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Nordics. Part 4. Iceland.

Our flight from Bergen was relatively easy, we had a quick layover in Oslo and landed at the Keflavik airport around noon.  We were ushered through the duty free store, and decided to be smart about booze this time, and just buy it now - so we stocked up on wine and beer at the airport.  We grabbed our luggage, our sweet little rental for the next few days and headed out to explore, but first we had to dig out our winter coats, hats and gloves, it was a bit chillier here.  We had the good fortune of having a friend who had a friend who lived in Iceland, and we pretty much did everything they suggested to do - including checking out the Reykjanes Penninsula on our way to Reykjavik.  

Sloane and our awesome little Suzuki Jimny.  This car was pretty capable, but honestly - of all the places we went - this was the only one we even came close to needing high clearance or 4 wheel drive - but we did use them both immediately on this side trip.

Our first stop was the bridge between two continents.  This is a foot bridge over a fissure in the ground, that happens to be a place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet.  The big deal is you can walk from Europe to North America - its honestly a bit under whelming - but worth a quick stop if it happens to be on your way to something else.

Sloane standing between the continental divide, some classic Iceland skies in the background.

Our next stop was the Hafnarberg Sea Cliffs, which are sheer lava cliffs that rise straight up from the ocean below.  We had about a 15 minute hike from the dirt road that we parked on, and getting to the trail was a bit of an adventure its self - I almost got our car stuck in some seriously loose sand.  We eventually made it.  I would suggest parking on the main road - and hiking a bit further, rather than driving down the shitty road like we did - it probably took just as long.

Some colorful lichens along the trail to the cliffs.

Looking out over the North Atlantic Ocean.  It looks warm, but it was the opposite.

Long exposure at the Hafnarberg Sea Cliffs.

Lava rocks below.

At the cliffs.

We hung out at the cliffs for half an hour, and then decided we needed to get back to the car, we had to meet our air bnb host in Reykjavik soon.  I decided to follow the GPS, which took us the opposite direction we had come from on the dirt road.  It came to what seemed like a dead end after about 10 minutes of driving - although the GPS said it was still a road.  Instead of turning around and driving the half hour back out to the main road, which we could see where we were sitting, I decided to use the four wheel drive and climb over some small boulders blocking the way.  It was a pretty bumpy few minutes, but we got safely to the road and saved our selves some time.  We had plans to visit a few other sites on the peninsula, but we decided to skip them and get over to the city so we didn't miss our window to check into our apartment.   We got to our apartment complex around 430, and after some language barriers, finally found the right place.

Our home in Reykjavik - it was great.

We splurged on this AirBnB, but it was worth it.  This apartment was super modern, brand new, had an amazing bed, was pretty much right on the water and was walking distance to all the cool stuff in town.

Perfect little kitchen, our host even stocked it with some local yogurt and other food.  

Super comfy king bed, and a balcony that we never used, since it was so cold.  They do this type of bedding throughout Scandinavia, and we kind of fell in love with having our own personal comforters - no one steals it from you in the middle of the night.

The view from our balcony.  Grass on a roof - Iceland is such a green country.  

After meeting with our host, and exploring the apartment a bit, we made ourselves a grocery list for the next few days, and headed out to get some grub.  Firs thing I noticed about the particular grocery store we went to was there was no individual coolers for meat and cheeses - they were all just in a giant walk in cooler - it was pretty interesting.  We loaded up on snacks stuff for dinner and lunch, then made our way home for happy hour.

Sloane makes the best cheese plates!

We gorged ourselves on cheese and crackers, unpacked all our belongings, got laundry started and basically got settled into our home for the next 3 nights.  We started to plan our next adventure, which would be driving Iceland's "Golden Circle", ate some dinner and took some time to relax, we were pretty exhausted from jet lag.  I was feeling a little more energetic than Sloane at this point and decided to go walk around with my camera for a bit to see if I could find anything interesting in our neighbor hood.  

A view of the water from outside of our apartment.

A statue of Ingólfur Arnarson, the first settler in Reykjavik at Arnarhóll Hill.

It was pretty cold and windy - so I didn't stay out very long.  When I got back I found Sloane getting ready for bed and was about to do the same, but decided to sit down and do some more planning for the following day.  I got pretty involved, and an hour later found myself searching the internet for the Aurora Borealis forecast.  From what I could tell - this was the only night during our time in Reykjavik that they could be visible, even though it was currently cloudy.  I checked the cloud cover and found a spot about 45 minutes away that had somewhat clear skies.  I was incredibly tired, but seeing the Aurora was on the list of top things for me to do here, so I packed my camera bag, some food and water and informed the now sleeping Sloane I was heading out.  I did invite her, but since she was in a deep sleep already, she wasn't interested.  

As I left the city, the rain began which made it hard to see where I was going, the Jimny's windshield wipers weren't the best.  I was a little discouraged, since clear skies are necessary to view the Aurora - but I drove on, with hopes that the forecast I had viewed online was accurate.   When I got to my destination - Lake Kleifarvatn - which I had been told was a good place to view the Aurora - the clouds were clearing, and I could see stars, as well as a full moon.  I parked the car and began to watch the skies above for any sign - not really sure what I should look for.  To help pass the time, I decided to photograph the car, painting it with my headlamp - it turned out pretty cool, as you can see below.

Waiting for the Aurora to show up a lake Kleifarvatn.

The temperature was just around freezing, and I of course was getting cold, so I got back in the car after about half an hour of sky watching and drove a little further down the lake.  I pulled off at the next car park, and decided to hike down toward the water.  I set up my camera and began taking long exposures of the clouds, which were passing very quickly and creating great motion in the still photographs, lots of cool shots, but no Aurora.  I was freezing, it was actually snowing at this point and I was getting frustrated, not to mention exhausted, so I decided to pack it up and head back to Reykjavik.  I picked up my tripod as the shutter closed on my last exposure, I was folding up the legs as the camera processed the 30 second exposure - just as I finished the image appeared on my LCD, and there it was - a faint green line across the sky - not yet visible to my naked eyes.

My first shot of the Aurora, this was before you could actually see it with your eyes.

 I hurried up and re - framed my photograph as I excitedly looked up at the sky - snapping away every 30 seconds.  It took a few more minutes, but all of a sudden, there is was - the Aurora Borealis, dancing across the sky - I was super stoked to finally be seeing this, and I definitely yelled in excitement. It was pretty awe inspiring and I didn't know what to do, watch it or try to photograph it.  They showed up quickly, and vanished just as fast.  I probably only saw this amazing phenomenon for a total of four minutes, but I will remember it forever, and I have some pretty great shots to help out with that.

Getting stronger.   You can see the light pollution from Reykjavik in the background.

This was the peak of the show, so incredible.

The last photograph I captured before they pretty much disappeared. 

The clouds closed in, and I could not longer see the show -  so I hopped in the car as fast as I could, and began driving back toward Reykjavik.  I stopped a few more times alongside the road, to try and capture them again, but it seems the show had ended at the lake, and just a few little glimpses here and there were all that were left.  If you find yourself in Iceland and want the forecast for the aurora - try this link - its what I used to find the best spot.  

I drove toward home, excited about what I had just witnessed, but sad at the same time that Sloane hadn't been there to see it - I knew she was going to be disappointed when I told her it had come out.  We looked every night afterwards at the forecast - to see if we could head out again, but it was always too cloudy to see anything - so I am really glad I braved the lack of sleep and snow to go when I did.  Of course a few days after we left Iceland - the city of Reykjavik shut off all the street lights one particular evening, and you could see the Aurora from anywhere.

The following morning we had a nice breakfast at home, packed ourselves some lunch and headed out to drive the golden circle - along with the rest of Iceland's tour groups.  The sun was out, but it was still cold.  The first thing we noticed while heading north east from the city were the horses - they are everywhere, and pretty handsome as well.  At first we thought they were statues, because they stand perfectly still for long periods of time, but turns out they were all real.  We stopped to photograph a few of them and say hello - they were very happy to do the same.  

An icelandic horse with a beautiful head of hair.

Our first stop was Oxarofoss - a waterfall in Þingvellir National Park - where Iceland's parliament was founded in 930 AD, and also the place where witches, wizards and convicts were executed.  Once you can see past the grim history, it's easy to see why this is one of the most visited places in Iceland.  One thing you will learn quickly in Iceland - any word ending in "foss" is most likely a waterfall, and probably worth stopping to see - there are a lot of big ones here.  We hiked down from above, which was a good move, since all the tour busses stopped below the falls.  It was a nice short hike through what seemed like a crack in the earth.

Sloane at Oxarofoss waterfall in Þingvellir National Park.

We spent a few minutes looking at the waterfall with the rest of the folks, then headed back up the trail towards the car and our next stop the Kerid volcanic crater.  Unfortunately the sun had been covered by clouds at this point, and the wind had picked up, so we didn't stick around very long.  The colors here were pretty amazing, and would've made for a great shot if the sun had been out to give them some more depth.

Kerid crater.  

Our next stop was Bruarfoss, another waterfall, and one of the less trafficked attractions we had the pleasure of visiting, since it is difficult to find, and you have to hike about half a mile (through some serious mud) from your car.  It was worth the trip for sure.  We had our lunch in the car as we drove, to save some time and money.  When we arrived at what we thought was the trailhead for Bruarfoss the wind had begun to pick up and the temps seemed to have dropped even more, but it didn't discourage us.  We began the muddy hike over creeks and through thick brush, I almost ate shit a few times, but was able to save my pride by awkwardly skating in the mud.  We finally reached the waterfall after about 20 minutes of walking - and below is what we found.

Bruarfoss from afar.

The moody skies of Iceland made this gem stand out even more.

I could've stayed here all day, waiting for the sun to poke out, or a wild rain storm in the distance to create a more dramatic sky - but we had more to see.  So we slogged our way back through the mud to our car and headed up the road towards Geysir - a very active geothermal area in Iceland, and Sloane's first time seeing an active geyser.  

Some more blue water from below the earths crust at Geysir Geothermal area.  

The wind had really picked up when we reached Geysir - and it was cold.  We put on our heavy coats, gloves and hats and stepped out to see some water explode from the below the surface of the earth.  It didn't take long, maybe five to ten minutes until we heard the first eruption.  We managed to catch a glimpse of it and decided to head down to stand right beside it for the next eruption.  This one took a little longer, but we stuck it out and were pretty stoked to be standing right in front of the geyser when it spewed forth from the ground.  We stuck around for another eruption, then headed back to the car pretty quickly - we were freezing at this point.  I pulled over at the visitor center and Sloane got us some hot beverages, then we were off to the next spot.

Geysir erupting.

Our next stop on the tour was Gullfoss - one of the main attractions of the Golden Circle tour.  There were people everywhere, and keep in mind - we were here during the off season, I can only imagine what it is like during the warm months.  We parked and began the walk towards the first overlook, dodging old folks with walkers and little kids throwing mud at each other.  It was cold, windy and wet from the mist, which was being blown towards us.  We made it to the first overlook, saw the waterfall and quickly decided we had seen enough.  Had it been warm and sunny, I would have petitioned to stay longer and try to make some photographs, but it was down right miserable.  We walked quickly back to our warm car and began our journey home to food and alcohol.   

Sloane at Gullfoss, her expression says it all.

On our way home we made one last stop along side the road to check out this lava field covered in iconic green moss.  

A field of moss over an ancient lava flow.

That evening we again made ourselves some kind of dinner in the apartment that I can't remember.  Then we went out on the town for a few (expensive) drinks at a local bar.  I'm pretty sure a beer was twelve dollars, but we had a good time anyway.  The next day was another day trip out east.  We again packed ourselves a lunch and were on the road around 9AM.  Our first destination was a hike to some natural hot springs, where we planned to hang out for a while.  The spot we were going is known as Reykjadalur hot springs - it is about a 45 minute drive from our apartment and we pulled in around 10.  The weather was very discouraging - it was in the 40's and there was a light mist - with some seriously dark clouds looming.  

Sloane on the road to Reykjadalur.

We put on our rain gear in the parking lot and started up the trail - there is a considerable amount of elevation gain at first, and it is a bit of a work out.  The trail is just under 2 miles one way, and some of the views are fantastic once you  are up on the ridge line.  There is an amazing waterfall in the valley below, about halfway to the hot springs.  It was visible both times we came across it but each time I finally had my camera and tripod set up, fog had quickly rolled in to hide it from view. The rain was pretty constant during our hike, so very few pictures were taken. As we got closer to the hot springs, we began to smell sulfur in the air, and it wasn't long before we were literally walking through clouds of warm steam.

Getting close to the hot springs 

There are mud pots and steam vents all through the valley, but the closer you get to the hot spring area, the more concentrated they become.  The rain slowed to a drizzle as we made our way to the hot springs. There are boardwalks built along the stream to reduce errosion as well as a few areas for changing - which were basically walls you could turn and face while putting your bathing suit on.  There were 3 or 4 other groups of people already at the bathing area, so we tested out the water as we made our way upstream - it gets much warmer the further up you go.

The bathing area of Reykjadalur

 We found a spot where the water seemed like a good temp and I began the painful process of taking off wet rain gear, boots, pants and shirts in a light drizzle at about 40 degrees.  I simply wore my bathing suit under all this to make it as simple as possible.  I wrapped all my gear up and stuffed it under the board walk in an attempt to keep it dry, then proceeded to wade out to the deepest spot I could find (which was about 1.5 feet) and lay down completely to cover myself with the water and warm up. It felt great, but I soon realized why no one else had chosen this spot, there was a cold water spring pouring in on the side, which obviously made the water here not so hot in most spots.  We grabbed our gear and headed a little further upstream to a small pool with only a couple other people, and quickly got back in the water - it was much warmer here - so we sat and relaxed for about 10 minutes before deciding it was time to dry off and get dressed.

These folks had the warmest spot - just off the beaten path.

The rain held off until we had completed this difficult task, and just as we were heading back past all the mud and steam pots, it began to pour.  The wind picked up, and soon it was actually sleeting.  There were a number of people we passed who were hiking to the springs in jeans and hooded sweatshirts, they were in for a wet, cold miserable hike for sure.  We made it back to the car, again took off our sloppy wet rain gear, and drove up the road to have a quick lunch in the car, then to the closest town to find a coffee shop to warm up in and have dessert.  

Just outside the hot spring area.

Our next destination was the famous waterfall Seljalandsfoss, which was an hour drive to the east.  We drove along the coast, on the ring road, with sun and clouds interchanging every 5-10 minutes, it made for some pretty dramatic skies, and lots of rainbows.  

Uridafoss, a lesser visited waterfall on the ring road, and of course a rainbow.

Uridafoss, a lesser visited waterfall on the ring road, and of course a rainbow.

Serious rainbow on the way to Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

Seljalandsfoss is another one of those road side attractions with bus loads of people, not my favorite - but it was pretty impressive.  You can walk behind this waterfall, and if you happen to be there when the sun is out you can catch a pretty good rainbow in the mist from the falls.  We were lucky enough to see if briefly when we first arrived, then the sun disappeared as we made our way under the falls with the 300 other people there.

Seljalandsfoss.  Creative cropping here, to camera right is hoards of people taking the same picture.

Seljalandsfoss rainbow.

We hiked beneath the waterfall, which was pretty cool, took a few pictures and were back to the car pretty quickly.  At this point it was getting late in the afternoon, and we had plans to eat dinner out in Reykjavik - so we decided to quickly check out one of the black sand beaches which was close by.   

The view from behind Seljalandsfoss

Mega rainbow, looking inland toward Seljalandsfoss.

Sloane taking a few photos on the beach

Sitting on the rocks at Landeyjahöfn harbor, in the distance is Vestmannaeyjar, a group of inhabited volcanic islands.

We were cold and hungry, and had an almost 2 hour drive home, so we didn't stick around long.  I of course stopped along the road for some photo - ops on the way home, the light was crazy beautiful, but it was only out for a few minutes at a time.

Epic skies and Icelandic horses.

The Icelandic horses near Seljalandsfoss

That night we had a great french dinner at Snaps Bistro in our neighborhood - we had a bit of a wait - but had some delicious booze to help kill the time.  Sloane requested I leave the camera at home, so I complied - no dinner pictures to share here.

The following day was our last in Iceland.  I was up early to grab some pics of the famous church in town Hallgrimskirkja, and a very cool statue down by the water, the Sun Voyager. 

Hallgrimskirkja

Hallgrimskirkja and Leifur Eiríksson - the viking who is believed to have discovered America.

Sunvoyager statue on the water, right near our apartment.

After my morning safari I came home to find Sloane up and ready to go - we started off strong by having breakfast in the harbor area at a place called KAFFIVAGNINN - it was simple and delicious.  The sun was out, so we decided to eat outside, the staff thought we were crazy, but kindly wiped down a table and brought us out our food anyway.  

Killer breakfast at Kaffivagninn.

After breakfast we took some time to walk around the harbor area, the light was amazing once again.  

Sunfllares and boats

After a little tour around the harbor area, we drove back to the city center, parked and started walking around being tourists.  Poking into various shops, getting lost, eating amazing pastries - the sun was out and it was glorious.

Harpa, Reykjavic's stunning concert hall and conference center.

Harpa, Reykjavic's stunning concert hall and conference center.

Harpa from the inside.

After our morning exploring, we made our way back to our apartment to have a quick lunch and get ready for our spa day at the Blue Lagoon.  You will read a lot about this place on the internet - it is by far the most visited attraction in Iceland - and for good reason.  Lots of people will tell you to stay away, it's too crowded, too expensive, yada yada.  But if you have made the trip to Iceland already - I will tell you what people told me - treat yourself! go to the Blue Lagoon - its freaking awesome.  

Right outside of the Blue Lagoon

We made it, Sloane was so excited. 

After all the hard miles I had put Sloane through, hiking to stare down at villages and waterfalls, she was so happy to have a relaxing day in a giant hot tub, and so was I.  The sun had disappeared by the time we got into the water, but the experience was still amazing.  We grabbed a couple of drinks at one of the swim up bars, and started exploring all the nooks and crannies of this place.  It rained on and off for the next hour but we didn't care - we were in heaven.  We slathered the healing mud on our face, put silica in our hair, sat in the sauna and showered mud off in waterfalls. Of course no vacation is complete if I don't injure myself. After being submerged in the water for over an hour, I accidentally kicked a lava rock on the side of the lagoon - this of course put a very large gash in my soft skin and I was bleeding pretty good. Instead of freaking everyone out by walking around with blood gushing from my foot, I decided to alert someone - who then took me to the nurses station.  I was patched up quickly and we were both very relieved to hear that the water is supposedly good for wounds, and wouldn't cause any more harm than I had already done to myself.

Moody skies at the lagoon.

Moody skies at the lagoon.

Sloane in all her glory

The moment that Sloane had been waiting for had finally arrived, it was time for our in water massages.  This isn't cheap, but it's and incredible experience.  They put you on your back on a foam pool float which keeps you just under the surface of the water, cover you with warm towels and massage your legs, arms, neck and back.  After our massages we had another drink and relaxed for a few more minutes before heading to the locker rooms to shower up and get dressed.  Although my foot never hurt while we were in the pool, it was incredibly sore when I put my shoes on, good thing there was no more hiking to do.  I got dressed and hobbled out to meet Sloane at the entrance, where we walked around the resort a for a few minutes before heading back to the car.

Some of that famous milky blue water outside of the Blue Lagoon.

Blue lagoon water and epic iceland backdrop.

We loaded back into the car, and started our journey back to Reykjavik for the night, to pack up our belongings and get ready for a long flight the next day.  The Blue Lagoon was a great way to end such an incredible trip, and it has been great going back and recalling all the details for this blog.  Hopefully after the next trip I can get these out in a more timely manner.

Our last sunset in Iceland was incredible.

So long Iceland, it's been real.

Nordics. Part 3 - Bergen, Norway

Sloane and I had one final hike to accomplish in Voss, from our AirBnB to the train station, with all of our crap.  This is where rolling luggage would have been a good choice.  We made it, with a few minutes to spare, purchased our tickets, and sat down to enjoy the last leg of the scenic train ride to Bergen, on Norway's west coast.  We arrived in Bergen, a gorgeous city on the water and surrounded by mountains, around 10:30 AM that day.  We hailed a cab after a failure to find the correct bus, and made our way to our apartment for the next 2 nights.  We dropped off our luggage, and set off to find something to eat for lunch in our little neighborhood of Bryggen.

Lunch in Bryggen, the sun was in and out all day.

We ended up in a little cafe, ordered some sandwiches and found a spot to sit outside - and enjoyed the little bit of sunshine that would poke through now and then.  After we finished our meal we headed out to explore the rest of the harbor by foot, and see what we could see.

Norway has some of the best man-hole covers ever.  I assume this is a scene of the Bryggen Harbor.

Sloane walking past some really cool graffiti in our neighborhood.  Sleeping kitty.

We wandered around for a few hours and visited the local fish market, tried to visit Illums Bolighus, a Danish design store - but it of course was closed like most things, since it was a Sunday.  We found this out the hard way,  we were searching for an open grocery store or pharmacy to buy laundry detergent, toiletries that I had left in Oslo and some food, but no dice.  We visited at least 3 places that had Sunday hours listed on Google Maps, but no one was open.  We gave up around 2, when our apartment was ready and headed back to change into some hiking footwear for a light hike on top of Mt. Floyen just outside of town.

Sloane outside of our city apartment. 

We walked down to the station for the Floibanen Funicular, which was only about 10 minutes away from our apartment.  We purchased our round trip tickets for the tram, which would take us to the top of the mountain where we could do some exploring.  We didn't have a solid plan, just that we wanted to see the sunset from up high.  We began hiking in the general direction of up, under some serious cloud cover, and soon found ourselves at the treeline, with a spectacular view of the city below.  The sky kept threatening rain, but it began to clear as we approached the summit of Mt Floyen

A DNT cabin at the top of Mt. Floyen, the North Sea in the background.

It was a very unexpected, and incredible view - and we were alone - most of the folks who rode the tram up here didn't make it past the gift shop, we were pretty glad we did.

Our best impression of Jack and Rose from "Titanic" - this view, with the light just poking out below the cloud layer was incredible.  Below is Bergen, and beyond is the North Sea.

Another view of Bergen from the porch of the DNT cabin.  I would highly recomend anyone looking into staying up here - I wish we had.

As the sun began to set, we made our way back down the mountain, to the tram platform.

Sunset over Bergen, just off the beaten path - and away from the hundreds of other folks taking pictures of sunset.

We decided to get some food at the mountain top restaurant - the Fløien Folkerestaurant - but in keeping with the days events, they had all ready shut down the kitchen.  So we ordered some drinks and "salty sticks" (pretzels) from the nice gentleman at the bar and headed out on the patio to enjoy the rest of the sunset.

Delicious booze at Mt. Floyen.

As dusk settled in, I left Sloane with her wine and took a walk to the overlook at the top of the tram, for some night time shots of Bergen, just below us.  I kept hearing what I thought were goats, and finally after lots of head scratching I found these guys, hidden under the cement overlook I was standing on.  The city keeps a small herd of goats on the summit to keep the underbrush from growing up and ruining the view of the city - pretty clever.

One last shot of Bergen at dusk - the bright lights on the bottom right are from the tram, which carries people up mountain from the city below.

I made my way back to Sloane - who had found a stray kitty while I was gone and had made best friends with it - we finished our drinks and headed back to the tram which would take us back down the mountain to the city to find an open restaurant.  We made our way back to Bryggen, and the fish market - which had people dining outside - a good sign!  We found an open restaurant - I don't even remember which one, but they had the most amazing mussels and we were very, very happy.  We sat, ate and drank outside, right beside the harbor, under the glow of heat lamp - watching a full moon rise over Mt. Floyen - it was perfect, except for the extremely drunk guy who decided he was going to woo the woman eating alone behind us - he failed.  When we were done eating, I decided I wanted to get a quick shot of Bryggen from the harbor, so I left Sloane once again, to go on a photo safari.   I was gone for what I thought was ten minutes, but after making quick friends with a man from Poland, who also happened to be photographing the moon, I had let more time than intended pass (it was more like 25 minutes).  Sloane was understandably upset when I finally caught up with her just outside the restaurant.  I spent the walk home doing my best to apologize for leaving her alone - which she finally accepted later that night - after I promised to pay more attention to the time, and not leave her alone in foreign countries, at night, for long periods of time.

The neighborhood of Bryggen from across Bergen Harbor, with a full moon rising over Mt. Floyen.  

The next day we had plans of taking a boat to see Ole Bull's Villa - a famous violinist who grew up in Norway and oddly enough tried to start a Norwegian settlement in Pennsylvania.  This abandoned settlement is now Ole Bull State Park and somewhere my family I spent a lot of time while Jim and I were growing up - my parents now own property right next to the park.  It turns out the Museum is closed on Mondays, along with the design stores Sloane had wanted to visit., so I went about planning a hike for us - which I of course thought would be easy - as I usually do.   

Our route, which was 8.7 miles and took us 6.5 hours from start to finish.  It was a long day.

We made a plan to hike from Mt. Ulriken, which we would take a bus, then a tram to the top of, to Mt. Floyen, which we had been at the night before.  This would be a nine mile stroll on top of the mountains.  We found an open grocery store right around the corner and stocked up on snacks for the day, as well as some food to make for dinner that night, and laundry detergent to clean our filthy clothes.   We made our way to the bus stop, about a half mile away.  We surprisingly found the right bus this time, and got off exactly where we needed to for the short walk up to the Ulriken cable car, which took us almost to the top of Mt Ulriken, the highest mountain in Bergen.

The Ulriken cable car - Bergen below.

Sloane at the top of Mt Ulriken, after some serious rock scrambling.

The weather was looking good, with lots of clouds and intermittent sunshine.  We began following the rock cairns and sign posts - on our route to Mt. Floyen.  This hike was entirely above the tree line, and mostly over very rocky terrain except for the last 1/2 mile - so we would be relying on these types of trail markers most of the day, which made navigating slightly more difficult.  Thankfully the signposts were very informative.

Sign posts and cloudy skies along our hike.

The sole saver.

After about an hour and a half of hiking we decided to stop for lunch on a large rock.  While we ate we discussed the chance of Sloane's boots falling apart on us and ruining the day.  This was a problem we had noticed in Voss, her sole was delaminating from her boot, and we hadn't had time to get them repaired.  So we decided to be proactive and keep the issue from getting worse.  With little to choose from in materials, I found Sloane's backpack had a long thin bungee on the outside, so we wrapped it around her boot and sole mulitple times to keep the sole attached.  It thankfully did the job, we had to re apply it a few times, but her sole stayed on the entire 9 miles.

The tops of these mountains were gorgeous - they were covered with small and large lakes, giant boulders, colorful grasses and lichens and dotted with DNT cabins everywhere.

The lakes in the foreground of this image are part of the drinking water reservoir system in Bergen.  Some of the prettiest reservoirs I have ever seen.

Sloane, about to begin a serious decent to the reservoirs below.  The North Sea can be seen in the distance.

Scrambling down to the resevoirs.

Sloane by one of the signposts marking the way.  in the valley below is the town of Ervik, just outside of Bergen, and beyond that is the North Sea.

We powered through at least 7 miles of very windy and rocky terrain before we began to tire out and lose enthusiasm.  We were at the bottom of an old ski jump, that is no longer in use, with a very steep climb ahead of us - we sat here for a few minutes and had a snack, while I reassured Sloane we would be done soon.  Our small trail joined up with a much larger, and much more used trail here, we watched 3 groups of folks walk by us as we gathered energy for this final climb uphill.

Fog rolling up the valley where Ervik sits.

When we reached the top of the hill, we looked back and a thick fog had begun to roll into the valley that we had just climbed out of.  It happened very fast, and soon we were simply hiking in the clouds, with almost zero visability. 

Sloane hiking through the clouds.

With our energy levels at almost zero, and a thick fog that had set in all around us - we decided to cut our hike short and stick to the paved road to take us back to the tram. It was all downhill from here, and very eery.  We passed old viaducts, things that looked like bunkers from WW2 and guardrails that were falling into the valleys below.  In our last 1/2 mile - when we finally could recognize where we were from our hike the previous day, it began to rain, hard.  We tossed on our rain coats and made a final push to get to the tram.  When we finally arrived, it had stopped raining, just as fast as it had started, and we waited patiently for the tram to head down the mountain, along with a bunch of other very wet people.  We got into town with enough time to make a beer run (finally) , so I did that while Sloane prepared our final Norwegian meal - which I'm pretty sure was actually Italian - although I can't quite remember.  That night we finished up our laundry, and hung our clothing up to dry around the radiators and fans - since the clothes dryer didn't seem to be doing the trick.  We got as much packed as we could, because the following morning, before the sun would rise we had to be on a bus headed for the airport.  We made it to the bus right on time the following day, and watched the city roll by in the cover of darkness, our last glimpses of Bergen were from some very heavy eyes.  As we sat waiting for our flight to board at the Bergen airport, I grew increasingly excited for what lay ahead - Iceland.

A wet adventure in the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area

My friends (who all happen to be RIT alumni) finally got me out backpacking, for the first time in about 5 years, this past October.  I took a long hiatus from carrying 40 plus pounds on my back, up and down mountains, due to a knee surgery I had a few years back.  We decided to head to wild and wonderful, West by god Virginia, to a spot known as the Dolly Sods WIlderness Area.  This place looks very similar to an arctic tundra, like parts of Alaska or Canada, and it is amazing to have such a unique landscape so close to home.  I had been here before, and hiked a very short section of the trail we were hiking this time, but had never done any overnight trips.  

We drove up on a Thursday evening and had planned to camp out at the only car camping spots in the area - Red Creek Campground - which is right near the trailhead.  We arrived at the top of the mountain around 1030 pm, and were surprised to find a lot of the roadside parking was full, and the campground with its 11 or so sites was also full.  So we parked and left a note for Loren, who was meeting up us later that evening, that we had hiked in on a nearby trail and to meet us there.  Thankfully we found a cell phone signal and were also able to text him our coordinates so he could find us in the darkness.  Loren finally showed up around 1230, with some more cold beers, so we were obligated to stay up and drink it with him until about 2 am.  We sat by the fire and caught up with each other  while the fog rolled in heavily all around us.

Camp night one. 

Camp night one. 

Our camp the following morning, the calm before the storm.

The next morning we woke to a log of fog and slowly got our wet gear packed up for the journey ahead. Nate cooked us up some bacon egg and cheese muffins while the rest of us finished up packing.  We headed out to the car and began to gear up for some serious hiking.  Just about the time we were ready to go, it started raining - and raining hard - that big ol fat rain, like in Forest Gump.  We jumped in the vehicles and put on all our rain gear, at least we didn't have to stop along the trail and fish it all out of our packs.  The trail head was a few miles up the road, and we were there quickly, after a brief stop to see if we could get a weather forecast, but no luck.  For now we just assumed rain all weekend, which was a pretty accurate assumption.  The weather could only improve!

Frank, Loren and Nate testing out the rain gear.

Heading into the Dolly Sods, wet and wild.

We started off at the trail head at Bear Rocks, and planned to hike about 8-10 miles each day, doing a loop and ending up back at our the vehicles on Sunday.  Fall was definitely setting in here, and the colors were gorgeous, even when blanketed in a thick fog.

Crossing Red Creek for the first time.  The water was a bit higher on the way back.

Frank and Loren doing some stream hiking.  We did a lot of this.  

Some vibrant red and green on the forest floor.

The boys checking the map

The rain that morning was on and off, but it was always foggy.  When we go to the ridge, where normally you could see across the valley to the next mountain range, we couldn't see more than 100 feet in front of us.  Up here the wind was relentless, but thankfully the rain was either non existent or a light drizzle most of the time.  We found a few massive boulders to hide behind while we ate lunch, but mostly we were in a hurry to get off of this section.

Hiking across Raven Ridge.  The view could've been awesome.  Instead we saw puddles and rocks.

There should be one hell of a view up here somewhere.....

We finally got off the ridge, and decided to head down into a valley to a water source (left fork of Red Creek) and hoped to find a campsite there as well.  When we got down to the creek - there were people everywhere, but thankfully they continued on their way after filtering water and we were able to find a nice spot beside some other hammockers in the pines.  These neighbors helped us get a much needed fire going with the aid of a small hatchet and some vaseline soaked cotton balls.  I won't ever rag on Frank again for wanting to bring a hatchet backpacking, it was a huge help.  The rain held off until much later that evening and we had a relatively peaceful dinner around the warm fire.

Nate and Loren prepping some dinner.

The Dolly Sods is know for having been a testing ground for artillery during WWII.  There are signs at every trailhead warning you to stay on the trail to avoid the possibility of finding a bomb or mortar that may not have exploded back in the day, and could potentially still go off.  We didn't find any of those thankfully, but our neighbors learned an important lesson about warming up canned goods around a fire - put a vent hole in it first.  This is something we all knew all ready, however the fellas from WV we were camping next to did not.  I was off in the trees throwing the rope for our bear bag when I heard a loud explosion come from the campsite, no one was screaming so I assumed all was ok.  When I got back to the campsite, I found our neighbors scooping chili off the ground with a trowel, and realized that the chili had exploded. So much for keeping the bears away from the campsite.  Luckily no one was sprayed with molten chili, or shrapnel from the can, it could have been so much worse than someone's dinner being wasted.

Frank's fire side chats.  He told Nate and our campsite neighbors the story of wrecking a Honda S4 that belonged to another one of our RIT roomies.

Our camp on night two, right before the rain set in for the night.  Frank's set up was too far away to be seen.

We decided that night if it was pouring in the morning when we got up, that we would sleep in.  We all turned in as the fire died down, and fell asleep to the sound of rain pelting our tarps - we woke up to that same sound.  I slept in as long as I could, but eventually I had to get up to take a leak.  When I did, I decided this rain wasn't going to stop, and set to work getting the rest of the crew awake - by noisily beginning to pack my gear.  After everyone was up and we had some breakfast under the protection of tarps we slowly began to take down our tarps, cover our packs and put our rain gear back on for a wet uphill hike.  

Crossing one of the many creeks on our second day of hiking.

Crossing one of the many creeks on our second day of hiking.

We started off the day with some entertainment, as we watched a group of about 15 cross the creek that we had camped near, and witnessed at least 3 of them step off the rock bridge and up to their knees in the water.  They then turned around to watch us cross, hoping for more of the same, but were let down when we all made it across with dry feet.  We headed up the hill and were soon hiking in a literal creek.  I tried to take some shots, but the combination of body heat and moisture in the air were fogging up the lens too much, and since it was pouring rain still I didn't want to leave it out long enough to acclimate.  We rock hopped with the aid of our trekking poles for about 1/2 a mile through this creek (trail) until we finally connected up to another trail that was a little less waterlogged.   

Loren in his creek crossing pose, probably the 3rd crossing of the day, unfortunately he was the first one of the day to get his boots wet in our group.

This was the day of water crossings.  We managed to avoid a few serious crossings by bushwhacking until we found our trail again, but some just were unavoidable.  The rain let up for us by midmorning, and was on and off again all day long and we once again found lots of fog as we gained altitude.

Grabbing a snack and changing socks after a wet creek crossing.

Heading through the rhododendron bushes.

A pretty large waterfall on Stone Coal Run.  

Once we passed the waterfall, we took a trail that was called Rocky Point Trail, and it turns out this was a very good name for it.  Our pace slowed as we picked our way across large slick boulders, trying not to twist an ankle or knee.

More fog from the view on Rocky Point Trail near Breathed Mountain.

We attempted to find a spur trail that went to the top of Breathed Mountain, to a spot called Lion's Head.  We missed the first turn off, so we decided to keep going and pick up the other side of the trail where it connected back up to Rocky Pt. Trail.  When we found it, we wished we had turned around and chose the other route - because this one was pretty much straight up huge boulders.  But we decided to climb it anyway, hoping to have a good view while we ate lunch.   We made it to the top after a lot of nervous scrambling, and were disappointed to see more fog, so we quickly headed off the overlook to get away from the wind.  We found a spot in the rhododendrons that was protected from the wind and we had a quick lunch, all the while considering if we should actually climb down what we had come up.  We decided that it was worth the risk to climb down, rather than hike an extra mile and half to go back around the opposite way, so we slowly made our way back down the boulder field, and everyone got down safely.

Frank at the bottom of the Lion's Head scramble.  It was a bit too nerve-wracking to take any photos while we were on the boulders.

We made it to a decent campsite, right beside Red Creek around 6pm.  After some back and forth on whether or not we should stay here, a decision was finally made to stay. Frank and Nate had hiked ahead to a stream crossing just a 1/4 mile up the trail and found people everywhere - they came back with the news and we all decided this secluded spot would be our home for the night.

RIT engineering at it's best - how to start a fire with toilet paper and wet wood.

After about 2 hours of carefully tending a very poorly burning fire - which needed to be fanned constantly, with my trusty origami bowl - we finally had enough coals to let it burn on its own.  It was quite the team effort, and it all paid off in the end.  We were able to enjoy our mt house meals around a warm fire - the best way to raise your spirits after a hard day of wet hiking.

A roaring, wet birch fire to warm us up and dry out some wet socks and boots.

Our creek side paradise right next to the campsite.  Loren almost tore his toe nail off while trying to get to the spot behind the boulder to paint it with light, it was looking pretty rough.  

We went the entire night with out any rain, and woke up to dry tarps and gear the next morning, it was quite a welcome feeling not needing to put on rain pants to start the day off.  We had breakfast, packed up and were on the trail by 9, after a quick group shot with some blue skies.  

Frank doing some morning chores after a dry chilly night.

The crew at our last campsite.

We were quickly at the creek crossing where Nate and Frank had seen all the people the night before - and we were very happy we didn't stay here - there were about 8 sites, and it seemed like everyone of them was filled up the night before.  We watched folks crossing the creek where the trail said to, wading up to their knees through the water, and decided to go off the trail to find a spot we could boulder hop - to keep our boots dry for the long hike ahead.

Frank getting some use out of his new gaitors. 

Nate crossing the creek.

Loren keeping his feet dry.

Unfortunately all Nate's hard work to dry his boots and socks the night before was in vain.  

After crossing the creek, we again had a steep climb to get up onto the plateau that we would hike along for the rest of our trip.  Thankfully we didn't have to hike up a creek today.

Sunshine and blue skies, it felt so good!

Nate and Loren avoiding the pond that had formed in the middle of the trail.

Frank hiking right through that pond.

Early fall colors on some windswept trees.

Frank and Loren in the sunshine.

More reflections and blue skies at a trail intersection

Heading up the hill to our first truly enjoyable lunch spot.

We completed the loop by hooking back up to the Bear Rocks trail.

After a glorious lunch in the sunshine, we made it to the end of our loop, and began retracing our steps, on the bear rocks trail, back to the car.  We passed about 20 times as many people on this leg of the trip than we had on our way out in the rain.

Frank on the bear rocks trail - that "don't shoot me orange" really pops.

When we got back to the trail head, it looked like a parking lot for Disney World, there were people everywhere. 

After about 7 or 8 sunny miles, discussing what we would be eating for dinner on our way home, we finally made it back to the trail head, along with the wind.  As we stowed our gear in the trunks of the cars, being careful to not let anything blow away, I made an amazing discovery - we had saved two beers from our first night, and they were still cold!  Victory was ours.  We were on the road by 1:30, and on our way to a gluttonous meal of pizza and wings at a little spot in Cumberland MD.  

This hike wouldn't have been possible without gaitors and trekking poles, so I want to thank them for the support and dry feet.  This was the most adverse weather I have had to endure on a hiking trip in recent memory, and it was good to find out I could still hack it.  We plan on doing more overnight hiking trips next year, hopefully discovering some more awesome spots in PA and MD - places that may be a little closer to everyone, although WV never disappoints.  To keep up with future adventures, scroll to the top of the page and enter your email in the subscribe box on the right.  

Nordics. Part 2 - Oslo & Voss, Norway.

I was up around 7 am, after a fantastic night of sleep while cruising to Norway - much better than the sleep I was able to get on the plane to Denmark.   I headed out to the deck, expecting to see the fjords and Norway in all their splendor, instead I saw fog.  It was thick, and it was everywhere.  Disappointed, I grabbed a coffee from the cafe for Sloane and headed back to the cabin to take a quick shower while Sloane slowly woke up.  After packing our things we headed down to the restaurant where we had a free breakfast waiting for us, to our surprise it was way better the expensive dinner we had the night before.  We even had a seat with a view of the fog.  The ship arrived in Oslo's port around 930am, where we had expected to see the whole city from the water - which we had heard was fantastic - but again it was more fog.  

A foggy Oslo view from the top deck of the cruise ship.

After we got off the boat, we dropped our luggage off at the airbnb, had a quick chat with the owner about what to see, and headed out on foot to see what we could.  We were in Oslo for less than 24 hours, but made the best of our quick visit.  Our first stop was the palace park, right down the street from our room for the night.

Sloane at one of the new huts for the Norwegian Trekking Association, A.K.A. the DNT.   This new modern hut, along with an old school one were brought to the palace park as part of a celebration this past summer.

Some cool mirrored sculpture in the palace park.

We found a design store, imagine that.

Sloane was in heaven.  All of the throw pillows!

Found while wondering the streets of Oslo.

This fellow stared at me the entire time we ate lunch.

After some serious wandering, a great lunch at a small burger joint, and some shopping, we found ourselves at an old fort near the water.  We decided to check it out.  Turns out this was the Akershus Fortress, it was built around 1290 and has been defending Oslo ever since.

Sloane on a foggy path in the Akershus Fortress.

More fog at Akershus.

A foggy view of the small harbor from the walls of Akershus.

There were these creepy statues of little girls crying and hiding all over the fortress grounds.  I talked Sloane into imitating one of them.

Akershus reflections.

Fallen soldier at Akershus.

After a magical hour of fog rolling in and out of the fortress, Sloane got bored watching me chase light around and decided it was time to see something else.  We headed towards the new Opera house on the waterfront, which is pretty impressive.

The new opera house at the Oslo waterfront, you can walk all the way to the roof of this awesome building, and people were certainly taking advantage of the sun that had finally poked out.

The ship we came in on.

Sloane on top of the opera house roof, that Norwegian fog off in the distance. 

Texture and angles on the roof of the opera house.

This lobby (opera house) was ridiculously amazing.

An old section of Oslo.

I'm pretty sure these were hops growing on the side of an old house.

We were pretty exhausted after our city tour, and headed back to our room to take a break before dinner.  We stopped and grabbed a few snacks and beers at the corner grocery, and enjoyed them on our balcony overlooking the courtyard of our building.  Our dinner that night was good, and fast .  We ate at a very old restaurant called Lorry that was directly behind our apartment.  We sat outside and enjoyed the brisk evening air, drank some expensive booze while we waited for our food.  We watched what we could only assume was a group of kids taking part in one of those games where you are locked in a room and need to find clues to get out, in the apartment across the street .  It was quite ammusing  to see from the outside - everyone just kept picking up random objects in the room looking closely at them and then setting them back down.  

The following morning we were up at 5 AM to catch a train from Oslo to Voss, as part of the Norway in a Nutshell tour, one of best ways to see the different landscapes of Norway.  Norway in a Nutshell is a group tour that uses public transportation to take you from Oslo to Bergen, with the option to stop over at any town you want along the way for a night or two.  I found out that if you simply book the tickets yourself, instead of using the Norway in a Nutshell site, you save about $100 per person, so we did it that way.   

Our train coming out of a tunnel, passing a mountain lake en route to Voss.

A mountain stream along the way, near Finse.

The platform view from Hallingskeid station.

The tour takes a detour from the Bergen Railway at Myrdal Station.  From here you board the Flam railway and descend almost 3000 feet in 12 miles, to Aurland and the Fjords, making it one of the steepest train routes in the world on normal tracks.  

Kjosfossen - a 780ft waterfall along the Flam railway.  There is a small Hydro power plant here used to power the railway.

Heading into the valley on the Flam Railway.

Another giant waterfall along the Flam railway.

At the bottom of the railway is the small village of Flam with a visitor center, a brewery and a few restaurants.  We were suppose to have a few hours here to explore the area, but our first train had an issue that delayed us just enough to miss out on exploring.  So we grabbed a few cans of beer from the local store and hopped on board the next leg of the tour, a cruise through Naeroyfjord.

The waterfront in Flam.

Our first real glimpse of a Norwegian Fjord that wasn't covered in fog.

I forgot to mention there were a few other people with us on this journey.

We found out that the lower deck, where cars would normally go was absent of people, so we spent most of our time down here.

The village of Undredal, accessible only by boat until 1988.  The population here is 100 people and 500 goats.

Looking back at the rock faces climbing straight out of the water.

Looking towards Gudvangen, our destination.

Looking up to the peaks from the water.

This cruise was pretty amazing, and we were lucky enough to have some sunshine grace us during the tour.  We docked at a much smaller town called Gudvangen - from here we boarded a bus and headed for Voss.  Along the way is a famous road known as the stalheimskleiva.  This is one of northern Europes steepest roads, and has some serious hairpin turns.  It is a one way road, thankfully, and some how the busses were able to navigate it.

A view of the Naeroy Valley from the stalheimskleiva.

Coming up on a hairpin bend, at close to a 20% grade.  Sivelfossen waterfall in the background.

The hair pin turns of the stalheimskleiva.

After a very eventful bus ride, we finally arrived at our destination for the next two nights - Voss.   Voss is known as the outdoor adventure capital of Norway.  White water rafting, kayaking, paragliding, bungee jumping, canyoneering and skydiving are all things we didn't do, because they cost about a million dollars in Norway - and I will never willingly jump out of an airplane.  We opted to do some serious hiking.  Our Air BnB this time was hosted by a friendly Canadian, his Norwegian wife and their kids.  We had a small apartment in their basement, and a view of the valley from the front yard - it was pretty fantastic.  The hosts even picked us up from the bus station, which was above and beyond AirBnB standards.

Sloane on the way into town, checking out some Norwegian graffiti. 

We decided to cook our meals in Voss, not many restaurants were open anymore - since it was past peak tourist season - so we headed to the grocery store to get some food and booze.  To our horror, the grocery store stopped selling alcohol at 8pm, and it was 8:15.  We got our food and decided to try another store on the way home.  We got a bunch of beer up to the register, only to be turned down by the clerk, it ended up being a very sober stay for us in Voss.  The following day we had a leisurely breakfast and took our time getting ready for the our hike.  It was nice to not pack all our belongings up for a change.  We didn't get out the door until close to 11 - not the best way to start a 12 mile hike. The trail we were hiking wasn't actually 12 miles, but to get to the trail head was a 3 mile walk from our house, so that made it a little longer.

Sloane on the footbridge over the Vosso river, just the beginning of our day hike.

Looking over the Vosso river, if you look close you'll see a paraglider - they seemed to be raining down from everywhere.

Vosso River Foot bridge.

We had a quick detour on the way to the trail head, to hike the bordalsgjelet gorge.  This is similar to Watkins glen in NY if you have ever been there - only much shorter.  

Sloane in the gorge

Waiting for the crowd to clear to get a shot of the gorge.

Really the only view in the gorge, very pretty, but we had bigger things to see, like the top of a mountain.

After a quick hike in the gorge, we were back on the road and on our way to the trail head, only 1.5 more uphill miles to go.

Finally at the trailhead, it was 2 pm, and the sun was still hiding.

The trail started out pretty much straight uphill, and continued that way - forever.  We quickly were surrounded by the colors of autumn as we climbed higher and higher.

Rosett Cabin, part of the DNT system for hiking trails in Norway.  Any one can rent/ and stay in these cabins.

The sun came out while we took a rest after nearly 2600  vertical ft of hiking, the fall colors were pretty vivid here for mid-september.

We thought we had found the view, but it only got better from here with every step.

Above the treeline, at 2900 feet.

Up we go.

This was our summit at 3200 feet, not the actual summit which was 4314 feet and still a mile away.

We made it to this cairn in the boulder field around 5 pm, and decided at this point it was best to turn around and head back down.  The climb down would most likely be quick, but could also be a bit dangerous with a lack of light due to how steep it was.  We also wanted to get to the grocery store before 8, so we could get some much deserved booze to go along with our dinner.  And I forgot to mention, Sloane's boots were falling apart - you will hear more about this later.

The top to us.

Snow!

Voss is down there somewhere.

Sloane begining the trek back down.

Long Shadows and boulders.

Mountain top pond.

On our way back down, we discovered a herd of cows grazing on the trail - Sloane was super excited, I was a bit nervous.  I had never encountered mountain cows before.

Sloane amongst the cows.

This guy stared me down the whole way, he definitely made me the most nervous.

We timed our hike perfectly, just at the bottom of the gorge that we had hiked earlier, we had a great view of the sunset over the lake in Voss.

We made it down off the trail before dark, and across the river to town just as the street lights were coming on, around 745 - plenty of time to get some booze, or so we thought.  As we started loading up our basket with different types of beer, the cashier came back and informed us that today, for some weird reason, you could only buy alcohol until 7pm.  We thought he was kidding, but unfortunately he was not.  We left the store empty handed again, and decided we would head to a bar to get a beer instead.  Nothing was open.  The only place we found was a semi-fancy steak house type restaurant - and it had 2 bar stools, which we quickly sat upon and asked for a beer and a red wine.  We sat and drank our victory drinks, in our stinky, sweaty hiking clothing as people filed past us to have a fine dining experience - but we didn't care - we deserved this.  We headed home, still a 3/4 mile walk, with some very sore feet after having sat for half an hour, and made our selves some dinner at the apartment.  We took some time to pack our belongings once again, as the following day we would be leaving Voss for Bergen, the next and final stop on our tour of Norway.   

Our mountain view from the apartment window in Voss - it was pretty spectacular.

Nordics. Part 1 - Copenhagen, Denmark.

Sloane and I took a serious trip over seas in the middle of September, and it was amazing.  I have never really traveled abroad, aside from a quick work trip to Israel when I was fresh out of college.  Sloane used to do European trips with her family quite often, but hasn't done so since she graduated college.  So, for her 30th birthday this past summer, we took some tax return money and decided we would go somewhere awesome together.  Sloane was in charge of choosing where we went, and she ended up on Scandinavia, after seeing some other blogs that she followed who had some pretty great shots and descriptions of their travels to the area.  We began our journey in Copenhagen Denmark. We arrived around 12PM on September 12th after taking a red eye from DC, through Iceland.  The plan was to sleep on the plane, but I didn't do much of that.  So we would need to fight through the afternoon to stay awake and get on a normal schedule according to the six hour time difference.  We got to our AirBnB - which are the only places we stayed during the entire trip - later that afternoon after a long lunch and an even longer walk with all our luggage.  

Sloane and bikes outside of our apartment in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen.

The view from the dining area of our Copenhagen apartment.

We met our host, got a little tour of the apartment, took showers and then headed out to discover the wonderments of this bike friendly city.  We were lucky enough to have a city bike share right out side of our front door.  We paid a monthly fee to access the bikes and then less than a dollar an hour while using them - if the ride was under half an hour, it was free.  There are a ton of these bike share stations around the city, and you can just grab a bike from the closest one to you, and then drop it off at any other station around the city.  It's a fantastic way to travel around the city.

We hopped on our gobikes and headed down to the happening area of Islands Brygge - right along the main canal in Copenhagen.  This area of town has a bunch of bars with outdoor seating, a few restaurants and a beautiful park that has public swimming areas right in the canal.

Islands Brygge, from the Langebro bridge.

Some one taking the leap from the high jumping platform.

As you can tell by the people swimming, we were greeted in Copenhagen with some pretty excellent weather, given the time of year.  It was in the low 70's and exceptionally sunny.  Apparently the weather had been pretty miserable and rainy up until the week we arrived.

Kayakers in the main canal.  Islands Brygge had a court for kayak polo, and we arrived just after a match had ended, so I unfortunately didn't get to witness this sport in action.

We headed over to Nyhavn from here to find a place to get dinner.  This is another incredibly popular area of town, and has a ton of restaurants to choose from - and the majority of them have outdoor seating.  It is directly on a canal, that has all types of boats moored up. 

Nyhavn canal.

Nyhavn.

At this point, the struggle to stay awake was a real one.  We sat down and had an incredibly slow, but good italian meal on the water as darkness approached.  After our dinner we took a quick walk out onto the Inderhavnen pedestrian and bicycle bridge - which we later learned had just been completed after some serious issues building it - i guess they built it from both sides, and it didn't meet up in the middle like planned.  

Nyhavn, as seen from the newly completed Inderhavnen bridge.

From here we found the closest bike share, grabbed our rides and headed back to get some much needed sleep, and rid ourselves of jet lag.  We woke up early the following day, to sunny skies and more warm weather.  We again hopped on the bikes and headed back out to do some more sightseeing.  Our first stop was the national library of Denmark - one of many incredible architectural wonders in Denmark.

Sloane at one of the bike shares, outside of the national library of Denmark.

A view inside of the national library.

We didn't hang out inside the library for very long, but were able to get a good overview of the space, it was pretty amazing.  Sloane ordered a smoothie from the cafe here. We couldn't translate the menu, so she ended up with some beets mixed in with apples, which wasn't too bad actually.  We grabbed a seat out on the patio of the library, which is right on the main canal and planned what to do next.  

View of Christiana from the National library Patio, a great mix of new and old architecture.  

The National library.

We decided to head to Amager Square and the Danish design stores that it houses, for Sloane to oogle all the things she and I both would love to fill our home with.  We went to Illums Bolighus first, there was 4 floors of fancy here, and we easily killed an hour walking around.  We then headed across the square to HAY House, and found even more Danish design to look at.  Both of these places made Ikea seem like walmart.  

Lighting and furniture in HAY House.

A view of Amager Square from the windows of HAY House.  

After looking at all the pretty things, we grabbed a couple sandwiches at a local cafe, ate lunch in the neighboring park, and attempted to over come our envy of Danish design.  We then headed over to the Danish Design museum to see their extensive collection of all things Danish, and it was quite impressive.  Obviously, failing at our attempt to rid ourselves of any envy. 

Sloane among the many reams of fabric hanging in the Danish Design Museum.

A sweet sofa in the design museum.

After a long day of design sightseeing, we rode back to Islands Brygge with the plan of renting a goboat - which are solar powered boats you can take out on the canals - but we neglected to make a reservation and our plan was quickly squashed when we learned there was no availability that evening.  So we instead grabbed a few beers at a waterfront bar, and tried to decide what to do for dinner - this was difficult, since both of our phones had died.  We again grabbed bikes and made our way back to the apartment to clean up for dinner.  We rode our bikes, (accidentally) through a pitch black graveyard, to a seafood restaurant called Oysters&Grill - it may have been one of the best meals we had while in Scandinavia.  Fried shrimp, steamed shrimp, mussels, razor clams, ceviche and booze - it was fantastic.  

The following day was our last in Copenhagen, and we definitely made the best of it.  We were again up early (still adjusting to the time difference), we hopped on our bikes and rode our way down to the main canal, where we were scheduled for a kayak tour of the canals with Kayak-Republic.  I typically do not do kayak tours, but in Denmark and Norway, you must posses a euro paddle pass, which you can get from taking a very long and expensive course - basically like being certified by the ACA in the US.  Since we do not have  EPP certificates, we had to be on the water with a guide.

Sloane took the bow position, and did a great job paddling while I took photos.

The Royal Danish Opera house, as seen from the kayak tour, was completed in 2004.  Check out how RedBull uses this building.

Amalienborg - guest residences for the royal family and the largest dome in Scandinavia, from  Frederiks church, rising in the background.

A back canal in Christiana with lots of expensive boats.

Kayak touring

The National Library and the cirkelbroen bridge, which rotates to open up and allow tall ships to pass.

Marmobroen bridge.

After a great two hours on the water,  we thanked our guide, and grabbed a quick lunch at the Kayak Bar, which is part of Kayak Republic.  It's a pretty great place, with very good food.  Right on the water, and you can eat on a floating dock, complete with sandy beach and palm trees.  While we were waiting for our lunch to be prepared, soaking in the sunshine - I decided we had to jump in the water - it seemed like the thing to do here.  So I went for it, and played it off like it wasn't that cold so Sloane would follow.  It was cold.  But I am glad we did it, and it's not everyday you get the opportunity to swim in the canals of Copenhagen while drinking and waiting for your food to arrive.  

Danish smorrebrod.  Open face sandwiches from Kayak Bar - they were delicious.  Sloane got salmon and I got roast beef.

After we dried off from our swim and had our lunch, we jumped back on our bikes and made our way back to the apartment to get packed and organized for the next leg of our journey - an overnight ferry ride to Norway.   We managed to squeeze everything we brought back into our luggage, something we would do many more times, and called ourselves an Uber to get us to the ferry terminal in time - we were worried we wouldn't make it using the public transportation. One of only a few times we ubered - despite Sloane's strong lobbying attempts on many occasions.   

We got there with plenty of time to spare and boarded our cruise ship, the Crown Seaways.  A cruise ship - that is exactly what it was - this was not a ferry. It had 5 restaurants, a huge duty free store, 3 bars and 2 clubs.  We dropped our bags off at our cabin, which was a great little room with a window on the 9th deck of the ship, then headed up to the bar on the 12th deck to take in the last bit of Copenhagen, and Denmark from the water.

Sun deck beverages.  We quickly learned it was much smarter to buy alcohol at the duty free shop.

The Danish and Norwegian flag, along with the DFDS seaways flag

Sloane enjoying some wine while cruising up the Swedish coast.

Sunset from the sun deck.

Sloane enjoying the sunset and moonrise on the Crown Seaways. 

After a not so fantastic meal at the pizza restaurant on board the Crown, we headed out to find the nightlife.  What we found was an empty club.  I guess since it was a weekday, they were not operating the late night entertainment.  But we did find another club, full of folks well into their 70's, enjoying some live polka type music.  Sloane made me dance in front of the crowd, no one seemed to care that I suck at dancing which was nice.  Afterwards we went back to the room and decided it was time to sleep. And when we woke up, we were in a different country - Norway.

Late night shot of the smoke stack billowing that pollution into the crisp sea air.  I found out its pretty much impossible to use a tripod on a cruise ship - everything shakes like crazy.

Up next - Oslo Norway, Stay tuned.

The Eastern Shore

I have been horribly slow at getting posts up from past trips.  I am working on getting caught up so I have a fresh memory to write new ones now that we have just come back from Scandinavia.  These images are from an amazing vacation we took in late June, to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, about as far down as you can go.  I am not going to give much narrative, but please enjoy the images and the small amount of words that go along with them.  We started our trip off with a fast visit to Chincoteage and Assateague, since we were driving right by on the way to our final destination.

Sloane on the giant chairs at the Chincoteague water front park.

Sloane hanging at Woody's Beach BBQ on Chincoteague.

Woody's is awesome because of three things : BBQ, Hammocks, and it's proximity to Assateague Island.  We rode our bikes from Chincoteague to Assateague, got some exercise and saved a few dollars.

Let the sunburn begin.  Sloane on the beach at Chincoteague.  

After a few hours in the sun we headed back to our car, and further down the shore to our vacation home.

Bedroom with a view.

The living area.

View from the bed area.

We rented a studio apartment for our vacation, but a really nice one.  It was situated directly on a creek, had its own dock and a deck with a view of sunset and sunrise.  Below the apartment used to be a boat house, but it was recently renovated to be an event space.  This place sits on a peninsula, so you are basically surrounded by water, it's amazing.

The deck view.

The front of the house from the water.

Sunset from the back of the house.

The "back" of the house.

From this home base we : ate, drank, kayaked, hiked, swam, saw lots of wildlife, watched the sun rise and set and generally had an amazing time.  Below are some images arranged in some sort of order. 

Food:

First nights dinner.

First nights dinner.

Grilled pizza for dinner.

My first take at oyster shucking in quite a while, I forgot the clean the shells.....

Oysters round 2.

I actually cleaned them this time.

Sunrise:

The morning view from the deck over glassy waters.  I still have no idea what this dock was for, but it made for a good photo subject.

I met some wonderful women who went rowing from our dock every morning - they invited me to come along one day, but I had plans of either sleeping in, or kayaking elsewhere in the mornings, so it never worked out.

The Cape Charles Rowing Club.

Sunrise in Oyster, VA on Cobb Mill Creek.  I went kayaking out of here to some barrier islands in Mockhorn Bay on this particular day.

A fleet of boats in the Oyster harbor, check out that pile of oyster shells in the background.

Wildlife:

Black Skimmers, flying over the glassy waters of Cherrystone inlet in the morning.

Black Skimmers, flying over the glassy waters of Cherrystone inlet in the morning.

A family of curious sea otters coming to check me out.

Sea Otters!

A Great Egret stalking breakfast in Mockhorn Bay.

A ginormous loggerhead turtle I was lucky enough to spot in Blackbeard's Creek, while eating my lunch from shore during a kayak trip.  I swear it's head was as big as mine.

A common tern in Mockhorn Wildlife Refuge

Another Black Skimmer doing its thing.  These birds are awesome.

A peregrine falcon protecting it's nesting box, on an old chimney foundation right near Mockhorn Wildlife Refuge.

Dead dinosaur, or horseshoe crab.

Sunsets:

Sunset from the banks of Cherrystone Inlet.

Sunset from the banks of Cherrystone Inlet.

Sunset from the deck.

Sunset on our last night, listening to Amazing Grace and toasting our lost friend, Captain George.

Randoms that have no place:

The decomissioned Cape Charles Lighthouse, which happens to be the second tallest in the US, right behind the Cape Hatteras Light.

Sloane's best Michael Jackson impersonation on our rainy day hike at Savage Neck Dunes, which are some of the highest points on the Eastern Shore.

Perfect hammock spot, under the deck.

Perfect hammock spot, under the deck.

He almost got away.  True story, I found this scene while kayaking, it was not set up.

At the beach in the town of Cape Charles.  Love the repurposed kayak.

Sloane showing me how to dive properly.  I'm more of a cannonball guy though.

Late night photo session:

Thunderstorms in the distance, clear skies above.

A skeleton tree near the house, on a late night kayak venture.

Stormy skies on the way back to Baltimore:

Bay Bridge.

An amazing storm to see from the Bay Bridge.

This is one of the best vacations we have taken together, I'm sure it will be topped soon - but we are definitely going back to this place.

Serious. Urban. Kayaking. Our circumnavigation of NYC.

We Beat Manhattan, all 31 miles of it.  It was hot, windy, smelly, humid, sometimes scary and very tiring. We paddled our kayaks the entire way around Manhattan Island, in a day.  My buddy Loren (who you may remember from the last post as getting his SUV seriously stuck in the mud) and I have been meaning to do this trip for a while now.  I honestly don't remember who came up with the idea, but I'm going to give it to him, since he is the NYC resident.      

Waking the fleet up early for our adventure.  The resurrected CRV loaded down.

Our adventure plans hadn't been working out recently, since I have been spending a lot of free time remodeling our recent home purchase.  I had a wedding to attend on the 12th, north of the city, so I got in touch with Loren, and he agreed we should try to make this adventure finally happen while I was in town.  The weather wasn't looking great, strong thunderstorms and high winds were forecast for the entire weekend, but I decided to bring along the boat anyway - with the hopes the weather would improve.  By saturday afternoon the chance of thunderstorms was down to 10%, but the temperatures were suppose to be in upper 90's, and the sun was going to be shining.  A brutal outlook for spending all day on the water (water you shouldn't swim in) without shade.

Cruising to our put in at Newtown Creek, from Brooklyn.  The highway was oddly quiet at 530 AM.

Sloane and I arrived in Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon, after having way to much fun at our friend's wedding, and sleeping less that 5 hours.  It was hot, like melt the deodorant in your bag hot.  We met up with a few good friends in the neighborhood, who like most folks in NYC, don't have central AC and were doing their best to stay cool.  We immediately went out for lunch, at a sushi place that was guaranteed to be cool, and the food was good too.  After lunch we headed to the park to sit under a tree and wish for a cool breeze that never really came.  After an amazing casual dinner at a local restaurant, Hugo & Sons, I said goodbye to our friends and Sloane (she took a train home the following day) and headed for Loren's place down the road. I had planned on going to bed early and getting a good nights sleep to rest up for the big trip. Instead I got to Loren's at 11, and stayed up until 12 planning and getting gear ready.

At the boat launch, just in time for sunrise.

After 4.5 hours of sleep, we were up and packing coolers for the long day ahead.  As with most of our adventures, the first stop was McDonald's to get some greasy breakfast sandwiches to start the day off right.  We then ran around to a few different gas stations looking for one that sold ice, which it turns out is a difficult thing to find in NYC.  We finally found bags of ice at the third store we visited, and we were off to the put in.  I didn't do much research on the put in, just that there was a small portage, water access, and that it was pretty much where we wanted to start our trip according to the Eldridge current chart - which you will want to study if you plan to do this trip.  Here is a link to another blog that I found incredibly helpful, having never paddled anywhere in the city before.  Here is a list of launches all around the city, read the descriptions carefully! 

At the boat "launch".  This was a gate, a straight drop into the seriously polluted water at least 4 feet down, and a pool ladder to help get in and out of your boat.  Not ideal, but at least we had water access.

The Empire State building from the water on Newtown Creek.

About to hit the East River.

We were loaded and on the water by 6:15 AM, a few minutes late, but given the lack of sleep we thought it was pretty good.  The most crucial goal of the day was to be a Hell Gate at slack tide.  This is a notoriously hard section of water to navigate on the East River, and I'm guessing damn near impossible to do against the current in a kayak.  The current reaches 4 knots here regularly.  With 3.5 miles to go from the landing, and slack tide at 7:30 AM, we were in a bit of a hurry to get there.  As we planned, the current was with us, moving north up the East River, toward Hell Gate.  It was a good feeling to know we had gotten the first piece of the puzzle correct.

Loren and the city, the UN is just to the left of him.

At the tip of Roosevelt Island, and the beginning of Hell Gate, so glassy.

We made it to Hell Gate right on time, and it was a smooth paddle over glassy waters - it couldn't have gone better, we didn't even have to deal with boat traffic, we had the river all to ourselves.  For a look at what the currents can do in this section when the tide is moving - check out this video - click ahead to 40 seconds in to see some sail boats getting tossed around.

Loren all smiles after a smooth ride through Hell Gate, Wards Island Pedestrian bridge is above him.

After we passed through Hell Gate, we were now in the Harlem River, the narrowest body of water we would paddle all day.  This part of the trip was nice and relaxing, aside from a few groups of jet skiers, there was no real boat traffic.  After passing by the Bronx and Yankee stadium, the surroundings opened up a bit and we were rewarded with trees, and the site of other boaters - we were starting to wonder if we would see anyone else paddling on this trip. The currents changed according to the charts, and we were slowly but surely being pushed towards the mighty Hudson River.

Keeping hydrated, about to pass under the RFK bridge in the Harlem River.

Demshitz in the Harlem river, near the Bronx? Those of you who are white water boaters will know this, for the rest this will make no sense at all.

Passing by Yankee Stadium.  Still a glassy ride.

Passing by Yankee Stadium.  Still a glassy ride.

A crew of folks learning to row on the Harlem River.  We must've passed at least 5 of these groups, all coming from the Peter J Sharp Boathouse.  It was good to see some other paddlers. One of those bridges is I-95.

Loren making the bend into Spuyten Duyvil Creek, at the Marble Hill station.

Loren making the bend into Spuyten Duyvil Creek, at the Marble Hill station.

At the very north end of the Harlem River is a really pretty area called Spuyten Duyvill Creek, which apparently translates to "spitting devil".  This creek empties into, or is fed by, the Hudson River, and the current gets a little dicey going through the narrow mouth of it.  It is also home to the sports complex for Columbia University, including their boathouse. 

Enjoying some shade near Columbia's boat house, on Spuyten Duyvil creek.  The big C is for Columbia University.

By 10 AM we had reached the entrance to the Hudson River.  The sun was getting high in the sky, and we were feeling the heat.  We decided to stop and eat lunch in a shaded cove before leaving the peaceful calm of Spuyten Duyvil, right beside the Amtrak.  The mud was thick, and it definitely had a smell about it, but it sure felt good to stand up after 12 miles of paddling and almost 4 hours of sitting.  We rested for half an hour or so, watched the Amtrak go speeding by and witnessed the bridge swing 90 degrees to allow two smaller boats to pass.  

Lunch at the mouth of Spuyten Duyvill Creek.

After a decent break, we loaded our gear up and climbed back into our boats for our journey down the much larger Hudson River.  The currents again lined up with our schedule and were pushing us swiftly down the Hudson to the Battery.  The water here was a lot less glassy and much more turbulent.  There is a ton of boat traffic in this waterway, and it gets more and more intense the closer you get to the Battery.  I decided that we needed more drinking water, so we made a quick pit stop at the marina at the north end of Manhattan.  I walked into the bar at the marina with my PFD and smelly shoes like it was normal, but apparently it is not.  The bartender was not very friendly, and informed me (after seriously judging what I was wearing) that they weren't open for another half an hour and he couldn't sell me water.  Luckily his co-worker was a bit more friendly, and decided he would help me out.  18 dollars later we had ourselves some ice cold bottled water, and I was much less worried we would get dehydrated.   After going through this water ordeal, I realized at the end of the marina was a kayak rental place, I'm sure this would have been a more friendly place to get some hydration.  

Approaching the George Washington Bridge, which carries I-95 over the Hudson River.

Looking back at the GW after passing under it.

Cruise ships are big. 

We reached the Intrepid museum at 1:30, this is pretty much directly across Manhattan from where we had started our trip, 7 hours ago.  We had paddled 21 miles at this point and were 2/3's of the way done.  Right above the cruise ship we pulled out on a small floating dock that was designated a kayak launch.  We hid in the tiny piece of shade under the ramp that went from the seawall down to the dock and ate a second lunch, amongst goose shit and used syringes - our first lunch spot was so much better.  Needless to say we didn't stay long at this particular spot, and were back on the water as soon as the sandwiches were gone.  The next 5.5 miles were the most hectic and nervous miles of the day.   

Loren passing the Chelsea Piers.

The water in this area was never calm, and I took very few photographs here, since I didn't feel stable enough to leave my camera out of the waterproof bag.  The wakes from large ferries, yachts, police cruisers and cruise ships would sneak up on us from half a mile away and crash over our decks.  We learned to time them, but when they are coming from all directions, it is hard to avoid.  We pretty much paddled along the edges of the piers, trying to stay out of the way of all the heavy traffic. 

Self portrait in the side of a mega yacht.

Approaching the battery.

Loren and lady liberty.

Directly after this shot, we headed around the last sheltered area on the Hudson, and quickly turned back around.  The wind was blowing hard and boat wakes were breaking over our decks every few seconds.  We headed back to the last cove we had passed, and discussed the best way to tackle this.  I put on my spray skirt and found out at the same time Loren had neglected to bring his.  We noticed that when we were close to the seawall of the battery, the waves would reverberate off the wall and back towards us, causing all sorts of turbulence - so we decided to stay further away from the wall, at least 100 yards. We discussed what we would do incase of a capsize, and that I would lead around the first bend.  

The plan was going well, and it seemed the wind had died down a bit.  Then Loren passed me, and began to pull away from me.  I continued on at my own pace, keeping a careful eye on all the boats in the harbor and which way they were heading.  The further away Loren got from me, the more dangerous our situation became.  If one of us were to capsize, it would take a considerable amount of time for the other to reach him.  Loren was not thinking this way, and just wanted to get across the battery and the East River to shore as fast as possible - which we both did without incident, thankfully.  He pulled into a small beach near Montague street, while my route took me further up the East River to a floating dock, closer to the Brooklyn Bridge Park.  I landed and called Loren to let him know where I was, and to yell at him for leaving me behind. He hopped back in his boat and paddled up to find me.  After a few angry exchanges about how dangerous what he did was, and him explaining that he had to go as fast as possible because he was worried about capsizing - we worked it out and were back to paddling the final 4 miles of our trip.  

Loren and the Brooklyn Bridge in the background.

Going under the Williamsburg Bridge.

Once we were in the East River, the wind and current were on our side, and they pushed us quickly back toward Newtown creek and our take out.  The boat traffic slowed considerably once we got passed the Brooklyn Bridge, and we were once again able to relax.

Graffiti at the mouth of Newtown creek.  This is how we both felt.

Loren using his umbrella as a sail heading to the landing.  We brought umbrellas along to provide shade, but by the time we wanted to use them, the water was way to turbulent to hold onto one and your paddle, so this was the only use they got.

As we made the turn into Newtown creek, we opened some semi-cold beers we had been saving all day and had a victory toast.  31 miles in 10 hours.  We arrived back at the landing at 4:45 and began the difficult process of getting our boats and gear from the water to the car.

Loren climbing the ladder at the "landing" on Newtown Creek.

Victory photo.

We got our gear loaded pretty quickly and headed back to Loren's place. All we wanted to do was go get food, but we smelled way to bad to be out in public, so opted for quick showers before eating.  We ended up at a bar in Loren's neighborhood that served Mexican food from the restaurant above it.  We sat at the bar, watching some serious storm clouds roll in - thankful they had held off - and devoured our food.  We were back at Loren's before the sun went down and I quickly fell asleep on the couch, feeling like I was till bobbing in the harbor when I closed my eyes.  It was a very uneventful evening and sleep was the top priority.  I was up early the next day to head back to Baltimore and was home by 11 AM to give all my gear a serious scrubbing from the polluted waters we had launched and landed in (not that our harbor is any cleaner)

This was a great trip, and it worked out incredibly well, despite having never paddled anywhere in NYC before.  The weather was semi-cooperative, aside from the oppressive heat and humidity, but at least we weren't chased off the water by lightning.  We are both unsure if we would do it again, but I would definitely like to hit the battery in the early morning hours if I did, to avoid a lot of the boat traffic there, and probably do it in reverse - paddling up the Hudson and back down the East River.  I highly recommend this trip to anyone who is a strong paddler and wants a very different view of NYC. 

Memorial Day in Rhody

This is another adventure that has been stuck in the pipes, I was finally able to get it out for you all to see.  At the end of May Sloane and I took a trip up to her home state of Rhode Island to visit with our family - and enjoy the first days of summer - New England style.

Leaving Point Judith on the Ferry to Block Island

We took a ferry from Point Judith to Block Island for the day, where we were all blessed with the first sunburns of summer.  We made sure to bring sunblock, just not to use it.  The temps were in the 70's, but it was incredibly windy, so no one really thought much about it, since we weren't hot.  We rented bikes for the morning and cruised around the tip of the island, bar hopping and sightseeing.  

The point of Block island as seen from the rear of the ferry.

Just before we opened the bar at Champlin's on Block Island.

Dark and stormy for brunch.

If you've never been to Block Island, I highly recommend it.  It is a super bike friendly place, and rentals are pretty affordable.  Right across the street from the ferry are at least 4 places to rent bikes and motor scooters from.  We stayed rather close to the main town, since we only rented bikes for half a day, but you could easily bike around the whole island in a day.

Sloane cruising down the road to Mohegan Bluffs.

The view from Mohegan Bluffs, worth the trek.

On top of Mohegan Bluffs

The South East lighthouse at Mohegan Bluffs

The road back to Shoreham, and the ferry.  The water here was incredibly blue and clear.

Some artsy boat wake from the boat ride back to mainland.

After visiting the bluffs, we all met up at a restaurant across from the ferry to get a late lunch and have a few drinks.  Thats when we all realized we forgot to apply sunblock.  Lesson learned, even if its cold enough to wear a jacket, if the sun is shining, you still need to block those UV rays.

Looking southwest down the Providence River.

We went to a BBQ Sunday night, hosted by someone Sloane and her brother went to high school with.  They had quite the spot, right on the river, and next to a beach.  The house felt like it was built on the water, I guess thats because it just about was.   

The back of the houses where the BBQ was.

The Barrington crew playing some corn hole

Fog rolling in from Narraganset Bay.

Brother and Sister

Whelans and McWhelans

The house at dusk.

The fog about to swallow the sunset

Corn hole, beer and a fire, right by the water - pretty perfect.

There were a lot of other highlights to this trip that just didn't get photographed.  Graveyard hikes with Brendan, seeing our friends from the days when we lived in Charleston - Kris, Jana, their two kiddos and Adam and Rebecca.  We had a great dinner out with them in Providence.  We also got to see Brad and Meg's new home they purchased recently, Laurie's new house right by the water, and of course Brendan made us a killer dinner the night before we headed back to reality.  More summer adventures coming soon. 

Stuck in the mud, CheatFest and Spring Crick 2016

Once again, I am really late posting images, but better late than never.  

First up - a return to spring crick in early April, for the annual gathering on the first day of trout fishing season in Pennsyltucky.  I did not spend a lot of time with my camera this trip - I was too busy hiking, eating and drinking most of the time - but here are a few choice shots from the weekend.  We had amazing weather yet again, so good, I am positive it will snow next year.  It was sunny, warm and dry in the Allegheny National Forest the entire weekend.  I think some people even caught fish - once again I didn't bother to bring my fishing gear.  

Palomino trout stand out at the fish hatchery on Pig's Ear Road.  Unfortunately none of these fellas were stocked in Spring Creek for opening day.

Firewood friday.  Tyler loves to use his chainsaw, and we love to burn wood.

Epic game of Bocce on the mountain.

The future rowdy kids of spring crick, working hard.

Who needs nature when you have video games.

There was a lot of this going on all weekend.

Build a huge fire, and stand way back.

Next up was an epic fail of a backpacking trip to the PineBarrens on the last weekend of April.  This one is going to have a lot of words, but it is a fantastic story if you have the time to read it.

Hiking along the BATONA (Back to Nature) trail in New Jersey Pine Barrens - this place is amazing.

Sloane and I decided last minute (2 days beforehand) that we would go backpacking for the weekend.  I assessed the weather (rain everywhere) and determined that instead of heading west to the App Trail like we had wanted to we would head north east to New Jersey to hike the Batona trail in Wharton State forest, this way we would at least have a day of sunshine before the rain came.  While packing Sloane's gear we noticed her rain jacket was no longer waterproof - so we would need to stop and buy a new one.  We set out Saturday morning for NJ - in two vehicles so we could leave one at the end of the trail.  Our first stop was REI somewhere along the way to buy a new rain coat, and the cheapest pocket knife they had - since I had left mine in my jeans at home - like an idiot.  We then grabbed some lunch, and a sweater for Sloane at LL Bean, since we had also left her fleece at home, and it was going to be in the 40's at night, with plenty of moisture to go along with it.  Not off to a great start.  

We arrived at the visitor center for Wharton state forest - around 2pm.  We registered for our campsites, recieved a brief warning about the rain that was heading this way, and left a vehicle in the parking lot, since this is where we would end up.  The plan was to hike 8 miles the first day, and to start hiking those 8 miles at 1pm.  We were already behind and weren't even at the trail head.  This place is flat, as in zero elevation gain or loss, so eight miles seemed quite doable to me.  We finally got on the trail around 3pm, with my expectation that we could hike 2 miles an hour and arrive at our campsite around 7pm.  About 3 miles into the hike, I noticed a mileage marker, and the math wasn't working out.  It seems I cant read a map anymore, and had us hiking 10 miles, instead of 8.  I kept this to myself for another mile, then when we reached mile four, and the halfway point - I had to let Sloane know the bad news.  Good thing I had a plan to save us.  I got on the phone (thankfully we had reception) with our good friend Loren, who had planned to meet us at the campsite that evening to bring us dinner, booze and then make us an awesome breakfast in the AM before we hit the trail.  This was all planned to be a surprise for Sloane, but it was pretty obvious she was going to kill me if we had to hike 6 more miles to camp, most likely in the dark.  Loren agreed to meet us where the trail intersects a fire road in the forest and save the day - Sloane was once again happy. 

Happier times, before I realized my map reading skills were now sub-par.  

Happier times, before I realized my map reading skills were now sub-par.  

To add insult to injury, Sloane's boots were killing her.  So we took a break and she put on the shoes she brought to wear at camp, to continue the hike.  We finally met up with Loren as the sun was sinking below the pines, around mile 6 of our hike.  He greeted us with cold beer and hugs all around.  After chatting briefly with some locals riding by on four-wheelers, who stopped to make sure were weren't stuck, we piled in Loren's SUV and headed back towards camp.  We were driving the back roads of the Pine Barrens - which are mostly loose sand with some large mud puddles mixed in.  If you happened to see a post earlier this year - we had already put Loren's vehicle through the wringer our here and it performed flawlessly. We had a general idea where we were heading, and we began following what we though was the road back to camp on my GPS.  Good news is it was the road back to camp, bad news is it had some serious "puddles" on the way.  Directly ahead of us was one such puddle - as Loren stepped on the accelerator, I blurted out we should probably check how deep it was before heading in.  Too late.  

Taking a break and changing footwear along the trail.

The front end of the CRV plowed into the puddle and then the back end, then the tires began to spin, and water began to come over the floor boards.  Loren and I quickly jumped out of the car to dry land, took off our shoes and most of our clothing, then jumped in the puddle to save the car before it sunk further into the mud. With Sloane now at the wheel, we pushed, pulled, and lifted the car with no luck. We tried shoving large pieces of trees under the tires to get traction, sitting on the hood, lifting the back end so the front tires had more traction - but nothing worked.  After about 20 minutes, we were wet, cold and defeated.  We dried off,  put our clothes back on, carefully unloaded the car, dropped a pin on my GPS, and began our sad hike to the campsite, which was about 2 miles away still.  Thankfully loren had already set up his gear, so he had free hands to carry the beer.  After another hour of hiking in dark, we could see campfires in the distance, and rest was close.  It was 10 o'clock, when we got to camp - and surprisingly we were all in good spirits.  I set up our tent while Loren built the fire.  We had our Mt house meals and Sloane decided she was ready for bed.  Loren and I stayed up until all the beer and firewood was gone, we made plans to make friends with the folks who had the largest truck at the campground in the morning, and turned in for the night just as the rain started.

One of the many bridges with rope railings on this section of the Batona trail. 

Sloane and I woke to the sound of rain heavily pounding the tent, after becoming more aware of my surroundings, I realized that the tent was leaking, and we were both pretty damp - stupid tents.  This tent has not been used in at least 5 years, since we usually use hammocks or a larger 3 person tent when car camping.  We both quickly agreed that this hike was over - it was suppose to rain for the next 36 hours, and our tent was certainly not able to keep up dry.  I got my self somewhat dressed, and climbed over the wet gear to open the rain fly.  Upon exiting the tent, into the pouring rain, I found that most everyone in the campsite had already packed up and hit the road, no one wanted to stick around and hang out with the foul weather.  There were two trucks left.  The folks I approached were packed up and ready to leave, I explained to them our situation and asked them if they could pull our car out, but they didn't have any sort of rope or chain, and neither did we.  So I asked them for a lift to my vehicle, so we would at least have transportation.  They agreed and in the mean time Loren got the other truck in the campsite to help tow him out of the puddle.  When I returned to our campsite with the car, Sloane was still in our wet tent and there was no sign of Loren.  We tried calling but no answer.   We began to pack up all of our wet gear and cooked up some hot oatmeal under Loren's hammock tarp.  After we had finished up, a white truck pulled up and Loren climbed out of the passenger side, soaked to the bone.  They had succeeded in moving the car, but didn't have a proper tow strap, so only moved it a few inches - on top of that the engine had seized up, presumably from getting water into it.

Two packs.  This is what you do - when you have greatly misjudged mileage and your partner is over hiking - to keep the peace.  I must've carried 70 plus pounds for 3/4 of a mile like this.

Loren put on some dry clothes and we made him some hot oatmeal to eat while we decided what to do next.  Sloane got on the phone and found a wrecking service that would come out and rescue the CRV from its watery resting place.  We then packed up Loren's wet gear and headed to town to get some cash for the tow truck driver.  We met up with the truck and its driver about an hour later, Loren jumped in and they headed back to the scene of the crime.  Meanwhile, Sloane and I drove south to pick up her vehicle from the visitor center.  Once we had her car we gave Loren a call to see how long he would be.  No answer - so we headed to a local bar to get a drink and some lunch - it was 1 o'clock already, and still raining.  We ordered some fried food and messaged Loren to call us when he was out and ready to go.  After about 45 minutes I finally got a text.  "The tow truck is stuck" - perfect!  After a few more messages we decided to settle up and head back into the woods to see what we could do.  We found loren standing under a pine tree near the road that led to his vehicle.  He informed us that they had gotten his car out, but the truck was too wide to get down the road and got lodged between a tree and the abandoned train track that he had been following.  We sat there for another hour waiting for the tow truck driver's son to show up to help figure the situation out.  Sloane headed back into town for some coffee and doughnuts to help lift the spirits.  

Loren enjoying some booze and a warm fire after getting the car stuck but before the shit really hit the fan.  So peaceful.

The second driver finally showed up around 4pm, Loren pointed him in the proper direction, since he didn't have room for anyone in the truck with him, and began the hike back to the cars.  I waited in my car for Sloane to come back, and hopefully the good news that the second tow truck has resolved the problem.   At 530 Loren texts me "this is bad..."can you guys come help push my car?"  Sloane and I put on our rain gear and headed back the mile or so to where we thought they were.  We came upon the second tow truck, parked with no one in it.  We could see the flashing lights of the first tow truck way down the road so we kept going to that one.  It was still stuck between the tree and the tracks, they had the winch hooked up to the track and were slowly pulling it out.  We met up with Loren and made a plan.  We had to push his car 1/2 mile down the tracks to the intersection of another sandy road - so that the tow truck could back out the way it had come in.  By the time we accomplished this, with Sloane driving and the help of a friendly Australian fellow who happend to be out hiking in rain, it was damn near dark once again.  We hiked back to the tow truck drivers, one of whom we now know was nick named Tuna and oddly enough were in pretty good spirits. Loren gave them all his cash and asked that when they had gotten the tow truck out that they pick his car up and take it to the local service station it was 745 pm now.  We then hiked back to our other vehicles, Sloane headed back to Baltimore, and I headed to Philly to drop Loren off at the train station - so he could get back to NYC for work on Monday morning.  As I drove back to Baltimore, I got a call from the wrecking service - they had gotten all the vehicles out of the woods, and Loren's car was on the way to the shop - finally some good news.  The best news came the following day, when Loren got a call from the shop and all they had to do to get his car running was pull the spark plugs and turn the engine over a few times - all the water came running out and it started right up after they put the plugs back in. He took a train down the following weekend to get his car back, and then drove it down to Baltimore to pick up his gear that we had to take back with us. 

Stuck in the mud.  Where we left Loren's car for the night..

Lessons learned : Double check that list of gear, otherwise you'll end up buying new sweaters and pocket knifes.  Look a little closer at the mileage on the map - and make sure your hiking partner does the same.  If your buddy wants to drive through a puddle in the middle of the woods, make him stop to see how deep it is.  15 year old tents aren't waterproof anymore.  Loren is getting a proper tow rope for Christmas this year.

This was a debacle of a trip, but one we won't soon forget, and it makes a hell of a story.  The Batona trail is incredibly beautiful and I hope to get back to hike the rest of it some day soon.

The final installment of this post is CheatFest, a kayaking festival held in the Cheat River Canyon in West By God Virginia.  It was my first time attending, and it did not  disappoint.  Fantastic food, music and vendors from all over, not to mention paddling for 3 straight days with some good friends.

Random hero running Big Splat Rapid, a class V on the Lower Big Sandy river in WV.

The rains that every kayaker wishes for came the week before, and pushed levels in the cheat canyon way up.  They also made it possible for the Lower Big Sandy to be runnable all weekend long.  We decided to forgo the Cheat River and paddled the LBS Friday, twice on Saturday, and once more for good measure on Sunday.  The same rains also transformed the festival grounds into quite the muddy mess - we were lucky enough to only have on and off rain during the weekend, and mixed in was plenty of sunshine as well.  I arrived late thursday evening, and a few of the rare trees in the campground occupied closely by a friendly stranger, after a brief conversation, and a promise that I would snore too loudly and we agreed that should set up my hammock right there - it was a great spot. 

Hammock time - When you only have two trees, but need three - substitute a VW with a roof rack.

The other folks I would paddle with were arriving in the morning, so I set about making friends with the rest of the neighbors - who happened to bring a legit circus tent - pictured above.  We drank plenty of beer and then some one who was semi-sober directed us how to raise it up.  It was a great place to take shelter for the intermittent downpours that occurred all weekend. 

Jim launching off the top of 18 foot Wonder Falls on the LBS, class IV.

Nate Blick cozied up in the bed of his truck.  I rudely woke him up shortly after this.

With three days of straight boating comes a few swims, including one by me.  And swims are followed by booty beers

Matt's booty beer

Cain's penance.

Scottros booty beer, the worst part is that isn't even his booty - its my brother's.

Dan Gore running Big Splat while ZVPC watches from the seal launch area.

Dan Gore running Big Splat while ZVPC watches from the seal launch area.

Ted taking a look back after running Wonder Falls.

Ted showing off his soccer skills while waiting for the shuttle to arrive.

From hammocks to room service, and everything in between.

I haven't posted anything for a while, so here is a dump of adventures from the past few months.

We had a great hang in the Pinebarrens recently.  Frank got to use his new hennessy hammock and 0 degree bag, Loren tested out his new underquilt, and I got to try out the aquaquest tarp that I modified to use with my hammock for foul weather, it now has doors.

Car camping at its finest.  Tables, hatchets, comfy chairs, tarps to make garages with and gourmet food.

We stayed at the Batona campground in Wharton State Forest, which turned out to be great spot for a quick weekend trip.  We took trip to the visitor center to register our sites on Saturday, and decided to tour the mansion that is part of the historic Batsto Village.  They don't allow photography on the interior, so all you get to see is the outside, and grey skies.

The viewing tower of Batsto Mansion.

Batsto Mansion.

When we arrived back at our campsite, we headed into the woods to cut some firewood.  After that we hauled enough wood to keep the fire going all night, we geared up for an 8 mile roundtrip hike to Apple Pie Hill, to try to catch sunset from the fire tower.  We headed out in a light rain that soon changed over to snow for the rest of our trip.

Loren and Frank crossing one of the many boardwalks on the Batona Trail.

Boardwalks and swamps.

Frank and Loren at the top of the fire tower. 

Don't look down.

Frank and Loren waiting on me - waiting on sunset.

Sunset from tower was pretty underwhelming. 

Ranger Frank on the way to Apple Pie Hill.

Patterns in a cedar log we split.

We got back to our campsite a little after dark, got our fire roaring and ate a late dinner.  We stayed up late enough to burn most of the wood we had collected, and turned in for a calm evening in our hammocks.  The temps hovered right around freezing all night, and we were all pretty comfortable.  The next day we had ourselves some egg sandwiches for breakfast, slowly took down camp, and let Loren talk us into taking his beastly CRV out for some off roading on the sandy roads.  This turned out to be way more fun than I had expected, and the CRV performed really well on the backroads.

The CRV tearing up the sugar sand while driving in circles.

You can make it, it's not that deep......

More mud puddles in the Pine Barrens.

We found this section of pines that were decorated for Christmas, and Frank got to work re-decorating with ornaments that had blown off.  

The Pine Barrens version of Christmas in March.

At the end of February, I took a quick weekend trip out to Southwest PA to hang out with the family.  We had just enough snow and cold to test out the new cross country skis at Laurel Hill State Park (where Jim works) on Saturday, and by the Sunday it was warm enough to enjoy a fire in the backyard.

Brenna enjoying the uphill section.

She fell out around a bend and immediately began doing snow angels.

Travelling in style.

Sunshiny hike on Sunday morning.

Last but not least, Sloane and I spent a glorious day and night in Cape Charles MD, this past weekend, at the Inn at Perry Cabin.  

Late afternoon view from the balcony off our suite.  There was a puddle on the railing from the morning rain.

Sunrise the following morning.  The puddle was now ice.

Our room had a Nespresso machine, and I drank like 4 of these things.  So good.

Room service is awesome, breakfast on the balcony, the sun was so warm.

Southern Fried Holidays

 Sloane and I packed the car and headed south for some sunshine and warm weather this holiday season (not that it wasn't warm up north).  First stop was our old home in Charleston, SC - I apologize to the folks we didn't see while in town - we wish we could have stayed longer and seen everyone.  We arrived in town on Saturday evening, before Christmas. On our way into Charleston we were able to swing by our friend's amazing new design studio and pop-up shop and surprise them.  They sell all kinds of incredibly designed things - check them out here.  It was pretty awesome to see what they have created, they have been talking about doing it for so long now.  Afterwards we headed to Folly Beach to set up our living quarters for the few days we were in town.  We are lucky enough to have a permanent place to stay with our good friend (and adopted Grandmother) Barb at her condo.  We visited for about an hour then headed back downtown to meet some friends for dinner.      

Morning (iphone) low-country view from Barb's balcony, through the bug screen.

The following morning we headed into West Ashley to have brunch with Sloane's Uncle who now lives in Summerville, and her mom who flew down for the holidays.  I had some good old biscuits and gravy at Ms Roses, visited for as long as I could then took the car to meet up with my adventure crew for our trip into the swamps.  I met Brad and Beth at their house in West Ashley, and helped load boats from Brad's Boat Rental - he has at least 7 kayaks - onto the car.  We met Mr Jeff at the Limehouse landing around 130, packed the boats with gear and were on the water by 2.  

"Adventure Clube Love's Desiree"  We didn't write this, and we have no idea who Desiree is.  The crew floating under the railroad bridge on the Wallace River.

As usual, I planned this trip around the tide, which was on its way in.  It pushed us gently into the bowels of Caw Caw swamp. The skies were clear, sun was plentiful and the temps were in the high 60's.

Sunshine and tidal paddling, the best of the low-country.

Brad in front of Carl's Cabana Bar - still not open for business....

With the sun getting low, we made a final push for the campsite.

We arrived at our campsite around 5, with just enough light left to get things set up.

Getting out is the hardest part, especially after a few beers.

We set up camp, got a fire going and Brad began his ritual dutch oven meal.

Brad and Beth finally got hammocks.

Mr Jeff still has a tent......

The crew working on dinner and fires.

We began to drink a bit more heavily once camp was set up, and harassed Brad for taking so long to cook us dinner while we did so.  The wait was worth it as usual, beef and bean chili, with cornbread baked on top, covered with melted cheese - so good.  After our meal we cleaned up hastily, and headed to the boats for a moonlight paddle.  We paddled around in the marsh for about half an hour, until we decided drinking beer around the fire was preferred.  So we got back on land, stoked the fire and did our best to lighten the load for the paddle out the following morning.  The temps that night only dipped to the high 40's - so we were all very comfortable.     

High tide in Caw Caw Swamp.

I woke the following morning to the sound of rain.  I quickly went back to sleep, and when I woke the next time, around 8, the rain had thankfully stopped.  I got up and took a few photos around our island, but it was gloomy and cloudy, so the light wasn't doing what I had hoped.  I returned to the camp and began packing up while every one woke up.  We were packed and on the water by 930, just in time to catch the falling tide on the way home.  Which would have been easy, but I decided we should paddle further inland once we got to the main river - since I hadn't been here for over a year.  So we turned against the tide and paddled against the current for about 20 minutes.  Once we reached the top of our loop, the tide was once again with us, and we mostly floated our way back to the boat landing.

One of the many tree "sculptures" in Caw Caw swamp.

We arrived back at the landing around noon, just before high tide.  We quickly packed all the gear away, loaded the boats and headed for the new Tattooed Moose on Johns Island.  I had placed a custom order for bacon from the Meathouse butcher shop that will soon be across the parking lot from the restaurant, and we decided we would eat there as well, cause it's delicious. 

13lbs of cured pork belly, from a sustainably raised, Greenville, SC happy pig.  You'll be seeing more of this later.  

I headed back to Barb's place to take a shower and prepare for the Telfer-Whelan christmas that was about to happen in Summerville that evening.  We all headed to Summerville around 530 Monday night for our gift exchange and a feast of pasta with some fantastic home made sauce, compliments of Sloane's Uncle.  Dessert was home made banana pudding, prepared by Barb's friend David, and it was amazing.  We exchanged gifts, drank heavily and turned in for the night (Sloane and I stayed in Summerville that night).  The following morning we went for brunch at a greasy spoon joint in downtown Summerville, and went to a few shops along the main drag.  Afterwards we packed up our things, and headed back to Barb's place on Folly.  We had dinner and drinks at the new beer works that night with more friends, said our sad goodbyes to downtown Charleston, and headed once again back to Folly Beach.  I was up early the next morning, to go hike out to the end of Folly and put my feet in the Atlantic before we left.  I found a scrubby old tree near a tidal pool and took some shots.  I was hoping the sun would come up, but of course we had planned to leave before sunrise, so I was in complete darkness and fog.   

Scrubby tree on the edge of ameica

We met Sloane's family one last time for breakfast before hitting the road down to see my family in Florida.  It was much warmer and sunnier in Florida, and although I am still sad my folks didn't purchase a home in Charleston for retirement, I think they made the right choice.  We got into town around 5 on Wednesday, just in time for dinner and drinks.

Sunset over the canal.

The following days were a mix of drinking, eating and celebrating.  My Brother, sister-in-law and nieces were there as well.  It was great to all be together for the first time in a few years at Christmas time.

Jimbo and I took a Christmas day paddle up Alligator Creek.

He found a school of baby snook to teach lessons to.

The full moon on Christmas, illuminating the sky behind the palms.

The day after Christmas was our annual bacon festival.  You've see the posts before so I'll keep it brief.  My Uncle and cousin came over from the Orlando area, and we had a good old time as usual - more kayaking, more drinking, and lots of bacon to eat.

Dad prepping and sampling the bacon.

While the old men tended the fire, the cousins went for a paddle and tried to find some more snook. 

Custom bacon cooking sticks, made from old golf club shafts.

The fire, ready to cook.

We waited until it was almost dark to start cooking, it was a little too warm with the sun out, to be sitting around a fire.  And since it was dark when we started, I didn't take very many pictures.

Bacon prepped for cooking.

Ready for the fire.

The cooking process.

The final result, I had to shoot this under and overhead light in the garage, so please don't judge.

This was by far the best tasting bacon I can remember, probably since the last time we ate a happy pig.  I think I may have gotten the family hooked on it too.

Happy hour at the canal, these palm trees are the perfect place for a hammock.

Brenna and Jim doing cannonballs. 

She has incredible core strength.

Everyone in my parents neighborhood decorates their yard by the canal, its a pretty awesome way to see christmas lights.

Our last few days in Florida were spent in the pool,  kayaking, and generally being lazy.  The Brother and his family left on Monday, and Sloane and I headed out of town Tuesday morning for Alabama, to see some long lost friends from Charleston.  When we got there, another 8.5 hour drive later, they informed us they are moving to DC in May, which is pretty awesome news.  We spent 2 quick days in Montgomery with them, again eating and drinking.  We rang in the new year with a delicious meal of slow cooked ribs, mac and cheese and a salad.  The next morning we were up early to start our voyage back home, all 12 hours of it.  It was rough, but we made it.  I hope everyone else out there had as good of a Holiday Season!

Paddling the Pine Barrens of New Jersey

Plans to spend my 33rd birthday on the water were thwarted by work this year, but I still managed to get out paddling with some good friends the days leading up to it.  The original idea was to paddle and camp at Assateague Island this time, but finding a third sea kayak for the group was proving to be a challenge.  Loren had suggested a trip in the pines earlier this fall, and I had been intrigued by the giant green spot on google maps in southern Jersey since I had moved north, so we decided to make the flat water rivers of the pine barrens our adventure.

Sunset at the Goshen Pond Camping area.

The Pine Barrens are located in Wharton State forest, in New Jersey.  All of us involved in this adventure were within a 2 hour drive or less, so it was pretty convenient.  I arrived Thursday evening, just in time to catch the sunset at the Goshen Pond campground - a car camping spot near the beginning of our adventure.  I struggled to find dry wood to get a fire burning, since it had rained the last 4 or 5 days here.  The rain had been great for the water levels, but bad for the camp fire situation.  I managed to get a fire burning, and devoted most of my time to keeping it going until Frank arrived later that evening with some dry wood from the grocery store.  Despite a forecast of rain and high winds, we had a very calm first night in the Pine Barrens.   

Frank's home away from home at Goshen Pond.

Stars and pines around the fire at Goshen Pond.

A brisk morning at Goshen Pond Campground

First light at Goshen Pond, after a calm evening in the pines.

Loren met us at the campsite around 10 that morning, so we had plenty of time to eat, get the gear packed up and meet the other resident of the campsite, Smitty.  He had spent a lot of time in this area, and shared his best Jersey Devil stories, click this link if you want to know more about this mythical creature.  We got all the boats and gear in/on Loren's CRV, since we were unsure if the VW could handle the sugar sand road to the put in.  After a bit of a detour to get our camping permits at the visitor center, we got to our put in around noon.  

Gear loaded and ready to go at the put in for the Batsto River.

I planned a pretty adventurous route on this trip, we would be starting on the Batsto River going downstream, portaging 1/2 mile to the Mullica river, and paddling upstream the rest of the way.  I called the local outfitter, and spoke with one of the owners about river levels, and my level of sanity for doing this route.  He confirmed it would be doable, but certainly not easy.  Check out the map here.  At the put in for the Batsto, the river was only about 15 feet wide, and less than a foot deep.  If we hadn't had rain the previous days, we probably wouldn't be going anywhere on this river.  The only USGS gauge in this area is on the Mullica, it was at .9 ft when we put on after the rains, previously it had been holding steadily at .6 ft.    We finally got on the river around 1 pm.

The first 2 miles of the Batsto River consisted of tight turns, thorn bushes and downed trees that had mostly been trimmed for boat traffic.

The tight turns, downed trees and overgrown banks made for slow going on our first day.

Loren navigating under an old train trestle on the first few miles of the Batsto.  

Last light shining through the pines on the upper Batsto River. 

We made it to camp just before sundown, it was a long 4 miles of paddling over, under and around downed trees.

A gloomy morning at the Lower Furnace campsite.

We were on the water at 930 on Saturday, with 6.5 miles to paddle downstream on the Batsto, a "short" portage to the Mullica River, and 2.5 miles to go upstream to the Mullica campsite.

Frank and Loren making their way down the Batsto, on the morning of our second day on the water.

Frank demonstrating how to limbo in a kayak on the Batsto.  There was so much of this....

The sun popped out for our last few miles on the Batsto.

Sunshine, pines, blue sky and open waters at the top of Batsto Lake - this was by far the easiest paddling of the trip, and we soaked it in.

Greasy haired selfie with Lorenzo.

Loren paddling up to our take out for the Batsto.

Lunch on the sandy banks of the Batsto, fueling up for our portage.

Frank and Loren doing the hard work.  We quickly decided this sucked, so I experimented with different ways of dragging the boats on the soft sandy roads, and came up with a good solution that made everyone happy, and reduced our effort to portage considerably.

Sled dragging, so much better than carrying these heavily loaded beasts.

After our 1/2 mile (more with the initial back and forth) we were at the banks of the Mullica river, to begin our upstream journey.  The portaging was by far the easiest part of the Mullica river....  We had 2.5 miles to go to our next campsite, and as we began paddling against the current, around the twists and turns, under and over trees, I realized I had greatly underestimated the difficulty of paddling upstream on this river.  It was brutal, I took zero pictures because we were too busy fighting our way around each turn and paddling upstream like spawning salmon.  After about 1.5 miles, I switched boats with Frank, so he could experience the joys of having a rudder for steering, and no keel line.  Big Blue was a nightmare to paddle upstream in this river, and I quickly understood Frank's frustration.  Around each bend, the keel line (which is great for keeping the boat straight, but horrible for tight turns) would catch the current and swiftly push the bow to the opposite bank, essentially making for a very frustrating game of pinball, and an incredibly worn out back.  Add in downed trees and beaver damns, and you can picture the nightmare for yourself.  We eventually made it to our campsite, with little light to spare.  We were drained, but set about the duties of finding firewood and setting up our shelters.  As darkness creeped in, we sat around the fire and boiled water for our MRE's.

Frank and Loren around the fire at the Mullica campsite.

It got cold on saturday night, we discovered ice on our boats around 830, so we stoked the fire, put on all the extra gear we could, and drank the small amount of booze we had saved from the previous 2 nights.  We all turned in around 1030, and for the most part we kept warm and slept well.  Frank's fancy watch informed us the outside temp was 27 when we went to sleep, so I am sure it dropped a few more degrees as the night wore on. When we got up the next morning there was frost on everything, it was a partial winter wonderland.

Loren's frosty boat.

Frost on the tarp.

Frank's frosty footwear.

Frosty pot, and hiking check list of course.

Thankfully the sun came out as we were getting moving, and began to thaw us and our gear.

Frank making some breakfast tea

Tea time.

Frank soaking up the first rays of sunshine at the Mullica campsite.

We had 6.5 more miles to paddle upstream, and after much discussion of paddling only a few miles, finding a roadside take out and hiking to the cars, we decided we were feeling up for the challenge.  We were on the water by 930, and began the journey upstream.

Frank chilling in a calm eddy on the Mullica river, we took advantage of these anytime we had the chance.

After about 2.5 miles of upstream, at least twenty-five 90 degree bends, and 2 small beaver dams, we stopped to eat our lunch.  I decided to get back in Big Blue for the rest of the trip, and give Frank a break - worst decision ever.  If you do this trip upstream, do not paddle a boat with a keel line, unless you want your back to explode into a knotted up mess from manhandling it around each bend.

One of the many small beaver dams on the Mullica that Loren was able to paddle his torpedo of a kayak over.  Frank and I portaged this one, and a few others.

With 3 miles to go, we encountered another series of beaver dams.  The first one we were all able to paddle furiously at and make it over, the second was a drag over for me and Frank, and Loren found an alternate water route around it.  Above the dams, there was a pond like marsh, which gave us some slow moving, less winding water to paddle.  The river remained like this for about a mile, then it was back to the winding narrows and strainers.  With two miles to go, spirits were high and we powered on.  We reached a makeshift landing called "washout 1" by the local outfitter.  It was here we thought we may get out and hike to the car, but I decided we had come this far, we were going to finish it.  A bad call on my part.  The last mile of this river had more turns, more obstacles and was way smaller than the last 17 miles we had paddled, in short it was a pain in the ass.  The river here is so small, I think it should be called a creek instead.  With plenty of cursing, mostly from me and my lack of control over Big Blue and the current, we struggled on and finally made it to the landing, mile 0 - where most sane folks would put in.

The crew at mile 0, after our 6.5 mile slog upstream.   We made it.

Once off the water, Loren and I took a short hike to my vehicle and drove that to retrieve his at our put in.  Frank stayed behind to watch the gear and start organizing it for the load out. We had everything loaded before sundown, and headed to the nearest diner to chow down on greasy hamburgers, fried foods and milkshakes with the early bird blue hairs (it was 5 oclock).  After our gluttonously satisfying meal, we said our good byes and climbed in our cars to return to our respective rat races in the cities we call home.  This trip was an adventure, which is, after all, what we were after, but I am pretty sure I won't be paddling the Mullica upstream very far again.

Fall

This past month I had the opportunity to travel all over the state of Maryland, and even PA. From the eastern shore of MD to the south west corner of Pennsylvania, I experienced the best that this amazingly short season has to offer, and of course I brought my camera with me so I could share it here.

The total lunar eclipse on september 27th, as seen from our bathroom window in Baltimore, MD.

My first taste of fall this year was on a drive from to my brother's house in Pennsylvania at Kooser State Park.  Sloane and I were on our way to meet our newest niece Amelia, and help celebrate her sisters second birthday with the family.  The sun was rising behind us as we drove west, and with stormy skies way off in the distance, the show was fantastic.  I first noticed some color as we approached the foothill mountains, near Hagerstown MD.  The colors became more vibrant as we headed north into Pennsylvania.  We pulled into to my brother's place just as it began to snow.  

Snow and fall colors in early october at Kooser Lake state park, PA

Kooser Lake's lone goose resident.

Snow through the pines at Kooser Lake.

Freshly fallen maple leaves.

PA wildflowers and snow.

Big ol' snowflakes and fall colors at Kooser Lake.

The foot bridge over Kooser Run, covered with freshly fallen leaves and a light dusting of snow.

I had an assignment for a client early in morning in Cumberland MD, so I decided to drive out the night before and camp at Rocky Gap State Park for the night, which was about 5 miles away from where I was needed in the AM.  This park has a huge camping area, 279 campsites and cabins.  It was almost completely empty, aside from a few RV's and travel trailers.  I had an entire loop to myself, and grabbed a spot down near the shore of lake Habeeb.  

Home sweet home for the evening.

Home sweet home for the evening.

Evening hike up Evitt's mountain trail to watch the sunset.

I had never been here before, but I read that there was a great view from the top of the ridge behind the campsite.  So I packed the some dinner and my camera and set out to find it.

I made it to what I thought would be the overlook to find it was actually another 1.2 miles up the mountain - and that someone at the park service forgot to spell check...   So I sucked it up and hiked the last mile quickly to get to my dinner spot before the sun went down.

Just before the overlook, I crossed the Mason Dixon line, and had surprisingly hiked to my home state of Pennsylvania.  

Fall colors in the valley below Evitt's mountain.

Dinner with a view.

Dusk at the Mason Dixon Line.

After I had eaten, I packed up the gear, turned on the flashlights, and headed back down the mountain. 3.5 miles in the dark takes some time, but it was worth it as always.  

I was up early the following morning to catch the sunrise from an overlook a few miles away, this one I was able to drive to.  Dan's Rock overlook is part of Dan's Mountain State Park and has an incredible view of the mountains in western Maryland.  

Sunrise from Dan's Rock Overlook

Unfortunately, since it is so accessible, this spot is also quite popular for cell towers, as well as jerks with spray paint....

Fall colors from Dan's Rock Overlook.

On my way back, I stopped at Green Ridge State Forest, to check out some camping spots and see the colors from an overlook on the Potomac river.

Overlooking the potomac river, this is part of the Paw Paw Bends area.

The following day I was in Cambridge, MD on the eastern shore to photograph another event.  I brought along the Folbot and was able to get a few hours of paddling in on some tidal water.  It was fantastic to be in a small, snaking estuary again.  It was very reminiscent of paddling around Charleston, although a bit colder.

Fall colors on the eastern shore of MD.

Almost low tide on the Transquaking River in eastern MD.

A man made channel on the Transquaking river, the water was really moving through here, the wrong way....

These two guys were on their way back from hunting water fowl, I wished I had a motor on my boat at this point, by the time I put my camera down, I had floated backwards at least 20 yards.

The last weekend in October, Sloane and I took a ride to northern Maryland to hike at Rocks State Park, and see some more fall colors. We stopped at Killgore falls, the second highest free falling waterfall in MD, which is only 17ft.  This park is very accessible, so of course there were lots of people, but I was able to get some shots with out any folks in them.  

View of Killgore falls from the bottom.

Killgore falls, on Falling Branch creek.

Afterwards we took a hike up a small mountain to an overlook that had a pretty spectacular view.

A great view from the top of Queen and King seat in Rocks State Park.

Summer ends, fall begins

Sloane and I took a trip to the Adirondacks at the beginning of September to attend an amazing wedding with some friends from Sloane's college.  Although we were too early for any fall colors and the sun hid from us most of the time, the Daks still offered up some incredible scenery.

Sunrise during our departure from Bmore and Maryland.

Fog and stars on Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks.

This amazing spot on Fourth Lake belongs to our gracious hosts, the Genovese's.  They were kind enough to let a bunch of us crash at their beautiful lake house, right down the road from the wedding venue.

Sunrise over Fourth Lake.

First light on Fourth Lake.

Fourth Lake from the summit of Rocky Mountain.

Hung over - yet motivated - wedding party at the top of Rocky Mountain on the morning of the wedding.

The bride and her maids, so many phones. 

The boat house at PAOWNYC's main house, the wedding ceremony was held on the first floor of this awesome lodge.

The main lodge at PAOWNYC, the wedding ceremony was held in the great room on the first floor, overlooking the lake.

Second best use for a kayak, beer cooler.

An incredible old wooden boat in one of PAOWNYC's boat houses

One of the many beautiful homes at the PAOWNYC compound.

Stormy skies over Fourth Lake on the afternoon of the wedding.

A communal canoe I found after a short hike into Sis lake, Inlet NY.

A peak of blue sky on Sis Lake, Inlet, NY.

I was lucky enough to paddle everyday we were up in the Adirondacks.  I got some paddle boarding in at the Genovese's camp on Friday when we arrived. On Saturday I demoed a sea kayak at an outfitter on Fourth Lake after our morning hike, paddled a kayak around the lakefront of PAOWNYC before the ceremony, and paddled the communal canoe after a hike into Sis Lake on Sunday before heading back south.  The following weekend I made my way to western Maryland to paddle the Upper Yough on Friday before heading to West By God Virginia for the East coasts biggest paddling party - Gauley Fest.

Long exposure of National Falls on the Upper Yough.

A shredder skirting the meat of the hole at National Falls on the Upper Yough. Dave, Zack and Gary wait for carnage.

An open boater above National Falls on the Upper Yough.

Post run beverages at the take out for the Upper Yough.

After an excellent run down the Upper Yough, Dave, Nate and I got on the road and drove 2.5 more hours south to the Gauley river, in Summersville, WV.  On Saturday the three of us made our way down the lower section at a snails pace, surfing all the goodness that is the lower Gualey and briefly paddling with lots of folks we know.

Setting shuttle for the lower Gauley river.

Lunch (sheetz!) at 5 boat hole, on the lower Gualey.

The massive boulder on river right of Koontz Flume.  I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere close when this sucker came off the cliffside.

Nate making movies.

Dave surfing 5 boat hole, about to get some company from my friend George.

Relaxing rock above Diagonal Ledges surf wave.

Diagonal Ledges wave.

Samatha eating the wave at Diagonal Ledges, Mike sitting back and enjoying the lack of water in his face.

Nate rocking the air keyboard to some doors on the way back to the put in.

Lost? follow those kayaks.

We had an excellent day on the lower Gualey, and after a long night of eating and drinking we were up early for a trip down the much more intense upper section.  It was my first time in a kayak, as well as Nate's - so we opted to leave the photography gear on dry land.  I'll have to wait until next year for some footage of Pillow and Iron ring rapids.  Thanks to the incredible river knowledge of Dan and Ethan Gore, both of us had great runs, with zero swims.  Dave was a different story, that fella owes a few booty beers.....  We were off the river and back to our cars by 3 ish, I stashed my wet soggy gear in the VW, said goodbye to the crew and started the 5.5 hour drive back to reality.

Paddling the Delaware River

The crew in search of a campsite on the first day on the water.  

Some friends joined me on a river trip in early August to paddle 34 miles of the Delaware River - it was a fantastic time, on a beautiful river.  Five of us met up on a Thursday evening at the Worthington State Forest campground, so we could get an early start Friday.  We decided on this river mostly because it was less than a four hour drive for everyone.  Adam and I drove together and were the first ones to the camp Thursday.  Frank arrived shortly after us, and helped us pick a site.  Most of the camping at Worthington is along the river which is nice, but it is also very uneven and hilly due to the fact it is in a gorge.  I have zero pictures of this place, since it was about dark when we arrived, and I was more concerned with stopping my stomach from grumbling at me.  We got a fire going, cooked some sausages and had a few beverages while we waited for the others to show up.  Our crew consisted of: Frank and Loren -two of my roomates from college, Frank's brother Adam - who you will remember from the 'dacks paddle last fall, Loren's (and now our) friend Dave a fellow RIT graduate, and my buddy Ian, who I lived next to my first year in Baltimore.  

Dave leads the way, Loren and his floaty relax

Loren's demonic rental.

We were up early on Friday to pack away our gear and eat some breakfast - bagels from NY city.  We met our shuttle driver at the take out - which was the actual Delaware Water Gap.  We loaded all of our food, boats, beverages, coolers, ice and other wonderful crap you can take on overnight paddle trips - and began the long drive up to our put in.  The drive took about 2 hours with traffic, a stop at a landing to let another crew off, a stop at the outfitter to get boats for Loren and Dave, and finally to our put in at Milford Beach.  We had lunch, I put together the Folbot, and we loaded gear.  We got on the water around 1, with sunny skies and a swift 1.5 mph current.

Hundreds of birds snatching insects above the fast water of the Delaware.

Dave and some tubers in the distance on day 1

Lorenzo

Our goal on day 1 was to paddle 12 miles - we ended up going 16.  Somehow we missed a group of 4 campsites that we planned to stay at, we did not feel like paddling upstream, so we pressed on to find the next group, which was 4 miles down stream. 

Dave searching for campsite markers.

The brothers paddling in unison.

Franks flying friend.

The relaxed paddling position.

Frank paddling ahead to our campsite, just around the bend.

We arrived at a site around 630 and were greeted by frat boys playing frisbee and bro-ing out in the water right next to the site.  With really no other option, other than 2 more miles of water, we made the decision to stay so we could set up camp before dark.  We realized quickly why this site was vacant - it was pretty much a field of poison ivy.  We put on long pants, made sure everyone knew what to look for and began setting up camp.  

Camp night one.  Dave (far left) forgot his tent poles, so he engineered the "ground hammock" 1.0. by tying a rope between the trees and then attaching the top of his tent to it.

Lucky for us the Bro's in the next campsite must have gotten too drunk before dinner to continue partying into the night (or they were considerate campers), either way we had peace and quiet after the sun went down.  I cooked up a dutch oven meal of white chicken chilli and we ate it with the soggy bread that I had forgot was in the cooler....  

The campsite at night.

Dinner around the fire.

A spot light illuminating the trees above our campsite.

The sun had gone down while we were eating, so we sat around our fire and drank our coolers full of beer.  After the food had been devoured, and plenty of beer drank, we noticed a spot light shining in the trees around our campsite.  It was a boat, lit up like the fourth of July, with lights shining into the water all over the sides of it.  We were all a bit curious what the hell this thing was doing in front of our campsite, so I wondered down to ask.  When I got to the river bank, I noticed a figure on the boat holding a compound bow, I asked what they were doing, and got the gruff reply of "carpin".  They were hunting carp with spot lights and archery gear, and they nailed one right in front of our site.  It was an interesting thing to witness.

The dead tree near our campsite.

Some milky way action along the river on the first night.

Camp set up, dinner and drinks in 15 seconds.

We were all pretty lazy the following morning, nursing some hangovers and not in any kind of a hurry - since we had paddled 4 extra miles the previous day.  As the fog lifted, we began the task of packing gear, while Loren and Dave cooked us up a breakfast of maple bacon and eggs - it was delicious as expected. 

Early morning fog over the forest of poison ivy and our campsite.

Loren making that delicious bacon.

Breakfast bowls.

Early morning sun on the river bank, covered with the beautiful, yet invasive, purple loosestrife plant.

We only had 6 miles to float to our next campsite, which we reserved ahead of time.  It turns out this was a good move, as there were about a thousand other boaters on the water that day, all racing to find a good campsite.  

After doing the dishes, we finished the load out and packed the boats up for our lazy river day. About a mile downstream at the Bushkill access we met up with our sixth member, Ian, who had to work Friday.  This worked out very well for us, because he resupplied us with ice and beer, and we were able to leave some our thawed out ice packs in his car to make room in the coolers.  We continued down stream for another mile or so till we found a decent spot for lunch, right at the beginning of wolpack bend - and the hoards of people that filled this beautiful gorge up.

This is how I paddled most of the trip, sitting up high on the cooler, switching between my kayak paddle and a canoe paddle.  It was a bit tipsy, but incredibly comfortable.  Photo courtesy of FJG.

I took zero pictures, it was high noon, and the gorge was a mass of floating objects - canoes, kayaks, tubes, and 50% of them were drunk people with thick long island accents.  Looking back it was quite the scene.  After another 4 miles of floating, fishing, and drinking our adult beverages, we arrived at our designated site, around 5 pm.  There are six sites available for reservation on the river, at a new camp area called Alosa, and all of them were reserved.  We had the last site in the group, which meant fewer neighbors.  We got out of our boats to explore the site, and were a bit disappointed in the solitude it provided.  There was a wide trail on the river side, and then a gravel road directly behind the site, complete with a handicapped porta potty (which no one had a problem with in the AM, when nature called repeatedly).  We held a quick meeting around the provided fire ring, and decided that it was best to stay here, given the amount of people we saw continue past us searching for spots to camp. The site was more like camping in a state park campground than a river campsite.  The NP rangers showed up before sundown to make sure everyone was in the proper spot and behaving appropriately. I was designated the group spokesperson, so I chatted them up for a few minutes, and they went along to the next site.

Late night photo session with Frank's camera.  Creepy dave in the background.

We had another great evening, and a huge fire to go along with it.  There was pre-cut firewood everywhere from when the park service had cleared space for the campsites - it was quite convenient.  I cooked up some chicken pot pie in the dutch oven, and a sara lee frozen apple pie.  We were suppose to have salad with dinner, but I misplaced the dressing, so we decided not to eat plain lettuce.  The salad dressing was found much later that night, along with the dessert from the previous evening stowed away with my dry gear.  Good thing we didn't have any curious visitors to our campsite the night before....  With the beer flow slowing down, we decided to head to bed, so we hung the bear bags by the river and turned in for the evening.

Campsite view from the porta john.  If you look closely you will notice ground hammock 2.0 in the far distance - this time with a legit tarp roof. (Patent Pending)

Loren and Dave preparing a pancake breakfast, complete with sausage, zero syrup and our very own handicap accessible throne in the background.

Finishing the dishes after our meal.

The breakfast cooks working on our short stacks of johnny cakes.

We were up early the next morning with plans of being on the water by 9.  We had 12 miles to paddle, and everyone had to drive home that day as well.  We made pretty good time packing up and getting breakfast ready.  

Early morning fog on the river.

The fog burning off.

Mega lens flare.

Self portrait

Breakfast was eaten, dishes were cleaned and boats were packed for the water by 930, not to shabby for a bunch of slightly hungover boaters.

The crew loading up for day 3.

Lorenzo gracefully putting on the river.

Our campsite neighbor, catching all the fish.

Ian the ice and beer bringer.

Our last day on the water was yet another beautiful sun filled day.  We were once again joined by hoards of other canoeists the first part of the day, and we quickly paddled past the large groups of tubers we encountered at each water access.  The lower section of the DWG is by far the most accessible and popular, we passed 2 public beaches which were both busting at the seams with beach goers.  Every landing we passed the river traffic became heavier, but the river is wide enough here that we were still able to find a little peace and solitude. 

Solitude on the water.

We fished and floated our way down the river until about 1, where we found our own private island for a lunch break, thankfully we had some shade as well.  After a quick shore lunch, we got back on the water for our last 4 miles of the river.  Once the piers of an old railroad bridge are in sight, the gap is right around the bend.  We picked our way through small rapids, avoiding swimmers and tubers and rounded the bend to see the water gap, and about 100 other people on shore.  This was our take out, and we began the process of loading boats and gear, this time into the cars.  We loaded everything, while Dave took Ian to his car at Bushkill Landing and everyone was on the road by 430ish.  We all had a great time, although next time we plan to pick a trip with a lot less people, and a lot more solitude. 

The take out at the water gap.  Quite a popular place.

All my crap and the water gap.

We took a vacation.

Sloane and I have not been on a vacation, where it is just the two of us, for 4 years.  It was way past time to treat ourselves.  We found out the evening before our departure that the property we had originally booked, in Cape Charles VA, was occupied by someone else - which was mostly our fault - it is a long story.  We scrambled on air b&b to find anything open for the next 5 days, and found a ski house in Canaan Valley WV.  A rapid unpacking of beach items, and repacking of hiking gear consumed our evening, and by noon on Saturday we were ready to head for the mountains.  We were lucky enough to find a nice place, with a hot tub and a community pool to make up for the lack of beach.

Sunrise view of Canaan Valley from the loft of our mt. house.

Relaxing in the hammocks, it was a bit toasty for the hot tub in the afternoons.

After a lot of online research, I found a few hikes that looked like winners.  The first of which was an evening hike to Table Rock - to watch the sunset - or so we thought.  We cooked up some dinner to bring along, put wine in the nalgene and brought our camp chairs for the show.  After an hour drive on dirt roads, and another hour hiking through thick rhododendron and mud puddles we arrived at our destination.

Sloane jumping one of numerous boggy mud holes on the trail.

Arriving at the overlook.

We hiked as quick as we could, and as soon as we got to the spot, I realized the internet had lied to me, and I should have done some more research.  The sun was setting behind us, in fact it was already behind all the trees.

The unspectacular evening show at Table Rock.

We broke out the chairs, wine and food and had a fantastic time, despite the lack of sunset.  And since we weren't waiting around for the perfect light, we were able to hike most of the way out with out flashlights.

The following day I decided we should go for a 12 mile hike in the Dolly Sods Wilderness.  As usual I was a bit over zealous, since we had another 1.5 hour drive on dirt mt. roads to get there.  We packed our lunch, grabbed water this time, and hit the road around 11.  There are two roads in the DSWA, and we can attest that one of them is pretty terrible to drive a Honda Fit on.  It was like playing a video game, dodging potholes and trying to keep the speedometer above 20, so we would arrive at a decent hour.  We made it to bear rocks trail by 1230, and began our journey by foot.

Dust rolling off the rear of the fit after our trek into the DSWA.

Lunch break on the hike

On our way back, hiking through a meadow filled with blueberry bushes.

Sloane crossing one of the boggy spots.

If you have never been to the Dolly Sods Wilderness, you should go - it is pretty amazing.  We hiked through dry rocky areas, hemlock forests, bogs, creeks and arrived at a boulder strewn plateau  with a 360 degree view of the area - all in less than 4 miles.  We decided not to continue with our hike as is was getting a little late to commit to 8 more miles, so we turned around and headed back the way we came.

180 degree view of Dolly Sods and the Canaan Valley

View from the rocky plateau we hiked to.

Sloane hiking to the top of the meadow, surrounded by blueberry bushes and ferns.

Our last full day in Canaan Valley, we took a morning drive to the much more accessible Blackwater Falls State Park.  Below the falls is the beginning of one of the more dangerous class V white water runs in WV.

Blackwater Falls.

The Blackwater river flowing through the canyon.

After our morning hikes - we decided to head back to the house for lunch then head to the pool to relax in the sun.  It started pouring, and did so for much of the afternoon.  We ate, drank and played cards - then we ate some more and sat in the hot tub.  It was a good day.

Our last day of vacation was the most epic.  I was up at 430 - determined to see a show at Table Rock.  I drove the hour on dirt roads and hiked 45 minutes in the dark, through a lot more mud than we had encountered previously - due to the rain the day before.  I was rewarded with one of the more memorable sunrises I have seen in a while.  The valley was filled with fog, and the sun was just about to crest over the mountain when I arrived.

Arriving back at Table Rock for sun rise.

The crater, where we sat for dinner a few nights ago, filled with rain water.  It made a great mirror.

The sun peaking over the mountains, while fog rolls through the valley.

The fog beginning to burn off.

The low layer of clouds and the mountain tops made for the perfect sunrise sandwich.

The show ended quickly, so I packed it up and headed back to wake up Sloane.

The show ended quickly, so I packed it up and headed back to wake up Sloane.

We were far from ready to end our vacation, so we took the long way home.  We stopped at another state park in WV called lost river for lunch, and decided to hike to the overlook they have - cranny crow overlook.  After a sweaty hour of steep switchbacks and avoiding horse shit (a popular horseback trail) - we were rewarded with a great view of the valley below, and zero people to share it with - just the way i like.