For years i’ve been obsessed with getting faster than i was the year before. Pushing myself. Looking for bigger climbs. Longer rides. Intervals. Sprints. on and on….
Riding became about meeting my training goals.
In the midst of all that riding bikes just stopped being any fun at all. My most common thought mid-ride was, “This sucks,” or “Why do i do this?”
That’s when i just accepted the facts: i’m never going to really be competitive. i’m creeping into my mid-40s, i have a small child to take care of, i have other hobbies, and i like food too much to maintain anything even remotely close to “cycling-weight”. So i stopped training! i stopped making every ride a piece of the plan to get faster. i just started riding my bike again! It was amazing: Trans-formative! i spent a year or so getting progressively slower as i embraced letting go of the need for 2-wheeled speed!
Riding bikes is fun for me, painful fun – but fun! i’d lost sight of that. i started stopping to take in the views. i stopped pedaling so hard on climbs that i’d get the “fat-kid-wheeze” and just started pacing myself. i started getting dropped more. i stopped setting a do-or-die weekly mileage goal. i started to love being on a bike again!
Fact is being fast costs quite a bit (and just to be transparent with you: riding a bike is fun, riding a bike fast is even more fun) and i’m just not willing to pay those costs any longer. i want to spend time with my family, i want to play D&D with my friends, i want to fly RC planes… i want to do other things. To be exceptional at a thing (which i’ve never been “exceptional” at cycling but i do know people who really are) that thing has to be your primary focus. i’m just not willing to focus that much on it any longer, call it cycling-ADD.
In the past year i’ve added some weekly goals back to my routine, but i’m not so hard on myself when i miss those goals. They are also more reasonable. i still love to climb mountains on a bike and it’s still my number one mental health activity. i’m still riding, still improving, and still setting PRs. BUT: those PRs are bonuses now, not goals for me.
My wife and i get asked frequently how we have been able to travel as much as we have over the past several years. We’re not wealthy, nor are we destitute either though. We fall solidly into the “working-class” descriptor. Here are our top Five strategies for traveling on a budget
1) Give up your “relaxing” vacation:
There’s a lot to be said for a relaxing vacation where you get to kick back and unwind. You leave behind all the day-to-day stress of your regular life and just chill. Even more so when you have your vacation plan in place: You know the condo or the hotel you always stay at, you know which restaurants you’re going to grab dinner at, which desserts you’ve waited a year for… You get to put your brain in rest mode just like your body!
i get it! There is something appealing about that familiar vacation spot, you don’t even use the GPS to get there or navigate around once you’re there…
In contrast: our vacation time is almost never this relaxing. We’ve traded in relaxing vacations for the chance to see more places and things! Here’s what our vacations look like: Every morning we load up the car and hit the road we drive anywhere from 5-10 hours, normally with a big stop to explore in there, we get to where we are going to bed down for the night and we unload and collapse into a cheap hotel bed or a sleeping bag. Then it’s wash, rinse, repeat!
We’re often tired, sometimes lost, but always seeing new things and having new experiences! We get home after a week off work with aching muscles and a suitcase full of dirty laundry.
We also get home with cameras full of new photographs and a slew of new memories. We’ve tried new foods, seen new places, met new people. When i return to work the following week i may not be physically rested but i’m recharged. i’m reminded that the world is bigger than the office i work from.
2) Squeeze every opportunity:
i’ve had so many great travel experiences because i exploit every opportunity to see new things.
Example 1: Our biggest trip to date was work related, a cross country drive (both ways) as we set up a new operation for the company i worked for in 2016. My wife and i were going to be there for a month and running the cost comparison of driving vs flying it was a wash when you factored in renting a car for a month while we were working in CA. Both legs of that drive took us through 20 different states and is still one of the highlights of my life!
Example 2: My first trip to San Diego was to work a contract for a company doing an event during Comic Con SD. When the company was arranging our airfare i asked them to schedule our return flight for two days after the event ended instead of the following day. We had more than 24 hours to tool around Southern California and it was amazing and magical!
Example 3: Another work trip took me to the Bay Area i made a similar request and used the extra time to rent a mountain bike and ride Camp Tamarancho, the birthplace of the sport! It too was an amazing experience.
Example 4: My best friend worked a stint in Washington state. When it was time for he and his wife to return home she had to fly home to take care of an emergency. i scratched together enough money for a one way ticket, flew to Washington, and drove back with him. We camped in a tent for a few nights of the trip (on the roadside) and then because i had to be back at work drove from the eastern end of Glacier National park back to central Virginia with no real sleep (we did make some great pit stops along the way).
Last Example(maybe): It really it all started when my wife and i were married. We decided to fly to Vegas to get hitched! (Sort of the ultimate Americana experience) While there we rented a car and over the week of our honeymoon we drove that car well over 3,000 miles. We saw the Grand Canyon, crashed in a friends house in L.A., walked the hills of San Francisco, and generally packed in as many things as we could in the week we were out west. It was there that our partnership began legally and then that we fell in love with the West Coast.
These are just some of my experiences. Every life will offer some opportunities to see little slices of the world. Maybe not as dramatic as these (which are admittedly some of my better opportunities) but little chances count too. i stumbled across my favorite distiller of Bourbon* on a work trip because we needed to kill three hours before an event. Sure you’re tired when you’re at a work convention or even working out of town but grab at least the little opportunities when they arise.
3) Enjoy the cheaper joys of life:
Sure all those pesky social media influencers** show travel that is fit for a Sandals resort sales pitch but for those of us who are “normal” people, travel rarely looks like that. Travel is long periods of boredom punctuated by amazing moments. Travel is a great analogy for life in general. Most of my travel experiences are not Instagram material, unless you like videos of a man cursing because he spilled coffee down the front of his body because he was holding the coffee cup since all the other cup holders are engaged in other beverage corralling functions.
You don’t need a luxury suite to experience the world. You don’t need to eat at restaurants that sport Michelin stars to explore the tastes around you.
A solid 75% of my travel is directed by the location of the National Parks System. My wife and i are big believers in the National Parks. Every year we make the $80 investment in a parks pass, then we set out to make that a value purchase for us. Some years that’s a challenge, we live on the East Coast where parks are more sporadic or don’t charge for entry, but we make it work.
Another thing we do is we try to eat where the locals eat. If there’s a restaurant that looks a little sketchy on the outside but the parking lot is full of cars and you don’t see any out of state tags, that’s likely a winner for you! Don’t ask locals where to get X (x being whatever regional cuisine you want to try), rather ask them, “When you want X, where do you go?” i’ve found that the answers are often different. Locals know where the tourists go for X, but they often (not always, but often) go somewhere else. It’s also usually cheaper and less flashy.
We also like to walk, when we’re not in the car we spend a lot of time moving at the speed of feet. Lots of great stuff is on street level and you’ll miss it driving through. It’s also super cheap to get out and walk around a place. Often your only real cost is parking in larger metropolitan areas.
If getting neck deep in the nightlife of a new city is appealing to you, know your budget and make that a splurge. That’s not my bag, but sometimes i’ve been known to drop some cash on a meal if it’s particularly meaningful. Or an attraction if it’s something of interest to me***.
4) Pinch those pennies
So here’s the brass tacks! The real practical advise for you. Pinch those pennies!
If you’re doing big mileage: drive the car that gets better gas mileage, it may not be as comfortable as the bigger car but MPG adds up FAST when you’re logging big road trip miles. Meals: If i’m alone i eat 2 meals a day when on the move. Typically i’m traveling with my wife, then we eat the normal three BUT we’ll split almost every meal. We travel in the US mostly so there’s almost always enough food for two people on the plate.
We’re National Park junkies. i prefer to pack my lunch into parks (but when with my bride we’ll splurge and split a meal in the park). My dad and i did a lap of Colorodo in 2018 that had us in a park almost every day, we ate PB&Js and/or PB&Banana sandwiches pretty much every day. i can say with 100% honesty that a PB&J with the smell of a loamy aspen grove and a view for days is a fine a meal as i’ve ever had in the nicest restaurant. Lodging: Before we were surprised with a tiny human i our lives my wife purchased a nice tent. She got a deal on it, and it’s saved us hundreds and hundreds of dollars since then. Let me get real with you for a minute: i could be a professional hobo. i don’t mind sleeping outdoors, i’ve hiked nearly 1000 miles of the AT in longish sections, showers are almost a luxury to me. My lovely wife on the other hand, while she is willing to endure discomfort to see new places, is NOT a person many would describe as “crunchy”. She loves to be outdoors, she loves the wilderness, she’d spend her days hiking if she could. She also likes 2 showers a day and places a high value on the comfort of her bedding. Our strategy when deploying the tent is typically thus: Camp a night, get a room a night, repeat. Most “campers” these days are pulling mini-homes behind them so tent spots are pretty affordable. They’re also often in odd places at camp sites, with the exception of most state and National parks who still typically have really nice tent spots.
If you want a room… “Don’t fear the Cheaper” (that’s a feeble attempt on a “Don’t fear the Reaper” pun). Use whatever deal site you like (i like Priceline for rooms for no other reason than i get to see William Shatner’s face) you’re going to basically get the same deals from all of them. If you use whatever “deal finder” they offer, double check that you can’t find a better deal NOT using it. Cheap rooms are often near airports in larger cities. When you have a candidate start reading the customer reviews. i look for one thing, and only this one thing: “Clean Rooms”. That’s all you need. There can be a 1000 complaints but they typically mean nothing. People are crazy, they’ll post a 1 star review because their $39/night room didn’t have a hot breakfast. As far as cheap places that nearly always deliver for me: #1) Motel 6! They renovated nearly all their locations a few years back, they tend to have laminate floors in them now (that means clean floors because carpet is nasty), and they almost always have a mini-fridge in the room. #2) Extended Stay America: This is a great find and you’ll get solid deals here on the weekends. Weekdays they tend to fill up, but the rooms are bigger and tend to be clean and you get a kitchenette! Both Motel 6 and ESA tend to have laundry machines somewhere on the property as well, which can be a real utility on longer trips. Souvenirs: Leave em! or at least get yourself a plan. We do magnets, we display them on a board in our home. My wife gets small stickers that she keeps in a travel sticker journal of sorts. We rarely get tshirts or other items, we don’t really bring gifts back from our trips. Those things are nice and let people know you were thinking about them but in a year where are they? No really, where did they go? They’re lost or tossed, so save dat Money!****
5) If you can’t travel far, travel near:
In 2017 we found out that we were the winners in the unplanned pregnancy lottery. In 2018 our prize was delivered near the end of February and suddenly travel was just a touch more difficult than it was before. We spent more time exploring closer to home, anything within a 3-4 hour drive became a target for us. Long term we plan on moving West at some point (hopefully just before this tiny human starts school). This has left my wife with a healthy case of FOMO in regards to the region we live in now. She doesn’t want to be chatting with a friend in Wyoming who asks if we ever saw some amazing thing that was 45 minutes away from where we live now.
Wherever you are, there are amazing things nearby. If you’re having trouble finding things in your region, use social media to your advantage. Most states have active tourism accounts on social media: follow your state’s account. Follow the neighboring states’ accounts. These have been a gold mine for us and will lead you to other solid sources for ideas!
If you read this to the end! Kudos! Let me say that any recommendations i’ve made are real and the only benefits i get from making them are the warm feeling of helping other travelers! Happy traveling to you and here’s the footnotes:
*Buffalo Trace. It’s the best mid-shelf bourbon you can pick up. They also make my favorite readily available top-shelf as well: Eagle Rare.
** Social Media Influnecers are one of the few things i struggle to not “Yuck”- as in “Don’t Yuck someone else’s Yum”. When life is primarily about appearances and not realities we’ve lost something very important… That’s all, old man rant over.
*** #1 attraction i’ve ever dropped money on: House on the Rock in Wisconsin. It’s a close as you can get to experimenting with psychedelics without actually taking anything. For real, if you’re ever in the neighborhood of Spring Green WI go, buy the “big ticket” to see it all.
**** lil Dicky shout-out intended. Save Dat Money could be the best rap song ever made!
We loaded up the Adventure Pod (a 2010 Honda Fit) and pointed it’s stubby nose Westward. We were Texas bound! What followed was a nearly 4,000 mile road trip that traversed 7 states (Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama) and dipped into the corner of a 8th (Georgia). This would knock 5 states off my goal of visiting all 50!
But back to Texas! i rolled into the Lone Star State with a lot of preconceived notions about the biggest of the contiguous States of our great Republic: Among those notions were: Big boots; big hats; big trucks; big egos; more swagger than an Old Spice commercial; and… guns, guns, guns! Mostly on the negative side of things: i imagined Texas to be all things Redneck. What i found was something totally different, well the big trucks was spot on but most of the other things were off. Texas is a dab of nearly everything: Big city life & Rural living; Conservative values & free-thinkers; Posh living & rugged sustenance. Texas has deserts and giant lakes, rolling hills and flat prairies, eight lane super highways and gravel back roads.
We came in from Arkansas and rolled on down through Dallas. 9th largest city in the U – S – of A. Then we just kept driving South and West. It was the more rural parts of Texas that really got to me. Out of all the places i’ve ever been rural Texas has the nicest people i’ve ever crossed paths with. Every stop for gas was a joy. Every meal meant interacting with the excellent slice of the human population we call Texans! If i had to break down with no money in my pocket i hope it’s somewhere in that part of the world (just maybe not in the dog days of summer). We even got pulled over in some tiny town North of Best TX (Best TX has a sign informing you of their population of 1!) and that officer wins the award for nicest traffic stop i’ve experienced in my life. That award was previously held by a fine law-man in New Hampshire who pulled me over for speeding in the wee hours of the night and then seeing i was far from home and just wanted to get to our hotel 30 minutes up the road told me to, “Drive a little slower the next time you come through here,” irony fully intended by him. This friendly Texas Deputy just wanted me to know that i had a headlight out. To put in perspective how rural the town was we were in when i asked him if there was an auto parts store here he informed there was but he doubted it would carry a headlight for a Honda.
Out of the cities we set foot in, San Antonio was my favorite (it’s the 7th largest in the U.S., bigger than Dallas but doesn’t feel like it). If you like malls you’ll love the River Walk (i’m oddly nostalgic for the malls of my youth but not a mall shopper and i’ll admit the River Walk is a pretty top-notch set up). The Historic Market Square is really amazing, we were there on a Wednesday around lunch time and there was live music, street food, booze… San Antonio knows how to party. We grabbed lunch at Mi Tierra which holds some odd technical distinction; they are the largest Mexican restaurant in the world by volume of food sold… or something like that. Food was amazing, a mariachi band roved around from table to table, and its one of those “tourist things” you should just do if you’re in San Antonio. We also hit up the unforgettable Alamo. You’ve probably heard to not set the bar real high in regards to the Alamo, i don’t know if that’s a fair thing to say. Is it small? Yes. But it’s still an important historical site, especially for Texans. Set your bar appropriately: it’s a historical site. Go there to learn and stand where brave men gave their lives for a cause they believed in. We also visited another historic mission in San Antonio and it was really amazing, such a peaceful and beautiful place to take a stroll.
Big Bend National Park has been on my list for some time now, so having the chance to set foot in this National treasure was a real treat! i plan on returning one day when i have time to get some miles in on my hiking shoes. The stark beauty of the desert there, the muddy churning Rio Grande, the surreal feeling of the Chisos Basin, standing where a trove of paleontological finds have been made! Some of the Features of Big Bend stack up pretty well against monolithic features found in other parks as well. i have tasted of the arid sweetness of Big Bend, and i hope to be back!
We braved hail and thunder storms, sunshine and winds, city traffic and warnings of Elk and Pronghorn dangers on country roads to see a decent chunk of Texas. Texas was great, but the real standout are Texans: overall pleasant, welcoming, hospitable folk. Again, i had some negative ideas about what Texas would be and i’m very happy it proved me oh so wrong. Texas is as proud of Sam Houston as it is of Willie Nelson. Austin with it’s weirdness is as much Texas as Dallas and it’s Oil money. You can be Texan and live in a high rise or you can lay your head down in a camper surrounded by 400 acres of scrub brush. Houston… we have a problem, i wanted to get Texas off my list and leave it behind but i visited it and found out why you don’t mess with Texas! Can’t wait to top off my gas tank at a Buc-ee’s and fill up my belly with a Whattaburger again.
i mean, would go our for Mexican at least 5 times a week.
i have mixed feelings. Once you hit the deserts of the South-West then my tastes turn towards tortillas and beans, but normally i have pretty specific desires for my south-of-the-border inspired fare. i do love me some street-tacos! Or San Diego style Mexican food. There’s just something magical about a burrito or a fish-taco when the air is that perfect low-humidity pacific breeze and all the ingredients are farm-fresh….
Anyway, back to the standard old run of the mill Mexican Restaurant. You know, the kind that every mid sized town has three of anywhere you go in America. Tortilla, cheese, beans, meat in an infinite amount of configurations! Endless plastic baskets of Nachos and those mini-carafes topped off with salsa. The kind of Mexican restaurant that brings a simple pleasure to the palate of my bride! As she’s methodically consuming her chimichangas (90% of the time that’s what it is, Chimichangas/fried/ with ground-beef. NOT steak: ground beef) and i’m smearing refried beans and guacamole on a tortilla; inevitably a magical dish will pass us by. A dish that’s as beloved by us American eaters as the “Texas-Sized Margarita”.
They don’t arrive on a plate…. oh no! Fajitas come on a pan! A skillet of cast iron. Hot enough to make Hades flinch! They hiss and scream their way to the table where they are set cooking and spewing steam in front of the lucky diner.
i have a vague memory of the first time i saw fajitas in a restaurant. It was a sight! Never before had i seen still-cooking food served up to a customer. Beef, & Chicken, & Onions, & Peppers all sizzling wildly. i was amazed! It was a sight to behold.
Now, i’m pushing a broken nacho chip around the bottom of a salsa dish feeling miserably full and a score of fajitas come out to customers and i never bat a gluttonous eyelid at them. Seen it before!
We have Fajita moments all the time. The Fajita is the showman of standard Mexican food and we’re mostly over it. IF we see someone who’s still excited by Fajitas we look down on them for their simplicity: Bumpkin! But once, i was amazed by Fajitas!
Once i was amazed by how much information a cell-phone can store!
Or how fast i can download Fail Videos- in a moving car!
Or how crazy it is that we can buy bananas, in Michigan, in January!
Or air-travel… you know, flying science tubes of awesome?
Once i was amazed that i can call you in another country and you hear MY voice nearly instantaneously, even though it was broken down into 1s & 0s and put back together again…
There was a time when more of us were amazed. i’d argue that life was a little better then. When amazing things happen around you life is more exciting, it’s fresher, there’s less drudgery. But fajitas still happen, cruise control still happens, electric lighting still happens! We just have to clear our calloused mental-slate a little and see it again!
Heck, i might order that dramatic DIY meal myself soon. i’ll sit in wonder and awe as the peppers hiss at me like angry cats, and i’ll be amazed at Fajitas!
My dad is fascinated by the cliff-dwellings out West. This makes perfect sense, he dedicated his working life to building homes for countless people over his career. He’s one of the most proficient and passionate carpenters i’ve ever know and i owe him an incalculable debt because of the skills he’s handed down to me. So these brick and stone dwellings wedged into cliff faces naturally hold a special appeal to him.
He’d been to Mesa Verde a few times but never been able to tour the dwelling sites. Mesa Verde National Park sells tickets, very affordable tickets too, but they have to be purchased on site or in the nearby town of Cortez. The Park has a fine way of handling these ticket sales as you can even purchase advance tickets, up to two days prior to your visit. Alas, his visits to Mesa Verde have all been shall we say “pass thru” visits. Once he was on his way to Alaska on this used RV he had purchased, the second he was on a road trip by car, but neither trip had enough time for him to wait a day or two for a slot he could take. So he’s been fascinated by them but unable to see the dwellings in Mesa Verde up Close.
So talks began for he and i to take a trip to Colorado so he could finally tread where the builders of these sites had tread! We had a weapon in our fight to get the tickets we needed: i have a friend who lives in Cortez! She agreed to acquire the tickets we needed a day or two before so we booked some airfare to Denver and set out!
Denver, you question? Well, if you know where Mesa Verde is located and where Denver is located you probably do question. But yes, Denver. We figured if we were going to fly out to Colorado we may as well make some sort of road trip out of it! So road trip we did! We drove an amazing circuit of Colorado in a rented Buick Regal… Don’t get me started on that car (either i’m getting really old or the Buick Regal isn’t what it used to be! Probably my favorite rental car i’ve ever had and i’ve driven a lot of rentals).
Over the course of our Colorado road trip we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park, Gunnison National Park, of course Mesa Verde National Park. We passed through a handful of National Forests, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and San Juan to name drop three of them. We drove 30 miles on a gravel road that seemed to be leading to nowhere (actually did that a few times, but the 30 mile stretch was the longest one). We drove what i contend is the prettiest stretch of interstate highway in America, Interstate 70 West of Denver. We hit the Aspen leaf change perfectly! All the while that sleek and luxurious rental car carried us safely through it all, even to the top of Pikes Peak where the blizzard-like conditions at the peak meant we could see nothing- also we were the only car we saw that didn’t have to stop and let our brakes cool down at the brake check station! Was it the car… or the driver? i’ll let you decide (it was the driver, who was me).
Of all the amazing experiences we had i don’t think anything was better for me than the morning we crawled through Balcony House and strolled in the grandeur of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde. My friend came through with tickets to what she dubbed the two best tours in the park! For me the cliff dwellings were very interesting, but the real payoff was being a part of making sure my father got something he wanted in this life. He’s at that age, and has had a measure of success in life, where if he wants something he probably has it. This man who had worked to feed and house me when i was growing up, who handed down as much of his encyclopedic knowledge of building as my brain would hold, to see him have this experience he’d been so close to having but missed before… That was as good as any Rocky Mountain view.
My Dad squeezing into Balcony House- Mesa Verde National Park
Our Tour Tickets! It’s good to have friends!
We spent a lot of time in a car that trip. We’d ride for a while, get out and look at the mighty Rocky Mountains. We’d eat Peanut Butter and Banana sandwiches in a National Park or a National Forest and find something hot to eat every night, sleeping at whatever deal Priceline would find us for a motel that night. We talked about frivolous things, serious things, and we didn’t talk at all. Some hours we’d just ride in amicable silence and watch the mountains crawl past, and it was a magical week in Colorado.
It was Fall of 2015 and my lovely bride and myself were poking around New England. Little side-note: weather conditions in 2015 had peak foliage rolling into the North East abnormally late, a fine piece of serendipity for us as it put us up to our eye-balls in a New England Autumn display! We were visiting a friend in Maine and since we were in the proverbial neighborhood made a few short day-trips into Acadia.
Before Acadia my experience with the National Park Service centered around the Appalachian Mountain chain; primarily the Blue Ridge Parkway (the NPS’s scenic byway through Virginia and North Carolina) and a foray or two to Smokey Mountain National Park as a kid with my parents. Acadia was the start of a much deeper relationship with our National Park Service than i’d had before. As we entered the pay-gate we splurged for the yearly pass and have been yearly NPS pass-holders ever since.
We found ourselves smitten by the rugged beauty of the Maine coast-line. The way the mountains roll right into the rich fishing waters of the Atlantic here. We watched the sun rise from the windy ridge of Cadillac Mountain, then watched it set at the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, we walked beaches made of sand and stone. i even got to squeeze in a short road ride inside the park and rode my old trusty CAAD9 up Cadillac just for good measure!
Being from the Mid-Atlantic region of the East Coast; shorelines have always held little appeal to me. The beaches that are relatively close to where we live are bland flat stretches of sand wrapped in a thick blanket of humidity. To get to them you have to leave the Blue Ridge Mountains (a place dear to my heart) and drive East and away from the vistas that inspire. You pass through the low flat regions of Virginia or North Carolina and into high-traffic, bastions of commerce. i know people absolutely LOVE those Eastern Beaches – evidenced by the population boom of the Norfolk area. Also, the fact that my own sister willingly left the more mountainous parts of the state we grew up in (Virginia) and moved to the beaches of North Carolina, a face that i do try not to hold against her… i try. That context of coast-line made Acadia so absolutely awe inspiring for us. i have a soft-spot for the rugged parts of the world: high mountain passes, craggy granite drop-offs, all of Wyoming, so the rugged beauty of Maine’s Atlantic abutment was good for my heart to experience, and i think it’s safe to say my wife felt the same.
Acadia really was a magical place for us. A place that launched our love of the National Park System. We didn’t get to spend nearly as much time in Acadia as we’d have like to, it’s on our list to make a trip to Acadia and dedicate more time to hiking it’s many trails and spending some more intimate time with this gem. This gem of a National Park that sparked our love of parks!
One windy frigid morning i decided to take a jaunt up one of the most popular hikes in my area: Sharp Top, the rocky topped landmark peak of the Peaks of Otter mountains.
Sharp top is heavily hiked, it’s a great out and back that totals a smidge over 3 miles. It’s steep, rocky, and once you’re past the opening 1/2 mile beautiful. i’ve done the hike many times in my life and this super-cold January hike was easily my favorite one. The parking lot is normally packed with cars; on this hike my car was the only one in the lot. i had Sharp Top all to myself! Once at the peak (which affords views for miles and miles in 360 degrees) the wind was blowing so strong i had to lean 15-20 degrees into it just to stand up.
i enjoyed my hike up Sharp Top so much i decided to go back and take a stroll up it’s less often hiked sister: Flat Top. Flat Top is actually a little taller than Sharp Top but doesn’t have quite the views. It’s a longer out and back (or you can hike from the Peaks of Otter Lodge to a lot on the Blue Ridge Parkway); my hike was 4.7 miles with 1,680ft of elevation gain during the hike- 417ft more than my Sharp Top hike. It was nearly as cold and to make things more interesting snow had fallen. By the time i reached the peak i was plodding through a foot and half to two feet of fine powdery fluff! The mountain was gorgeous clad in it’s icy duds and once again i had the whole mountain to myself! (there were 10-12 cars in the Sharp Top lot this day though).
Once i had hiked the two most prominent of the peaks i figured there’d be no better way to kick off a new year than getting the third of the triumvirate: Harkening Hill. Harkening Hill makes up the third peak of the Peaks of Otter, it’s a much easier hike than it’s two larger sisters and i’d never done it before. A co-worker offered to tag-along this time and with the Polar Vortex extending it’s icy grip onto the East Coast we layered up and bagged this loop trail. Once again (probably due to the snow on the ground and the skin shattering temperature and wind-chill) the mountain was a private reservation.
We tacked on a side-leg out to the Johnson Farm site and that brought this loop to 4.5 miles with 958ft of climbing. Compared to its two larger neighbors the grade is much easier. I’d suggest doing this one when the trees are bare if you’re able to as it affords more to look at. If the trees were in leaf it still would’ve been a nice amble through the woods but the views would have been few.
This little “mini-goal” to start 2019 off had me drinking in the beauty of the area i live in. Having these popular hikes all to myself made me feel connected to the old weathered backbone of the Blue Ridge Mountains in a special way. i hope that this sets the tone for the year to come for me!
My heart is filled with gratitude to live hear among these venerable hills!
We were a scant 640 miles from home and pointed homeward! We’d just spent a month in CA for work, after driving there, and were nearly done with our boomerang trip. We could feel home in our bones, and the 17 year old Jeep Cherokee that we’d limped across the country could feel an oil change coming in it’s engine block.
“Was that a gummy bear factory?” i asked as we sped East on Route 30 deep in the heart of Indiana.
“It was,” my wife and P.I.C.* replied.
“Oh man, i wish we had time to stop…”
“Let’s make time, when will we be here again?” she convincingly argued.
So we stopped. We swung into the Albanese Gummi Bear factory. A company that boldly boasts on their logo “World’s Best”. i was excited to see a where delicious, translucent, tasty bears were made, and doubtful to the bold claims of this company. “World’s Best”. Bold Claim.
Gummy candy is a weakness of mine. Ever since as a child visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Pennsylvania and being introduced to the red wonder of Swedish Fish i’ve held not just opinions but convictions about gummies!
As we entered the doors of the Albanese factory i was decidedly a Team Haribo Gummy Bear sort of fella. When we left a short time later i was Team Albanese where bears are concerned. A superior product in general and the sampling (and subsequent purchase) of literally the best gummy anything i’ve ever tasted won me over.
What is the best gummy anything that i have ever chewed, chomped, and masticated upon? (my mouth waters even thinking of this master-work of the confectioners of Indiana) They huddled together in a clear acrylic bin, like the rest of the bears here. Their orange flesh intermingled with a less transparent milky white flesh. This ultimate bear, The greatest gummi bear to ever wiggle and jiggle on God’s green earth. Gummius Ursus Rex. The pinnacle of corn syrup and gelatin. The Creamsicle Gummi Bear!
i sampled it with dozens of other offerings and to this day it is a flavor i chase but will likely never experience again. Much like that amazing circuit of the U.S.of A. a trip that even if repeated can never be replicated, this Gummi will likely never be equaled. i’m left only with sweet memories and a child-like longing. Honestly i’m glad to carry both!
When life gives you the chance to swing into the proverbial Gummi Bear factory, make that U-turn. Drive a little later that night. Dance with Type-2 diabetes that day. It was an unplanned diversion in a trip filled with life-changing wonders (Yosemite, Yellowstone, The Badlands, House on the Rock, on and on), while the gummi bear factory may not be life changing it was life-enhancing.
In your life may you find your Creamsicle Gummi Bear!
*P.I.C.: Partner In Crime
** Gummi is the Albanese spelling of Gummy, i tried to respect their mid-west preference whenever referring to their product.
My year of reading in 2017 was (like most of my goals for 2018) a tad lack-luster… Normally i read 50+ books in a calendar year. 2017 i consumed a grand total of 32 books… i did spend quite a bit of reading time consuming RPG related materials, which i didn’t really add to my consumption totals.
Pity-party behind us, let’s look at my top 5 reads in 2017 (in no particular order, except for my #1 pick)
Small Gods -Terry Pratchett
Wasn’t a huge Pratchett fan before reading this gem. If you want to know more about Small Gods you can see my Book Club of One review here: Small Gods: Book Club of One Review
A History of the World in Six Glasses – Tom Standage
A walk through human civilization breaking it all down in eras of imbibement! Chock full of great information. It is a little sad that our era is best described as the Coka Cola era… Other eras being marked by beer, or wine, or whiskey…
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
i read The Handmaid’s Tale way back when i was in High School and it was a jarring powerful book that stuck with me! My re-read was possibly even more jarring! So well written, a powerful message, and possibly even more timely now than when i first read it.
Frankenstein -Mary Shelley
So, i’d never read this rock solid classic until this year. What a book! Nothing at all like the portrayals of Frankenstein’s monster that Hollywood has given us for decades now. Read this classic gem!
My #1 pick for 2017: The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben
i can’t think of any book that i’ve read recently that has challenged the way i view things more than The Hidden Life of Trees. Skillfully written, engaging, and packed with thought-provoking ideas. Read this book and never look at a tree the same again!
Well, there you go. My favorite reads from 2017 just in case you’re looking for something to feed your head, and your mind, and your brain (the holy triumvirate given to us by the great musician and philosopher Dewey Finn) maybe one of these will fit the bill!
My former “youngest” child is a senior in High School this year…
Now there’s a surprise child on the way!
These two spectrum spanning life events happening on top of each other have me feeling a little topsy-turvy about the whole age thing!
Some days i feel better than i ever have. 42 year old me could totally take 23 year old me on those days! i’m like Will Smith, fine wine, or a charred oak barrel of bourbon: i just get better with age!
Other days i feel like i’m leaning against a wall of geriatric destiny. Like rechargable batteries, a bag of apples, and CGI special effects: aging is not my speciality!
My early 40’s have been some interesting few years for me already. It takes me longer to recover when i get banged up. My feet and ankles hurt most mornings. Injuries i sustained in my 20s remind me that they happened. My parents have gone through a bout of medical issues. i had my worst year on the bike that i’ve ever had (guess it’s time to actually watch what i eat?)… i could moan on and on.
Conversly: people still call me when they have technical issues with electonics, i still get alot of new humor (helps that i have a 17 year old who prides himself on meme-lore), while i logged fewer miles and made almost no gains on my road-bike i did get faster on average on my mountain bike this year… guess you could say that i’m still pretty awesome!
it’s an odd age to live through that’s for sure… Sometimes, i’m a wisened old seer; othertimes i still get carded when i buy a beer (of course ONLY when covering my dome with a hat)… Hopefully in 2018 i’ll sort out if i’m old or young… or just here!