European Adventure 2017 – Hike to Trolltunga, Norway (Part 2)

During the planning of our Norwegian adventure, my friend and I looked a many different hiking options. Originally, we were planning on backpacking and camping overnight somewhere in Norway. But our desire to see mountains and fjords, and the time frame in which we were visiting, pushed us into the unknown and potentially dangerous territory of snow and ice. Many of the hiking options specifically stated “do not attempt before mid-June” (we visited end of April/beginning of May). With limited experience hiking, and no experience camping, in the winter, we decided that a guided day hike may be our best option, y’know, so we actually returned home. During the early stages of research, we found Trolltunga, or Troll’s Tongue, one of the most popular hikes (maybe even THE MOST POPULAR hike) in Norway. We quickly crossed this off of the list due to the time of year we were visiting. However after deciding on a guided hike, we found a tour guide group called Trolltunga Active that conducts guided snowshoe hikes out to Trolltunga, at a very reasonable price! It was decided, we were going to see Trolltunga.

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Trolltunga Active’s shop in Skjeggedal – where the guided hike began

After a not great night of sleep at the hostel (we had a roommate who snored terribly loud), we got up early to get ready for the hike. We ate breakfast at the hostel, filled our water bottles, and hopped in the van pool organized by the hostel that would take us to Trolltunga Active. In the van, we met another woman, who we would end up befriending and adventuring with for the rest of our time in Norway. She had attempted the hike two days earlier, but they had to turn back due to extremely low temperatures and whiteout conditions from a storm. She changed her plans in order to attempt the hike again. Luckily this day it was forecast to be in the 50s (Fahrenheit) with almost no clouds.

We got to Trolltunga Active and had a pre-hike briefing with the guides. You need to sign a waiver and register that you started the hike (so they know to look for you if you don’t come back). We also used this time to double check that we had everything – extra layers, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, food, etc. I dug and dug through my pack, convinced that I had packed my SPF 70 sunscreen. I couldn’t find it anywhere. So I had to buy a tiny thing of sunscreen for $20 (USD). At least it was SPF 50…

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A sign that detailed the route we would take

The guides handed out snowshoes and poles, described the route we would take, a 22 km (~13.6 miles) trek with 900 m (~2,950 feet) of elevation gain, although my GPS watch clocked well over 3,000 feet elevation gain, closer to 4,000 feet. The guides stated that if you didn’t make it to a certain point within three hours, they would make you turn back because you wouldn’t make it to Trolltunga with enough daylight to make it back. Talk about intense. Once everyone was situated, the hike began.

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Snowshoes lined up and ready to go

Right from the very beginning it was steep. You start by ascending 17 switchbacks of a steep, gravel road. It didn’t take me long to reconsider my life decisions. Why did I want to do this again? Why did I PAY for this?? We gained 500 feet in the first mile, and another 500 in the second. Just as I felt like dying, we stopped to take a break. We had already reached the elevation where there was still snow. From here it leveled off just a little while we walked through some cute cabins to an exposed stream. Here we were able to refill water bottles, if needed.

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The view from the start was already spectacular – and it only got better
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Nordic ski tracks everywhere
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Refilling water bottles
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Handwritten sign pointing in the direction of Trolltunga

The next part of the route was the hardest. We ascended an extremely steep, snow covered hillside, gaining slightly over 1,000 feet in a mile. This would have been a difficult climb without the snow, but the added slippery factor made it even harder. With the occasional slide backwards on the snow, I felt like I was working twice as hard to cover half the distance. And every time I looked up, the top seemed even farther away. Needless to say, I was SO GLAD once I had reached the top of this climb.

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Looking back down on (most of) the really steep climb that was mile 4
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Looking up at the rest of the climb

At the top, the group took a quick break while the guides described the plan for the rest of the route, which mainly consisted of rolling hills. After what we had just climbed, it was a breeze. The first downhill on the snow was a little nerve racking (especially with a guy who had no spacial awareness right on my tail), but once I got the hang of it, it was basically smooth sailing for the rest of the hike out to Trolltunga (which took another three hours).

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The guides would continue on skis for the rest of the hike

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I was surprised to see power lines here…
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That trail in more precarious than it looks…

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A little ways after our lunch stop at an emergency shelter along the trail (where I found the SPF 70 sunscreen that I had actually packed….$20 wasted), the view opened up to an amazing site. We hiked along the edge of the mountains that bordered Ringedalsvatnet (vatnet is the Norwegian word for lake). It was incredible and only got better as we went along.

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After a bit more walking, we finally came to Trolltunga. Words can’t even describe how beautiful this spot is. There’s a reason why this is one of the most popular hikes in Norway. Trolltunga is a rock formation that looks like a tongue sticking straight out from the cliff, 700 meters (~2,300 feet) above Ringedalsvatnet. We spent quite a bit of time here taking pictures and drinking in the amazing landscape, unable to comprehend that this was real life and we were actually not dreaming.

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Trolltunga
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Trolltunga reflected in my friends’s sunglasses

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A good example of the amount of snow

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The view from Trolltunga
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My friend (for scale) standing on Trolltunga

After enjoying ourselves for a little while, it was time to head back so we had enough sunlight. The hike back was a lot easier, and once we got to the steep parts we just slid down on our butts!

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The swiftly setting sun casts shadows on the surrounding mountains

The hike to Trolltunga was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. One of the reasons that I love hiking is that you are reminded of just how small you are as a human. This hike was no exception. This natural rock formation was so amazing and I won’t soon forget this experience. Before I wrap up this post, I’d just like to share one more tidbit from the hike. While we were at Trolltunga, I overheard someone asking one of the guides whether Trolltunga would be here forever. I already knew the answer, but the tour guide told this person that because of erosion the rock would eventually fall into the lake below. This was a simple reminder that nothing is permanent and that landscapes we take for granted are constantly changing, even if we can’t see it. I can’t put into words how glad I am to have had the opportunity to stand at the edge of Trolltunga and take in the beauty that is Norway.

XOXO

-Dri

European Adventure 2017 – Hardanger National Tourist Route & Odda, Norway (Part 1)

I recently got back from an EPIC trip across Europe, hitting a total of three countries, five cities, going on two awesome hikes, visiting two friends living abroad, and meeting a lot of really cool people. I’m not going to call this a “solo” trip, since the majority of my time was spent with my friends living abroad, but I did spend some time alone in these foreign countries, where I proved to myself that I’m not a complete idiot. 😛

I’m going to start out with the beginning of my trip, which brought me to Norway. I flew overnight from Boston into Oslo, only getting two hours of sleep maximum. From Oslo, I took another quick flight to Bergen, Norway. It was here that I met my good college friend who I would adventure through Norway with. We picked up our rental car, stuffed our packs in the trunk, and drove for another three hours to our destination – Odda, Norway. I did all of the driving on this trip since I am old enough to not be charged extra money as a “young driver” and I know how to drive a manual, which is all that is available in Europe. Our three hour drive along part of the Hardanger National Tourist Route to our destination was incredible, and it didn’t take me long to want to move to Norway for good.

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We stopped at a road side “Rasteplasse”, or picnic area, to oogle at a beautiful waterfall. It was the first waterfall we saw from the road so we decided to stop. Little did we know that there would basically be a waterfall every ten feet (I’m exaggerating slightly) for the rest of the drive.

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Everything in the picnic area was covered in a thick moss
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My friend tying her boot

Our next stop was for another waterfall, Steinsdalsfossen. This waterfall, which is 46 meters (151 feet) high, is one of the most visited tourist sites in Norway. There was almost no one there when we stopped by, one of the benefits of off-season travel. 🙂 You can actually walk behind this waterfall, which we didn’t do because we wanted save time and arrive at our destination at a reasonable time. We also didn’t want to get wet.

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Steinsdalsfossen

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A close up of the top of the waterfall

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With different lighting

We continued along the route, completely in awe of the spectacular landscape, until we came to the Jondal-Tørvikbygd ferry. We got to the ferry dock and found it deserted. No boat in sight and no other cars waiting. We got out and attempted to find a ferry schedule, but had no luck. A little further up the road, we found a co-op and inquired with the shopkeeper about the ferry schedule. She hastily informed us that the next ferry was in 15 minutes and that she also needed to catch it as she continued closing up shop. We drove back down to the dock and waited for the ferry to arrive, which indeed it did!

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Along the Hardanger National Tourist Route, before the ferry
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Sign for the ferry

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And the ferry arrives!

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View from the ferry

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I had a lot of fun with taking shots of my friend’s sunglasses on this trip

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Arriving in Jondal

After crossing the fjord by ferry, we continued driving to Odda, choosing to drive through the tunnel that goes all the way UNDER Folgefonna National Park via the Folgefonna Tunnel, which is slightly over 11 km (a bit under 7 miles). Ideally, we would have liked to drive around Folgefonna National Park in order to see a few more things, but it was getting late and we still needed to find dinner once we got to Odda. Driving around the park would have added on at least another hour to our drive!

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Before reaching the tunnel
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We finally arrived in Odda around 7:30 PM. We checked into the hostel that we would stay at for the next two nights, Trolltunga Hotel, and dumped our bags in the room. We then took a nice 20 minute stroll into Odda in order to find food. Our options were limited to the two restaurants that were open, Asian Wok and Smeltehuset. We chose the more “authentic” sounding restaurant. It wasn’t as authentic as I was expecting and they seemed to put canned corn on nearly everything on the menu, including the pizza. Or maybe it was actually really authentic and Norwegians just really like corn. Who am I to judge??

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Incredible views just outside of the hostel

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The bike bridge!
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Pretty much everything was closed when we got there – and no one was outside

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An interesting statue we found

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Another statue – this one of a work horse

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Where we ended up eating dinner

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Enjoying the view

The walk back to the hostel seemed to take twice as long. Maybe this was because it was getting dark, we were going uphill, and we were full from dinner. We got there just as full dark was falling and quickly went to bed. We needed to rest up for the big hike we had planned for the next day – one of the most iconic hikes in Norway! Stay tuned to hear all about it!

Happy adventures!

XOXO

Dri

A Quest for Summits – Gorham Mountain and the Cadillac Cliffs, Acadia National Park, ME (in winter)

To continue our adventure through Acadia National Park in winter (see my previous blog post for our other activities), Mike and I hiked to the top of Gorham Mountain via the Cadillac Cliffs on Sunday morning before heading back home. We had a gorgeous, sunny day, with just a bit of wind at the summit that made it a tad chilly. This was our first winter hike (without a guide), so we opted for an easy, short route. The trailhead was easy to get to, right off of the Park Loop Road and the trail was well marked, even with all of the snow and ice.

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The bottom part of the trail was very wet, with a lot of melting snow and ice. But this didn’t last very long. Once we got a little higher in elevation, it changed to not-melting snow and it was a little less slippery. We brought our new hiking poles with us, which turned out to be very helpful in keeping balance when the snow decided not to support your weight as you expected. We took our time and enjoyed the sunshine and gorgeous views (for minimal effort, I might add).

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Trailhead sign
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Lots of puddles from the melting snow and ice
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Waterfalls of ice at the lower elevation
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Turn off to the Cadillac Cliffs

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Luckily this part of the Cliffs wasn’t covered in snow!

Once we got up out of the trees, the views opened up and we were awarded with a beautiful ocean landscape. We stopped to enjoy the sights and take some pictures before moving on to the true summit, which was a short, relatively flat walk further along the trail.

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View of Sand Beach
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Looking towards the Gulf of Maine

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Some lovely glacial striations formed during the last ice age
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More snow covers the trail, not yet melting

Our time at the summit was short because the wind coupled with not moving made it pretty chilly. The views from the summit afforded more of a view of the surrounding forests of Acadia National Park.

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Summit marker
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Looking along the coastline of Mount Desert Island
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Looking back into Acadia National Park

Overall this was a fantastic, first winter hike. We could not have asked for better weather and there was just enough snow to allow us to practice walking with different footing, but not so much that we required extra gear. We also had the mountain to ourselves, save for one family that we passed on our way down. I cannot wait for next winter where I can continue to explore mountains in the winter time and develop my winter hiking skills!

Happy Hiking!

XOXO

Dri

 

Weekend Adventures – Acadia National Park (in winter!)

Recent months have found me quite busy with work, life, and preparing for and going on a few epic adventures, so I have been neglecting my blog. Now that some of the craziness has died down (just got back from a trip that I can’t wait to share!), I have a bit more time to sit down and document these adventures. To get started, I’d like to share a weekend adventure Mike and I took back in February (I know, this was so long ago). What better time than halfway through spring to share a winter adventure!?

At the end of last year, I decided that I wanted to start enjoying more outdoor activities, even in the winter time. Why stop enjoying the outdoors just because it is cold and there is snow on the ground? With the proper equipment and knowledge, you can have just as much fun outdoors on a winter day as you can at the height of summer! So I checked out almost every winter outdoor book my local library had and got to reading. I also started reading a few blog posts about outdoor winter activities and stumbled upon this article about visiting Acadia National Park in the winter time. I was sold before I even finished the article. I booked a hotel room within the same day.

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Our timing was about a week off, because the weekend we were there it was sunny, in the 40s-50s and the prior week had been warm. So by the time we got up to Acadia, a lot of the snow had already melted. However, there was still plenty to keep us busy and we had a lot of fun exploring the nearly empty park.

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An empty Park Loop Road – which is typically swarmed with vehicles in the summer months

We drove up on a Friday night after work, getting to our hotel just outside of Bar Harbor pretty late at night. We woke up the next day to a thick fog and decided to wander around Bar Harbor before entering the park in order to allow some of the fog to burn off. I should mention that almost everything in Bar Harbor closes during the winter, and it essentially becomes a ghost town. It was pretty cool to experience it without the swarm of summer tourists.

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A foggy morning in Bar Harbor, ME

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This is one of the busiest roads in the summertime

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After a few hours of wandering Bar Harbor, finding a cute cafe (Choco Latte) that was open and playing a game of chess, we continued on into Acadia National Park and drove the part of the Park Loop Road that remains open in the winter (most of it is closed in the off-season). Fortunately, the part that remains open has a lot of the iconic sites in the park, such as The Beehive, Sand Beach, and Thunder Hole (unfortunately we didn’t time the tide right, so it was a little underwhelming).

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Empty roads
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Schooner Head Overlook
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Sand Beach
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Snow on Sand Beach
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The Beehive as seen from Sand Beach
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Near Thunder Hole
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Along Park Loop Road

Once we had our fill of the sights along Park Loop Road, we strapped on our snowshoes and shoed around Jordan Pond, perhaps the most iconic pond in the park. Some parts of the trail actually had no snow, so we had to carry our snowshoes. Following snowshoe tracks from prior snowshoers, we found ourselves on the pond at one point. Luckily this was on the side that got less sunlight, so we didn’t fall in. The going got pretty tough at one point because the snow was getting soft and we found ourselves one hip deep when the snow gave out. It was still a lot of fun, and during the whole snowshoe, we only saw one other person out on the trail, so we basically had the pond to ourselves!

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Jordan Pond, covered in snow, with The Bubbles in the distance

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Along Jordan Pond Path
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Signs of wildlife!
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Cracks in the ice

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Carrying the snowshoes
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I found the sign comical because of all of the snow

We wrapped up the day by finding an open restaurant in Bar Harbor and grabbing dinner before heading back to the hotel. The following day, which was even warmer, we hiked Gorham Mountain, which I’ll tell you about in my next post. 🙂

We had a lot of fun exploring Acadia National Park in the offseason. It had such a different feel than the summer time, mostly because there are dramatically less people.  I do wish there was a little more snow when we were there so that we could have done some cross country skiing on the carriage roads (which are groomed by a volunteer group when there is enough snow), but you can’t control the weather! I hope to make it back to Acadia in the wintertime to continue exploring this great park when no one else is there!

Happy Adventuring!

XOXO Dri

 

 

Weekend Adventures – Brattleboro, VT

Winter is finally in full swing here in New England and I’m so excited. Between snowshoeing (my new favorite winter activity) and my plans for some downhill and cross country skiing before the snow melts, I’m in for a busy and fun winter season.

With the clock ticking and the unpredictability of Mother Nature, I’ve lined up a few weekend trips to get as much winter fun in as I can this season.  First up: Brattleboro, VT, where Mike and I went to visit a few friends and enjoy a weekend full of activities, food, and beautiful weather.

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This is the first time I actually stopped in Brattleboro and spent some time. Brattleboro was always just a drive through town on the way to somewhere else I was going in VT. This weekend made me realize how much this teeny town has to offer. I’m super jealous of our friends who now live in the area.

We started off with going to a ski jump competition – the 2017 Pepsi Challenge and U.S. Cup at Harris Hill Ski Jump. The only thing I knew about ski jumping prior to attending this event was that it existed and looked really crazy. My expectations for this event were low, but I was blown away by the atmosphere and how much fun I had watching these crazy people ski jump.

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There was delicious food, a beer garden, wine tastings, and some crazy athletes ranging from kids as young as 11 to international ski jumpers. The announcers were great and I learned a little bit about the sport. Something I didn’t need the announcers’ help to realize is that all ski jumpers have a screw (or two, or three) loose. The ski jump hill is incredibly steep. We took the stairs up to the base of the actual jump (the part where the skiers jump off) and looking back down the hill was terrifying. The hill is so steep you can’t actually see it. Not to mention that these skiers are flying through the air at ridiculous speeds and angles. I have a new appreciation of this sport and would love to learn more about it.

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The view from the base of the ski jump
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The skiers walking up to the top of the jump
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A still shot of one of the jumpers
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One of the younger jumpers

After the ski jump competition was over, we wandered around Brattelboro’s Main Street. There are so many unique shops to wander through, I easily could have spent a whole week walking through all of them!

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Most of the shop fronts were so colorful, but these were my favorites – I just love the combination of these pastel colors!

Among numerous book shops, art galleries, cafes, and outdoor specialty shops, I of course made a beeline for the LYS (local yarn shop), Handknits, where I had to pick up some local yarn.

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The local yarn was so incredible I had such a hard time choosing. There was an entire line of local yarn, Wonderland Yarns, based off of Alice in Wonderland. The yarn was named things like “Cheshire Cat”, “Mad Hatter”, and my favorite “Uncommon Nonsense”, with colorways such as “Off With Her Head”, “We’re All Mad Here”, and “Hookah Smoke”.

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The wall display of Wonderland Yarns
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While difficult to choose, I ended up buying a skein of Mad Hatter yarn in the color So Bright & Sticky

After a bit more wandering through shops, we ate dinner at Whetstone Brewery, which is easily the most popular restaurant in town, and for good reason. The beer (and cider!) selection is extensive and the food was delicious and inventive. Mike at a burger that had bacon, cheese, and peanut butter on it! And he said it was delicious! They also had a nice deck that overlooked the Connecticut River.

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We had our after dinner coffee at a cute little coffee shop called Mocha Joe’s, which has a killer maple latte and a great ambiance.

The next day was another beautiful day and we spent it eating, wandering through shops, and snowshoeing.

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A delicious place for breakfast. If I lived here, I would frequent this establishment.
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Snowshoe fuel (a.k.a. breakfast)
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Snowshoeing along West River Trail

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A snow covered West River

I loved wandering Brattleboro for a weekend (not to mention spending time with friends). The ski jump competition was a crazy experience, the main street area is so lovely, the food is amazing, and the outdoor activities are plenty! Bratteboro, VT made for a great weekend adventure and I will definitely be going back!

Happy adventures!

XOXO

Dri

Walt Disney World – runDisney Dopey Challenge 2017

It has been awhile since I have posted – the holiday season is always busy, and this year was especially busy because of the last bit of preparation for the 2017 runDisney Dopey Challenge, which took place January 5-8, 2017. If you’ve been following my blog, you may recall my first blog post about registering for my first runDisney race, or rather all of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend races – also known as the Dopey Challenge. The races have come and gone, and I successfully completed the 2017 Dopey Challenge! It’s been about a month and a half and I still forget that I can say that I’ve run a full marathon! Overall it was a great experience. Disney World is “the happiest place on Earth” after all.

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The runDisney logo – found on the sidewalk outside our hotel during a pre-race shakeout run

I’ve been a huge Disney fan all my life. I grew up watching Disney movies and continue to do so today, even in my mid-twenties (I saw Moana on opening day in 2016). I was fortunate enough to take multiple family vacations to Disney World in Florida throughout my life. Needless to say, Disney holds a special place in my heart.

If you’re not aware, Disney hosts multiple “runDisney” events throughout the year at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and most recently Disneyland Paris. The Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, in January, is perhaps the largest, and the only event that offers a full marathon. Last year, I signed up for the Dopey Challenge – which is a challenge in which you run every race during the WDW Marathon Weekend on consecutive days, starting with the shortest distance (5k, 10k, half marathon, full marathon) – totaling 48.6 miles in four days. While I had a blast (my wonderful boyfriend, Mike, ran the whole thing with me), I will not be repeating this challenge ever again (I’ve definitely said things like this before….).

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2017 WDW Marathon Weekend Race Medals – from left to right: 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon, Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge, Dopey Challenge

This particular Disney vacation was probably the most exhausting I’ve ever experienced – maybe because of all the running…but it was so much fun! Most of the holiday decorations were still up, and it was so beautiful. I’m a sucker for details, and Disney does details so well. We tried to cram in as much as we could while still staying off our feet and trying not to tire ourselves out too much for the races. This proved to be difficult and there was a lot we didn’t do because of it. But we were ok with this since the main purpose of this trip was for the runDisney races.

Running through the parks was my favorite part – especially Epcot. All of the courses brought you through Epcot – around the World Pavilion and Spaceship Earth. It was so invigorating we couldn’t help but run too fast! There is Disney music blasting as soon as you enter the parks – the most motivating of which is Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”. We finished the 5k and 10k at a faster pace than we intended to because we were just too excited!

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Epcot World Pavilion during the 5k

Another awesome aspect was that the races began before the sun was up, so the sun rose during the race! It was so cool!

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Sunrise on the Boardwalk during the 10k

The most unfortunate part of the trip was that the official half marathon was cancelled due to lightning. There was a lot of obvious disappointment, and some people were even angry at Disney. However, as soon as the race was cancelled, runners were already organizing group runs out of the Disney hotels they were staying at.

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Making the best out of the situation, we joined many other runners and completed our 13.1 miles on our own once the lightning stopped. I was astounded by the number of runners we passed along our run. It was amazing to see so many others out there determined to finish and earn their medals. We even passed a few makeshift water stops and there were plenty of people out there cheering everyone on. This day, in and of itself, made me so proud to be part of the running community – witnessing the unbreakable spirit and determination of so many people was truly inspiring.

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A well done, makeshift water stop we passed at the Coronado Springs resort. They were even holding up a toilet paper finish line tape for people to run through as they finished their 13.1 miles!

The marathon was quite the experience. Mike and I had never run a full marathon before – and due to a foot injury of mine in the summer months, the longest training run that we had completed was 15 miles. We were a little unprepared and therefore a bit nervous. On marathon day, it was particularly cold for Florida weather. It was 35 degrees F in the morning when we got to the starting corrals, with a 15mph wind. We had to go out and get a few things to make sure we didn’t freeze before we even started (like gloves, long sleeves, and long leggings). Waiting in the corrals was absolutely the worst part of the marathon. We got there around 4 AM, and since Mike signed up so late, we were in the last corral – corral P. The first corral went off at 5:30 AM and we didn’t start running until 6:30 AM. So we froze for about 2 hours and it was miserable. Maybe that’s why the actual running part didn’t seem so bad. Once the sun came out, though, it was perfect marathon weather – 55 degrees F.

I’m proud to say that there was minimal walking involved, however we did need to stop a few times to use the bathroom and there was always a long line so this slowed our overall pace down. They also didn’t start handing out food until the half marathon mark, so the hardest miles were actually miles 12-13. Even so, they say a marathon doesn’t start until mile 20 – and boy is that true. Once we hit that point, it was the longest 10k we had ever run.

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Space Mountain – still freezing at this point

Wanting to get a picture in front of each park’s icon (I missed the Tree of Life, but we got Mt. Everest instead), I made Mike stop with me to snap a selfie in Epcot, at mile 25. Bad idea – as soon as we started running after the 10 seconds we stopped, our calf muscles fought back with cramps.

The Dopey Challenge was fun – but I probably won’t  ever do another one. It is slightly insane – which is why they call it the “Dopey” Challenge. You need to be a real Dope to attempt it. We can officially call ourselves insane, and in the future I’m sticking to the half marathon distance and shorter….although I’m already wondering how fast I could actually run a marathon if I raced it and actually had adequate training…..

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In front of Cinderella’s Castle with all of our medals
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I’ve always wanted to try the Giant Turkey Leg before – this one was hard-earned

And now for the part that I was most excited about (aside from the actual running through Disney) – Disney encourages runners to run in costume, whether it be your favorite character, or an iconic Disney landmark. We saw so many creative costumes over the course of the four races! You may have already noticed, but we wore costumes for each race! I love making costumes, so my costume planning started almost immediately after signing up! Disclaimer: Mike didn’t sign up for the entire Dopey Challenge until a few months prior to the event, so some of his costumes I didn’t spend as much time on as I would have liked, but overall I was pretty proud of our costumes. 🙂

Tinkerbell & Captain Hook (Peter Pan) – 5K

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Princess Atta (A Bug’s Life) & James P. Sullivan (Monsters Inc.) – 10K

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Honey Lemon & Baymax 2.0 (Big Hero 6) – Half Marathon

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Mr. & Mrs. Incredible (The Incredibles) – Marathon

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Happy Running!

XOXO Dri

Exploring Massachusetts – The Trustees of Reservations

About a month ago, I got an email from my good friend about a challenge put out by the Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts. I had never heard of this organization before, even though I’ve lived in MA all my life. In honor of the organization’s 125th birthday, they are challenging people to hike 125 miles on Trustees property between May 1 and December 31, 2016. It is free to sign up and you get a cool participation sticker at the end, no matter how many miles you log! I signed up shortly after I read my friend’s email and started searching for properties close to me. That day happened to be a rest day, but instead I decided to go for a walk right after work and logged my first hike. Since then I have logged about 25 miles on Trustees properties and I have had an absolute blast exploring trails in places I never even knew existed!

Doyle Community Park & Center – Leominster, MA

My first adventure took place at this little property on my way home from work. Little did I know, in my 3+ years of commuting on Route 2, that this little gem was right off the highway! I had beautiful weather for my walk and I decided that I would definitely come back to run the well-worn trails through the woods and fields. I’ve ended up logging most of my Hike125 miles here, because of how conveniently located it is for me, and because it is a beautiful property. It’s also been great for my slow introduction into trail running, because there’s nothing too challenging here – it’s more like a great cross-country course.

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Secluded spots for relaxing
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Grassy fields for frolicking

Swift River Reservation – Petersham, MA

The second property I explored was the Swift River Reservation, which took me a little out of my way, but it was worth it. I left straight from work, hoping that I would have enough time before the sun went down. Just the drive out to Petersham was beautiful. Mid-October meant there was some gorgeous foliage to see. I ran on the Nichewaug Tract, and I was the only person there. It was very peaceful, except for the part where I slipped on a bunch of acorns and slid down part of the trail on my behind. Needless to say, these trails were a lot more challenging than Doyle Community Park, but I was rewarded with some spectacular views.

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Sunset at Swift River Reservation

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Ward Reservation – North Andover, MA

Ward Reservation has been my favorite Trustee property that I’ve visited, so far. It is also much more popular. You need to pay a small fee to park here (unless you are a Trustee member), but the length and diversity of trails at this reservation were well worth the $5. There are private properties very close to this reservation, so you do need to pay attention and make sure you don’t wind up in someone’s backyard.

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The view of Boston from the top of Boston Hill
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A poor quality close-up of the Boston skyline from Holt Hill
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Mars Swamp

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A nice place to relax
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The Solstice Stones atop Holt Hill

Peaked Mountain – Monson, MA

On an overcast Sunday, Mike and I took a drive down to Monson to hike/run Peaked Mountain. Pronounced “Pea-kid”, this little mountain gives spectacular views of the surrounding area for a minimal amount of work. There were many people walking their dogs, or bringing their very small children for a nice Sunday hike. One little boy asked his dad why we weren’t carrying any snacks with us. Clearly he knows that the most important part of a hike is the snack you get at the top. 🙂 There is also the Miller Forest Tract right down the road, which looked like a popular spot for mountain biking.

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Nice views, a little overcast
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Summit marker

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I’ve really enjoyed exploring the Trustee’s “Inspired Places” this past month. I’m so grateful that my friend thought to send me that link, because I may have never found so many amazing places otherwise. There are many more properties scattered all across MA that I would really like to visit prior to year’s end in order to log as many miles as I can towards that 125, but I will continue to visit and explore these places in the years to come.

Happy Adventuring!

XOXO

Dri

 

Weekend Adventures – Camping in Franconia Notch

Autumn in New England means cooling temperatures and leaves changing colors in a splendid display of reds, oranges, and yellows. My favorite place to leaf peep this time of year is the White Mountains in New Hampshire. Mike and I went up for a nice relaxing weekend of camping and taking in the foliage, which changed before our eyes over the course of the weekend.

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Lafayette Campground, ready for Halloween

We drove up on a Friday night in the dark, not able to see anything but the road that was illuminated by our headlights. We stayed at Lafayette Campground, the only campground in NH’s Franconia Notch State Park. Luckily, our tent is super easy to pitch, so setting up camp in the dark wasn’t too much of a hassle. And since it was early October, we brought every fleece blanket we owned so that we could stay extra warm at night. 🙂

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Our trusty little tent

Saturday morning, we woke up and ate a leisurely breakfast. Our first activity was a nice little trail run on the Pemi Trail, straight from the campground to the Old Man in the Mountain memorial site. I seem to forget at least one thing on every camping trip. This time, I unfortunately forgot my sneakers. So I ended up “running” in my hiking boots.

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Leaves are starting to change on the Pemi Trail

The Old Man in the Mountain is still New Hampshire’s emblem. It is on every license plate and highway sign in NH. You can still find key chains, magnets, pins, post cards – pretty much any souvenir you can think of – featuring the Old Man. Discovered in 1805, the Old Man was five granite cliff ledges on Cannon Mountain, carved by glaciers, that looked like the profile of an old man. He was 40 feet tall and 25 feet wide. After many attempts to keep the Old Man where he was, the erosion of the cliff face caused the Old Man to crumble on May 3, 2003.

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The Old Man in the Mountain Viewing Plaza

If you never were able to see the Old Man in the Mountain before it fell, you can still get a similar experience today. A nice memorial was put up at the site where everyone used to go and view the Old Man when he was still hanging on to the cliff. They have a plaza in which you can see a recreation of the Old Man if you stand in a certain spot, based on how tall you are. It’s pretty neat and reminds me of all the times I had seen the Old Man in the Mountain when he was still standing. There is also a little museum with many artifacts and stories about the Old Man.

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Where the Old Man in the Mountain used to be…

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The viewing plaza
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Many different places to stand, depending on your height

After we took a look at the recreation of the Old Man in the Mountain, we ran back to the campground on the Franconia Bike Path.

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After we got back to the campground, we hopped in the car and headed towards the famous Kancamagus Scenic Byway for some more leaf peeping. The Kancamagus Highway – pronounced Kank-ah-mah-gus, not Kang-ga-mang-gus – is about 35 miles of scenic byway through the White Mountain National Forest with nothing but trail heads and picnic areas. There are no gas stations, restaurants, or any other businesses on the highway. We only drove part of it, but we still got some beautiful views – even with the overcast, foggy weather. Please excuse the spots on some of these photos, most were taken through my not-so-clean windshield. 🙂

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A close up of the foliage

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I couldn’t help myself…I had to take a picture of my car in all her glory

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The view from Pemigewasset Overlook

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Once we made it back to the campground, we took a less than satisfying shower (it was not at all warm) and got ready for our dinner reservations on the Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train. We looked a tad out of place dressed up in nice clothes at a campground. 🙂

I didn’t get many good pictures on the dinner train because of the lighting inside and glare on the windows, but let me just tell you – we had a blast! We were sat at a table for 4 with another couple. The food was delicious, a five course meal, so fancy they served sorbet to cleanse your palate before the main course! The cocktails were also particularly delicious, and very strong. The two hour train ride brought us through a range of landscapes, tforest, golf course, farm land and over rivers. All the while, our 1950s era train car played soft Frank Sinatra in the background. It was a lovely experience, and I totally recommend it. Next time, maybe we will splurge and go for the dome level dining.

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The dinner train – before departure
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View from the train

That night, once we were back at the campground, we built a nice fire and sat by the warmth until we were tired enough for bed. I played around with my camera and got some neat shots.

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The next morning, we broke down camp and decided we were much too tired to attempt a long hike. The weather was also not great, so we decided to do a short hike before meandering our way back home. We chose to hike Mt. Pemigewasset, also known as Indian Head. This relatively easy hike typically has amazing views at the summit, especially for the small amount of work you need to do in order to get there. Unfortunately, this day was so foggy we could see close to nothing at the top.

 

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About as far as we could see…
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Enjoying the “view”

By the time we got down to the parking lot, some of the fog had cleared so we could at least see a little bit of foliage.

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I always love going up to New Hampshire, but I especially love it in Autumn. The fall colors are fleeting, and I always seem to time my visits wrong. However, this weekend of camping proved to be successful, even with the fog on the last day. We saw plenty of color and had a great time wandering around the notch. I hope to be back soon!

Happy Adventuring!

XOXO Dri

 

A Quest for Summits – Old Rag Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, VA

You may have read about my Washington, D.C. adventure with three of my good college friends. I flew down with two of them to visit the third around D.C. The two I flew with flew back the day before I did, so my D.C. friend and I had most of the next day together for another adventure before I flew home.

Luckily, this friend also likes to hike. She is also way cooler than me because she has a National Parks Annual Pass. She recommended that we do a cool hike in Shenandoah Nation Park – Old Rag Mountain, which is one of the most popular hikes in the park with a summit at 3,291 feet. In order to have enough time to complete the hike and make it back to the airport for my flight, we woke up at 3:30 AM, packed lunch and some snacks, and headed out the door at 4 AM.

We arrived at the parking lot a little before 6 AM and began the hike. It was still dark, but luckily we planned ahead and packed our headlamps.

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Pre-hike selfie in the dark

I’ve never hiked in complete darkness before, only during sunsets or dusk, where there is still a little light left. Hiking in the dark was honestly kind of terrifying. We were in bear country, and my friend said she saw a bear here last time she came. So I was on high alert. Unfortunately when you are in the woods, in the dark,  everything sounds a million times louder than it actually is. I’m pretty sure it was just some early bird squirrels moving around, but I totally thought we would be jumped by a bear. Fortunately this didn’t happen.

The beginning of the hike was pretty easy, even in the dark. The first 0.8 miles were actually on a paved road to the actual trailhead. Once on the actual trail, it was a gradual incline thanks to many switchbacks. Once the sun came up, the going was even easier.

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The sun comes up, and the fog rolls in on Ridge Trail

After a false summit with supposed view (it was very foggy and we couldn’t see anything), we reached the point where we needed to begin the scrambling. This was the funnest part of the hike! We had to navigate narrow passages between rocks, big cracks we had to go down, and steep rocks we had to climb up. The fact that it was foggy and had begun to drizzle made it a bit more challenging because some of the rocks were a bit slippery. I also was trying to use the same foot and hand holds as my friend, who is 5’11”. I’m only 5’5″, so this didn’t work out too well for me. 🙂

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Navigating a shallow crack in the rock, the easiest way up

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Giant rocks – my friend is 5’11”

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Not many hand holds, so I had to trust friction on this one

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A naturally formed, nearly perfect staircase, with a precarious rock wedged above

We reached the true summit around 8:30 AM. Some of the fog had started to burn off, so we could see a little bit of the surrounding landscape. It was great because we had the entire summit to ourselves. I climbed up onto the highest point, which was a bit scary because it just seemed like a pile of giant rocks precariously leaned up or wedged in between one another. After enjoying this for a bit, we retreated to the space under this rock pile and ate our lunch, at 8:30 in the morning.

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Sitting on top of the highest rock

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The view from the top of the highest rock
 

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Lunch under the rocks

After lunch, we were starting to get cold, so we continued on our way down the mountain via Saddle Trail and then Old Rag Fire Road. On the way down, the fog began to clear and we could see further than when we were at the summit.

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Navigating back to the trail

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Better views than the top

Once we reached the trail head, we started to actually see other humans, and many of them! They were all starting their hike and we were almost finished! Usually I am the envious one of those finishing a hike as I am just starting. This time it was me!

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Post-hike selfie in the light!

Since it was now a reasonable time of the day, the small ranger station in the parking lot was open. I’ve been collecting National Park stamps for a while, and I was excited to get my first stamp for the Mid-Atlantic region! I even remembered to bring along my National Parks Passport!

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Shenandoah National Park Cancellation Stamp

Since we finished around 10ish, we had time to drive part of Skyline Drive, which goes through Shenandoah National Park. I was pretty excited to get a picture of the park entry sign and see more of the park now that some of the fog had burned off.

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I love taking pictures of signs!

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Seeing what we couldn’t on the drive in

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The beautiful mountains in Shenandoah National Park
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I also took some cool fish-eye shots.

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A cool shot of my friend with her car – Little Red, or Constantine – that got us to and around the park

I had such a great time on this hike and would like to return to Shenandoah for some more exploring (hopefully with slightly better weather). Until then, time to find another mountain to climb!

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Happy Hiking!

XOXO Dri

 

 

Weekend Adventures – Washington, D.C.

I’ve packed my weekends full of adventure and fun this summer, and this trend seems to be continuing into the fall season. I can’t really complain. I got to meet up with some pretty great college friends recently. It took a long time for us to actually make it happen (about 3 years), but the four of us had such a great time exploring and eating our way through the weekend!

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Jefferson Memorial on a beautiful Saturday Morning

It started with three of us waking up early on a Friday morning and flying out to visit our fourth buddy, who is currently living just outside of Washington, D.C. Our first task upon landing around 10AM was to venture and find lunch. We decided on a ramen place called Maki (I’ve kind of been obsessed since I tried the real stuff :)). The ramen I got was so tasty and it was absolutely hysterical watching my friends try to eat theirs with chopsticks (I became a chopstick pro at a young age). They eventually gave up and continued with a fork.

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Delicious ramen!!

Next up was dessert. Our tour guide (what we referred to our D.C. friend for the weekend) took us to Duck Donuts where they make donuts fresh and you can pick your toppings. We mistook “Duck Donuts” for “Dunkin’ Donuts” when she said it. Luckily, Duck Donuts is way more delicious than Dunks (I will always love Dunks, though).

After taking a quick reprieve to drop our bags off and digest a bit, we were on to another food related activity, this time including cats. We took the Metro into D.C. and made our way to Crumbs & Whiskers. Crumbs & Whiskers is a cat cafe where you can drink coffee and play with cats! All the cats are adoptable, too! I wanted to bring them all home with me!

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Nap time
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This lazy little fella was named Mollito
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Candy (top) was a feisty little lady who loved to play and antagonize the other cats. Mollito (bottom) was not impressed.
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A handsome chap named Tyrion

Our 75 minute reservation at Crumbs & Whiskers flew by. Playing with the kitties was lots of fun but it was time to move on to more adult things! We walked along the Potomac River and found a bar for happy hour. Afterwards, we took an “adults only” Ghost Tour Walk through Georgetown. We listened to true stories of crime and murder that occurred in the area, some that were recent, too! Walking through the historical neighborhood, we also got to look at all the beautiful architecture. We ended in a graveyard, walking down a narrow staircase to an old crypt.  The door to the crypt was supposed to be closed…but it was open when we got there. Maybe it was the ghosts. Freaky!

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Sunset over the Potomac

The next day, we went back to D.C. to go to a few museums and eat some more delicious food before two of my friends’ flight back home in the evening. Little did we know, this was the day of the opening ceremony of the Museum of African American History. Instead of the short walk across the mall to our selected breakfast joint, we ended up walking 2.5 miles around the mall and closed roads in order to get there! It was so worth it, though. We went to Wicked Waffles and it was amazing!

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My bacon, egg, and cheese on a crispy waffle was earned!

After breakfast, we went to the Newseum, which was jam packed with information about the news and the press. It was pretty neat, although somewhat overwhelming. There was so much to look at and we definitely got lost a few times. They were also broadcasting the Museum of African American History opening on a jumbotron in the lobby, so we got to watch a few speeches and Stevie Wonder’s musical performance! There was also a cool exhibit with pieces of the actual Berlin Wall and a short film about the evolution of sports broadcasting that was pretty cool. There was so much more to see in this museum but we were pressed for time so we decided to move on.

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News helicopter suspended from the ceiling.

We then walked to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The writing on these documents was so faded! It was incredible to see such important pieces of history. We also noted how beautiful and perfect the penmanship was and their ability to write in a perfectly straight line. It truly is a lost art. Every time I have to sign something, I just scribble.

After this quick stop we went to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. The last time I went to D.C. (which was for less than 24 hours), I must have spent at least 3 hours in just the Geology, Gems, and Minerals exhibit. Lucky for me, this is a permanent exhibit, so I made a beeline for it. My friends saw the Hope Diamond and the other shinies and moved on to other exhibits. I stayed longer and read all about space geology (how the universe formed, meteors, meteorites, etc.). It was so cool. I could have stayed there all day! I also went to the 100 Years of America’s National Park Service exhibit. This exhibit was mostly pictures of the gorgeous National Parks. It only further solidified my desire to visit them all!

By the time we wrapped up in the Natural History Museum, we were pretty hungry. We had decided the day before that we would have sushi burritos for lunch (I’m lucky to have friends like me who plan where they want to eat meals way in advanced of actually eating them). We went to Buredo and each got a sushi burrito. This was my first sushi burrito experience and I was in absolute heaven. I don’t even want to know how many calories were in it. I got one with pulled pork, shrimp tempura and a bunch of different veggies. Ahhhhmazingggg.

After we quite literally stuffed our faces (the nori wasn’t quite like a tortilla and kind of fell apart), we made our way to the Jefferson Memorial for a group picture. Prior to this trip, the four of us didn’t have one single picture of the four of us together in the 5-7 years we had known each other! One of us was always taking a picture of the other three. Lucky for us, I packed my tripod!

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My favorite out of the 20+ taken. Attempting to take a cute jumping photo, this one perfectly captures all of our lovable awkwardness.

We jammed a lot into the 36 hours that all four of us were together. It was so great to be reunited with college friends at a time (called adulthood) that’s so difficult to coordinate schedules. Stay tuned to find out what I did with my D.C. friend for the extra day that I stayed. Hint: it involves National Parks. 🙂

Happy Adventuring and Happy Eating!

XOXO Dri