Scenes from Jardín, Colombia

As a traveler, I love discovering little off-the-beaten path gems that feel like the real and authentic country that I’m traveling through. I know there are very few, if any, places left in the world that haven’t been altered in someway by globalization and international travel and I’m not the one to say whether that is good or bad, right or wrong. But I do know but there are still many places out there that have maintained their integrity despite temptation from the outside world and it’s these places I try to seek out when I’m traveling. Jardín is one of those places. Yes, motobikes race through the streets and candy wrappers are scattered on along the sidewalk. But cowboys also prance their prize horses through town, friends enjoy a cup of tinto (black coffee) or a cerveza together in the plaza as evening closes in, and the older generation can be seen out and about in traditional dress. It’s a town that has blended both modern amenities and traditional customs while still making outsiders feel welcome.

Here are some scenes from this unique little town that I came to love in just a short few days:

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A Day in Parque Arvi

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Traveling to foreign cities is great and all, but after a few days I usually find myself longing for some peace and quiet and the greenery of the natural world. The hustle and bustle wears me down.

So to my delight, I discovered that Medellin is home to Parque Arvi, a 16,000 hectare wooded park just a short metro and cable car ride away from downtown.

The park is both a nature preserve where residents and tourists alike can escape city life for a few hours and it’s also an archaeological site that features pre-hispanic artifacts and ruins. Part of the Pre-Hispanic trail – the Camino Cieza de León – actually runs through it.

HOW TO GET THERE

I took the metro from the Poblado Station to the Acevedo Station then transferred to the Line K cablecar that whisked me up the slopes of the valley and over corrugated-tin roofed houses packed together side by side to the barrio of Santo Domingo. The cablecars – or gondolas – may be my favorite feature of Medellin. They give you a fantastic birdseye view over the valley in which Medellin (and several other municipalities) sit and what’s even more impressive is that they’re not simply a tourist attraction. In fact, I’ve seen very few tourists on the cablecars during my rides up and down. Instead, they were built to help the lower-strata families that live higher up on the valley walls get down into the city for work. Medellin has some pretty cool social projects going on. Check out another one – the escalators in Comuna 13 – here.

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Once at Santo Domingo, I transferred to the Line L cablecar that took me even farther up the valley walls and over the ridge into the park. The corrugated-tin roofed houses gave way to fincas (farms) with grazing cattle strewn about then the view below opened up to a huge expanse of wild forest that stretched out as far as I could see. I felt like I was soaring above Jurassic Park!

At the top, I exited the cablecar and was greeted by a small farmers market selling all sorts of goodies: fried empanadas, sausages, and arepas, handmade jewelry, small cups of coffee and locally made mountain wine (which was too sweet for my taste). I bought a cheese arepa to snack on then headed out to find some trails.

WHAT TO DO

Apparently and unfortunately, I discovered that you can’t actually walk most of the trails in the park by yourself and the only tour leaving within the next half hour was a short orchid walk in Spanish, which didn’t appeal to me all that much. So I resigned to walking down a winding paved road (you can also drive to the park, but it takes a lot longer and isn’t nearly as fun) for 40 minutes to a section of the park where I could explore solo – Chorro Clarin (clear stream). I had no idea what to expect, so I was pretty excited when I emerged into this:

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There’s a paved trail that follows the stream for a few miles and alongside the path there are day camp sites and overnight campsites equipped with picnic tables, benches, aesthetically designed shelters and even flat concrete tent platforms for camping. Colombia has its priority straight.

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On the way back, I figured I had two options: option one was to walk back up the road I had come down (boring) or option two was to discreetly set foot onto the Flora Trail that would spit me out about a quarter of a mile up the road from the cable car station – right next to the carabineros station, or mounted policemen. I chose option two of course, hoping that the rule against walking the trails by yourself wasn’t for safety reasons (after all, there are police on horseback in the park, right?). I think I made the right choice 🙂

WHERE TO EAT

Hungry after my hike, I followed signs to a vegetarian restaurant and was greeted by an exuberant hostess who quickly sat me down and served up the most delicious multi-course menu del dia made from organic produce grown right next door. If you made it to  Parque Arvi, don’t miss this spot!

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HOW TO GET THERE Take the metro to Acevedo Station then transfer to the K line cablecar which will bring you to Santo Domino. No need to exit the metro station. At Santo Domingo follow signs to Parque Arvi and transfer to cablecar Line L that will take you into the park.

COST The entrance to Parque Arvi is free, but the cablecar line J up to the park costs CP 5,200 ($1.70) one way

WHAT TO DO Spend some time browsing the stalls at the farmers market (it’s larger on weekends) and grab a snack before hitting the trails. Tours of the park can be arranged at the tourist information booth straight ahead as you exit the cablecar station. If you want to explore on your own, follow the paved path out to the road then turn left toward El Tambo. At the crossroads of El Tambo turn right and continue down the road for 30 minutes or so until you see a sign on the left pointing toward Chorro Clarin. There’s a hacienda on the right. On the way back from Chorro Clarin either retrace your footsteps or find the Flora Trail on the left just as you pass the hacienda.

WHERE TO EAT The vegetarian restaurant across the street from the cablecar station. Also check out the coffee truck and the local beer stand

Monthly Recap: November 2017

I have been traveling the world for far too many months (and years) to count correctly, but I’m only just getting serious about writing about my adventures. Whereonearth (my previous blog) was written mainly to keep friends and family up to date on my whereabouts as I traipsed around the world, but in truth, I didn’t really put all that much effort or intention into it. I wrote posts in 15-20 minutes max, slapped up some mediocre photos (at best) and called it good. Whereonearth was admissible enough for then, but with Forever A Wanderer, I want to be a bit more thorough and deliberate about the content that I create. In one sense, I want to inspire people to get out into the world and travel (particularly by bike) and in another sense, I want this blog to be my personal travel/life narrative. I’m not quite sure how that is going to look – getting back into blogging is still very new for me (I stopped writing Whereonearth in 2012), but doing monthly recaps seems like a good way to inspire and reflect at the same time. We’ll see how it goes!

So what did November look like for me? Here is the month in a nutshell:

Where I Was

  • 5 nights in Crowley, California housesitting for a friend
  • 11 nights in Sunny Slopes, California at my brother and sister-in-law’s
  • 1 night in Las Vegas
  • 5 nights in Hurricane, Utah
  • 1 night in St. George, Utah
  • 1 night in Cedar City, Utah
  • 6 nights back in Sunny Slopes

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Highlights

  • I’m going to Colombia! A big perk of working for Lindblad is being able to plan one forced layover when we book flights to and from the ships. So since I’m going to be flying to Panama in December for a 4-week contract on board the Quest, I thought why not have a forced layover in South America? Colombia is just beginning to emerge on the travel radar and it seems like an intriguing place to check out, so while booking flights to and from Panama, I added in a three week ‘layover’ to Medellin. Stay tuned for some fun adventures!
  • My dad’s visit to California. Shortly after I returned yet again to my brother and sister-in-law’s place after my last contract on the boat (I’m feeling a bit guilty about crashing at their place so often these last few months… thanks guys!), my dad came out for a visit from Vermont. It had been awhile since I’d seen him – over a year I think – so it was great to catch up and have some family time. He’s the kind of person that can’t sit still, though, so we caught up over chores around the house like cleaning hair out of the drains and changing lightbulbs…

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  • Our top to bottom Rock Creek ride. As a family, the Timbers’ have a tendency to go on some pretty epic adventures, mostly unplanned. One of my favorites was when my parents came to visit me when I was living in Hawaii. My dad and I headed out for a short bike ride, but somehow we missed a turn and ended up biking around the entire east wing of Maui – not an unreasonable feat when properly prepared, but that we were definitely not. I had to work that night, too, and after eight hours of biking I showed up at Paia Flatbread all sweaty and still in by bike clothes. Oops! Our Rock Creek ride definitely wasn’t of that caliber, but it was still pretty epic. My brother scouted out the route on a GPS map and we headed out without really knowing what to expect. Thankfully, the ride was more than spectacular. We started out at over 10,000ft and descended 3,000+ft over the next 20 miles on a good mix of technical and well-build trail. It will definitely be a regular ride during the summer months.

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  • Manny! This month we welcomed the newest addition to my brother and sister-in-law’s menagerie: an adorable 5 month old husky name Manny. I, and I’m sure more than a few other people, were a bit skeptical of this decision given the fact that Will and Louisa are expecting their first kid in April, but man, oh man is Manny a perfect fit! He’s cuddly, he gets along great with Loba (husky #1), he doesn’t chase the cats (although Rocco, who has never warmed to Loba, is less than pleased to have another dog in the house), he hasn’t chewed a thing, and he seems to be great around kids. Score! Plus, he’s ridiculously cute, don’t you think? Welcome to the family, Manny.
  • By far, the biggest highlight of November was my mountain bike trip with friends to Hurricane, Utah. It was the first time I’d ever done a dedicated multi-day mountain bike trip and it definitely won’t be the last. We spent 8 fun-filled (albeit exhausting) days in and around the Hurricane area exploring the vast network of trails and having loads of fun. Gooseberry Mesa and Guacamole are top-notch rides! In between hours in the saddle, we camped under the stars at night, toasted bagels over the campfire, ate way too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, used obscene amounts of baby wipes to clean the sweat and dirt off our bodies, and perfected the panorama cloning photo. Good, good times!

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  • Winning at the slot machines in Vegas! Woohoo! On my first ever venture into Sin City, I managed to leave $35 whole dollars richer than I came. Now I know that $35 is pretty insignificant (ok, very insignificant) when it comes to potential gains in Vegas, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I won something and didn’t turn around and lose it all again, which is probably what would have happened if our table at the buffet restaurant wasn’t waiting for us, haha.

Lowlights

  • Getting bitten by birds while housesitting. I housesit a lot since I don’t actually have a home of my own and for the most part, all of the animals I’ve taken care of have been lovely. Dogs, cats, horses, even goats. But birds, apparently, bring on a whole new challenge. They like to bite and they have sharp beaks. After a week of housesitting for a friend in Crowley, my fingers were covered in small, but deep (!) lacerations curtesy of Lucky, a little green parrot with an attitude. His friend – Isa, an African Gray parrot, was less nibbly, but I still kept a wary eye on his every movement.
  • Searching for affordable international healthcare. What. A. Headache. Why can’t the healthcare system enter the 21st century and actually be easy to understand and navigate? Furthermore, why isn’t healthcare actually affordable!? I won’t go on a tirade about my opinions on this matter, but lets just say that I am more than a little disgruntled about the lack of affordable and comprehensive options for nomads…. Get it together America!
  • A bike crash in Utah. Thankfully, there were no serious injuries during our trip to Hurricane (although Adam should have gotten stitches for the pedal strike on his shin), but I did have a crash on the last day that left me with a super sore shoulder, a deeply scratched up pinkie, and a body that definitely felt like it had just been tossed from a bike traveling at high speed. I was going around a corner when my right handlebar caught a stray tree branch and sent me flying a few feet down the trail. Thankfully it was nothing serious! I do love mountain biking, but man, it can mess you up.
  • Avianca flight changes. After hours of playing with itineraries, dates, and times for flights to Colombia, I finally pushed the submit button to finalize my trip. Or so I thought. As it turns out, Avianca likes to change their flights and time schedules A LOT. I’ve gotten at least 5 emails over the past few weeks informing me that my flights to and/or from Colombia have changed and one change even caused me to miss a connection. So I’ve had to spend quite a bit of time talking with the nice people at Egencia (who Lindblad books our flights through) to sort out my ever-changing flight schedule. Frustrating!
  • Being too scared to climb the last leg of the Angel’s Landing trail in Zion National Park. Yeah, it’s hard to admit, but I chickened out on finishing this hike. To be fair, though, I went with zero expectation on what the hike would be like and I was more than a bit surprised (and intimidated) at the last section: it’s super steep, super narrow, and super high up – not something taken lightly for a person with a fear of heights. From afar, the final chunk seriously looks like a trail up one of the floating mountains in Avatar. If I had known what was ahead, I think I would have been a bit more prepared to throw my life on the line. Perhaps next time…

What’s next

Colombia! I’ll be spending about three weeks in and near the city of Medellin. For Pablo Escobar fans, Medellin was the drug lords home turf, making it one of the most dangerous cities in the world during his reign in the 1980’s and 90’s. Now, thankfully, the city has made a tremendous rebound and is definitely becoming a traveller’s destination. I think it’s still a bit under the radar, so I’m excited to explore! After Colombia I’ll be meeting the National Geographic Quest in Panama on December 23rd for a month of work. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve been down there, so it’ll be great to get back.

Soul Searching in Southwest England + A Photo Gallery

This past summer, I spent almost three months in Southwest England. I had recently upended my life in Seattle and I felt like I needed a getaway where I could reset and reground myself. I was feeling lost and lonely and incredibly heartsick. I was doubting my decision to leave the life I had built in Seattle with my (ex)boyfriend and despite my tearful self-assurances, I felt intensely anxious about my path going forward. Was going back to the ship the right choice? How would I pay back student loans if I didn’t pursue a high-paying career? Would I ever meet a partner who jived with my nomadic tendencies? These questions, and more, left me feeling pretty anxious and lost. While some people might turn to family and friends for reassurance and support, I tend to do the opposite. I needed a solo adventure. Something that would clear my head, mend my heart, and hopefully help me see a more resolute path forward. So I signed up for a three month housesit in southwest England.

It’s actually kind of a funny side story of how I landed the housesit. I was interviewing with the British couple over Skype and they were telling me about their plans to do a three month around-the-world trip with their six year old daughter. Their first stop was New England – a month-long road trip from New York to Maine and back again. Vermont, of course, was on their itinerary, so being the proud Vermonter that I am, I asked where they would be visiting. Lo and behold, they had already booked an Airbnb in the very same small, rural town where I grew up! What!? Underhill, you have to understand, is not a tourist destination. It’s a tiny town with a strong local community, some great mountain biking and hiking trails and lots of cows but not much in the way of tourist infrastructure at all. There are no museums, very few restaurants, no public transportation, and definitely no night life. Nearby Burlington, Shelburne, Charlotte, et al… have all those things and more to entertain tourists, but not Underhill. It’s a mystery how Caroline and Will decided on an Airbnb in my tiny rural home town. And the story gets even better. It turns out that the B&B they booked was located at the other end of the dirt road my parents house is on, only about 8 miles down from my childhood stomping ground. How crazy is that!? And to get even crazier, they ended up wanting to stay a few extra nights in the Underhill area (of course, it’s the best), so they booked a room at my parents Airbnb. The world can’t get any smaller than that.

So it kind of felt like fate that I landed this three month housesit in the UK: I needed a solo adventure, I couldn’t afford all the expenses of a big trip because I had just quit my job with no future job lined up, I had no personal obligations, the timing was right, and the homeowners were traveling to my home town in rural Vermont. All the signs pointed to yes. It was settled, then. Just before my 32nd birthday in June, with my mountain bike in tow, my few belongings stuffed into my backpack, and a sense of adventure that I hadn’t felt for a long time, I left for the UK.

There were plenty of ups and downs over those three months. I wish I could say that I healed my heart, I gained new insights on myself and my future, and I came away stronger than I left. But the truth is that none of those things really happened. England ended up being more about stepping away from it all, not about figuring it all out. And that’s quite all right with me. Instead of getting my ducks in a row, I went mountain biking and hiking every week, I watched wild ponies graze on the moors, I explored small, medieval towns with their quaint markets and boutique shops, I ate wood fired pizza with the locals, I made friends… I also spent days on the couch watching marathons of Gilmore Girls and eating ice cream out of the pint to distract myself from ‘real life’.

So despite my intentions of ‘figuring things out’ in the UK, I left England still feeling pretty lonely, lost, anxious (particularly about money), and unsure about how things would continue to unfold as the year went on. But I also left with some pretty great memories, a handful of new friendships, and most importantly, I left England with a regained sense of being a strong, independent, female traveler, an identity that I feel like I lost during my four years in Seattle. It was good to feel that confidence again and know that I still have the travel mojo 🙂

Onward and upward!

Below are a few of my favorite photos that I took from various places and adventures around southwest UK. I hope you enjoy!

EXMOOR NATIONAL PARK

I spent a lot of time in Exmoor National Park because it was one of the closest nature areas to where I was housesitting aside from the Quantock Hills. Besides being gorgeous, the park is also home to numerous herds of wild ponies, which I never got tired of watching. Many of my trips into the park were with my bike since the mountain bike guidebook I found in Exeter had a whole section of rides in Exmoor. Each one was stunning!

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DARTMOOR NATIONAL PARK

I only spent one glorious day in Dartmoor National Park and I regret not exploring it further. It’s different from Exmoor in that it’s more wild (think actual moorland rather than farmland) and there are ancient stone circles and standing stones hidden among the valleys and hills, something I didn’t come across in Exmoor. Of course, wild ponies roam freely and the cattle and sheep that graze within its boundaries have the best life of any farm animals I’ve come across in my travels. Plus, one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes episodes was filmed there – The Hounds of Baskerville 😉

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THE QUANTOCK HILLS

Like Exmoor, I spent a lot of time in the Quantock Hills mountain biking and taking the dogs for a walk. It’s a beautiful area, if a bit more popular and crowded than the other two parks. Some of the downhill rides were top notch, but the climbs back up were not…

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KILVE BEACH

I found this beach in an off-the-beaten-path guidebook that was sitting on the bookshelf in my room. I used that guide book for a lot of outings over the summer and it never disappointed. Every destination was off the beaten path and it felt like I was actually discovering a local’s only place every time I ventured out per its instructions. Kilve Beach was no different. I actually missed a turn trying to find it because the road down to the beach was so inconspicuous. The beach itself was fascinating. Crazy geological features, huge prehistoric fossils, beautiful views out to the ocean, and an adorable (and delicious) little cafe that serves light lunch fare in a ramshackle (but historically significant) old church.

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CLOVELLY

The farm I was housesitting at was pretty remote, but thankfully I had an awesome neighbor – Amy – who lived in the ‘malt house’ right next door. She’s a bit younger than me, but we hit it off and we’re actually doing a road trip together in California in April! Super excited about that. Aside from movie nights, wine nights, walks with the dogs, and picnics on the lawns, we went on a few adventures farther afield. One of my favorites was to the super cute town of Clovelly. No cars are allowed in town because the cobblestone streets are so narrow and steep, which made the vibe even more quaint and charming. The houses – all brightened up with flowers and garden beds – are built close together and overlook a small bay and boatyard. A few of the houses were actually set up as the would have been in the old fishing days with lanterns, antique furniture, old pictures and photographs, cast iron cooking utensils, etc…

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BATH

Towards the end of my stay in England, my mom came for a short visit. It was a bit of a rollercoaster ride because tension often runs high (I won’t go into that now), but we did embark on some fun adventures. One of those outings was to the old Roman city of Bath, renown for its classical architecture and, of course, its geothermal baths. Funny story – we actually thought that we could go into the ancient Roman baths, so we walked around the exhibit with a large bag packed with towels and swimming suits… turns out you can’t soak in the 2000+ year old pools. Silly us.

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CORNWALL

Another adventure my mom and I went on was an overnight trip to the southernmost county of England – Cornwall. Prior to visiting, my only reference to Cornwall was the binge-worthy British drama series – Poldark – that takes place in the Cornish countryside. If you haven’t seen this show, I highly recommend it, it’s sooo good! And a little sappy 😉 The landscape scenes alone will make you want to visit this gorgeous part of England.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time to explore since I had to get back to the house and dogs (Amy was kind enough to watch over them for a night), so we did a whirlwind tour of a few standout places.

We went for a short but stunning hike in Zennor head. Unfortunately I had a back pain thing going on, so I couldn’t do anything too strenuous, which was a bummer since it was so unbelievably beautiful there.

We caught a day-time show at the cliffside Minack Theater, which was such a trip. I’m not a huge theater aficionado, but this was a definite highlight. The theater is carved out of stone and is situated right at the edge of a cliff that overlooks the English Channel. The views were absolutely insane and the show itself – Nell Gwynn – had us in stitches.

My mom wanted to see a real castle before she left, so we stopped at St. Michaels Mount, an island fortress just outside of Penzance. You can walk to the island at low tide or take a boat shuttle if the walkway is covered in water. Since the tide was high in the morning, we took the boat over then walked back a few hours later along the long, paved footpath.

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I visited and explored many more places than these few highlights, but these were some of my favorites. I can’t wait to get back and explore more of beautiful England. I hear there’s some fantastic mountain biking in the northern regions, especially Scotland and Wales 😉

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A Month Of Fun

Ok, it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve posted my whereabouts and adventures in California and I apologize! My intentions were to post at least once a week, but that obviously never happened… I do have several excuses for why I’ve been a bit MIA, though:

1) I’m a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist makes it really hard to stick with messy projects and right now I feel like this blog is a messy project and subpar for my standards. My writing isn’t as good as I want it to be, the layout isn’t perfect, I’m constantly critiquing my photos, I’m second guessing what I want to publish… the list goes on and on and it’s been a bit paralyzing. I want this blog to be something that I’m proud of and right now it feels just too novice. I know it’s ridiculous because nothing is perfect when just starting out, so I’m trying to remind myself to be patient and take baby steps. It’ll morph into something I’m proud of eventually as long as I stick with it.

2) I’ve been making friends and having fun! I’ve met a handful of awesome people in the Bishop and Mammoth Lakes area and we’ve been packing in mountain bike rides, motorbiking, river floating, hikes, shenanigans, etc…. Between that and husky-sitting, I simply haven’t had a whole lot of time to sit down and write and edit photos! More about all that fun below.

3) I picked up some massage shifts at the Double Eagle Spa in Mammoth Lakes to make extra money while I’m on ‘sabbatical’. To give you a refresher, I quit my health coaching job in March without a real plan. I thought I was going to get a summer job working with Backroads but that didn’t pan out so I had to get creative in order to keep my bank account topped up and not stress about money. I only was on the spa schedule for 3 shifts a week while housesitting for my brother and sister-in-law, but it was a perfect reintroduction to massage since it had been about 4 years since I’d given my last one!

Now back to the fun I mentioned above. But first, I should let you know that I’m writing this post from a beautiful vantage point on the front lawn of the amazing old English estate I’m looking after for the next 2 1/2 months. I’m surrounded by flower-studded gardens, layered stone walls, rose bushes, sheep pastures, and birdsong. It’s magical! Let me wrap up California then I’ll get onto my English adventure.

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Here’s a quick recap of some fun adventures that happened over the last month:

LEARNING HOW TO GET SOME AIR ON MY MOUNTAIN BIKE

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One friend that I met while in California is a really good mountain biker and he took the time to teach me some mountain bike tricks that will help improve my riding. These tricks include bunny hops (jumping the bike over little roots and rocks in the trail) and getting air off larger features to smooth out the ride. Usually when approaching things like big rocks or drops I’ll go around them or slow down considerabelyto ‘absorb’ the potential jump. Not any more! I definitely wouldn’t say I’m pro, but I have a decent handle on bunny hops and small jumps now after some practice: get lots of speed, compress the handle bars, shift the hips way back, don’t crash.

MOTORBIKING

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I also learned how to ride a motorbike (i.e. a dirt bike)! The same friend has one and he brought me out into the sandy fire roads outside of Bishop for a lesson. I was a bit hesitant because, in my mind, motorcycles and dirt bikes have always been too dangerous (thanks dad), but it was loads of fun and I feel like I picked it up pretty quick. It wasn’t as scary or dangerous as I had imagined! Granted, I was completed shelled in my friend’s dirt bike armor, which gave me a false sense of safety for better or worse. But as someone who loves adventures, I now can’t get the idea of doing a long-distance motobike ride out of my head… Vietnam? Mexico? Madagascar?

SPARK PLUG MINES

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So the third time I got on a motorbike was this adventure up to the Spark Plug mines. I’ve always had a ‘just do it’ kind of attitude, especially when it comes to outdoor adventure, but this ride pushed even my limits. The first part was great – riding along back roads next to a beautiful canal with cows watching as we passed by; green pastures filled with wildflowers all around us and snowy mountains as the backdrop. It was absolutely gorgeous. But then we got to White Mountain Road that would lead us up to the trailhead and things got a bit rocky – literally. The road was not a road, but more like a washed out ditch filled with softball sized rocks that we had to navigate our motorbikes along. My whole body was tense the entire ride, which is the opposite of what you want! We made it, though, with only a few minor spills and I really came to appreciate that armor.

At the trailhead, we met two more friends who had mountain biked up the road (I can only imagine how miserable that was) and from there we hiked up into the ravine toward the mines. I really had no idea what to expect from this adventure, but it turns out the old camp at Spark Plug mines is incredibly cool. The hike took just over an hour and raised us about 1500ft where we eventually spilled out onto a plateau overlooking the canyon below and the Sierra Nevadas in the distance. On the plateau was the Spark Plug mine camp. Most of the cabins have been ‘adopted’ by locals and stocked with all the necessities for an overnight or weekend away: blankets, flashlights, books, games, matches, you name it. We played a quick game of darts in the first cabin then continue to explore the rest of the camp. A sort of museum housed old relics from the mining days like shoes, all sorts of rocks from the area, letters, photos, tools, etc… There was also horseshoe pit, a mini pingpong set up, bocce ball, and a whip that we all took turns trying to crack. After a few hours wandering through the camp, we made our way back down to the bikes and slowly navigated them down the road of hell.

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FLOATING THE OWEN’S RIVER

One of the iconic summer things to do in Bishop, CA is to float the meandering Owen’s River. It requires two cars because you need to drop one at the take-out site and one at the start, but with a bit of planning and a hot summer day it’s paradise. Apparently the river is usually pretty slow and lazy but because this winter saw so much snow it was flowing pretty quick! Loba – my brother and sister-in-law’s husky dog – floated along with us on her own tube, which made the trip that much more entertaining. (Sorry, no photos because I don’t have a waterproof camera!)

SNOWBOARDING FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 12 YEARS

Growing up, skiing and snowboarding was pretty big in my family. We lived only 15 minutes from the mountain (Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont) and every few years we would take family trips to ski meccas like Banff and Switzerland. But after heading off to college and embarking on my travels, snowboarding fell to the wayside as I got into yoga, hiking, and mountain biking instead. But thanks to the nudge from my brother while I was visiting, he convinced me to get back on a board after a 12 year hiatus I’m so glad I did! It was tons of fun and I picked it right back up, just like riding a bike. I’m not sure when or where I’ll be snowboarding next, but hopefully it won’t be another 12 years!

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So that was a very quick round-up of this last month, which was packed with some fun adventures. I’m going to try my best to keep posting and get over my perfectionist tendencies and just ‘see what happens’ with this blog. I’ll be in England for the next 2.5 months, so there are sure to be some more adventures to come!

Convict Lake Loop

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I’ve been housesitting for my brother and his wife for a few weeks now while they’re off galavanting in New Zealand and one thing I learned pretty quickly is that huskies – especially young ones – need A LOT of exercise. I’m not talking about the usual 1-2 walks a day that satisfy normal dogs. No, I’m talking about at least 3-4 HOURS (or more!) a day of good quality romping: wrestling with neighborhood dogs, chasing field mice, digging holes, climbing rock piles, going on adventures etc… If you need more exercise in you life, get a husky 😉

The other day I could tell that Loba was getting restless (despite her social outings with neighborhood dogs), so we drove up to Convict Lake to hike the three mile loop that circumnavigates the bowl-shaped basin. Little did we know that the epic snowfall that hammered the Mammoth Lakes area earlier this year was still in the process of melting so we had to do a bit of delicate snow-walking on the south side if we were going to make it all the way around the lake. You know how some spring snow gets a shiny, hard crust on its surface? Well one unbalanced step could have sent me sliding down a steep icy-crusted snow bank and into the chilly lake water 😮 That would not have been fun. Loba didn’t seem to have much trouble, though – she was in her element, as husky’s usually are in winter weather. As I trudged along, picking out my next step and trying to stay balanced, she would zoom up and down the snowy hillside and dig holes in the heavy, dense spring snow. Occasionally she’d look back at me with a “what’s taking you so long?” look. We made it through the wintery section and then came to the boardwalk that spans the backside of the lake. Because of all the snow this year, some of the boardwalk was in pretty bad shape 😦 The trail crew will have quite a bit of repair to do this spring and summer once all the snow is gone! When we finally hit the north side there was no sign of snow, but plenty of signs of spring. I shed some layers as the sun now bore down directly on me and I even considered taking off my boots and soaking my feet in the clear lake water. Loba didn’t hesitate to get her paws wet.The contrast between the north to south sides was pretty dramatic, but the lake in the middle remained equally enchanting. I found this blog post of Convict Lake in the summer to give you a different (less snowy) perspective.

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Seven Memorable Adventures From Spain and France

It’s been about a year since I traveled around northern Spain and southern France for three weeks with my then boyfriend and I’m still thinking about the fun times we had. I wrote up three separate posts (here, here, and here) but I wanted to do a recap since I feel like I left some things out. We started in Barcelona – doing all the touristy things like visiting Park Güell (a definite must) and eating lots of jamón and cheese in the markets (inevitable). We then we headed north to Cadaqués and Parque Natural Cap de Crues, which was unexpectedly fantastic. From that small, rocky peninsula, we booked it west to Logroño for delicious wine tasting and pinxtos eating. Then we moseyed north to explore Basque country (by donkey!) and drive along the stunning Bay of Biscay coastline from Elantoxbe to San Sebastian. For the second half of our trip, we entered into France and slowly made our way along the scenic north slopes of the Pyréneés until we reached the Mediterranean. Then it was back south to Barcelona where we started, completing our epic loop. There were lots of memorable adventures along the way – as can be expected – but these seven really stand out in my mind when I revisit our journey.

BIKING THROUGH BARCELONA

On one of our days in Barcelona, we decided to rent bikes and see the city on two wheels. It was a GREAT decision. Bikes – in my opinion – are one of the best ways to see a place because you can cover some distance, but still have the flexibility to go (mostly) where you want at a slow pace. Cars, buses, and trains simply move too fast to actually see and enjoy a location. We started out in the narrow stone streets of the Gothic and Born quarters, swerving and weaving our way through people, and then made our way down the busy La Rambla to the paved pedestrian pathway that lines the Mediterranean coastline. Once we hit the ocean, we steered our bike handles to the left and slowly pedaled down a wide walkway decorated with palm trees. The sandy beaches that we passed on our right were mostly empty because it was too cold and windy for sunbathing, but we did see several incredibly detailed sand sculptures including a fire-breathing dragon! As we continued on, we had no destination in mind, we were simply enjoying the fresh, salty air and the freedom of being on bikes. When we got to the deserted Parc del Fòrum, which was built for the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures, but now stands mostly empty, we turned our bikes around and headed back to the city for some early tapas and wine.

HIKING IN CAP DE CRUES NATIONAL PARK

I’m not really sure why we chose to make the trip north from Barcelona to Cadaqués and Parque Natural Cap de Crues, but it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. The drive alone from Roses (where the peninsula ‘begins’) to Cadaqués is stunning – amazing views of the glistening, blue Mediterranean Sea and acres and acres of silver olive groves separated by old stone walls. The town of Cadaqués is equally lovely – whitewashed and quaint. I think many Spanish and French families go there for holidays. The best feature for us, though, was hiking in the Park. After spending the night at a great Airbnb, we explored the rugged coastline and trails for a good 5-6 hours the next day. The area around the lighthouse is great, but there’s also a fantastic network of trails in surrounding areas. At one point, we even startled a family of wild boar!

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VISITING THE WINE BODEGAS OF LAGUARDIA

I may not be a wine enthusiast (or wine snob if you will) but I definitely have a big love and appreciation for the stuff, so a stop in the Rioja region was a must. Since we were in Spain just before tourist season (late March), there weren’t many wine tours or wineries open, but that was fine with us since we tend to shy away from those kinds of things anyways. Instead, we headed to the medieval walled town of Laguardia (no cars allowed in the narrow, stone-lines streets) which is well known for its underground wine caves and bodegas. We dipped down into the underbelly of Carlos San Pedro Perez de Vinaspre and sampled wines in different stages of fermentation while breathing in the dank, musty scent of the cellars. All throughout the catacombs there were wines fermenting in open vats, wines stored in big oak barrels, and wines sealed in dusty bottles waiting for the ‘perfect’ moment to drink. We definitely drank our share of wine that day…

DONKEY TREKKING IN THE BASQUE COUNTRY

This may have been – no, this WAS – my favorite part of the trip. You see, I kind of love donkeys. A lot. So when I saw an Airbnb listing in the Basque country with ‘donkey trekking’ advertised, there was no hesitation. Momo and Django (and Phil – our host) did not disappoint. We took them out for an all day trek and it was fabulous. More than fabulous. We went at donkey speed, so I don’t think we actually covered many miles (6 or 7 maybe?), but we got to see some parts of Basque country that not many visitors get to see. Phil even took us into a deep, dark limestone cave that extended well back into the hills. At the deepest point (after wriggling our way through some scary tight spots), there was a bit of graffiti on the cave walls – some entries went back to the early 1900’s, which was pretty cool. Not that I support graffiti… When we stopped for lunch at the top of a steep bluff looking out over a valley, I had to defend my tortilla de patata from Momo who tried everything – from sneaking up behind me to extending his neck and lips to full potential – to get a bite. Well, more like a couple of bites because I couldn’t resist giving him a taste… The grand finale was riding Django back into town.

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ZARAUTZ

We had been told that the ‘gem’ of the north Basque coast is San Sebastian. And while San Sebastian is great, we thought that Zarautz was even better – more our style: small, laid back, fewer tourists. We had only planned on staying one night, but we extended that to two because we absolutely loved the place. The beaches are beautiful, it’s got some excellent restaurants, and we just felt welcome by the locals, a feeling that is sometimes missing in larger tourist towns. The hike that our Airbnb host sent us on was also fantastic. We took some back roads past vineyards that look out over the ocean, walked through a crumbling and graffitied coliseum, and descended over into the neighboring town of Getaria. Part of this hike was on the famous Camino de Real route. Hungry by the time we got to Getaria, we sat down for a splendid three course lunch and split a bottle of wine that went straight to our dehydrated heads. After lazily walking around town for a bit, we headed back to Zarautz via the oceanside walkway that connects the two towns.

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L’ANCIENNE BERGERIE BED AND BREAKFAST AND SURROUNDING AREA

What a FIND! We were driving through the middle of nowhere-France, wondering where we were going to spend the night when we happenchanced upon L’Ancienne Bergerie. Becks and Kevin – the proprietors of the bed and breakfast – had transformed an old stone barn into a cozy and luxurious bed and breakfast for off-the-beaten path tourists. Overlooking the slopes of the Pyrenees and situated in a quaint valley with a river running through it, L’Ancienne Bergerie is honestly a gem. Furthermore, Becks is an amazing chef and cooked us – and one other other couple – a gourmet three-course dinner accompanied by flowing wine and great conversation (although I assured the Spanish couple that Trump would never win the 2017 presidential election 😫). The next day, after a breakfast of local jams, cheese, and freshly made hot cross buns, Becks send us out on a walking tour through the backwoods. We got slightly lost, but reorientated ourselves and eventually came across a goat dairy where we ogled over baby goats and purchased some delicious freshly made goat cheese. Our only regret is not staying for another night (or week or month….)

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COLLIOURE

The last stop of our trip before heading back to Barcelona was the picturesque sea town of Collioure in southern France. Whenever we had asked for recommendations of places to visit in southerb France (for our travel schedule is very ‘loose’), people would always recommend Collioure first. And for good reason. It’s a beautiful little whitewashed, pastel town right on the water with great restaurants, lots of boutique shops, and plenty of room for relaxation. We played cards, walked the artsy streets, explored the royal castle, ate good food, and sipped amazing wines. It was the perfect ending to a great trip.

So there you have it – my top 7 favorite memories/experiences from our three week trip through northern Spain and southern France!