The Big Epic

Connect with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Travel (page 2 of 2)

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…

On the Road Again… an epic road trip

On the road again, Goin’ places that I’ve never been, Seein’ things that I may never see again, And I can’t wait to get on the road again” – Willie Nelson

Daughter and I have gone a-wandering again. This month’s adventure is a three week long Epic Road Trip through the West. The specific event is attending our son’s graduation from university in Montana. But, you know, once we head out the door it takes a while to wander our way back home again! (I write about being born under a Wand’rin’ Star HERE.) There are so many places to explore and people to see…

True Confessions: when I’m not limited to what I can carry on my back in a pack, the luggage area fills up with all sorts of things we might *need* for a wandering road trip: tents, sleeping bags/pads, cots, stove for hot water and plenty of food, things to read, cold weather gear, and “only” 5 outfits (changing clothes every day until the next laundromat? Decadent!) Of course, we threw in our swim suits, just in case. (Read about my mom’s rules for travel HERE.) So much for simple living! I assure you, however, I DID leave the dog and the kitchen sink at home…really!

True Companions: My mom will wander with us for all three weeks. My middle daughter has joined us for the first 4 days of our road trip to Montana. I’m so glad we continue to make memories of adventures and misadventures together! (I’ve written about some of the places our family’s women wander HERE.) Our travels are fueled by plenty of caffeine and lots of conversation. (I’ve heard rumors of hours of silence when kids travel with my hubby…but I’m certain that *must* be in some strange alternate universe. HA!)

caffeine fuel, coffee, travel companions

True Story: On even the best planned trips, there are misadventures that are eventually spun into tall tales and campfire yarns. We haven’t had any unexpected happenings…YET. One of the best things about wandering is having epic tales to tell. I will keep you updated on the fun we have on this year’s road trip! (To see the latest photos and stories from our current adventures, “Like” and “Follow” the new Facebook page for The Big Epic found HERE.)

last dinosaur, dinosaur art

One Gray Week–Two Stories (Part 1)

(Last week I had solo adventures in Nature. While wandering, I realized two different stories were playing out at the same time. Today I share the first part…)

Last Monday was a gray day; a dismal, dreary, drizzly day. It was a stay-on-the-couch-with-a-mug-of-coffee sort of day. I used to easily find color-filled activities to turn days like this one upside-down. But after the death of a son ten years ago, I just wanna crawl in a hole on gloomy days.

So I burrowed under the blankets on the couch, feeling sorry for myself. As I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook, I glanced at a friend’s post. Mariah described a very difficult day including a trip to the ER. Then she said “One plus, it’s raining! I love rain!!! It’s calming, slows the world down a bit, and gives you an excuse to stop and enjoy life.” That stopped me in my tracks.

I was alone in the house for 24 hours. That should have been an opportunity for doing things just for me—whether writing, making art, or pampering myself. But instead I was having a pity party. My friend’s words woke me up. I forced myself off the couch and out the door into the rain.

By the time I got to the local park, the rain had turned to mist. I started down the leaf-covered, mud-smeared trail. I noticed this jumble of dead branches. I took a photo since it was a good illustration of my day.

But then, Nature started its healing therapy. When I looked beyond the mess, I noticed a beautiful tree with golden leaves dancing in the breeze. And when I looked more closely into the pile, I discovered the quiet colors of lichens on the bark.

I kept walking, following the sounds of a rushing stream at the bottom of the hilly path. It was invigorating to find that the heavy rain had turned the trail into its own unexpected waterfall.

You can, of course, guess what happened next…mud, slick leaves, flowing water, hillside path… Yep, I slipped and ended up covered with mud! Now, you might guess that would have made my day worse, right? But somehow, I started laughing. That muddy fall turned my day around! I felt alive again, back to my usual “Susie-Sunshine” self.

Later in the week, I had a last-minute opportunity to travel with my middle daughter for a few days in Virginia. While she went to interviews, I was free to explore the area. The dismal, gray weather continued, but I had learned a lesson. Instead of hanging out at a coffee shop, working on writing projects (or feeling sorry for myself), I decided to get outside. I didn’t have energy for a full hike, but found a nearby cave tour. Ahhh… Since I was a little girl, I have always loved being in a cave. Beauty, peaceful quiet, a sense of timelessness… somehow, I fully relax in a cave.

I finished that day by sitting beside a quiet river. This dreary week held an important reminder. Nature brings peace and contentment when I make the effort to get outside!

(You can read the second story HERE…)

Looking for Treasures in the Every Day

I’m sure I’ve told you this before: I like adventure, Big Epic Adventures! But that’s not where most of us live our everyday lives. Realities of money, time, and responsibilities get in the way of wandering. What’s an adventurer to do? Look for treasures while exploring the local surroundings, of course!

“Walk your small town day after day, and you will find treasures along the way!”

Rather than mope around at home, after our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail last fall, Daughter and I made a drastic change. We now WALK whenever possible. For local errands, our car is left behind, looking lonely and abandoned. (Poor car…) We walk to the library. We walk to meet friends. We walk to buy snacks…or fast food. We walk just to walk. We even walk to church…wait, nope, we take the car to church. We don’t want to be all sweaty and grimy by the time we get there. Haha!

Sometimes we walk in the historic shopping district of our small town; oohing and aahing over the treasures in the windows. Most of the time, however, we walk through neighborhoods. We notice little details on porches and around windows. We find tiny parks and pretty landscaping. We are learning to recognize where we are by what we feel under our feet: cobblestone lanes, broken sidewalks, upscale brick walkways, steep hills, flat rail-trails. Author Terry Pratchett describes this way of knowing place: “Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.”

When we slowly walk through town, we notice different things than when we whiz down the main roads in our car, hurrying to check errands off our to-do list. We learn about old buildings: this one was a hospital, that one was a tiny jail. We find out bits of local history: an early airplane engine was made here, civil war debates occurred, now empty land once held thriving factories. Other landmarks have been reclaimed and renovated: a new science center in a warehouse, a party center in a train depot, a walking path on an old railway.

Slowly, surely, we learn our little town through our feet and through the tiny details we see. We add landmarks to our mental map. We add stories to our memories. We have become a new kind of Indiana Jones as we find treasures in the everyday!

“Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and special perception together.” – Rebecca Solnit

Go for a walk in YOUR town. What small treasures do you discover along the way?

Nature Snob

Hi, my name is Jill, and I discriminate against boring views. I’m addicted to changing scenery and epic locations. Do you also belong to this group for recovering Nature-snobs?

I long for the beauty of walking in the mountains. I’m homesick for the brilliant blue skies and the mysterious fog-bound trees found along the Appalachian Trail. At least give me a beach with crashing waves! I hate the flat farm fields and always overcast skies that have surrounded me in Central Ohio. Such a Nature-snob!

It helps that we recently moved to a small town in a hilly county northeast of Columbus. As I explore local parks and wander trails in nearby forests, I am challenged to change my snooty attitude. There truly IS beauty all around me when I look for it! 

“Finding beauty here or there; Finding beauty anywhere!”

The beginning of a new year means it is time to organize the thousands of photos on my computer. This year I found interesting similarities in the views I have captured as I explore Nature-places both “here” in Ohio and “there” on the AT. Take a look… (In the following sets of photographs, the first one is along the AT; the second photo is close to our new home.)

Enjoying early morning light streaming thru the trees:

Noticing farmland shrouded in fog; waiting for the rising sun to bring crisp, clear views of the hills:

Walking along a stream, listening to it burbling and gurgling along its merry way:

Stopping to wonder at the roar of rushing, cascading water falling over boulders:

Looking for small pleasures and tiny bits of beauty:

Reflecting on the beauty of seasonal changes:

Taking time to notice the colors of sunset over nightly shelter:

I’m working hard to stop being a Nature-Snob by “finding beauty anywhere.” What have YOU discovered near you? I would love to see your favorite nature places. Please leave a photo in the comments!

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