Category Archives: General

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Coffin and Bachelor Mountains

February 28, 2015.

Coffin and Bachelor Mtn Trails | 9.4 miles | 2225′ ele. gain

Photos from the trip on Google+

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It’s been a strange winter. The weather has been drier and milder than the past several winters here, and snowfall has been much below average. Instead of lament the lack of snow, we decided to take advantage of the early season access to summer trailheads. Today, we set our sights on Bachelor and Coffin Mountains.

Our hike began at the Coffin Mountain trailhead. There was a light dusting of snow there, at an elevation of 4750′. We left the snowshoes in the car and began hiking up the trail.

Coffin Mountain is a short, steep affair, and begins climbing immediately. This is one of the biggest bang-for-your-buck hikes I’ve found in Oregon, though. There are views of expansive meadows and the surrounding Cascades right from the start. In spring, the meadows blossom with fragrant beargrass. Today, we walked through last year’s beargrass stalks, which were coated in a layer of ice. It was a very unique landscape.

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In just a mile and a half, we reached the summit. A Forest Service lookout building sat there, adjacent to a helicopter landing pad. Both were blanketed with gleaming, white snow. The lookout is staffed in summertime, but was abandoned when we arrived today. It was a good place for a snack and some photo ops. Mt. Jefferson was bathed in sunlight and was practically right in our faces. Mt. Bachelor stood out like a tall person in a movie theater, just big enough to be noticeable but not take too much away from the view.

We glided back down to the trailhead and began the 1.2 mile roadwalk to the Bachelor Mountain trailhead. I’d never hiked up to Bachelor, so this would be a fun new adventure. The road walk was quick and offered up several views back to the steep cliffs on the east side of Coffn Mountain.

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The trail up to Bachelor mountain was a bit more snowy and forested. It provided a charm all of its own. We enjoyed the occasional break in the forest canopy that let some of the bright sunshine hit our faces. It sure was a beautiful weather day.

In just a few places, the snowbanks deepened and the trail became a little obscured, but navigation was pretty straightforward. The view from the top of Bachelor mountain was even better than that from the summit of Coffin. We sat here and had an extended lunch break while exploring the best place to take panoramic photos. We could see the Three Sisters, Mt Hood, and the faint tops of other snow-capped Cascades from our magnificent perch.

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Wandering back to the parking area, we soaked up the remaining afternoon sunlight and had entertaining conversations. The hard work was over, and it was time to just put one foot after the other all the way back to the car.

I was glad to have the chance to experience both mountains in spring-like conditions. The meadows are certainly gorgeous in peak wildflower bloom, but they had a very different kind of beauty covered in ice and snow. I’d recommend visiting this place any time the trail head is accessible, whether it’s spring, summer, fall, or as we experienced this year, even winter.

Hiking the Leutasch and Partnach Gorges in Germany

April 22, 2014.

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We’d done our fair share of being city tourists in France and Germany, and were excited to take advantage of some hiking opportunities in Bavaria.

Leutasch Gorge

Our first hike was close to the cute little town we stayed in last night: Mittenwald. This picturesque little village sat alongside the Alps, offering views of great rock faces and dark, forested hillsides. A short drive brought us to a time-limited parking space. The only reason this was notable was due to the fact we had to place a little paper clock on the dashboard showing what time we’d arrived. The clock was provided by the rental car, and thankfully Aaron had read about this quirky fact before we took our trip. With the clock in place, we set off for the trailhead.

The waterfall hike was closed, so we scanned the map and crafted a loop that was roughly a few miles long. The map was so detailed that trail segments were measured in meters, so we practically walked the entire trail system there.

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The Goblin trail was the most fun and interesting, as it took us along metal walkways and bridges that put us right on top of the gorge. This crazy network of “trails” was manufactured right into the rock. We could look beneath our feet to the river, a couple hundred feet below us in some places. I was happy that our early start meant that no one else was out there; it would have been much more scary if the walkways were mobbed with people.

In addition, there were several signs along the way that detailed how the gorge was formed, what animals lived there, how to identify plants, and lots of other interesting facts. Each sign was colorful and written in a few languages, so we actually learned a thing or two.

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After finishing the gorge walk, our hike looped back through the forest. At some point we found ourselves briefly in Austria, as indicated by a small sign. No passport required there!

With just a half mile or so to the car, the weather suddenly changed and a passing storm dropped hail and rain on us. We ducked under the roof of a nearby lodge (closed) and ran into a young girl who had also taken shelter out of the storm. She chatted us up in English as best she could, and when the rain relented the three of us walked back to the car. We bid our new friend adieu as she rode her bike back into town. On to the next adventure.

Partnach Gorge

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The second hike was much different than the first. It was located near the Olympic Ski Stadium in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a buzzing hive of tourist activity. We were on a time schedule to get our rental car to the drop-off in Munich, so with that in mind we picked up a map at the Tourist Information desk and started walking towards the gorge.

The paved road leading to the trailhead was busy with other people walking, biking or taking a horse-drawn buggy to the gorge entrance. When we finally made it there, we found a little ticket booth with a woman collecting a 3.5 € entry fee per person. She told us the hike was a loop, so we started straight ahead as instructed.

I was surprised at how many people were shoving their way against the flow of traffic. “What loop??” I thought, as families and couples retreated towards the ticket booth. I was doubtful we’d have enough time to complete this hike.

This trail, in contrast to the previous hike, was just above the water coursing through the gorge’s rocky walls. In many places, a trail tunnel was blasted into the rock. In others, the trail was made of steel beams. Handrails protected hikers from falling into the swirling river, or being pushed in by the madding crowd.

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Water dripped down on us from above, and spray from the fast-moving water blasted up from the river below. It was raincoat time. After we exited the claustrophobic, yet beautiful, gorge, the trail climbed up an open hillside and brought us to a wider and more gently flowing part of the river. This appeared to be where many people stop for lunch and then turn straight back. We continued up, determined to make our loop, switchbacking up the hill to an even more idyllic setting. The sun blazed high in the blue sky, brightening the grassy meadows and clusters of wildflowers. The high peaks of the Alps formed a beautiful backdrop on the whole scene, which felt quite like a movie set.

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People were milling about up here as well, but as soon as we dropped down the other side of the hill, we were on our own. We walked past a curious sign that announced “Way only for practiced” and discouraged children from using the path. “Cool,” I thought. Now we’re on for an adventure.

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The trail here was muddy in sections but it was well built and had several sets of stairs and handrails to guide hikers through the roughest bits. I thought it was a pleasant walk. The scary sign kept everyone off the trail, so we were able to finish the loop in quiet solitude. It was the polar opposite of the tourist trap we just scrambled out of.

We returned to the ticket booth, checked the time and hoofed it down the trail to get back to the car. There was no time to waste.

How not to return a rental car

We had just enough time to drive to Munich and return it at the train station by 4 pm to avoid being charged for an extra day. We’d never been to Munich before, as we’d picked up the car in Frankfurt and were just driving the one way. We plugged the train station into the GPS and were on our way.

Racing down the Autobahn was fun for Aaron and scary for me. But I’d no idea it would get so much worse when we entered the city. In the city, we hit traffic. Traffic of all sorts: cars, trucks, bikes, pedestrians. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a man on a camel in the middle of the road. We scrambled to find a gas station to fill up, detouring around construction and trying to interpret all the German signs we’d barely become familiar with. Miraculously, we navigated the gas station and drove to the train station. Traffic congestion increased at an exponential rate the closer we got to the station. People were all over the road. Lanes inexplicably split off in all directions, with one-ways, train tracks, bike lanes and all sorts of other confusion muddying up our drive. To top it all off, we couldn’t figure out where the car drop was.

We circled the train station several times, once mistakenly turning ONTO the train tracks, until we found an underground parking area. We parked the car, ran into the train station, and asked the first English-speaking staff person we could find to direct us to the rental office.

The man at the rental counter kindly gave us a map and directions to the car drop site, which would have been very helpful to have had at the start of our journey, and we ran back out to the car.

Tension was high in the car as we barreled out of the train station and followed the new directions to the car drop. We pulled in, Ace Ventura style—”like a glove”—and breathed a sigh of relief. It was 3:50.

It was really nice to have a car for this leg of the trip. We had the freedom to come and go as we pleased, travel to areas we couldn’t walk to, and see some of the German countryside from the comfort of a car. But I absolutely stressed about this car return. I’ve learned a few things about how to better prepare for next time. At this point I was so ready to be back to being walking distance from everything in the city. And we’d finish our trip with a couple of days in Munich, Germany…

Exploring the Romantic Road in Germany

April 18-19, 2014.

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See the pictures from our trip to Bavaria here.

We took a train from the south of France up to Frankfurt, Germany, where we began the second half of our trip. In Frankfurt, we rented a car and set off to travel the Romantic Road through Bavaria.

I’ll skip over the stress of figuring out how to operate an unfamiliar vehicle in a new country with an operating manual and navigation system in German.

I’ll also skip over navigating through narrow, congested city streets with little understanding of the strange street signs and confusing directions.

I’ll dive straight into the blissfully idyllic country drive through rolling hills, yellow fields, and puffy clouds. The Germany we pictured when we dreamed up this magical vacation.

Since we arrived in Germany in the evening, we bolted straight for Rothenburg ob der Tauber, where we had a place to stay for the night. We pulled in around 7 pm, driving down narrow but uncongested streets, as the city had quieted down for the evening. I admire the Rick Steves guides for the small, practical tips they offer; one of these tips was to spend the night in Rothenburg, since most of the visitors are day-trippers. He was spot on with that tidbit. We had a lovely meal at a nearly empty restaurant, I downed my first glass of German beer, and we took a peaceful stroll down darkened streets. We retired to a comfortable and spacious hotel room that felt like a four star suite after the crap hotels in France.

On the city walls of Rothenburg

All hotels in Germany include breakfast in the price, so we got up early and headed straight to breakfast. We were treated, unexpectedly, to a bountiful spread. This was no cheap, American continental breakfast. We had our choice of eggs, bacon, lunch meats, sliced cheeses, breads, rolls, jam, muesli, yogurt, fruit, coffee, and juice. We ate until our cheeks were stuffed like chipmunks, then rolled out the front door for a walk.

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The town of Rothenburg is encircled by an old rock wall. It is still nearly intact; visitors can walk around the perimeter of the city almost entirely on this medieval barrier. We began our tour at an old church with colorful gardens and bubbling fountains. It was a gray and foggy morning, but we enjoyed some views of the valley and nearby countryside. It looked very much like a scene from Monty Python: Search for the Holy Grail.

Occasionally, we’d see a person or two standing on the wall, taking pictures with their iPads or some nonsense. This was rare; inevitably there was a staircase within twenty feet of the people. It seemed like we were the only ones actually exploring much of the wall.

That meant there were lots of opportunities to look at stuff, take pretty pictures, and have a little fun.

After making a lap around Rothenburg, we wandered into a little bakery to try a Schneeball. We’d seen them in the shop windows the night before, and figured they were made for tourists but they looked really damn tasty. They were. Fried dough and sugar is always a winning combination. Plus, they had a funny name. Win-win.

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The city was starting to buzz with people and I felt a little anxiety bubbling up. We made one last stop in St. Jacob’s church before leaving. The interior of the church was very different from those we’d seen in France. The walls were cement gray, plain and smooth. There were some elaborate stained glass panels, but most of the windows contained clear glass and were framed by straight bars and metal circles. The plain walls served as an excellent backdrop to feature the intricate wood carvings, huge pipe organ, and perfect, symmetrical border details. It had a different style of beauty, but it still looked a little unfinished.

Around lunch time, we bailed out of Rothenburg. I’ll skip how insane the traffic was as we tried to get out of the walled city, which is not well designed for hordes of cars.

Instead, the story continues on the peaceful country drive. Aaron was behind the wheel and I frantically flipped through our guidebooks to try and pick another stop. There were too many quaint, historical towns for us to see in only a day and a half. I decided on Nördlingen, a walled city inside a crater. It sounded pretty awesome. Clearly, many other people had the same idea, and the place was jam-packed. We found a spot in a two-hour parking zone, so we had to prioritize our visit. We walked to the center of town and climbed the 90 meter tower at St. Georg’s church. It was 2.5 euro for the privilege of walking up the tower. The ascent up the old spiral staircase was dizzying, and the view was excellent. But it was bumper-to-bumper people traffic at the top, so we had to wait for someone to leave before we could get out on the deck.

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Wieskirche

There were so many more towns to see, but we had to get to Schwangau that evening. We skipped back to the freeway and I pored through the books to choose one last stop. I decided on the Wieskirche, a rococo-style church that had ridiculously high reviews. It was all alone, outside a small village with apparently no other attractions. And, there was no entrance fee.

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Upon arriving, it was clear we were at the right place. Not because the church was all that stunning, but because there was a pay-parking lot and there were vendors selling trinkets everywhere. A truck drove past us and rolled down the window. A German lady inside handed us her parking ticket, which was still good for an hour, and motioned for us to use it. We mumbled a danke schoen and watched her drive off. It was an omen!

The outside of the church was unremarkable. It was a big, white, plaster structure with a bell tower and some moderately interesting external architecture.

But once we got inside, the entire character changed. Every surface of every part was exquisitely decorated with gold leaf, vibrant paint, and three dimensional structure. Only a few plain, white strips of wall remained to draw attention to the painted details. The ceiling was most impressive of all, with finely detailed paintings of the “scourged savior,” showing scenes of Christ’s suffering and redemption. Religious or not, one could hardly ignore the craftsmanship and beauty of the church’s interior.

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We finished the drive to Schwangau, a little mountain town near the Austrian border. The majestic Alps dominated the view from the deck of our perfectly perched hotel room. It seemed mellow at the hotel and the town felt empty, but as soon as we tried to go out for dinner we were shut down left and right. We ended up at the bar in a tiny Italian restaurant, which was not exactly what we were looking for. After dinner, we explored a little city park near the hotel, where we could see two castles in the mountains: Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, our destinations for tomorrow.

Can you see them in the image below?

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Resources for Visitors:

Romantic Road

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Wieskirche

Pont du Gard

April 17, 2014.

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Click to view the photos from Nîmes and Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is a 2,000 year old Roman aqueduct that is a short bus ride from Nîmes. There are only a handful of buses heading there each day, so we boarded the early bus and arrived before the museum and shops had opened.

The aqueduct

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A quick walk brought us to the Pont du Gard. The sheer size of the structure was hard to comprehend. It was made of huge, golden blocks neatly stacked and formed into arches. Three stories of arches gracefully spanned the Gardon River. At the top, a narrow channel once permitted the flow of drinking water from one side of the river to the other.

We walked across the bridge and explored the trails on the other side. A sign pointed to a hillside viewpoint to the right, but dirt paths led off in all directions. We spent a good portion of the morning chasing trails, “finding” bits of stonework and ruins, and searching for secret viewpoints. Eventually, we made our way to a cute, little wildflower meadow that had an excellent view back to the Pont du Gard.

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One of the best parts of this impromptu exploration was that no one else had decided to go exploring, or so it seemed. We had our own private hiking trails for hours.

 After some creative scrambling we made it down to the river and hopped along the rocks to get a view of the underside of the aqueduct. We could hear lots of people on the deck above, but no one was down on the river. Again, it felt like our own special place. The river was running slowly and smoothly. Swallows flitted above our heads, diving in and out of the nests they’d built on the aqueduct. The giant structure provided welcome shade in the heat of the day.

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Back on the other bank of the river, we walked up to the fenced off upper portion of the Pont du Gard. We could clearly see the path that water used to flow thousands of years ago.

Museum

We made our way back to the main entrance and walked through the museum. It was overrun with groups of French schoolchildren, but we managed to weave our way through the exhibits that were not occupied. Although it was poorly lit and somewhat strangely designed, the museum had lots of informative and interesting exhibits that told the story of the ancient Romans. A combination of ancient artifacts, modern replicas, and historical photographs showed the Pont du Gard throughout time.

All the exhibits focused on one thing: water, and how to move it from one place to another. This reminded us that we were pretty darn thirsty, and hungry too. It was about lunchtime.

Picnic in the park

We grabbed some sandwiches and sodas from the cafe and ducked into the woods to get away from the crowds. We enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch, consuming the most un-American items we could find: baguette sandwiches, “Nature” chips, and a carbonated drink called Panach’.

Aaron took one sip of the aforementioned beverage and handed it to me, asking for a trade. As it turned out, Panach’ is made by Heineken, and contains a mixture of lemonade and beer. While I wouldn’t ever order it on purpose, it made a nice accompaniment to a warm spring picnic.

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A garden surprise

After lunch, we walked through the Mémoires de Garrigue, a Mediterranean garden located in the park near the Pont du Gard. A signed route led us through the many pathways in the garden. Here, I really wished my French was better. There were something like eighty stations scattered throughout the park, offering historical photos and facts at every station. I could tell that the signs told a story of the people in times past, and how the land was used to support the community. We made our best guesses about the stories on each sign, using help from Google Translate and the context of each sign. We learned frequently used words such as hill (colline), abri (shelter), manure (fumier) and récolte (harvest). It felt somewhat like a scavenger hunt. Again, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

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Visiting the Pont du Gard and surrounding trails and gardens was one of the highlights of the entire trip. It had it all: natural beauty that begged for exploration, incredible architecture, and educational exhibits that added depth and background to everything we saw. While the Pont du Gard was not on my to-do list heading out to France, I can’t imagine doing this trip without making the effort to visit this site. Sometimes last-minute plans turn out to be treasures.

Resources for visitors

Mémoires de Garrigue
Pont du Gard

City walk: Nîmes, France

April 16, 2014.

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Click to view the photos from Nîmes and Pont du Gard

When we were planning this trip, I really had no idea what I wanted to see or where I wanted to go in France. I asked a more experienced travel buddy where I should go and she mentioned Nîmes. As I did my trip research, I found the city of Nîmes to be somewhat elusive; it’s not in the France travel guide from Rick Steves, and no one else I’d spoken to had really heard of it. All these  were omens that spoke to me : “I really want to go there.”

Nîmes has a rich history. It was an important city in the first few centuries AD, under Roman rule. The Romans constructed an array of impressive buildings, some of which remain in really good shape today. Nîmes is much smaller than Lyon or Paris, so it is perfect for exploring by foot. The city also provides quick access to the Pont du Gard, which I’ll cover in another blog post.

Les Arenès de Nîmes

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Right in the center of town, we found the big arena. This was a great starting point for our travel back in time to the ancient Roman era. There is a self-guided audio tour provided to visitors, so we walked at our own pace as we learned about the long and twisted history of the arena. The arena was used for entertainment purposes, which often involved lots of blood and death. Over centuries, the events changed from animal hunts, prisoner executions, gladiator fights, and bullfights. We learned all we ever wanted to learn (and more) about the various types of gladiators and battles. We were so inspired by our visit that we watched the movie “Gladiator” on our train ride from Nîmes  to Frankfurt.

Jardins de la Fontaine

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These sprawling, carefully designed gardens served as a backdrop to our take-out kebab lunch. There were palm trees, pools, fountains, lawns and flower beds. Children were taking pony rides, school groups were playing, people were out strolling and generally enjoying the sunshine. It was a beautiful place to just hang out.

The original centerpiece was a natural spring used as a foundation for the first Roman settlement. Today, the spring bubbles up into a stone pool connected to other channels and pools leading out of the garden. The modern structures were designed and built in the 18th century. Back home, we’re lucky to have a couple of old, rickety park benches along the edge of a lawn of grass. I think we could learn a thing or two from the city planners in Nîmes.

Temple de Diane

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Within the Jardins stood the remains of a temple. To this day, the purpose of the temple remains a mystery. It stood behind a metal fence with a French interpretive sign. It was interesting to walk in and around it, noting the centuries of graffiti and little flowering plants poking through every crack they could.

La Tour Magne

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The only reason to visit this tower is to enjoy the view from the top. The tower itself is nothing special, apart from the fact that it’s about two thousand years old. It was originally built as part of the town’s defense system. We showed our entrance ticket and walked up the tall, spiral staircase to the viewing platform nearly 60 feet above the ground. It feels much higher on top, since the tower was built on a hill overlooking the city. From there, we had an excellent view of the arena and central boulevard as well as all the rooftops of the city. The platform was pretty small, however, so as soon as another group came up we had to leave.

Maison Carée

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We saved the Maison Carée for last. From the outside, this is an impressive structure. It gleamed bright white in the sunshine. Its tall columns erupted out of the earth. Its clean lines and stout structure made it look like it was just completed yesterday. A huge courtyard set it apart from the busy streets and modern architecture all around it. It was magnificent to behold.

When we went to go inside, we were told that a movie played roughly every half hour, so we’d have to wait for the next showing. As we entered, we noticed that the place was completely modernized, containing a small theater for watching the movie and nothing else. The movie itself was not worth waiting for. The only reason it was remotely interesting was that we’d already visited many of the places featured in the film and had some sense of the history and locations. It would have been a terrible way to start our tour of the city.

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On top of all the sightseeing, we had some incredible food in the restaurants and from the street vendors. I loved the smaller feel of Nîmes, the clash of modern and ancient architecture, the friendly locals and the comfortable climate. I had no idea that my visit to Nîmes was just about to get even better with a visit to the Pont du Gard…

Resources for travelers

Amphitheater of Nîmes, Maison Carée Tour Magne
Finding Nemo in Nîmes (Rick Steves)
Pont du Gard

City walk: Lyon, France

April 14-15, 2014.

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Click to view the photos from Lyon

We took the train south from Paris to Lyon, one of France’s largest urban centers. Lyon is also famed for its cuisine and ancient Roman ruins. With a day and a half to spend, we had a lot of ground to cover. The first afternoon took us to the park. On the second day, we visited 2 cathedrals and the Gallo-Roman museum, then explored the traboules, stairways and side streets of the old city before finishing up with a traditional bouchon meal.

Parc de la Tête d’Or

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Lyon made a tremendous first impression on us with this sprawling, magnificent park. The park is divided into several sections, and includes a lake, walking paths, rose gardens, greenhouses sports fields, and a zoo. Everything was free, including the zoo, so we began with a relaxing stroll to see the animals. For the next several hours, we explored the park. Along the way we found a war monument, a Mediterranean garden, a urban beekeeping display (including some very busy hives), families of geese, and a huge iron gate. It was a lovely park with something for everyone.

Cathedral of Lyon and Notre Dame de Fourvière

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Surprisingly, we hadn’t gotten enough of being in churches yet, so we visited a couple more. The Cathedral of Lyon, or Saint Jean-Baptiste Cathedral, was located near a small square in Vieux (Old) Lyon. It was hard to believe that this structure was built in the 14h century. It’s sturdy walls, built in the Gothic style, had a stern presence over the square. We timidly opened the huge doors to take a peek inside. The interior was beautiful, with stained glass and flickering candles playing with light and shadows. Carefully carved stone highlighted an acute attention to detail. Downstairs, a treasury held many priceless artifacts from the church’s past, including gold ornaments, robes, and items used to celebrate mass. It all felt very lavish.

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A short but steep walk up the hill took us to the Notre Dame. It seemed like every city had one of these churches dedicated to Mary. It was very windy on top of the hill so we were happy to duck inside. The interior was grand, with spectacular mosaics decorating the walls. Gold sparkled from every corner of the walls. Every square inch of the place was ornately adorned, including the ceiling. Rule #1 for traveling in Europe: never miss the opportunity to visit a church. Each one was spectacular in their own right. We spent what felt like hours investigating every corner of the magnificent building.

Roman Theaters and Museum

One of the most modern buildings in Lyon stood in stark contrast to one of the oldest. The Gallo-Roman museum, built seamlessly into a hillside, was a stone’s throw away from a rare pair of ancient Roman theaters. The museum contained artifacts uncovered in Lyon and surrounding areas, like statues, grave markers, lead pipes, pottery, and mosaic tile floors. For a measly 4 Euro, we had access to the entire collection. A friendly woman at the front desk set us up with free English audioguides and we were on our way.

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After exploring the museum, we walked around the remains of the theaters. The lower portions were in really good shape, and were still apparently being used for festivals and shows. The upper portions were more wild and rugged and interesting. Our feet were pretty tired from this point, so we cut our explorations short and headed back into town.

Traboule-hunting

All over Lyon, there are secret passageways snaking through the old buildings. These passageways are called traboules. I’d read about them in Rick Steves’ book so we thought we’d try and find a few.

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Most of the traboules were private, but a few were open to the public. Shiny plaques hung on the walls in front of some of the more prominent traboules. We pulled open a few doors near these plaques to investigate what traboules looked like. As we expected, they were like private hallways leading to interior entrances to apartments, stairways and businesses. Some were colorful, well lit and decorated. Others were dark and narrow. Some were open to the sky above, and others were totally enclosed. We popped in and out of a few of these, and an old French woman motioned for us to follow her into another one. We did, and then sort of followed her around town, watching her every move, to find more traboules. She appeared to have a map in her hand, like she was looking for treasure. We hadn’t done much research, so we were happy to have a little guidance along the way.

Eating in Lyon

Our first experience of eating in Lyon fortunately did not set the tone for the rest of our stay here. I’d read about the food scene in the city, and its famed bouchons. These were small, traditional, family-run eateries that offered lots of simple and hearty dishes for a reasonable price. I happened to notice that our hotel was pretty close to Chez Georges, which was very well regarded on the travel websites I’d visited. We walked in a little after noon, and were greeted in French. “No, we do not have a reservation,” I stuttered as best I could, and was afraid we’d be turned away. But, we were seated at a long, communal table (no one else was seated there) and left to think about what jerks we were for coming in off the street.

I struggled to read the daily specials board, not because it was in French, but because the the writing was illegible and chalk was half smudged off. When the waiter came back to ask what we’d like, I asked for water and 2 daily specials. Any follow-up questions he asked me were followed up with shoulder shrugs and Je ne comprends pas. I think I was starting to sweat.

Eventually, we were brought a couple of dishes in succession. They were delicious, and we enjoyed them, but I felt we were missing out on something. Everyone else in the restaurant was brought out these communal steaming casseroles to try. I vaguely remembered reading about the shared-dish concept online, and regretted that I had no way to ask if we could have some of what were they having. Total French fail.

Although our waiter was very nice, he spoke very quickly to my slow French ears and I felt awful that I was completely paralyzed and unable to talk back. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and never wanted to embarrass myself like that again. Fortunately, Aaron’s the type of guy that just rolls with the punches, and assured me that I was much less of an ass than I felt I was.

Our last meal in Lyon was the complete opposite. After walking down a street in the old city, reading menu boards outside a few bouchons, the proprietor of one restaurant poked his head outside and said Bon soir! Entrez! or something to that effect. We shook our head and kept walking, when suddenly Aaron decided he wanted to go back there.

When we walked in, there was one family eating dinner in the corner. The other few tables were empty. He sat us down, gave us the menu and greeted us again in French. He had a kind face and a nice smile and we immediately felt comfortable there. I squeaked out a few basic French phrases and pleasantries, ordered our meals, and was feeling quite proud of myself. When the waiter came back, I realized I’d mistakenly ordered not a glass of wine, but an entire bottle. For me. Aaron doesn’t drink.

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Working quickly to down a couple glasses of wine, I was thrilled when the first course came out. We had a delicious Lyonnaise salad and some sausage-in-bread thing to get us started. Then, we received the main course: a quenelle for me and a huge sausage for Aaron. An iron skillet full of roasted potatoes was our shared side dish. It was all delicious. The waiter patiently and slowly explained to me that the quenelle recipe is traditional, not like those trendy huge ones the touristy restaurants have, and asked us how the food was. He then indicated that it was cash only, and I was grateful that I’d taken enough Euro in my purse that day, or we’d still be doing dishes right now.

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Overall, Lyon was a lovely town to see on foot. There were more than enough sights to see in the couple days we had, and if we’d had more time, plenty of shopping to do. There were excellent restaurants and food vendors on every street corner, although we often felt overwhelmed by choice. My lesson: make reservations if you want to show up to a well-known establishment, and forgodssake learn how to order like the locals do.

Resources for travelers

La Cathedral Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon
Lyon’s Traboules
Notre Dame de Fourvière
Roman Theaters of Fourvière

Paris in the Springtime, Part 2

April 9-14, 2014.

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 Click to view the entire album from Paris.

The story picks up on Paris’ Left Bank. Heading south from Notre Dame, we walked clear across the Latin Quarter to stand in line at the entrance to the Catacombs. It was lunch hour, and we hadn’t eaten yet, but we were committed to getting into this place. The pictures were compelling. Plus, it was so hot in the sun, spending some time in a cool cave sounded like just the thing.

The Catacombs

An hour after we got in line, at last it was our turn to descend into the tunnel. We picked up a couple of audioguides and went down. Sixty feet below the city, we entered a network of tunnels. Originally a huge limestone quarry, the tunnels now house the bones of millions of Parisians. In the 18th and 19th century, Paris saw the closure of several cemeteries in an effort to improve public health. The bones were dug up and moved to their present home in the Catacombs.

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Along the tunnels there were several sayings, poems, and quotes written or carved on the walls. Simple markers indicated which cemetery the surrounding piles of bones came from. The bones were arranged in neat patterns, with the knobby ends of femurs forming walls on either side of the tunnels. Rows of carefully laid skulls added complexity to the simple pattern. The less aesthetic bones and other bits must have been buried in the deeper layers of the piles, out of view. In all, we covered over one mile of walking underground.

Besides the bones, there were a few other unique features. My favorite were the 18th centure carvings created by a quarryman in his spare time. The buildings were replicas of actual places he’d been, which is especially incredible considering iPhones weren’t invented at that time, so they were carved from memory.

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The experience was made much richer with the help of the audioguide. Since we couldn’t read much of the French, we would have pretty much wasted our time if we hadn’t had the guides to listen to.

Jardin du Luxembourg

Emerging from the darkness, famished, we jetted over to the first lunch place we could find and devoured some crepes and cider. We took the scenic walk back to the apartment, detouring through the Jardin du Luxembourg.

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Now, this was a park. A map at the entrance detailed all the different sections and what you could do there: playgrounds for kids, bocce ball for old men, sitting areas, fountains, gardens, and of course, snack stands. There were symbols designating which grass was off limits and which was ok to trample. The park was filled with people, each enjoying the outdoors in their own way. We wandered through the paths, trying to stay in the shade, until we got our fill. If I was staying longer in Paris, this would be a favorite destination on a lazy, sunny afternoon.

Panthéon

The Panthéon was another of France’s National Monuments that seemed worthy of a visit. It was kind of on our way home anyways. The dome was under construction, but even so, it had captured our attention early in the trip.

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The outside of the structure was impressive, with its grand staircase and huge columns, but the inside was ten times more amazing. I felt really small once I stepped through the door. Built in the Neoclassical style, the Panthéon is shaped like a cross with a massive dome on top. The building stood over 270 feet tall. Gargantuan paintings filled up the walls, bold tile patterns decorated the floor, and detailed stone carvings commanded attention in each room. Click to view a 360° view of the interior.

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Plaques recalled a time when the Panthéon served as a place for an important experiment: demonstrating the rotation of the Earth by hanging a pendulum from the top of the central dome. Foucault’s Pendulum has since been removed to a museum and a replica was installed here. But, not today, since the dome was under construction.

Lastly, we descended into the crypt beneath the main building. Here lay the bodies of many historical French figures, including Marie and PIerre Curie, Victor Hugo, Louis Braille and Voltaire. Many confusing hallways led from one tomb to the next. Some had fresh flowers or other gifts, some were gated shut, and some had descriptive signage explaining what the person had accomplished to earn their place in the Panthéon.

Louvre

The next morning, we headed straight for the Louvre. It was a short walk from the apartment, so we arrived before it opened and got in line. The queue standing outside the famous glass pyramid turned out not to be a ticket line, but a security checkpoint allowing us the privilege to go buy tickets. Once we descended into the main atrium, all hell broke loose, with people walking in every which direction and speaking every language known to man. We looked around the confusion until my eyes settled upon a ticket machine. Once we got tickets, we had our choice of several wings to enter. I headed straight for the one with the least people milling around. Whew, we were in.

We started exploring a wing of the museum dedicated to the history of the Louvre. We were mostly alone, looking at old pictures, floor plans, and details of renovations of the building over time. It was fascinating, but not a major draw for tourists. After that, we explored some of the more popular exhibits: Greek Antiquities, European paintings, Asian art. The halls were packed with loud and pushy tourists, all on their cellphones and iPads, shoving in front of me to take a picture of whatever I was looking at, then take off a second later. Was anyone actually looking at anything? I thought, perhaps not. I kept my phone in my bag and instead tried to enjoy the art and artifacts displayed in the museum.

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What was maybe more impressive was the museum building itself. Looking up, I saw intricate paintings, decorative wood and stone work, and lavishly decorated rooms. Looking out the windows, views of the building exterior, glass pyramids, fountains, and gardens presented themselves. The Louvre was an extraordinary place, if you only took the time to look.

One Last Surprise

Later that evening, after walking past the Eiffel Tower, its pulsating mob of tourists and sketchy street folk hawking souvenirs, after a late dinner, and after exhausting our feet with walking, we conjured up enough energy to re-visit the Eiffel Tower after dark.

Paris was a great walking town at night. It was cool but not cold, and bright lights illuminated all the monuments, fountains, churches and statues throughout the city. We wandered towards the tower, admiring its familiar shape jutting over the Paris skyline.

But suddenly, we stopped in our tracks. When the clock hit 10pm, a dazzling light show began. Each light twinkled fast and furious, the entire structure glistening in the night sky. We rushed to find a clearer viewpoint and take some photos. This was an event to remember. The lights flashed on and off for several minutes before settling back to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. The picture does not do it justice; this must be experienced first hand.

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The next couple of days were mostly consumed with MovNat training, which was awesome in its own right.

And my favorite moment in Paris? That Sunday morning when I woke up early to get to my training class by foot. Jogging along the Seine with not another soul in sight, watching the boats floating in the river, breathing in the cool air, feeling the cobblestone under my feet. It was perfect.

Resources for Visitors:

Eiffel Tower
Jardin du Luxembourg
Les Catacombes
Louvre Museum
Pantheon

Paris in the Springtime, Part 1

April 9-14. 2014.

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Click to view the entire album from Paris.

Five days in Paris is not enough to see the city, but Aaron and I did our best to see the major sights without too much rushing around. We managed to get around the city on foot 95% of the time, with just a few Metro rides to help save some time and to save our sore feet. My travel to Paris served two purposes: to attend a certification workshop for MovNat, and to visit the city as a tourist. I’ll describe the tourist portion of the trip here, with a detailed description of my workshop experience on JessBFit.com.

AirBnB Apartment Rental

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Hotel rooms in Paris are microscopic and expensive. A little searching on the web brought us to AirBnB, a site that allows property owners to rent rooms, apartments and homes around the world for short periods of time. We rented a 5th floor apartment on the Place des Innocents, right in the heart of Paris’ Right Bank. From there, we could get anywhere we needed to go. In a 20 minute walking radius, we had the Louvre, Notre Dame, Jardin des Tuileries, and the Latin Quarter. Plus hundreds of restaurants, cafés, stunning churches, beautiful fountains and many small parks. All that convenience also meant there were always lots of people around and they were up partying well until the wee hours of the morning. It’s a good  thing we tuckered ourselves out during the day so we could sleep soundly at night.

 Champs Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe

What better way to see a new city than to walk its streets? After settling into the apartment, we headed back down to the main square and began walking towards the Louvre. Although it wasn’t on our to-do list today, we thought it might be nice to check it out and to see just how crazy of a wait it would be to get in. Our observation: insane. We took a look at the line and continued walking.

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 Our journey took us next through the Tuileries Garden, where perfectly trimmed trees, colorful flower gardens, and huge statues existed in harmony. The park was buzzing with Parisians having a chat, a coffee, a stroll or a smoke. Ah yes, smoking. I’d forgotten that that was a thing, having no friends who smoke, and having smoking banned pretty much everywhere in the US. It was a bit of culture shock to be sucking in cigarette smoke constantly, especially in parks and sidewalk cafés.

Undeterred, we continued our walk past an obelisk and out to the famed Champs Élysées.  The sidewalks were very wide and they were packed with people carrying shopping bags from the many stores lining the strip. I was feeling a bit like one tiny swimmer in a pulsating school of fish. But we were determined to follow the street to its end at the Arc de Triomphe. I had an insider tip that the view from the top was the best in Paris and there wouldn’t be a line of people waiting. I was sold.

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 Sure enough, there were lots of people walking around the bottom of the monument, but not too many coughing up the 9.50 Euro to go inside. We did, and were pleased to find excellent views of the city from the top. The nice weather was the cherry on top. We took our time getting various angles from various perches atop the Arc. One side was under construction and covered with scaffolding, which was par for the course for nearly every architectural landmark in Paris.

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 We looped back to the apartment via Rue St. Honoré, which was quieter and more pleasant than the Champs Élysées. My feet were tired. It had been a long day of walking after a long night of flying. We were happy to have a kitchen so we could make a relaxing dinner at home before turning in. The party outside had just begun.

 Finding Sainte Chapelle

The next morning, we knew we had a jam-packed agenda so we got an early start. Today we’d visit Île de la Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine, then cross over to the Left Bank. Before we could do either of those things we were distracted by shiny objects in the distance. It was a pedestrian footbridge covered, deck to railing, with thousands of padlocks. There is a fairly recent tradition that couples will attach a lock to a bridge, then throw the key away in the river as a symbol of their undying love for each other. It sounds pretty tacky, but the colorful glimmer coming from the huge mass of locks is quite a sight to see. In a city where everything is centuries old, the padlocks are almost like a piece of modern art.

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 Okay, one distraction down. Next I had a mission to visit the tiny park on the tip of Île de la Cité, near the Pont Neuf Bridge. A fellow Corvallis French Club member had told me it was his favorite spot in Paris. I had to go.

We found a narrow set of stairs leading down to the park from the bridge that brought us to the park. It was beautiful, freshly watered and cleaned, with several pretty trees and plants lining the fences. With the river flowing lazily by in the background, it was a treat for the eyes. But not for the nose. It smelled like urine and boat exhaust. Plus I’m sure someone was smoking on the lower level. We hung out as long as we could stand it, then headed out towards Notre Dame.

Along the way, we happened to see signs for Sainte Chapelle. Sure, Sainte Chapelle wasn’t on our short list at first. But we’d seen some photos of its stained glass windows while visiting the Arc de Triomphe and became very interested to see it in person. We took a detour.

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 There was a great deal of construction happening here, but it did not detract from the incredible beauty of the place. Stained glass windows from the 13th century extend 50 feet high, sending beams of brightly colored light into the upper chapel. Every inch of the interior was decorated with paint, meticulously carved stonework, and colored glass. The level of detail was mind-blowing. Sometimes those places that you discover along the way bring the most joy. Score another point for taking a walking tour.

Notre Dame Cathedral

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 Before taking off for the Left Bank, we had to at least see the outside of Notre Dame. To contrast the two, Sainte Chapelle was like the slender, agile kicker, and Notre Dame was like the solid, defensive lineman. Notre Dame takes up space. From the outside, it looks gigantic and somehow it seems to be bigger once you go inside. The ceiling is so high it seems to reach into the heavens. What supports the weight is beyond my understanding of architecture, because the interior is so spacious, the whole thing appears to be supported by puppet strings.

Despite the “Silence” signs all over the cathedral, it boomed with sound inside. Hundreds of visitors were talking, banging sticks together (?) and generally making a ruckus. Visitation skyrockets when the entry fee is zero. At the back of the cathedral, sounds from a choir practice attempted to cut through the noise. There was something about listening to singing inside a huge cathedral that took my breath away.

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 Nonetheless, we took our time walking through all the parts of the cathedral, admiring the windows, sculptures, painted patterns on the wall, and all the little details that made the building memorable. The delicate decorations contrasted with the simple, unblemished brick walls, columns and arches. The design allowed you to focus on the stories told in the vivid imagery plastered throughout the building.

Eventually the crowds really got to me and I had to get out of there. We admired some views back at the cathedral from afar before finishing our river crossing and exploring the Latin Quarter.

Resources for Visitors:

Arc de Triomphe (official site)
Champs Élysées
La Sainte Chapelle
Sainte-Chapelle (official site)

Silver Falls: Trail of Ten Falls

March 21, 2014.

8.7 miles | 1300′ ele. gain | 4 hrs.

Today was my first hike lead for the Mazamas. Since my home base was Corvallis and the Mazamas are headquartered in Portland, I chose something convenient to both: Silver Falls.

I was happy to have some of my Corvallis friends join me for this trip, plus a few people I’d never met before. One of the regular Mazama leaders came along to oversee my leadership skills, too.

The Trail of Ten Falls is pretty beginner-friendly, plus you get to see 10 waterfalls in less than 10 miles. It’s a must-see hike for anyone in Oregon.

It was cool and overcast. Some folks were in down jackets, others in shorts. We ambled along the trail, stopping at every viewpoint. All the falls were running pretty high. Winter and spring are the best seasons for visiting this park.

We’d get periodic sun breaks while walking in the canyon. A nice change from feeling smothered in the trees.

All went according to plan. It was a smooth and easy first lead on record. I’ve been in charge of groups before, but never with someone looking over my shoulder. I was glad to have had a pretty uneventful first run at it. From here, who knows what’s next? Perhaps something a little more challenging, or perhaps not. I enjoy sharing the outdoors with people who don’t get out much on their own. I can only hope to spark an interest or capture someone’s imagination to go further, climb higher and explore more obscure places in the future.

Thanksgiving at Maiden Peak, 2013

November 27- 30, 2013.

Gold Lake Shelter | Maiden Peak Cabin | Maiden Peak

Photos from the trip are on Google Plus

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I anxiously watched the weather forecast and snow levels for weeks. It had been an unusually dry and sunny fall. As much as I enjoyed the blue skies and cold, starry nights in Corvallis, I worried that my annual Thanksgiving snowshoe trip wouldn’t require snowshoes. Snow or no, I was going to embark on my pilgrimage as scheduled and Aaron was coming with me. We drove out of town after a hearty dinner on Wednesday night.

By the light of our headlamps

The trek began from the Gold Lake Sno-Park, which was completely empty. We trotted across highway 58 to begin the 2 mile road walk to the snow shelter at Gold Lake Campground. The gravel road surface was apparent, with little patches of snow and ice covering up small bits. We inched along, and I felt every ounce of pack weight on my back. See, in order to make sure my hiking partners want to go hiking with me again, I feed them very well. And since Thanksgiving was tomorrow, I filled up my pack with all the traditional Turkey Day accompaniments, plus the heaviest pie I’ve ever seen.

Although the road follows a mellow, declining grade the entire way to the shelter, it felt like an arduous uphill walk. I obviously hadn’t carried that much weight in a long time. I was thrilled to catch sight of the campground sign, meaning we were just a hop, skip and a jump away from the shelter.

As expected, the shelter was empty. We built a fire, unpacked, and hung out for a bit before calling it a night. A chilly, chilly, night.

Turkey day

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The next morning began with a warm fire, an oatmeal breakfast, and a casual start to the hike. We strapped our snowshoes to our packs and walked through the depressingly intermittent snowpack up to the cabin. The trail surface ranged from frictionless ice to hard snow to bare dirt. As we trudged uphill, we stopped to identify the occasional animal track left behind in the snow. Some big cat had walked here before us. Deer, rabbits, and other small critters had also traipsed through the forest.

We crossed Skyline Creek on a narrow log, then continued up the trail. Here we found clear snowshoe tracks, left some indeterminate time before. They looked fresh, so we mentally prepared for having to share our space in the cabin with another party.

A short, two hour hike brought us right to the Maiden Peak Cabin. Boy, was I happy to throw my pack off. The cabin was just as I’d remembered, but much less wood was cut and stocked for this year’s trip. The old log book was gone and replaced with a new one just last month, so there were only a few entries to read. The last group had left behind a pot encrusted with some sort of bean soup. It was pretty icky.

We sat outside on some uncut logs and ate lunch in the bright, warm, sunshine. It was cold inside the cabin. Aaron stepped away to split wood for the fireplace and I sat outside doing crossword puzzles until the sun sunk down below the trees for good. Now we just had to twiddle our thumbs until dinnertime.

Each year, there’s a new twist on the Thanksgiving meal. For dinner, all the usual suspects were there. But for dessert, there was a fabulous surprise. The main course consisted of:

  • roasted turkey and gravy
  • garlic butter mashed potatoes
  • black olives
  • cranberry sauce, two ways
  • toasted baguette and butter
  • meat stuffing
  • mixed carrots and peas
  • bread stuffing
  • and for me, a can of Two Towns hard cider
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Using both the hot woodstove and my camp stove, I quickly reheated all the meal components and we sat down to dinner. It was typical in that there was way too much food and we ate until our bellies were creaking and splitting at the seams. Aaahhh. But wait, we haven’t had dessert yet…

After dinner settled down a bit, I pulled out the ice cream ball and ice cream-making supplies: cream, sugar, and vanilla. I poured these ingredients into the chamber in the ice cream ball and sealed it tight. Then, we packed the other side full of snow and rock salt, then proceeded to kick the ice cream ball back and forth on the floor, soccer ball style, for the next 20 minutes. At the end, we had freshly made vanilla ice cream to put on top of the berry pie we’d been eyeing for days.

Summit day

The next morning, somehow, we still had room for a big breakfast. I laid out the morning’s feast and put a game plan to get everything cooked and warm at the same time for a nice meal. I put the two house skillets on the wood stove to heat up as Aaron scrambled the eggs and I read the directions on the carton of dehydrated hash browns we found in the cabin free-for-all bucket. I put butter in each of the pans, one for eggs and one for potatoes—just then remembering I had packed in bacon for breakfast, too. And so, butter-fried bacon was born.

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We gorged on eggs, hash browns, buttery bacon, and warm pie.  It was delicious.

The weather outside looked delightfully bright and clear. I was excited to continue the tradition of hiking to the summit of Maiden Peak post-Thanksgiving day. Aaron and I repacked for the 6-mile dayhike, knowing we had plenty of time to get up and down the mountain by the early afternoon.

We headed out on snowshoes today, mostly because they offered some traction on the hard snow and slick ice. Previous human tracks made route-finding easy; this was the first year there was any hint of human presence before my arrival. Aaron led the way as we walked through the trees up the gentle grade of the snowy trail. Soon we were again treated to numerous animal tracks imprinted into the snow. We found what looked like wolverine tracks that were as big as Aaron’s hand. For years I’d seen the wolverine sign in the cabin thinking, yeah, whatever, wolverines… But these tracks were like nothing I’d seen before. We took a ton of pictures, then wandered back to the trail.

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We walked nearly non-stop until we reached the summit. That big, hearty breakfast offered a nice mix of slow-burn and fast-burn fuel to maintain our energy for the two hour uphill snowshoe. Although we lost the trail in the trees nearing the top, we picked it up again past the false summit. We followed the trail as it contoured along the north side of the conical mountain and doubled back towards the highpoint. Beautifully windswept snow decorated the mountaintop. At the summit, bare ground peeked out in places. I’d never seen Maiden Peak with this little snow on top!

We dallied here for over an hour, taking pictures, eating lunch, and wandering around the summit area. Lunch involved a variation on the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving-turkey-sandwich: crackers spread with cream cheese, whole berry cranberry sauce, and slivers of cold turkey. We were really slumming it on this trip.

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The bare ground revealed signs of an old lookout tower and a USGS benchmark. Views extended to Diamond Peak, Thielsen and Bailey to the south and the Sisters, Bachelor, Broken Top and Jefferson to the north. The longer we stayed, the more ominous the gray clouds appeared over the north central Cascades. Weather appeared to be moving in for the night. Click to see a 360 degree photosphere taken from the summit.

We walked back to the cabin, where we spent another relaxing evening eating lots of food and playing games. A light drizzle fell as the night pressed on, and we went to sleep hoping to see fresh snow in the morning.

That’s all, folks!

Instead of fresh snow, we awoke to clear, blue skies and a pretty sunrise over some fleeting, low clouds. Breakfast consisted of hot cornmeal mush with coconut milk, dried apricots and mixed nuts, plus bagels toasted in bacon grease and butter, then spread with cream cheese. I could barely get it all down. After breakfast, we packed up all our gear and kept waiting for the rain clouds to move in. They never came. We swept and cleaned up the cabin, leaving it in better shape than we found it. Another stay had come to an end and it was time to haul the last 5 miles out.

Miraculously, the weather held, and we enjoyed a sunny but brisk morning walk. Once we reached Gold Lake road, the snow was all but gone. It was ugly and brown, and much unlike any other road, it went uphill in both directions. While the road walk felt uphill on the hike in, it was actually uphill on the walk out. Ugh.

But the final slog was broken up with beautiful ice formations created by the freezing and thawing of puddles on the road. As we walked, we stopped frequently to observe and admire the unique shapes and structures created by the ice. Pointy stars, long struts, arching walls, and delicate crystals created striking patterns in the frozen puddles. It was like walking through a natural art museum.

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We hadn’t encountered another visitor in the entire trip, making two years in a row of solitude at the cabin. And while I’ve seen the same, exact trails on roughly the same dates for five years in a row, each year has proved to be a distinctively special trip. I can only guess what excitement and adventure awaits me next year.

Ghosts of Thanksgiving past: 20122011 | 2010 | 2009