The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: travel

How NATURE GIRL Survives the Big City

Too many people, too much noise, no quiet to be found… Visiting the Big City can be completely overwhelming, sending anxiety higher than the looming skyscrapers. And when you are “Nature Girl,” how in the world do you survive a week of chaos?

Andowen has been begging to visit New York City for a few years now. Some of her favorite books and movies have connections to that place. She was thrilled to find the (imaginary) sites she wanted to see. And both of us agree that we are in no hurry to return to the hustle and bustle of that metropolis. As I have explained HERE and HERE, our daughter needs extended time in nature to find balance in life. Even I was overwhelmed as we braved the chaos. We were in desperate need of some Forest Therapy!

Fortunately for both of us, we discovered that there are bits of Nature to be found, even in a Big City. We reminded each other to use our senses to connect to the non-human world:

  • We noticed Nature’s colors and changing light. Big City sunset, skyline, NYC
  • We listened for flowing water, found in tiny parks. Rocky Fountain, Pocket Park, Big City, NYC
  • We enjoyed the wind and waves on our ferry rides in and out of the Big City. NYC ferries, Hudson River
  • Rather than getting frustrated at a long wait for the ferry to load and unload (we were continuing on to the next stop), we focused on the dance of the seagulls playing in the wind. Statue of Liberty, NYC, play on the wind

Once our stress levels were lower, we began to notice that New York City is filled with quiet corners and tiny places to savor Nature. Here are a few of our favorite discoveries:

  • At the World Trade Center memorial, the story of the Survivor Tree reminded us of the healing power of Nature—both for itself, and for grieving people. the Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYCthe Survivor Tree, WTC memorial, NYC
  • We found tiny courtyards with gardens and benches, a peaceful haven for weary walkers (often hidden beside churches). Big City pocket parks, church peace
  • If you go to NYC, don’t miss walking “The Highline”—an unused elevated train track converted to a few miles of walking trail complete with gardens, set high above the busy streets. Big City pocket parks, NYC
  • We also found little playgrounds every few blocks, covered by shady trees. I enjoyed sitting on a quiet bench with children’s laughter and chatter covering the noise of traffic. Andowen was excited to find her favorite “spinners” to play on. Big City playground, NYC

These were some of the ways we found connections with Nature to help us survive a visit to the Big City. I’m curious how YOU thrive in a busy place—whether vacationing or living there?

My 7 Favorite Adventures

What’s your favorite dinosaur? Class in school? Comfort food recipe? Where and when were your favorite adventures? Who’s the best band? Professor? Relative? We grow up being asked to pick favorites in most areas of life. Most often our lists change over time. But there are usually a few items that stay near the top, cherished for a lifetime.

With my love of wandering and my quest for “Big Epics” (read more about Big Epics HERE), it seems appropriate that I share the locations of my 7 favorite adventures with you. These are places I return to over and over—in person or in my dreams. (This list of places I have visited at least twice came together quickly, but it is presented in chronological order of when I first traveled to each location. There would have been days of dithering and second guessing if I had to actually rank my choices!)

Mammoth Cave National Park, KY – I love the coolness and the quiet of being deep underground. (I know, I know…many folks HATE being in a cave. Humor me!) As one of the longest cave systems in the world, there are a wide variety of tours at Mammoth Cave. I’ve been on most of them over the years. My favorite was going on the “Wild Cave Tour” when I was 16. “Exploring” the cave by headlamp and crawling through holes and narrow canyons was my first taste of big adventure. Even better was taking my young adult kids to the park for them to go on the same tour decades later. On my bucket list with this site is returning to go on the newly re-opened boat tour at the lower levels of the cave! (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )

Big Epic Adventure, Favorite Adventures, KYHistoric Entrance, Kentucky

Killington Ski Resort VT – I was in middle school when we first went to Killington for Spring Break. It was a drivable distance from Ohio to this large ski area, which allowed my family to vacation here year after year. Trips became sporadic as my sisters and I grew up, went to college, and started our own families. Occasionally, we 3 generations gathered to enjoy the same runs. This place tops the list of favorite adventures for most of our family members. There is a possibility that we might manage to return in 2020 for a week of skiing with FOUR generations! You will certainly read about it if we pull that off. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )  

Snow Skiing, Spring Skiing, Killington VTKillington Ski Resort, VT

Mayan Ruins in Yucatan, Mexico – I first spent a summer in the Yucatan when I was in high school. There is amazing scope for imagination here—remnants of a great civilization, daydreams of actually experiencing that culture, and adventure stories of archeologists rediscovering the ruins and eventually deciphering the language carved in stone. We returned as a family in 2002, when our youngest daughter was just a baby. Someday I would love to explore the Mayan ruins found in Guatamala and Belize. (More info about the famous ruins at Chicheen Itza HERE. The less crowded sites are even more magical to visit…)

Mayan Ruins, Yucatan Penninsula

Hadrian’s Wall across N Yorkshire, England – I admit it, I’m a history geek. Which made this site a stunning adventure. Imagine—a wall built millennia ago by the Romans is not just still standing…but you can actually WALK on it! The wall was not particularly effective at keeping the barbarian outsiders of northern England out of the civilized settlements. But it remains an amazing monument to a long-gone civilization’s determination and organization. I have visited small areas of Hadrian’s Wall twice—with a different daughter each time. I dream of walking the length of the wall with youngest daughter someday. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)

Roman Ruins, N Yorkshire, History Geek

Banff National Parque, Alberta, Canada – I love mountains of any size and shape. But my very favorite mountains (so far) are the Canadian Rockies. Steep mountains with snow caps surrounding brilliant turquoise blue glacial lakes—stunning! We spent time here during our nine months of wandering in an RV. And we returned on our road trip a few months ago when we visited a dear friend who now lives in this beautiful location. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE. The first photo is at iconic Lake Louise. The recent photo is at Lake Minnewanka.) 

Banff National Parque, Canadian RockiesBanff National Parque, Canadian Rockies

Chaco Culture National Historic Site, NM – Scattered across the high desert of New Mexico are ruins of another great civilization. Chaco Canyon receives few visitors because it is in the middle of nowhere and is only accessible by 20 miles of dirt roads. Because of the low volume of guests, people are allowed to wander unaccompanied through the ruins. This is another location with great scope for imagination as we walk through doorways and peek through windows to see the same scenery enjoyed by the Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) 600 years ago. Because we lived nearby for three years, we had the privilege of seeing this site in different seasons, changing light, and varied weather. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)

Chaco Canyon, Anasazi RuinsChaco Canyon, Anasazi Ruins

The Appalachian Trail (GA to ME) – As I have described elsewhere on this blog, since I was a teen I have dreamed of taking extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. To me, this is the very definition of a “Big Epic.” Youngest Daughter and I have completed over 500 miles of the 2200 mile-long path through the woods and up and down the mountains of the Eastern USA. We plan another trip for later this fall. I don’t know if we will ever complete the entire trail—but we are having fun along the way! (More info about this Favorite Adventure—at the official site HERE and our reasons for heading to the woods HERE.)

first big epic, section hiking, ATWhite blazes, AT, foggy day

(Why did I choose to list SEVEN Favorite Adventure Locations? Because that’s my favorite number! I talk more about that on my Go-Fund-Me page. Please take a moment to read HERE about how you can help me reach my goal of becoming a Certified Forest Therapy Guide to help other folks fall in love with being outdoors and connecting with Nature. Read about my love of the number 7 on the Rewards for Donors page HERE.)

BONUS: WHALE WATCHING (There are many places to do this. We enjoyed Kenai Fjords National Park, AK – Walking to (and tasting!) ancient glaciers. Taking a boat tour along the mountainous coast and seeing amazing wildlife, including WHALES. Exploring the history of the region. What’s not to love about visiting this park? Someday I dream of returning to Alaska to revisit my Favorite Adventures in that wild land. And I would be happy to go on Whale Watch Tours in other locations as well. (More info about this National Park HERE )

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, Favorite AdventuresExit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

I would LOVE to hear about YOUR Favorite Adventures. Please leave me a comment below…

Junior Ranger Challenge

Hop in the car and head to the nearest National Park. Sounds like a good vacation outing to me. But far too often, this simple activity is met by complaining from the back seats: “Do we HAVE to…?” “This will be BOring…” Turn down the whines and help your kids look forward to what they can “Explore, Learn and Protect!” by getting involved in the Junior Ranger program at more than 400 National Park sites.

Our family discovered this fabulous hands-on challenge when we wandered the western USA in an RV nine years ago. Daughter completed the information scavenger hunt, earned her first badge and was sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Arches National Park when she was just seven years old. (As a paparazzi extraordinaire, I must confess that somehow I have no photos of this momentous occasion. In my defense, I had no idea that this would be more than a one-time entertainment.)

nps, hiking, southwest USA

The quest for ever more badges has continued. Wherever we go, we look for National Park sites along the way for daughter to add to her collection. She started adding the replica badges to a lanyard. Then we bought her a vest to show off her collection. Eventually, she had so many badges that she made a wall hanging to display all of them. This past weekend, she earned badge #100 at the Statue of Liberty! Woohoo! Way to Go, Andowen!

earn badges, nps

nps, statue of liberty, collection

Originally this program was targeted to children ages 7-13 years old. There has been enough interest that anyone of any age is now allowed to become a Junior Ranger at each location. Let’s walk through the process together:

  • Pick Your Park to Visit—Whenever we drive somewhere, I check the list of parks at nps.gov to see where we could stop along the way.
    nps, travel itinerary
  • Go to the Desk at the Visitor Center and ask for a Junior Ranger Book—Complete the required number of activities. It is perfectly acceptable for family members to help. (In the process, we often learn more than our daughter does!) Because we consider these activities to be part of our homeschooling curriculum, we insist that the entire book must be finished, in the car if not at the park itself. (You can read more HERE about how we include travel activities as part of school.)
    family, homeschoolingearn badges, nps
  • Many Different Activities Help Complete the Booklet—Watch the park movie. Take a tour. Explore the plants and animals outdoors. Write poetry or draw pictures. Go on an information scavenger hunt in the museum. Interview a Ranger.
    National Park Service, Visitor Centernps, explore naturenps, displays, scavenger hunt
  • Take the Booklet Back to a Ranger—At minimum, he will check to see you have fulfilled the requirements. Sometimes, she will discuss what you have written or explore what you have learned. A few of the rangers have taken time to encourage our daughter to imagine how she might get involved with the National Park Service as a career. Junior Ranger, Ft Davis, npsJunior Ranger, nps, valley forge
  • Raise Your Right Hand and Be Sworn in as a Junior Ranger—promising to continue to explore National Parks, do one’s best to protect the parks, and share what is learned with family and friends. Then shake hands with the ranger and accept your new badge. nps, raise your right hand, biscayne bay
  • Add the Badge to Your Collection—In our family, that means adding a few pages to yet another scrapbook as well as pinning the latest badge or patch to the custom wall hanging. nps, junior ranger, collection

BONUS: Here are links to my daughter’s favorite National Park Sites that we have visited (so far).

Read more about Chaco Culture National Historic Site (in New Mexico) HERE. Andowen has many happy memories of this park since we lived near it for three years and visited often. nps, junior ranger

Read more about Craters of the Moon National Monument (in Idaho) HERE. This was one of the most desolate yet fascinating sites we have seen. nps, junior ranger

Read more about Kenai Fjords National Park (in Alaska) HERE. Andowen enjoyed tasting a bit of ice from Exit Glacier. And she was completely WOWED by seeing orcas and a whale fluke on the boat tour! nps, junior ranger, awe, excitement, whale watch

We would love to hear from you—what is YOUR favorite National Park to visit?

10 Things to Do for a Great Vacation

When you go on your next adventure, avoid the” woulda, coulda, shoulda” regrets of missed opportunities. Plan ahead to make sure you soak up all the best sounds, sights and activities. If you are like me, take this list along with you so you don’t get too busy and forget these little details that will turn your next trip into a great vacation.

ACTIVITIES:

1 – Say “YES” to unexpected opportunity: Be flexible enough to make a quick change of plans when you find something fun, intriguing, or exciting to do. Make sure you have some extra money in your budget to fund a few extras. On one family trip, we shared the cost of renting jet-skis for an afternoon. On a day in Paris, daughter Andowen and I took a bike taxi ride. Both are memories we still cherish!

unexpected fun, explore, great vacation activities

2 – Talk to a local: Strike up a conversation with a local shopkeeper or another mom at the playground. Folks are often quite proud to be asked for advice. You might find the perfect romantic restaurant or family-friendly café. There is probably a hidden gem of a park or waterfall or swimming hole nearby. (Time in Nature *is* important, ya know… HA!) On our current road trip, I stopped to get a haircut. The barber and his next customer animatedly urged us to explore a nearby nature preserve. We are still talking about the giant eagle nests topping the line of power poles and the great heron spearing his fishy lunch in the marsh.

3 – Find a local market or shop to explore: Avoid chains and big-box stores. It’s far more fun to discover little treasures and one-of-a-kind things at a local emporium. Even better is a store with sky-high prices—an opportunity to window-shop. You can ooh and aah without being tempted to buy anything. Take time to chat with the owner or store-clerk, if possible. They often have interesting stories to tell—about the merchandise, about the local area, or about their own life story. Little details like this can turn a ho-hum trip into a great vacation!

shop local, gift store

4 – Try something outside your comfort zone: Why in the world would I suggest you be uncomfortable (or even terrified) on your next vacation? Because when we are stretched, we learn more about ourselves. So try that zip-line or take a jeep tour. Taste the local food. Hike the mountain above town. Figure out what types of adventures you enjoy and which things you never want to do again!

THINGS:

5 – Find/Buy a meaningful memento: Sure, that stuffed animal is adorable. And that T-shirt has a hilarious saying. But do you really have a place for that quirky candle-holder or colorful poster? Is there empty space in your cupboard for yet one more mug or wine glass? Consider starting a collection of something small instead. Going on a hunt for the perfect spoon or earrings or magnet can become an enjoyable tradition. And each time you glance at your collection back home, you will be reminded of the wonderful adventures you have had.

frig magnets, great vacation mementos

6 – Snap the photos you have missed: Sometimes I remember to make a list of specific photos I don’t want to forget. I know myself—without a reminder, I will take far too many photos of beautiful scenery and architectural details, and far too few pictures of people and quiet moments. Because of my list, on this current trip I have taken more photos of the friends we have visited, the shops we have wandered, and the made-up adventures of the Tiny-Mes (our Lego travelling companions). Snap a quick picture of the sign at a yummy café or a quirky shop. Capture the treasures you find to remember details of your great vacation when you get back home.

7 – Send a postcard to someone special: Grandma would love to hear from you (and so would Mom…trust me!) Share the fun with the person who cheers you on in your adventures. Find a historic photo to send to your favorite history geek. (okay, okay…so I keep these for myself…) Tip: tacky-tourist stores or museum gift shops are often the best places to purchase postcards. Unfortunately, postcards are becoming harder to find!

snail mail, paper ephemera, great vacation memories

MEMORIES:

8 – Savor: Take time to soak in the atmosphere of the place you are visiting. We best remember things associated with strong emotion: excitement is an easy memory trigger. But noticing with our senses also makes deep connections. Notice the changing light on the buildings. Breathe deeply in a garden or near the spices in an open market. (But you might want to use shallow breathing to lessen the stench of an open meat market!) Pay attention to the background noise around you: music, conversations, footsteps, car horns. Feel the warm sunshine or cool wind on your skin. It might seem like you don’t have time to waste on such things. Actually, you are wasting your time if you don’t savor the uniqueness of your great vacation location!

Ocean spray, big waves, Maine coast

9 – Remember your motivation & objectives for this adventure: Why did you take this vacation? Perhaps it was to rest and recharge from a chaotic daily schedule. Maybe it was to add some excitement to your life. You might have wanted to get away from people…or meet new people and hear new stories. As you remind yourself of the purpose(s) for your trip, is there anything you still need to do to fulfill your own expectations?

10 – Take time to reflect: Consider the things you have most enjoyed about this vacation. Make sure you keep these things in mind for your next trip. Ponder the things that frustrated you. How can you lessen those challenges next time? On our first backpacking trip (You can read about it HERE) daughter and I started a daily practice to write down “our three good things.” We allow ourselves to record just one “bad” thing from each day. This helps us notice the things we enjoy, even on hard days. And it makes an excellent reference when planning future trips. We can choose to include more of the things that make our hearts sing!

memories, 3 good things, great vacation

Most of us take a trip at least once a year. What things can YOU add to this list to help others turn an annual tradition into a great vacation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below…

Travel Buddy for the Tiny-Mes

We are traveling again—this time on a road trip to the Northeast USA. Our Lego Tiny-Mes have, of course, joined us. Here’s the next installment in THEIR adventures. They have a new travel buddy. (If you haven’t yet met our Tiny-Mes, read their introduction HERE.)

While we were busy packing, Tiny-A and Tiny-S insisted we had to stop for a few minutes and meet their new friend. They introduced us to Tiny-Dox (or TD)—an adorable little dachshund. Like most “doxies,” TD is ALWAYS curious. Although he dearly loves his people, he was apparently a bit bored and was looking for new places to explore. They proposed he join us as their special travel buddy.

Doxie, Travel Buddy

We had no interest in taking responsibility for a pet while traveling. After all, we leave our own dog at home. But the Tiny-Mes insisted they would keep a close eye on TD. They pointed out he is well trained and quite obedient…at least MOST of the time! We have apparently become softies because we said, “Okay, Let’s GO!”

Packed Car, Let's Go!

 Our itinerary for this trip includes stops at a number of National Parks and National Historic Sites for Andowen to collect more Jr. Ranger Badges. Tiny-A and Tiny-S enjoyed learning more about the fight for Women’s Rights. “We would have joined the men and women marching for equality for women,” declared the Tiny-Mes.

NPS, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass

 Poor Tiny-Dox. He was awfully bored inside the museum. The movie was too loud. There were no critters to hunt. There were no comfy chairs for dozing. We reminded TD that we couldn’t leave until Andowen earned her badge. “Quick,” he woofed! “I’ll help you finish your workbook. Let’s get out of here!”

NPS, Tiny-Dachshund, workbook

Tiny-Dox much preferred our day-trips to the Atlantic Ocean and the Coast of Maine. The Tiny-Mes pose for a photo on the rocky shores below the Pemaquid Lighthouse. But where is TD going?

Pemaquid Light, Rocky Shore

“Woof,” bellowed Tiny-Dox from a mini-cave in the rocks. “Look what I found! It smells deliciously strong and salty…”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies, Seashell

All that walking in the fresh salt air made everyone hungry. We headed to town, looking for tasty seafood. The Brass Compass Café in Rockland smelled perfect! We could hardly wait for the food to arrive at our table. The plates were mounded with wonderful food: fish and chips, a haddock club sandwich, “chowdah,” and crispy onion straws. YUM!

Brass Compass Cafe, Fried Food, Yummy

Ohhhh, Tiny-Dox! What in the world are you doing? … “Woof!”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies, Seafood Stew

We have spent the past few days with friends in Maine. But we will be camping for most of the nights on this road trip. We all agree that the free camping in a city park beside the Erie Canal was the best (so far). Andowen and I each know our part of the “dance” of putting up our little tent. The Tiny-Mes stayed out of our way, trying to prevent TD from exploring.  Once the tent was set up, Tiny-A and Tiny-S decided to hang out at the little camp.

Macedon Canal Park, Tenting

Tiny-Dox promised to behave if we let him join us on our walk along the canal. Seems like he makes a good travel buddy, after all. He was shocked at how large the gates were for the lock. Even TD was careful not to go over the edge! That would be a long fall…

Tiny-Mes, Lock 30, Macedon Canal Park

As the sun began to set, we headed back to our little orange tent. Time to get ready for bed. But TD wandered off with the Tiny-Mes running to catch him. His powerful nose was teasing him with new smells. He quickly bounded into a hole at the base of a tree. “Come back, Tiny-Dox! The fairies don’t like visitors!”

Tiny Dachshund, Doxies

Tiny-Dox is a good little fella, but far too curious. It’s hard work for the Tiny-Mes to keep their travel buddy out of trouble… Finally, all three Tinies returned to the tent. TD immediately burrowed deep into the sleeping bag. Dachshunds love to find hidey-holes, especially for sleeping. Hmmm…I wonder what mischief Tiny-Dox will get into later in our trip?

To Be Continued…

(Get  more information about the Women’s Rights National Historic Site in Seneca Falls, NY,  HERE. Find more information about the Pemaquid Lighthouse HERE and about the Brass Compass Café in Rockland Maine HERE.)

10 Things to Do Before Leaving on an Adventure

Vacation is about to start and we get weary just looking at all the things we still need to cross off our get-out-of-town To-Do lists. We have to arrange for all of our mundane chores to be covered by someone else while we are gone: feed the dog, water the plants, change the kitty’s litter box, and mow the lawn. Don’t forget to call the bank so they won’t freeze our accounts when we use our cards in new locations. Whew! If you are like me, you can’t imagine adding yet MORE things to that pesky list! But stick with me…taking time to do these 10 simple things will make your adventure much more enjoyable!

  1. Give Yourself SPACE to be Spontaneous – Take another look at your itinerary. Delete a few things (or at least change them to “penciled in,” only-a-possibility status). This allows you to take advantage of unexpected opportunities or wander through a store that looks interesting. Who knows? You might be lucky like we were on our Epic Road Trip. I found my long-lost Scandinavian ancestor in one town. Andowen found a dragon to ride in another store-yard!

serendipity, vacation finds

  1. Plan for DELAYS – Leave extra time in your first day and your last day of the trip. This way if there is a traffic jam on the way to the airport, or flights are delayed, or bus drivers are on strike, you have time to make an alternate plan. It helps to avoid planning activities back-to-back for the same reasons. (Besides…you need time to sit back, relax, and just do nothing occasionally…that gives more energy for finding adventure!)
  2. Don’t Leave Your HOBBIES Behind – Bring a few art supplies (warning: not the entire craft room!) or a favorite card game. Do an internet search to see how you can access your favorite activities at your destination. Perhaps there is a game café, or a model rocket club, or a quilt store to explore. Your fitness club or zoo memberships might be reciprocal. Beyond enjoying an afternoon doing your favorite things, this is also a great way to meet local folks with similar interests to your own.

art supplies, drawing, crafts

  1. Make LISTS (and lists of lists…and a master list of lists…oh wait! Nevermind…that’s my own obsession speaking…HA!) – It helps to have your itinerary written out and a packing list so you don’t forget necessities. (Plus, a packing list helps ensure you bring home all the items you left with.) The fewer things you are trying to keep track of in your brain, the more you can relax and actually enjoy the adventure!
  2. Choose Your RESCUER! – It is always wise to leave your expected itinerary with someone back home. This way, when an alligator swallows your cell phone (so you no longer respond to texts) or you quit posting photos on fb because you have been captured by a Yeti, someone will know where to start looking for you! Oh wait! Hopefully, you have a marvelous time on your adventure with the only unexpected events being happy ones. (But leave that itinerary with someone…just in case!)

trip planning, schedule

  1. LIGHTEN Your Load – The less you have to schlepp around with you, the happier you will be. Trust me on this one! Set out all the things you think you might need on your trip…then put half of it back in the cupboards. (Unless you are a travel guru who has already mastered safe travel with the least amount of “stuff”–in which case, I would love to have you write a guest post to share your packing wisdom.)
  2. You Can (probably) BUY IT There – This is a corollary to the previous suggestion. Unless you are going to Outer Mongolia or Antarctica, there will most likely be a way to purchase any items you forget to bring. My husband assures me this also applies to food—there WILL be grocery stores at our destination. (I’m not yet convinced this is always true—thus we travel with bags of extra food, just in case. Unless I’m backpacking…then I’ve mastered the quick resupply in towns near the trail.)
  3. Switch to Your Holiday WALLET – There is no reason to carry the zillion and one things you usually have in your purse or even in your wallet. Grab your medical insurance card, your ID, and a credit card and stuff it into a Ziploc baggie along with some cash. (Or separate these items into a few different bags and hide them in seperate dark recesses of your bags.) You won’t need your library card, your local coffee shop punch-card, or your craft store discount card. Really!

ziploc bag

  1. DETOX the Frig – For years after we were married, I was grumpy with my husband when he insisted we had to sweep the floors, clean the toilets, and empty the trash before we could leave on a trip. But it is certainly enjoyable to walk back into a clean, fresh-smelling house when we get home from a long trip! (Shhh! Don’t tell him I admitted he is right…)
  2. Make a Final LIBRARY Run – Perhaps you don’t have a pile of books to return. Maybe you don’t “need” a few rom-com fluff books for the beach. But there are audio books to be loaded on your phone and ebooks to be added to your kindle. I’ve been told library accounts are free. Now if I could just get organized enough to avoid the fines!

library books, reading list

Make sure your tickets and ID are in hand and there is gas in the car. Lock the doors behind you. And ENJOY your adventure!

(Read about my Wandering Spirit HERE. See my tips for planning your own adventure HERE.)

Find the History…

So you can’t get time off work for the next few months. Or you’ve already used up all your vacation days for the year. What in the world can you do in your boring corner of the world? Try going on a History SCAVENGER HUNT!

Some places are obvious: the restored train depot beside the tracks, the fancy mansions hiding behind wrought iron fences. The factory ruins turned into event center at the local park.

Historic Station, Train Tracks

gothic style, wrought iron fence

Ariel Park, renovation, factory re-used

GATHER INFORMATION: Find the stories that go with the obviously old buildings in town. But also look for hidden treasure! Do a quick internet search for the history of your town. Stop by your local tourist information center to ask about maps of local landmarks or walking tours. Talk to the old-timers in your neighborhood. They often have stories to tell about long-ago businesses or events in your area. Even the gift shop or local book store might have clues—found in the books and post cards they sell.

GO FOR A WALK: The best way to discover local history is to walk. At the slower pace, you will notice cornerstones, dates on buildings, and signs describing historic events. (We found out that the county office building used to be the local hospital. Even some of the old-timers didn’t know that tidbit of information!) Talk to folks as you pass by. Workers explained the reason for the swampy low spot near one house—it used to be flooded and frozen in the winter to harvest ice blocks to be stored and used year round. Another family proudly told us about the blocked off passageway in their basement—possibly remnants of a stop to help protect runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.

Mercy Hospital

Historic Block Ice Field

escape tunnel, underground railroad, local history

WANDER THE SIDE STREETS: Pay close attention to what might be around the next corner! There will most certainly be hidden gardens and quirky architectural details. But you never know what other treasures you might discover. We found a colony of gnome-homes in our little town. But that’s another story for another day…

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!

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…

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