Section Hiking the Vermont Long Trail – Appalachian Gap to Montclair Glen Lodge

Note: I’m going against my OCD grain and posting this adventure out of order (gasp). Mostly because I’m way behind and I feel that this particular trip deserves to be written about sooner, in order to truly capture the raw emotions of the weekend. It took me a whole two weeks after writing this to finally decide to post it (out of order – *cringe*). I hope you enjoy. 

As I sit down to write this, it has been about a week and a half since a backpacking trip on the Vermont Long Trail (the LT, for short), where our goal was to hike from the Appalachian Gap, over Camel’s Hump, and finishing at the Winooski River. After having a pleasant experience on my first backpacking trip (also on the Long Trail), I decided that it would be cool to “section hike” the entire Long Trail over the next few years. Section hiking is when you basically hike parts of a lengthy trail (such as the better known Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, etc.) over a longer period of time instead of “through hiking” the length of the trail in one go. Since I am not in a position to take extended periods of time off from work, section hiking was the way to go. However, after this experience, I’m still not sure that I’m cut out for this kind of thing. Just a quick disclaimer, this post will not be upbeat and happy, like most of my other posts. I’m still going to share this experience for a few reasons: (1) because I don’t believe in editing to give the illusion of all my experiences being rainbows and sunshine, and (2) I’m a little bitter that all of the outdoorsy social media accounts I follow rarely and/or never post about or discuss the challenges (mentally, physically, and emotionally) of the outdoors, which, as I found out first hand, cause people to set extremely unrealistic expectations. So here it is: my terrible experience on the Vermont Long Trail.

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The view from Molly Stark’s Balcony, 1.3 miles into our hike on Saturday, after sleeping in the car Friday night

I’m still not entirely sure what went wrong on this hike. Perhaps it was a combination of things: getting to the trailhead later than anticipated Friday night and the downpour that ensued as soon as we started hiking that night, completely underestimating the section of trail we chose and overestimating our abilities, being out of shape, not being used to carrying a heavier pack, and most of all, my refusal to retire my favorite, beat up and worn out hiking boots that have been on countless hikes and trips to seven different countries, even though I had a brand new pair in the trunk of my car that fit well.

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My beloved hiking boots

I went on this trip with a long time friend of mine. We’d both been hiking since we were young and had each been backpacking once before, and wanted to go again. Both of us like (or at least used to like) hiking and just being outdoors in general. We discussed potential hiking options (all on the Vermont Long Trail) and finally chose a route that would bring us from the Appalachian Gap on Rt. 17 to the Winooski River crossing (traveling north on the LT). Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into. Our plan was to drive up on Friday afternoon, park the first car at the parking lot where we would finish, and then drive to the start of the route and hike to the first shelter on Friday night (a little under 3 miles, totally doable, right?). The next day, we would hike about 8 miles to another shelter, and then on Sunday, we would hike another 8 miles over Camel’s Hump and finish at the first car that we parked. It sounded pretty reasonable to us at the time of planning. Both of us are careful planners, so how could this possibly go wrong? We discussed packing lists and the logistics of getting to the trail head at great lengths. We checked the weather everyday – seeing absolutely no rain in the forecast. We were feeling confident and excited.

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The view from the parking lot off of Rt. 17 at Appalachian Gap

Well, right off the bat, we got a bad start. We didn’t leave until 4 PM on Friday, and we still needed to stop for dinner. It was a three hour drive to the first parking lot at the far end of our route, and then another 40 minutes to get to the start. We didn’t arrive at the first lot until 7:30 PM. Instead of driving to the start of our planned route, we pulled out the map and found a shelter a few miles up the trail, going in the opposite direction (South) that we intended. We changed plans pretty quickly, and decided to hike to this shelter tonight, then hike back to the car in the morning and drive to the start of the original route. The minute that we hit the trail, it started pouring. We pulled out our rain jackets, covered our packs with rain covers and continued along the trail. We went one mile, in the pouring rain, still upbeat and chatty, happy to be hiking and hanging out with each other again. After this one mile, it was pitch black, still pouring, and we weren’t that close to the shelter we chose. So we decided to turn around and sleep in the car. As soon as we got back to the parking lot, the rain stopped. We hung our wet stuff up in my car and set up our sleeping pads and sleeping bags in the back of my friend’s Jeep Cherokee. Still smiling and happy, we chatted into the wee hours of the night. We don’t see each other very often and had a lot to catch up on! By the time we got to sleep, I didn’t even want to check my watch to find out how late it was.

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Our sleeping arrangements for the first night

Needless to say, sleeping in the car wasn’t the most comfortable or restful night of sleep that I’ve ever gotten. But we got up the next morning and drove to the start of our route. We had 10.6 miles ahead of us, which didn’t seem so bad before we started, but we were very, very wrong. We hit the trail at 8:45 AM, and were wholly unaware of the 10 hours of grueling hell that we had ahead of us.

The very start of the trail felt like it was straight up, and required scrambling over huge rocks that were still wet from last night’s rain, making them especially slippery. Not to mention that the tread on my boots was basically falling off in chunks, which just caused my footing to be even shakier. We stopped after a half mile (which took us absolutely forever, when forever equals a half hour) to make breakfast (instant oatmeal) and coffee (also instant). We confessed to each other later that day that when we stopped for breakfast, we were both considering asking the other if we wanted to turn around, scrap this hike and just go driving through the mountains. In hindsight, I wish we had actually done that. The first mile alone took us a full hour with an elevation gain of almost 700 feet (682 feet, according to my GPS watch). It was the slowest I had ever hiked in my life. And our pace wouldn’t get any faster the rest of the day.

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One of the many steep rocks we needed to traverse

We went down every single steep rock in the first mile on our butts, and not long after we started hiking, my friend’s bright red shorts were no longer bright red. The only word I can think of to describe this section of trail was “brutal”. We were quickly overtaken by two separate male backpackers, one with an adorable dog. They both said “hi” and blew past us. We envied their speed and the ease at which they could jump down the rocks that we were carefully and tentatively sliding down on our butts. It may have helped that they were much taller than the both of us and to them maybe it didn’t look quite so far down as it did to us.

A little over a mile in, we came to an overlook (Molly Stark’s Balcony, see picture above) and took a quick break to enjoy the view. At this point, I’m pretty sure we were both in shock and still didn’t realize what we had gotten ourselves into. We wouldn’t realize the gravity of our decisions until it was going to take longer for us to turn around and head back than to push forward.

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Looking back at another sketchy bit of trail we needed to descend – it’s even steeper than it looks

It took us about two and a half hours to reach the first shelter along this section of the Long Trail, the one that we were originally planning on camping out at on Friday night. Once we got to this camp, the Birch Glen Camp, we laughed and said: there was absolutely no way we would have made it this far last night, in the pouring rain, in the dark. There had also been zero potential camping spots up to this point, so we basically would have been screwed. We patted ourselves on the back for making the decision to sleep in the car.

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Trail signs at the Birch Glen Camp intersection

After getting a quick snack, we continued north on the LT. The next couple of miles were much more relaxed and we started back up with our cheerful chatter. This stretch was much flatter and there were no steep, slippery rocks to traverse. On this stretch, we were overtaken by two female through hikers (who were companions, but hiking a different paces, so they passed us separately), whom we would see a few more times over the weekend. They were both extremely nice and cheerful, and both of them asked us if we were through hikers, too. This gave us a slight boost in confidence since we gave the appearance that we knew what we were doing.

We thought we were in the clear at this point. Actually, we were by no means in the clear, and after these couple of miles, the trail would get far worse than the first two miles we hiked. This is also the point where we lost all concept of distance, even with my GPS watch. We were planning on stopping for lunch at the Huntington Gap, but we blew past this and wound up stopping at the Cowles Cove Shelter instead. This was all fine since we weren’t feeling desperately hopeless at this point. Plus we were over a mile and a half further than we thought we were. We stopped at the shelter, at which the two girls and the man with the dog were also eating lunch. We shed our packs and ate lunch, listening to the chatter of the other hikers, who sounded so much more experienced that us. We also had frequent visits from the curious dog who was probably hoping to get a piece of our lunch.

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A really cool rock that we saw along the trail

The trail really got difficult once we continued north from our lunch spot. Over the next 5.1 miles is where we really started to lose hope and doubt ourselves. This stretch of trail took us over three peaks, Burnt Rock Mountain, Mount Ira Allen, and Mount Ethan Allen. The trek up to the peak of Burnt Rock was particularly challenging and really drained us mentally. It was really steep terrain that required a lot of scrambling up and over rocks. We were also coming across quite a few day hikers, who were all pleasant and smiling, asking us if we were backpackers. We painfully smiled and answered “yes, we’re on a weekend backpacking trip”. It was pretty difficult to put on a happy face and pretend like this was fun. We probably weren’t fooling anyone. I’m pretty sure the only thing in my eyes was despair and misery, even if my face was smiling.

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Nearing the top of Burnt Rock Mountain

The rock scrambling to the top of Burnt Rock proved to be extremely difficult with packs that were heavier than we were used to. There were also shear drop offs on many of these rocks, so one wrong step and you would lose your balance and plummet a hundred feet down. It was extremely nerve racking and I didn’t know how to deal with it. I have done countless hikes that require scrambling, and in the past I had no problems with it. However, the conditions in which I was hiking were different than I was used to: no tread left on my boots, pack that was probably double the weight of what I usually carry, and much more cumbersome, and I was used to being in a generally good headspace while hiking.

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The incredible view from where the trail up Burnt Rock begins to open up – I still haven’t decided whether this view was worth the struggle

I think the main reason for having such a hard time on this hike was my mental state. I was having a really hard time coping with what this trail had to throw at me. I wasn’t even that physically tired, sure my legs were not fresh, but it’s not like I was fatigued to the point of shaking muscles and knees giving out. It wasn’t my muscles making it difficult to put one foot in front of the other, it was my mental and emotional state, which was quickly deteriorating the further along this trail we went. If this sounds hopeless, it is because that is exactly how I felt. Once we summited Burnt Rock, we didn’t even really enjoy the view. We stopped basically to just collect ourselves and then continue onward. We had stopped talking. We had stopped smiling.

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The view from the top of Burnt Rock Mountain

The way down the other side of Burnt Rock proved to be equally as difficult as the way up. As soon as we were below tree line, we had to use a rope bolted into a rock in order to descend it. It took us longer than it should have to get past this point. I descended first and my friend just stood at the top of the rock and said “I don’t want to come down”. I answered back, emotionless, “Well I’m not turning around so you have to come down”. We didn’t talk again for a long time. We hiked a short distance from one another, silent. At this point, I was trying so hard to not cry. Every time we got to yet another steep rock we needed to go down, I wanted to throw a tantrum like a two year old. Why had the people who blazed this trail picked such a difficult route? Wasn’t there any way that they could have gone around these rocks?  Was getting genuinely angry with these people that are probably not even alive anymore.  At this point, it was getting dangerous. I fell twice going down rocks like this. Luckily with no more injuries than a bruised butt, but it was just making me feel worse and more helpless. I thought that we would never get to our destination and that we would be hiking through hell for eternity. In an attempt to lighten the mood, I tried to make conversation, about how much further I thought we had left, and how we were “almost there”, but speaking made the tears well up to the surface, and I found it even more difficult to keep from crying. So I stopped talking again until we got to the ladder.

I stopped in my tracks and said “uh oh”. My friend, who was slightly behind, asked what it was. I told her it was a ladder that we would have to go down. She didn’t respond.

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My friend descending the ladder

I threw my hiking poles down so that I could free my hands. This rock was still wet and slippery, so I slowly, carefully, stepped out until I could grab hold of the tree directly above the ladder. I bear hugged the tree and blindly stuck a foot out, searching for the top rung of the ladder. “Don’t look down”, I told myself. I looked down since I couldn’t find anything solid with my foot and immediately regretted it. I buried my emotions and continued down the ladder, with a death grip on each rung. My friend waited until I was safely at the bottom before stepping out onto the rock. She also threw her poles down and descended the ladder, equally as slow and silent as I did.

When we were both at the bottom, I noticed that my watch had died, a little over 7 miles and 5 hours and 46 minutes in. We still had almost three miles to hike and another peak to summit and descend until we made it to the shelter. This would take us another four hours, and what seemed like an eternity in hell. While the rest of the trail wasn’t quite as rocky and precarious, it felt like it went on forever. Every so often, it would level out and we would ask each other, do you think this is the summit? We kept telling each other, but mostly ourselves, “we’re almost there”. Each time we stopped, it was not in fact the summit, because a few minutes later we would start going up again. Every time we got to a really steep section, the person in front would loudly groan, causing the person behind to look up and answer in an equally loud and long groan. No words were exchanged. We had devolved into the grunting communication of our ancestors.

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We were pretty miserable, but the trail was still quite beautiful

On the final steep stretch upwards, we passed two older women in their late 60s, who were also struggling along the trail. We stopped briefly to converse, or rather commiserate. They had also started at the Appalachian Gap, but on Friday afternoon, long before we were even in Vermont. They had been struggling all day on this trail  and we agreed on how difficult it was. We told each other that our goal for today was to get to the Montclair Glen Lodge, but how none of us were sure if we could make it there. We wished each other luck and my friend and I pushed ahead. Not too much later after this encounter, my friend and I finally reached the top of Mt. Ethan Allen. The only reason we knew this was the summit was because of the sign nailed to a tree and the trees that were cut down to provide a view. Maybe they did this in order to give some sort of mental and emotional boost to hikers on this trail, who knows. We weren’t even happy. We kind of just started at each other. “How much further?”, my friend asked. “I think a half mile, but let’s check the map because I’m not sure”, I replied. Turns out, we were still a mile away from the lodge. And at our pace, this would take us over an hour.

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The view from the summit of Mt. Ethan Allan
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Our mood at the summit

We slowly trudged down the trail, still not talking, until we finally made it to the lodge at 6:45 PM, 10 hours after we had started our hike. It had felt more like forever. I wasn’t even relieved to get there. At this point I had no emotions left, except for the dread I felt when thinking about how I needed to wake up the next morning and continue hiking. The caretaker was sitting reading a book when we arrived, but quickly jumped up to welcome us and ask if we would be spending the night in the lodge. We said we would be and each payed the $5 fee. He asked us how the hike to the lodge was and my friend and I just looked at each other and gave a humorless laugh. The caretaker laughed (actually with humor) and told us that the section of the LT that we just hiked was were it “really starts to show it’s character”. That is one way of putting it. Everyone else at the lodge looked equally exhausted.

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My friend and I didn’t even want to eat anything even though we hadn’t had anything since we stopped for lunch, but we forced ourselves to cook dinner. I had a freeze dried Shrimp Pad Thai To Go Meal, which in any other situation would have been delicious. I could barely force down half of the package. I put sealed the bag and put the remainder away in my odor proof food bag and put the whole thing in the bear box a little ways from the shelter. We then wiggled our way into two sleeping spots in the shelter, which was already pretty full at this point. We then changed into our sleeping clothes and putzed around aimlessly for about an hour before going to bed.

We slept terribly and/or not at all. There were two people in the shelter that snored extremely loud, to the point where I wasn’t even sure if they were breathing. Every time someone shifted their sleeping position, it was very loud and annoying. At one point, I’m pretty sure a mouse tried to crawl up my arm, but I flicked it (or something) away. I must have flicked it onto the person next to me because they jumped suddenly. I was too tired to care, and apparently so were they, because we rolled over and faced away from each other without a word. Somewhere in the fuzzy haze that is extremely tired but not sleeping, I was scared into full alertness by a group of seemingly young men that came tramping through the site at who knows what hour. They were conversing with each other (very loudly, might I add) about where they would stay that night. Clearly they were drunk, and some were very upset and yelling at the others in the group. They were counting the sets of hiking poles left outside and estimating how many people they thought were in the shelter. I was slightly concerned that they would come barging into the already full shelter, but they ended up eventually moving on to find a different spot.  The next morning, we found the remnants of this obnoxious group, which consisted of food wrappers and Twisted Tea cans.

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I think I finally fell asleep around the time when everyone else “woke up” and left the shelter to start their day. I finally woke up probably not even an hour later and realized that I was the only one left inside the shelter. I emerged to find my friend sitting at the picnic table looking disgusted at her breakfast. I didn’t even bother to eat breakfast that day. I changed into my clothes, grabbed my stuff from the bear box, filtered some water from the nearby stream into my empty hydration bladder, and began packing up my stuff. This all occurred at a very slow pace. I think I was subconsciously (or maybe consciously) avoiding putting my pack on and beginning to hike. By the time my friend and I were all packed up and ready to go, almost everyone else at the site had left. The only remaining hikers were the two older women we had met the day before. They had made it to the site a few hours after we did. They were also delaying getting started. Clearly they had just as bad of an experience as we did.

I pulled out my map and looked at our options, of which there were two that were remotely reasonable. The first option was to continue with our original plan and continue hiking on the LT north, over Camel’s Hump, and to the lot where we parked our first car. This route, from the elevation profile on the map, and information we had gathered by speaking with others at the shelter, was going to be extremely difficult. We weren’t sure if this route would be a good idea in the mental and physical state that we were in. The other option was to descend a side trail (meant for day hikers summiting Camel’s Hump) and walk back along the road for six miles to the car. Both routes were about the same distance-wise, however, we ended up choosing to bail off of the LT and take the route back to the car by walking along the road. The other pair of women also chose to take this route. This was probably the safest option, because we probably would have gotten hurt trying to get up and over Camel’s Hump. We told the older ladies that we were planning on dropping our packs at the trailhead before walking back along the road and then we would drive back to pick up the packs. If we saw them along the way, we would give them a ride. We wished each other luck and parted ways, headed in the same direction.

On our way down the side trail, we passed day hikers making there way up Camel’s Hump. Each one we passed smelled….clean. It was bizarre, I’ve never noticed how other people smelled unless they were wearing an obscene amount of perfume. On this day, every single person we passed we smelled. And boy did they smell good. We laughed about this for awhile, commenting on how weird it was, how we probably smelled awful, and wondering if they smelled us. We were much more talkative during this hike down, probably because we were so relieved that we had chosen the “easy way out”.

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A meadow we passed on the way down the side trail, you can see Camel’s Hump peaking out above the trees

It wasn’t too long until we reached the side trail’s parking lot. We found a relatively hidden place to dump our packs, grabbed our water bottles and the map, and continued on down the road in the direction of our car. Walking on the road, with no pack, was so much easier, not to mention faster. We were in a much better mood, and joking about how miserable we were the day before. Although we did have some serious conversation about how we weren’t sure if we would ever go on another overnight trip. The pain and suffering were still too close (and still are, for me at least).

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We ditched our packs in the tall grass behind someone’s parked car

The walk back on the road still seemed to take forever, and it was hot since there was no tree cover. It took us a total of three hours and 20 minutes to make it from the shelter back to the car. When we finally got there, I was elated. We were FINALLY DONE. The misery was over. Our timing was perfect, because the two through hikers we had met the day before had just made it into the parking lot. They were trying to go 18 miles that day, and asked for a ride two miles down the road where the LT crossed the Winooski River. We happily obliged. On the short drive over, we chatted pleasantly, and they told us how it took them five hours to make it the first five miles over Camel’s Hump. This further solidified that we made the right decision, because if it took these two women, who were much faster than us, five hours, we would have been going even slower and it would have been a repeat, or worse, of the previous day on the trail. We dropped them off at the other trailhead and went back for our packs. On the way back, we came across the two older women hiking back on the road, this time with a dog in tow, causing us to almost not even recognize them. We stopped and offered them a ride. They happily accepted and when they tried to get in the car, the dog decided that he also wanted to go for a ride. He hopped in, getting mud and dirt all over my friend’s back seat. The women told us that he lived in the area and had been following them for a few miles now. He wanted to play and they made the mistake of throwing his stick in an effort to make him go away. He never found the stick, but he continued to follow them until they got into my friend’s car. We shoo’ed the dog out of the car, confident that he could find home when there were no distracting playmates around, and continued on down the road. 

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Even the views from the road were nice

The two older women thanked us repeatedly during the drive to grab our packs and then back to the lot with their car. We all joked during the car ride how the stretch of trail we just did was terrible and how none of us every wanted anything to do with hiking every again. We talked about our plans later that day and my friend and I mentioned that we were planning on stopping by the Ben & Jerry’s factory up the road before heading home. The women, who were from the area, told us all about the factory and how it was really cool and a great place. We all shared our favorite Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, which for most of us turned out to be Coffee Coffee, Buzz Buzz Buzz. When we dropped our newfound friends off at their car, they were so grateful that they offered to pay for our Ben & Jerry’s. We tried to decline, but they insisted, so we graciously accepted and continued on our way to the factory, still sweaty and stinky. We probably looked like we had been through hell, and we had. But it was ok, because we were on our way to ice cream.

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The best tasting and most deserved order of ice cream I have ever had in my entire life

This may sound like a happy ending, but in my eyes, it is far from it. The Ben & Jerry’s visit was the only good thing that happened that weekend. I still get upset when thinking about this hike, and I’m definitely not over this experience. We survived without any injuries to our bodies, minus a few bruises and bug bites. We made it back to the car without incident. But we both went through mental and emotional hell to get there. I’ve never been so rocked by any trail before this one. Sure, I’ve done strenuous hikes, but they were physically strenuous. I was able to push past the physical pain and remain mentally and emotionally strong. This time was different, and it was difficult to cope with. I would argue that I didn’t cope with it. I shut down to my surroundings and my only goal was survival, which meant getting the hell off that trail. I’m trying to view this as a learning experience. My friend and I agreed that this would be one of those “remember that time” experiences, and we would look back and have a good laugh at how stupid we were to think that this wouldn’t be as hard as it was. But that time hasn’t come yet, and I think it will take me awhile to get there.

For now, I’m retiring those boots and taking a brief reprieve from hiking. Hopefully in a few months I can get back out there and continue enjoying the outdoors, because one bad experience shouldn’t deter you from something that you enjoy doing.

XOXO

-Dri

European Adventure 2017 – Buarbreen Glacier Hike & Bergen, Norway (Part 3)

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but I’ve finally gotten the chance to sit down and continue recounting my travels in Norway earlier this year. This post will be about my last day in this country, before I moved along to Sweden (which I’ll get to in my next post).

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Trail head sign

As I mentioned in my last post, my friend and I made a new friend on our guided snowshoe hike to Trolltunga who ended up joining us for the rest of our time in Norway. The three of us woke up relatively early in the morning to fit in as much as we could into the day. We drove down the road to a gas station (since it was a holiday and everything else was closed) to find breakfast, which consisted of yogurt and coffee, and then continued on our way to a trail head I read about while planning the trip: Buarbreen. Buarbreen is a glacier in Foglefonna National Park, and is actually an offshoot of the larger Folgefonna glacier. The trail we hiked led us to the edge of this glacier, and it was pretty amazing.

The road to the trailhead was, like all other roads in Norway, narrow and winding. As the driver, I was paying close attention to this narrow, winding road to ensure that we didn’t hit anything or anyone, when all of a sudden, both of my passengers exclaimed “Oh my gosh!!! STOP THE CAR!!!”. I immediately started to panic and slammed on the brakes. But I didn’t see any danger. Then they both whipped out their phones and started snapping pictures of the wooded hill right next to the road. I couldn’t tell what they were so excited about.

“Look at the SHEEP!”

I looked, and what did I see? Two sheep wandering the side of the hill, grazing. They were so adorable and completely ignored us. We blocked the road for at least ten minutes to take pictures and say “Look how cute!” over and over again. There was no one else on the road, so it was ok that we stopped for so long. Little did we know that this event would be a precursor to the rest of our hike.

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Wandering sheep on the side of the road

If this was our reaction to two lone sheep, just imagine how we acted when we got to the trailhead parking to find that the beginning of the trail actually went through a farm. This farm was probably where the two stray forest sheep we encountered were from. And there were plenty more sheep to take pictures of! We dawdled another ten or so minutes looking at these sheep. There were also baby sheep, which were ten times cuter!!

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Momma sheep and her babies

We finally moved along and started the hike, but we didn’t get very far before stumbling across another farm animal. This one was much bigger and more intimidating than the cute fluffy sheep we stared at for so long. Without speaking, the three of us stopped in our tracks and looked at each other. “Do you think it’s aggressive?” I whispered. “Can we walk by it?”, one of my companions asked. Our path was blocked by a massive cow with long, pointy horns. We weren’t sure what to do, and I thought to myself that our hike would be over before it even began. But the cow, who was eating grass, looked up at us, stared, huffed, and then went back to eating.

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Our first encounter with a highland cow

We all looked at each other, shrugged, and walked by the cow. Nothing happened. It didn’t charge at us, and we obviously survived the encounter since I am writing about it. The cow seemed friendly enough so we all giggled and started talking about what a cute cow it was, and was it even a cow? We had never seen one like it. It had funny looking hair and it was adorable. We loved the cow more than the sheep (once we figured out it wasn’t dangerous). Don’t worry, I did look up what it was after our hike and indeed it was a cow, a highland cow to be exact. And then we turned the corner to find….more cows!!

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A young’un

We would see so many cows on this hike and we stopped to take pictures of every single one. We probably added on at least forty minutes taking pictures of these cows, and we had a blast every second of it. It’s not every day that you get to see a creature like this up close and personal! Who would have thought that our adventure to the edge of a glacier would have led us to meet so many farm animals!?

We continued along the path a little ways before reaching a section that follows a river for a short while. Here, previous hikers have built hundreds of cairns along the river. While you’re technically not supposed to build cairns (that is a job for trail maintenance crews), this place felt special. It was like we were intruding on a secret fairy city. We were able to find some rocks that didn’t already belong to a cairn and built our own before continuing on.

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We came up behind a few more cows, who were wandering the path in search of a good grazing spot. We slowed down to make sure we didn’t spook them, and had the opportunity to watch one climb up a big rock in order to continue up the path. While they don’t look like it, this cow was actually not a bad rock climber!

At this point, everything started to turn green. And I mean GREEN! Everything was covered in a thick moss. If the cairns felt like a fairy city, this felt like fairy land! I was expecting Tinkerbell to pop out and take us all to Neverland! It was incredibly beautiful and such a contrast to all of the white snow we had experienced on our hike the previous day!

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There wasn’t much that didn’t have moss on it
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The red trail blaze really stood out against all of the green

We crossed a few bridges along the way, some which were really nice, others which were just a plank thrown across a small river. Around another corner, the trees opened up and we had a clear view of the glacier, mostly covered in snow, but with some of the bright blue edge of the glacial ice visible. Since it was so early in the season, there was still a lot of snow pack, so we couldn’t tell how far the glacial arm came down into the valley. But we were able to appreciate the scale from here by the thick mass of blue hanging over the rocks near the top.

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Crossing “bridges”
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Our first view of the glacier

Continuing up the trail, things started to get very rocky, and also very wet due to melting snow farther up the trail. We got to a few spots where there were actually ropes set into the rocks to make traversing them a little easier. At first we joked that they were a little unnecessary, until we got to steeper, wetter sections, where we were grateful to have these ropes. Eventually we got high enough where the ropes were buried under snow, and we had to continue our climb on top of the snow, which was quite slippery and difficult. Multiple times we stopped and discussed whether we were on the trail (we were following someone else’s footprints since all the blazes were buried in one to four feet of snow) and whether or not we should continue. Finally, after what felt like forever, we reached the end of the trail. We could tell it was the end because there was a sign saying “STOP! Don’t go any further! Glacier ahead! Danger!”. The view from here was even better so we stayed for a while, snacking, laying on rocks, and soaking up the sunshine.

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Ropes to help us out
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More ropes
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Continuing on snow
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As close as you can get (without a guide)
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Danger!
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Close up of the glacier

The way back down was much quicker (because we could slide down on our butts!), and once we got back to the green parts we saw even more cows! Of course we stopped to take more pictures of them.

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So touristy
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Baby cow!

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After the hike, we all headed to Bergen, a small city on the coast. My friend and I had a flight to catch and our new companion was planning on spending some time there. It was a three hour drive, but the scenery was beautiful (when we weren’t in a tunnel). After parting ways with our new companion, my friend and I wandered around for an hour before heading to the airport. I would have liked to spend more time in Bergen, since it was a beautiful city that had so much history. In just an hour, we wandered through an UNESCO world heritage site, an old fortress, and a fish market that had the freshest sushi I’ve ever eaten!

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Looking back at the Buarbreen glacier from the road
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The winding road

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Bryggen, the medieval buildings (built 1702) in Bergen

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Bergenhus festning (fortress)

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Norway was incredible and I wish I had more than two days there. I would move there in a heartbeat if the opportunity arose (I do have Norwegian heritage, and was often mistaken for a local when I was there). We crammed a lot into those two days, and next up was Stockholm, Sweden! Another day, another country! I’ll be getting to my Stockholm travels in my next blog post, which hopefully I’ll write before another two months go by. 🙂

Happy travels!

XOXO Dri

P.S. I knit furiously before leaving for Norway in order to finish a Lopapeysa sweater (Iceland style sweater) with yarn I bought on my Iceland trip last year. Unfortunately it was too warm in Norway for me to wear it, but I needed to at least put it on for pictures by the glacier. The pattern is Strokkur, by Ysolda.

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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