The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Month: June 2018

Weeping Willow — Tree of Comfort

What do you think of when you see a weeping willow tree? For many people, these drooping trees remind them of grief and crying. For me, these graceful trees bring a feeling of comfort and contentment. Why the difference? I have happy memories of spending many hours under giant, peaceful willow trees.

When I was growing up, we visited my grandparents in rural Minnesota every summer. The house filled up with cousins, aunts, and uncles. Sometimes I loved the chaos and the fun. Other times I needed an escape. The giant weeping willow tree behind their house provided both enjoyment and respite.

drooping tree branches, willow fronds

The tree was so large that its drooping branches swept the ground. The quiet, green grotto around the trunk was a perfect place to hide for a raucous game of hide-n-seek amongst the cousins. Other times it made a quiet hideaway to sprawl on the ground and read a book. For that matter, it was a calming place to just lay there and stare up into the branches that were softly dancing in the wind.

Eventually, the family farm was sold and my grandparents moved to town. I could no longer go outside and stand under that venerable tree when I visited them. It felt like something was missing from the family gatherings.

Many decades later, my husband and I moved to our own little farm. The bank of the pond was a perfect place to establish my own weeping willow tree. It was ironic that only days after the sapling was planted, my grandma passed away. The new willow tree has grown and spread. Its drooping branches now sweep the ground. It still transports me back to those days of fun and comfort for a young girl amid the chaos of gathered family.

serenity, tree planted by the water

Read about special trees HERE and HERE. Do you have a childhood memory of a favorite tree? I would love to hear it! Please tell me about it in the comments below.

DIY Epic Escape — Plan Your Own Adventure

Are you tired of taking the same vacations year after year—eating the same foods, going the same places, doing the same things? Consider an Epic Escape instead! Not sure where to start? Here’s a glimpse at my process. It’s easier than you might think to Plan Your Own Adventure!

Gather Your TOOLS:

Planning an Epic Escape means charting a new course, not just repeating past travels. This takes a few “specialized” tools: (or at least using your tools  for specific purposes…)

  • Calendar – discover conflicts and juggle schedules
  • Computer – for on-line research, social media recommendations, and eventual reservations
  • Colored pens and LOTS of paper – capture lists, plans, alternate plans, packing lists, and lists of lists
  • Coffee – or chocolate or chips or something else to fuel the frenzy of researching all the possibilities!

adventure planning, journaling, itinerary

 

Determine Your NUTS n BOLTS:

Know what limits you have. Figure out the details for this particular time and trip.

  • Identify preferences (dates, place, activities)
  • Set a budget (then add 50%! Really!)
  • Re-evaluate your priorities to scribble down a final list of details to keep in mind.

Choose Your FLAVOR:

Don’t settle for a plain-jane vanilla vacation, just like all the ones you have taken before. Consider all the possibilities within the parameters of this particular Epic Escape.

  • Carve out some empty space in your schedule/itinerary to be spontaneous
  • Read & Research. Search on-line (or in books) for “Things to Do Near …” “Best Food In …” and “Things to Do With Kids In …” (even if you don’t have kids with you. These are the fun, hands-on activities in any given location.) Don’t forget to check nps.gov to see which national parks you could visit!
  • When you get to your location(s), talk with locals and check the local visitor center for more ideas of unique things to do or see.

colorful, coldstone creamery, ice cream

Be FLEXIBLE:

No matter how well you Plan Your Own Adventure, the unexpected WILL happen! Most of these things will be outside your control: weather, delays, changes, illness, etc.

  • Before you leave, consider potential problems and brainstorm possible responses. This way you won’t be blindsided when the unexpected actually happens.
  • Remember WHY you chose this particular Epic Escape. You were excited about it while you were planning. Focus on your main objectives and let go of the details.
  • Choose your attitude! Often, it is the challenging moments that are the most exciting and thought-provoking later. Once we get back home, those problems frequently become the most entertaining stories.

kenyon college, dancers, statue garden

Read about my Wand’rin’ Spirit HERE. Read about the Research involved in our first AT backpacking trip HERE. If you want some ideas for fun activities to add to your next vacation, drop me a note in the comments. I love to brainstorm adventures!

An Epic Plan for Self-Care

We’ve all heard the list of suggested wellness practices a million times: Maintain proper sleep/nutrition/exercise. Practice self-care. Choose a good attitude/positive thoughts/thankfulness. Pursue a passion. Find life/work balance. Build a spiritual practice. Get outside. Find supportive friends. Challenge oneself.

…an epic plan for sweeping reform would obviously be the most exciting route to transformation.

Check! Check! Check! I’ve generally got the basics down. Isn’t that good enough? And if I wanted to make changes, an epic plan for sweeping reform would obviously be the most exciting route to transformation. Just give me a detailed list with bullet points to follow and I’ll try to implement it all immediately—at least for a day or a week until I slide back into comfortable old routines. Ugh! This large-scale self-improvement thing too often becomes a guilt-producing merry-go-round.

A few years ago, I heard a seemingly simple phrase that changed everything for me. “Just do the next, best thing.” By following these little words, I’m happier and healthier today than I was as a young adult. These words help me filter the large amounts of information swirling in my head from all of the books and blogs and articles I read. This phrase helps me focus on tiny steps that eventually form better habits, without causing the self-care to come to a screeching halt because I’m overwhelmed.

hiking, walking, glacier national park

I try to be aware of decision points throughout the day: what to eat, what to do with my time, what to do with emotions, how to respond to frustrations. I take a moment to ask myself “what is the next best thing in this situation?” Then I do that little thing—no stress, no fuss, no angsty inner debates. Devour a rich piece of chocolate cake? Sure, have one or two bites. Make a difficult phone call or read a junk book? Get the call out of the way, and then savor the story. Need some milk or toilet paper? Forget the car—walk the few blocks to the store. Spend time on creativity or chores? Okay…this one gets messy (pun intended)! My house unfortunately shows that I much prefer enjoyable hobbies to cleaning or organizing. There is freedom in this routine: if I make a bad choice, it is easy to get back on track for self-care with the next decision I make, or the next one after that.

Next Steps, Barefoot, Grass

The point is that improving self-development and personal wellness practices is most effective by focusing on taking small, incremental steps in a few areas at a time. Currently, I try to walk for local errands. I choose to spend time outdoors every day—noticing beauty and savoring the changing seasons. And I focus on looking for God in the mundane details of daily living. Hopefully, as I become more consistent in these small life changes, they will eventually become epic transformations!

(Read about how “Ta-Dah” lists are changing my life HERE. Find 7 suggested ways to add calm to your life HERE.)

Epic Road Trip — By the Numbers

I wonder if you are like me—quickly bored with a blow-by-blow account of someone else’s trip? On the other hand, I like to see quick summaries which often demonstrate just how epic the adventure really was. With this in mind, I’ve put together an infographic which will hopefully give you details about our most recent road trip without boring you! (Making the chart was new territory for me—a mini-adventure in its own way. But that’s a different story…)

 

20 days of travel, trip details

Feel free to ignore the rest of this post if the summary was enough. Just in case you are a detail person, here is a bit more info about our Road Trip. If you want links to specific places, please ask via comments! I’m happy to share more in-depth reviews for those who want them.

PARKS WE VISITED:

8 NATIONAL PARK SITES included Badlands National Park, Devils Tower National Monument, Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site, Glacier National Park, Fort Union National Historic Site, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and Pipestone National Monument. As usual, daughter added to her collection of Jr. Ranger Badges. Andowen liked Knife River the best because it had an earth lodge to explore instead of tepees.

2 CANADIAN NATIONAL PARKS (adjacent to each other) included lakes, canyons, and mountain views in Banff National Park plus Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park (technically in British Columbia, a second province). I love spending time in mountains anywhere…but the Canadian Rockies are the most stunning with steep mountains reflected in turquoise blue glacial lakes.

2 STATE PARKS included a simple overnight in Stone State Park in Iowa (the stone cabin was cheaper than a hotel) and a few hours exploring Ft. Mandan State Park in ND. Having read many books about the Lewis & Clark expedition, it was interesting to actually walk through the recreation of the fort where they wintered along the Missouri River.

1 WORLD HERITAGE SITE: I had Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump on my don’t-miss-this list years ago when we wandered the West in an RV. But my family rebelled at the thought of yet one more museum. I didn’t allow any arguments on this trip! The site has an excellent museum with a gripping movie to explain what one sees in the outdoor landscape. Yes, it was worth exploring the grounds—even on a cold, windy, rainy day!

TRIP DETAILS: The main goal of this trip was to attend our son’s graduation from Carroll College in Helena, MT. But when someone lets me get behind the wheel, it never remains a simple drive from point A to point B and back again. We ended up taking 20 days to wander a large circle, visiting places, and friends/family along the way. When I added up everything, we drove more than 5,625 miles in 20 days. We visited (or drove through) 10 States in the United States including OH, IN, IL, IA, SD, WY, MT, ND, MN, NE. We spent a few days in Alberta, Canada. (We also entered British Columbia for an hour or so…I didn’t count that in the stats.)

PLACES WE SLEPT: We always enjoy staying with family and friends when that is possible. THANKS for excellent hospitality from those we visited on this trip! We chose to stay in a hotel for the days surrounding son’s graduation. Logistics for a larger group of family was easier that way. In Canada, we stayed at a hotel with an indoor pool to keep daughter entertained (under Grandma’s supervision) while I spent some one-on-one time with a good friend. (Plus, it was COLD at night in Alberta in May…)  I initially planned that on most other nights we would be tent camping. Unfortunately costs ballooned because I wimped-out and paid for extra nights under a roof to avoid freezing temps and heavy rains. On a whim, we spent one night in a stone camping cabin at a state park in IA—great choice! It both saved money and was a pretty place to stay. And, of course, we spent one night in a tepee campground near Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. (You can read more about that mini-adventure HERE.)

WHAT WE ATE: We frequently bought food from grocery stores—ready-made wraps and salads, or fixings for sandwiches and snacks. This was both cheaper and healthier than a diet of eating-out. We fed my caffeine addiction at 6 different local coffee shops. Honestly, the drinks are similar everywhere—but seeing the different settings and talking with local folks is always enjoyable. We ate at 3 nice restaurants—a restaurant with unique pizza options to celebrate son’s graduation (MacKenzie River Pizza & Pub) , a fancy restaurant with views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains with our good friends in Canmore (Murieta’s), and a simple restaurant with amazing omelets and salads with a cousin in Omaha (Summer Kitchen Café). Of course, we grabbed fast food from gas stations and chains occasionally. And Grandma buys herself a Mocha Frappe from McD’s when she is travelling—being on the road for 20 days caused a dilemma of deciding how often to indulge!

For more photos of our adventure, check out a recent post HERE. Another post about the Epic Road Trip can be found HERE.

Tepee Dreams

Have you ever dreamed of sleeping in a tepee? For many of us, tepees and Indians on horseback were one of the mythic stories from our childhood. In the past six months, daughter A and I have had the opportunity to sleep in a tepee not just once but twice!

Tipi, Tepee, Teepee

The first time we were in a tepee was in the backyard of Woodchuck Hiker Hostel in Damascus, VA. (More details HERE ) On our recent Epic Road Trip, we stayed at the Devils Tower Tipi Camping near the National Monument inWY. (More details HERE ) At both locations, we enjoyed wandering the surrounding areas. Damascus, VA is a friendly small town with restaurants, outfitters, parks, and a little library. At Devils Tower I explored their private land, ending up on a point with deep, red-rocked canyons falling away on each side and the Devils Tower rock formation floating on the horizon in front of me.

Devils Tower National Monument

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:

Sleeping in a Tepee is a form of primitive camping…not a hotel or “glamping.” Although tepees bring feelings of romance and adventure, there is nothing glamorous about sleeping on the ground in a structure with no screens, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity. The Devils Tower Tipi Camping location includes a small table, a bench out front, a propane stove and lantern, and filtered water. For an extra fee, the owner will set up a mattress and nice bedding inside the tepee. Otherwise, it is typical to provide your own camping gear bedding. For us, a tepee is a special treat since it is much fancier and larger than our tiny backpacking tent.

Primitive Camping, Tipi, Teepee, Tepee

If it rains, when you sleep in a Tepee everything will get damp. Unlike a cabin, a tepee lacks a shingled roof to keep out the rain. Unlike a tent, a tepee has no rainfly. There is a hole in the roof to let out the smoke from the traditional fire in the center of the tepee floor. If big storms are coming, there is some protection by adjusting the high flaps. Even if no rain falls directly into the tepee, the moisture in the air makes your bedding and clothes feel damp. Yes, this was a worry for me. On the other hand, I loved the art and symmetry of looking up to the roof peak!

tipi, teepee, tepee, vent, poles

If the forecast predicts a cold night, bundle up! Because tourist tepees have no fire in the middle of the floor or electricity for a heater, when it gets cold outside, you need to have proper gear to stay warm. We used our sleeping pads (insulation from the cold ground), plus sleeping bags rated to 20 degrees, plus layers of sleeping clothes. This is the same thing we do on cold nights in our tent. The biggest difference is that a tepee is too large of an area for your body heat to keep it warm through the night. The tepee in Damascus had double-walls which add to the insulation value of the structure. 

tipi, teepee, tepee, floor sleeping, canvas walls

Figure out how to adjust the tepee to deal with various weather conditions. As mentioned above, if it is cold, close the top vent and hope that there are double canvas walls. If it is rainy, close the top flaps. If it is extremely hot, open the vent at the top of the tepee and roll up the side walls to leave a gap at the bottom of the walls. This flexibility is an advantage of both tents and tepees in contrast to staying in a cabin.

tipi, teepee, tepee

And one bonus only found when sleeping in a tepee: We enjoy waking up in the mornings in a tent, with sunlight glowing through the walls and hearing birds singing. Some tepees add another layer of magic. When there are pictures and animals painted on the outside walls, the bright sun makes it appear like the images are watching over us as we wake up. And going to sleep with others still sitting around a campfire outside, makes the ghostly images “dance” on the tepee walls. I’ve thought about painting a few animals on our backpacking tent…if only I could figure out how to do that without risking damage to the waterproofing!

tipi, teepee, tepee, wall paintings

In our wandering, we have discovered other structures that would be interesting to spend some time in. Someday I hope to stay in a yurt…and a treehouse…and even an earth lodge.

mandan, knife river nhs

Have you ever slept in an unusual structure? I would love to hear about your experience! Please share in the comments below…

Shhh! (Privacy Policy)

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privacy policy, shhh

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Sincerely, Jill Emmelhainz/The Big Epic

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