Posted by: stacylynn12 | July 12, 2013

Call to the Wild

“The mountains are calling me and I must go.” John Muir

PCT Trail Marker

Thanks for playing my game friends. About half of you were spot on with your guess. The other half of you were oh so close… A mere 3,000 miles off. While the Appalachian Trail is near and dear to me and I aim to thru-hike it some day, the object of our 2019 (ish) adventure is its west coast cousin.

The Pacific Crest Trail or PCT as it is commonly referred to is roughly 2,650 miles long and winds across and through sweltering, dry desert and high altitude mountain passes often covered in snow year round. It spans three states – California, Oregon and Washington – on its journey from the Mexican border to the Canadian border or vice-versa… depending on your world view.

The PCT was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968 and officially completed in 1993. Walk the trail in its entirety and you will visit 7 national parks, 25 national forests and 33 federally mandated wilderness areas. You will traverse the mighty Sierra Nevada and the bold Cascades. You will gain over an estimated and seriously whopping 300,000 feet in cumulative elevation. That’s a freakin lot of up.

By any account 2,650 miles is a long way. It’s a long way to drive let alone walk. Why on earth would anyone want to walk that far? The reasons for undertaking such a challenge are as numerous as the people who attempt it. I can only tell you why it appeals to me.

Let me distill my reasons for wanting to engage in such foolishness down to one word.

Adventure.

I do love an adventure.

An adventure is an exciting or unusual experience; it may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome.” – Dictionary.com

Oooooooooohhhhhh! Doesn’t that sound good? I believe it was Helen Keller who said “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”

You go girl.

Of course the above stated definition could be interpreted in many different ways. An exciting or unusual experience could result from a wrong turn on a Sunday drive. (If anyone actually does Sunday drives anymore?). A cook attempting a new recipe for a crowd of hungry people is perhaps a risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome. What is bold and risky to some is paralyzing and unthinkable to others. Simply put, we must all define our own adventures.

For me, an adventure is born when the potential benefits and rewards outweigh the risks. Risks may include anything from the relatively harmless possibility of discomfort to the potential for serious physical harm. These risks may be real or perceived but must present in order for the adventurer to reap the maximum feeling of reward. It is a delicate balance though. Encounter too many serious risks and the rewards and benefits begin to diminish.

On the Pacific Crest Trail, one is all but guaranteed an adventure. The potential risks are plentiful. Everything from the ubiquitous and mundane blisters and mosquito bites to the threat of hypothermia, sunburn and dehydration. Drowning during dangerous river crossings, lightning storms and falling on steep snow slopes are all real hazards not to mention the threat of a nasty case of Giardia from drinking unpurified water and the challenges associated with trying to maintain proper nutrition. There are bears, cougars and poisonous snakes to contend with. There will be fatigue and quite likely, physical overuse issues on joints, muscles and bones. There could be cuts, bruises, strains, sprains, rashes, bites or breaks. There will be bad weather.  Wet, soggy, miserably cold, unbearably hot… for days on end. There will be dried, dehydrated food meal after meal after meal. Yuk. We haven’t even begun to address the psychological toll an adventure like this can exact. Morale and motivation can ebb and flow like a tide gone mad.

Now multiply all of this times 4 since this will be a family adventure. If one of us goes down, we all go down. Though possible, It’s unlikely that any of the more horrifying hazards on my list will get us. In all my research I could find no evidence of attacks by wild animals on PCT hikers, ever. I found one fatality attributed to a slip and fall on a steep slope and many reports of hikers getting into trouble with dehydration, illness or navigation (aka… being lost), but getting rescued by local authorities.

It’s more likely that we’ll be waylaid by blisters, fatigue or illness all at different times so that instead of needing to rest for a few days and recover, we’ll need to rest for a few x4 and then we’ll get way behind schedule and never make it through to Washington before the snow flies and renders the trail impassable.

Or, the swarms of mosquitos will drive us all absolutely batty and run us literally out of the woods.

Or one of us will just get sick and tired of walking and want to quit.

Or maybe the physical demands will just to be too much for our bodies… some of us being on the slightly young side and others of us being well, not quite as young.

It’s possible that we won’t actually embark on this journey at all. Maybe we will decide that the Washington section at 500 miles is a worthy goal for our 11 and 13-year-old hikers. Or maybe we will tack on Oregon. The two states combined add up to just under 1,000… a nice number. If we are really feeling burly, maybe we will toss in another 210 and do the John Muir Trail through the High Sierras. I hear it’s spectacular. But I’m kind of a “Go Big or Go Home” gal so chances are, if I have anything to say about it, I’ll try to convince the boys to buy in to the long haul.

I just read accounts of two different families – a mother and her 9-year-old daughter and two parents with their 10-year-old daughter who thru-hiked the trail in 2012 and 2004 respectively. As I mentioned before, it’s not exactly a trip you can drag an unwilling participant on so the boys will have to want to do it. They are both hearty outdoorsmen now so there is reason to be optimistic.

But why? Why would we face such risks? Even if all goes swimmingly, there will be mosquitos, blisters, aches, pains and bad weather. There will be no pillows. Randy and I have both become quite particular about our pillows. Huh? When did that happen? They have to be a certain thickness (or thinness really) (Randy) and they have to be positioned just right. (Me) And I need two. Can I really do with a down jacket for a pillow for 6 months? And oh!!! My espresso machine! I survived without it for a year. Can I really be expected to do another?

I would. I would brave it all for the rewards the PCT has to offer.

Like traveling, long distance hiking presents an opportunity to break away from the routine of everyday life. I was tempted to write “escape”  but I guess I’m lucky in that I have a good life I really don’t feel a need to escape from. Yet, if given a choice (or an unlimited amount of money) I’d be out adventuring in equal proportions to the time spent at home.

I’ve never walked on a trail for months but I’ve spent enough time in the mountains in short bursts and a couple of long-ish stretches (10 days on the AT and 22 days in Nepal) to know that when I get out there, away from what normally consumes my time, that something magical happens.

Time slows. Life simplifies. Taking care of basic needs and putting one foot in front of the other is all there is. You have what you can carry on your back. Non essential items that a typical backpacker might include for comfort on a weekend adventure are discarded. Comfort comes at a cost on the PCT and hikers are rarely willing to add the extra weight in exchange for the added convenience.

I guess it makes me a little odd but not having all that stuff that normally takes up time and space in everyday life, well, I like that. Imagine if you could, for example, wake up and not have to decide what to wear. You wouldn’t have to decide because well, you only have one outfit. And, imagine now that no one would care that you wore that outfit day after day after day!

Dreamy.

Now if I haven’t convinced you with that last “perk” of the trail, hang with me. Imagine coming to the end of a 2,650 mile walk.  Imagine what a freakin rock star you would feel like! You would be able to stop, look at yourself in the mirror and say “Dude!  you just walked from Mexico to Canada!”  You’d feel invincible!  From that point forward in your life you’d face challenges and think… “How hard can this really be?”  Can’t be harder than walking 2,650 miles.

You’d feel resourceful and tenacious.  You’d be as strong and fit as you could ever hope to be in your life.  In general, and forgive my outburst here, you could rightfully and righteously consider yourself forevermore a bad ass.

Now think of the lessons the trail could teach your children.  Imagine having that kind of self-reliance, perspective and confidence in your ability to overcome challenges and achieve a goal… all before the age of 18!

Wow.

Mountains are a thing of beauty and I have a deep reverence for them. They are at once gentle; inviting contemplation and quiet…and violent; capable of unleashing a fury not meant for humans to endure. The reasons stated above are, in and of themselves, reason enough for me to embark on such a journey.  There is however something more.  I’ve been pondering it for days now.  It’s a rather intangible feeling associated with the power of wildness.  I can’t seem to put it into words but luckily for me there are many brilliant writers and champions of wilderness that have come before me who say it much better than I could ever hope to.  Here are a few of my favorites.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” – John Muir

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” – John Muir

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.”  – Rachel Carson

“But love of the wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had eyes to see.” – Edward Abbey

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.” – Edward Abbey

“In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world.” – John Muir

800px-Hortense_Lake

Hortense Lake, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California

Now, if you are still unconvinced that the rewards of hiking the PCT outweigh the risks, I invite you to join us somewhere along the trail and experience a little bit of the magic for yourself.  You’ve got a few years to consider it.  :)

Note:

It has long been a dream of Randy’s to hike the PCT.  Wherever I have used “me” in this post, I think I could fairly have used “we”.  The inspiration for these plans come from him and I am grateful to have such an adventurous mate.

Photos reposted here with permission from Wikimedia Commons

Posted by: stacylynn12 | June 20, 2013

Travel Blogger Blues

A year.  365 days.  8,760 hours.  That’s how long it’s been since we arrived home after traveling for a year.  That would make it 2 years, 730 days or 17,520 hours since we left Seattle, bound for Alaska and with no real idea what would transpire in the year that would follow.

And oh what a year it was!

And now?  Well, we’ve spent the last year doing all kinds of exciting things.  Soccer, baseball, Aikido, bicycling, school, swimming, work, gardening, cooking, camping, hiking, skiing and … we even bought a house!  Very exciting I know…yet I fear if I start writing about all the goals our kids scored (or didn’t score) in soccer, how they ripped it up on the snow slopes all winter, how we are debating paint colors for the bathroom…. well, I can just see the yawns and hear the snoring sounds.

Now don’t get me wrong.  It is totally possible to write about everyday life and make it interesting.  I read lots of parenting, gardening and cooking blogs and I love them.  But as Randy pointed out, this blog is not about that;  It’s a travel blog.  But since I don’t  really like to wander further than about a 2 mile radius from our house unless I’m on my way to the mountains or the airport, well…  you can see the problem.

What’s a travel blogger to blog about when not traveling?  It’s a sad thing really… a travel blogger without a trip.

Pause.  Sigh.

I could tell you about all the trips I take in my head.  You won’t believe the places I went last year.  Or, we could play a game.

We’ve got plans.  They are 6 years in the future  –  that’s 2,190 days or 52,560 hours but we’re not really counting.  Yet.  Bodhi will be 13, Joshua will be 11 and I can’t imagine anyone really cares how old Randy and I will be.  Or maybe I just don’t want to tell you.

So, the game… It’s a guessing game of sorts where I give you hints and you guess where we are going.  Here it is folks…

  • The trip will be approximately 2,650 miles.
  • It will take us 5 – 6 months to complete.
  • It may be difficult to finish but if we do, we will be super burly and very svelte.
  • It will be amazing… and hard.
  • Our children will either be thrilled with this idea or we will have to abort it.  It’s not the sort of trip you can drag unwilling participants on.  It’s too early to call which way this one will go but I’m optimistic.
  • There will be highs and lows.  Pay attention people.  I do not mean this in a metaphorical sense.
  • And possibly the best part about this plan is that it will leave us with another 6 months to go play on a beach somewhere…. cause you know how I feel about my beach time.

Now you get to guess what and where our trip will be.  Sadly, the winner gets nothing but the satisfaction of feeling smart.  Sorry folks, no sponsors offering up freebies on this blog.  Yet.

**Please note… plans are subject to change without prior notice.  Readers may not hold us accountable for anything that is stated, pondered or proposed herein these pages. Thanks for playing folks.

Posted by: stacylynn12 | October 24, 2012

Nothing Days

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Well it finally feels like fall here in Seattle. I always look forward to fall so I can make soup. There is something very wrong about soup when it’s warm and sunny. Up until recently it has been more like southern California outside our door than Seattle. And I’m not complaining. Boy has it been good. It’s been like getting an extra month of vacation or a check in the mail you weren’t expecting. The sun just kept coming out every, single day.

On days like that I can’t stand to have our doors closed. I keep them wide open as long as I can. Closing them makes me feel claustrophobic and edgy. My parents were just visiting from Maine and they tend to run a little colder than we do. It brought me straight back to childhood… I’ll quote my dad, with an emphatic tone…“Close the door! What do you live in a barn?”. Except with the endearing Maine accent it would have come out more like “bahn” than barn.

Anyway, it finally rained. All day. And I made soup. When the soup starts simmering on the stove, it becomes ok to close the doors. To turn inward and slow down. Ahhhh…. Slowing down. This is the eternal challenge in our fast paced world. The kids have been craving some down time. The other day Joshua pleaded with us for a “nothing day”. And he meant it. When our neighbor came over to the backyard to play he lost it and melted down into a classic 4 year old tantrum-ing heap. “But you said it could be a nothing day!”

I get it. I like nothing days too. I guess that’s one reason we went traveling for a year. It’s not that we actually did nothing for 365 days, in fact most days were quite full. But there was generally nothing we had to do. We directed the flow of our daily life. Back home we generally do not and this has possibly been the hardest transition.

Randy returned back to work shortly after we arrived in Seattle so he’s been dealing with this for a while but for the kids and I, September hit like a pre-dawn alarm clock on a snuggly Sunday morning. We’d spent the summer doing… well… nothing. We did have swimming lessons for an hour each morning but that was about it. The rest of our days were filled with playing in the backyard. Good old fashion, unstructured, creative play. So when school started and all of a sudden there was an expectation that we be somewhere at a certain time, well it’s been hard. I know… Poor us.

Bodhi goes to school 5 days a week from 9:30 until 3:30. He has tutoring one morning a week before school at the ungodly hour of 7:45. He plays soccer and has practice one night a week and a game on Saturday. And he has homework. Oh how I abore the homework. We don’t get home from school until after 4 pm. The kids go to bed between 7:30 and 8pm. That leaves a precious 3 hours each day to do “nothing” and part of that is taken up with dinner, bedtime routines and now… homework. When it comes right down to it, Bodhi has as little as 1 hour each day to just be. Josh’s schedule is a little lighter… thank goodness. He’s only 4 after all. Randy is gone from the house a minimum of 11 hours each day, including commute, lunch and work time.

So what about all this? I imagine lots of you reading this have similar schedules. There’s nothing special or even interesting about our daily routine.

But it is interesting that we have evolved as a culture to where it is “normal” for families to be away from each other. It’s typical for young adults to go off to college and move somewhere (sometimes far) away from their hometown and family. It’s expected that young children will go to preschool and then on to kindergarten. Parents often work long hours away from the home.

Contrast this to several places we visited during our year of traveling where many families live together under one roof for generations – and by families I mean aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. There may be a family compound so that when one does grow up and move out, it means moving next door rather than across the country. Work is often centered around the home particularly in a subsistence economy. If a person does work outside the home it is usually close by, allowing families to share meals together and of course commute times can be the time it takes to walk the trail into the village. Children may or may not go to school and if they do it’s typically for less time than here in the US. And there certainly aren’t the vast quantities of extracurricular activities.

These are large generalizations, I know.

So again… What about all this?

Well, generally when we see someone for the first time since we’ve returned from our trip they ask us some variation of this question… “So? What’s it like to be back?”

I’ll tell ya. It’s hard being back. Not the kind of hard like, having sick children hard or living in poverty hard. Take this with a grain of salt people. But it is hard hearing the kids talk about how they miss their Dad because he’s gone too long at work. Or hearing Bodhi say he doesn’t want to go to school because it’s too long and he wants to be with his family more. Or hearing Josh beg for a nothing day because he’s plum worn out from the schedule we are keeping.

We have choices of course. We didn’t have to sign up for soccer. We could homeschool if we really wanted to. Unfortunately Randy has to go to work everyday and there’s not a whole lot we can do about that, at least in the short term. We’ve been having lots of fun too though. The kids have enjoyed soccer and both Randy and I value athletics and some degree of extra curricular activities. We’re not quite ready to throw in the towel and homeschool. So what’s a post year of traveling together family to do?

Soccer will be over next week for this fall and we are going to take a break from activities until the new year. We’ll do our best to keep the schedule as clear as possible to allow for lots of nothing days. We will eat soup and continue to ponder how to keep ourselves out of the “rat race” without leaving home for a year to do so.

Got any ideas? If so, write to us and tell us how you do it. We’d love to know.

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And now… A Recipe

Harvest Bisque – quite possibly the best soup in the world.

1 pound butternut squash
5 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon curry powder
3/4 cup half and half
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Peel, seed and cut squash into 1″ cubes. Place in a heavy pot with the chicken stock. Cook over medium heat until tender, about 15 min. If you have an immersion blender, use it to purée the squash and stock. Otherwise, transfer the squash to a blender, mix then transfer back to the pot with the stock.

In another pot, melt the butter then add the flour and curry and stir until smooth. Add to the puréed squash and stir it in until it starts to thicken. Reduce heat and add the half and half. Do not allow the soup to boil after this point. Add lime juice, salt and pepper.

Garnish with a paper thin, sliced lime and serve.

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Notes:

This recipe is adapted from the Simply Classic cookbook put out by the Junior League of Seattle.
To make it gluten free use a GF flour blend… It works great!
If you don’t have white pepper, it’s fine to use black, finely ground.

Posted by: stacylynn12 | October 7, 2012

Post Trip Pondering

Well hello! It’s been a while. I’ve been pondering the question… What does a travel blogger blog about when no longer traveling? Is my blogging career over, just like that?

I think not. I’m not one to give up that easily. But I still haven’t answered my question. I think I’ll write about road tripping with kids… a sort of advice post. Someone, somewhere might find that useful. I’ll probably put down some thoughts about what it’s like to be home again, back to school and work after our year of travel. But after that, it’s all up in the air. Got any ideas? Let me know.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on a couple of things. First up, an online photo journal with some of our best pictures. Have a look.

Second, I was contacted recently by another blogger who has a very cool site (http://ohdarlinglove.wordpress.com) where she writes about (among other things) families “who are living a life of purpose and adventure.” She asked if she could interview me. I could hardly contain my excitement. I’m not sure how this counts towards my 15 minutes of fame but I sure got to feel like a rock star for few days. The link to the interview is below. Enjoy!

And now, back to my pondering.

Click here to see our photos

Click here to read the interview

Posted by: stacylynn12 | August 1, 2012

Normal Schmormal

Then there is the most dangerous risk of all– the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.” — Randy Komisar

People, I’m 41 years old and I’ve got to tell you something. I don’t know what the word normal means. Can’t define it, can’t explain it. What is normal? The question boggles my mind. Now let me tell you how on earth I set to pondering about the meaning of normal.

Eons ago, when we were off traveling the world with our 4 and 6 year old sons, (yes I’m being facetious but it really does already seem like a distant dream) I followed the blog of another traveling family. Now you think I’m nuts right? These folks are traveling indefinitely from Alaska to Argentina in a veggie oil powered truck with get this… 5 kids. I’m serious.

Anyway, they have taken a bit of flack here and there for their lifestyle choice. Here are a few examples of questions from some of the “nicer” naysayers.

“How is this good for the kids?”

“Don’t they need stability and to have the opportunity to have long lasting friendships, a good education, the ability to participate in extra curricular things that interest them, and have a “normal” life?”

“Do you fear that they will have a hard time as adults because of missed opportunities in a “normal” life?”

The family I speak of doesn’t seem phased in the least by comments such as these but me… well I’ve got my panties in a bit of a bunch over it. No one ever asked me these sorts of questions or really gave us much of a hard time for our choice to take a year “off” but then again I didn’t really openly invite these opinions and well, I’m sure there were those who just kept their comments to themselves. Nevertheless, reading these questions fired me up and I felt a strong desire to defend these kindred spirits.

So let’s take a look at what’s normal shall we? First, let me describe to you how I spent one morning just a few days after arriving home. I awoke at 4:00 am. I got up, made a thermos of coffee, grabbed my rain gear, iPad, a camping therm-a-rest chair and an umbrella and headed to the pool. Yes, you read this correctly. I went to the pool at this ungodly hour – in a downpour I might add – to register my kids for swimming lessons. I’m happy to report that there were 8 people crazier than myself. I was 9th in line. By 6:30 am there were approximately 70 parents huddled under umbrellas, sipping coffee and reminiscing about how the last time they had stood in a line this ridiculous was to buy Grateful Dead tickets 20 years ago. Now, please tell me what about the situation I have just described to you is “normal”?

I have observed, in our American culture, that what is not familiar to us is considered abnormal. In other words, in order for something to be normal, it has to be familiar. Let me offer an example. Before my children were born I had a friend who already had children and she and her husband were co-sleeping. Since this is not a familiar thing to many (read normal) I will explain. Co-sleeping means that you sleep with your children… in the same bed. Someone in our family – who shall remain nameless – caught wind of this friend’s sleeping situation. The response was “That’s weird”.

A few years later as we were preparing for the birth of our first child, I told our family that we did not intend to buy a crib for the baby. “Well where will he sleep?”. The concept of co-sleeping was just not familiar. It was therefore, not normal. As a small side note…. Approximately 90% of the world’s population shares a family bed. 90%!!! Even I was surprised by this statistic and found it to be remarkably high but it came up repeatedly in many different sites. This was the most interesting and compelling article.

http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/tami_breazeale.html.

Even if it wasn’t that high, even if it was “only” say, 80%, 70% or 60%, that’s still enough to make it quite a normal thing don’t you think? Perhaps we should look outside of our little North American box once in a while?

My children no longer sleep with me and Randy but they are currently sharing a bed together. They both love it. Bodhi had a friend over the other day and when the kids were playing in their room the friend asked if they slept in the bed together. Thankfully he did not make any negative comments but the mere asking of the question is an indicator that this is not, in our culture, a “normal” set up. For our children who have been bed sharing since birth it is as familiar as rain in Seattle.

Now back to what prompted this tirade. I’m going to answer those questions that were not posed to me and that no one asked my opinion on. Ha! It’s really great having a blog.

1. “How is this good for the kids?”.

Well, really how is this not good for the kids? During our year of travel our children spent every single day with both of their parents. (Ok, there were two or three days where we were apart, but really, that’s it). This is some serious family time. I’ll be honest with you. There have been more than a couple of people who have said flat out that they could not do what we were doing. And by “could not” they meant “would not want to”. It’s a lot of time to spend with your kids. Fair enough. I’ve already confessed that there were days where I came close to giving my kids away to the nicest looking old lady in the vicinity. But not many could argue that an abundance of quality time with Mom and Dad is a bad thing for small children.

Besides the family time our children spent nearly every day outside. More than a few days they were outside pretty much all day… from dawn to dusk exploring, digging, building boats from driftwood and mud, hiking, eating, reading, resting, riding bikes, designing fairy houses, stomping in puddles… I could go on but you get the point. Whatever your views are on the combination of kids, TV and video games, it is unlikely, I think, that anyone would suggest that more time outside is bad for kids.

While we traveled, the kids were exposed to and learned a fair amount of a new language. They tried new foods, made new friends and had more new experiences than we can count. Please tell me if I’m missing something but aren’t these all good things?

2. “Don’t they need stability and to have the opportunity to have long lasting friendships, a good education, the ability to participate in extra curricular things that interest them, and have a “normal” life?”

Yes, of course children need stability. But don’t kid yourself. Stability doesn’t come from staying in one place. It comes from having a continuous (stable) adult presence in their lives – people who they can count on.

Interestingly, what both Randy and I discovered during our travels is that there was a direct correlation between the ability of our children to be comfortable, even thriving during the frequent transitions of travel and our own mental state. In other words, if the parents were calm, going with the flow and dealing well with challenges, then the kids were happy as clams. When we became stressed, angry or upset, the kids were unsettled and their behavior became difficult. Hummmm.

Now as for the question of a good education. Please.

I’ll admit, we didn’t do the best job of sitting down with our 1st grade workbooks. As a result, Bodhi may be a little behind the 8 ball on things like reading, addition and subtraction. We’re playing catch up this summer. But can you blame us? Who’d want to sit and do repetitive worksheets when they could be out studying natural sciences in Alaska, learning a language in Peru or experiencing marine biology in Mexico? Let’s see, shall we sit and do this ditto sheet or go out and learn what sea turtles eat while swimming with them in their natural habitat?

Travel is the best education, plain and simple. What you can learn by traveling cannot be taught in a classroom. There is no substitute. Reading, writing and math are important too, of course, and you may have to put in your time with the workbooks to get there. But a good education does not require 4 walls and a desk. One only needs a passion for life long learning. If the parents have it, no doubt it will rub off on the kids. What Bodhi missed in the realm of 1st grade academia he more than made up for with a powerful curiosity and a love of learning new things that will serve him well in whatever he decides to pursue in life. And, I’m betting he is still going to learn to read.

Extracurricular activities?

Bodhi missed the T ball season this spring. I don’t think he even noticed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of extracurricular activities (as long as there aren’t too many all at once). Sports are good for kids. But let’s look at the definition of extracurricular activities. They are “activities performed by students that fall outside the realm of the normal curriculum of school education.” Hello? Doesn’t that pretty much describe every single activity that Bodhi and Joshua did in the last year? I rest my case.

I do have to capitulate on one point – the one regarding lasting friendships. Once kids reach a certain age I do think they yearn for friendships. Yet I think of military families who are required to move every 3 years. It doesn’t take long for kids to make friends. They don’t go through the adult rigamarole of niceties and warming up. They dive right in. They find their tribe just like we do. We spent 3 months in Huaraz, Peru. We all made friends there. We have friends there. If we were traveling indefinitely, we would have stayed longer and I think that’s just how it goes in life. You make friends and you move through life. Some of them stick around and some of them become Facebook friends. 🙂

And now for the last question.

3. “Do you fear that they will have a hard time as adults because of missed opportunities in a “normal” life?”

This circles us back nicely don’t you think? What is normal? What is normal for you may not be normal for me. You get up early? Well I don’t. See?

Going off in search of a missing cow, up a valley in the rain only to find said cow dead, butcher dead cow, haul cow parts back to house on donkeys and hang cow meat from the rafters of the house to dry would most certainly NOT be a normal occurrence for anyone reading this post. Yet for our friends Nancy and Carlos who live near Yurak Yacu in Peru, this sort of thing doesn’t happen every day but it is by no means beyond the realm of normal.

I could write a book on the things I saw and experienced in the last year that could not be considered normal by middle class, North American, city dwelling standards. That is the point here isn’t it. Normal exists only as a state of mind. It is a perception of familiarity that brings comfort to those unaware of the possibility of stepping outside of these restrictive boundaries.

It’s a big world out there with all kinds of normal to be seen and experienced. What’s stopping you?

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We look sort of normal don’t we? Moments after arriving “home”.

Note: If you are interested in reading more about the adventures of the Denning family (those crazy people I mentioned above) you can find them here.
http://www.discovershareinspire.com.
Godspeed Dennings. You are my heros!

Posted by: stacylynn12 | June 10, 2012

In the Land of Water

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Water.

When it comes right down to it, on planet Earth, water is really the boss. One could argue the sun is top dog but life depends on both and well, the sun has a much more impressive track record for reliability. Water, not so much.

The earth is comprised of approximately 71 % water. The human body is up to 60 % water.

Significant lack of water has contributed to catastrophic drought and famine throughout history that has killed millions of people worldwide. For example, though statistics on human life loss in recent African famines is difficult to find, several sources estimate that 29,000 children under the age of 5 died last year in the Horn of Africa famine and over a million people died in the Ethiopian famine in the 1980’s.

In India, I once saw a woman walking across the desert carrying two buckets of water. I was told her water source was over a mile away. Those two buckets had to meet her family’s need for water for a whole day. My family probably uses that much water before breakfast.

In 2004 in southeast Asia, an enormous wall of water or more correctly known as a tsunami, killed an estimated 228,000 people.

If climate change scientists are to be believed, rising sea levels threaten an estimated 600 million people living in coastal areas of the world.

Out of our estimated global population of 7 billion people, 884 million of us lack access to clean water.

One could argue that water, in the form of ice, glaciers and floods has been a more significant force in shaping the 4+ billion years of the earth’s history than anything else.

That’s a powerful force.

In our recent travels in the western US we have had the unique experience of observing the relationship of water to land. In the desert, the lack of precipitation has caused the plant and animal kingdoms to evolve with unique adaptations that deal with the minimal amount of water available. We came to count on being dry. Our rain jackets were buried in the recesses of our van. We did not even consider taking them on hikes… an unthinkable mistake where we are from. The one time in 4 weeks when dark clouds rolled by overhead, dropped exactly 7 sprinkles of rain on us and caused us to abort our slot canyon hike, I felt incensed. How dare it rain on us?

Dry can be really nice but it has it’s downsides too. Scaly, cracked skin; perpetual, dusty conditions; landscapes that occasionally feel desolate and the need to always make sure you have enough water in your possession for the adventure at hand. You can never be sure there will be water available in the desert.

After a month of feeling the effects of the lack of water, we emerged in a new land. The Land of Water. We drove north out of Utah and into Wyoming. We’d decided to visit the Wind River Range, a range of the Rocky Mountains. In “the Winds” towering granitic peaks and serene, crystal clear alpine lakes form the backdrop for the healthy populations of grizzlies, black bear, moose, elk and pronghorn who live there. I’d visited the Winds twice before, once with Randy and once with my friend Becky. Both were climbing trips. The Winds are famous for spectacular alpine rock climbing.

We camped our first night in a beautiful site overlooking Fremont Lake. It was here I started thinking about water. The lake rippled gently under a soft breeze. There was so much green vegetation. The land felt alive.

We decided to do a backpacking trip into the northern Winds. We geared up with maps and food and drove a horrible washboarded, potholed, dirt road for almost two hours to the trailhead. Upon arrival we found the campground closed. Shit. I mean, shoot. The kids have been busting us on this one recently. We were forced to camp in the parking lot at the trailhead, which really wasn’t so bad. We had an incredible view into the mountains where we would be hiking the next morning. Everyone was excited.

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Green River Lake and the Wind River mountains. We’d planned to camp in the valley near Flat Top mountain.

As the sun sank, the temperature dropped. Unlike in the desert where sunset is a welcome transition, in northern Wyoming at 8,000 feet it becomes freak’in cold. Everyone snuggled into their sleeping bags and went to sleep.

Sometime around 3am is when I heard it. The high pitched tink, tink, tinkling of raindrops on the roof of our van. Shhi-oot. I hoped it would pass… just a shower… but we woke up to dark skies. It wasn’t raining but it was bitter cold – close to freezing – and the forecast was for it to get colder. We thought we could deal with cold but the threatening skies and the possible combination of rain or snow and cold was more than we wanted to subject ourselves to. We packed up the van and feeling a bit dejected, bumped our way back down that horrible road to the town of Pinedale where we wallowed a bit in some yummy pizza and beer.

As we drove towards Jackson Hole, snow flurries swirled around the van reminding us that we were no longer in the desert. We discussed what to do. Our days on the road were dwindling and we wanted to make the most of our time. We couldn’t afford to sit in a hotel room waiting for the weather to improve. I discovered that we could rent a tent-cabin in Grand Teton National Park… basically a canvas tent with two solid walls and the key selling point…a wood stove inside.

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It may not look like much but it was warm inside!

As I cooked dinner on our camp stove outside the cabin, snowflakes continued to fall. Mostly light and intermittent but occasionally picking up in intensity to a full fledged flurry. I woke up that night, climbed out of my bunk and stoked the fire, thankful for the warmth and reminded once again that we were no longer in the desert.

In the morning not much had changed. We gave up hoping for a backpacking trip and decided instead to make our way through Yellowstone. Things got even more wintery as we drove north. The park had received a few inches of new snow that morning.

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Yellowstone National Park

We stopped to learn a bit about the park’s geysers and volcanic activity and to watch Old Faithful do her thing. It continued to rain. We searched for wildlife as we drove – for grizzlies, elk and bison and remembering the abundant wildlife we had seen during our 2 months in Alaska. Most of the animals seemed to be hiding from the cold as well.

We did see a nice herd of elk across a river and were treated to some bison, up close and personal, who literally walked around our van as we were parked in a pull out. A lot of fuzzy, cute babies and mamas. Bodhi counted 22 animals.

After the bison sighting, we drove northwest out of the park with our sights set on a warm, wind and rain-free environment near Butte, Montana. We would be camping in a hotel room tonight.

Thankfully, the morning dawned warm and clear. We drove as far as Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and camped for the night. The next day we crossed the state line into Washington. We would have celebrated with a little honk and a cheer but Bessie’s horn is broken. It all started back in Missouri when at the most inopportune times, she’d spontaneously start loudly and uncontrollably toot-tooting. Like the night we pulled in to a campground late and everyone else was asleep. At least they were until the Earlywines showed up in their crazy honking van. Then there was the small town we drove through and just as we were passing a soccer field filled with pint sized players and their adoring family fans, Bessie decides to go on another honking rampage. You’d think the Queen of England was driving by the way everyone stopped and stared. After that Randy cut the wires.

Anyway… we’re home. Back in Leavenworth, Washington at 8 mile campground. The opening photo of this post is the Icicle Creek which is currently raging wildly. It’s not officially home I guess. We’ve got another 120 miles to be officially “home”. But Randy and I have spent enough time in the Icicle – rock climbing, backpacking, teaching classes with the Washington Alpine Club and camping with our kids that it feels like home.

The truth is, I felt at home in almost every place we traveled to. I think maybe this is one of the indicators they use when diagnosing the wanderlust affliction.

Tomorrow we will pack up the van one last time and head over Steven’s Pass. We’ll hit I-5 and head south until we get to the 145th St. exit. We will wind our way through the neighborhoods until we pull into our driveway. And then, my friends, it will all be over. Or maybe… it will be just the beginning.

Sources and interesting articles on water related issues…

http://www.economist.com/node/21524864
http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2012/jmp_report/en/index.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Current_sea_level_rise#Effects_of_sea_level_rise
http://water.org/water-crisis/water-facts/water/
http://thewaterproject.org/water_stats.asp
http://www.co.washoe.nv.us/water/wtrconservation/water_facts
http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2011/09/what-you-need-know-about-famine-horn-africa-backgrounder

A few more photos…

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Joshua at Fremont Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming

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Wildflowers in the Winds

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Randy and Josh fly a kite in the Winds

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Old Faithful

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Bodhi launches a ship in the Green River at Dinosaur National Monument. The boys made a whole fleet.

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Bison in Yellowstone National Park

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Junior Ranger badges.

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Travel amulets… a family project to reflect on and remind us of our “Year in the World”.

Posted by: stacylynn12 | June 2, 2012

Canyon Country

“These days away from the city have been the happiest of my life… It has all been a beautiful dream, sometimes tranquil, sometimes fantastic and with enough pain and tragedy to make the delights possible by contrast”. ~ Everett Ruess

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A desert, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a region rendered barren or partially barren by environmental extremes”. This does not seem entirely correct to me. For sure every desert that I have ever spent time in has been a land of extremes. A few places have indeed been quite barren but most have teemed with subtle but strong forces of life. The very nature of this land of contrasts all but ensures that one slows down and carefully observes these sublime surroundings.

I find the desert to be at times viciously harsh and at others utterly peaceful. The heat of a desert day can be oppressive and relentless, forcing mortal creatures to desperately seek shade and reducing humans to sluggish grumps. As the sun sinks below the expansive horizon, the temperature drops and the dark sky slowly fills with a million stars.

The Colorado Plateau, a large geographic region that encompasses much of the Four Corners area of the southwest, is characterized by pinyon – juniper forests, red rock canyons, mesas, striking cliffs, sweet sagebrush and of course an intense dryness. I swear my skin is beginning to grow scales. This place is a geologist’s dreamland; the secrets of millions of years lie hidden in the strata of the landscape.

We begin our desert adventure in Mesa Verde, Colorado. The cliff dwelling ruins are spectacular and we enjoy wandering back in time and imagining what life might have been like for the Ancestral Puebloan people who inhabited these lands long ago. The highlight of our time in this park however comes in the form of a present time, natural phenomenon… the Annular Solar Eclipse.

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, totally or partially obscuring the Sun for us Earthlings; and when the Moon’s apparent diameter is smaller than the Sun, causing the Sun to look like a ring. We join a ranger led program and are lucky enough to view the eclipse and it’s “ring of fire” with special viewing glasses and a very cool, high tech solar scope. It is spectacularly awe inspiring.

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Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park

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Climbing steep ladders to the cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde

Canyonlands National Park is next on our desert tour. The kids work hard and earn their 5th Junior Ranger badge. They are pleased as punch with themselves. The weather is scorching. 103 on one thermometer. Thankfully it cools to a chilly 85 in the next couple of days and we do a hike… the kids experiencing their first slot canyons. They are eager for more.

We travel to the San Rafael Swell and arrive late in the day. This is a spectacular and much less well known or visited part of the southern Utah desert. Randy and I have visited this area on two previous occasions and we are drawn back again to its magic. We drive out a dusty, dirt road to a sweet “backcountry” campsite.

The next day we have a romping good time in Little Wild Horse Canyon. The kids oooh and ahhh as we enter the twisting, narrow slots and wind our way through this amazing landscape. “This is awesome!” and “This is sooooo amazing!” are exclaimed repeatedly by kids and adults alike.

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Joshua delights in the slots of Little Wild Horse Canyon

Back in camp, the lunar landscape is eerily calm. I feel certain this is what the moon must look and feel like. There is not a hint of a breeze. Our entire world is absolutely still. There are no birds singing or crickets chirping. No bugs buzzing. No human voices, vehicles or other noises common in our modern world. The deafening silence is haunting. Until of course one of our kids scream.

We go to bed under starry skies. The morning dawns a different day. The tranquil silence is broken by strong winds that whip the surrounding desert into a dust filled frenzy. We break camp, decide to brave the wind and head to Ding and Dang, hoping it will be calmer in the canyons. This is a hike we have done before… pre kids… and we loved it. Now with our two hearty hikers in tow it is the perfect trip and we are so excited. It’s a 5 mile loop, up one canyon and down the other and the best part about it is that they are both filled with obstacles! Obstacles are fun. They are obstructions in the narrow canyons that one has to navigate by climbing up, down, around or over. With our rock climbing skills and our experience on the previous trip we are certain we can do it safely with the kids and they are thrilled at the idea of conquering the obstacles.

As we head into Ding Canyon the wind abates a bit but now and again rears its gusty head and we are forced to squint and hunker down or get eyes and mouths full of dusty sand. Worse than the dust though are the ominous clouds overhead. We are watching them closely and they seem to be changing direction every 5 minutes. We cannot figure out the weather pattern but we know that dark clouds and slot canyons don’t mix. This is flash flood country. If a sudden unexpected storm arrives, a slot canyon can quickly become a death trap as water rushes through them taking out everything in it’s path. We keep watching the sky as we hike the beautiful wash leading us toward the narrows. We encounter our first obstacle and the kids jump for joy. This stuff is enough to make a kid out of anyone.

As we approach the first slots we stop to have a family pow wow. The skies have darkened and we have even felt a few rain drops. It’s a brilliant opportunity for a lesson in risk assessment and decision making… critical skills for outdoor adventurers and well, life in general really. We look at the clouds trying to assess which way the storm is moving. We study the terrain looking for escape routes should a flash flood happen but as we are about to enter a slot canyon, 5 – 6 feet wide and over 100 feet tall, there are none.

We hem and haw, talk about about how a serious thunderstorm is unlikely but still possible and about how much we all want to go on. In the end we decide not to. It’s hard to miss this opportunity but it seems prudent. We hope someday our kids might remember this little impromptu lesson and make a similar decision. It could save their lives.

Disappointed, we trudge back to the car. The winds have increased and dusty sand has found its way into our ears, eyes, noses and other places you probably wouldn’t imagine. We need a respite so we decide to head into Hanksville, the closest town, and see if there are any hotel rooms available for the night. We are in luck. The Hanksville Inn has two rooms left. We go inside, shut the door and breath a dirt free sigh of relief.

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Dust storm!

The next day we are showered and ready to brave the desert once again. The wind storm has passed and calm has returned to the land.

We drive south a bit to another desert gem… the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, or “Escalante” for short. In a bold political move, President Bill Clinton declared this area a National Monument in 1996. Randy and I were fortunate enough to coincidently be there during this historic declaration. Unfortunately, we didn’t see Mr. President as he made the announcement from the Grand Canyon. Hmmm…

Escalante is one of those places one must work to enjoy. There are no roadside overlooks or easy paved trails. Hell, there are barely any paved roads in the Monument. It feels raw and wild.

My sister, Jennifer and her hubby Geoff just happen to be traveling for a week in southern Utah too. Despite no cell phone reception and spotty Internet, we manage to concoct a plan to meet up in the middle of nowhere. They share one of their favorite “top secret” “backcountry” camping spots with us and show us some very cool dinosaur tracks they discovered years ago.

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Dino track!

After a short and sweet visit with Auntie Jen and Uncle Geoff we dive further into Escalante and explore a part of the park we haven’t visited before. We make another dusty drive down a rough dirt road where Bessie’s hoosh-bahs are put to the test. The Bull Valley Gorge hike rewards us with stunning slots and challenging obstacles. Yahoo!

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Josh in Bull Valley Gorge

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Obstacle! Randy and I climb up and over while we stuff the kids through the small crack on the lower right side of the top boulder.

We spend the night in Kodachrome State Park, just outside of the Monument. After 5 nights of primitive camping the paved campground with picnic tables and bathrooms with flush toilets seems like utter luxury.

From there it’s on to Bryce Canyon NP then Zion NP. While these places are both incredible in their natural beauty, we are slightly overwhelmed by the crowds. We’ve been excited for weeks to hike in the famous Zion Narrows but there are so many people it feels a bit more like a Memorial Day parade than a hike in a wild and natural place. It is a stark reminder that it is all too easy to love our wild places to death and, even more pertinent for us at the moment… that we are going back to the city.

One of the many blessings we have received over the course of this year away is the extraordinary amount of time we have spent outside. In the almost 6 months that we camped our way across Alaska, Canada and the “Lower 48” (which is how you must refer to it once you have been in Alaska), we spent only a handful of nights in hotels. We also stayed with our families for approximately a month of that time so all in all we camped for somewhere around 140 nights. Much of our overseas time was spent out of doors as well. The tropics lend themselves to outdoor living. We cooked, cleaned, played, sat, studied and often slept outside. We observed the skies and tuned into the cycles of the moon. We felt the seasons change. It wasn’t always pleasant. There was cold and rain, bugs, heat, humidity and dirt. Sometimes I wanted the sanctity of my indoor home. Every once in a while I even wished for air conditioning. But we had none of that. And really, I’m glad. It is all too much time we spend indoors in our city life. We are too removed, too insulated from the natural world.

In the age of Richard Louv’s Nature Deficit Disorder and the No Child Left Inside campaign it’s easy to see that the problem has grown immensely. One study I glanced at showed that kids spend on average only minutes each day in outdoor, unstructured play but hours in front of a screen. Our travels and time spent out of doors has reinforced my already strong belief that nature and spending time in it is an integral component in raising healthy, creative, critical thinkers.

It’s not always easy to describe and often impossible to quantify but the positive effects are nonetheless real. I see nature’s influence in my children’s drawings, in their language, in the questions they ask. I see them riding their bikes, hiking on trails and swimming in lakes and rivers and I know their bodies are benefiting from nature. They are not the only ones who benefit.

Today is my 41st birthday. I awoke in Zion National Park. It is by no means a wilderness experience. The campground is bustling with people and cars zoom by on the road just a few hundred feet away. But I sit outside, drinking the coffee my husband made me while my children are intently focused on making birthday cards. I watch the light change as the sun crests over the brilliant towering, red rocks and I am mesmerized by the trees. The breeze and the sunlight have transformed the leaves into a million shimmering, dancing reminders of the peace and calm that exists, if only we can get outside to see it.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” ~ John Muir

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Bessie’s wild campsite in the San Rafael Swell, Utah

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Life in camp

“I have not tired of the wilderness; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time. I prefer the saddle to the streetcar and star-sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities.” ~ E. Ruess

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Little Wild Horse Canyon

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Little Wild Horse Canyon

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Cottonwood in the Wash, Little Wild Horse Canyon

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ~ John Muir

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Josh in Canyonlands National Park

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The desert is hard on bike tires… Randy doing repairs after 4 flat tires caused by desert thorns.

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Baby Robins!

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Romping in Deer Creek – Escalante, Utah

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Siesta in the desert heat

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Secret spot in Escalante

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” ~ John Muir

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Biking the roads of Kodachrome State Park… Randy and I drive the “Sag Wagon”.

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Josh in Little Wild Horse Canyon

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Bodhi in Bull Valley Gorge

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Escalante roads

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Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Bryce Canyon National Park

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The Zion Narrows

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Hoards of hikers in the Zion Narrows

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Fun in the Zion Narrows

Posted by: stacylynn12 | May 24, 2012

Rocky Mountain High

Well, the re-entry shock has subsided. Instead of being experientially reminded every day of just how fortunate we are, we have to deliberately and continually remind ourselves. I don’t want to be lulled into a state of absentminded unconsciousness where my many privileges may be contributing directly and indirectly, by way of my actions, to the oppression of other people and to the destruction of our land.

I wonder if our children’s 4 and 6 year old minds have absorbed any sense of their privilege through our international travels.

After a week and a half of phenomenal spring weather in Maine, we say goodbye to my family and leave in a downpour. The first night of our camping trip is spent in a hotel. So is the second night. The third night we buck up and camp in the snow… the lingering result of Mother Nature’s spring east coast frenzy. After a winter in the tropics, the children attack the heavy, wet, white stuff like hungry cubs just coming out of hibernation.

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Camping in the snow near Scranton, PA

We continue west and stop for another week and a half at the Indiana/Illinois border, otherwise known as Grandpa Larry’s house. The children pick up where they left off in the fall with their quest for frogs and fish. Joshy singlehandedly lands the mother of all bass and no one is more surprised than he. He’s still talking about it.

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A big bass at Grandpa Larry’s pond

Once again we say goodbye to our family and continue the westbound migration. We hit the Saint Louis Arch where we insert ourselves into the twilight zone-like capsules for the ride to the top of the Arch. I think the whole thing is a bit weird but the boys, especially Randy, love it.

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We are in “capsule 5” on our way to the top of the Arch

We plug along camping across Missouri, Kansas and Eastern Colorado. And then, off in the distance we see them. The Rockies. Our tour of the Saint Louis Arch described this famous landmark as the “Gateway to the West” but for us, the true gateway is this massive mountain chain. Stretching over 3,000 miles from central New Mexico to northern British Columbia in Canada, the Rocky Mountains are emblematic of the West. It feels like we are home. Randy and I begin singing John Denver’s Rocky Mountain High with gusto and the kids make horrified faces in the backseat… the likes of which I did not think we would see until their teen years. I am reminded of the time when I was just out of college and my life-long friend Heather and I moved to Seattle. We spent a month driving across the country and camping. She was a John Denver fan. I was not. Entering Colorado she wanted to play some Johnny D on the tape deck. (Yes, this was before iPods and MP3’s). I cavalierly remarked that John Denver was a pussy. (Yes, I really said this). She did not appreciate the comment. I think the fight lasted a few days. I’m sorry Heather.

We spend a few nights in Manitou Springs, visit the Garden of the Gods (a large park which highlights the areas naturally beautiful red rock formations) and ride the iconic cog railway to the top of Pikes Peak… a big hit for the boys.

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Posing for the requisite summit shot

From there we plan to head over 12,000 foot Independence Pass (which has just opened) to Aspen and the Maroon Bells Wilderness but once again Mother Nature meddles. It is snowing heavily on the two 9,000 foot passes we cross leaving Mantiou Springs and heading higher up into the mountains does not seem like a good plan. Beloved Bessie is good for a great many things. Snow however, is not one of them.

Aborting our Aspen plan we spend a few nights in the West Elk Wilderness and then a few more at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This remote National Park is frequented by rock climbers who flock here to scale the daunting black walls of the Canyon. In another life we might have been one of them but this time around we explore the horizontal aspects of the park. Instead of our hearts beating faster because we are 20 vertical feet above our last piece of “pro” (climbing gear) and shaking like leaves as we fumble with our “rack” (yet another word for climbing gear) hoping to secure ourselves to the wall before enduring a “whipper” (a long fall)… we instead are having small and frequent heart attacks as our kids frolick along the Chasm Trail – a path that meanders along the top of the canyon rim, sometimes protecting hikers from plunging to their deaths with fencing and other times relying on the individual’s common sense to keep the heck away from the precipice. You can imagine how relaxing a hike that was.

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View from the top – the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Southwestern Colorado is really an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. Seasonally of course, one can ice climb in Ouray, ski in Telluride, rock climb in the Gunnison, paddle whitewater near Durango, climb 14,000 foot peaks and hike, backpack or mountain bike for miles and miles through the San Juan Mountains. With so much to do the beauty of spontaneity really shines through on a road trip. Where to next? On a whim we choose Telluride. Now let me tell you about Telluride. This is a place I could get used to.

I’m not going to tell you about how great the skiing is because well, of course, we didn’t ski. We were lucky enough to visit in the off season; that is after the winter ski crowds and before the summer festival crowds. We felt like the only tourists in town. We watched the school kids at their t-ball and soccer practices and drank coffee with the locals at the cute outdoor Coffee Cowboy cafe. I didn’t have my own mug when I ordered coffee and I had the sense that a fellow customer was going to alert the environmental police. Never have I seen so many people with their own coffee mugs. This place takes its environmentalism seriously. It warmed my heart and shamed me a little for my wastefulness.

There seemed to be only one downside to visiting this time of year. The free, public gondola which connects Telluride with its sister town up and over the ridge – Mountain Village – was closed for maintenance. Bummer. That said, Telluride has got public transportation figured out. Most of the year the gondola shuttles tourists and locals alike between the two towns. How’d ya like your morning commute to be hopping in a gondola?! Sweet. Besides the gondola, the Galloping Goose – a free shuttle – makes regular rounds throughout both towns and there are miles of trails for walking, running or biking between the two. The town is small enough that everything is within easy walking or cycling distance. I couldn’t see why anyone would ever want or need a car in this town, except perhaps to leave it once in a while. There are trails that literally leave from town and head up into amazing wilderness areas. One day we rode our cruiser bikes (more on that in a minute) a leisurely 10 minutes to a trailhead where we parked them and stepped onto a trail for a 5 mile round trip hike to Bear Creek Falls. Delightful.

Now the bikes. In another phenomenal act of civic engagement, Telluride has a program run by…of all places… the Public Library, called the Telluride Townies. These are old beat up cruiser bikes painted an unfortunate Pepto Bismal pink, that are available for the general public to “check out” for use. The only requirement is a library card… yours for the low, low price of $10 per family. With Joshua now two wheeling like Evil Knievel and Randy and I with our Townies we were able to bike the trails of Telluride with wild abandon. We took advantage of the extensive bike paths around town and frequently rode from our campground (another amazing thing… The lovely town park on the edge of the village has a beautiful campground) into the “downtown” area for food or errands.

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Crusin on my Telluride Townie

There were a few glaring omissions from Telluride. The town has no McDonald’s, Burger King, Applebee’s, Pizza Hut or Subway. No Walgreens or Walmart. No Staples, Home Depot, Fred Meyer or 7-11 either. In fact there was not a single chain store in the entire place. Hallelujah for local small businesses. There was fantastic local coffee and though we cooked in camp most nights we did venture out for a meal or two and the food was equally fantastic.

Prices are definitely a check in the minus column. I went to the grocery store to buy toothpaste and a tube of the generic, non organic stuff was $8 and change. What? I’m not usually one to take note of prices. While gas prices are soaring and everyone is complaining, I often can’t tell you the price per gallon. I figure if I need the stuff, I’m going to pay whatever price they are charging. This ain’t South America. I’m not going to bargain the station down a buck or two. But when toothpaste is over $8 a tube, I take note. What do the locals do? Clearly everyone in this town can’t afford 8 bucks for toothpaste. Let me know if you know someone who lives in Telluride. I need to ask them a few questions.

I could wax on about Telluride. I really, really liked it. I bet it’s got a slightly different feel when it’s swarming with tourists but I sense that the local people here really like their way of life. It seems a little slower; a little saner than most places. I like that. I think I’ll be back.

Here are a few more photos from our travels to Telluride…

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Boarding the Pikes Peak Train

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West Elk Wilderness – near Gunnison, Colorado

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Heading up to Bear Creek Falls, Telluride, CO

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Joshy cruises the trails of Telluride

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Wetland pond, Telluride

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Randy goofs off on the hike up Bear Creek

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Joshua at Bear Creek Falls

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Telluride town

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Mountains, rivers and trails! Telluride

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319 days together and still smiling!

Posted by: stacylynn12 | April 23, 2012

Touching Down

It’s a strange feeling, returning to one’s home country after an extended leave. An odd flip flop where that which has always been totally familiar is now absolutely foreign.

We landed in Philadelphia after a delay departing Cancun. Other than the fact that it would cause my mother (who was picking us up in Maine) some hassle I could have cared less if we were delayed, grounded for the indefinite future or sent home by way of Timbuktu. The reality of it was that I didn’t want to go home. Going home meant no more traveling.

Thank god we had the foresight to fly in and out of Maine. We now had 2 months to leisurely make our way across the country. This softened the blow a bit.

While waiting for our connecting flight we wandered the airport looking for something to eat. We settled on a pizza joint and Randy placed our order. The nice woman behind the counter said “Will that be all?” and Randy responded “Si”. Quickly realizing his mistake and with a thwap of palm to forehead in the spirit of Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!”, he changed his response to “Yes”. What were all these people doing… speaking in English. It was very strange.

In addition, people appeared to be actually drinking water from little spouting taps placed strategically around the airport. Didn’t they know? That stuff could be very dangerous.

After we finished our pizza, we made a bathroom pit stop before continuing to our gate for our next departure. My children were utterly perplexed. “Mom, there’s no basket next to the toilet”. Yeah, so? “So what are we supposed to do with our toilet paper?”. Oh right. We hadn’t actually flushed a piece of toilet paper in nearly 6 months. In much of the world, small baskets are provided next to the toilet to place your used paper in since actually flushing the stuff would cause some major issues with the system. At first it was a little gross but we quickly adjusted. Even now, a month after returning to the US, if there is a basket near the toilet the kids will throw the paper in it. 6 months is, after all, a large percentage of their flushing life. Habits are hard to break.

In addition to the language, the water and the toilets, we are also adjusting back to the safety laws here in the States. Seat belts and bike helmets for example, are something we have become accustomed to NOT wearing. We did our best to prep the kids for re-entry into our litigious homeland… where someone can successfully sue McDonalds for serving hot coffee and personal responsibility seems to be a dirty word. Well, technically two words. The kids are doing fine, not surprisingly. They squawk a little bit about the seat belts and Josh every now and then will take off on his bike without a helmet grinning all the while as if to say “just try and catch me” but Randy and I can’t seem to get as worked up about the small stuff. Before we left the country, if anyone in the van unclipped their seatbelt for even a millisecond the safety alarm sounded… imagine red lights flashing, siren blaring, parents freaking out and announcing “clip your seatbelt child before you get yourself killed!” No matter that we may have been in 10 MPH traffic, inching along. Now we glance nonchalantly into the back of the van and if something is amiss we calmly mention that they should clip back in.

We’ve always allowed the kids to “joy ride” or, to ride without seat belts when we are up in the mountains on a dirt road or really anywhere “out in the boonies”. The boundary of the boonies got bigger while we were away. While traveling, I enjoyed being able to make safety decisions for myself and my family based on my own judgement and ability to assess the risks associated with a given activity. In our world of lawsuits and blame games that personal responsibly is often replaced with blanket laws that are meant to protect (and often do) but in reality also remove our ability to take responsibility for our personal safety. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think seat belts and bike helmets are a bad idea it’s just that I enjoy the power to deem them necessary when I feel they are. I chuckle at the toddler riding a tricycle at the speed of a turtle, sitting a foot and a half off the ground, wearing a helmet. I mean… really. I wonder if Seattle’s bike helmet law actually applies to toddlers on trikes.

The good things about coming home? I loved going to the grocery store. The first time I went, I didn’t buy a thing. I just wandered the aisles looking at all the tasty things I’d missed. It was overwhelming and I left empty handed. In time, I went back and filled our cooler with organic strawberries, cream top yogurt, fresh veggies, pasta and other tasty treats that we hadn’t had in months. It was heaven.

It’s been nice to see our family. We’ve visited my family in Maine and Randy’s Dad in Indiana along with a host of friends from both states. We are all excited to get to Seattle and see the rest of our friends and family.

It was really awesome to get back to our clothes. After months of wearing the same few t shirts and ill fitting Peruvian pants, it was dreamy to put on my cozy, worn, torn at the knees blue jeans. I may never take them off.

We were all happy to get back into Bessie, our sweet ’86 Vanagon. After months of public transportation, it was a luxury to be in control of our locomotion once again. There will be no violent Arnold Schwarzenegger movies in our van.

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Home again.

So far, the number one question people have asked is, “So, are you glad to be (almost) home?” It’s a complicated question and one that confuses me. I don’t really know how to answer it. It’s not accurate to say no. Of course I’m happy at the idea of home. I can’t wait to see friends and family and I’m ecstatic at the idea of getting back into my kitchen and switching on my espresso machine to make a mouth wateringly wonderful coffee. The garden will need some attention and I’ll have the bountiful season of summer in front of me for culinary creating.

Bodhi is excited to see his friends. I think he’s really missed them. Joshua is just happy in general. I’m not sure he cares one way or the other but I do know he’s excited to unpack some toys.

I posed the question to Randy and he’s so maddeningly in the present that he could only answer with I’m excited for the next 5 weeks and to be traveling on this road trip across the country. I’m not sure it’s dawned on him that we are going home. He seems to refuse to jump ahead to that point in the future for fear he will miss something in the present moment. How the hell does he do that?

Another way to pose the question would be “Are you glad to be (almost) done with traveling?”. The answer to that question is easy. No! I’m not nearly done! I feel as though I could spend months traveling across the country and after returning for a month or two to Seattle to catch up with folks and sip some tasty Joe, I’d be over the moon to get on a plane and keep going. Where would I go? I don’t know but the list of possibilities is long. Wanderlust is a serious affliction. It’s a big world out there and I have miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep…

(Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening)

Posted by: stacylynn12 | April 17, 2012

Shades of Blue

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Ahhhhh…. Akumal, Mexico!

Where have you been all my life?

In all of our amazing travels, there was just one teeny, weeny little thing missing. One little piece niggling in my mind telling me – you are not done yet. There is one more place to go. I wanted my picture perfect beach. My warm, tropical breeze. My crystal clear, calm water teeming with marine life where I could snorkel the days away and then wind down with a tasty beverage. I wanted my Relaxation and Rejuvenation. Dammit! It was on the list of goals.

I’d made up my mind that we were going to the beach long before I ever broached the subject with Randy. I knew I could twist his arm. I began to do my research. It’s not easy being so picky. There were plenty of islands in the South Pacific that would fit the bill but the problem with that was, well…the bill. Way too expensive and much too far to go for one last little hurrah on the way home. (It would have been hard for me to sell Tahiti as “on the way home”.)

I turned my sights to the Caribbean. There’s certainly no shortage of idyllic locales there but every place I looked was just out of our “almost at the end of a year of travel” budget.

Enter… Mexico.

Randy and I had passed through the area known as the Riviera Maya several years ago on our way to Belize and Guatemala. I knew there had to be a little “just right” spot somewhere. It didn’t hurt that the flights to Portland, Maine from Quito, Ecuador were actually cheaper if we flew through Cancun. How convenient. I won’t put you to sleep with the agonizing details of how I came to choose Akumal as “the spot”. It was hours and hours of Internet searching, looking at reviews on Trip Advisor, emailing friends and scrutinizing beaches, hotels, snorkeling options, swimming reports and more. I will however tell you why I love Akumal… just in case you too are in search of a little paradise.

Akumal, Mexico is about an hour south of Cancun. I know Cancun is a very popular place to visit but it is just not for me. It’s a bit too big, too developed and too crowded. At least that’s my perception. Of course I could be wrong. Outside of flying into the airport twice, I’ve never actually been there. But I believe everything I read in the media so it must be true.

Akumal is much of what I imagine Cancun is not… It’s just about the right size – sleepy but not totally asleep. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants but none that are giant, super size me, mega resorts. I like that. One can walk or ride a bike to any place in the town. It’s flat (my kids like that) and there is not much traffic. My husband likes that.

I found a wonderful little hotel on Half Moon Bay and with my bargaining skills honed after 6 months in Latin America I secured us a room at a sweet rate – $80 / night, and it was right on the beach… literally.

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The view from our hotel room in Akumal – I snapped this photo while sitting on the bed.

Vista Del Mar is not luxurious by any means but it was cute and I like cute. There is always a moment right before I walk into a hotel room where I hold my breath and wonder if it’s going to suit me… to give me that warm and fuzzy feeling. Like I said, it’s not always easy being picky. Sometimes it doesn’t really matter but this time, it did. Amen. Exhale. It’s cute.

The beach in front of our hotel was not crowded. In fact, it was quite empty. A few people strolled by here and there – just enough so that we didn’t feel like we were completely alone. The sand was great for castles and the boys set to work almost immediately upon arrival. Once their masterpiece was complete we ventured into the water where we discovered our paradise’s first flaw. Rocks. Now don’t get me wrong, I like rocks. I like to climb them. I don’t really like to swim with them. They made the beach somewhat less than perfect for swimming but that was fine really because it kept the crowds at bay. We discovered that there was a nice reef that we could snorkel out to and if we wanted to swim, it was a very short, pleasant bike ride to the main beach in Akumal where the swimming was spectacular albeit accompanied by modest crowds.

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The beach in front of our hotel on Half Moon Bay

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Akumal Bay – sweet and sandy

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The boys play in the sand on Akumal Bay while Randy and I enjoy a beachside beverage. A storm looms in the distance.

Our days were decidedly and intentionally slow. We awoke and made coffee and breakfast which we lazily enjoyed on the beach in front of our room. We occasionally hopped on our bikes, which we could rent for a buck an hour from the hotel, and rode into town to The Turtle Cafe for delicious smoothies and decent breakfast. We spent one day at the Yal Ku Lagoon where we found quite a few people and not quite so many fish but it was a perfect introduction for the kids as the water was calm and clear.

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Yal Ku Lagoon

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Bodhi snorkels, minus the snorkel. He had trouble mastering that pesky tube.

Anytime after 3pm was officially declared “Beer: 30”. Randy and I cut limes while Corona and Dos Equis battled it out for the prestigious honor of “Best Mexican Beer”. There was much debate and extensive sampling. In the end Dos Equis won. Meanwhile the children were practicing their bargaining and Spanish skills. They’d wander over to the corner store, return to request “just one more peso” and then hurry back to procure some special treat. Ice cream, lollipops and chocolate milk were tops on their lists. After a couple of Dos Equis, I didn’t much care.

After happy hour we’d stroll down the beach to one of the nearby restaurants or hop on the bikes for a ride into the village for dinner. It was really a whole lot of not too much and we loved it. But after a few days of lazing around on our tushies the all-tuckered-out-from-too-much-traveling-Earlywine-family got a little restless and needed an adventure. We decided on a day trip to Isla Cozumel.

Cozumel is purported to be one of the best diving and snorkeling spots in the Caribbean and in my quest for the best, I had to go. We arrived on the island and rented ourselves a sweet 1970’s era, bright orange, convertible VW beetle. As we tooled around the island the kids enjoyed some of their last days of seatbelt-less freedom.

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Crusin’

Our first stop was at The Money Bar, formerly known as Dzul Ha. Pronounced Zool-Ha this is the Mayan name for the god of the sea and until recent times was the name of the beach and the offshore reef nearby. How it came to pass that the name of the entire area is now associated with a mediocre restaurant that just happens to inhabit a small piece of the shoreline is beyond me but nevertheless, it was supposed to be the best spot on the island for shore snorkeling so there we went.

Bodhi and I headed out and did in fact see an amazing variety of very cool fish. Much to Bodhi’s dismay I also saw a stingray elegantly flying through the water after he returned to shore. Randy took a turn with the mask and fins though after a near death (really) experience snorkeling in Puerto Rico, he’s slightly less keen on the sport than I am. Perhaps the most amazing thing we saw at the Money Bar however was Joshua. J-man has made remarkable strides with his swimming on this trip. When we left Seattle he all but refused to even enter the water, any water. He has slowly become more comfortable and now generally swims comfortably with his trusty life jacket on. He likes to stay close by Mom or Dad though.

But on this day, inspired by who knows what, Josh headed out. He got into the water and started floating. He floated further and further from shore and we kept waiting to hear him screaming for help. We weren’t afraid he was going to go anywhere as there was almost zero risk of various marine perils such as strong currents, rip tides, undertows or great white sharks. He wasn’t going to get away from us and he wasn’t going to drown, what with being buckled and snapped snugly into his coast guard approved PFD and all. We waited but he didn’t scream. He simply turned around once in a while bobbing happily along and waved with a smile on is face. We were stunned. And then he did start to get a bit far away. Why wasn’t he turning around? I decide to go after him. When I caught up to him it seemed as though we were in the middle of the ocean… and he was the happiest clam in town.

After we all felt satisfactorily waterlogged, we continued our tour of the island. The eastern side of Isla Cozumel is the untamed, wild cousin of the developed west side. It was remote and wonderful. Driving along in our convertible, with nothing to see but ocean for miles I felt like we should be blasting some Beach Boys song with surf boards strapped to our trunk. Alas we came upon “Coconuts”, a bar perched on the cliffs above the teal blue water and a favorite Caribbean haunt of my cousin Brent. The plan was to stop in for a snack and then go hit another snorkeling spot. Well… after one blue margarita, it was clear that my snorkeling was done for the day.

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Blue margaritas and piñatas (virgin piña coladas!)

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Shades of blue – the view from Coconuts

Well my friends, the story is coming to an end. We returned from Cozumel late with two sleeping children. We had a few more days of lazing on the beach and an amazing experience snorkeling with sea turtles in Akumal Bay. Akumal is a Mayan word meaning “Place of the Turtles”. Joshua surprised us again by deciding that he wanted to see the turtles enough that he was willing to put his face in the water. Until then that had been a big “no way”.

Then, just like that it was time to go. If ever you want to know more about Akumal, let me know. I’ll regale you with more of her splendors while we drink Dos Equis or blue margaritas, or something…

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Sea turtle munching on sea grass. I did not take this photo, I found it on the Internet. I’d give the photographer credit but I don’t know who it is. I’m sure this violates some sort of copyright law. Don’t tell.

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Joshua and Randy at Yal Ku Lagoon

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Happy Snorkeler

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The sign says it all!

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Josh loves the trail-a-bike

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Bodhi helps pedal the tandem

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Yahoo!

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Randy checks out the turtles in Akumal Bay

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Fun with Feet!

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Adios Akumal

Relaxation and Rejuvenation – Check.

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