I am an adventure girl who loves hiking and the great outdoors! I love the mountains and exploring the wilderness. I like to blog about travel, road trips, photography, vanlife, and hiking. I encourage others to respect nature and Leave No Trace!
This Sunday, April 22nd, we set out to hike our first two of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. Steve and I hiked the 48 New Hampshire 4,000 footers over the past few years when we lived in Boston, so now that we are in upstate New York, this seemed like the perfect list to tackle next.
Since this has been a long winter, we were hesitant to start climbing mountains this early in the season. However, I’ve been feeling restless from many months without the great outdoors, so we went for it. I had been reading trail reports and facebook posts to try and figure out what the trails would be like. Some people said snowshoes were needed. Some people said not to hike without crampons and an ice axe. I was a bit nervous. However, microspikes and trekking poles turned out to be enough for a solid hike up the mountains. The trail was icy on the way up and slushy on the way down.
I will share some of the details and statistics from our hike. Some of the information is based on the AllTrails app data and may not be perfectly accurate.
Time started: 9:45am
Time Ended: 1:45pm
Total Time: 4 hours
Total Distance: 5.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,297 feet
We started at the Cascade Mountain Trailhead on route 73 between Lake Placid and Keene. There were a few small parking lots right along the main road. I assume this probably gets quite full during the summer months!
We took the Cascade Mountain Trail and then at the junction we took the Porter Mountain Trail to hit the summit of Porter first. This ascent took 2 hours. The summit of Porter had some lovely views of mountains in one direction and beautiful snow covered trees in the other direction. There was only one other couple up there and we took our time enjoying the quiet and the beauty around us. We then hiked down to the junction and then up to the summit of Cascade. This took another 45 minutes including taking photos and having snacks at the top of Porter. We spent some time alone on top of Cascade enjoying the incredible 360 degree mountain views.
After 15 or so minutes at the top, we made our way down. The descent to the car from Porter took less than an hour. We passed a lot of inexperienced and unprepared hikers on the trail. Make sure to do your research when hiking in early spring! Microspikes and poles were needed for a safe day on the mountain.
This was a beautiful hike and a great introduction to the Adirondack High Peaks. Even though the ice was a bit slippery and slowed us down a bit, the scenery was incredible. We also didn’t face any crowds or bugs, which was a plus! I can’t wait to hike more high peaks! 2 down, 44 to go!
Steve and I have been lucky enough to visit Oregon several times and explore some of the beautiful hiking trails and viewpoints throughout the state. Oregon has some of the most beautiful waterfalls, gorgeous beach scenery, desert adventures, and wonderful mountain views in this country. There are so many things I could write about, but I narrowed it down to 13 of my favorite things we’ve seen and done in Oregon.
1. Abiqua Falls – It was a very rough road to get to the parking lot of this waterfall. We drove a high clearance, 4WD truck and it still felt like the car might be destroyed. It was a short hike on a rugged, steep, and slippery trail. When we arrived, the waterfall was absolutely breathtaking as the late afternoon sun rays poured through the trees to light up a magical scene.
2. WahclellaFalls – This is an amazing waterfall located in the Columbia River Gorge. It is a relatively easy 2.4 mile round trip hike in a beautiful, lush forest. The waterfall itself is powerful and covers you in refreshing mist if you get too close!
3. Trillium Lake and Lost Lake – These are two great spots to view Mount Hood. We camped at both of these lakes during our van trip and really enjoyed the stunning views. Lost Lake was very crowded on a summer weekend. If you go for a day trip, make sure to arrive early to claim one of the lakefront day use spots. Trillium Lake was a bit more rustic and much more calm and peaceful.
Here is a photo of the Milky Way over Lost Lake taken by my talented husband Steve Walasavage.
4. Punch Bowl Falls – The 3.8 mile round trip hike to this waterfall is a stunning walk through an incredibly beautiful northwestern forest. When we went, it was drizzling and the hills were draped in thick fog. There is an awesome view of the falls from above and then another after you climb down to the bottom. I really loved this hike!
Punch Bowl Falls from above
Punch Bowl Falls from the bottom
5. Samuel H. Boardman State Park – This is a beautiful stretch of the rugged Oregon coast with stunning views and precarious hikes. I wrote more about Samuel H Boardman State Park in this blog post!
6. Toketee Falls – This was a very quick 0.8 mile round trip hike. It leads to a viewing platform with an amazing view of the falls. The waterfall is stunning and the basalt columns give it a really unique look!
7. Tamolitch Blue Pool – We woke up early to make the 2.1 mile hike to the Blue Pool (4.2 miles round trip). The hike was easy and beautiful, weaving through lovely forest scenes and crossing perfect rivers. When we arrived, the view of this dazzling blue pool completely blew me away! There were only a handful of people there when we arrived and we scrambled down the steep slope to the edge of the pool. After some trepidation, we dove in. It was some of the coldest water I’ve ever felt! But the rush of being in such a beautiful place and the refreshing jolt of jumping in made this an unforgettable experience. On our hike back to the car, hundreds of hikers were coming in and the parking lot was completely full. Be sure to get up early to do this hike. It’s worth it!
8. Multnomah Falls – This is one of the most accessible and beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever been to. It can be crowded with tourists and gets very busy, but the scenery is breathtaking and it is definitely worth a visit if you are ever in the Columbia River Gorge! (Photo by Steve Walasavage)
9. The Painted Hills – Most of the time we’ve spent in Oregon was at the coast, in the woods, or exploring waterfalls. However, there are some really beautiful desert areas. A few years ago we drove out to the Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The unique sand hills and rainbow of colors were really incredible! Watch out for rattlesnakes if you visit this spot.
10. Tamanawas Falls – This was a very pretty waterfall on a relatively easy trail (3.6 miles round trip). We didn’t have much time to spend at this waterfall, but enjoyed the hike and the lovely view of the falls!
11. Rowena Crest – This is a beautiful lookout over an incredible winding road. It’s straight out of a car commercial (in fact they were filming a car commercial the day we were there!) We also went in April when the wild flowers were unbelievable.
12. Susan Creek Falls – Unfortunately this waterfall was swarming with mosquitoes when we visited this spring. However, it was still a gorgeous hike and I would love to back in a different season!
13. Crater Lake – This is one of the first national parks I ever visited! The lake was formed by a volcano that collapsed around 7,700 years ago. It is also the deepest lake in the United States at 1,949 feet deep! We only spent one afternoon there, but I’d love to go back to explore and do some hiking!
What are your favorite spots in Oregon? Have you been to any of the locations listed in this blog? Do you have recommendations of places to visit in Oregon that aren’t in this post? Let me know in the comments or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).
Do you have wanderlust? Do you loving hiking, beautiful vistas, and a mix of mountains, lakes, and the ocean? Have you ever thought about traveling to Norway?
Steve and I spent our honeymoon driving, hiking, and camping around Norway. It turned out to be one of the most incredible places I have ever been. I get asked all the time about my recommendations for the best things to do and how to experience Norway. After writing multiple versions of the same email to different people, I figured I might as well pull all of my thoughts together into some blog posts! Since we spent three whole weeks in Norway, I won’t go into the details of each day of our trip, but I will instead share the highlights and some tips and tricks that we learned. This blog post will focus on advice and the next post will highlight our favorite hikes and viewpoints from the trip.
Here are some photos of us from the trip. Notice the huge variety in landscapes! From misty fjords, to white sand beaches, to dramatic mountaintops, to turquoise lakes, there is a never ending supply of natural beauty in Norway.
Our Kind of Honeymoon
Steve and I could never go on a typical honeymoon. All-inclusive resorts have never really been our thing. We knew that our honeymoon would have to involve camping, hiking, and breathtaking views. We were looking for adventure! We had both been drooling over photos of Norway for quite some time and it seemed just epic enough for a honeymoon. We had to wait from our September wedding until my summer break in July to go, which gave us plenty of time to extensively plan every moment of an unbelievable three week trip! We drew most of our inspiration from Instagram. I had saved dozens of amazing photos and created a google map full of pins…there were enough hikes to keep us busy for several years! We spent time researching, reading blogs, and eventually narrowed down our itinerary to a reasonable amount of activities for three weeks (though in reality we still ended up skipping a handful of things due to exhaustion!)
We learned so much during our planning process and on the trip itself. Here are some pieces of advice and tips and tricks for planning a trip to Norway!
1. Norway is not cheap. Okay, that’s an understatement. Norway is EXPENSIVE. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world. Food is expensive, drinks are expensive, and gas is very expensive. I want to say this first because if you’re a budget traveler like me, you really have to do your planning to make Norway an affordable trip. To do this we did a LOT of camping (read tip #2 for more details about camping in Norway). We also saved money by trying to avoid eating at restaurants. We brought our small camp stove and bought fuel when we arrived to make coffee and hot meals. We had a lot of granola bar meals, peanut butter sandwiches, and trail mix. Sadly, the food we did eat at restaurants was really delicious, especially the pizza, which made it all the more difficult to stay on budget.
2. You can pretty much camp anywhere for free. One wonderful thing about Norway is their law known as “allemannsretten” or freedom to roam, which essentially says that you can camp on public lands for free. We made use of this rule, and pulled over to camp on the side of the road in some beautiful areas. We did free camping on the beaches, on high mountain passes, and rocky areas alongside the fjords. This is such a huge contrast to our recent van travels in the United States where we had to check and double check where we parked for the night to make sure we didn’t get a ticket or a fine. Before you visit Norway, be sure to do your research to stay up-to-dates on their current camping laws! Here are some photos from random places we camped for free:
3. Plan your ferry rides in advance. If you plan on exploring the Lofoten islands or any coastal island areas, which I highly recommend, be sure to plan your ferry schedules ahead of time. For example, we really wanted to hike Rodoy, but the ferry only ran a few times and days of the week, so it ended up not fitting in our schedule. If we had known this ahead of time, we could have planned accordingly. There were also a few times when we just barely missed a ferry and ended up having to wait upwards of an hour for the next one. Also understand that ferries cost money, which can add up after a while. To get to some islands, it can take two or three ferries each way! Here are some photos from our ferry rides:
4. Prepare for some wild driving. Norway is famous for its unbelievable winding switchback roads like Trollstigen and Lysevegen. The main roads near big cities were fine, but the mountain passes and the descents down to the fjords were narrow, steep, and downright scary! There were times I was sure only one vehicle could fit on the road, and yet somehow we just barely squeaked past another car! I was tempted to slow down on the hairpin turns and narrow, foggy roads, but the locals in giant trucks were happy to slam on the gas and speed on through. Thankfully Steve took the wheel on most of those mountain passes. Here are some screenshots of roads in Norway:
Here is a photo I took of the famous Trollstigen road:
5. Bring layers and prepare for all types of weather. When we visited in July, the weather was typically in the 50s and 60s. It was perfect hiking weather, but got pretty chilly in the evenings and at high elevations. It even snowed on some of the high mountain passes! Bring a coat, gloves, and a hat…even in the summer!
6. Avoid crowds if you can. Some of the most beautiful spots in Norway are, as you might expect, incredibly popular. Even some of the long and challenging hikes were swarming with tourists! I highly recommend waking up early to visit the popular spots at sunrise, or go in the evening and plan to camp overnight to avoid crowds. We started our Trolltunga hike at 5am. When we arrived, only a handful of people were there and we were able to spend plenty of time walking out onto the precipice and taking photos. We had heard stories of people waiting in line for hours for their turn, and we were so glad we went early! Sunrise hikes can also lead to some stunning views! I had seen photos of hundreds of people up at Preikestolen, so we decided to camp up there. Only about 10 other people spent the night, and we practically had the whole place to ourselves at sunrise. Here are some photos from famous spots early in the morning, before the tourists showed up. I hope you’re not afraid of heights!
7. Prepare for a lot of driving. You could probably hit a handful of the best spots in Norway without too much driving and without leaving the southern part of the country. However, some of the most beautiful scenery and hidden gems were in the northern region. We ended up doing a ton of driving in order to make it to the Lofoten islands and Senja. While these areas had incredible hiking and scenery, I am not sure I would have done all of that extra driving if I were only in Norway for 1 or 2 weeks. This photo was from the remote northern islands:
8. Don’t plan on doing laundry. We learned the hard way that laundromats really aren’t a thing in Norway. Since we were there three weeks, we planned on doing laundry a few times (especially with all of the hiking we were doing). Laundromats were almost nonexistent and we ended up begging a hostel to let us use their laundry machines.
9. There are sheep everywhere. Watch out for sheep!
10. Bring your camera and extra batteries. Norway has some of the most incredible scenery you could imagine. I found myself snapping photos constantly! Stay tuned for my next blog post with details and photos of my favorite spots in Norway!
So this blog post is going to be a little different in that it is not super current. I am still exploring SoCal and not quite ready to blog about this part of the trip yet, so in the meantime I wanted to take a moment to write about my recently-completed quest to summit all 48 of the 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire (aka the 4,000-Footers). Even though I am out exploring some unbelievably incredible areas of this country, the mountains of New England hold a special place in my heart and I often think back to many awesome moments in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The beginning of this post will be a general overview of my journey that everyone can enjoy, and the very last section will be specifically for anyone who is actually considering hiking these peaks!
I’ll start at the beginning. After a few months of dating my now-husband Steve, I decided to move from New York City to join him Boston, where I found an excellent teaching job. Right away, Steve introduced me to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and I quickly fell in love. As a kid growing up in upstate New York, I loved spending time in the Adirondacks hiking the trails, climbing the mountains, and swimming in the lakes. I grew up loving the outdoors and spending time in beautiful nature. During my time in NYC, I was very busy with work (I taught at a public high school in the South Bronx) and often felt trapped in the city without a car, and therefore I rarely saw the wilderness.
Once in Boston I quickly realized that I was only a 2-3 hour drive from the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire and was reminded of how much I love hiking and being in the mountains. Then Steve told me about the 4,000-Footers and how he had climbed 10 or so of them over the years with his friends. For those of you not familiar with the 4,000-Footers, this is a list of the mountain peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire (there are 48 of them in total). We decided to head up north and hike a few of them together and I was instantly hooked. As a lover of to-do lists, I suddenly found myself in the midst of a massive to-do list of 48 mountains, each containing incredible beauty, intense work outs, and unique experiences.
Over the next four years, Steve and I drove up to lovely towns like Woodstock, Lincoln, Gorham, Jackson, and North Conway which would be the basecamps for our hikes. We hiked during spring rainstorms, on hot summer days, in the gorgeous foliage of autumn, and even on snow covered winter afternoons. Some hikes were quick and included one summit (for example Mount Hale which is a 4.4 mile hike and took only three and a half hours) whereas other hikes took multiple days and hit multiple summits (for example the Presidential Traverse which hit 7 summits and was 23 miles of hiking with 9,000 feet of elevation gain). Each hike was incredibly unique, considering they are all within a short distance from each other, with lovely wooded trails, occasional ponds and lakes, and many beautiful views from the summits. We hiked alone or with friends and met some incredible people along the way.
Our final hike, number 48, was Mount Carrigain. This was a medium difficulty hike but was incredibly memorable. At the summit we ran into a family who was celebrating that the father was also completing his 48th mountain and they had a bottle of champagne which they joyfully shared with us on the fire tower! I have found that hikers in the White Mountains are incredibly kind and down to earth. We may not have the rocky peaks and epic alpine lakes like the Northwest, but the beauty of the New Hampshire mountains is very special. Whether they are shrouded in dense fog, basking in sunshine, covered with amazing fall foliage, or layered with snow, the White Mountains are a treat for those willing to leave the comforts of home and hike into their wilderness. Working through the 4,000-Footer list forced us to hike a wide variety of mountains, not just the popular and most scenic peaks, which ended up revealing a lot of unique beauty and solitude that we otherwise may have never experienced.
This was truly an amazing journey. I fell in love with peakbagging and found comfort and motivation in checking mountain after mountain off of our list and adding pin after pin to our map. Steve and I grew stronger both physically and mentally and the hikes brought us closer together as a couple. We even got engaged on our overnight hike of Lincoln and Lafayette!
If you live in the northeast I highly recommend hiking some of the 4,000 Footers. If you would like suggestions on which ones to hike, please reach out to me! If you live far away, but like the idea of hiking lists or peakbagging, take a look if there are any hiking lists in your area! Perhaps there is a mountain range nearby (Colorado 14ers, Adirondack 46ers, etc) or perhaps you could try something like the county high points in your state!
Now if you’re nowhere near New Hampshire and have no desire to hike these mountains, you can stop reading here! However if you’re interested in doing the NH 4000 Footers, I have a few pieces of helpful information below!
Woodstock Brewery in Lincoln, NH is a great place to grab a bite to eat and some delicious beers after a hike! They even have a 4,000 Footer IPA! I recommend the Loon Dip and the Cogsman Ale!
My favorite hikes were Lincoln/Lafayette, Moosilauke, and the Presidential Traverse!
My least favorite hikes were Hale (no views) and the Wildcats.
Check out the AMC huts! They are beautiful inside and have awesome maps, pit toilets, and free water. If it’s in your budget, staying overnight at one of the huts is an amazing experience!
Whenever possible, I recommend trying to do multiple peaks in one hike. It’s a great experience and also cuts down the total number of hikes you will do to complete the list.
Try to catch some sunsets or sunrises in the mountains, they are unbelievable. If you can spend a night during a new moon, you might even be able to see the Milky Way over the mountain peaks (see photo below).
Always check the weather and trail conditions before hiking, especially on the Presidential Range or in winter and early spring.
As always, be sure to follow the Leave No Trace philosophy. These are some of the most beautiful and well maintained trails I’ve ever hiked and I want them to stay that way! Stay on the trails, follow the rules about camping and fires, and be sure to pack out ALL of your trash, including apple cores, banana peels, sunflower seed shells, and orange peels!
And lastly, here are some very important resources to help you get started!
First of all, this website (http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/) is the best resource for hiking the 4,000-Footers! I have no idea how we would have completed this journey without this site. It has mileage, elevation gains, and book times for the different routes to the peaks as well as commentary about each hike. It talks about which peaks can be combined together in a single hike as well. This site is super helpful!
There is a great Facebook group Hike the 4000 footers of NH! which is a wonderful community of other hikers of the 4,000-Footers. There is occasionally drama in the comments, but mostly it is full of kind and supportive hikers who offer advice, seek suggestions, or organize group hikes in the Whites.
If you plan to hike Mount Washington or any of the Presidentials, this website (Mount Washington Observatory) is critical for checking the weather before you go. Mount Washington has been said to have “the worst weather in the world” and can be extremely dangerous, so be sure to stay up to date on the weather and be prepared for cold and snow, even in the summer!
People are always advising us to: “live in the moment”. This is a beautiful sentiment and sounds like something we should all strive to do when traveling or exploring the outdoors. But what I rarely see included with these statements is advice on how to actually do it! I guess people would say to put away your phones and the cameras, which I think can help you be more focused on your surroundings, but is that all that needs to be done to truly “live in the moment”?
Maybe for some of you, it is easy and obvious. But for me, it was never easy. I certainly have always loved to see something beautiful, to be present, to enjoy myself. But I won’t lie to you – my mind is usually wandering. What will we be eating for dinner, when are we climbing down this mountain, I wonder what’s happening on Facebook, what’s going on with that latest political scandal, do I have new Instagram followers, what are we doing tomorrow… Even if my phone and camera were hidden away, I still didn’t feel like I was truly living in the moment but instead was planning my next move, worrying about something, or just letting random thoughts into my head and thus mentally checking out from the experience.
Enjoying the pastel
Steve poking the fire
So how do you truly “live in the moment”?
I’ve actually been working on answering this question over the last few months since being on the road. I have been working at making a conscious effort to live in the moment. I’d like to take a moment to explain some of the methods I have been trying, in case you’d like to try it yourself. Chances are, plenty of you already do these things either consciously or subconsciously, but perhaps some of you don’t and maybe this could help you!
So here is what I do. When I find myself with a moment to pause in a beautiful location like at a sunset or at the summit of a mountain, I make a pointed, conscious, and purposeful effort to think about what all of my senses are experiencing in that moment. I push away thoughts about dinner, social media, photography, politics, and plans for the future and focus on what is happening right here and right now. I usually do this for about 5-10 minutes, depending on the situation and I try to step away from other people briefly so that I can focus.
To begin with, I pause to look. I make note of not only what is right in front of me, but also ask myself what are all of the details of the scene, what is the source of light and how bright is it, and where are the shadows. I make the effort to look in every direction, taking in what is to my left, right, behind me, below me, and above me.
Then I pause to listen. What are the loud obvious sounds and what are the quiet subtle noises that you might not notice. This can be tricky when in a popular place surrounded by a lot of people. In these situations, I usually don’t focus much on listening and instead focus on the other senses.
Then I pause to feel. What is the temperature like? Is there a light breeze or strong wind or is it completely still? Am I on soft ground, jagged rocks, a flat surface? Is it humid or dry? Am I feeling sore, tired, or full of energy?
Then I pause to smell. Is it earthy, floral, or a salty sea smell? Are there subtle hidden smells, like maybe a hint of a campfire somewhere off in the distance? Is there a sulfur or mineral smell, such as at hot springs?
If applicable, I pause to taste. I may not have anything to taste, but occasionally if I am sipping coffee in the morning or a beer by the campfire, I make a mental note of those.
Me on the sand dune, photo by Steve!
Hiking the Navajo Loop Trail
Beautiful Lower Calf Creek Falls
Delicate Arch at sunset
View from our Cabela’s tent
Now I know most of us do all of these things all of the time in all degrees of magnitude. But what I’ve been working on, which I guess you might think is pretty corny, is to narrate each of these senses in my head, as if I were narrating an overly descriptive book. And I have to tell you, it has actually been really wonderful. I find that I notice more of my surroundings and feel in tune with the moment and the experience. When I do this, the scene actually becomes more complex and more beautiful. I also find that I remember details of the event much better afterward than previously when I was just looking and taking photographs. This process, like meditation, helps to push away all other worries or thoughts that may be floating around in my head and truly allows me to be present and focused on the current moment.
Below I am going to give two examples of times I have done this and what I experienced. What you are reading is a close replica of what I was narrating in my head in those exact moments. As you can see, I remember a LOT of details about each scene, and I believe this is a direct result of doing this exercise.
Before you continue I just want to offer a disclaimer: I teach math and physics and am a very science-minded person, not a poetic author or writer, so please bear with me!
Moment #1: Sunset in San Elijo, California
I pause to look. The colors are beautiful. I can see every shade of red, purple, pink, magenta, maroon, fuschia, orange, yellow. Just as I get a sense of the scene in front of me, I realize that the view is constantly changing as the sun slowly sinks and then drips below the horizon like a droplet of water falling out of a faucet. The clouds are moving and shifting in a smooth but very slow manner, continuously changing size and shape creating a new and unique scene every few seconds. The waves roll toward the shore in irregular intervals. Some are smooth rolling bumps, carrying energy from the depths of the ocean to the sandy beaches. Others build, fold over, and crash, creating a small explosion of ocean spray and mist. Looking left, right, and behind me I see puffy pink clouds like cotton candy floating on a darkening greyish-blue background. There are tall, thin palm trees swaying in the breeze. I see people gazing at the sunset, petting their dogs, holding hands with their children and loved ones. A group of pelicans flies across the kaleidoscope sky in formation and couple of lizards skitter among the rocks in a garden behind me.
I pause to listen. The most obvious sound is the waves crashing and the undertow noisily pulling water back out to sea. I hear the wind rustling leaves in the bushes nearby and the palm trees above. I hear a child giggle, footsteps of joggers on the sidewalk, murmurs of quiet conversation. I try to listen for the footsteps of the lizards of the flapping of birds’ wings, but the crashing waves are too loud and drown out these tiny noises.
I pause to feel. The warmth from the spring day lingers in the humid air but there is a cool breeze blowing from the ocean. My loose locks of hair are blowing in the wind and occasionally tickle my neck and face. The beach is soft under my feet and grains of sand feel rough on my sandal-covered toes.
I pause to smell. There is a salty, and mildly fishy smell in the air. It is a familiar smell that brings waves of nostalgia from past trips to the beach and childhood family vacations to the coast.
I pause to taste. There is nothing to taste at the moment, but there is the anticipation of the pizza we will eat once the sun has finally set and the skies turn dark and gray.
I pause to look. There is a brilliant fire before me. The embers are glowing and sparkling with a deep hue of orange. The flames are a dazzling yellow with a pale blue edges where the fire meets the charred logs. The fire is constantly moving, growing and shrinking, and changing directions as the wind shifts. I move my gaze upward to see the tall pines reaching up toward the night sky, which is speckled with millions of stars. I stop to remember that while the sky looks two dimensional, it is really three dimensional. Those stars are huge, burning, glowing objects nowhere near us and nowhere near each other. This begins to overwhelm my mind to think about so I look back down and around me. In all directions I see more and more trees of varying heights and widths spread throughout the forest around me. I peek at our van behind me, with the bouncing flames of the campfire reflecting off of its shiny silver paint.
I pause to listen. We are deep in the forest so silence around us is heavy. The fire crackles and occasionally sputters as it burns through log after log. Every so often there is a small crack of a twig somewhere off in the forest or a skittering sound of some small animal making moves in the night.
I pause to feel. The night has grown chilly and I am bundled up in my favorite fleece blanket. The fire is warm on my face and hot on my hands as I poke and prod the flames with a stick. When the wind changes directions, the smoke burns and stings my eyes a bit, as I wait for the breeze to blow the flames in another direction.
I pause to smell. The smell of campfires is one of my favorite scents. I don’t quite know how to describe it except that it is a deep, heavy, smokey smell. I am reminded how each place I visit has its own unique campfire smell due to the native trees. In this case, we are smelling the sweet scents of Juniper and Ponderosa Pine.
I pause to taste. I take a sip of hot cocoa and taste the delicious and rich chocolatey flavor as it warms my tongue, mouth, and throat.
Hopefully it is clear how doing this exercise helps me to feel, experience, and live in the moment. It is almost like a meditation. Each time I do this, I expose the complexity of beauty and wonder that exist in a single moment in space and time. I don’t do this exercise every day or every time there is a beautiful scene. But I will say that each time I have done this has enhanced the beauty of the experience and helped me remember it crisply and clearly in the days and weeks after. I look at the photo and and transported back to the moment, and can remember the experience vividly. I advise you to give this exercise a try next time you are somewhere incredible and you want to “live in the moment”. It’s not just about simply putting the electronics away, but is about experiencing something fully and purposefully.
Sunset (photo by Steve)
Morning view from the van
A highly recommended slot canyon
So now I will ask you. How do you “live in the moment”? How do you fully immerse yourself in an experience? Are you someone who does all of the things I have written here automatically? Do you have other methods or strategies? I would love to hear them and try them out! Let me know by email (email@example.com) or on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors).
So if you don’t know me, let me start off this post by saying that I’ve never really been the type of person to obsess over issues like conservation, recycling, or saving the planet. I’ve always loved the outdoors and have done my best to be a good citizen of this earth, but I also never really made it a point to talk about it, advocate, or become very engaged in conservation efforts.
But something has changed since starting our travels in February. Since I now spend most of my time in nature, I have a whole new perspective on how people treat this planet. I have to say that over the past few months I have been appalled at how some people treat the outdoors. I want to believe that people are good. I have so many wonderful friends and family members and meet incredible people every day either on the road or through social media. There are so many amazing people in this world who are considerate, kind, and respectful! However, I can’t stop myself from seeing how some people treat the wilderness with indifference and disrespect. I really don’t know if they are being malicious or are just completely oblivious. I try to see the best in others, but I have seen so many things that completely frustrate me.
I have been talking in generalities, but I want to point out a handful of specific examples that I have witnessed just in the past 2.5 months to show exactly what I mean.
In Arches National Park I witnessed many children and adults walking and running off the trails, trampling all over delicate plants and rock formations, despite a multitude of signs saying to stay on the established trails.
Also in Arches National Park, right near the signs talking about how the dark crusty sections of dirt are actually cryptobiotic soil aka “living soil” and not to step on it, I saw several distinct footprints in the dark crust described in the signs.
In Canyonlands National Park, right near the sign saying not to walk on the arches, we witnessed someone walk across Mesa Arch.
In the Dixie National Forest where we were camping near Bryce Canyon we found a huge trash bag in the woods full of a deflated air mattress and multiple empty vodka and beer bottles.
In Santa Fe National Forest (and almost every wild campsite we have stayed in) there have been an excessive number of bottle caps and cigarette butts strewn about the forest floor.
We often find “bathrooms” in the forest or just off of a trail where people leave piles of dirty toilet paper.
In Kaibab National Forest, we found a firepit full of empty plastic cups and wrappers from a fast food restaurant as well as tons of shotgun shells lying about.
At the trailhead for Diamond Fork/Fifth Water Hot Springs (where there were many clear signs that there is no trash pickup so don’t leave any trash) we found piles and piles of garbage including an entire crushed bottle of Sweet Baby Rays BBQ Sauce in the parking lot and empty coffee cups and a partially eaten quiche in the bathroom.
On many hikes, including several in Arches National Park, we have seen orange peels and apple cores dropped directly on the trail or right on the side of the trail.
At Bryce National Canyon, we saw rotten bananas right along side the beautiful canyon.
At the remote and beautiful Spooky slot canyon, we saw obnoxious messages written on or scratched into the textured, delicate sandy walls.
Scratched message at Spooky Canyon
More canyon graffiti
At each park, hiking trail, and campsite we visit, Steve and I make a point to spend time picking up other peoples’ trash. It’s annoying. It’s gross. But I can’t walk by garbage in the beautiful outdoors and not do something. I know that accidents happen from time to time. You reach into your pack to pull out a granola bar, and a loose tissue floats out without you noticing. It happens. But what we are seeing is much more prevalent and blatant.
Picking up trash is pretty easy (albeit kind of disgusting) but what else can I do to help out? Should I speak up to those people walking off the trail, trampling wildlife, or watching their children run through cryptobiotic soil? I haven’t really worked up the courage to speak to others, not wanting to come across as rude, but more and more I am feeling like maybe it is my place to say something. If not me, then who? This beautiful and delicate landscape will only remain beautiful if we treat it right. I am trying to learn more about proper wilderness etiquette and Leave No Trace, hoping that increased knowledge and confidence will help guide me in how I should react when I see something wrong.
Sign about the living soil
Clear footprints in the living soil
As Earth Day approaches, I am sure there will be many efforts to remind us to take care of nature and be kind to Mother Earth. For the first time in my life, I feel truly invested in this. The wilderness is my home right now, and I can’t stand watching other people trash it. I know that platforms like Instagram popularize beautiful places and drives large numbers of people to once secret or lesser-known spots. While getting more people outdoors can be a great thing, it can quickly turn terrible when people are leaving trash, adding graffiti, or destroying wildlife in these areas. Therefore I am hoping to use my voice on social media to help promote good outdoor habits and a respectful mindset toward nature to help avoid some of the horrible scenes I have found in the wild.
So what I am asking of all of you is:
“Pack in, pack out” and “leave no trace”. This includes food that you bring with you (even fruit!) and toilet paper.
Stay on the trails! Try to minimize your impact, especially in parks with delicate vegetation, soil, and rock formations.
Read and follow the signs! Park rangers and staff are smart and educated people – trust that if they thought something was worthy of a sign, then you should read it and follow it!
I hope everyone has an amazing Earth Month/Week/Day and I hope you are able to enjoy some of the beautiful nature out there!
To keep up the inspiration, feel free to email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or DM me (@carrieoutdoors) some photos or stories of you respecting this earth or ways that you have worked to make this planet more clean and beautiful! Whether it’s picking up trash, walking on trails, or being less wasteful, I’d love to feature some of your pictures or words on my Instagram stories!
Here are some great resources to learn about more ways to Leave No Trace and respect our planet!
Thanks for following along with the van adventures of me and my husband Steve (@walasavagephoto). I have decided that only blogging about the details of what we’ve done and where we’ve been might get tedious, so I want to start sharing some of my thoughts from the road. We are only on our second month of traveling around the US and living in a van and we have learned a lot very quickly. There are so many misconceptions I had about van life and there have been many fun discoveries as well as plenty of challenges.
Texas desert at sunset
We get a lot of questions about life on the road, so I thought I’d give some preliminary answers to the most common questions here in this blog post. I am sure that as Steve and I continue to travel and learn, sometimes the hard way, my answers will change. Maybe I’ll answer the questions again at the end of the trip!
Why are you doing this trip?
This is a tougher question than you might think! There was no ah-ha moment or large event that caused Steve and I to leave our jobs and take some time to travel America and live out of a van. We talked a lot over the past few years about doing something different before we become more tied down. We considered world travel, backpacking around Europe, and even hiking the Appalachian Trail or Pacific Crest Trail. But at the end of the day, we wanted to stay in this country and we wanted to see as much as possible.
Our list of “must see” (also: “must hike” and “must photograph”) spots in the United States had been growing out of control. Whenever we had a week-long vacation to plan, it was overwhelming trying to choose where to go. The Pacific Northwest? The Rocky Mountains? The Southwest? National Parks? Every time we chose one place, there were hundreds of places we were brushing aside. So this trip feels like the perfect opportunity to see/hike/photograph as many of these places as possible all at once, while we are still in great physical shape. The hope is that in our future travels there won’t be as much pressure to see everything, but instead we can return to our favorite locations to see them in more depth.
Where do you sleep?
Most nights we sleep in the van, a Ford E350 cargo van. There is a wooden bed platform in the back of the van where the seats used to be, built by the amazing previous owners. We covered the platform with layers of foam and a nest of blankets and covered the windows with light-blocking curtains. There is also a vent in the back window that can blow air in or out (it blows stinky air out after a long hike or cool air in on a hot night), twinkle lights, and a secondary battery that we can use when the car is off.
Let the journey begin!
Cozy in the van on a rainy day
Laptop work in the van
Snuggled up in my blanket nest
We try as often as possible to park in free or cheap (but also safe) locations. Often we find free dispersed campsites or low-fee campgrounds in National Forests, BLM land, state parks, Wildlife Management Areas, or other public lands that allow camping. We do a lot of research on where to sleep and we often discover great spots on crowd sourced websites for free camping. Even though many of these areas have spots for tents, we find it’s typically more convenient and easy to just sleep in the van.
Camping in a national forest
Campfires and vanlife
Photo by Steve!
We sometimes do traditional camping and sleep in our lightweight Cabela’s tent, but that is usually when we are backpacking in the wilderness and can’t bring our van with us!
Camping in Havasupai
Camping at White Sands
If we want less wilderness and more access to stores and businesses, we stay in Walmart parking lots, as long as we ask the management and they are cool with it. Occasionally we have splurged on a cheap motel or KOA if we are in need of a shower or an actual bed to sleep in.
Florida Keys KOA
Sleeping in a Walmart parking lot
Where do you shower?
So to start out, I will say that we certainly don’t shower as much as we are used to. We take advantage of showers when we stay at a motel or a campground with amenities; however, those stops are few and far between. We have an inexpensive nationwide gym membership which includes a guest pass, and that is where we do most of our showering. In between showers, we freshen up in restrooms and as the weather gets warmer, hopefully we will jump in more lakes and rivers to rinse off!
What do you eat?
Let me start with the morning. Typically we wake up and make coffee. I pretty much need coffee to function. Most often we boil water with a camp stove and drip coffee through our GSI lightweight filter. When we have a campfire and extra time, we use our vintage looking GSI percolator, and when we are pressed for time, we sometimes make instant coffee (not my favorite). Our breakfast is either granola bars or dry cereal and bananas when we are on the move, or oatmeal when we have time. A few times we have indulged in some campfire egg and sausage scrambles and homemade breakfast burritos. I’d love to make pancakes at some point, they seem like the quintessential camping breakfast delight!
Boiling water for coffee
Steve using the drip coffee filter
Lunch is almost always peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Blah! We also keep dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, apples, trail mix, and other small snacks in the car when a sandwich isn’t enough. Mint Chocolate Clif Bars (with caffeine!) are our favorite energy boosting snack for the trail.
Our dinners vary day to day. Sometimes we cook pasta on the camp stove, rice and beans, or tacos. When we have a campfire, we enjoy cooking meat and veggies in foil packets. If we are in a rush or in a city where cooking would be awkward, we indulge in fast food. (We have found that Taco Bell had the cheapest value menu!)
Foil dinners on the campfire!
Steve stirring pasta
Eating and drinking cheaply is a challenge for us because as we travel to new cities and states, there are so many amazing restaurants and breweries we would like to check out. We try our best to stay on budget and cook as much as possible, but occasionally we can’t help but try the local cuisine. Like tacos in the Southwest. And Texas BBQ in Austin. And seafood in South Carolina. We have also made a pact to go to only one brewery in each state, so that we won’t be tempted to taste every beer we see.
Florida Keys Brewing Company
The Funkatorium in Asheville
Southern Barrell Brewing Company in Bluffton, SC
Grand Canyon Brewing Company
How do you plan what to do and where to go?
This is a tough question and we are still figuring this out. During the preliminary planning for the trip, I created a custom Google map with pins for each location. Every time something beautiful popped up on my social media feeds (mainly Instagram and Tumblr), I would add a pin to the map and include a link to the photo for reference. It is kind of like a Pinterest board, but arranged on a map. By the time we hit the road in February, the map had accumulated hundreds and hundreds of pins – an impossible number for our trip. The pins include lakes, waterfalls, hikes, state high points, campgrounds, scenic overlooks, hot springs, etc. Since we know we can’t hit every pin, we use the map as a general guide on where to go next. We have a rough plan of where we want to be each month, and a few future camping reservations scattered about in coveted locations, but mostly we figure things out a day or two ahead.
We also do research on each area, check out visitor’s centers, and talk to people we meet on the road to find more ideas of where to go. For example, we might not have visited the Wupatki National Monument had it not been recommended to us by our bartender at the Grand Canyon Brewing Company!
A building form the 1100s
So what is a typical day like on the road?
This is a difficult question to answer, as every day is so different and unique. Some days we are driving. Some days we are hiking and exploring. Some days we are checking out a local quirky town or roadside attraction. Some days we are catching up on laundry, shopping, errands, and van tuneups. Some days, more often than I expected, we are reorganizing and cleaning the van. Some days we are editing photos and blogging. Some days we are relaxing at a campsite, cooking meals and enjoying a campfire.
Hiking the Texas high point
Roswell, New Mexico
Kayaking with manatees
Campfire in Arizona
Driving through Sedona
There is no set pattern or agenda to our days, which is so wonderful and uniquely different from working a 9-5 job. Sometimes it can be stressful to me, as a person who typically lives by structure and deadlines. As a teacher, I have always liked planning and organization and have typically preferred to have an end goal and to take steps to work toward it when I am traveling or just in daily life. Taking things one day at a time without a set plan is not how I am used to doing things, so it has been quite an adjustment. I do believe it is having a positive effect on me overall. This way of living is teaching me to be more flexible and easygoing. My stress levels are lower and I feel healthier and more relaxed.
Well, that is all for now! Just a reminder, these are very preliminary answers and in no way do Steve and I claim to be experts about van life. We are learning a ton every day and constantly adjusting course.
Do you have any other questions about life on the road? How about suggestions for us? Feel free to send them my way (email: email@example.com or Instagram: @carrieoutdoors).