Bearskin Neck

If you’ve been following along from the beginning of our journey up the East Coast, you will recall that I wrote my first post from a roadside breakdown. I have now come full circle to that moment. John-Hilton, Bella, and I were on our way home from enjoying a tranquil evening at Halibut Point State Park, when the van shut off and coasted to a stop alongside a craggy shoreline in downtown Rockport. This was the second time in one day that Max, the van, had lost engine power. John-Hilton was stressed for obvious reasons, but luckily we were able to get the van started and made it back to the campsite. I type out “we” as if I had some help in this matter, but I meant he. He got the van started.

During our roadside escapade, I stumbled across a little spot called Bearskin Neck whilst looking up stuff to do in the Rockport area. Bearskin Neck is a small “neck” of land jutting out into Rockport Harbor, containing a plethora of small shops and restaurants. Apparently it was named after a fisherman who had seen the skin of a bear drying out on the rocks. The story of the bearskin tells of a man named Ebenezer Babson who saw a bear attack his nephew. He jumped in the water to distract the bear and lured him to where he would stab the bear with a fishing knife. So now they have a saying, “Babson, Babson, killed a bear, with his knife, I do declare.” The pictures of the rustic strip looked adorable and I convinced John-Hilton to let us make a stop there on our way out of town the next morning.

image

We awoke to a crisp spring morning, sun shining in full force, beckoning us to start our day. John-Hilton wanted to swing by an auto store to pick up a fuel filter and Sea Foam to see if that would help Max with his engine troubles. We made the quick stop at a Napa and then drove into Bearskin Neck. Max shut off a couple times while we looked for parking along a busy street in front of the colorful strip. After we secured a space we wandered down onto the neck that was dotted with cute, artsy shops. The plus side of van life is that there’s not much room for storing extra items or trinkets you pick up along the way. So, the only purchases we made were for a bowl of lobster bisque, a couple of ice cream cones, and a small donation to a local band playing on the street. We meandered to the end of the neck where people were walking along rocks out in the harbor and traded photo op moments with other visitors. As touristy and bustling as this area was, we still really enjoyed our time there, the place just had good vibes.

image

image

image

image

I’m not sure what our final destination for the evening was supposed to be. I believe somewhere along the border of New Hampshire and Maine, if not all the way into Maine. At this point we did not know we wouldn’t make it into Maine for several more days, but we were happily driving up through the area of Essex into Newbury Port. Antique shops riddled the sides of the road through Essex, pulling at my internal desire to go in search for a hidden gem. However, we kept driving and I kept reminding myself there was no space to store anything extra. Upon nearing Newbury Port, we stopped at a farm to pick up some fresh veggies for dinner. There was the friendliest cow here and I scratched his back while John-Hilton decided to look into changing his fuel filter. He didn’t quite have the necessary tools so we kept on keeping on until we reached a K-Mart parking lot where he could purchase the tools and replace the filter.

While working on Max, John-Hilton made friends with a man who was living out of his car in one of those kind of moments that has to make you smile. The man had clearly not had anyone to talk to in ages and went on and on about his life and about vehicle troubles and whatever else subject he could think of. After the replacement was complete, the man handed John-Hilton a couple of McDonald’s coupons. It was so touching as this man did not have much to give. We felt guilty taking the coupons as we would most likely never use them, but the gesture was too kind to rebuff. We would just have to pay it forward at another time.

After successfully replacing the fuel filter, we headed onward towards our destination. However, Max did not make it a quarter of a mile before shuttering and cutting off at a gas station. John-Hilton was frustrated and we were at a loss. I think that’s when we knew we wouldn’t be making it much further. We found a campsite nearby in North Hampton, New Hampshire and crossed our fingers we could make it there safely. And we did. We made it to the Shel-Al campground, thrilled to discover there was a brewery within walking distance. You know, it’s a funny thing about life, it seems to have these plans for you, these tests to see how well you can handle the ups and the downs, the crests and the troughs of the waves. This really was the beginning of some of the best and what could have been the worst moments of our van life trip.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Advertisement

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.

image

image

image

image

image

IMG_5029

IMG_3451

IMG_3455

IMG_3454

IMG_2695

IMG_1027

IMG_2700

IMG_1039

IMG_3452

IMG_3685

IMG_3686

image

image

IMG_1181IMG_0486IMG_2309DSC05283

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.

DSC_0908

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.

image

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.

DSC_0926

IMG_9666

DCIM101GOPRO

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.

IMG_9599_2

IMG_0563

IMG_0567

IMG_9603

St. Mary’s Glacier

My first “weekend” (my weekend days are Wednesday and Thursday) in Denver made me fall in love. After hiking the decently challenging Chimney Gulch trail, a friend of mine, who had moved here a month before me, and I went to St. Mary’s Glacier. Both hikes were so close to my house, and so easy to get to. It took about 40 minutes to get to St. Mary’s and the drive itself was beautiful. That’s something I’ve learned about Colorado, any trip into the mountains doesn’t feel like it’s actually taking very long, because the views are incredible. We were lucky to see the beginning of the Aspens changing colors as my little car chugged along the steep incline to the roadside trail head. St. Mary’s has a 5 dollar usage fee, but you can also camp there if you so choose. My friend had brought her dog, Ruby, along for the day as well, so all four of us started up the rocky path to the main lake. The altitude had both of us humans feeling a little winded although the dogs seemed just fine. After a few stops, we made it to the lake and it was spectacular! The dogs sniffed around, running after sticks and each other for a few minutes before we ascended to get a closer look at the glacier. Both of our pups had never seen snow before so it was quite entertaining to see them playing in it. It’s as if someone had let them outside for the first time and said “Go crazy!” They chased each other around, pouncing and sliding through the snow with the biggest, goofiest grins on their faces. Since we were both a little tired and winded, we saved climbing to the very top for another day and ate a few snacks before heading back home. I definitely recommend St. Mary’s Glacier as a spot to take friends and family if they come in town to visit. The hike to the lake isn’t too bad and the altitude can be managed by  taking it slowly. The views are totally worth the trip.

imageimageimageimage

WY oh my

image

My first off the beaten path adventure after moving to Denver involved driving up to Medicine Bow, Wyoming. A couple friends of mine from back home were traveling in the area and I took the opportunity to meet up with some familiar faces. I got a later start than I would have preferred and wound up driving 12 miles down a very rocky dirt road through open cattle fields, just after the sun was setting. Thankfully, my two wheel drive car made it to the campsite especially considering Bella and I were in the middle of no where with no cell service what so ever. I picked a semi-secluded spot, started a small campfire, and waited for the guys to arrive. After they showed up, we set up our tents and got ready for the hike to Medicine Bow Peak, my first climb up a 12,000 ft mountain.

Medicine Bow is absolutely beautiful. It has many gorgeous reflective lakes, large white rock formations, and several different types of pine, fir, and spruce trees. Plus, it’s dog friendly which is an absolute must for my just as adventurous 90 lb pup. The day of our main hike was gloriously sunny but had significantly strong wind gusts. I couldn’t wait to get started on my first big hike out West and begin breaking in my new Ahnu hiking boots. We started out hiking around a lake and as we neared the base of the incline to the peak, we ran into a couple turning back due to the wind. It was a slight dilemma trying to decide whether to go for it or not, but we decided we would at least attempt the hike and turn back if it got too blustery. From here the trail turned very rocky and we had to be careful to keep our balance with the sporadic strong blast of wind. The views were incredible, extending past the rocky peaks and left over snow, into the vast plains surrounding Medicine Bow.  We made it with surprising ease to the summit and Bella had no issues scaling the large rocks at the very top. I think it was more the excitement of being out there that got me up to the top, as the altitude started to hit this Florida girl on my other hikes as soon as I got back to Denver.

We stayed at several different campsites around Medicine Bow, trying to escape the insanely strong surges of wind each night. It whipped through our tents, making it sound like someone was trying to beat the tent down. Despite the wind, I would definitely recommend this hiking location and camping spots, Wyoming is gorgeous! On our final day we put up our Eno hammocks and absorbed the fresh air and magnificent sunshine. We had such a great time and the trails were a lot of fun to explore. It’s always hard saying goodbye to good friends and this time  some personal matters made it much more painful and made my going back to Denver, my new home and city that was lacking in family and close friends, significantly more difficult than before.

image

image

image

image

image

image

GOPR1069.JPG

image

image