Articles about Family

Birthday in Bedrock…

There’s a lot to write about after all that we’ve stuffed into the last 4 days…but it all starts in in the stone age.

It was my wife’s birthday this week (we won’t talk about how old she is) and since I wasn’t going to be on the John Muir Trail we wanted to take a trip together.  We settled on a short camping trip to the Grand Canyon and got all of the necessary things in order so we could head out mid-week.

There were a lot of big things in play this week that made the trip exciting.  First it was Merelyn’s birthday and this was all about her having fun.  Second, it was a test of my busted foot to see if I could handle a little easy hiking so I could start getting out again.  Third, I have really been after shooting at the Grand Canyon since getting back into photography last year and this would be a great chance to catch Summer storms in the canyon.  Last but not least, we rented a teardrop trailer for this trip to see if it was something we might consider purchasing in the future.  I’ll get into most of that stuff in separate posts, but this post is about Merelyn’s birthday in Bedrock.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

If you haven’t cruised up 64 just outside of Williams, Arizona towards the Grand Canyon then you’ve probably never heard of this gem of Americana.  Bedrock City was built in 1972 as an homage to the 1960’s Flinstones Cartoon.  It originally had live actors, a stage show and a variety of interactive displays but these days feels more like some surreal amusement park ghost town.  But that’s what makes it awesome!

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

We had a late start getting on the road and I told Merelyn she got to pick our campsite for the night since we weren’t going to make it to our ultimate camp destination in the National Park until the next day.  She did a quick look on Yelp and saw Bedrock City and we just had to check it out.  I mean seriously, what good is a vacation if you can’t make a spontaneous, impromptu stop at a defunct amusement park based on a beloved childhood cartoon?  Isn’t that what adventure is all about?

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

This place lived up to every possible expectation we could have had.  It was fun, scary, strange, amusing, exciting, creepy, playful, nostalgic and bizarre all at the same time and we loved it.  I limped and hobbled along in The Boot trying to keep up with Merelyn as she explored every building and posed with every display.  The place is deceivingly huge with buildings everywhere including Fred and Barney’s houses, a general store, post office, movie theater that actually plays the old cartoons, a police station, hospital, school and various other assorted buildings including a huge brontosaurus slide.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

It was her birthday and she got to choose the type of adventure we would have and from her ear-to-ear grin I don’t think she was disappointed.  We started our day in Bedrock and ended it at camp in the Grand Canyon.  The next few days were a perfect balance of excitement, exploration and relaxation…perfect vacation if you ask me.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

Waiting in Nazca…

The ancient plastic chair groaned in protest as my dad plopped down next to me disturbing the thin layer of dust that seemed to settle on everything in town.  I was reclining in my own relic of a chair with my feet propped up on my dusty, overloaded backpack settling in for what we knew would be a long wait.  The sun was already getting low in the sky, stretching long shadows across the dirt lot beside the run-down metal and brick building that passed for a bus station in these parts.  The buses that traverse the Pan American Highway through South America were notorious for running on no schedule whatsoever.  Our intrepid bus was already an hour late and not a living soul could tell us when it might make an appearance, “Es coming….no problem.”  We didn’t care, it was all part of the adventure.

It was toward the end of our first week of a month long trip through southern Peru.  My dad and I had spent the last couple of days in the despairingly dry deserts around Nazca.  We’d made a friend the first day in town who served as our guide and chauffeur, happily driving us around town in his faded blue American-made muscle car that belched thick black smoke with every throaty rev of it’s powerful engine.  Like most people we met in Peru, he seemed genuinely happy to show us around “his” town and share his local knowledge.

Dad in the Deserts outside Nazca Peru

After a simple breakfast near the hostel our new friend had taken us out to the local air field where we took a small, private plane on a flight tour over the Nazca Lines.  Afterward, he offered to drive us out to one of the few hills that offered an elevated view of the lines from the ground.  Our driver patiently waited for us and even offered to climb up the hill and take our picture, the whole time telling us stories about the area.  When we cruised back in to town we grabbed a bite to eat and made our way to the bus station to check in and wait for our ride.  We’d had a long day and Dad and I were every bit as dusty and tired as the rest of this old desert town.

Dad and I near the Nazca Lines

A common thread in our travels through South America were locals enthusiastic about helping us with our Spanish.  My language skills were decent but my dad struggled with sentence structure and pronunciation to the great amusement of our hosts.  But no matter where we were, they would greet our halting, butchered attempts at conversation with a friendly smile and patience.  Settling in at the bus station was no different and as more people filtered in to wait for their ride we soon found ourselves attempting a clunky conversation in broken Spanish with a friendly local.

I had been studying Spanish in preparation for our trip, but this early in country I was still fumbling with the language.  Still, I was doing better than Dad, so as the conversation played out I tried to translate for him as best as I could.  Our guy was a local worker who commuted back and forth from the mountains to the lowlands.  He asked us the usual questions about where we were from and how we were related.  But soon I was in over my head and with the conversation in danger of a slow death a woman who was sitting nearby started to help translate.  It turned out she was a Canadian who had been in South America for the last two years teaching English on her way to the southern tip of Chile.  Soon, she had moved in to our circle and joined the conversation as we all introduced ourselves and told our stories.

With the Canadian helping the flow of conversation we learned that our Spanish speaking local was there with a friend, a local Quechua who only spoke his native language.  Not wanting to be left out from what was quickly turning into a very entertaining event, he joined the conversation telling jokes and laughing with us as his buddy translated for him.  It was now dark and the weak, flickering florescent lights cast their unnatural glow on us from overhead.  Our Quechua friend introduced a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and took a big swig, topping it off with Rum before passing it around.  With every pass of the 2-liter we would drain a portion of the bottle and when it made it back to our Quechua friend he would top it off with Rum.

Street scene in Nazca Peru

Our laughter grew louder and our stories more animated as we became more comfortable with the conversation being translated from English to Spanish to Quechua and back again.  The Rum flowed as we all shared jokes and stories and laughed as if we were old friends.  The bus was over four hours late arriving at the bus station that night but we didn’t mind.  We shook hands and slapped each other on the back in farewell as we boarded and soon we were sleeping as the big bus rumbled it’s way through the night down the dark highway.

Many months later,  my dad and I were rehashing details about the trip when I realized that our last day in Nazca had been his birthday.  I suddenly felt guilty for letting it slip my mind and not wishing him a happy birthday, getting him a gift or doing something special.  As I apologized to him he began laughing at me, his big hearty laugh that was always so contagious and said, “Don’t be sorry, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  That night at the bus stop in Nazca was the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

A couple of years before he died, my dad told me how grateful he was that I had invited him to go to Peru with me, and many other adventures after that.  It meant a lot to him that I would want to share those trips with “my dad”.  I had to explain to him that it never really was about sharing the trip with “my dad”, it was more about inviting the best partner I could think of in any adventure.  I just happened to luck out that the best guy for the job happened to be my father.  I hope he understood how amazingly grateful I was that he made the time to travel with me.

He is missed, and every new adventure reminds me of him.  It’s not very often you can find someone who greets challenge and adversity with a hearty laugh and a smile and is game to try anything at least once.

Happy Father’s Day…

Dad in Peru overlooking the valley

Chasing Winter in Oregon…

Phoenix is world famous for it’s scorching Summer heat.  It’s borderline uninhabitable here during the Summer months, but our Winters are nothing short of amazing for beautiful weather.  However, that means we don’t really get a traditional Winter with frigid cold, crisp ice and beautiful soft snow.  I grew to appreciate the Winters around Reno and Tahoe for the short time I got to spend up there with Merelyn before she was transferred to Texas.  I missed the snow and the cold.

In December, Sedona got it’s first snow of the season and I dropped everything and ran up there to enjoy the snow and capture some photos with a fellow shutterbug.  After that amazing trip, I wanted more snow.  I wanted to really get some quality Winter time in and I knew January was going to be full of opportunities.

Since my wife works retail, we don’t get to travel on Christmas.  So in January, we headed up north to Oregon to visit my brother and his family.  My mother also came out to visit and we had a late family Christmas together at my brother’s new house.  Merelyn had never been to Portland and I was excited to get her on the plane for a new adventure in Northern Oregon.  It helped that a storm had been rolling in and there had been fresh snow throughout that part of the country.  I just hoped the freeways were clear as we crawled into the SUV with my brother for the drive across the state.

Winter in Oregon - Multnomah FallsMerelyn and I had been sitting for hours and were looking at another long sit in the car, so we had asked if we could stop and check out any short hikes along the Columbia River.  My brother suggested we check out Multnomah Falls.  None of us had ever hiked it before and the falls is located just off the highway so it seemed like an easy choice.  It was cold and rainy and Merelyn wasn’t feeling well, she’d caught the seasonal crud like everyone else.  But she curled up in one of my new Columbia shells and braved the weather with my brother and I.

Multnomah Falls is 620 feet high, making it the second highest year-round waterfall in the Country.  The trail sets off from the lodge and crosses a couple of quaint, picturesque bridges before turning into a series of paved switchbacks that offer views of the Columbia River before reaching the top.  There was some trail maintenance going on at the top so the end of the trail along the edge of the water was nothing but thick, sticky mud.  My brother and I slogged through the mud to the overlook which offered a view straight down the 620 foot drop.  Nothing spectacular, but I would recommend anyone do the hike at least once if you’re in the area.

Weather was clear for the rest of the drive, and we arrived at my brother’s place in the dark.  We had a great time with the family and I was finally in cold and snowy conditions allowing me to put some of my Winter gear to the test.  Columbia had sent me a battery powered Winter jacket just as the weather turned warm in Arizona and I hadn’t had a chance to use it all year.  I was finally spending a week in weather down to 4 degrees allowing me to test it’s functionality.

I really just enjoyed the cold.  I was outside every chance I got, even if just to walk out onto the back porch while it was snowing to play with the dogs.  I’ve always preferred the cold over heat.  How I ended up in Phoenix of all places sometimes eludes me.

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

All of us took one particularly cold afternoon and visited the Oregon Trail Center in Baker.  While most everyone was happy to stay indoors and casually meander through the displays, I breezed through the covered wagons and educational videos and headed outside to the snow covered trails.  My footprints were the only ones out there besides the birds and a few cats.  I was bundled up and I had my camera to capture some really nice shots of the sun flooding through the stormy clouds over snow-covered valley.  It was a really nice area and so different than the scenery in Arizona.

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

My mother left early to try to make it out of the valley before the next storm hit.  The next day we all bundled up and headed out early for an afternoon on the slopes.  I had never snowboarded before and was anxious to try it out.  On the way out, we stopped at the Elk Feeding Station outside Baker City for a quick tour of the Elk.  Operated by T&T Wildlife Tours for the last 22 years, they use huge draft horses to haul people down the hill to the feed operation where you can watch the Elk feed only a few yards away.  They also offer a wealth of information about the animals and the feed operation.

Winter in Oregon - Draft horses pulling the carriage at the Elk Viewing

After the Elk we headed up the hill to Anthony Lakes to try out some snowboarding.  We got our passes and rented the gear we needed for the afternoon.  Merelyn, feeling a little better by now, rented skis and I got boots so I could strap into a borrowed snowboard.  The kids were off for some lessons at the you-don’t-belong-here slope while my brother tried to talk me through the basics.  We joined the kids at the tiny we-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing area where I was surrounded by miniature skiers and snowboarders who already knew more than I did.

Winter in Oregon - Anthony Lakes

Winter in Oregon - my brother and I on the liftEntirely frustrating at first, once I learned how to stand up without immediately falling back down I started to have fun.  My brother had little patience for this, as did I, so as soon as I could stand up he suggested we get on the lift and try a real hill.  “You’re not going to learn anything on this”, he had said at the bunny slope.  He was right.

Of course I did my fair share of falling, but not as much as I expected.  I really only toppled over a few times and recovered quickly.  It was also not nearly as exhausting as I expected it to be and we managed to get a couple of runs in on one of the longer intermediate slopes.  Our second time out the whole family went up and while my brother helped his youngest with his snowboarding, Merelyn skied circles around me.  Still, I had a blast and wished we could have done more.  I was just starting to get comfortable on the snowboard when it was time to go.  I look forward to getting more opportunities to learn.

Winter in Oregon - Merelyn and I on the liftOn the way back we grabbed sushi and the six of us had a great dinner together.  I downloaded the images I managed to get off of my new GoPro for everyone to check out.  The next day I took the GoPro out again and got some video of the kids sliding around on the icy roads while we walked to their grandmother’s house.  Those kids love to be on camera and really ham it up.  I loved it.

Leaving was bitter-sweet.  I hated to go, but I knew I’d be heading to Salt Lake City and Idaho within a week or so of getting home and that would be another fun adventure in awesome Winter weather.  It was snowing in Portland as we left and I couldn’t help but think how nice it will be when, one day, we can live where the Winters are white.

Somewhere like, oh…I don’t know…maybe TAHOE!

 

Winter in Oregon Gallery…

New Orleans: An Unexpected Journey…

It started out simple enough…

I was in Houston for Christmas and Merelyn had a couple of days off for New Years.  We hadn’t really made plans for anything so we decided to head to Galveston for some quick beach time and then head home for a quiet New Year’s Eve together.  Then, about a half an hour into our drive, Merelyn said, “You know…we could just drive to New Orleans for New Year’s.”

Now, she’s mentioned driving to New Orleans before.  It’s only about 6 hours away and neither of us have been there.  It could be fun, but every time we’ve looked into it we’ve decided not to go.  I knew it was something she wanted to do before leaving Houston.  So when she threw the suggestion out there (half joking I’m sure), I took the bait.

“Is there any reason why we couldn’t go right now?”

We went through the list: No clothes, no toothbrush, the cats didn’t have enough food, etc.  None of those reasons, I argued, would be a problem in the next 24 to 36 hours.  We could drive to New Orleans, be there in time for dinner and hang out for New Year’s, maybe spend the night then drive home.  No problem.  Merelyn seemed a little surprised and scared that I was actually accepting her challenge but I thought it would be FUN!

As quick as that, we changed our plans from a few hours in Galveston to an overnight trip to New Orleans.  We made a quick stop at the Johnson Space Center then headed East.

We were both so excited to be on this spontaneous adventure that the drive was easy.  Merelyn was excited to be exploring and I was excited to get out of Texas and see some of Louisiana.  We usually have a good time on road trips, laughing and talking and exploring the sights.  This was no different and the added excitement of just going, without a plan, made it all that much better.

Action in the French Quarter - New Orleans

beautiful New OrleansAbout an hour outside of New Orleans we started looking for a hotel (we found none for a reasonable price) and a bank so we could grab some cash.  We found a bank next to a grocery store, so we grabbed some cash and did a quick run for some essentials (toothbrushes and beer).  Then we were off to explore the French Quarter!

We parked in the sketchiest of sketchy parking garages where they were packing cars in like it was a contest.  I was convinced they were going to keep piling cars in until the rickety, rust-bucket structure collapsed.  We paid our $20 and high-tailed it to Bourbon Street, right in the heart of the French Quarter, where the action was just picking up steam.

Even through the thick, drunken crowds of Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ historic French Quarter is charming.  We grabbed a beer and walked up and down the streets and alleyways checking out the architecture and looking through the windows of the shops and galleries.  We got away from the crowds a little bit and took our time sight-seeing.  We walked down to the waterfront and walked along the river for a while.  Then ventured back into the rabble and checked out a few bars and pubs, had a couple more drinks and a snack.

Getting ready for Midnight -  New OrleansCloser to midnight we headed back down to the riverfront park and waited for the big fireworks show.  It was cold and I had offered up my jacket to keep my wife from getting chilled.  We hung out on a grassy rise, looking out over the Mississippi, holding each other close to stay warm.  It’s been difficult these past couple years spending so much time apart.  So when midnight came, there was a sweet and simple triumph in getting to kiss my wife at the ringing in of the New Year while fireworks painted the night sky…in New Orleans.

Spur of the moment adventures can be full of magic and excitement.  There’s nothing better than ending your day in a totally unexpected and amazing way.  That morning, we had a modest plan and no expectations and we ended our night with a magical moment in a new city.  I can only hope that throughout our marriage we make time for many more spontaneous adventures together.

New Year's Fireworks - New Orleans

I loved our New Orleans adventure, does anyone else have any awesome, unexpected, spontaneous adventures they can share?

Dear Santa…

‘Tis the season for one and all to come out with all manner of gift suggestions for the holidays.  We all browse through the lists and suggestions, looking for ideas and clues for special things for our family and friends.  But there’s so many choices, so many lists…

There are lists for men and lists for boys…
lists for climbers with lots of toys…
lists for paddlers and lists for bikers…
then there’s always lots of lists for hikers…
or a down bag for two and plenty of whiskey
for when you and yours are feeling frisky!
There are watches and phones with GPS gadgets,
knives and axes and short-handled hatchets…
That list there has lots of clothing
for when the snow really gets going.
But none of these lists are all that complete,
and for what I need they can not compete.
My list is different, my needs are unique…
so I’ve created my own, please have a peek…

So here it is, since I won’t presume to tell you what gifts are best this season for you…this is MY Wish List this Christmas.  And maybe you’ll find a few gems in here that might work for someone you know as well.

Dear Santa, what I want for Christmas…

  1. The Shag Master Hoodie from TADGear.com looks like an awesomely soft and comfy winter jacket.  I’m sucker for soft, fluffy sweaters and jackets…and it usually means lots of hugs from pretty girls my beautiful wife when I’m wearing one. ($200)
  2. Goal Zero Guide 10 solar charger – I’ve been looking at these for a long time and keep talking myself out of buying one…maybe Santa will bring me one so I don’t have to agonize over the decision anymore. ($120)
  3. Kurgo Dog Pack – I have been wanting to get Wiley her own pack for a while now.  This pack from Kurgo is the one I’ve been checking out, it seems to be a pretty universal fit and is a reasonable price. ($30)
  4. Snow Peak Mini Hozuki Lantern – Snow Peak has been coming out with some cool lantern designs.  The Mini Hozuki would be a nice little addition to my hammock setup. ($40)
  5. Snow Peak Titanium Cook Set – This comes highly recommended and everyone loves Snow Peak.  I also have a couple of stoves that will nest nicely inside. ($45)
  6. Jetboil Sol Ti – I love my Jetboil enough that I would really like the smaller solo titanium version for lighter trips. ($150)
  7. Snow Peak Chopping Board and knife – This super cool travel cutting board/knife combo will make camp cooking prep easy!  Not really a backpacking setup, but I am working on putting together a nice camp-kitchen. ($40)
  8. MountainSmith Modular Hauling System (4 piece) – This is good little package for organizing camping/travel gear.  I’ve seen this on a few other “gift suggestion” lists as well. ($100)
  9. GoPro Hero 3 – this is THE HD camera to have it seems…I have to admit that I love the images it produces and it would allow me to start doing more video.  ($400)

I left off the unreasonable items that Santa would have trouble fitting into his sleigh.  What is on YOUR wish list this year?  I want to know what fun little gadgets and goodies you guys are looking for this year…who knows, I might find some inspiration to add to my own wish list!

Merry Chrismahanukwanzakah to all!

Heading to Costa Rica…

Nothing like the last minute…

 

Merelyn and I have been talking about what we want to do for our honeymoon for a long time.  We started out talking about Costa Rica but looked at many other options including Hawaii, Mexico and parts local.  We both have had so many things going on with work, finances, living situations, etc. that, for a while there, it looked like we weren’t going to get a honeymoon at all.

Finally, with much anxiety and great determination we decided to make it happen.

So, next month after our wedding in Lake Tahoe, will will be happily heading south to beautiful Costa Rica for a week at the Hilton Papagayo Hotel in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Hilton Papagayo Hotel

from the Hilton Papagayo Hotel Website…

We are both very excited about this trip.  Neither of us has been to Costa Rica before and we are looking forward to getting to see as much of it as possible from our little bungalow on Bahia Culebra.  Looking over the activities offers everything from hiking the Arenal Volcano, Jungle Canopy Tours, Zip-lines, Kayaking, sailing and fishing, whitewater rafting and so much more.  We can’t wait to get there and explore and take TONS of photos.

Hilton Papagayo Hotel

from the Hilton Papagayo Hotel Website…

I’ve already found hints of pre-Columbian ruins near the hotel that I would love to check out.  The hotel has jogging and hiking trails and there are tons of activities to keep us busy even if we never left the property.

I’ve always been in love with the thought of going to Costa Rica, and nearly moved there several years ago.  I think this is an appropriate place to take my new bride to celebrate our new life together.  I would like to thank both of our parents for their help and support in pulling the wedding together, and financially helping us so we could be in a position to make this amazing honeymoon happen.

Hilton Papagayo Hotel

from the Hilton Papagayo Hotel Website…

If you’ve ever been to Costa Rica I would love to hear suggestions or ideas of things we should check out.  We will be on the Pacific side near Guanacaste.  And if you happen to know someone in the area, I love to meet locals who can get us off the beaten path and show us some of the real gems of the area.

An Unusual Dream…

I had a dream this morning.

You know the kind of dreams you have right before you wake up that seem so very real…

In my dream, a friend of mine and I were, for some inexplicable reason, working late in a restaurant and having difficulty closing up.  As is often the case in my dreams, there was a task to be done and infinite problems continually got in the way of completing the task.  But, after what seemed like hours in my dream, we finally finished the task and left the restaurant…late for some sort of get together.

As we crossed the parking lot toward my truck, casually chatting, I began to notice someone in the parking lot moving to intersect with our course.  I paid little attention to this man, but could see that he was deliberately moving to meet us.  I continued to ignore him as he stepped in front of my path and I even attempted to move out of his way.  The man, intent on getting my attention, stepped in front of me again now nearly bumping in to each and other I finally looked up to see what he wanted.

The rest of the dream was stripped away as I looked into my father’s face.  He was younger than I remember him, before he began working as a correctional officer.  He was thin like he was when I was in High School and his hair was longer and he wore his typical beard.  He was dressed casually, as I would expect him to dress now for any normal afternoon in public.  He smiled his broad smile at me and his eyes were bright and alive with laughter.  I don’t know when he had reached out but I felt his hands firmly on my shoulders, holding me steady.

I broke from my initial shock and I grabbed him in a huge bear-hug and asked him what he was doing there.  Not in the sense that it was impossible, but only that I did not expect him to be here.  The party we were late for was a good-bye party for him, and he became worried when I was running late and went to find me.  He reminded me he was leaving and wanted to make sure I was going to come say good-bye.  Just as I was assuring him that I would not miss my opportunity to say good-bye, I woke up.

I lay in bed, dazed.  His image still burned into my brain.  This was unique, I never dream of my Dad.  This was the most vivid and real his presence has felt since the last time I saw him in 2004.  I had just bought my house and I hosted Thanksgiving that year.  I had a lot of family visiting and I was so busy with preparations for Thanksgiving that my memories of him from then are a blur.  He was so real and clear to me this morning that I didn’t know how else to process the experience except to write about it.

Such a simple dream…but so very real.  I’m shaken, but comforted at the same time.  I really don’t know what to do with this.  I have so much going on in my personal life lately, so much stress and uncertainty but also so much happiness.  Maybe I just needed to be set back on my foundation.  Maybe I just needed that reassuring smile and those strong hands to reach out and grab me by the shoulders and steady me.

We’ll see…maybe this was exactly what I needed right when I needed it.

Weekend at the Overland Expo 2012…

Every Wednesday afternoon for a couple months now (I think) I have been a regular participator in the Adventure Travel Q&A Twitter Chat hosted by J. Brandon (@AmericanSahara) and Katie Boué (@TheMorningFresh).  The chat is sponsored by the Overland Expo and my first week participating in the chat, I won a day pass to the 2012 Overland Expo at Mormon Lake, just outside Flagstaff, Arizona.  I had never heard of it, and had no idea what I was getting in to, but it was only a couple hours drive and an excuse to go camping.

I spent a little over 2 days walking around and looking at some of the most amazing overland travel machines and gear I have ever seen!  I was introduced to people who have made overland excursions a lifestyle and spend months (or sometimes years) on adventures across the planet.  I won’t get into detail about who was there, who had the biggest/bestest rig or gave the best classes.  Suffice it to say, it was a huge show with many impressive products on display and many knowledgeable people sharing their wisdom.

I’m a hiker and backpacker, primarily.  I travel light and lean and don’t require a lot of support.  Whitewater rafting is a little different and closer to the Overlander mindset.  However, this event introduced me to a whole new way of thinking about travel and adventure.

What it really did was get me thinking about how I might be able to travel and seek out adventure with a new family.  I will be getting married in October to a beautiful, adventurous woman and we’ve talked about having kids.  Exploring the world with a young child is a much different experience than we are used to.  Seeing the way some of the people were equipped for their overland adventures really got my mind racing about the travel possibilities with my future family.  We both want to raise a child that is no stranger to travel, exploration or the outdoors.

I’ve got a lot of thinking to do…but the possibilities are exciting.

Trip Report: Paddling Buffalo Bayou…

We had talked about this for a while.  I had heard, and confirmed, that the Houston REI rented out kayaks.  So, once I got a few extra bucks in my pocket, I made arrangements for us to rent a couple of kayaks from REI and paddle part of the Buffalo Bayou.

 

Twin kayaks on the honda civic...

They said it couldn't be done...

The look on the face of the guy at REI who saw us pull up in a 2004 Honda Civic to pick up our kayaks was priceless.  With some help, we got them secured to the roof of the car.  He found the spectacle entertaining enough that he insisted on getting a picture.  The put-in for Section 5 of the Buffalo Bayou was less than a mile away so I was not all that worried about the kayaks.  We drove out of the parking lot of the Houston REI and up a side street through a beautiful neighborhood to Briar Bend Park.  Access to the Bayou at Briar Bend is behind the park.

Access was pretty easy, even toting heavy 10ft plastic recreational kayaks.  The beasts we rented were not like the sleek, light sport kayaks I’m used to.  These were the heavy, lumbering Old Town Vapor 10 kayaks.  Short, wide and made of heavy plastic, these boats were nearly 50lbs without any gear and made to take a beating.  I would consider them a pretty good beginners kayak, with a relatively flat bottom and very wide mid-section they were very stable.  I’m not sure if I could have tipped it over if I tried.

Our plan for the day had options: We initially thought we would paddle downstream from Section 4 (Briar Bend Park) to the put in for Section 5 (Woodway Memorial Park) and if it didn’t take too long we would just paddle back upstream to Briar Bend.  The Bayou is a pretty slow moving water way and paddling upstream would not be difficult.  Plus, we did not schedule a shuttle or plan for leaving a vehicle at a designated take-out.  Plan B was to drift on past Woodway Memorial on to the other side of Memorial Park and perhaps further if we kept up a fast pace.  We expected to be out for about 4 hours.  Without a shuttle, we had decided we’d just pull off the bayou wherever we wanted and grab a cab to take one of us back to our car while the other waited with the kayaks.

So, with options for the day, we carried our giant hogs down to the water and prepared ourselves for an afternoon of paddling.

LESSON ONE:

Always bring more food than you need.  We were running a little late that morning getting started, so we did not get the chance to run by the store to stock up on snacks for the afternoon.  I had packed water, almonds and a couple of apples.  Turns out almonds and a couple of apples are not enough food for a 5+ hour paddling trip.  Make sure to pack enough food and water to last longer than you anticipate being gone.

The put-in at Briar Bend is nice.  It’s tree covered and an easy walk to the water’s edge.  The Bayou is very narrow here so this is one of the few places with an actual riffle of fast moving water.  I set up Merelyn at the lower end of the rapid so she didn’t have to push-off in to a fast current and then set myself up a little higher (just for fun).  Once on the water, we got ourselves settled in to our boats and began our paddle trip.

The water on the Bayou is slow and murky, exactly what I expected from a Bayou.  It is definitely a leisurely paddling trip, we kept up a decent pace but it was still plenty slow enough to enjoy some of the more scenic turns.  Old growth trees, hanging their heavy, gnarled limbs over the water as if guarding the muddy shoreline.  Vines draping low as they weave between the tree branches added to the dense vegetation.  The Buffalo Bayou winds it’s way through the heart of Houston.  So, from time to time, the trees open up to reveal some building or another peaking through the greenery.  Much of the Bayou is adjacent to high-end private estates or golf communities so the architecture seen from the water can be impressive.

As we paddled along, learning how to handle the new boats, we started to see the signs of wildlife along the waterway.  Often, something would slip in to the murky water before we could get a good look at what it was.  But we did see snakes, turtles and fish as well as a variety of birds.

LESSON TWO:

Know the skill level of your party.  Little did I know, Merelyn had virtually no experience in a kayak.  I’ve seen her use the sit-on kayaks on trips to Mexico and she handles the paddle with confidence so I never suspected her lack of experience.  On most whitewater trips, I don’t assume anyone has experience unless I’ve paddled with them before.  I would normally run through a quick “how-to” and talk about fitting the kayak, posture, paddle grip and technique.  Along the way, once I realized she was struggling with certain parts of paddling, we did a quick lesson on steering, stopping, correcting, etc.  It’s important to know the skill level of your adventure partner and, if you are the one lacking experience in a particular skill, you should not feel embarrassed or afraid to ask for help.

We reached our first take-out option pretty quickly.  We stopped for a minute to discuss our options: paddle back, or keep on going?  Ultimately we chose to keep on going under the assumption that the next leg would take us about the same amount of time as Section 5.  We had a quick snack of some almonds and I ate one of the apples (Merelyn was afraid they were too old and not good anymore).  The next section proved to be much more technical than the first.  The path of the Bayou became more twisted and littered with debris.  Consequently, the water moved even slower forcing us to work harder.  We both had assumed that as we neared the Memorial Park area, there would be places where we could get out of the Bayou prematurely if we were getting tired…this was not the case.  The shoreline continued to be a thick, matted jungle of shrubs, vines and tree-limbs.  And where it wasn’t so heavily vegetated, the shore was either too steep to ascend or was private property and clearly not welcome to trespassers.

We paddled on.  The map we had picked up from REI showed the Bayou Paddle Trail and the areas where access was available.  However, the map was remarkably small and lacking in detail and many of the supposed access points were not marked.  Without knowing exactly how far we had to go, or how long it would take us, uncertainty began to weigh on my hungry companion (“almonds are NOT food”).  The Bayou was loosing it’s charm.  The shear volume of litter and trash that choke the waterway was disturbing to both of us.  Some parts were worse than others but it seems that the Bayou has been the personal dumping ground for the population of Houston.

LESSON THREE:

Know your equipment.  The ability to rent expensive equipment like rafts and kayaks is great, it grants you the opportunity to participate in an activity that you otherwise couldn’t afford.  The problem is, most times you are renting equipment you may have never used and may never use again.  In some cases, this can be a deadly problem.  Luckily, in our case, I had experience with several different styles of kayaks and once I knew there was an issue I could address it.  Again, don’t be afraid to ask about your equipment.  Let the outfitter know that you want them to walk you through the features of the equipment you are renting.  You’re paying to use it, get the most out of it by knowing what it can do.

Shortly before we came to the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, Merelyn and I stopped and she complained about not being able to find a comfortable position in the kayak.  It was wearing her down, constantly having to shift around to find a stable position.  This is when we realized that she had never found the foot braces.  They had been pushed so far forward by the last person to use the kayak that she didn’t even know they were there.  Once we adjusted them so that she could reach them, and fine tuned them until she was comfortable, everything changed.  Suddenly, she was comfortable in the kayak, had better posture and a stronger stroke.  She was re-energized and anxious to reach familiar ground.

We never did see the exit point at the Hogg Bird Sanctuary (beginning of Section 7) and looking at the map, decided we’d shoot for a take-out at Eleanor Tensley Park (just short of Section 8).  The Bayou straightens out after the Hogg Bird Sanctuary and we were able to make good time, especially with Merelyn’s new-found mastery of her kayak.  The cruised along at a good pace, the bayou opened up at the shore and we no longer felt “trapped”.  We pushed to a spot along Eleanor Tensley Park where we could pull the kayaks out and wash them off a little before dragging them, and our gear, up the hill to the parking lot.

LESSON FOUR:

Always have an exit strategy.  It’s always good to have a plan, and a backup plan.  But makes sure your plans are well thought out and you are prepared for them.  As much as “eh, we’ll figure it out when we get there” can make for a great story and adventure, it can also create pain, misery and resentment.  It’s best to have a clear, well designed plan for concluding your excursions.  One that everyone is informed about and agrees with.  

It was getting late, so I called a cab company (the only one in town) and put Plan B into action.  The answering service for the cab company hung up on me when I failed to find a physical street address for the park.  Turns out, this park has NO listed street address.  It has no address on any of the signage either, nor the website, nor the map.  This, as we were to find, makes the park invisible to cab drivers.  I looked up an address (not even sure it was a proper address) online for the park, but without the numbers displayed somewhere we were gonna have problems.  I finally convinced the dispatcher to send a cab our way.  I watched, who I believe was our cabby, drive by the park 3 times before I got a phone call from him angrily asking where I was.

I was berated, in broken English, for sending this guy on a wild-goose chase to an address that “does not exist!”.  I watched him drive by two more times while I had him on the phone and could not get him to understand that the giant green grassy area with the trees was THE PARK!  I finally waved down the irate cab driver who was crawling along the roadside, getting honked at and I’m sure receiving various unpleasant gestures, and had him pull in to the parking lot.  I sent poor Merelyn with this inconsolable, and incomprehensible,  man who would not stop insisting that the park did not exist.  As they left, I pulled the kayaks the rest of the way up the hill, into the shade, and crawled in to one (hammock style) to take a nap.

LESSON FIVE:

It’s all about attitude.  Even in some of the most stressful and crazy situations, laughter and calm sets everyone at ease.  Life is too serious to take seriously.  When things start to go wrong, they can be made worse by arguing, complaining and fighting with others about the situation.  Or, when things turn for the worse, you can accept it, go with the flow, have a sense of humor and unite to meet the challenge head on.  Cooler heads prevail.

Some time later, Merelyn arrived in her car.  She had brought food (hers was already consumed, I’m sure within seconds of it being passed through the drive-thru window).  She filled me in on the antics of the poor, distressed cab driver who clearly had signed on for more than he could handle that evening.  He really could not let go of the fact that the park address did not exist…it could also be that the address issue was the only thing Merelyn could understand between his thick accent, propensity for leaning on the horn and apparent inability to navigate traffic.

We loaded up our gear and strapped the kayaks to the top of the car again and headed home.  We ended the day sunburned, tired and hungry but we laughed all the way home (mostly at the cabby).  It was an adventure and, like all good adventures, it was more than we had bargained for.  In the end, we had a fun day together and a story to tell.  What else really matters?

South Lake Tahoe: Wedding Planning…

“We’re getting married here.”

These are the words my beautiful fiancé whispered in my ear as I held her in my arms on the grassy hill overlooking Regan Beach.  We have researched for months trying to find a location for our wedding ceremony.  Tahoe is a beautiful place, but finding just the right location for our wedding had proved difficult.  We had originally settled on a beach location just outside our reception venue, but once we physically visited the beach we were concerned about too many problems and the search continued.

Other decisions were easier and our trip last week was mainly to see if we had made the right decisions.  I think we did well.  We had found 968 Park Hotel online.  The hotel is a renovation of an older establishment.  The new owners had a vision of creating the first Eco-Hotel in South Lake Tahoe.  The new “Green” Hotel was created with the environment in mind.

“Since day one of the renovation every effort was made to reduce, re-use and recycle as much of the existing materials as possible.  Any materials and furnishings that could not be reused were either donated or recycled for other purposes and the new materials used in the renovation were specifically chosen for their sustainability.”

Lobby of the 968 Park Hotel

Lobby and Bar at 968 Park Hotel

We both fell in love with the concept of the hotel immediately.  But concept and practice are two different things.  We made reservations to stay at 968 Park Hotel on this trip to make sure the hotel would fit our needs to house our guests for the wedding.  There were a few minor issues, not much different than you’d find in any busy hotel (it was the weekend after the biggest snow of the year and they were packed).  We had rooms for us and our parents, and the general consensus was that the hotel would fit our needs nicely.  We had a great stay and we highly recommend them if you are in the area.  Even if you don’t stay there, stop in to the little bar for Happy Hour and just check the place out.

The other easy decision was the venue for the Rehearsal Dinner.  Almost every time we visited Lake Tahoe we would be in Tahoe City on the north side of the lake.  Our favorite spot on the north side is Rosie’s Cafe.  Rosie’s is fantastic and a perfect little local restaurant.  When we got engaged, they worked with me to set up a special dinner for Merelyn and they even brought us Champagne, on the house, and insisted on serving us cake for Merelyn’s birthday.  It’s a great little place with TONS of personality and we wanted to share it with our friends and family.  So we had breakfast at Rosie’s and met with the manager, Deanne, who cheerfully talked to us about how easy and fun it would be to have our rehearsal dinner there.  It’s the only part of our wedding that will not be in South Lake, but it’s well worth the drive.

We were also in town for the important business of settling on our reception venue.  More than anything else, this had us worried because these places book up FAST in Tahoe and we had chosen our venue without ever having visited them.  We were worried about the decor, the space, the food…

interior of Riva Room at Riva Grill

Interior at Riva Grill Event Room...

Riva Grill sits at Ski Run Marina right on the beach in South Lake Tahoe just behind the dock for the famous Tahoe Queen paddle boat.  We loved the beach front location and it’s only about a mile away from the hotel, an easy walk.  Sunday afternoon we stopped in with our parents in tow to have lunch and meet with the event coordinator there.  We all made sure to order something different off the menu so we could get a good picture of the quality of the food.  The food was amazing!  Their Conchiglie Pasta was fantastic and you can have it with grilled vegetables instead of chicken (for the vegetarians!)  They will also do a vegetarian Risotto (rich, creamy and delicious).  The food turned out to be incredibly good and once we got a look upstairs at the room reserved for our event, we were sold.  It’s a beautiful space, and there is tons of room.  The entire wall facing the lake is glass and the glass doors open to a narrow balcony overlooking the beach.  Their event coordinator, Amanda, was very friendly and helpful.

But we still needed a place for the ceremony.  Our contact at 968 Park Hotel, Cristina, listened to our dilemma one afternoon and recommended we look at Regan Beach.  We separated from our parents after lunch the next day and decided to swing by and take a look.  The beach looked ok, parking was sufficient, it wasn’t ideal…but better than the beach in front of Riva.  Then as we started to drive away we saw a small posting about a wedding.  The small hill above the beach, lined with trees and overlooking the lake, must be the spot.  We kicked below the icy snow and discovered grass and a small brick patio in the middle of the space.  With our imagination we shook off the cold of winter and could see the space as it would look in Ooctober…the trees full and green, maybe just starting to turn color…the grass and shrubs green and full and the beautiful blue lake in the background of it all.

view of Lake Tahoe from Regan Beach

We brought our parents back to show them and get their opinions. But as we stood there in the middle of the snow-covered knoll, we knew this was the place.  Merelyn reached out and grabbed my hands, and whispered, “We’re getting married here…” and I knew by the smile on her face that she was right.

We fell in love in Tahoe…we fell in love with Tahoe…and we can’t wait to start our lives together in Tahoe.