Arctic Adventures

My heart sank as the man uttered the words I feared I might hear. “It’s out in the open sea. The boat has no stabilizers, so it is likely to be rough.” He was talking about the Birding Safari that Rich had signed up for near the North Cape. I wasn’t interested in birding, but the prospect of seeing puffins, sea lions and maybe even whales was alluring. Just not under those conditions. The judge had ruled against me. I would have to pass.

We were above the tree line now, as a member of the Expedition Team explained to the gathering out on deck. The only vegetation on the rocky slopes were low tundra grasses, mosses and lichens. Many faces were shear rock. These mountain ranges were lower, smoother, devoid of the sharp peaks and pockets of snow I was used to seeing. But impressive in their own way.

The harbor in the tiny town of Honningsvåg was surrounded by colorful houses and a dramatic backdrop of mountains. As Rich eagerly rushed to his tour, I headed straight to the Tourist Info office. Soon afterwards, I emerged. Map in hand, with a plan.

So far, our weather on the ship had been far from stellar. Low clouds and dreary skies dampened the impact of the passing scenery. But as I made a circuit around the harbor filled with fishing boats, the sun staged a comeback. Reaching the far side, I consulted my map and headed uphill.

The Info lady had recommended two hiking trails. They started together then one branched off to an overlook. Indeed, it provided a bird’s eye view of the harbor, and even our Hurtigruten ferry shrank down to toy size. A nearby trail map showed where I was, as well as the trail she suggested I take. It followed a mountain pass and continued on to a lake. In theory that sounded good, but I found the wide gravel path unappealing.

In contrast, a narrow wiggly foot-worn path continued up the mountainside. In groups of two or three and representing all ages and abilities, walkers passed by and headed up the trail. None hesitated as they passed the sign. They just marched forward, conquering that hill. Soon a whole line of colorful dots squiggled up the mountainside, illustrating exactly where the path led.

I tried to want to hike to the lake. It was the sensible thing to do. But that little trail called to me. I checked the map again. Even on there, it was all switchbacks. But the other way way so ugly. “I’ll just go a little higher,” I rationalized.

The going was easier than I expected. The rise was steep, but I navigated the dirt and rocks despite my woeful footwear. Having packed for a bike tour, I brought only my Keene sandals. They served me well post bike ride each day, but were hardly ideal for the cold weather and hiking on this segment of our trip. I wasn’t about to let my lack of foresight prevent me from this adventure. One foot in front of the other, I continued.

Getting a grip going up was one thing. It was going back down that had me concerned. So far I hadn’t seen a soul come back this way. But I kept going. By then I was committed.

Nearly to the ridge line I was feeling triumphant. Scrambling up the final bit, the harbor on the opposite side came into view. That was my definition of success, even though I discovered another ridge just beyond. With the departure time for the ship weighing on my mind, I called it a summit. And celebrated with selfies.

The journey down started with crab crawling, using three and four point contact to stay on the hillside. I took pains not to look down, but when I jiggled a rock free I noted how far it tumbled before stopping. I took heart in knowing that the trail would get easier as I went.

In truth, the hike was barely three kilometers. But the path to the lake looked just as ugly on the way back down. Surely a mountaintop view was a superior choice. And I finished in plenty of time to seek out ice cream and consume it in a sunny sheltered spot by the harbor.

Rich returned triumphant. He glowingly expounded on the hundreds of puffins, the sea eagles and reindeer that he saw. I was envious. Almost. “It was really wavy out there,” he reported. “At times I couldn’t even stand up.” Just like me up there on that mountain. Only I didn’t risk getting seasick.

An Enchanted Hike

Bike touring is great, but it does leave many “nearby” attractions undiscovered.  I can’t count the number of times I have looked longingly at a sign for a promising sight while Rich chides, “Molly, that little detour is 12 miles round trip!”  We cycle on by.

After two bike tours through Fredericksburg TX, this year we chose to arrive by car with our bicycles on the back.  Settling into a tiny cottage just off the historic Main Street, we suddenly have access to all those missed opportunities.  Nothing qualifies as too far to detour.

Today’s destination was my pick.  I got my first glimpse of Enchanted Rock while on a long bike ride.  Navigating the winding, hilly backroads, I turned a corner and there it was – the big pink granite dome.  That was enough to put it on my bucket list for our stay.

View of Enchanted Rock

Waiting out the misty morning, we timed our arrival perfectly – just as the sun came out.  We also deliberately missed last week’s spring break crowds.  No bikes for us today, the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is for hiking.  Loading up with sunscreen, plenty of water and cameras we started off with the iconic Summit Trail.

Calling it a trail is a misnomer.  It’s a rock.  And you walk up it.  The big pink expanse beckoned and we meandered up the steep slope to the top.  Chatting with other trekkers made the journey far easier than we imagined it to be.  Wandering over the top of the dome, we admired the views, ogled strange rock formations and found wildflowers in the crevices.  The notion of hurry did not apply.

Molly atop Enchanted Rock

View of Moss Lake from Enchanted Rock

Rich on Enchanted RockMolly and rock formations on Enchanted RockWildflowers growing in crevasse in Enchanted Rock

Hiking back down an alternate swath of rock, we connected with the Echo Canyon Trail.  I quickly understood the Challenging classification, as I picked my way between boulders.  I was more at ease once it morphed into an easy walking trail.

Rich on Echo Canyon TrailMolly on Echo Canyon Trail

Skirting Moss Lake, we finished on the Loop Trail.  The highway width crushed rock path was impossible to miss, and the unshaded sun baked our northern bodies.  But it delivered on the wildflower scale and provided some fun rock monuments.

Wildflowers at Enchanted Rock 1 Wildflowers at Enchanted Rock 2 Enchanted Rock formations

Tomorrow we’re back on the bicycles for our favorite loop through the Texas bluebonnets.  But today I was glad Rich humored me for an enchanted day of hiking.

Living in the Moment on Dungeness Bay

Time is too precious to squander a single moment. With one week to spend with my three adult children, spouses and youngest grandchild, all I want to do is soak up their presence and savor this rare time together. My natural instincts are to write about the experience. To blog, share on Facebook and text friends. But I refrain. For a week I shun social media and focus purely on life as it happens. And it is sweet.

Reviving the concept of a family vacation, we are all gathered on the Olympic peninsula in Washington. Settling into a spacious house on the coast in Dungeness, we are surrounded by mountains, hiking trails, beaches, tide pools, wildlife and birds. It is the perfect setting for this assembly of active people intent on enjoying the outdoors.

Dungeness Bay Manor

The week is deliberately unstructured. Couples or individuals are free to choose their activities each day, and different groups form depending on interests. The only stipulation is that we all reconvene for dinner. There stories of the day's adventures are shared, and plans begin to form for the next day's outings.

Dinner on the deck

Hiking is high on the priority list, and there is one destination on everyone's must-do list – Hurricane Ridge. On a crystal clear day with mountains visible in all directions, we all hike Hurricane Hill. It is an easy, unhurried trek as we take in the colorful array of wildflowers along the trail, the rich green of the pine trees contrasting with the deep blue sky, and the snow covered peaks that surround us. Being flanked by family clinches the moment.

Hurricane Hill wildflowers
Maren atop Hurricane Hill
Family on Hurricane Hill

Our two boys have been harboring plans for a challenge hike, and head out early one morning to tackle a steep and rugged trail. In contrast, some of us girls decide on a day at Rialto Beach where we scramble between enormous rocks known as “stacks” and spend hours peering into tide pools.

Rialto Beach

Rich naturally gravitates to areas for birding opportunities, and spends a couple days exploring the majesty of Cape Flattery – the most northwestern point of the US.

Cape Flattery

A visit to the HOH Rain Forest is another popular choice. Those of us who make the longer trip to get there all agree it was well worth the drive. We revel in the green toned wilderness, where mosses drip from every available branch, pine trees tower overhead and tangled tree trunks form intricate patterns. An encounter with two imposing elk bucks hold up our hike while they graze lazily in the woodlands. We wait as long as it takes them to eat their fill.

HOH Rain Forest hike
Elk in rain forest
Rain forest hikers

Dungeness Spit is in our own back yard, which beckons for another all-family walk on its sandy shore.

Dungeness Spit
Family on Dungeness Spit

It is a week of making memories. A week of carefree vacation time with family. A week of sunshine and beautiful scenery. A week of activity. Best of all, I haven't missed a single moment.

 

Hiking with the Super Moon

When the sun shines, you just gotta get out there and enjoy it.  And when the temps are far warmer than they should be in November, there is no excuse for staying inside.  So although I have not been out hiking around Duluth for ages, I’ve logged four straight days of blissful rambles through our local woods.  I have to credit the weather for that.

My first foray was down Congdon Creek and back with my sister, Susie.  This was our backyard growing up.  We’d play in the woods and follow the creek on a regular basis.  I walked over the huge pipe every day going to Ordean Jr. High.  (You could never do that now!)  And yet, we were amazed by the beauty and extreme scenery that day as we meandered along the creek.  It was flowing faster than could be expected for late fall, and the high rock canyons and waterfalls left us in awe as we crossed and recrossed the river on the new bridges.

I followed that with the trails just below Hawk Ridge, with their outstanding views of Lakeside.  I still can’t quite work out which streets are which from that height, but it doesn’t matter. The lake stretched out in the distance, and the sun brilliantly illuminated the entire scene.  Even closer to home, I walked the Lester-Amity ski trails, delighting in seeing them now free of trees and ready for that first snowfall that signals the start of cross-country ski season.

Superior Hiking Trail mapThose were just warm-ups compared with yesterday’s hike on the Superior Hiking Trail with friend, Beth.  She took me on her favorite hike across West Duluth, which she calls the “greatest hits” for its wide array of natural scenery.  Starting from Highland and Skyline Parkway, we made our way on the Superior Hiking Trail across the ridges high above the St. Louis Bay to Lincoln Park.  For six miles, we walked through beautiful woods, kicked up leaves, scrambled over rocks and embraced the fall scene surrounding us.  Nature had retreated to its pre-winter state, brown and brittle with dry wispy remembrances of blooms past their glory days.  Beautiful in its own way.

Once up on the ridge line, there was more.  Each opening of the trees brought stunning views of the city and shipping lanes below.  It wasn’t hard to marvel over the beauty of the city where we live, and our good fortune in choosing it.City View from SHT 1We started late enough in the afternoon that sunset crept up on us mid-hike.  The blue sky began to pale and the city glowed in the low angle of the sun.City View from SHT 2I was anxious to see the rise of the Super Moon, which is one of the reasons we chose this hike.  We began searching for its debut, peering out over the lake at every opportunity.  It was Beth who first spotted it, low and pink, still reflecting the colors of the sunset in the opposite direction.Super Moon 1That part of the hike was magical.  Every view of the moon was different.  Framed by new scenery.  Taking on more vivid colors.  Peering out at us from its perch in the sky.  I didn’t even care that my good camera and tripod were in the car.  I preferred to see it all live, and snap the occasional haphazard picture with my pocket camera.Super Moon 2All were great hikes.  Restorative and soul enhancing.  But that last bit was extra special.  It’s not every day that you can hike with the Super Moon.

Northland Mud Season

Few would claim that the Northland is at its best in the spring.  While temperatures are nearing the comfort zone in the Twin Cities, we are still hovering around freezing.  Although spring flowers may be poking up in warmer climes, here the vegetation is still brown.  The ground is muddy and still icy in spots.  In short, it’s pretty bleak.

And yet, when the sun comes out it is hard to resist heading outdoors.  Never mind that cold wind off the lake, spring calls.  That’s exactly how I found myself in Gooseberry Falls State Park this morning.

Muddy path at Gooseberry FallsThe woman in the Visitor Center warned that the trails were wet and slippery.  But the draw was irresistible.  I hadn’t come to the park to walk on the road.  From the abundance of muddy footprints I followed, I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  Others too were enjoying the squish and slide of mud season.  There is something innately satisfying about setting foot squarely in the midst of that soft wet earth and the squidgy suctiony noise that accompanies its exit from the quagmire.  Big kids that we are.

If the lack of vegetation deprives us of color, it also grants vistas.  En route to the lake shore, I was able to take in the falls from a distance, and enjoy the twisty, windy path of the river.  It’s fascinating how it transitions from roaring falls to lazy stream in just a short distance.  The dogwoods added a welcome touch of red to the scene.Long distance view of Gooseberry Falls Gooseberry RiverNot all scenic views were a product of nature.  I particularly enjoyed the symmetry and design of the steps that took me high above the river to the cliffs above.  Workers more recent than the original CCC crews that created the park’s magnificent log and stone buildings back in the 1930s were responsible for this ascending sculpture.Modern steps in the parkHiking between the shoreline and the falls, I decided it was a dual sound track park.  Next to Lake Superior, the rush of the wind and the pounding of the waves filled my ears.  It was a familiar noise I could feel as well as hear.  Both sensations retreated as I moved away from the lake, soon to be replaced by the roar of the falls.  The thunderous din grew as I drew closer to the source, and witnessed the power of the water as it crashed over the rocks.  Still swollen by the spring run-off.Gooseberry Falls in springMy circuit complete, I tracked globs of mud back to the car on my boots, fresh air tingling on my face, and fingers feeling a slight chill despite my warm gloves.  All so very satisfying.  Spring in the Northland, mud season at its very best.

Staying after Class

Writing Class

Class was dismissed, time to head home. Or so I thought. It was the end of a wonderful 4-day stint in Grand Marais, rubbing elbows with real authors and nascent writers at the inaugural North Shore Readers and Writers Festival put on by the Grand Marais Art Colony. My time there was jam packed with workshops, craft seminars, entertaining speakers, readings by authors and book related special events. I left with a head full of inspiration, myriad ways to improve my writing, and great role models among both presenters and attendees to fuel my ambition.

The noonday sun shone brillliantly in the deep blue sky. I shuffled through the fall leaves while breathing in the brisk air, listening to the waves crashing against Lake Superior's shore as I walked back to the motel. After days indoors perched on chairs, listening intently, thinking and practicing writing, the outdoors felt envigorating. So when Rich proposed staying on for another day, it didn't take me long to overcome my natural inclination to stick to the original plan and agree to the extension.

Northern Lights Lake Trail

In short order we headed up the Gunflint Trail. With hunting season just opened our hiking options were limited, but Rich assured me no sane hunter (or deer) would choose the steep trail up alongside Northern Lights Lake. The trail rose steeply rewarding us with nice views of the lake through the trees. Navigating the path required careful attention to where I was going. Avoiding slippery rocks, wet mud and tree roots kept my eyes riveted on the trail. Perhaps that's what brought the forest floor into such sharp focus, with all its intricate detail. There the lichen spread its delicately patterned fronds over the green mossy ground cover. From a distance, it resembled a field of cauliflower. Up close it was like fine lace.

Lichen along the trail

Similar looking decor proved to be something else entirely…snow! Just a gentle reminder that winter is not far away.

Snow along the trail

The silence of the trail was a calming influence. With only the wind rippling through the trees as accompaniment to our falling footsteps, it made for a relaxing retreat. My only regret was that the trail wasn't longer, to prolong our foray into the woods.

With the fall days rapidly growing shorter, by mid-afternoon the shadows were lengthening and dusk was already beginning its advance. We chose to spend the remaining hours of golden sunlight at the harbor, watching the waves crash on the rocky breakwater. By then, I was grateful for bringing a warm jacket, gloves and hat. On the North Shore, one can never be over-prepared for the weather.

Grand Marais harbor

As the sun set behind the lighthouse, casting its fiery glow, I knew we'd made the right decision. It was worth staying after class.

Grand Marais sunset

 

Hiking, Czech Style

You have to hand it to the Czechs. When hiking in the mountains, they do things right. How well I remember the first time we went hiking with our Czech daughter, Pavla, and her family. After toiling up the steep climb, wading through deep snow, slipping on the ice and marveling at the stamina of the locals we came to the summit. And a pub! Taking in the surprise registering on our faces, Pavla patiently explained that all such hikes terminate at similar establishments. After all, what would be the point otherwise? Good thinking. We decided on the spot that we liked hiking in the Czech Republic.

MoravkaOur latest visit with Pavla included a stay in Morovka, where she and her family spend most weekends in husband Pavel’s family home. It is a beautiful spot in a valley situated in the Beskidy Mountains. And right from the doorstep there are numerous hiking options. Blessed with a perfect fall day featuring peak foliage and brilliant sunshine, we set out shortly after lunch with extended family members to tackle the hillside.

Hiking near MoravkaThe air was crisp and cool, particularly in the shade of the towering trees. It was good incentive to keep moving. We weren’t the only hikers on the trail by any stretch. And nearly all were family groups. What impressed us most of all was the way the young ones carried on without complaint. The youngest in our group was only four, and she covered nearly the whole 5 kilometer distance uphill on her own. She definitely earned the piggy back ride she got on the way down. Those only a few years older hiked round trip with energy to spare. Clearly, they were raised on this stuff.

This particular hike delivered in style. There were multiple resting spots along the way, with plenty of beverage and food options to refresh the weary traveler. At the first, we paused long enough to indulge the children in a pony ride. Our destination was Chata Kotar, where we happily gathered around outdoor tables to enjoy the view. And lift a glass or two.
Chata Kotar on the hiking trail
The views were as spectacular going down as they were on the way up. We couldn’t help marveling at our good fortune with the weather. And there was no better way to enjoy it than traipsing through the colorful, rustling leaves with our Czech family.

Hiking in the Beskidy MountainsThank you, Pavla, for introducing us to hiking, Czech style!Molly, Pavla and Rich