Van Life: The East Coast Edition

I am sitting in a blue, ’99 Chevy Astro van with my brown dog, Bella, on the side of a craggy shoreline in Rockport, Massachusetts. The sun has already set, and the van has decided to have a little engine trouble. John-Hilton, captain and van owner, is trying to mess with the battery to see if that will help the tired travel vessel. We are 1,300 miles from home, and have been on the road for about a week and a half. Go figure the van starts acting up right after an oil change. Oh well, such is life. Max (the van), did pick a hell of a spot to take a nap. I can hear the waves crashing on the jagged shore, and traffic is nearly nonexistent. A perfect opportunity to reflect on the trip thus far.

In an effort to see what this beautiful country has to offer, I packed up my room in Denver, rented it out for the time I’d be gone, and drove back to Florida. I’ve always wanted to do the van life thing, the idea of a minimalistic lifestyle has peeked my interest for some time. For the past few years I’ve downsized my belongings, clothing, kitchen stuff, house things, you name it. So here I am, with a suitcase, and some fun necessities, living out of a van, traveling up the East coast.

The essentials:

  • Van: ’99 Chevy Astro, fully equipped with a bed (so thankful for my dear friend, Rachel, who lent us her 3 inch memory foam topper), storage shelving, extra battery and inverter for running our electric stove and for charging our electronics.
  • Van Captain: John-Hilton, my fun loving, forward thinking, dream seeking, adventure partner. A kid at heart with a positive attitude so you can never have a bad day! Seriously, any expedition in life needs one! Did I mention he likes to cook?
  • Co-pilot: That’s me! I’m like the Google queen, I love to look things up and research them. Finding unique, fun, historically significant, or off the beaten path things to see or do is my forte. Plus I like to annoy the captain with amazing vocals to sing along classics, Sinead O’Connor anyone?
  • Dog: Pretty much a give in. I mean the blog is called Adventures of Kells ‘n Bells. I’m not sure how crazed the van captain is with my obsession of Bella, but he’s getting there. Besides why have a dog if you can’t show her the world too.
  • 7 Gallon Water Jug (BPA free): Seriously the most handy purchase I’ve ever made. We fill it up with some tasty fluoride free water, and we are good to go for a few days. Convenient, and much, much better for the environment.
  • Camera: I recently purchased a Sony A6000 so I can hone in on my picture taking skills. I love photography, and I can’t wait to see how this trip will help me define my style.
  • Miscellaneous:  Ice chest, to keep our beer cold of course. Kitchenware, hiking packs, dog toys, Eno hammocks (their lights are great too), and snacks. And lastly, a smile and an optimistic, flexible attitude!

We have been fortunate enough to stay with quite a few different people along the way, and I am so thankful for all of the great friends who have opened their homes to the three of us, and given us pointers on what to see in their beautiful cities. John-Hilton and I are very blessed to have made such close and loving friends throughout the years. However, I will say I am excited to ditch the cities and be surrounded by the wilderness, and the occasional quaint harbor town. Rockport is definitely one of those places; we got to enjoy the most incredible sunset at an old rock quarry earlier this evening. There is something so cleansing about sitting ocean side atop a large rock on a bouldered beach that has been smoothed by the constant repetition of salt watered waves.

I hope to be able to keep you all updated on the journey, and will reflect back on the places we have already been as well. In the short 10 days we have been on the road, one thing has remained constant: the air of wonderful uncertainty as to where we will be next! Tonight I will close my eyes at our Cape Ann camp site, tomorrow, who knows…. Perhaps New Hampshire?





Please feel free to let us know about any stops you’d recommend! Especially in the Maine- Nova Scotia area!


Gas Masks and Volcanoes

If you are ever near Whakatane, New Zealand and are looking for something to do, you must go on a tour of White Island located in the Bay of Plenty. White Island, also known as Whakaari, is NZ’s most active volcano! It sits 30 miles off the coast, and you can only access the island through a chartered tour. We did the White Island Tour aboard the cruiser, PeeJay.


The night before we departed, we stayed in one of the homes associated with the tour company. Compared to the close quarters we had been sleeping in, this was like a mansion! In the morning, we prepared for the trip by making sure we had sturdy, close toed shoes, on and had removed all of our silver jewelry. This was actually no joke, they had warned us that the metal could become tarnished in the acidic environment on the island. In fact, I couldn’t remove one of my upper ear piercings, and it is slightly darker than it was before the adventure. We signed waivers before boarding, acknowledging the dangers of visiting this active volcano.


The boat ride out there was a little rough. It was a tad bit rainy, but not bad enough for the tour to be cancelled. Kendra and I opted to sit out on the balcony instead of being cooped up inside with the all the other passengers. It was pretty foggy out, so we had a bit of a hard time seeing too far, but we laughed and swapped life stories during the hour boat ride. Right before we got to the island, the crew members handed out hard hats and gas masks, and instructed us on the dangers of entering the island. The volcano sits mostly under the sea, so when you step foot on White Island, you are stepping on to the crater complex. We were warned that on a volcanic activity scale of 1-5, this volcano usually sat around a 2. In case of an eruption, we were to run far away from the open crater and vents, and get behind something to avoid flying volcanic matter. We were also not to wander very far from where our tour leader was, as you could accidentally step on to a hidden hot spot.  Finally, we were provided the gas masks because of the sulfuric steam. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but we were warned.




DSC_0536 (1)

We got on a dingy that took us to shore from the main vessel. Kendra and I were in awe, taking so many pictures. One of the guides laughed at us and told us to keep moving, as there were much better pictures to be taken ahead.  We walked across gray, ashen land tinted with streaks of yellow from sulfur, towards a steaming section of the island. These steaming fumaroles were bright yellow, and the gases they were emitting were intense! Even with the gas masks on, your throat was burning, nose was running, and your eyes were watering. The smell was a sharp, pungent odor of sulfur. Everyone started coughing, and the guides passed out hard candies for us to suck on. This actually helped a lot. I pressed my gas mask close to my face, and eagerly moved forward with the rest of the group.







I can’t really describe the island as anything other than alien. I honestly felt like I had stepped on to another planet. It was incredible, I was filled with an alluring sense of danger mixed with a childish sense of awe and amazement. Walking around, there were chunks of scoria and bright yellow sulfur on the ground. There were pits of boiling mud scattered throughout the island. Towards the back end, there was one very large crater with a lake similar to those we came across while hiking the Tongariro Crossing.

image                         I mean does that not look just like an alien creature that would crawl out of a volcano??







We started circling back to the front of the island. One of the guides told us about two fresh water streams on the island. He said we could taste test both, one was supposed to taste like iron and the other was to have a citrus taste. He was right! I touched my finger to the water in each stream, and timidly gave them a try. I was scared I might get some weird bacteria but it was cool to say I tasted volcano water.





This is the stream that had the citrus taste.IMG_0843      This stream had the iron taste, it’s nifty how the colors align with the tastes.


At the front of the island where we had docked, lies the remains of a sulfur mining settlement that had been destroyed in an eruption in 1914. The guides told us the story of how this lahar eruption killed 10 unfortunate souls, but left a surviving camp cat alive. People continued to mine the island, but eventually stopped as it wasn’t producing the amounts of sulfur wanted, not to mention the risks of being on the island were too high. As I explored the remains, I wondered if these men had been aware of the danger of working and living on the island.  I wondered if they knew what was happening when the volcano erupted. It’s crazy to think about because we could have reached the same fate, wandering about an active volcano with such leisure.







Our two hours of exploration were up, and we scrubbed our boots to clean of the ash and chemicals before getting back on the ship. The crew passed out a packed lunch for everyone as we sailed around to the other side of the island. Here you could see a large gannet population and several fur seals lounging on the rocks. The fog had lifted at this point, and our trip back to the mainland was sunny and relaxing.

















My “Almost” Lion Encounter

*First off I’d like to start by saying if someone would like to prove me wrong and tell me this is a paw print from an extraordinarily large dog, please do so! Otherwise, after comparing to many pictures online, and from the sheer size of it in person, I’m going to go with what I know and say it’s a mountain lion print.

Today I decided I wanted to take Bella on a nice long hike. It was another beautiful day here in Denver, not to mention I’m going up in to the mountains this weekend for Winter Wondergrass, and unfortunately Bella cannot join. So, I wanted to get her outside and have a nice fun filled day before the weekend. I had been wanting to check out the Beaver Creek Trail out of Genesee Park, so without much thought we jumped on 70 and headed west.

To give you an idea of where my head was at, a few days ago, Bella and I did a quick hike up in Golden, to the top of Lookout Mountain. I ran into a couple guys before we started the trail who had been hiking up from the lower Chimney Gulch trail. They stopped me and asked if I knew about the mountain lion advisory as there were several signs posted in the gulch about a recent sighting in the area. I replied, “Nooo… but running in to a mountain lion is a big fear of mine.” We talked for a minute and decided we would all kind of shadow each other on the trail, just in case. The walk was uneventful and Bella and I climbed down by ourselves after I was fairly certain there was enough foot traffic and actual road traffic sounds to keep any animal from wanting to make its presence known to a human. A few days later we hiked up in Pike National Forest, the story of which I’ll save for another post, but here I came across a rather large paw print. If you’ve ever seen my dog’s paws in person, you will know she has rather large ones. So, for her paw print to look “tiny” is saying something. I didn’t have cell service at the time and was unable to look up what a mountain lion paw print looks like, so we just rerouted our hike to a more open and populated area. Later, when  I got home I looked up all the details on identifying mountain lion tracks and signs that they could be in your area.

Any way, needless to say I had already had mountain lions on the brain, so when I saw the sign at the start of the trail saying that the trail was in a known mountain lion area- pretty much every trail has a sign that says watch out for lions but this one was a little more specific- and to leave the pet at home- even though pets are allowed on the trail- made me very uneasy. Here I was again out all by myself, which is what every tip on hiking in lion country says not to do. From where I had parked, it was a .4 mile walk to the start of the trail head…I think I walked maybe half a mile in to the actual trail before my anxiety and nerves got the best of me.  I paused for a bit, made a phone call to a friend complaining that I didn’t know if I was psyching myself out or what, but ultimately decided I wasn’t going to have fun no matter what at this point, so I might as well just go back. Because let’s face it, if you’re going to hike a strenuous up hill climb, you better be having a damn good time. Oh and the fact that a few minutes before we turned around, Bella wouldn’t stop staring in to this one section of the trees and growling. I couldn’t shake the anxiousness, so I stayed on the phone with my friend, checking behind me and around me as we walked out of the woods, until we got to the open dirt road area. I thought alright we’re good, we just have under half a mile to the car. Bella brought me a giant stick, we played fetch for a minute and started up the road. No sooner had we walked 20 yards from where we were playing, we came to this iced over section of the road. I veered over to the left side where I had came down 30 minutes earlier and saw a massive, what I’m assuming was a deer leg, that had been completely stripped to the bone. That was not comforting. About another 20 yards later were the paw prints. They were probably 3-4 times bigger than Bella’s and perfectly matched the descriptions and pictures of tracks I had read about earlier in the week. I wish I had snapped a picture of Bella’s paw print next to these prints, but I was in a hurry at that point to get to the car as quickly as possible. The bone, nor the prints had been there before, of that I’m mostly certain. I typically walk with my eyes on the ground; it’s a habit from looking for snakes back in Florida when I’m out hiking. I noticed both immediately, so I’m 98% sure I would have not missed them the first time around. Bella also came running over to inspect the bone before I reached it, so I doubt she had missed it the first time around either.

After I had reached the safety of my car, I thought it would have been really cool to actually see the lion. Although, for human safety, I know it’s a good thing it never made itself visible to me, as long as it wasn’t stalking me that is. I don’t know too much about mountain lions, the only ones I’ve worked with were pretty lazy and docile. They would hang out in their dens and generally keep to themselves, unlike the other big cats who would stalk the sides of their enclosures when someone walked by. Mountain lions are also the biggest feline that can still pur, which is a pretty cool thing to witness. However, out here in the mountains and from stories my family in Canada have told me, they definitely take on a much more menacing vibe. I definitely do not want to ever have an issue with one of these powerful creatures. So for now, I’ll try to remain comforted by the fact that this lion kept hidden and seemed to want nothing to do with Bella nor myself, and that my encounter remained an “almost.”





In another track I found, you could see the 3 lobes at the bottom of the paw pad, like in the drawing above. However, I was not concerned about picture quality at the time I took this. If you do look closely you can kind of see where the ridges of each lobe are. One toe is supposed to be slightly longer than the others (like a middle finger for us), but I think the deep mud kind of distorts that aspect of the track. I think the mud may also be why you can kind of see claw marks in front of the toes.


These tracks made Bella’s big ole paws look tiny in comparison.



Camping and Car Accidents

My drive from Colorado to Florida was much less eventful than my trip back to Colorado. After a pit stop in New Orleans (and an unfortunate missed turn that had me stuck behind a celebratory and rambunctious crowd of Mardi Gras parade watchers) to see a couple friends, I headed out to Texas. My goal was 13 hours away, Palo Duro Canyon State Park. I wasn’t going to get there until about 11:00 pm, another late night arrival to a campsite I had never been to before.

I called ahead to reserve a campsite and the park ranger gave me the gate code so I could get into the park later that night. That day of driving was miserably long, but thank god for podcasts. I started listening to True Murder…why I do these things to myself, I have no idea. Of course the first and second episodes had cases that took place in Texas. By the time I arrived it was frigid outside, an icy 23 degrees. I was decently prepared for cold weather, having packed my sleeping bag, a fleece blanket, and a down comforter when I had originally left Colorado. Blankets and pillows are a must have for me when on a long road trip. Bella also has a really comfy dog bed which I had layered on the back seat for extra sleeping comfort. After a few trials, I am starting to get the hang of making a decent sleeping spread in the back seat of my car; although I’m still hoping for an SUV asap.

My campsite was 5 miles from the entrance of the park, where an electric gate opened up after I punched in the correct code. There was not a cloud in the sky or any light pollution from the city of Amarillo. The stars were breath taking as the crisp air seemed to make them appear even brighter. We saw several mule deer fawns running across the steeper sections of the canyon roads. It was eerily dark around my campsite and I was the only one camping out there. The first spot that I pulled up to seemed like a nice spot to stop. That is until I got out and something screeched at me from the bushes. Yeahhh that wasn’t going to work. I drove a little bit farther down the road, found a suitable site with no screeching critters, and prepared for our wintry night in the car. Under the safety of my blankets and with Bella lying right next to me, I slept fine despite the below freezing temperatures. We awoke to frost across all the windows, and a still cloud free, beautiful, blue sky.


I drove up to the visitors center to acquire a park map so we could do some hiking before heading back to Denver. The guy behind the counter was friendly and we had a great conversation before I hit the trails. I wanted to see the popular “Light House,” so that’s the trail we hiked. It was 6 miles through the bottom of the canyon up to this beautiful stone pillar. Bella was having a blast and making lots of friends, they were shocked to see her climbing some of the rocks along the trail. I chuckled to myself and explained that this was fairly mild compared to what she’s used to doing back in Colorado. By this time it had warmed up to a very nice 55 degrees and there were a lot of people showing up as we headed back towards the start of the trail. I was impressed with the amount of younger people who were there. I like seeing young kids and teens out exploring and enjoying nature.


On our way out of town, I was going to make a pit stop at Cadillac Ranch. However, I never made it over due to the large truck that came crashing into the side of my car. It was a very minor accident, although the right side of my car will need to replaced and I cannot currently open my front passenger door. The police took 2 hours to get to us, pushing my arrival time in Denver to 10:00 pm, which was midnight back home in Florida. I was exhausted and hungry and couldn’t wait to get to my bed. We did make finally, the third installment, the absolute saddest story I’ve heard in a while, of the True Murder podcasts, kept me awake for the end of the drive.











My Prairie Love

There is a hidden gem located in my favorite town, Gainesville, Florida, which I will get to in a minute. Gainesville was my birth place and my home for a total of 11 years. My first memory was after a Florida Gator basketball game and my first time living on my own was in this amazing town. I lived in Gainesville with my family for the first 4 years of my life before we moved around a bit. I circled back for college after I was accepted to the University of Florida. Needless to say, I have so many incredible memories in this town and it is the place I will always call “home.”

My first few years of college were really emotional for me, as I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I mean I still don’t really know, but I have always found peace and comfort in the outdoors. It’s also worth noting that it was in my second year of college that I brought baby Bella home. 🙂 Back to the point though, Gainesville is full of fun outdoor activities. Two of my favorite outdoor things to do is to go shark teeth hunting in the creeks around town, and that hidden gem I mentioned, Payne’s Prairie State Park.

Payne’s Prairie is a gorgeous swampland that hosts several trails where you can potentially see wild Florida Cracker horses and bison! A trek down the La Chua trail on a warm summer day will leave you speechless. The number of alligators I have seen on this trail is unreal. I once counted just over 100 gators before losing track. I’ve seen alligators fighting, stalking and eating prey, and lazily lounging on the trails right next to me. The horses are beautiful and the bison are always a treat when you get to see them, as they are incredibly elusive. From 100 degree hikes, to watching sunsets, to hula hooping sessions, and wine drinking, to bike trips, and to countless hours spent with friends, this place will always have a very special place in my heart. I got to take a quick visit here with some close friends while I was home visiting and it was as magical as ever. There’s nothing like sharing memories and laughing with old friends while admiring the power and beauty of the outdoors. Payne’s Prairie is such a magnificent place and if you are ever in the area, it is definitely worth the stop. I’ve included several pictures from random adventures throughout the years and a picture of baby Bella for good measure.




















My Night in The Ozarks

I’ve been trying to retroactively write about my New Zealand experiences, but I wanted to take a break and write about what’s been going on recently. My internship in Denver has just ended and I miss working with my polar bears and otters so much! I really missed my friends and family back in Florida though, so I decided to load up my car and take a little road trip home. This is a 2-3 day drive depending on how much driving you want to knock out in one day. I had nothing else to do, so I figured why not, I’ll do it in two. My goal was to make it to Arkansas on the first night, so I could camp in the Ozark National Forest. I found some pictures online and thought the area looked really beautiful, plus National Forests are predominately pet friendly and cheap when it comes to camping. I figured I would find a spot as I got closer and go from there.

This plan wasn’t my worst, but it definitely wasn’t my best. My phone screen at the time was completely shattered and it kept freezing every minute, so I’d have to lock it and re-open it to keep using the touch screen or read the screen. At this point I was entering Arkansas and getting really nervous I wouldn’t be able to find a place to camp with how long it took me to use my phone, so I just picked the first campground that came up in my search and that seemed close off the interstate. Long Pool Recreation Area was the ultimate destination.

The next hour of my life was one of a serious internal battle. It was late and it was dark. I had been driving for 12 hours and it was about 10 pm. I turned on to this little road leading into the mountains out of a town called Clarksville, and my one working headlight was all I had illuminating my way through the winding roads. It had just rained, making the scenario all the more gloomy. I had never been to the Ozarks and I had never really found a campsite and stayed at one all by myself before. So my logical brain was telling me I was absolutely crazy and that my actions were irresponsible and dangerous. I mean I had no idea what this campground would be like, I had no clue where I was, and I was driving deeper and deeper in to the middle of no where. I lost cell service a little bit later (thankfully the pre-loaded GPS was still navigating me) and my nerves were all the more on edge. Also, I feel it’s pertinent to the story that I add that I watch way too many murder mystery shows. Thankfully I made myself stop watching Criminal Minds a few years ago for this very reason or I might have really been freaking out. I mean, this did seem like a story straight out of a scary movie. Girl goes camping in woods alone, girl gets kidnapped and tortured in a cave in the mountains, girl is never to be seen from again. However, this is also where my idealist side came into play. I always love the adventure and as much as I get nervous, or stressed, or my mind wanders to the worst possible scenario, I do keep a very optimistic state of mind. I knew why I wanted to camp, and I kept that goal in mind, and we (Bella was with me of course) made it to our campground.

I felt immediately more at ease once I reached the campground. It was 11 by now, so the campground host and the two other campers were asleep, but the campground host had the coolest set up at their site. It seemed very welcoming and fun, and I was ecstatic to discover I had picked a campground with an actual bathroom that had flushable toilets and running faucets. Bella and I walked around a bit, but I really couldn’t see anything, so I started re-arranging my car for our sleeping comfort. When I’m out on my own like this, I do typically carry pepper spray and a small pocket knife with me, just in case. I find that I feel very safe with Bella near me, as I figure most people wouldn’t want to mess with a 90 lb beast of a dog. I hung some tapestries in my windows, so no one could stare in at us and we settled in for the night. Bella was very confused as to why we were sleeping inside the car and kept staring at me for an explanation, but she finally lied down next to me.

We woke up the next morning to a very low-lit, foggy day. I slept better than I had expected to in our tight quarters and was interested to explore the area before hitting the road again. It had been perfect temperatures overnight, in the upper 40’s, so I just threw on a sweatshirt and Bella and I started to move around. I walked out in front of where my car was parked and couldn’t believe my eyes. There was this beautiful turquoise colored river flowing right next to our camp site! It was incredible! I was absolutely not expecting to see water of that color out there in the woods of Arkansas. We walked around down by the river side, and there were so many spots where the water was slowly falling off the rocky edges next to the trail. It was breathtaking after such a nerve-racking drive in. I wanted to keep hiking, but I knew I needed to get back and my phone no longer had the GPS route saved and I still had zilch in cell service. This meant I was going to be driving back out, trying to remember how I got there in the dark of the night. The fog started lifting as I got ready for the long day ahead of us and as we started driving out, I was shocked to see that the road that we drove in to the campsite on had a steep drop off to the river below. Thankfully, the whole experience was a safe one and so much fun. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be camping on my drive back out to Colorado. I’m thinking Texas this time, but I have no idea just yet.


Cape Kidnappers

On our way out of Napier we decided to do a tractor tour of Hawke’s Bay’s Cape Kidnappers. This is usually a 16 km hike along the beach that is very tide dependent. You can only complete this hike when the tide is out. Given our last two days of extreme activity, we opted to do the tractor tour. Personally, I’m not a fan of tours as I’d much rather have the freedom to do as I please, and take my time looking and exploring the things I find interesting.  But I didn’t have much of a say so on this one and we set off as the sun was rising across the ocean.



The morning was very foggy, but it added to the character of the looming cliffs along the beach. Essentially, Cape Kidnappers is a long peninsula with steep, white cliffs lining the beach. If you look closely at the cliffs, you can see the different layers of marine sediment from millions of years ago. You can clearly see fault lines where earth quakes and volcanoes have displaced the levels of the deposits. Towards the end of the peninsula, you will find the breeding and nesting sites for thousands of gannets, a large sea bird that flies to New Zealand from Australia for its breeding season. If you were able to see the land located at the tops of the cliffs, you would find the famous Cape Kidnappers golf course.

The intriguing name, “Cape Kidnappers,” comes from a story dated back to October 15, 1769. A local New Zealand tribe, the Maori, attempted to kidnap one of Captain Cook’s crew members. Cook was a British explorer who had been mapping out New Zealand’s coast line at the time. The Maori pulled up alongside Captain Cook’s ship, the HMS Endeavor, offered the crew some fish, and pulled a young boy onto their boat. The boy was able to escape after Captain Cook’s crew opened fire on the ship, giving him a chance to jump overboard and swim back to the Endeavor. Cook left the peninsula immediately, documenting the experience in his journal, and dubbing the peninsula “Cape Kidnappers.”




The fog cleared up enough so that we could get out and explore the end of the peninsula. We walked up through a sheep and cattle field to get to a rather large nesting point for the gannets. These are beautiful white and yellow birds that spend a lot of time in the water. They were very loud, squawking at any bird that got too close to their personal nest, which wasn’t very hard to do considering each nest was about a foot apart. A couple birds would fight, wrestling each other and battling it out with their impressive beaks. After observing the birds for a while, Kendra and I headed back down to the beach to admire more of the cliff side views. The beach itself was beautiful and we saw a fur seal resting on a large rock far out in the water. Soon it was time to get back on the tractor and head back. I will say the tractor ride was relaxing, despite the scolding I received for climbing up on a small rock to get a better angle on a picture I was taking.












Napier Wine Tasting

Another day that started out simply enough. Kendra and I had left Tongariro and were now staying in a cute place on the beach in Napier. We were in wine country and couldn’t wait to take part in a wine tasting bike tour. After a morning beach walk, we headed over to a lady’s home where she rented out bicycles for people wanting to visit the vineyards. She handed us, what we would later discover to be, a poorly scaled map and we were on our way.


Maybe we should have known better than to trust the map we were given. But this lady ensured us it was only 10 minutes to the first vineyard. About 45 minutes later we were finally arriving at the first listed stop. This vineyard was Abbey Cellars and it was our least favorite. The guy serving us was “meh” and the wine was not that tastey. We had a quick cheesey flat bread snack and biked to the next vineyard. It took us about 15 minutes to get to this one and we getting a little more suspicious about the distances shown on this questionable map. The wine here at Alpha Domus was much better. The atmosphere was a little more lively and there was an adorable pup running around greeting everyone. We were eager to get to the next winery which didn’t look too far, 5 minutes perhaps. However, about 20 minutes later we arrived at Sileni Estates. As far as taste goes, third times the charm! Kendra and I loved the wine here and got a couple bottles to take home. Unfortunately, this is also where things started to go awry.

The lady helping us out as Sileni Estates swore up and down the next winery was only a 15 minute bike ride away. We were slightly skeptical because the map had so far led us astray but she kept telling us, “No, it’s so close!” The wineries were closing in 45 minutes and she promised we’d make it in time to the next listed vineyard. Ash Ridge Wines was our goal and we biked and we biked and we biked. At this point I was starving and beginning to fall out a bit. Cars were flying by us on the street and we still hadn’t seen the winery. About 5 minutes after the wineries closed we came up on Ash Ridge; mind you that’s about an hour after our Sileni Estates departure. Kendra was my life saver and biked ahead down the long dirt drive as I walked beside my bike towards the vineyard. She convinced the cook to make us paninis and explained to him how we were so lost and kept getting told massive underestimates of how far apart the wineries were. He couldn’t believe the last lady told us Ash Ridge was close, “That’s at least 9km away!” he exclaimed.


Our return bike ride home was exhausting. We were done. The only thing we had going for us was the beautiful scenery. Other than that we were so ready to ditch the bikes, get some decent food, and rest our tired bodies. I forgot to mention that the day before we had hiked the 2o km Tongariro Crossing, plus the extra distance we added running after our shuttle and hiking around town looking for a ride to Tongariro. Oh yeah and one weird thing we kept noticing on our bike ride was how many dead birds there were! It was strange, I mean really, they were everywhere. We finally made it back to the lady’s home 2 hours later, after a few wrong turns. Thank God. We later mapped out the distance we biked and it came out to about 36 km. So much for our leisurely planned out day of getting a little tipsy on good wine and cheese plates, and hello to a  decent day of Tour de France training.  All in all, Napier did not leave the best taste in my mouth but at least we did get a good bottle of Pinot out of it.




Turangi, NZ

I flew halfway across the world to travel around the North Island of New Zealand with a childhood friend of mine, Kendra. Her family lived across the street from mine in the small town of Ames, Iowa. The last time we saw each other was briefly a few years after my family left Iowa, at the age of 7. We had been AIM friends as little girls and once Facebook became a thing, we connected there and managed to stay in touch over the years. Kendra had been living in Auckland on a working-holiday visa and I offhandedly mentioned how I’d love to visit. The rest was history.

So here I was traveling to a foreign country with someone I hardly knew, but I couldn’t have been more excited. We instantly reconnected and started our adventure by heading towards Turangi, NZ with a pit stop at Huka Falls and Lake Taupo. It was incredibly rainy, but Huka Falls was gorgeous. The water was a cool blue, cobalt color and was crashing through the narrow Waikato River bed. Waikato River is New Zealand’s longest river and it drains Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Lake Taupo was an impressive site as well, although the cold wind and rain definitely weren’t fun to battle. So, we kept driving onward to Turangi.

Upon arriving in Turangi, we checked in to our lodge. Creel Lodge was a very comfortable and cozy place to stay. There were flowers blooming all around our cabin, and birds flying and chirping all over the property. We had chosen to stay in Turangi so that we could make it over to Tongariro National Park for the alpine crossing hike. After checking in at an “i-site” (an information hub) we discovered we would not be able to do the hike until a day after we had originally planned, due to poor weather conditions. This meant we had to stay an extra day in Turangi, which wound up being a massive blessing in disguise, as it gave us an opportunity to explore other areas of Tongariro we hadn’t originally planned on seeing.





My First 14er

I decided I had to hike my first Colorado “fourteener.” It was something that was very personal for me, and I figured I had done enough steep incline hikes that my body could handle the physical challenge.

That morning, Bella and I woke up early so we could get to Mt. Bierdstadt in time to complete the hike before the afternoon storms rolled in. The drive up Guanella Pass was beautiful and I was shocked to see there was snow covering the entire area of the mountain! It was so warm and sunny when I had left Denver. At the start of the hike it was 30 degrees and I couldn’t believe there were people in shorts doing the hike. However, about an hour into it, I had gotten so hot, I was wishing I had a tee shirt to layer down to.

Everyone on the trail was so friendly and always stopped to ask about Bella and how she was handling the hike. I laughed each time and responded, “A whole heck of a lot better than I am!” It was hard. A lot harder than I expected. I have been uber sensitive to altitude my entire life but still managed to underestimate its effects on me at 13,000+ feet. I was also worried about the storms that were supposed to hit in the early afternoon. I had read plenty about how weather at high altitudes comes in quick and about how several people had been struck by lightning at Bierdstadt a few months ago. I thought very seriously about turning around and how no one would know because I was by myself. The problem was, I would know.

So I sat down and snacked on a Clif bar and some apple slices to regain some energy. A fellow hiker, who had already passed me once, was on his way back down and assured me I had plenty of time to make it to the top and back down. So I got up and put one foot in front of the other. Bella and I made it to the rocky summit a little bit later. I had to help lift her over ice and snow covered rocks. It was a great experience in trust for the both of us. At the top, I popped opened a beer, which proceeded to explode everywhere, in celebration. I was so proud of myself and so excited of what I had just accomplished. Not many people can lay claims to an achievement such that.

People have a tendency to quit things when they’re by themselves or on their own. There’s no one there to motivate them or push them to accomplish their goals. On my way down the mountain I had a revelation of sorts. This move of mine across the country had taught me how to persevere through hard times and to be confident in my abilities to fend for myself. I truly believe everyone should do something that scares them at least once in their life, completely on their own. It doesn’t count if you do it with another person, because you will always have that crutch, that safety net of having someone you know by your side. Do something by yourself and make it challenging. Travel somewhere far on your own, move somewhere new, hike a scary mountain by yourself, start a new hobby or take a fun class on your own. If it makes you nervous or scared, that’s a good thing! You will discover so much about yourself when it is only you that you can rely on.

That day, I hiked a 14,000 ft mountain by myself in a state where I knew next to nobody. I struggled with my thoughts, telling me I might not make it, but I did. I trekked straight up that mountain side, through a foot of melting snow, crawled over frozen rocks, lifted my 90lb dog up some of those icy rocks, and even fell flat on my back on that slushy, muddy trail. And I cried. I cried and I laughed and it was amazing.