Minnesota (Mid-July through Early August 2014)

I (Alison) haven’t spent more than a few days in Minnesota visiting family over the holidays or making a quick trip up to the cabin since college.  Ravi has only spent a handful of days in MN between work and visiting family with me.  This summer Ravi and I were lucky to spend about a month in total in my home state.  We lounged like champions at the cabin, paddled our way through the lakes in the BWCA, laughed with family, caught up on the latest TV, cooked delicious meals, enjoyed leisurely runs, read, and played with the dogs.  Initially when we planned our trip (sabbatical/early retirement) we didn’t expect to spend very much time out East or in Minnesota, we thought we would spend most of the time out west.  Not being tied to a strict schedule and being open to the opportunities came our way we changed our plans.  One of the best gifts we’ve given ourselves is the time to spend with family and slowing down.

We did a lot of this at the Cabin. Hanging out with Tom.
We did a lot of this at the Cabin. Hanging out with Tom.
Spike enjoying the pontoon boat.
Spike enjoying the pontoon boat.
One of our many vegan, gluten free, veggie pizzas.  We took advantage of having an oven.
One of our many vegan, gluten free, veggie pizzas. We took advantage of having an oven.
Family get together in Balaton (the girls)!  We were so lucky to hang out with my cousins, their kids, Grandma, and Aunt's and Uncle's in Balaton.  Lots of smiles, laughs, good times.
Family get together in Balaton (the girls)! We were so lucky to hang out with my cousins, their kids, Grandma, and Aunt’s and Uncle’s in Balaton. Lots of smiles, laughs, good times.
Duke and Spike hanging out at the lake, Lower Cullen.
Duke and Spike hanging out at the lake, Lower Cullen. Duke spent hours swimming trying to catch fish. It was pretty hilarious.

Family get together at the cabin and in Balaton, MN.

Family hanging out at the lake. Uncle Mike, Aunt Julie, Cousin Dustin, and Chelsea.
Family hanging out at the lake. Uncle Mike, Aunt Julie, Cousin Dustin, and Chelsea.
Uncle Mike and the newest addition to the family, Noah.
Uncle Mike and the newest addition to the family, Noah.
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Some of the ladies, laughing as usual.
The boys.
The boys.
Cousins. Annie and I used to build forts and tree houses, ride our bikes all over town, play video games all night, make time capsules, and laugh a lot. It was so fun to see her again. Her smiles, energy, and love for life and God haven't changed one bit.
Cousins. Annie and I used to build forts and tree houses, ride our bikes all over town, play video games all night, make time capsules, and laugh a lot. It was so fun to see her again. Her smiles, energy, and love for life and God haven’t changed one bit.
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Family! Dawn (cousin) and new mom to Noah, Mindy and Odessa, Grandma, Ravi.

We haven’t had the ability to really cook more involved meals on our Jet Boil or 2-burner propane stove so we took advantage of the oven and full kitchen at our cabin in Nisswa.  We aren’t gluten-free but we like gluten free pizza crust so we tried to perfect our gluten free, vegan pizzas.  I think we did a pretty good job if I do say so myself.  All I can say is Namaste Pizza Crust, broccoli, garlic, and olive oil.

Vegan veggie pizza.
Vegan veggie pizza.
Vegan Pizza again.
Vegan Pizza again.

We also grilled tofu and veggie shish kebab’s with nectarine salsa on the back porch at the cabin and ate outside as the sun set over the lake.

Corn salad.
Corn salad.
Veggie tofu shish kebabs.
Veggie tofu shish kebabs.
Mango Salsa.
Nectarine Salsa.
Dinner!
Dinner!

And to top it off I made my first attempt at cooking vegan cinnamon rolls.  They were almost too good!  I gave one to my almost 80-year old neighbor at the cabin who is a master cinnamon roll baker and she even approved. She couldn’t believe they didn’t have butter or eggs in them!

FIrst attempt at vegan cinnamon rolls.
First attempt at vegan cinnamon rolls.
Looks like dough. I was thinking making cinnamon rolls would take about an hour....little did I remember that dough has to rise!  Luckily Ravi decided to eat breakfast...and lunch before they were finished.  But they were worth it!
Looks like dough. I was thinking making cinnamon rolls would take about an hour….little did I remember that dough has to rise! Luckily Ravi decided to eat breakfast…and lunch before they were finished. But they were worth it!
These made the house smell yummy!
These made the house smell yummy!
The end product...delicious is an understatement.
The end product…delicious is an understatement.
Finished product. Tasted amazing. Thanks to http://whippedbaking.com/2012/09/03/ooey-gooey-vegan-cinnamon-rolls/
Finished product. Tasted amazing. Thanks to http://whippedbaking.com/2012/09/03/ooey-gooey-vegan-cinnamon-rolls/

Like I mentioned before, we lounged around a lot which is pretty much what you do up North.  We enjoyed evening boat rides, hanging out on the beach, and the couch.  We got a kick out of watching the dogs make themselves at home at the cabin too.  Yep, enjoying the simple life.

Duke getting comfortable at the cabin.  He put his head down right on the pillow and practically crawled into bed himself.
Duke getting comfortable at the cabin. He put his head down right on the pillow and practically crawled into bed himself.
Beer and pizza. I (Alison) biked along the Paul Bunyon trail and met Ravi and Mom afterward.  The server wasn't quite sure what Vegan was but she was very accommodating!
Beer and pizza. I (Alison) biked along the Paul Bunyon trail and met Ravi and Mom afterward. The server wasn’t quite sure what Vegan was but she was very accommodating!
Hitting the range with Tom.  Working on our swings at Grandview Lodge in Nisswa, MN.
Hitting the range with Tom. Working on our swings at Grandview Lodge in Nisswa, MN.
Duke liked the boat too.
Duke liked the boat too.
The usual evening happy hour boat cruise around the lake.
The usual evening happy hour boat cruise around the lake.
One of my favorite places on earth, the cabin in Nisswa, MN.
One of my favorite places on earth, the cabin in Nisswa, MN.
Ravi lounging at the cabin. This is the most comfortable couch with a beautiful view of the lake.  We spent hours here drinking coffee, reading, catching up on our TV, and just watching outside.
Ravi lounging at the cabin. This is the most comfortable couch with a beautiful view of the lake. We spent hours here drinking coffee, reading, catching up on our TV, and just watching outside.
Duke at the wheel.
Duke at the wheel.
Captain Alison driving the boat.
Captain Alison driving the boat.
The beach at the cabin. I started coming here when I was a baby.
The beach at the cabin. I started coming here when I was a baby.

We culminated our time in MN with a couple small town 5Ks.  In the later race, Du Sjodin, we both came in 2nd place in our age group AND we came away with a Jaegermeister bean bag toss from the post race raffle.   I have such a big place in my heart for Minnesota, my family, the cabin, and all the memories this special place has.   Very grateful to share it with Ravi (and the dogs!)  After MN we headed back out west…

Tom rallied and got up early to cheer us on at the Plaid 5K!  Thanks Tom!!!
Tom rallied and got up early to cheer us on at the Plaid 5K! Thanks Tom!!!
Mom hasn't cheered me on in a race for a long time!
Mom hasn’t cheered me on in a race for a long time!
Endorphins at the finish.
Endorphins at the finish.
Our 2nd place medals at Dru Sjodin race in Pequot Lakes, MN.
Our 2nd place medals at Dru Sjodin race in Pequot Lakes, MN.

Hiking the John Muir Trail: 18 Days of Blisters and Bliss

Alison and I finished an amazing and exhausting trek along the John Muir Trail. We covered over 230 miles from Yosemite National Park to the summit of Mt. Whitney (the highest point in the continental USA) and then down to the Whitney Portal Trailhead. You can read more about the John Muir Trail (JMT for short) here.

Along the way we met some other cool hikers, saw plenty of wildlife and took close to a thousand photos. The entire journey took 18 days and spanned 13 different valleys and countless mountain passes. Most of the hike was at high altitude. It was one of the biggest endurance efforts either of us have ever endured, and it was worth it. To give you an example of the intensity, I lost roughly 16 pounds (almost all fat from what I could tell) over 18 days of hiking, despite eating as much as I could every day.

Pictures do really speak a thousand words, so we’ll be brief with the text and lay heavy on the photos. Below we’ve posted about 150 of our “top” ones. Perhaps in another post we will go deeper into the gear we used and other details if folks want to hear about that.

Here we go!
Here we go!
Weighing our packs before the hike. Mine started at about 26 lbs with 3 days of food for both of us. Ravi's was about  25 lbs.  We had to hike with bear barrels so that added about 3 lbs each.
Weighing our packs before the hike. Mine started at about 26 lbs with 3 days of food for both of us. Ravi’s was about 25 lbs. We had to hike with bear barrels so that added about 3 lbs each.
Note the last row "via John Muir Trail."
Note the last row “via John Muir Trail.”
Half Dome in the background.  Day 1 of the hike.
Half Dome in the background. Day 1 of the hike.
Little Yosemite Valley.
Little Yosemite Valley.

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Yum. For delicious vegan backpacking food check out Outdoor Herbivore-AMAZING dehydrated camping meals.
Yum. For delicious vegan backpacking food check out Outdoor Herbivore-AMAZING dehydrated camping meals.

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Happy hikers.  Earlier in the hike it was much warmer during the day.
Happy hikers. Earlier in the hike it was much warmer during the day.

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Super smooth granite, it looked polished and made for a nice campsite.
Super smooth granite, it looked polished and made for a nice campsite.
Chillin out at Cathedral Lake.  We made it out of the valley a day before they closed the trail due to a raging forest fire.
Chillin out at Cathedral Lake. We made it out of the valley a day before they closed the trail due to a raging forest fire.
Common granite peaks in Yosemite.
Common granite peaks in Yosemite.

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My over priced, but "I had to have it" ultra light titanium mug.  And it's pink!
My over priced, but “I had to have it” ultra light titanium mug. And it’s pink!
Food pick up at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, our first resupply.  And a visit from a friendly ranger and his horse.
Food pick up at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite, our first resupply. And a visit from a friendly ranger and his horse.

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Yellow bellied marmot
Yellow bellied marmot
Wish we would have brought more of these tofu/seitan jerky strips.  They are amazing!
Wish we would have brought more of these tofu/seitan jerky strips. They are amazing!
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This forest fire closed the trail we just hiked the day before. Looking toward Cathedral Lakes from Donahue Pass. As we started the pass it was a very small plume, after an hour it had exploded into this. We were very glad to be on this side of the ridge heading south. Hikers heading north couldn’t finish the JMT because they ended up closing the trail.

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Thousand Island Lake
Thousand Island Lake
Pre dinner soup at Thousand Island Lake.  It didn't rain much, but we woke up to rain the night we camped here. Luckily it was brief and didn't soak everything.
Pre dinner soup at Thousand Island Lake. It didn’t rain much, but we woke up to rain the night we camped here. Luckily it was brief and didn’t soak everything.

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Nice choice for hiking through the Sierra's.
Nice choice for hiking through the Sierra’s.
Hanging out with other hikers at Red's Meadow resupply.
Hanging out with other hikers at Red’s Meadow resupply.
Where are we Ravi?  Oh we are right here at Red Meadow Resort, just outside of Mammoth Lakes.
Where are we Ravi? Oh we are right here at Red Meadow Resort, just outside of Mammoth Lakes.
Hiking through an old burn area near Red's Meadow and Devil's Post Pile National Monument.
Hiking through an old burn area near Red’s Meadow and Devil’s Post Pile National Monument.

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Happy hiker getting started.
Happy hiker getting started.

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We didn't see a lot of flowers as the wildflower season is earlier, but there were enough late bloomers that kept our eyes happy.
We didn’t see a lot of flowers as the wildflower season is earlier, but there were enough late bloomers that kept our eyes happy.

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Bald Eagle. Really look close, it's there.
Bald Eagle. Really look close, it’s there.
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Lots of switchbacks. This was a pretty easy section.

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Another pass complete.
Another pass complete.
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Chipmunks and squirrels chewed through these dense pine cones for the pine nuts. They are super heavy and those squirrels have their work cut out for them to eat them.

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Where is all the water?  The reservoir is depressingly low.
Where is all the water? The reservoir is depressingly low.
First beer at Vermillion Valley Resort is free for hikers.  VVR is a resupply point and we wanted to stay for the experience as we heard it was super backpacker friendly and all part of the experience. We were glad we made the stop.
First beer at Vermillion Valley Resort is free for hikers. VVR is a resupply point and we wanted to stay for the experience as we heard it was super backpacker friendly and all part of the experience. We were glad we made the stop.
We splurged and stayed in a yurt for a night at our resupply at Vermillion Valley Resort.  The shower, bed, and beer was lovely.
We splurged and stayed in a yurt for a night at our resupply at Vermillion Valley Resort. The shower, bed, and beer was lovely.
Boat ride in the reservoir. Sad to see how the drought has affected the water supply.  Made us want to conserve water even more when you see how low the water supply really is.
Boat ride in the reservoir. Sad to see how the drought has affected the water supply. Made us want to conserve water even more when you see how low the water supply really is.
After our stay at Vermillion Valley Resort, a resupply point. Usually this is a reservoir but the drought in CA has drained it to practically nothing.  This was the marker for where the boat pickup/dropoff is.  Over a mile into the lake.
After our stay at Vermillion Valley Resort, a resupply point. Usually this is a reservoir but the drought in CA has drained it to practically nothing. This was the marker for where the boat pickup/dropoff is. Over a mile into the lake.
We thought this was maybe a mountain lion print for a while. Then we realized it was just a really big, cute dog that we met later on the trail.
We thought this was maybe a mountain lion print for a while. Then we realized it was just a really big, cute dog that we met later on the trail.
Walking though an Aspen Grove.  Both Ravi and I (Alison) liked the forests, meadows, alpine lakes, and just below treeline.
Walking though an Aspen Grove. Both Ravi and I (Alison) liked the forests, meadows, alpine lakes, and just below treeline.
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The pools on Bear Creek were so inviting. I took a dip in this one.

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Typical morning routine, coffee while snuggling in our sleeping bags.  It was cold at night and warm during the day for most of the hike with the exception of the last few days.
Typical morning routine, coffee while snuggling in our sleeping bags. It was cold at night and warm during the day for most of the hike with the exception of the last few days.

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We resupplied and MTR and enjoyed an evening soak in the hot springs.
We resupplied and MTR and enjoyed an evening soak in the hot springs.

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We saw lots of deer throughout our hike.
We saw lots of deer throughout our hike.

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This shelter on Muir Pass was constructed in 1930 by the Sierra Club on a long stretch of exposed trail.
This shelter on Muir Pass was constructed in 1930 by the Sierra Club on a long stretch of exposed trail.
My feet hurt and I did a lot of this. Note the water is super cold! But it felt so good.
My feet hurt and I did a lot of this. Note the water is super cold! But it felt so good.
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Luckily Ravi escaped the rock monster!
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The colors of the meadows seemed almost surreal. Being surrounded by such beauty all the time is awe inspiring and brings a deep sense of gratitude and peace.
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View from hiking up the “Golden Staircase.” This was after our resupply at MTR with 9 days of food so our packs were super heavy (35 lbs). It was a long hike up.

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If you trail run or hike in dusty places these dirty girl gaitors are awesome. Also, get trekking poles they take so much impact off your legs. We both used them the whole trip.
If you trail run or hike in dusty places these dirty girl gaitors are awesome. Also, get trekking poles they take so much impact off your legs. We both used them the whole trip.

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We both used Granite Gear Crown V60 packs. We aren't totally ultra light yet but getting close and carrying much less weight than most of the people we met on the trail.
We both used Granite Gear Crown V60 packs. We aren’t totally ultra light yet but getting close and carrying much less weight than most of the people we met on the trail.
John Muir called the Sierras the Range of Light. You can see why...Morning and evening sun made the peaks sparkle with color.
John Muir called the Sierras the Range of Light. You can see why…Morning and evening sun made the peaks sparkle with color.
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Common scenery above treeline.
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Typical view hiking with Ravi.
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The JMT was constructed in the 1930’s and has been hiked by thousands since. The trail is well worn and late season the creek crossings are simple with well placed rocks so our feet stayed dry.

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Having soup after a dip in the super cold stream.  Another luxury item my pink titanium mug.
Having soup after a dip in the super cold stream. Another luxury item my pink titanium mug.
One of our new purchases for the trip-we used this for all our delicious meals. Boils water super fast, lightweight, and efficient.
One of our new purchases for the trip-we used this for all our delicious meals. Boils water super fast, lightweight, and efficient.
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At a pass, looking at the trail ahead.

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Fun suspension bridge.
Fun suspension bridge.

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Fin Dome
Fin Dome
Rae Lakes.
Rae Lakes.
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As we hiked further south the peaks got taller and more dramatic.
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Charging up and looking good. We loved our small solar charger to keep our camera powered up.

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View from Forester Pass.
View from Forester Pass.
One of many stunning meadows. Watching the deer hang out in the evening is better than TV!
One of many stunning meadows. Watching the deer hang out in the evening is better than TV!

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Picas.  These are Alison's Favorite.  They were in harvesting mode for the winter and we often saw them scurrying across the trail carrying a large bundle of grass in it's mouth.  They live at high elevations and actually don't hibernate during the winter and instead store up hay from the summer.
Picas. These are Alison’s Favorite. They were in harvesting mode for the winter and we often saw them scurrying across the trail carrying a large bundle of grass in it’s mouth. They live at high elevations and actually don’t hibernate during the winter and instead store up hay from the summer.
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Ravi on the switchbacks up to Mt. Whitney.
Whitney Pinnacles.
Whitney Pinnacles.
Just a little bit of snow on the summit.
Just a little bit of snow on the summit.
At the top.
At the top.

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Signing the summit register at Mt. Whitney.
Signing the summit register at Mt. Whitney.
We made it!
We made it!

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At the highest point in the US, Mount Whitney.
At the highest point in the US, Mount Whitney.
The Summit House on Mount Whitney.
The Summit House on Mount Whitney.
Yellow Bellied Marmot. We saw lots of these and we think they are adorable.
Yellow Bellied Marmot. We saw lots of these and we think they are adorable.
We hitch hiked from the Whitney Portal straight to pizza (vegan of course) and beer.
We hitch hiked from the Whitney Portal straight to pizza (vegan of course) and beer.
A much welcomed bed after our hike, Lone Pine, CA.
A much welcomed bed after our hike, Lone Pine, CA.
After the hike and back to city living.  Dinner with a friend near San Francisco.
After the hike and back to city living. Dinner with a friend near San Francisco.

 

Glacier National Park

We spent two days exploring Glacier National Park. As we are traveling with our children…I mean….dogs (duke and spike!)….we didn’t go on any major hikes since we needed to stay with them and dogs aren’t allowed on trails in National Parks.

However, we lucked out in that the weather was overcast and chilly the second day, so we could keep the pups in the car as we did a nice and short hike above Logan Pass to an alpine meadow full of flowers and wildlife (Mountain Goats, Bighorn Sheep, Marmots and Bunnies).

Glacier was amazing…it is like a younger version of Yosemite…with big granite and limestone mountains….rugged and eroding. I say “younger” since many of the mountains seem more rugged and more in the process of erosion than Yosemite, where stone faces seem more smoothed over. There were lots of animals and wildflowers…and some beautiful meadows and plenty of alpine lakes and backcountry trails.

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The Dakotas: Sioux Falls, Badlands, Wind Cave NP, Crazy Horse, Mt Rushmore, TR NP and More!

We were sad to leave Minnesota after almost three weeks of relaxation at Alison’s family cabin in lake country and our Boundary Waters Canoe Area adventure. However, we were also excited to start the journey our west and see some more national parks!

Our journey took us through South and North Dakota en route to Glacier National Park in Montana. Alison’s uncle (Uncle Jon) mentioned that it would be worth visiting Medora, North Dakota as it is home to some amazing badlands and the Teddy Roosevelt National Park. We followed his advice and despite cold weather and driving rain, had a good time up there!

After a couple days we made it to a campsite just outside the eastern boundary of Glacier National Park. Along the way we camped at Wind Cave National Park and stayed in a couple motels.

We saw a lot of cool stuff. South Dakota in particular is full of neat (and bizarre!) things to see: quaint little towns, Sioux Falls, the Corn Palace, Wall Drug (a massive store, cafe, historical center), Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, National Grasslands (the prairie!), and all kinds of other oddities off the I-90.

FYI – we didn’t explore much else in western North Dakota….from what people told me it, the oil boom in the area has really changed it and it’s a gritty and not-so-nice place to travel around. In fact, some of the small towns in Western North Dakota have some of the highest rents in the country. Every available square foot is being occupied by oil industry workers. We saw a ton of little oil wells dotting the country-side as we drove along.

Lots of open space on the drive through South Dakota
Lots of open space on the drive through South Dakota
Sioux Falls, SD
Sioux Falls, SD

NOKIA Lumia 900_000423 NOKIA Lumia 900_000422 NOKIA Lumia 900_000430 NOKIA Lumia 900_000427

The Corn Palace!
The Corn Palace!
Yes, the entire facade and murals are made out of corn cobs...they are redone every year.
Yes, the entire facade and murals are made out of corn cobs…they are redone every year.
Wall Drug, a massive gift shop, store, cafe and more....lots of historical photos of the area (and Native American history/stories). Worth visiting.
Wall Drug, a massive gift shop, store, cafe and more….lots of historical photos of the area (and Native American history/stories). Worth visiting.
In Wall Drug...these photos tell stories of early settlers and struggles with Native people in the 1800s.
In Wall Drug…these photos tell stories of early settlers and struggles with Native people in the 1800s.

NOKIA Lumia 900_000444 NOKIA Lumia 900_000440

Cool little western town...Wall, SD.
Cool little western town…Wall, SD.
Alison cooking up some coffee outside of Motel 6 using our camping stove...deluxe!
Alison cooking up some coffee outside of Motel 6 using our camping stove…deluxe!

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Grasslands! South Dakota has some of the largest stretches of protected National Grasslands in the country....lots of animals graze here (some wild, some privately owned)
Grasslands! South Dakota has some of the largest stretches of protected National Grasslands in the country….lots of animals graze here (some wild, some privately owned)

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Spike has a first class seat in the back of the Subaru
Spike has a first class seat in the back of the Subaru
Wind Cave National Park....we didn't know this place existed until we got into South Dakota....it is the 6th largest cave in the world and the most complex cave in the world. It has over 150 miles of caves in a single square mile!
Wind Cave National Park….we didn’t know this place existed until we got into South Dakota….it is the 6th largest cave in the world and the most complex cave in the world. It has over 150 miles of caves in a single square mile!

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Spike relaxing in the Wind Cave campground.
Spike relaxing in the Wind Cave campground.
Our campsite at Wind Cave National Park
Our campsite at Wind Cave National Park
Prairie dog!
Prairie dog!
Prairie dog town! Can you spot them?
Prairie dog town! Can you spot them?
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Pronghorn antelope….no horns on this one, a female.

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Crazy Horse is unreal! It is only partially complete and will take decades to finish...but still awesome to see. The size totally makes Mt Rushmore look small.
Crazy Horse is unreal! It is only partially complete and will take decades to finish…but still awesome to see. The size totally makes Mt Rushmore look small.
What the complete Crazy Horse sculpture will look like
What the complete Crazy Horse sculpture will look like

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TR National Park….it is full of badlands, that look very different than those of South Dakota….we drove the 40 mile scenic loop through the park, but due to bad weather (cold and raining) we didn’t hike or do much else. In nice weather, this park would be a nice place to camp and hike.
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Wild bison in TR National Park

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Woods and Waters-Boundary Waters Canoe Area, MN

In 7th grade my best friend introduced me to camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) on the border of Minnesota and Ontario.  We signed up for a 10-day session at YMCA Camp Menogyn and spent 7-days with a small group of like minded adolescent girls learning how to camp and canoe.  I was hooked and went back every year on progressively longer and more remote trips.  The summer before my senior year in high school, three other girls and our guide completed a 35-day, 500 mile river trip (yes we carried all our food and supplies) on the Fawn and Severn rivers in Northern Ontario.  A couple years after that I spent two summers guiding canoe trips in the Boundary Waters for both Menogyn and another camp based out of Ely.

Besides spending time at the cabin and cross country skiing, canoeing and spending time at Camp Menogyn was one of the best parts of my adolescence and undoubtedly one of the most potent influences in my teenage development.  Together with the friends and guides I met each summer, the wilderness was my mentor, teacher, church, therapist, advocate, challenger, and coach.  What I learned in the woods and on the water is some of the most invaluable education I’ve had.  The summer syllabus included wilderness basics and more importantly perseverance, gratitude, conservation, play, confidence, strength, risk, simplicity, adventure, laughter, and teamwork.  Our trip this summer was no different, except that I got to share it with the love of my life!

Being such a huge part of my life I wanted Ravi to get a sample of what I experienced growing up and selfishly wanted to do another trip up in the BWCA as it had been years since I’d been in a canoe up North.  I found an outfitter off the Gunflint, Hungry Jack Outfitters, got an entry permit, and we were off.  We had about a week of relaxing at the cabin before we headed up so we were ready to go.

Relaxing at Hungry Jack Outfitters before our trip.
Relaxing at Hungry Jack Outfitters before our trip.

We started our trip with a mile long portage into the first lake.  Most people try to avoid long portages, but this was the best entry point available and we were up for the challenge.  I like challenging portages.  Like a good run, weight session, hike, or bike, carrying the packs and the canoe is a moving meditation for me.  I love the feeling of navigating over muddy trails and rock beds with a hefty canoe on my shoulders or or a pack on my back.  The reward of stepping into the cool lake at the end of the portage is worth the work on the trail. So… with a slightly overgrown trail and thunder clouds brewing in the background we hit the first portage.  Duke was loving it already and Ravi was a trooper for trekking a mile on his first ever portage.  I felt like I had come home.

Morgan Lakes Entry.
Morgan Lakes Entry.

For the next five days we paddled and portaged our way through beautiful lakes and forests, cooked over the campfire, watched moose, loons, and beavers, ate handfuls of wild raspberries, slept under brilliant stars, dried out after drenching thunderstorms, and relaxed with a good book by the campfire.  Ravi and Duke loved it, learned the ropes, and decided we would be back.

-Alison

Typical view of the shore. Luckily we had calm waters for most of the trip.
Typical view of the shore. Luckily we had calm waters for most of the trip.
Ravi on a well used portage.
Ravi on a well used portage.
Making Dal at our first campsite.  We underestimated the amount of fuel we needed to cook and start the day with a hot cup of coffee, so we were hoping for good weather to make campfires.
Making Dal at our first campsite. We underestimated the amount of fuel we needed to cook and start the day with a hot cup of coffee, so we were hoping for good weather to make campfires.
View from our first campsite on Lake Vista. You can see the thunderstorms brewing in the background.
View from our first campsite on Lake Vista. You can see the thunderstorms brewing in the background.

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Ravi and Duke hanging out after our first day.  Duke has a keen eye for Ravi's snacks.
Ravi and Duke hanging out after our first day. Duke has a keen eye for Ravi’s snacks.
Lichen. Nature makes the best color combinations.
Lichen. Nature makes the best color combinations.
Just before we got drenched.
Just before we got drenched.
Torrential downpour and thunderstorm.  Because of the echo due to the lakes, thunderstorms are super loud.  We had storms on and off for a couple days but they moved fast and we dried out rather quickly.
Torrential downpour and thunderstorm. Because of the echo due to the lakes, thunderstorms are super loud. We had storms on and off for a couple days but they moved fast and we dried out rather quickly.
Evening.
Evening.
After running out of fuel I was trying to get the fire started.  It had downpoured the past couple days so I had a tough time starting the fire until Ravi brought be some birch bark.  Birch bark is the best fire starter and the flames started right up.
After running out of fuel I was trying to get the fire started. It had downpoured the past couple days so I had a tough time starting the fire until Ravi brought be some birch bark. Birch bark is the best fire starter and the flames started right up.

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View from our campsite the 2nd night.
View from our campsite the 2nd night.
Tiny landscape along the portage.
Tiny landscape along the portage.
A muddy portage in a burn area.
A muddy portage in a burn area.
Portages are measured in rods, or about the length of a canoe depending how long your canoe is.  This one was super muddy but only 4 rods.
Portages are measured in rods, or about the length of a canoe depending how long your canoe is. This one was super muddy but only 4 rods.

The following is a progression of Duke finding his place in the canoe…

Balancing like a cat.
Balancing like a cat.
Duke figuring out what place is most comfortable in the canoe.  It was hilarious watching him try out different set ups.
Duke figuring out what place is most comfortable in the canoe. It was hilarious watching him try out different set ups.
Keeping watch.
Keeping watch.
The perfect spot.  Duke could keep his eyes on what was happening up ahead and be comfy on top of the soft packs.
The perfect spot. Duke could keep his eyes on what was happening up ahead and be comfy on top of the soft packs.
Keeping watch and napping at the same time.
Keeping watch and napping at the same time.
Finding shade
Finding shade
Feeling at home.
Feeling at home.
I thought this was Duke's most hilarious position in the canoe.
I thought this was Duke’s most hilarious position in the canoe.

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Yellow lilies
Yellow lilies
Turtle sunbathing.
Turtle sunbathing.

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Ravi portaging the canoe and pack.
Ravi portaging the canoe and pack.

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Typical view while portaging the canoe.
Typical view while portaging the canoe.
Ravi double packing it. That's my husband! Wading through a wet portage that was more like a stream than a trail.
Ravi double packing it. That’s my husband! Wading through a wet portage that was more like a stream than a trail.
We had a couple days of super muddy and wet portages.
We had a couple days of super muddy and wet portages.
Luxurious morning on the water. Drinking coffee while floating! Thank you Starbucks Via.
Luxurious morning on the water. Drinking coffee while floating! Thank you Starbucks Via.
One of our favorite activities, book+campfire+dog=bliss.
One of our favorite activities, book+campfire+dog=bliss.
We loved this little island campsite on aptly named Long Island Lake.  We stayed here two nights and on the second morning two huge moose swam by.
We loved this little island campsite on aptly named Long Island Lake. We stayed here two nights and on the second morning two huge moose swam by.
View from our island getaway.
View from our island getaway.
Crayfish.
Crayfish.
Duke's favorite past time.
Duke’s favorite past time.
We picked up a canoe load of fire wood from an island and found a ton of wild raspberries.  I ate raspberries while ravi sawed some nice logs for the fire.
We picked up a canoe load of fire wood from an island and found a ton of wild raspberries. I ate raspberries while ravi sawed some nice logs for the fire.
Perfect landing at our campsite.
Perfect landing at our campsite.
Campsites with big granite slabs are the best.  You can spend hours just watching the wildlife, water, and relaxing.  Just before we headed in for the night we watched a family of beavers making their home across the bay.  They chirped at each other, slapped the water with their tails, and made quite a raucous.
Campsites with big granite slabs are the best. You can spend hours just watching the wildlife, water, and relaxing. Just before we headed in for the night we watched a family of beavers making their home across the bay. They chirped at each other, slapped the water with their tails, and made quite a raucous.
Happy to have good weather and a nice campsite.
Happy to have good weather and a nice campsite.
Water lilies were in full bloom.
Water lilies were in full bloom.
Flowers
Flowers
Moose!  These guys move fast.  I heard them plop in the water just across our campsite and by the time I got Ravi they were speeding their way across the bay.
Moose! These guys move fast. I heard them plop in the water just across our campsite and by the time I got Ravi they were speeding their way across the bay.
Happy Trails!
Happy Trails!

Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina is a town that always seems to make the “best places to live” lists in Outside Magazine or the like.  I’ve met a handful of people who have gone to school there, lived there, or traveled through and always rave about this little outdoor-hippy-progressive-southern infused-beautiful town.  Luckily our friends Kristy and Seth moved there a few years ago so we could go visit.  Together with their two adorable kids, Maya and Samuel, they hosted us for almost a week, showed us the cool parts of town, and pointed us in the right direction to explore the mountains.

Seth and Kristy looking good!
Seth and Kristy looking good!

The Blue Ridge Parkway is an almost 500 mile road that meanders through the Appalachian Highlands and our first stop after we picked up a new pair of running shoes.  Paralleling the parkway just outside of Asheville is a rolling trail perfect for trail running. We visited the parkway a couple times to enjoy the scenery and the running.  The parkway is also a great place to bike as there are few stops, big climbs, and gorgeous scenery.  We may have to come back in the fall just to take in the fall colors. We also drove out to Mt. Mitchell, which is the highest point east of the Mississippi.  You can hike to the top, but we opted to be lazy and drive to the top.  We planned on hiking around a bit more up top but the thousands of weevils flying around and landing on us deters us from that plan.  We took a few photos and made our way back down. NOKIA Lumia 900_000350 NOKIA Lumia 900_000354

Location of Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina.
Location of Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina.
View from the top of Mt. Mitchell.
View from the top of Mt. Mitchell.
It appears that in the South, Churches have competitions as to who can have the largest cross outside their building.
It appears that in the South, Churches have competitions as to who can have the largest cross outside their building.

Adding to our tour of National Parks we had to cue up some of my best bluegrass tunes on our drive out to Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Something about that place just makes you want to put on a pair of overalls, grab a fiddle, your banjo playin’ neighbor, and a nice cool drink.  The visitor’s center even has bluegrass playing as you walk through the exhibits.  It was raining when we visited so our plan to do a long day hike on the Appalachian Trail didn’t work out, but we did go for a short run on the iconic trail.  True to form, the hills were covered in a cloudy mist which gave the park a mystical feeling and reminded us of the Pacific Northwest, cool and rainy, just like home.

We've been lucky to have seen many world heritage sites on our adventure this year.
We’ve been lucky to have seen many world heritage sites on our adventure this year.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park complete with the "smoky."  The clouds racing over the hills were really beautiful.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park complete with the “smoky.” The clouds racing over the hills were beautiful.
Breathtaking view from a top Clingman's Dome.
Breathtaking view from a top Clingman’s Dome.
Clingman's Dome lookout tower at Great Smoky Mountain National Park.  Reminds me of the Jetson's.  When it's not socked in there is a great view.  It is the highest point in Tennessee.
Clingman’s Dome lookout tower at Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Reminds me of the Jetson’s. When it’s not socked in there is a great view. It is the highest point in Tennessee.

When we weren’t exploring the nearby trails and parks we walked around the city checking out the many eateries which have lots of vegan options, unique shops, and hanging out at home with our friends.  Kristy made sure we found the vegan ice cream places on BOTH ends of town (YES!) and walked us around their favorite parts of the city.  Unfortunately we just missed the drum circle…next time!  Their kids provided entertainment just in their cuteness factor.  They were great with the dogs and we spent quite a bit of time on the front porch just hanging out with the dogs and watching the kids play with them.  Kristy and Seth cooked us some amazing food and we went out a couple times as well.

Dinner at Seth and Kristy's.  The kids are adorable.
Dinner at Seth and Kristy’s. The kids are adorable.
Yep. Adorable.
Yep. Adorable.

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We thought a small order of the pretzels would be just a couple small nibs so we opted for the regular.  The regular could have been a meal in and of itself!
We thought a small order of the pretzels would be just a couple small nibs so we opted for the regular. The regular could have been a meal in and of itself!
Mellow Mushroom Vegan Pizza.
Mellow Mushroom Vegan Pizza.
We loved the pizza and outdoor seating at Mellow Mushroom, we went back twice.
We loved the pizza and outdoor seating at Mellow Mushroom, we went back twice.
Kombucha and Beer at Mellow Mushroom downtown Ashville.
Kombucha and Beer at Mellow Mushroom downtown Asheville.

We had a lovely few days in Asheville with good conversations, beautiful sights, friends, and food.  It doesn’t get much better than that. -Alison

Go East Young Man! (and Woman!)

Where have we been lately?

Boulder, CO – Philadelphia, PA – New Jersey Shore – Washington, DC – Richmond, VA – Asheville, NC –  Sayre, PA (visits to Gettysburg, Finger Lakes, Geneseo, Niagara Falls),  – Minneapolis, MN – Nisswa, MN

Phew!

It’s now August 8th, 2014. The last time you heard from us we wrote about Alison flying home to Minnesota to attend a conference while I stayed for a week in Boulder enjoying vegan junk food, reading and exploring the Rocky Mountains a bit.

Now we are both back in Minnesota, relaxing at Alison’s family summer home (we call it a cabin, but it is a legit house!) in the northern lakes area near Nisswa, MN.

View from Alison family "cabin" in Nisswa, MN.
View from Alison family “cabin” in Nisswa, MN.
Lower Cullen Lake, Nisswa - MN. This is the view from our pontoon boat from the middle of the lake.
Lower Cullen Lake, Nisswa – MN. This is the view from our pontoon boat from the middle of the lake.

Getting back to Minnesota involved a bit of travel around the East Coast. You see, my cousin was getting married on the Jersey Shore, which prompted our whole adventure back East. Since we were driving to Jersey, we decided to spend a few weeks catching up with friends and family.

We are so used to driving long distances now that the idea of driving across the country is no big deal, it is actually sorta fun!

A typical view of the drive...not too much traffic.
A typical view of the drive…not too much traffic.
Lots of windmills in the midwest.
Lots of windmills in the midwest.
Storm clouds ahead on the drive out east!
Storm clouds ahead on the drive out east!
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Rest stop break.
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Spike and Duke in road-tripping mode.

Since leaving Boulder, CO on June 24th, 2014 – I picked up Alison from the Denver airport upon her return from Minneapolis and we journeyed eastward.

What did we do? Here goes:

1. Spent a few days in Philadelphia to visit my sister and her family, along with many family members who traveled in for the upcoming wedding of my cousin, Rohini and her partner Kevin.

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My niece, Vijaya
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Duke and I taking a nap
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Josh, my sister and Vijaya giving us a tour of the Bryn Mawr campus, where Josh works

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Picnic on Bryn Mawr campus.
Picnic on Bryn Mawr campus.
Vegan take-away from Mom's organic market in Bryn Mawr.
Vegan take-away from Mom’s organic market in Bryn Mawr.
Vegan take-away from Mom's organic market in Bryn Mawr.
Vegan take-away from Mom’s organic market in Bryn Mawr.

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We spent an afternoon at Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia.

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Most impressive thing about Longwood Gardens? The living walls outside of the bathrooms!!!

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Longwood Gardens
Longwood Gardens

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Mira and Vijaya showing us their dance moves.

2. Spent a sunny and fun weekend at The Jersey Shore to attend my cousin’s wedding. The venue was awesome, and our motel was right on the beach!

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Wedding! Rohini and Kevin were married on the Jersey Shore.

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3. Went back to Philly to spend more time with my sister and family. We also visited one of my good friends from college, Matt, his wife Andrea and his two kids (the main draw was to taste Matt’s fine homebrew!).

Matt and I were house-mates and triathlon club teammates at Penn State.
Matt and I were house-mates and triathlon club teammates at Penn State.
What a setup! 3-4 beers on tap at any time in his basement.
What a setup! 3-4 beers on tap at any time in his basement.
We met up with my cousin, (his name is also Ravi!) in downtown Philly. Duke and Spike got to meet his dog, "Bernie".
We met up with my cousin, (his name is also Ravi!) in downtown Philly. Duke and Spike got to meet his dog, “Bernie”.

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100% vegan and 100% gluten free bakery called "Sweet Freedom Bakery" in Bryn Mawr!
100% vegan and 100% gluten-free bakery called “Sweet Freedom Bakery” in Bryn Mawr!

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4. Drove down to Washington DC to visit my cousin, Jaya, over the July 4th weekend, along with some epic fireworks in the nation’s capital.

Alison and I with Jaya and Poorvaj (cousins) - at the airport. Poorvaj was on her way back to Delhi, India.
Alison and I with Jaya and Poorvaj (cousins) – at the airport. Poorvaj was on her way back to Delhi, India.
Poorvaj (my cousin) and Spike!
Poorvaj (my cousin) and Spike!
Jaya and Alison relaxing at a garden store in DC.
Jaya and Alison relaxing at a garden store in DC.
July 4th fireworks from a rooftop in Washington DC. Yes, that is the Washington Monument on the left.
July 4th fireworks from a rooftop in Washington DC. Yes, that is the Washington Monument on the left.
Washington Monument
Washington Monument
Capitol Building
Capitol Building
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We didn’t spend any time walking around visiting monuments in DC. It was July 4th weekend and very crowded in the National Mall when we were there. Instead we relaxed at Jaya’s place, went for runs every day and ate great vegan food. We did drive around to see the sights though.
Jaya got us vegan baked goods! Washington DC has some great vegan friendly spots.
Jaya got us vegan baked goods from Sticky Fingers, a vegan bakery and breakfast joint! Washington DC has some great vegan friendly spots.
A 100% vegan diner served southern-inspired vegan food cafeteria style...so many options, so cheap and so tasty!
Woodlands Vegan Bistro, a 100% vegan joint served southern-inspired vegan food cafeteria style…so many options, so cheap and so tasty!
Sticky Fingers vegan bakery in DC!
Sticky Fingers vegan bakery in DC!
Sticky Fingers vegan bakery in DC!
Sticky Fingers vegan bakery in DC!
Sticky Fingers vegan bakery in DC!
Sticky Fingers vegan bakery in DC!
vegan nachos!!!! can't remember the name of the place...but it had a bookstore in the restaurant...it wasn't a strictly vegan place...but they had a ton of vegan options.
vegan nachos!!!! can’t remember the name of the place…but it had a bookstore in the restaurant…it wasn’t a strictly vegan place…but they had a ton of vegan options.

5. Drove further down to Richmond, VA to see my aunt and uncle.

6. Drove way further down to Asheville, NC to visit Alison’s close friends Kristy and Seth and their two adorable kiddos. We spent about five days in Asheville, a great little hippy town nestled in the Smoky Mountains. We will write a more detailed post about Asheville.

7. Drove back up to Sayre, PA – my hometown! – to spend time with my mom and dad. We also visited Josh’s family (my sister’s husband and family) in upstate NY near Geneseo, NY….and stopped to visit my friend Dan and Gettysburg National Memorial along the way.

My friend Dan, has a Koi pond in his living room! Duke would spend hours and hours just staring at the fish.
My friend Dan, has a Koi pond in his living room! Duke would spend hours and hours just staring at the fish.
Gettysburg National War Memorial...we did a 2 hour self-guided driving tour.
Gettysburg National War Memorial…we did a 2 hour self-guided driving tour.
Gettysburg National War Memorial...we did a 2 hour self-guided driving tour.
Gettysburg National War Memorial…we did a 2 hour self-guided driving tour.
Gettysburg National War Memorial...we did a 2 hour self-guided driving tour.
Gettysburg National War Memorial…we did a 2 hour self-guided driving tour.
Gettysburg National War Memorial...we did a 2 hour self-guided driving tour.
Gettysburg National War Memorial…we did a 2 hour self-guided driving tour.
The front porch in Sayre, with my parents.
The front porch in Sayre, the same house I lived in growing up, with my parents.
In our front yard at Sayre, PA. Spike likes his jungle hideout!
In our front yard at Sayre, PA. Spike likes his jungle hideout!
Spike relaxing in the front yard in Sayre, PA.
Spike relaxing in the front yard in Sayre, PA.
Duke keeps and eye on my dad!
Duke keeps and eye on my dad!
Alison and I visited the hospital where my mom worked for 30 years...her picture was installed in the hospital as recognition of her service!
Alison and I visited the hospital where my mom worked for 30 years…they have a special place where they put photos of retired doctors with distinguished records of service.
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Yup, that’s my mom!
Mommy!
Mommy!
My high school (7-12th grade in one building!).
My high school (7-12th grade in one building!).
My high school football stadium..they are building a new one.
My high school football stadium..they are building a new one.
My elementary school, Elm Street Elementary.
My elementary school, Elm Street Elementary.
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Spend a lot of time here growing up…this is where our XC and Tennis teams would practice and have meets.
The start/finish of our High School XC course in Waverly, NY...at the Waverly Glen.
The start/finish of our High School XC course in Waverly, NY…at the Waverly Glen. Alison and I ran the course…getting lost only a couple times…we probably did 5 miles and should have done about 3!
The tennis courts where I played in High School at the Waverly Glen.
The tennis courts where I played in High School at the Waverly Glen.
Alison and I with Josh's family...outside their home in upstate NY.
Alison and I with my sister, her husband (Josh), their kids (Mira and Vijaya) and Josh’s family…outside their home in upstate NY.
Alison and I with Josh's family...outside their home in upstate NY.
Alison and I with Josh’s family…outside their home in upstate NY.

8. Drove up to Niagara Falls, en route to Minnesota.

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9. Drove over to Minnesota, via Chicago, were we met up with two cousins, Rohini (whose marriage we just attended) and Sharanya. They are both working in Chicago now.

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We met my cousins at Native Foods Cafe in Chicago...a 100% vegan place with great food. This is a chain...with a few dozen spots, mostly in California, Colorado and Oregon...but they are expanding fast across the country.
We met my cousins at Native Foods Cafe in Chicago…a 100% vegan place with great food. This is a chain…with a few dozen spots, mostly in California, Colorado and Oregon…but they are expanding fast across the country.

10. Finally we arrived in Minnesota to spend time with Alison’s family, first staying in Minneapolis and then heading up north to Nisswa – in the heart of Minnesota lake country! Our highlight of the trip has been a five day adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness! This is quite possibly Alison’s favorite place on Earth and now I know why!

We will write a separate post about the Boundary Waters with a ton of photos.

We went here!
We went here!

 

So…here we are in Nisswa, where we have been relaxing for about two weeks.

Where do we go from here?

On Monday we head out to:

1. Glacier National Park, via Balaton, MN (to visit Alison’s family) and across South Dakota (to see the Badlands, Crazy Horse, Mt Rushmore and of course…the Corn Palace and Wall Drug!). Last time I went to the Corn Palace, the little ice cream parlor had high quality vegan ice cream…I hope they still do!

From there we plan to head south to Yellowstone and the Tetons, before making our way out to the San Francisco area to meet with my brother and his family, and prep for our biggest adventure of the trip so far…more on that in a future post!

-Ravi

A Week in Boulder, Colorado

After our second foray into Yosemite National Park, we ventured north to Lake Tahoe for two nights before driving for two days to Boulder, Colorado. We didn’t do much in Lake Tahoe aside from loading up on good food (there are many good vegan friendly joints in South Lake Tahoe, and a high quality natural foods store), catching up on sleep (in an actual bed NOT in a tent!) and watching mindless TV at Motel 6 (reruns of COPS and Dog the Bounty ).

Boulder was to be my home base for the week, while Alison flew back to Minneapolis for five days to attend a conference.

We found a very cute cabin about 2 miles from the Pearl Street area in Boulder, right on a bike path. Every morning I would go for a run, take the dogs to the dog park (a very large one), and check out one of the many vegan or vegan friendly restaurants.

One day I even ventured north to Estes Park, a small town that is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, for a hilly 10K race at close to 8000ft elevation. I survived.

ravi race

Duke and Spike hung out in the car while I ran. It was nice and cool in the morning (the race was at 7:30am) and afterward we went to the Estes Park Dog Park on the shore of Lake Estes.

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With both the dogs and I pooped out, I did a long drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, after stopping for a vegan smoothie.

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Boulder is close into the mountains, and the Flatirons (note how the rock faces look like irons) area is especially scenic.

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I met up with a friend who recently moved to the Denver area, Robert Cheeke, and we hiked to the Flagstaff summit and caught up after not seeing each other for many years. The wildflowers were just starting to come out.

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Alison returned to Denver, and I picked her up from the airport and we began our three day cross-country drive to Philadelphia to meet my family and then it was on to the Jersey Shore for a wedding.

Boulder was a lot of fun. I could see myself spending a lot more time here.

Yosemite High Country – June 9 to 12, 2014

We just couldn’t get enough of Yosemite. Especially with my little episode during our backpacking adventure, both of us wanted to return and see what we had missed. The park is massive and during our last trip we really only saw the Yosemite Valley area, Mariposa Grove and the Yosemite West landscapes near the road. There was a lot more to see, especially in the high country over Tioga Pass. In particular, we wanted to hang out at Tuolumne Meadows, one of the largest and highest alpine meadows around. When we were last in the park, we heard it was cold in the high country, with some snow….but a few weeks of warm weather had changed that. We weren’t sure what the weather would be like, but it turned out to be awesome, albeit a little cold at night (probably got down into the low 40s). Daytime highs in the 70s were misleading, as the bright sun made it seem much warmer.

Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows

DSC05775 DSC05774 On the way to and fro we took the scenic route around some alpine lakes (Lake June and others) near Mammoth Lakes, and then stopped at Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in the world and with a salt content many times that of ocean water. The lake is a critical part of the global migratory bird ecosystem, with birds stopping here to feed on all kinds of weird crustaceans and insects that thrive in the salt water as they journey to South America from the Northern Regions, and vice versa.

Big tree unnervingly close to the road!
Big tree unnervingly close to the road!
How did that happen?
How did that happen?
Lake June
Lake June
Lake June
Lake June
This lake is very dry, I think it was dammed, and California is also in a drought right now.
This lake is very dry, I think it was dammed, and California is also in a drought right now.

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In the distance are old volcanoes. This was taken en route to Mono Lake from the June Lake area.
In the distance are old volcanoes. This was taken en route to Mono Lake from the June Lake area.
Driving around the Eastern Sierra's is gorgeous.
Driving around the Eastern Sierra’s is gorgeous.

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Mono Lake from afar.
Mono Lake from afar.
Mono Lake. One of the oldest in the world and very salty.
Mono Lake. One of the oldest in the world and very salty.
Mono Lake. Researchers come from all over the world to study the animal life in it.
Mono Lake. Researchers come from all over the world to study the animal life in it.

The Tuolumne Meadows campground had just opened up, and we got a prime spot away from all the big rigs and loud kids.

Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows
We upgraded from a single to a dual-burner stove...makes a big difference!
We upgraded from a single to a dual-burner stove…makes a big difference!

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Duke standing guard.
Duke standing guard.
Our tent was nestled back in some tall trees.
Our tent was nestled back in some tall trees.
We scrounged around for fallen branches for firewood. There was a lot.
We scrounged around for fallen branches for firewood. There was a lot.

We took turns going on hikes and watching the dogs. As you would expect, dogs aren’t allowed on trails in Yosemite and there were plenty of wild animals around so we never wanted to leave them unattended (we saw a coyote hanging out right next to the visitor center parking lot!). I hiked up to the Cathedral Lakes area, with a gorgeous alpine meadow fronting a deep snowmelt-fed lake. I didn’t go swimming, but some people were. I took some meandering trails on the way back (on purpose, I wasn’t lost) making the entire outing about 10 miles with 1500ft of climbing. Not too bad, though the altitude made it a little tougher than I would expect. DSC05705 DSC05703 DSC05718 DSC05713 DSC05710 DSC05728 DSC05724 DSC05722 DSC05719 DSC05737 DSC05734 DSC05731 DSC05729 DSC05744 DSC05743 DSC05740 DSC05739 DSC05754 DSC05751 DSC05749 DSC05748 The next day was Alison’s turn and she did an epic 14 mile hike from Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest (with 3-4000ft of climbing I think). Clouds Rest is said to be one of the most beautiful spots in the entire park, being higher than Half Dome (without the long line of people waiting to climb it!) with 360 degree views of the entire high country and many big granite domes, including Half Dome. She also found a secret water hold and went for a skinny dip!

Alison gets ready for her big day!
Alison gets ready for her big day!

{Note: Alison took a lot of great photos of her hike, but I can’t find them…will add them to another post when I do!} While she was hiking her but off, I did a driving tour across Tioga Pass Rd to some viewpoints. In these photos you can see Clouds Rest (along with Half Dome in the distance). Clouds Rest is the large granite monster that looks likes a bunch of clouds stacked on top of one another. Alison hiked to the top of it!

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Just to the right of the tree, in the far distance, is Clouds Rest…Alison hiked to the top of that! Look further to the right, and you can see the rounded top of Half Dome. With binoculars, I could see a line of people climbing it like little ants. There is a fixed cable people use to climb it.

DSC05758 DSC05769 DSC05768   Of course, we ate well, and vegan as always. We discovered these pre-made salad mixes (with greens, dressing, nuts and some crunchy toppings) from Taylor Farms that we became addicted to for the past week…and they were on sale 2 for $5! We would each eat one for a meal. $2.50 for a healthy meal with zero prep and easy clean up? We probably consumed a dozen of these salads each throughout the week. After Yosemite, we made another quick stop by Mono Lake for some photos of the Tufas (the spring fed salt/mineral deposits popping out of the lake) en route to Lake Tahoe. I can’t find those photos, but you can check them out online. The drive into and out of Yosemite was also gorgeous.

Leaving Yosemite, via eastern entrance
After leaving Yosemite, via eastern entrance, the views don’t stop!
leaving Yosemite, via eastern entrance
after leaving Yosemite, via eastern entrance, looking into the valley.
Another lake....so pretty.
Another lake….so pretty.

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Mono Lake.
Back to Mono Lake.

-Ravi

Southern and Eastern Sierra’s from Sequoia NP to Mt. Whitney Portal

We were amazed with the beauty and unique scenery that the southern and eastern sides of the Sierra Nevada range offered. Our original plan was to head south and east from Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. This would send us through Las Vegas and onward to the Grand Canyon, and the National Parks of Utah including Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands and Arches. The weather in those places, however, was obscenely hot. Duke and Spike, our loyal canine companions, wouldn’t appreciate that…and neither would Alison or I for that matter!

Therefore, we opted to drive up the eastern side of the Sierra’s towards Lake Tahoe, stopping in Mammoth Springs along the way. We expected the weather to be cooler there. We were glad we did this.

Our first stop was a barren and unremarkable campsite on Lake Isabella (which is really a reservoir) on the southern end of the Sierra’s. On map it looked to be an idyllic place, located at 3000ft elevation, on the banks of a large lake, bordering the southern edge of Sequoia NP, with some small towns dotting the shore. As we approached, we saw the reality of a barren lands