After Stephen fulfilled his condo board responsibilities we decided to celebrate by heading east and experiencing the colors in the most visited national park in the nation; The Great Smoky Mountains… located in both Tennessee and North Carolina.
“Stop the car, we gotta get a selfie”
Our Vistabule was still in for repairs so instead we arranged for a house-sit in Asheville, North Carolina through TrustedHousesitters.com and filled in the gaps with Airbnb’s along the way. On our drive east we made two quick stops in Kentucky at Lincoln’s boyhood home and Mammoth Caves National Park but the main attraction was the Smoky Mountains. WOW! We arrived during peak color season and the leaves provided a rainbow of yellows, reds and golds. As we drove through the park every turn was more beautiful than the next.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The park is enormous so we selected some well known hiking trails and started walking as beauty surrounded us.
The Smoky Mountains are also home to one of the most famous long distance hiking trails in the world; The Appalachian Trail, also known as the AT. This 2,200 mile trail stretches from Maine to Georgia and every year hundreds of people attempt to hike the entirety.
We hiked five miles and then turned around as the sun went behind the mountain
Fifty years ago when Stephen was a young lad he hiked 100 miles of the AT with his Boy Scout troop at the northern tip in Pennsylvania. Last week we had the opportunity to hike a portion of the trail that meanders through North Carolina.
A dream fulfilled
It was a fantastic day for both of us and fulfilled a bucket list item for Stephen. We had fleeting thoughts of returning next year to hike a larger chunk of the Appalachian Trail but after visiting one of the trail huts we decided a day hike would suffice.
AT Trail Cabin
Sleeping with strangers…no thanks!
We encountered lots of traffic on this trip as everyone was out to enjoy the colors but this gave us more time to enjoy the view. Such beauty!
Stephen and I were thrilled when we arrived at the storage facility in Three Forks, Montana and found our Vistabule just as we left it. The facility owner mentioned that temps had dropped to -30 F over the winter so we were prepared for battery failure among other problems. It was such a relief to find the battery charged, the tires full of air and no invading small critters. We turned on the refrigerator, filled it with food and headed to southeast Idaho to our first destination; Craters of the Moon National Monument.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
We both agree this park is aptly named…it’s almost like entering another planet. Black molten lava fields cover the desolate terrain with very little tree cover. We hiked through the park, climbing into lava caves and ascending cinder cones. This was such an unexpected visit as we’ve never experienced anything remotely similar to this landscape.
We were also happy to find a well maintained campground in the park with plenty of sites and ample amenities. It is well worth a visit.
Camping on the Moon
We were off to a good start and looking forward to visiting several other parks but then our plans started to disintegrate. Ugh!
Stephen serves on the board of our condo building and some unexpected meetings were scheduled. With some big decisions on the horizon we both felt it was important for him to be present at these meetings. We turned the car around and started the long trek home.
Long stretches of open area
As we drove across Wyoming both of our phones sent out piercing alarms of an approaching tornado. Our only option was to seek overnight shelter at a road-side rest stop and then continue driving the following morning.
Ominous clouds in Wyoming
We managed to dodge the tornado but then we discovered the Vistabule was leaking water through one of the doors and a hubcap. Double ugh!
There is a rainbow behind the Vistabule
It was a long drive but we made it home safely. Stephen spent many hours attending board meetings and responding to emails, while I delivered the Vistabule to the factory in St Paul for repairs. We spent most of September and October in Minnesota but we departed last week for Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I can’t wait to share some photos of this beautiful park in my next post.
When we travelled to Australia in January we did not purchase a round trip ticket. Our visa had a time limit so we knew our departure would be sometime in early May. Originally we considered a round the world tour through Dubai and Amsterdam but we stayed a bit longer in Australia than anticipated and decided on an alternate route. After some research we found some well priced one way flights to Vancouver on Air Canada. This would allow us to see a few more “bucket list” items including Butchart Gardens, Olympic National Park and a visit to our daughter in Portland, Oregon before our return to Minnesota.
Seven years ago I visited Butchart Gardens and always wanted to return with Stephen. It is a reclaimed quarry that was transformed into a stunning year-round garden. We spent a day walking the grounds and soaking in the beauty before catching the ferry to Port Angeles.
Port Angeles, located on the Olympic Peninsula is the gateway to Olympic National Park. We took the 90 minute ferry ride from Victoria B.C. and finally returned to the U.S. It’s nice to be home! We intended to visit Olympic National Park in our Vistabule last year but it is so remote that we bypassed it. This year instead of camping we stayed in an Airbnb and explored for a few days. Velvet green moss is abundant and beautifully covers all the fallen logs and trees. Despite the rain we hiked through some beautiful rainforests.
Olympic National Park
A unexpected side trip to Seattle via the ferry took us to a Mariners vs Twins baseball game. Who knew the Twins would be in town just for Stephen?
Mariners vs Twins in Seattle
And finally a stop in Portland to visit our daughter Abby. Together we explored the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood.
And now we are home.
It’s time to pull out the bicycles and reconnect with friends. No more airplanes for awhile. We need to pull the Vistabule from storage and resume travel in our queen bed and a kitchen.
For those of you interested, the TravelPro Maxlite luggage was a great purchase. It held up well and carried everything we needed for six months.
There are no direct flights from Perth to North America so we decided on a route through Singapore.
Sentosa Island in Singapore
This allowed us a week to explore and experience this multi-cultural city that was recently featured in the film Crazy Rich Asians. Although a small island, Singapore is home to more than five million people from Malaysia, China, India and Indonesia. There are four officially recognized languages but fortunately for us English is the adopted business language to unify the multicultural community. This allowed Stephen and me to easily navigate on public transportation and visit the hundreds of food hawker stalls and other attractions across the island such as China Town, Little India and the infamous Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Hawker Centers are large indoor spaces containing hundreds of stalls and ample public seating. The prices are low and the range of dishes overwhelming. We discovered through conversations with several locals that most people purchase their meals from hawker stands rather than cook at home. With so many stands throughout the city, Stephen and I decided to join a tour and learn how to navigate between all our choices.
Food tour through Singapore ethnic neighborhoods
We were a group of six and along with our guide Janice we spent the day tasting delicacies from all parts of the city. Indian dosas, Malay coconut candies, Chinese noodles, and fresh pressed sugar cane with sour plum.
It was a fabulous day and we visited places that as a tourist we would never have found on our own.
At the end of the week after exploring from morning until night Stephen and I were both tired. The heat was taking its toll and we caught “hawker food fatigue” syndrome. Too many food choices and too many people! We just couldn’t summon the energy to search out another interesting meal or visit one more museum. On our last day in Singapore we sat in an air conditioned mall, people watching and eating ice cream.
Last night we arrived safely in Vancouver and now we’re starting to make our way towards Minnesota. Just a few more stops and we will be home.
If you are interested in a challenging multi-day hike with incredible scenery, I have the perfect opportunity for you. West Australia’s Cape to Cape Track near Margaret River hugs the coast for eighty miles between two well known lighthouses, Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin. The trail showcases the wild and varied landscapes of the area, including pristine sandy beaches, eucalypt forests and limestone cliffs.
The emerald blue/green colors of the Southern and Indian Oceans complete the stunning surroundings.Despite the demands of the hike, Stephen and I soaked in the surrounding beauty. We allotted five days for walking, which is aggressive, but time constraints would not allow for an extra day. While we trained for this trek, we could not anticipate the difficulties ahead. We prepared for scrambling over rocky cliffs and steep uphill climbs while lugging several liters of water but nothing prepared us for the endless hours of ‘shoe sucking’ sand that made every step a chore. Our pace slowed on the beach and every forward motion led to burning calves and multiple toe blisters. After some practice we discovered our best option was to walk in the footsteps of those in front, or even better, the occasional 4WD vehicle tracks along the path.
Photo credit: Victoria Johnson
Even with the adversities, this hike was extraordinary. Joseph greeted us at different spots along the track and provided us with a cold beer and extra bandaids. Companions Stephanie and Glenn spurred us on as we shared the experience together. At the close of our final day when Stephen and I spotted Cape Leeuwin lighthouse in the distance we both shed a few tears. This was a big accomplishment for both of us and despite sore feet it was a worthwhile hike. We’d both do it again if given the opportunity.
Cape Leeuwin lighthouse in the distance….our final destination.
This month has been so full of adventures that I find it difficult to capture all the memories in a single blog. Our hosts Joseph and Ingrid Mania along with their seven children and twelve grandchildren have warmly embraced Stephen and me and treated us like part of the family. A few of the memorable events include Friday night wine and tapas with Chris and Jen, a visit to Dryandra village with Stephanie and bush walks with Karena.
Bush walking with Stephanie and Jennifer
Chevron Tour with Chris
Footie with Karena and Eliza
Karina and Patrick on a rails to trails walk
Perhaps our sweetest family encounter was with Benji the four year old grandson. We were invited to spend three days camping south of Perth with some of the Mania children and their families. Earlier in the week I learned that molasses is not common in Australia so I decided to make my molasses gingerbread cookies to share with the group. On our first evening I placed a container of the home-made cookies (aka biscuits) on the picnic table. Benji, who loves sweets, was the first to have a taste and it was love at first sight. He dipped his hand into the cookie jar for seconds and thirds when his mom wasn’t looking. Early the next morning Benji walked over to our cabin and softly knocked on the door. With his sweet Ozzie accent he looked up at me and said “Hey mate, do ya reckon I can have another one of those American biscuits?” The container emptied quickly and I promised Benji another batch before we depart Perth. It’s on my “to do” list this week!
Along with camping we had a look at Wave Rock and the infamous Corrigin Dog Cemetary.
And…we attended an Opera in Nambung National Park among the pinnacles.Last night we gathered for a farewell party, but I’m certain this is not a forever goodbye…. We will return for another visit. Stephen and I also walked the Cape to Cape trail which deserves a blog on its own. Stay tuned for more on this adventure.
We are in Western Australia for our first repeat house-sit and it’s nice to be in a familiar place. We have settled in for six weeks, unpacked our clothes and re-acquainted ourselves with our host family and their grown children. Valentino, the Schnauzer that originally brought us “down under” is now three years old and warmly greeted us with wet kisses as we walked in the door.
After many weeks of intense travel it’s nice to slow the pace and relax. We have a grocery store within walking distance and when we need to venture further from home with the car it is not such a chore to drive on the left side.
One thing I miss while on the road is my sewing machine. I enjoy the process of creating or lending a hand to hem pants or repair a shirt. This week I was loaned a machine and have been sewing up a storm. Stephen has been writing baseball articles and I’m happy to announce he was published this week.
When we are not writing or sewing, Stephen and I are trekking in one of the regional parks and getting in shape for the five-day Cape to Cape walk. This 75 mile hike will be our last before we begin our travels home.
John Forrest National Park
We have finally purchased airline tickets and will return home by the end of May. It is difficult to fly direct from Perth so we’ve added three stops to this grand adventure. The first is Singapore to taste the food, the second is Victoria, British Columbia to visit Butchart Gardens and the last stop is Portland, Oregon to see our daughter.
Our luggage is still holding up after planes, trains, boats and busses. We receive many surprised looks when we mention to people that we travel exclusively with carry-on luggage. So far this minimal life style has worked well for us but it looks like we may need to purchase an umbrella for Singapore and Portland!
We’ve had five full weeks of travel between house-sits and every day has been an adventure. Before departing New Zealand we walked the Queen Charlotte trail and marveled at the stunning views.
Walking along the ridge of Marlborough Sound in New Zealand
After walking five days and fifty miles we considered hanging up our shoes.
Wellington is a beautiful city with amazing photo opportunities.
After our time in Wellington we landed in Perth and immediately started driving up the west coast of Australia. Our destination was Ningaloo Marine Park where we swam with whale sharks and fed the dolphins.
Thank you Joseph for sharing your new automatic 4WD
This natural window is perched atop a huge canyon. We planned to hike around the canyon rim but high temps made it unsafe.
Natures Window in Kalbarri National Park
Termite hills are enormous in Western Australia
On our driving tour we stayed in the same hotel as a Chinese film star and his entourage. Stephen and I were invited to join this group for dinner and taste the fish they caught earlier in the day. Google translator saved the night. The food was spectacular!
We are now settled in Perth for a month and continue to walk and explore everyday.
We did it! We jumped from our comfort zone and stayed in a hostel. Stephen and I were not brave enough to stay in the dorm style room (which was quite economical) but we did forgo the comforts of an en-suite. This means I had to walk down the hall in search of a bathroom at midnight and 2:00 am. Due to a well-known rock concert in town, hotel rooms were at a premium in Wellington. This left us without affordable accommodations and an opportunity to try hosteling.
The Dwellington In Wellington
I did some research before booking and picked The Dwellington, which had very high ratings on TripAdvisor and was an easy walk from the city center. Our room was small with the bed pushed up against the wall but the sheets were clean and towels were provided.
To our surprise the internet was the best we experienced in New Zealand. We could catch up on emails, pay bills and even watch Netflix. There were plenty of washing machines for our dirty laundry and the kitchen was fully stocked with space for many guests.
Although it was not a problem for Stephen, I was bothered at night by noisy neighbors and slamming doors. Probably a good pair of earplugs would remedy this.
We were pleasantly surprised by our first experience in a hostel. Stephen and I both enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow travellers and would consider this mode of travel again. Perth is our next stop with another house-sit beginning soon.
A Long Walk to the Toilet
We anticipated this hike in New Zealand for several years as it is listed in National Geographic’s Worlds Best Day Hikes. Weather is a big determiner and we were thrilled with a forecast of 75 degrees and sunny. A pre-dawn departure was necessary to beat the heat so headlamps were helpful on the trail until the sun peeked over the mountain. The Tongariro Alpine crossing is a twelve-mile trek through ancient lava fields and active volcanos.
Start of Devils Staircase
Steam rises from vents all across the mountain which adds to the beauty and eeriness of this stark area. After an hour of easy hiking a steep climb aptly named The Devils Staircase has numerous posted warning signs before the ascent. Are you really prepared for this hike?
Consider Turning Back
Stephen and I trained for months in anticipation but the signs were a reminder that this is no walk in the park!
The climb was difficult but the view made up for our pounding chests and shortness of breath. Our first photo opportunity was in front of Mount Ngauruhoe (also named Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings). We continued slowly across loose falling rock and I watched as young and old alike lost their footing and tumbled down the scree.
Toe Squishing Scree
As we continued the trek we got our first glimpse of Emerald Lake.
It was stunning and a perfect place to picnic.
The food and the rest were both delicious but we still had another four hours of hiking. By hour six my toes were smashed and screaming for relief. The constant downhill motion was taking its toll on my feet and knees. My only option was to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. And then just before the end of the hike when I was at my lowest, a lush green waterfall appeared. I tore off my shoes and set my feet in the cool water and soaked for an hour.
There are no words to describe this moment but I hope the photo embraces my relief and pleasure.
Stephen and I both agree this hike is worthy of its many accolades. It’s a tough climb with striking beautiful scenery.