Dancing With Wolves

This Christmas Eve we decided to do something a little different: go hang out with wolves.

I’ve been to Howling Woods Farm twice before – once by myself mid-week whilst studying for the Foreign Service Exam (that feels like it was in another life) and needing some pup cuddles, and once for my 30th birthday party. It’s a super special place and if you’re an animal lover in the tri-state area, I highly recommend a visit. Mike has a great story and is super passionate about wolf rescue and education.  Plus, who can beat snuggling with a 120lb wolf?

Lake Champlain Sunshine

I’m trying to crank out a few extra posts per day at the moment, and I have lots of photos to share. There are stories behind each. I realized some I’ve shared to Instagram without much backstory. Here’s a photo of the sun lazily hanging above Lake Champlain in September, and the story behind it.

We went to Burlington to find a house. We were also visiting friends and riding bikes, but we wanted to see if it would be a good fit for us to live. We found the perfect house about 35 minutes outside of downtown Burlington, but neither of us managed to secure a job. I’d been scouring job boards for months with no luck, so we weren’t sure whether this was going to work out for us or not.

We still don’t. I wish I had an update on where we think we’ll end up next, but we don’t (yet).

That said, all adventures enrich our lives. Riding our bikes on the causeway out into the middle of Lake Champlain was beautiful and a reminder that, even when it feels like we’re all alone in the world, we have each other. I took this photo after maybe 15 miles or so of riding one afternoon. We watched the sun set after this and – although we didn’t have answers – we had each other.

Food memories

Another mini mobile post, this time about food.

Every time I travel I try to find a new food to enjoy…or at least sample. This way, months or years and thousands of miles later, I can bring myself right back to a travel memory.

I haven’t made arepas for a while, but arepas with eggs, tomatoes, and onions served with a cup of hot chocolate remind me of Colombia.

Shakshuka brings me back to the shores of the Dead Sea, cooking over a camping stove with my friends.

Most recently, fresh tropical fruit is totally Hawaiian but difficult to find on the east coast. Instead, my gastronomic reminder is a bowl of Bakery on Main maple cranberry nut granola. The host at our Air B&B had a bag waiting for us in the hut and we devoured it like we hadn’t eaten in days. This morning – a humid, misty, gray morning of around 60* – I had a bowl and remembered the misty gray mornings in the open-air hut.

What reminds you of your adventures?

Suggestion to airlines

We’ve returned from Hawaii! Or, as we dubbed it, Hawa-whee! There was so much to do and experience on the Big Island.

 

Since I’m typing this on my phone (to knock out some of those remaining posts), this won’t get too detailed. But I’ll start with the travel. Sometimes a trip isn’t just about the destination, but the journey. Cliche, I know, but I’ve had some adventurous journeys (flat tires in Arizona? Grabbing beers in London en route home from Israel? Meeting Travis in the woods?) that led to good stories.

Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. We had two layovers each way, for a total of about 19hrs travel time. Eek. We flew Delta and I have to give them a huge nod for delivering us on time to every stop – even though our first flight took off 40mins late. Impressive!!

That said, I have one suggestion for airlines in general. Is it possible to have child-friendly and child-free sections on planes? I know first-class already exists, but I’m talking maybe a few rows in economy where you could guarantee you won’t be kicked in the back for 5 hours, or sneezed on, or poked in the arm, or being tripped over by a too-eager kid.

We both experienced some fairly challenging parents on this trip too – the parents were generally worse than the kids. The child who tripped over my backpack was not told by his parents to wait their turn to exit the plane (they were a few rows behind me and as soon as the seatbelt sign went off, he dashed up the aisle). Travis spent hours being kicked by a screaming toddler whose parents completely ignored the child’s behavior. Most infuriating for me was a couple with a sleeping infant. The child was great, but as the parents moved him between one another’s arms, they arranged him with his head lolling over in my direction. I’d been reading the entire flight with the help of my reading light as it was dark. They did not say a word to me, but saw the baby’s face in the light, reached up, and redirected my reading light…into the aisle. Not cool, guys. Seriously, just ask politely first. I would have had no issue accommodating a polite request, but that was totally disrespectful.

So, for the sake of the many types of travelers everywhere, can airlines consider child-friendly and child-free zones? I don’t need the leg room and service in first class, but I would like to be able to read in peace.

 

Thoughts??

One more day in the office

and then we head to the Big Island of Hawaii for ten days. It’s been far too long since I’ve had a big adventure. I have had a tough time focusing in the office this week while daydreaming about living on a volcanic island for the rest of my days.

Wander Lost

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why we travel. I love the thrill of getting on a plane and heading off to some faraway place as much as anyone else, but seeing three VERY DIFFERENT friends post the EXACT SAME photo of the EXACT SAME SPOT in Iceland within the past six months has me wondering: what do we get out of traveling now? If you’ve already seen the photo on Instagram and you followed your friend’s Facebook Live tour while they were there, why do YOU  need to go see it too? Are we really traveling more than generations before us did? I think the media wants us to believe that, and I’m not necessarily saying I disagree, because travel is absolutely easier now than ever before, but it’s also very, VERY different. A century ago, authentic travel might have involved a rickety wooden train somewhere in Europe, or a khaki outfit in the African bush, or a very long boat ride to Australia. Your experiences would live within you, probably in your journal, and perhaps only if you were quite fortunate, in photographs. Your friends couldn’t easily click a button and have the same experience two weeks later, as long as their bank accounts approved.

So why do we do it? We say we’re seeking “authentic” experiences, but those are so few and far between now. Is it REALLY authentic if you’re taking the SAME photo as every other visitor? What was this area like before travelers decided it was a worthy destination? Can the environment support the amount of human traffic now passing through?

These are very real questions. There’s a village in Norway that’s become an Instagram destination that can’t handle how many tourists have recently swarmed in. National parks are full of people who drive in (or drive to the top of the mountain), take the same quick snap of the same spot everyone else does, and hop back in the car – or worse, people who’ve never hiked want to get a picture so badly, they head into the wilderness wildly underprepared. I can’t tell you how many people we encountered last weekend who were lost in Harriman State Park, hiking without food, water, shelter, compass, nor any directional sense whatsoever. We aimed them in the right directions, but the sun was setting fast and they had miles to go. Even extremely remote areas like the Colombian Amazon are becoming top destinations.

And yet, as this happens, we know less and less about the world immediately surrounding us. I’ve lived in my condo for nearly a year and just last month, finally saw the inside of my downstair’s neighbor’s place, when he sheepishly asked if I had jumper cables. I don’t event know his last name. In another country I might be able to ignore a fussy baby at a restaurant because I’m preoccupied with an unfamiliar view outside the window, but at home, I would likely be very frustrated a child was interrupting my nice meal. I can meet people once or twice, befriend them on Facebook, and then not even say hello next time we’re in a group setting together.

What is going on? We go on these epic adventures that, if we’re speaking plainly, really aren’t that epic compared to the travels of generations past. We’re going farther faster, but I’m pretty sure American pioneers are 100% more badass than ANY of us catching a plane in yoga pants these days. And then we come home, and go back to work, and complain about our daily life, and how we wish we could travel all the time, and we’re back in our ruts. We’re more hypermobile than ever before, and that’s not a good thing. Our health is suffering as we sit in front of screens and earn our vacations by straining our eyes and flattening our backsides. We get “inspired” to visit certain destinations because someone else went there first. How about we just spin the globe and go where our fingers land? No, that would be too difficult/too time-consuming/not interesting (or Insta-worthy) enough. So what are we getting from traveling?

Lots more on this topic to come.

Why do you travel?

Mexi-Go

I finished the glass of whisky and clicked over to Google Flights. I knew if I didn’t buy the tickets now, I wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t ask for the time off but I had earned it last year, and I was taking it whether it was approved or not. New York to Cancun, read my confirmation. 1 passenger.

Thus began my birthday trip for my 31st. I didn’t have enough vacation time (nor enough room in my budget) to head to Europe, and I’d read a little bit in one of my travel digests about some small island off the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres. Why not? The price was right – I’d be flying home the day before my actual birthday, but if I counted Arizona as my 30th birthday trip two weeks post, this counted too. I looked up where to stay and found an inexpensive studio apartment with a fridge and microwave right on the beach at Maravilla Caribe (MVC). You couldn’t book online but I sent an email and placed my deposit via Paypal. I could have booked a hotel but I wanted to stay off the beaten path. I also could have tried a hostel – which I still have yet to do – but I didn’t want to indulge in the typical “spring break in Mexico” party scene. I wanted to enjoy my peace and quiet for a few days.

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I also researched how to get around. There was a ferry from Cancun but I’d need to get to the ferry terminal. I could take a cab but they didn’t run from the airport. I could reserve a shuttle but they were more than I wanted to pay. I settled on the most economical – and perhaps sketchiest – option: I would take the bus from the airport. I saved the notes in my phone so I wouldn’t forget.

Arriving in Cancun I was surrounded by typical tourists. I once read less than 25% of the American population holds a passport and something like less than 10% actually use it, so when we meet fellow Americans abroad, we should effectively high-five them at their ability to have made it out of the country at all. I have perhaps a more elitist view, and I wasn’t here to party. I kept my shades on as much as possible to hide my light eyes and spoke no English. I got my bus ticket and went outside in the heat to wait.

I realized I’d forgotten my phone charger cable. I had the charger itself, but not the cable. I travel without a handbag and had forgot to put it in my backpack. Already on the way to Isla Mujeres, I was flashing back to the Amazon: if this “sleepy” island was anything like the remote villages in Colombia, I was screwed. I immediately emailed my hosts at MVC to see if they knew of anywhere on the island I could purchase a cable. Then I boarded the bus and watched a poorly-dubbed American film until we stopped at the taxi stand. The bus had wifi and I was able to link in. Ronda had emailed me back already that she’d put out an APB out on Facebook and had a local tell her there was a store on the island similar to a Walmart that would have the cables. Relieved, I put my phone away and found a taxi. The taxis in Cancun weren’t in as rough shape as the taxis in Brazil and Colombia, but I was still feeling the jungle vibe.

Studies show the human brain remembers every experience it has – that is, everything you’ve experienced in your life leaves an impression in your brain, whether or not you remember, and whether or not you’re able to recall. Studies also show your brain fills in the gaps, and – perhaps most interesting of all – your brain compares all subsequent experiences to a prototype. The first time you experience something real, everything else will relate back to it. For me, my first major trip outside the country was to the Amazon, so even unrelated travel with few similar qualities was recalling that experience. The similarities? I was alone, I was speaking only Spanish, I was surrounded by native culture (once I got on the island), I was eating unusual food, it was hot and humid, I did some traveling by boat. Differences: different country, different accents, different living arrangements, different premise for the trip, different tourists, different economy, different food, different activities….the list goes on. And yet my brain was making me homesick for the Amazon.

The ferry dropped me at the port in Isla Mujeres in the heat of late afternoon. I slung my pack over my shoulder and walked down the sidewalk to my right, south, toward MVC. If I’d done my research properly, I would cross over to the eastern side of the island and come to the house in about two miles. There was construction on the road and once I got past the piers and shops, it got quiet quickly. I wasn’t sure I was headed in the right direction but I kept going. There were only two roads leading North to South, around an airport and some natural lakes, and I knew I needed to be near the ocean side, so I had to be going the right way. The house was a bright turquoise – I couldn’t miss it.
IMG_2037 And I didn’t. Just past some construction and around some palm trees, I sawthe turquoise house on my left, the soccer dome to my right. I walked in and went upstairs as instructed to meet Ronda and Bruce. They let me into my apartment and then invited me into theirs to chat. I’d had a long day – why not get to know my hosts? We wound our way past their hammocks (“We sleep in them all the time – they’re so much more comfortable! I’m glad you like hammocks too!”), picked up beers in the fridge, and sat on their ocean-facing balcony to shoot the shit for a couple hours while the sun descended.

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Ronda and Bruce were from Texas – oddly enough, where Graham had just moved, and why I’d had that whisky the night I bought the tickets. They’d moved to Isla because they loved the slower pace of life, the sense of community, the paradise-like weather, and the beach. They’d come here on vacation, decided to move, and waited for the house to be built once they got the land. I asked why they didn’t list the apartments on more places and Ronda said she liked to keep things simple. She maintains a community blog – hence why she had local connections to help me with my iPhone cable – and enjoys getting to know the islanders. They were such accommodating hosts, I truly can’t recommend a stay with them earnestly enough. They knew I brought my hammock and told me nobody would be in the apartment below me after that first night, so I was welcome to hang out in that porch area for the rest of my stay. They gave me recommendations on places to eat and visit, and – only after it was dark and I was hungry – did they apologize for taking up my first afternoon. “We don’t normally have guests come in and then just get them drunk upon arrival!” I didn’t mind. A couple ice-cold beers after a long day of traveling never hurt anyone, and I was glad to meet such laid-back people who truly understand what’s important in life.

It’s not about how big your house or car are. It’s not about where you work or the clothes you wear. It’s how you treat those around you, how you can appreciate the little things in life, how you’re willing to take a risk to live the life you’re meant to live. I thanked them for their superior hospitality, got my backpack from my room, and set out to find some foo.d

Independence Day in Vermont

I’ve been meaning to write this post since we returned but I wanted to make sure I had the time and photos to do it justice! Without further excuse, here’s what we did on Independence Day 2016.

My best friend of 30 years lives with her husband on the side of a mountain in Vermont where they keep chickens and grow a massive garden. Her husband builds and maintains trails in the mountain forest, they tap the trees for sap, and they’re both highly-educated, athletic college professors. She and I grew up together, although we haven’t always been in the same time zone for the past 12 years (they also lived in Colorado and Alaska…I’m not jealous at all….yes I am). Now that we’re a mere 4-5 hours apart – depending on traffic and who’s driving – we’ve done our best to visit as often as our busy schedules allow. I had been in Vermont a bunch last year for skiing and a Tough Mudder race but our schedules hadn’t linked up…but this year, for 4th of July, they weren’t going anywhere. Travis and I needed a backpacking trip – so off we went!

We found a 12-mile loop hike on the Long Trail passing through Stratton Pond, Stratton Mountain, and Bourn Pond. We weren’t looking to get too crazy, so this sounded like a good trek. At Hillary’s place we reviewed our route over homemade pizza (eaten way too late thanks to NY traffic) and they told us they’d done that same hike last 4th of July – as a training run. Again, they are accomplished athletes, but they clued us in to the fact the trails weren’t going to be nearly as burly as we’d been expecting. We took another look at the map and found a way to add a loop to bring us to about 30 miles over three days of hiking. Done. The following morning they made us stuffed french toast, complete with syrup from their trees, and sent us on our way, bellies full and ready for adventure. We drove to Manchester and parked at the Prospect Rock lot – thank you Subaru for your all-wheel drive getting through the final bit of eroded road to the actual lot and trailhead. We knew we had about 8 miles of hiking ahead of us and set off up the mountain.

The first part of the hike was all uphill on an old, gravelly road. We moved slowly but the weather wasn’t nearly as oppressively hot and humid as it often is in Harriman. Coming upon the Prospect Rock lookout, we turned off to eat sandwiches and take in the views.

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Continuing on, once we linked up to the LT/AT, the trail was much more rolling hills than straight incline. Translation: a much faster, easier hike. There was plenty of water – the trail followed and crossed a river – and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a walk in the woods. Approaching Stratton Pond we looked up at Stratton Mountain, where we’d be hiking the next morning. At the pond we met a young man who asked where we were headed. “Here,” we offered.

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“Welcome home.” We hiked up to the shelter to check out our options. Compared to the AT shelters we’ve seen, the Green Mountain Club’s LT shelters were Hiltons. Bunk beds, picnic tables, privies, directions to springs…we were astonished to see this much in the middle of the woods. That said, we’d brought hammocks – nothing to sleep on bunk beds with – so it was back out to the main trail we went. We passed some couples who told us the tent sites were all full, so we were at a loss. Sleep in the shelter that was quickly filling up, or stealth-hammock in as quiet an area as possible? We went with option two, finding strong, smooth trees off the trail near the pond. I will state here that if you’re going to stealth camp, be considerate of nature. Don’t hang your hammock from a tree with shaggy bark. Don’t pitch your tent on top of tons of small saplings. Don’t move lots of things around just to put your things down. Be very careful about where you set up your stove, and you do NOT need to build a fire.

As the sun set over the mountain we made our dinner on the knockoff pocket rocket stove I’ve been using for three years. Then it was into the hammocks we went. A lone loon began to cry in the middle of the night. I generally don’t sleep well my first night out, and I found it soothing to hear such a familiar sound. There were two distinct calls and it brought me peace while I gazed at the bowl of stars that had fallen over the lake. Without tree cover it felt like we were in a planetarium – we hadn’t seen stars like this since the White Mountains last summer.

Travis woke before me, having gotten more sleep than I did. His hammock was neatly packed away before I was out of mine, and he’d already cooked and eaten his protein-powder-spiked oatmeal. I slowly began the task of cooking and packing, and shortly after 7am we were on the trail again, heading up to the mountain we’d gazed upon yesterday, and I’d skied down more than a few times. Just like yesterday it was pretty much a steady climb to the top once we got back on the trail. The weather was sunny and warm but humidity wasn’t crazy. We had filtered water before we left so our packs were heavy since we wouldn’t cross any major water sources until the descent. Still, it was an enjoyable, peaceful climb since we got such an early start. At the summit we met a young man coming down from the fire tower as we went up. The top floor was glassed in, but it was great to be able to get to the top. Many of the towers we’d come across in other areas were boarded up past a certain landing.

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From the fire tower we could just barely make out Stratton Pond below us, and beyond it, Bourn Pond, where we initially hoped to spend the night. We descended the fire tower and took some time to eat and check out the educational materials the Green Mountain Club had left neatly in a basket at the summit. We also read about the history of the LT/AT and how historic this area had been in the development of both.IMG_6409

Heading toward the LT South we passed the caretaker and chatted with her for a few minutes. She expected thousands of people to summit during the holiday weekend – we were early that morning, but the weekend was young. She said she’d been up on that mountain for years and we silently wished that could be our job too.

Down we went, back into the tree cover and winding down the mountain. The path was clear and well-cut – no direct descents and no serious rocky areas, so our knees were spared. Once off the mountain itself the path became – as we’d been told – rolling hills.

Something we learned in the Whites was never to trust trail marker signs. They tell you it’s 0.2 miles until the next intersection, next hut, next water source. I’ll be damned if those 0.2 miles don’t feel like the longest 7 miles you’ve ever hiked in your life when you’re waiting for something on the other side. Although the hiking wasn’t technically challenging, our bodies – from days sitting in cars and behind computers – were feeling the effort we were putting in. We were not going to set any speed records. By the time we reached the road we’d hike for 2 miles, we were moving just barely above one mile per hour – our pace in the Whites. The road was gravel and a long, sunny, slow, 2 mile ascent back to close the loop on the trail. The sun was taking its toll on us, as were our shoes. Travis had needed new shoes for months but hadn’t taken the time to get them. My boots always wore hot spots on my first long trip out of the season, so I wasn’t surprised, but I also usually didn’t tackle 30 miles at the start of the season.

When we finally approached Bourn Pond, we were a sweaty, achy, hungry mess. We found the tent sites, as the map had indicated, and they were AMAZING!! Enormous lakeside tent sites with fire rings, space for tents and hammocks, beautiful views…they were absolutely gorgeous, and plenty of privacy from site to site. We stripped down and splashed in the pond to cool off our feet and clean up our bodies before…we got back on the trail. That’s right, we decided during our trudge to keep pressing on, to cover more miles on this day so we wouldn’t have to do them tomorrow. With sadness, we dressed, ate, and hoisted our packs once more, turning to make sure we hadn’t just imagined these campsites with the eyes of weary hikers. We couldn’t even make out the fire tower atop Stratton from here, which made us feel pretty proud of our weekend-warrior ways.

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Back on the trail, we had a lot of work to do to get to Douglas Shelter by nightfall. Although the trail was mainly flat, the bottoms of our feet were sore and our muscles were tired. Our pace slowed to a crawl and, occasionally, Travis or I would stumble over something small. I don’t know what I looked like but I know he looked pretty rough. I was actually concerned whether he would make it to the shelter at one point. We had plenty of water, but he had stepped in a puddle and his mesh shoes had gotten wet – so now he was dealing with wet shoes, wet socks, and shoes without any type of cushioning left. No amount of filtered drinking water can help when your feet are unhappy.

We pulled into Douglas Shelter as the radiant light was fading from view. A lone thru-hiker was set up on one side of a large clearing and we asked if we could set our hammocks up on the other side. He agreed, and we gratefully slung up our straps. I took off my boots and hung my socks, and my feet were wrinkled with sweat. I had hot spots on the inside balls of both feet, one fourth toe, and one Achilles tendon. I cooked our dinner barefoot and we sat in my hammock, passing the bag between us in near-silence. We brushed our teeth almost immediately afterward and were in our hammocks to sleep before the last of the light gave way to darkness.

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I slept like a log, and although I wasn’t too keen on it the day before, I was thankful we only had a few miles to hike out before we sat in a car for five hours. We awoke, cooked our breakfast, and hiked out along the ridgeline until we linked back up with Prospect Rock and the gravel descent to the car. It was another very quiet day. We had somehow managed to hike in an extremely popular area at just the right times to not be on crowded trails. This is why we go hiking.

We took the descent slowly to minimize the impact on our joints, and finally made it back to the Subaru. Changing into shorts, we packed the gear back in and headed into Manchester for some food. Up For Breakfast was open and we put our name on the list, going back downstairs to wait out of the sunshine. A trio of hikers who had also been at Douglas Shelter arrived shortly before we did and were also waiting. They’d left the shelter before we did and headed the opposite direction – if they’d gone back up the mountain, they were superhuman. We didn’t ask.

Second breakfast was delicious, and we hesitated to leave, but knew we had a long drive ahead. Back in the car we talked about the hike, about how impressive the trails were, about the weather and terrain being so much better than our usual stomping grounds, about my friend’s garden and relaxed lifestyle that allowed her to focus on what’s important in life, about what we wanted out of life. We don’t want to have to drive 5 hours to take a walk in a beautiful, peaceful area. We want to be part of it. We want to grow our own food and rely less on others for everything. We want to opt-out of the rat race and opt-in to a rewarding and fulfilling life focused on what’s truly important to us: reading, writing, seeking knowledge, being outside, being active, nourishing our minds and bodies, and slowing down.

Does anybody have a home in Vermont – preferably with some land we could use to garden – for rent?

 

Artistic Overnights in Saugerties, NY

I have a longwinded post about travel and what we seek to find when we leave our homes, but it’s not done yet. I apologize for the lack of posts while I’ve been putting it together. However, I’ve continued to have adventures, so here’s a short recap on our recent weekend in the Catskills – and how you can spend the night in a historic lighthouse AND a work of art in one trip!

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If you’ve read some of my posts before, you know I really like the Saugerties Lighthouse. I first discovered it in an email roundup of the world’s most unique hotels, and although it took me nearly a year to sneak into a last-minute cancellation, I have now made three overnight trips. The peace I feel when walking along the trail to the Lighthouse is enough reason alone to bring me back, but the views – regardless of season – and the warm hospitality of Anna, Patrick, and Cricket really make it worth returning. Last time we went (in November) I had been going through some very difficult emotional events and our weekend at the Lighthouse was the first time in weeks I felt happiness. I’ll write about that another day, but believe me when I say the peacefulness of simply being out on the Hudson can really refresh you, even in the darkest of times. At that point we booked our return trip for May – last weekend.

It was raining hard when we left New Jersey and we ended up pulling into the parking area about ten minutes before the tide was supposed to come back in. Patrick called while we were walking along the trail to ensure we were still planning to check in, and I appreciated him looking out for us. With rain boots and umbrellas we bumbled in the front door and were met by Patrick to check in. Up to the East Room we went to drop our bags, and then back out to get food.

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This time, we didn’t climb the tower to watch the sunset due to the rain and heavy fog – which finally showed me why there’s a lighthouse in the first place – but instead went to the Dutch Ale House for a drink. They had the rare Founder’s Kentucky Barrel Stout on tap which definitely helped us to unwind from the week. Then it was off to  Miss Lucy’s on Partition Street for dinner. We had checked it out for the first time in November and loved the food – local, healthy, hearty. Just what we needed after a long, rainy drive.

While wrapping up our delicious dessert – which is pretty much a requirement if you’re there – we were informed another table bought us a round of drinks. We figured somebody probably thought we looked like we were celebrating a special occasion…until I turned around and saw my former boss – who now lives in Baltimore – with his wife a few tables away. I knew they’d been in the Catskills for their first anniversary last year, but we had no clue we were both going to be in the area, and neither of us live in New York now. Small world!

Travis and  I finished dinner and headed back to the Lighthouse after letting our friends know how to find it. (It’s very easy to find – put “Saugerties Lighthouse” into Waze and it’ll take you right to the parking area. There are also signs all over town. The only reason we let them know was because it was dark and rainy).

We accidentally left the Lighthouse key in my car at first so Travis waited on the porch for me to run back and grab it. I didn’t use my headlamp and instead let the misty moon guide me until I heard rustling on the trail. I flicked on my lamp just in time to see Anna, Patrick, and Cricket approaching.

“I’m so sorry for blinding you!”

“It’s okay. Are you good?” Always calm, Anna made sure I was okay before they continued on their walk home. I grabbed the keys and walked back in the darkness, explaining why I was out there once we were indoors.

“When we saw it was you, we thought, ‘oh, she gets it.’ You really don’t need a light here. And you’ve been here often enough…you know the way,” Anna smiled as I took off my muddy shoes. At the Lighthouse Travis and I got our jackets and a bottle of wine and went out to the porch area to once again enjoy the refreshing stillness that is increasingly difficult to find in today’s fast-paced life.  Our friends met us outside and we enjoyed quiet conversation, catching up on the last year until it was time to sleep and for them to return to their hotel.

Morning followed with delicious French toast prepared by Patrick, Travis and I booked a room for next year, and then it was off to hike at Overlook Mountain. Weather for the afternoon was supposed to be decent but the evening called for thunderstorms and even hail…so we weren’t planning to camp as usual. Patrick let us know to be careful with parking because the lot fills up on the weekends – and it was packed. We waited about 20 minutes for a spot to open up before hitting the trail. The plan was up to the Overlook ruins and then down to Echo Lake – about 10 miles in total. The weather held and the views – including the storm clouds – were beautiful. Next time we’ll likely look into camping at Echo Lake, but we’d want to arrive early – there were many people at the designated camping spots around the lake by the time we got there in the early afternoon. We’ve noticed in the last year especially these outdoor areas where we find peace and quiet are slowly becoming busier and busier…and thus our choice of destination is also becoming less well-known to ensure we still get the respite we seek.

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Since we knew we wouldn’t be camping we had called Opus 40 on the drive up to the Lighthouse to see if we could spend our second night in Saugerties with them. We’d visited last fall on the recommendation of friends who had recently been in the area, and – just as with the Lighthouse – appreciated the stillness and beauty of the environmental sculpture during the troubled times. I’d received an email with an inside tip that they now offered a room in the house Fite built himself on Air B&B. Although Tad and Pat were out of town, they warmly welcomed us, thanks to the caretaker staying for the weekend who would be our host. It was getting dark when we arrived after dinner at Joshua’s in Woodstock (great Mediterranean food and tasty drinks that were perfect after a day of hiking) and all we really wanted was a shower and a bed. Our host greeted us, gave us a tour of the perfectly-rustic area of the house we would have for the night, and left us to wash off and relax. The shower was hot, the bed was soft, and the kitty outside our door was friendly as we sat on the steps and stared at the stones in the moonlight.

I’ve been awoken by rats digging through my bags in the middle of the night before, and I thought I knew what scratching and squeaking like in the night meant when it happened at Opus 40…but to my surprise, the scratching and squeaking were not coming from the floor below us but the window above the bed. I scared the mated pair of cardinals nearly as much as they scared me when I sat up straight and whipped my head to face the source of the sound in the predawn moments. Snuggling back into bed to sleep for more hours I kept thinking how funny the birds were, trying to fly through the window, but instead scrambling on the ledge when their beaks met glass.

When we finally awoke from our hike-induced sleep Travis pulled back the blinds to reveal a perfectly beautiful morning and the centerpiece of Harvey Fite’s environmental sculpture just outside our sliding glass door. I also saw the cardinal pair sitting in the tree right outside our window, occasionally flying back to the window ledge to try again to fly through. We took our time getting the car packed and our host gave us a small tour of the rest of the house too – a very unusual treat indeed. It was quite a privilege to see the sculptures Fite created inside the house he built while hearing stories about his life. After our little tour we wandered the grounds a bit and then headed out to get breakfast before beginning our drive home.

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If you’d like to experience a unique and artistic getaway,  you may need to be patient: the Lighthouse books up often over a year in advance, but you can occasionally catch a last-minute cancellation if you sign up for their email list (which is how I got in). Opus 40 had considerably more availability but has only one room compared with the Lighthouse – and I would wager this best-kept hidden hospitality secret won’t stay that way for long. Those in search of an insider peek of an artist’s world will definitely want to stay here.

Saugerties Lighthouse: (845) 247-0656, www.saugertieslighthouse.com Free to visit the trail and porch area from dawn until dusk year-round, room rates from $225

Opus 40: 845-246-3400, www.opus40.org $10 adults, $7 students, $3 for ages 6-12, 6 and under free. Open seasonally from Memorial Day through October, Thursday through Sunday and holiday Mondays 11am-5pm. Call to schedule an off-season visit or request special event information. Room rates from $200 – book on Air B&B

A Canadian New Year

For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to focus on minimalism and whittling down my possessions in favor of only those that truly add value to my life. I’ve been trying to learn that it’s possible to appreciate without ownership. My journey toward minimalism is a major work in progress, and a couple weeks ago I got a nice kick-in-the-pants reminder from the guys at The Minimalists with a post called “A Month of Minimalism.” What does this have to do with going places?

Every time I scroll through my photos, I see pictures I’ve taken from trips I keep meaning to write about, but haven’t brought myself around to doing so just yet. So instead, these images are adding to my digital clutter – on my phone, on my computer, in the cloud. I really like some of the images, and others remind me of stories I wanted to tell. But as time passes, the stories fade, and I wonder whether they’re worth telling at all. So today’s post is a little different. I have photos from New Year’s Eve 2014 in Montreal, Canada, and I’m going to post the photos I’ve been saving to share, along with a little tidbit about the photo. No long drawn-out entire trip recaps today. No greater story of connectedness. Just the images I wanted to share, so I can take that digital clutter out of my iPhone, write the story, and then…let it go. Without further ado, I give you:

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I took myself to Montreal, Canada, for New Year’s Eve 2014. Why? I hadn’t left the country all year, and I didn’t want to let an entire year pass by without getting a little use out of my passport. I didn’t have a lot of vacation time, and my finances were a little tight. O Canada it was, nearby, and not requiring plane tickets. While in the states I have successfully avoided such large gatherings as Times Square for NYE, I decided to branch out and try something new in Canada, and I’m not just talking about poutine. I went down to the Old City of Montreal to join 40,000 other people in the freezing cold and blowing snow to watch a concert of music performed in French, which I don’t understand, drinking Canadian rye whisky with a bunch of strangers. The above photo was taken during the concert. I remember everyone being really kind, and the port-a-potties being really, REALLY cold – but it was a really fun experience to have at least once. Probably not more than once.

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On 1 January 2015, hangover intact, my Airbnb host took me to a hot yoga class led by a friend of his. I wanted to start the year off right with some physical and mental activity. The class was in French so I spent much of it just looking at all the other poor souls trying not to fall over, sweating their own hangovers out. After class I hung out in the lobby with the dog pictured above. That’s about what I felt like too.

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My awesome host Benoit owns a cafe on the ground floor of the building I stayed in. Every morning – including New Year’s Day – he prepared delicious food for me, whether we ate upstairs in the apartment while the cafe was closed for the holiday, or I ate downstairs with locals in the shabby-chic Cafe Depanneur. Pictured above is one of the elaborate breakfasts Benoit cooked while the cafe was closed: fresh-cut fruit, crepes, and an egg, tomato, avocado, and cheese sandwich on homemade bread, complete with a latte and one of his Bonsai trees in the background.

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Montreal is named for Mont Royal, the “mountain” in the middle of the city. It’s more like a hill, but the tallest point in the city, and it offers a beautiful view of the city, and lots of trails for walking. Although it was incredibly cold (my weather app actually registered -999* F one day, which was clearly an error, but it felt pretty damn cold) I took a day and “hiked” to the top of Mont Royal. I can only consider it hiking because of the amount of snow on the ground and the fact I needed to wear boots, but the trails were wide and paved. There were loads of people out too – it really made me happy to see so many people enjoying the outdoors, despite the chill.

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Okay, this photo isn’t going to win any awards, but it tells the tale of the first time I tried poutine. As a vegetarian, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out but I found a poutine restaurant with many vegetarian options and happy vegetarian reviews. I stood in line in the cold for some time awaiting a table. As I finally approached the door, an ambulance wailed up. EMTs and medics ran inside and pushed through the hungry crowd to get to a young woman now seated just ahead of the line to my right. Not speaking French, I had no clue what was going on, but can only assume she either had a seizure or something, or a very bad allergic reaction to an ingredient since she was passed out, and they came in with a defibrillator and all. Still, not one person in line left, and nobody was panicking – very different from what you’d imagine happening at an American restaurant if the ambulance rolled up.

I enjoyed some vegetarian green pepper poutine and a delicious Canadian stout at my table for one shortly thereafter. The beer far outshone the poutine, which I can only liken to breakup food: greasy, heavy, comforting, and simple. Glad to try it, but I won’t be running out of my way to get more anytime soon.

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Here I am, performing at Cafe Depanneur. This was the reason I’d selected the particular apartment I chose on Airbnb. Not only does my host Benoit make delicious food, but he has live music in his cafe all day, every day. I enjoyed performing for a small group of brave Canadians during a bone-chilling snowstorm late one afternoon, and the people really liked it, even though I sang in English. The Blues were really popular in Montreal at the moment so I lucked out, since that’s my usual style.

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After my performance I went to see Luminotherapie, an art installation in the city. Montreal takes art pretty seriously – or perhaps they have more fun with it. These prisms each shine multicolored beams of light, play chimes, and spin around. I ran through the snow with my arms out, spinning an entire row of prisms as I ran past, and laughed as I heard the tinkling of chimes and saw the swirling colors in the falling snow. There were footprints of other adventurers lining the installation but very few people out in the cold and dark. I found a section of virgin snow and decided to make a snow angel to do my part to contribute to the art in Montreal. I can’t recall the last time I made a snow angel, much less in public, in a city in which I don’t speak the language. Brushing off the snow, I had more stops to make since I was now down to my last night in Montreal.

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I had three bars on my list to check out while I was in town. My emailed travel journals had alerted me to a good wine bar, friends had told me about an unmarked cocktail bar hotspot, and the beers I’d had during the past few days led me to a brewery. I took the bus, which, despite the 8″ of snow on the ground and the heavy snow continuing to fall, was still running. Canada doesn’t mess around – there were no snow closures in Montreal. I also managed to hail a cab in French to get me from the cocktail bar to the brewery. I believe the above photo was taken while hoping a cab would come through. I loved the glowing lights hanging across the street, and seeing the headlights rolling down a snow-covered road, showing the city wasn’t the slightest bit dimmed by the weather.

The wine bar was good, but not outstanding. The drinks at the speakeasy were fine, but I don’t think it would have been worth the wait the larger parties in line were subject to (a seat for one was much easier to find). I had the most fun at the brewery, speaking in a tipsy mess of English and French with a waiter who sat next to me and taught me French words and phrases while we drank. The conversation started when he handed me a newspaper section since he saw me sitting alone next to him.

“I don’t speak French, I can’t read it.” I lamented.

“But the pictures don’t need a language.” I accepted the paper. It was the waiter’s 38th birthday and he was celebrating alone, and gave me a gift – not the paper, but the conversation.

I walked home from the bar in the snow, stopping at a Montreal bagel shop – which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even in the snow storm – to get some food and warmth. Perhaps “trudged” is a more accurate term, but despite the blowing snow, late hour, and alcohol, I made my way home easily. IMG_1188

Although I have a US passport and had passed back into the country a handful of times before, this was the first time I drove back. The border crossing sign looked pretty intimidating and I couldn’t help but take a picture to remember how imposing it was just to come back to my home country. Getting into Canada had been a little tricky and I almost got arrested for running a stop sign at the crossing since I don’t read French and was trying to read something else, but they eventually laughed at my naïveté and let me through. Going home, the border agent thoroughly inspected my car, including my guitar, asking where I’d bought everything, but finally let me in.

The adventure was over. I’d successfully navigated a new city on my own, learned a few words and phrases in a language which, a week prior, I hadn’t spoken at all, tried a handful of new foods, enjoyed some good drinks, and met some wonderful people. I performed in another country and drove my guitar with me, instead of flying with a travel guitar. My Airbnb host had been incredibly welcoming with food and friendship – he even brought me along to a welcome-home party for a friend of his, where I met tons of people and heard so many languages in one apartment in one night, and I didn’t feel like such an outsider. At one point a group of us all switched to Spanish so we were all speaking second languages.

Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” kept playing on radio stations and in bars during my trip. Despite the cold weather and the language barrier, I was feeling good. I used to have trouble going to the movies by my self, and now I was going to new countries by myself. Canada was kind and welcoming: at one point in the market I dropped my subway card, and anywhere in the States, nobody would have noticed. Instead, I heard a young man calling out, “Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle! Votre cartre!” I didn’t understand, but turned around when he tapped my shoulder to hand my card back.

When I was getting in my car to drive away, the inch of ice on top of the 9″ of snow that fell overnight proved to be more challenging than I’d expected. I also found a parking ticket attached to my windshield under the snow – my first international ticket. I felt pretty accomplished as I then set to the task of rocking the car, digging out the tires, and hoping I’d get out. After about 45 minutes of this, a tall Hasidic Jewish man came out, asked me where in New York I lived, and told me he was from Brooklyn. He told me to get in the car and he’d push – and his strength got my little jeep over the snow and into the road. He waved his big arm at my rearview mirror with a smile and I rolled down the window to wave back in thanks.

Traveling isn’t always about the play-by-play order of events. Sometimes it’s the small moments that all but disappear until a photo or a conversation spark the memory of an adventure that happened along the way. Details become fuzzy with time, and names or faces may be forgotten, but the experience of traveling and what you learn to rely on when you’re alone are what will stay with you.