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Mini Adventure: Snip snip snip

August 15, 2012

One of the items on my Adventures To Do list was to cut my own hair. It’s not running a marathon or climbing Everest, but it is something I’ve never done before, which in my book, qualifies as an adventure. Okay, maybe a miniature adventure…but if a Shetland pony is still a pony than a mini adventure is still and adventure.

Everyone has their own trademark, whether it is their dreadlocks, their face tattoo, particularly long legs, slightly crossed eyes, etc. My trademark has always been my hair. It’s red, and I know I sound like a self-loving douche here, but it’s also quite nice looking.

I have been growing it out for a couple of years now, waiting until it was long enough to make a donation to Locks of Love. I’m not sure I ever really intended on cutting my own hair. It was a last minute decision based on this conversation:

Me: “Yes! Tuesday! No workout today!”
Husband: “Yep. What do you want to do?”
Me: “I don’t know…play Resistance 3, maybe a watch a movie, hit the beach.” (We live by Lake Michigan.)
Husband: “When are you going to get your haircut?”
Me:  “That’s what we could do!”

I have cut my husband’s hair before. It usually ends with me apologizing profusely or, when it’s really really bad, laughing hysterically. About 90 seconds after making the decision to remove 11 inches of hair, I was standing in front of the mirror, junk drawer scissors in hand.

 

I don’t think I’ll make a career out of it, but recognizing my ability to cut my own hair will save me about $30 in haircuts every two years. Which is $30 more I can put toward our next real adventure. Score. And Locks of Love will be reaping the benefits as well. Total win-win.

Stay tuned…I’m cooking squid this weekend. We’ll see how that goes…

Adventures Past: Cusco and Machu Picchu

August 2, 2012

After three years in a row of Western Europe vacations, John and I decided to try a little something different last year. We wanted to venture to a part of the world that we had never seen. I don’t know if it was an ad in Smithsonian magazine that spurred my husband’s interest, or if Mache Picchu was a destination he had always kept in mind. Honestly, I think he just looked at the world map we keep in the guest bedroom and pointed to the place with the fewest Been-There-Done-That Dots.

And so we left our little Michigan apartment for South America.

The first question most people ask is, “So did you walk the Inca Trail?” The answer, unfortunately, is no. If you read my blog post “Adventure 9 : The P90X Ass Kicking,” you’ll know I’m not in the best of shape. My shape is round. Round + Inca Trail just doesn’t compute. In fact, I head a splitting headache from the altitude (3,500 meters) almost the entire time we were in Cusco — like a screwdriver was jammed into the base of my skull. The Tylenol, of course, was forgotten in Michigan.

Rule #1
for high altitude vacations: Bring Tylenol. The hotel concierge highly recommend Coca tea for easing altitude sickness.
Interesting Fact: It takes 30 kilos of coca leaves to produce one gram of cocaine.

The view from our hotel in Cusco, near the Urubamba Valley in the Andes mountains.

Despite the altitude headaches, the trip was absolutely wonderful. Some of the mountains and terrain are too beautiful to be real. I can’t believe a place so breathtaking exists. I would recommend the trip to anyone willing to go. The people were wonderful, living very colorful but very hard lives. The only regret I have from this vacation (aside from forgetting the Tylenol) was not buying something made of genuine llama or alpaca fur. It would have been the perfect souvenir, but I talked myself out of spending the money. Souvenirs are tricky business. I suppose pictures are usually the best souvenirs a person could ask for.

It took us 36 hours to get home. Lots of layovers with Scrabble and chess best-out-of-elevens. But I won. So the trip closed on a high note.

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from → Travel

Endlessly Changing Horizon

July 23, 2012
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future…
 
 
…The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

-Chris McCandless

Adventures Past: Paris, the City of Lights.

July 18, 2012

When I was in high school, my friend and I were assigned a video assignment for French class. At the end of the video, I angrily shouted at my friend (a belligerent repairman), “Il y a une celebration dans mon pantalons. Je tu n’invite pas!” To this day, it is one of the few French phrases I remember how to say. I did not get a chance to use the phrase when we visited Paris.

The vacation took place a little over three years ago. I was bored to death at my terrible job (thankfully, I have since changed jobs) and decided to do a little web surfing for good travel deals. When I stumbled across a plane ticket and four-night hotel combo to Paris for $875 per person, I immediately called my husband: “Want to go to Paris in three weeks?” He said, “Yes.” And so we did.

This was my second trip to Paris but my husband’s first, so we hit all the touristy stuff. There is so much to see in the city that it can be hard to choose what to do and what to skip. Based on this fabulous trip, I put together a list of tips for anyone who may be considering a trip to the City of Lights. Keep in mind, this is not meant to encompass an entire vacation. Just some highlights and things that popped into my mind.

1. Most importantly I would advise everyone to walk the city. The underground system is fantastic and easy to use, but walking the city will be an experience you never forget. One of the most memorable experiences for me was walking past a group of older French gentleman playing Bocce ball in the median of two main streets. Cars careened around them at break-neck speeds down the narrowest roads I’ve ever seen, but those old men, with their old beards, didn’t see anything but that pallino. It is one of my greatest regrets that I didn’t stop to take a picture.

2. Take pictures of the people, not just the things.

3. Chances are good that Versailles is already on your list of things to see. And it should be. You’ll take a tour of the palace, ooh and aah at the gold and the mirrors, and grimace at the idea of the poop pots. By the time you get to the gardens, you will be a little pooped out (not to overuse the poop terminology here…), and you will be tempted to stroll through the main garden areas and stoop by the main fountain and then move on. DON’T DO THIS. Take time to walk through the entire garden – it is a palace on its own. You cannot begin to imagine all of the beauty that lies within until you explore it yourself. Your feet will be killing you by the time it’s all over, but it’s worth it.

4. You will go to the Louvre. You will head straight up to one of the upper floors to take a look at the famous, the magnificent, the hailed Mona Lisa. I’m going to ruin it for you right now: it is really not that cool. A tiny picture in a dark room with a big crowd, surrounded by rooms and rooms and rooms of very similar looking paintings – most of which are of the same guy, Jesus. My advice: start with the lowest floors and work your way up. The basement is filled with the most amazing collection of historic pieces that I have ever seen. The middle floors are filled with elegant, perfect sculptures. I think a lot of this gets overlooked. The Louvre is more than a painting museum. See it all.


5. 
Don’t stop with The Louvre. The Musee D’Orsay is wooonderful. Not quite as stuffy as The Louvre, this excellent art museum caters a little more to non-art fanatics. It’s still art…but you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the stuff they have here.

6. Take the stairs at the Eiffel Tower. You will hate yourself the whole way up, but the experience is fantastic.

7. Visit Sacre Coeur at night. This is big regret number two for me. We went to Sacre Coeur during the day, and it was beautiful, but as soon as I came home, the first thing my dad said to me was,  “Did you see Sacre Coeur at night? Wasn’t it beautiful?” Paris is the City of Lights. Make sure you see why.

8. Whether you’re into military history or not, go to Les Invalides. Truly fascinating history from so many different time periods. Definitely worth it.

9. This tip CANNOT BE OVERLOOKED! You MUST eat ice cream at Berthillon. We waited in line for about twenty minutes just to get a cone, but Oh. My. God. The greatest ice cream on the planet. And the best part? Just around the corner is Notre Dame. Eat this ice cream. It will change your life. I highly recommend the rhubarb sorbet.
10. If you are a Pulp Fiction fan, go to McDonald’s. You can order a Royal with Cheese. Seriously. It’s there.

11. Pay a visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery. Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Chopin — the cemetery is the final resting place of many great artists. Plus, it is beautiful and will take you to a unique part of the city. We had a hard time finding it though, and if I remember correctly, the open hours were odd. So double check that first.

There are so many things I did not mention, please don’t think I’m leaving things off on purpose, there is just too much to see. This is exactly why comments are fantastic! Leave your tips, so the next person who reads this before going to Paris won’t miss a thing.

What are your tips? What was your favorite part of Paris? How much money would I have to pay you to ship me some ice cream from Berthillon?

from → Travel

Adventure 11 : Zombie Horde.

July 13, 2012

A lot of people play the If-I-Were-in-a-Zombie-Apocalypse game, conceiving the best weapon, the best location, the best strategy…but here’s the truth: Whether imagining yourself wielding a machete, a sniper rifle, or a nail-spiked baseball bat, chances are, you’re going to end up with a calculator jammed into your skull and fresh human guts dripping from the chin. Such is the way of a zombie apocalypse.

Don’t believe me? Think you’ve conceived the perfect zombie escape plan? Fine. Prove it.

The Run for Your Lives: Zombie Infested 5K Obstacle Course Race may not give you the opportunity to shoot a zombie in the face with a shotgun, but it will still be an adventure that you’ve never had before! A few weeks ago, in an out-of-the-way Indianapolis farm, I was lucky enough to participate in this unforgettable event—not as a runner, but as a member of the brain-craving, disease-carrying, flesh-eating, horde of the undead.

Experience as a zombie:
When you first arrive at the Run for Your Lives event, you’ll be checked in and given a card with the rules and your zombie location. The event was surprisingly organized for a group of horror movie fanatics.

Next, you’ll proceed to costume. Most zombies come in their own, personally selected attire (nurses, superheros, convicts, prom queens, brides, Wayne and Garth); however, they do have shirts and clothing shredders available to any zombie who needs them. After your clothes look like they’ve been put through a garbage disposal, you will be sent to make up.

Me and Zombie GuyThree professional make-up artists were responsible for making me look like the walking dead. I was airbrushed with a pale foundation, making it look like every drop of blood had drained out of me, and then my veins were traced faintly with grayish paint, giving the illusion that the blood had been replaced with something dirty. The last make-up artist applied thick red chunky goo on my face and chest to give the appearance of some serious flesh wounds. Lastly, I stepped outside and was sprayed down with what looked like muddy water, and then had a fistful of blood chucked at me for a good spatter effect.

And now…to eat the brains.

Every zombie is given a specific location from which they may attack the runners. Stumbler zombies don’t wander off too far, but a chaser zombie will sprint on without hesitation, trying to steal one of the runner’s three precious flags. I was lucky enough to be placed in the creek—it felt wonderful in the heat of the day—and tried to look as creepy as possible. It was an absolute blast. The runners really got into it, and the zombies moaned and hissed and cried for brains, brains, brains. My shift as a zombie lasted three glorious hours. I had so much fun scaring the crap out of runners, that I didn’t even bother to steal any flags. Even though it’s certainly fake, you’d be surprised how many runners were truly terrified.

Experience as a runner:
I did not run the race, so I can’t go into too much detail. My husband, however, was a runner, and he gave me a little bit of info about what it was like:

So I mentioned obstacles, right? Apparently, there are mud pits, gut pits, monkey bars, net climbs, darkened barns, and creeks. You’ll even run into a couple electrical obstacles, which are particularly interesting when you consider that the runners are soaking wet from the creek. A few people were zapped pretty good. I think a couple did require medical attention (my husband’s friend was shocked, but it was mild enough for him to keep running). Oh, and did I mention there is a hoard of zombies chasing you the whole way?

The entire event was dirty, disgusting, disturbing, and absolutely delightful. I will absolutely buy my ticket again for next year, and I recommend you do the same.

Check it out: http://runforyourlives.com

from → Race, Zombie

Adventure 10 : Part III Glacier National Park

July 11, 2012

We left Yellowstone on the seventh day of our adventure. By this point, we were cold down to our bones and unpleasantly odiferous from not having a shower in seven days (although we did wash our hair in the coldest water on the planet from a SD well). My spirits were low — not because the trip wasn’t fun, but because my mom sent me a text warning us that the weather at GNP expected lows of 15 degrees. Our sleeping bags were only rated to 30.

The drive from Yellowstone to Glacier National was one of the most beautiful and scenic that I have ever experienced. Unlike Colorado, where the Rockies are hard and jagged peaks, the mountains through this region and through Butte are graceful swells of stone that rise from emerald green fields into rounded, snow-capped peaks that look so accessible, one is almost tempted to pull over to the side of the road and hike on up. The lush hillsides are dotted with herds of cattle and with the cowboys wrangling them home. We don’t see much of this in Michigan.

As we approach the town of West Glacier (by town, I mean one hotel, one restaurant, and a handful of souvenir shops, most of which are closed because camping season hadn’t yet begun) my spirits began to lift. The temperature was in the mid 50s, not at all freezing-to-death weather. We were in low enough elevation that the early spring chill wouldn’t turn us to icicles.

After six hours of driving, we arrive at our campground, greeted by a sign that reads, “Caution: Grizzly bears DO visit this campsite. Hikers and campers have been injured and killed by bears.” Not quite the same as a Welcome doormat…but the lake and mountains surrounding our camp invited us to Montana with open arms (see the picture to the left).

For the rest of our first night, we drove around the few roads that were open (Going to the Sun road was closed until mid-July, which was a serious bummer, cutting us off from most of the park). The open roads didn’t disappoint, however, as we explored the young forest (much of this part of the park was still recovering from forest fires that spread years before) and scoped out the wildlife. The road ended just 30 miles from the Canada border.

The next morning, we wanted to make the most of our short time at Glacier National. Due to road closures, we decided to stay only one full day, and then attempt the 27 hour drive home all in one go. The Trail of Cedars and Avalanche Lake Trail promised some wonderful views (I’m a tree fanatic and my husband is a mountain fanatic), and it didn’t disappoint.

Along Trail of the Cedars, some of the trees were so tall, they must have been hundreds of years old, large enough for me to fit inside the hollowed trees with room to spare. The dead trees and begun shedding their bark (mainly the Black Cottonwoods), and the bark pieces were so enormous, the pile looked like a heap of bricks.

Once the trail met with the Avalanche Lake trailhead, the scenery changed. A creek wound along the path, crystal blue water surging through reddish-purple rocks, carving the stone into smooth bowls. (Fact: the most frequent cause of death in Glacier National Park is drowning.) The creek attracts a lot of wildlife, including deer that wander freely along the walking path and grizzlies that scour the woods for berries.

As we neared the end of the trail, the mountains, previously blocked from view by an army of massive cedars, materialized out of thin air, peaks disappearing into a haze of clouds. My husband, the logical financial analyst, is rarely speechless, but as we rounded the last of the trail and discovered Avalanche Lake tucked into the embrace of the mountains, he was definitely in awe, as was I. Moments like this are an adventure’s rewards.

Heading back to camp, we stopped at the only open restaurant for twenty miles to have a couple burgers and some huckleberry taffy. In case you’ve never been to Montana, be prepared for huckleberry everything. They love the stuff up there. We squeezed in a two-hour horseback ride before it was time to hit the road.

After nine days, four thousand two hundred and eighty miles, a vat of peanut butter, a zillion bags of beef jerky, snow, rain, hail, and cold…we arrived back home in Michigan with the following verdict: Camping Rules. One thing we would have done differently would be to check for road closures ahead of time in the mountains. We’re going to visit Glacier National again one day so we can see what we missed.

Before this trip, I had never spent the night in a tent, never roasted marshmallows over a real campfire, never washed my hair in well water, never rock climbed, never had the need to carry bear mace, never seen South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, or Montana. It really was a trip of firsts for me, but not a trip of lasts. We’ve already begun planning our next camping/hiking adventure, which will be the 97 mile West Highland Way Trail in Scotland next May. Can’t wait! Thanks for reading! Here’s some more pictures before I go:

from → Camping

Adventure 10 : Part II – Yellowstone National Park

July 9, 2012

We left South Dakota feeling pretty good about ourselves. The temperatures was mid 80s Fahrenheit and sunny, sunny, sunny. It was such a beautiful day that we decided to break up the drive from South Dakota to western Wyoming with a few fun stops, including Deadwood, SD (death and grave site of Wild Bill Hickok), Devil’s Tower, WY (Where we saw some crazy rock climbers. Also, filming site of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Very interesting hike, I’d recommend it to anyone passing through. Just don’t feed the prairie dogs…they can carry the bubonic plague.)

Our drive took us up, up, up into and through the Bighorn Mountains where we saw our first (and not last) glimpse of snow.
At around 11pm we reached the entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Only two campsites were open this early in the season, and of course, ours was a 69 mile drive from the park entrance. We sent up camp around midnight after dodging many antelope and deer in the road.

The antelope and deer on the first night were only the beginning of the wildlife experience at Yellowstone. The first morning in the park, we awoke to a deep huffing sound outside of our tent. I placed bets on a snoring camper, my husband thought it was a frog. When we unzipped the “window” to our tent, we couldn’t see the origin of the sound, but we did see campers behind us taking pictures of our tent. We do not have a particularly cool tent, so we assumed it was a particularly cool animal making the noise and crossed our fingers that it wasn’t a bear. As it turns out, a herd of 15 – 20 bison went through camp that morning, some just feet from our tent, leaving behind enormous piles of bison poop. I thought seeing bison would be a rare experience, they are ALL OVER the place. Be prepared to stop your car for these oversized, hooved rats. Still…they’re pretty cool.

In case you didn’t notice, the picture of bison poop includes teeny tiny bits of hail that froze together during the night. How cold was it? Cold enough to not only hail but snow as well. While our first day at Yellowstone was spent in a light rain, the entire second day was spent in snow.

The temperature during our last night at camp dropped to around 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Still, we maintained our sleeping bare naked philosophy and didn’t freeze to death. At least we can say that our first  camping trip was definitely on the rough side. Camping should be a piece of cake the next time, right?

Yellowstone’s most fascinating features, in my opinion, are the steam vents, geysers, and thermal areas. Mountains you can see in a lot of different places, but sapphire blue acidic pools that reach beneath the Earth’s crust? Pretty rare. And absolutely gorgeous. Even the thermophilic algae was beautiful as it formed in shades of green, red, orange and brown on the surface. The scent doesn’t match the visual, however. The high sulfur content makes these areas smell strongly of rotten eggs.

The walkways are lined with signs warning  of “Scalding water” or “Don’t be fooled by bison prints in thermal areas. Sometimes the ground will support bison. Sometimes it won’t.” Winding through this hydrothermic wasteland, is a 3 ft wide wooden walkway. My glasses fogged up in the steam, making me a bit nervous. One wrong step could mean the skin being stripped from my bones by scalding water and acid. Yikes.

We did a little bit of hiking through Yellowstone, but we spent most of our time checking out the thermal sites, especially since we still had more hiking at our next stop in Glacier National Park. Even through the rain, thunderstorms, hail, and snow, we still managed to have a wonderful time. We even got to see a pack of black wolves through the camera lens of some professional photographers.

There were so many beautiful, unique aspects to Yellowstone, and a part of me wishes we had gotten to spend more time there. Another part of me, the part that was tired of being cold and wet for three days, was ready to move on to Glacier National — to the mountains, the cowboys, and the grizzly bears.

Here are a few more pictures of Yellowstone National Park to leave you with:

 

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