken into two pieces – a sandwich – with Phoenix serving as the sourdough bread around a hearty helping of Las Vegas roast beef and old commune mustard. The bottom slice was thin – a Tuesday thru Thursday in which we played bar trivia and recouped from our past weekend in the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns.

Eating an actual sandwich

On Thursday, my 26th birthday, Liz and I headed up to Las Vegas to catch Bon Iver at the Hard Rock Café and Casino. It was Liz’s first time in Nevada, and, by extension, Las Vegas. In a city known for its entertainment – I didn’t expect we would be part of the show. However, leaving the casino hotel the next morning, we gave a man, self-proclaimed to have “traveled millions of miles” a good laugh. I guess I didn’t think anything of lugging our milk crate clothes cartons through the casino floor – but he claimed it was a first and insisted on a picture.

Cartons of clothes and this is what he wears

Friday night, we moved up The Strip to the iconic Mirage. After indulging in the unlimited beer and wine buffet, we took part in the cities most well know tradition – throwing our money at the casino fat cats. The next morning, not feeling I had done my part, I laid down two hundred clams on the Toronto Raptors to win the finals.

The Mirage

On the way out of town, we swung by the best dam site of our trip yet – the Hoover Dam. We didn’t have time to dilly-dally though as we had strict reservations that night at a run-down commune, Arcosanti. The ‘village’ didn’t disappoint. I booked the night because, after all, the goal of the trip was to not only see as much of the good ol’ US of A as possible, but to also experience its cultural breadth. The experimental town has about 60 permanent residents who live in and around a small complex of buildings designed by architect Paolo Soleri. The night we stayed, a surprisingly enjoyable drum show – a combination of both Japanese and Native American performers – pounded through the towns amphitheater.

Arcosanti

The next morning, Easter Sunday, we headed back to Phoenix, driving directly to the Musical Instrument Museum. I think both Liz and I were thoroughly impressed with the museum’s collection – over 16,000 different instruments from around the world. Accompanying the instruments was a unique audio tour which played clips of music, native to the country’s exhibit you were standing near, into your headset.

An Octobass

Later that week we saw the XX, one of Liz’s favorite bands, perform is Mesa. The next day we met up with Matt and Will – who had just flown into town to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim that weekend. And, after grabbing dinner with the two, met up with Liz’s parents who had just arrived in town.

~musical interlude~

 

The Sunday we got back to Phoenix, our laundry had been piling up and it was time to finally break down and run a few loads through the wash. While this had never been an issue in past accommodations – and the listing indicated a washer/dryer were available – we were in for a rude surprise when later that evening our ‘host’ lectured us for several minutes, repeating that we were to ‘not touch his stuff.’ It’s kind of hard not to touch someone’s stuff when you’re living in their house.

After that incident, we circled back on a conversation we had discussed for weeks prior to setting off on our journey, and ultimately decided it was time to buy a travel trailer. The past few spare bedroom’s we stayed in were off-putting. And, while we enjoyed the full-units we had occupied, we couldn’t afford to stay in one all the time.

So, most of our second week in Phoenix was spent discussing, planning and eventually purchasing a camper trailer. Up to this point we had been living in Airbnb’s. For those unfamiliar with the concept – Airbnb is a platform that allows folks with spare rooms, or even houses, to rent them out on a nightly basis to others. While the cost of renting an entire house or even hotel room can be very high – we had been able to afford the much lower rate usually charged by renting a spare bedroom (often around $50 a night.)

Once we made up our mind to buy a trailer, we hit the gas, checking out a few used trailers the first night, and buying a new one the next day. This sudden change of plans flipped the table on our months of planning. We had Airbnb’s reserved through the better part of the next three months. Luckily, most Airbnb’s have a pretty lax cancelation policy and we received almost all our deposits back.

Our new home!

Time will tell, but up to this point I haven’t regretted the purchase yet. That is, barring a few fleeting moments after I managed to shave its side on a gas station pump barrier the day we got it.