The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Wandering (page 1 of 2)

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.

What a Wildly Wonderful World!

On our Epic Road-trip, we have enjoyed seeing the poetry of the Psalms illustrated as we travel through this Wildly Wonderful World! Here are some examples from our wanderings:

God, my God, how great you are! Beautifully, gloriously robed, Dressed up in sunshine, and all heaven stretched out for your tent.

banff, canadian rockies, wonderful world

You built your palace on the ocean deeps, made a chariot out of clouds and took off on wind-wings. You commandeered winds as messengers, appointed fire and flame as ambassadors.

Prairie, Lone Tree, Devils Tower Tipi Camping

You set earth on a firm foundation so that nothing can shake it, ever. You blanketed earth with ocean, covered the mountains with deep waters; Then you roared and the water ran away—your thunder crash put it to flight.

Banff, Lake Minnewanka, Mountain Reflection

Mountains pushed up, valleys spread out in the places you assigned them. You set boundaries between earth and sea; never again will earth be flooded.

Grant Kohrs Ranch NHS, Pasture, Mountains

You started the springs and rivers, sent them flowing among the hills.

Glacier NP, stream

All the wild animals now drink their fill, wild donkeys quench their thirst. Along the riverbanks the birds build nests, ravens make their voices heard.

Glacier NP, riverbank

You water the mountains from your heavenly cisterns; earth is supplied with plenty of water.

Banff, Johnston Canyon, Waterfall, Rainbow

You make grass grow for the livestock, hay for the animals that plow the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt NP, Bison

Oh yes, God brings grain from the land, wine to make people happy, Their faces glowing with health, a people well-fed and hearty.

Happy Friends

God’s trees are well-watered—the Lebanon cedars he planted. Birds build their nests in those trees; look—the stork at home in the treetop.

Hiking Trail, Glacier NP, tall trees

Mountain goats climb about the cliffs; badgers burrow among the rocks.

Badlands NP, Big-horn Sheep

The moon keeps track of the seasons, the sun is in charge of each day. When it’s dark and night takes over, all the forest creatures come out. The young lions roar for their prey, clamoring to God for their supper. When the sun comes up, they vanish, lazily stretched out in their dens.

Devils Tower Tipi Camping, Sunset

Meanwhile, men and women go out to work, busy at their jobs until evening.

Ft Union Trading Post NHS, fur trader

What a wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at your side, made earth overflow with your wonderful creations.

Devils Tower NM, red rock canyons

Oh look, the deep, wide sea brimming with fish past counting, sardines and sharks and salmon. Ship plow those waters, and Leviathan, your pet dragon, romps in them.

Badlands NP, sea bed, ancient ocean floor

All the creatures look expectantly to you to give them their meals on time. You come, and they gather around; you open your hand and they eat from it.

Devils Tower NM, prairie dog town

 

If you turned your back, they’d die in a minute—Take back your Spirit and they die, revert to original mud; Send out your Spirit and they spring to life—the whole countryside in bloom and blossom.

Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, flowers on prairie

The glory of God—let it last forever! Let God enjoy his creation! (Ps 104: 1-31)

Banff, Canadian Rockies, Castle Rock

You can see more poetry illustrated by photos from our wanderings through this Wildly Wonderful World by clicking HERE or HERE

 

 

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

Let’s Run Away with the Tiny-Mes!

(If you are new and haven’t yet met our Tiny-Mes, read their introduction HERE.)

The Tiny-Mes apparently don’t like dreary, gray Ohio winters. (Hmmm…just like us!) They disappeared not long after we finished our fall backpacking trip. Winter doesn’t want to let go around here, but the Tiny-Mes showed up recently, just in time to help plan our next adventures. (I asked where they had been. All they said was “someplace sunny!” They won’t say if it was snowy sun or sunning on a beach. Either way, we are glad to see them again!)

At the first hint of spring, we start dreaming and planning. So many possibilities! So many directions we could go! So many people we could reconnect with! All of us love to study maps…

This year it looks like we will make an Epic Road Trip to son’s graduation in Montana. The Tiny-Mes had to get passports—we are headed into Canada to explore the mountains! Plus there will be a summer Appalachian Trail (AT) adventure in Vermont with a friend or two. And possibly, another fall trip to TN to fill in a section of the AT that we missed last year.

Now that we have a general plan, it is time to get out the guide books, the maps, and the computer. I’m sure I’ve told you before (HERE and HERE) how much I love making detailed plans and itineraries! As always, I have to cut out about half of what we dream of doing.  Hubby encourages our wanderings…but wants us back home sometimes! HA!

Next, it’s time to pull out all our gear from the storage closet. We check to see that everything is clean and in good repair. We figure out what needs replaced or what we hope to upgrade. The Tiny-Mes decided try out a hammock this year. They say it will be the perfect piece of gear for a road trip.

We can’t wait to get back to the Great Outdoors! We love wandering and exploring new places. And we look forward to sharing more stories with you. May can’t come soon enough…

The Tiny-Mes urge you to consider sponsoring my upcoming training to become a Forest Therapy Guide. YOU could win the drawing on May 7th to have your own personalized Tiny-Me join us on our summer backpacking trip! Wouldn’t it be fun to vicariously adventure with us? Find out how to support me HERE. Get the details about the drawing HERE (scroll down to $57 level).


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?

“The Peace of Wild Things”

Last week, we were living a favorite poem by Wendell Berry. We always enjoy the peace of walking in nature along the Appalachian Trail.

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, head to the woods_seek peace

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. AT hiker_into the woods

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. wild ponies_AT_Grayson HIghlands

I come into the presence of still water. AT_Laurel River_Still Water

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. AT sunset

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” AT_mountain ranges

Wand’rin’ Star

“Not all who wander are lost” — JRR Tolkein

In case you haven’t noticed, I am a Wanderer. Sometimes I can fake “normal” and stay in one place for months at a time. But then the compulsion hits and off I go.  Even a houseful of kids never stopped me: traveling with a large family just meant more logistics for this queen-of-lists to organize.

Going on adventures has always been a guilty-pleasure. I love the planning and the going. I enjoy the coming home. It seems so reasonable…at least to me! But each return brings questions from family and friends: “When will you stay put?” “Did you get that out of your system this time?” “Why can’t you be stable and put down roots like everyone else?” I laugh about being a “free-spirit.” I joke that others need to look outside-the-box. But deep inside, these comments continued to erode my confidence. Obviously, there was something wrong with me. Surely I would “grow up” someday and be content where I was planted. the mountains are calling

There were times I wondered if I harmed my kids by doing so much schooling on the road. (Others certainly thought so…) Sometimes I imagined how my husband’s life would have been different if he had married someone who was more consistent and bound by routines. (Time after time family questioned how I could leave him home alone while the kids and I traveled…) I tried. Really, I did! But then the next adventure called to me; the next location pulled my heartstrings. I had to go, wandering again and again. AT trails

This summer, in an attempt to continue being outdoors as much as possible, youngest Daughter and I lived in an RV at a campgrounds close to a small town. We fell in love with the people and the places around town. We were welcomed and invited to dive deeper into relationships. We began to put down tentative roots. It felt right, but there was a feeling of grief as well. What would these new friends say when they discovered my broken urge to wander? RV travels

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some aha!-moments. Hubby sent me a link to a song and affirmed that I really was born under a wanderin’ star (and implied that this was okay…) See video clip HERE

Last week, I commented to the pastor of the new church we are attending (in the small town we love) that it felt like we are putting down some roots. And maybe I would finally stop running. He firmly told me that there is nothing wrong with wandering. It is a gift and a privilege that so many never experience. A few days later, Daughter’s psychologist affirmed the same idea, telling Daughter that it is a privilege that she gets to wander with her mother. Every time I remembered these words, I cried. Maybe I wasn’t broken after all. Maybe this urge to wander IS “normal”…at least for me. texas river walking

And then…while I was pondering how to celebrate my wandering spirit, an artist friend posted a painting for sale. I’ve wanted to buy something from this artist for quite a while, but couldn’t decide if I wanted a mountain scene, a view of red mesas from Navajoland, or a southwestern landscape. See Sharon Baker’s art HERE. When I saw the title of this particular painting, I just KNEW this was “my” painting. It is called “Wandering Star” and was painted many years ago in response to the same song my husband sent to me. I will hang this painting with great pride in my home, to remind me who I am… Painting by SKay Art

I’m no longer lost. I am a WANDERER!

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