Winter Days 2021

There’s been a certain relief having left behind last year, in some regards, in other ways I feel I had a pretty good year personally. I started the new year by leaving my job life to a now past life and I don’t plan to look back. I had a successful 2020 with my business and decided it was finally time to stop working for anyone else and live a more free life the way I’ve always wanted to. It’s a pretty good feeling to be in the place I am in life. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time out in the mountains, sometimes alone, sometimes with my Jillie and sometimes with the wild puppy, Luna Moon. Having the time to spend the days out on the trails has been refreshing and making my own schedule is too great, I can take a day off anytime and not have to ask. It reminds me of when I got emancipated at 15 and I could write my own notes to miss school and would take off to the rocky beach parks in upstate New York. I almost got held back due to missing too many days. It’s been great to reconnect with some places I love to go, especially in the winter, like the Black Balsam and Waynesville, Boone and lower Virginia, Barnardsville and Cherokee. And then exploring new places I’ve never been, closed parts of the parkway, around Lake Lure and close by in Hickory Nut gorge. There’s a certain silence to the winter, maybe there’s less birds in the trees or people around, but I especially like that about winter hiking. I love to hear the ice crack and fall, the dripping water off the rocks. Walking in the snow and ice adds an extra challenge but also makes for a lovely setting all around. The sky seems bluer, the white tips of the outstretched branches of the trees seem to glow, it is a magical season in the Blue Ridge mountains indeed. Even though the busiest mushroom hunting seasons are still ahead, there’s still plenty of Turkey Tail and Chaga to keep me hunting all winter long. Here’s a few shots I’ve taken out and about on adventures. I even managed to capture a shot of Brendan changing his oil, impressive!

There’s also been a few good getaways this winter. We (Jill, Luna and I) escaped to the beach for new years, Surf Side beach, this year in South Carolina. It’s always nice to walk the beach in the winter months and of coarse breathe in the salty air that our lungs love it extra with the ‘rona’ still out there. It was a nice get away, Luna met her twin named Charlie, which was a certain highlight. The other was a trip into the mountains of Georgia, to stay in a swanky cabin with a hot tub for my forty third birthday. It was an extra cold, snowy and icy few days, which was perfect for chilling in a sweet cabin with good food, dessert, and snacks. We binged on Karate Kid I and II on the tube, had morning, afternoon and evening soaks, I got play my hand pan on a balcony with a stellar view, it was a grand birthday. I had time to reflect on the last year of my life out in that cabin and though outwardly many things fell into place for me, inwardly was different. I noticed a significant amount of missing emotions, almost every emotion. It’s been a slow build up to this feeling. When I first got sober I learned a lot about that very thing, we rise the bar so high with excitement, wanting, feeding our desires, hiding mistakes, being overly emotional in highs and lows, grief and disappointment, taking ourselves to the very edge of madness (well I can’t speak for the all, only myself), after all that, when the smoke clears, your kind of left emptied out. Over the first few years of sobriety that sense has been in the back of my mind, more of a nagging really, reminding me, hey what’s going on? What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you cry? Why don’t you say what you think or feel? I know joy and sadness, I’ve always felt them, though I will say I’ve never been good at out right expression, I often wrote to release how I felt. I’m not sure how to describe it in words now, just a flatness or numbness, and it’s hard to figure out. There’s also this place of acceptance. These days when I look in the mirror my reaction is more of a, “okay”, or a “well”, it is not usually a, “looking good today”, or general happiness with my image. I accept that time takes it’s toll on the body, I welcome every age as it comes. I wonder if there’s truth to the idea if I had a bunch of money, I’d be super happy, same as if I was super healthy, I’d feel the best I ever have. I guess what I may be doing is an over all wellness check in, the results are varied. I do feel a certain good level of hopefulness however and that concludes that stream of consciousness.

This winter has been especially wintery with cold weeks, more snowy days than I’ve seen since moving here and in watching the weather around the country, it’s been a pretty real, actual winter! I’ve learned the lesson of slowing down this year, wither it’s on a trail or in a line, going to the store, enjoying playing with my dog or talking to my son, having morning coffee with my love or taking time to meditate. I see and feel a lot of anxiety all around me and at times within myself. Racial tensions, us against them, isolation, distancing, masks, Co-Vid very much alive and well, it’s simply been a lot. Taking the moments to be perfectly present has crossed my mind a lot and it’s a reminder, like the sound of the bells, to stop, thoughts and planning, to look around, feel the sun on your face, the cold in your bones, the warmth of a fireplace, to simply be still, rest and breathe. There was a day I was out walking along the closed parkway road and I got a text from the mom of my good friend and brother Ryan, who passed in the fall. She said she was with a medium and Ryan mentioned my name, saying he was around me. I feel him and other friends, my dad and step dad, grandfathers and grand mothers, all out on the adventures with me and it’s quite comforting really.

I was born in the middle of a blizzard in Buffalo, NY in 1978, so you might say I have the cold and snow in my DNA. As I get a bit older however, I prefer mild winters, such as those here in Asheville. In a small reflection on my birthday, I’ve noticed some changes in my body and mind as the forties move along. I feel new pains in old places, aches where there was none before, and recovery time is a bit longer these days. Maybe I should commit to doing more yoga and getting back to swimming! A few long term goals, or a wish list if you will, is to have a hot tub to soak in after every challenging hike, getting full, complete sleep, acquiring a sprinter van for optimal travel, this of coarse includes business travel, making better food choices more often, go on a retreat when covid is over, visit Oregon and Washington states, walk the Camino and maintain a healthy weight for me at 175. That’s what I got at this point, in this moment, of this mind, and as is everything, subject to change. It’s been a great winter in my little bubble and as it winds down, I’m getting spring fever but plan on embracing what’s left of winter 2021.

Traveling to the North Country, the UP of Michigan

As summer closed out this year, it was off to Michigan to find new adventure and a journey into the unknown. With the outbreak of Co-Vid 19, the yearly two week trip was changed from exploring Yellowstone National Park to one off the cuff voyage to the north country. This trip was to be a special one as Luna, known as the lovebug, was along for the ride. Luna is a 6 month old labradoodle puppy who just happens to be the best dog on earth. Having her with us brought some challenges but she is soo good it was simply put a walk in the park. The trip started off with the classic sleeping in the rest area off the highway for a few hours, somewhere between North Carolina and Michigan. The trip is about 16 hours to reach the upper peninsula and then on from there. The first place we stopped was at the Mackinac bridge that connects the LP to the UP. The bridge, I learned, is one of the longest suspension bridges in the Western hemisphere. Before crossing over we checked out the first lighthouse of the journey, the old Mackinac Point lighthouse. Jill and I both have a thing for lighthouses and this trip would not disappoint as we discovered many along the way. Traveling coastal areas is great for that. Besides the lighthouse, seeing the waters of Lake Huron for the first time was great. The greenish blue color is wonderful and the shear size and feel reminded me of being at the ocean. Once on the other side we picked a seasonal road to wander down and found a spot good enough to camp at. Finding these roads makes for a great way to escape people and spend a night in the wilderness for free. Luna got to run free some and we got to stretch out.

The first destination was to the eastern tip of the UP and the Canadian border, Sault Ste. Marie. It’s a small town with some big things happening in it. Right on the water and along a major waterway system, the Soo Locks are a key piece to the shipping of natural resources via waterway. I grew up near the Erie canal and saw it’s famous locks when I was little and it was neat as an adult to see these ones. We hung out long enough to see a large barge come in and be lowered into lake waters below. The UP is a major source of iron ore, copper, and other natural resources. Interesting enough, first thing in the morning we stopped to get gas and water and at the gas station and we run into a friend from Asheville! It was so odd to see our friend there, finding out his family lived there.

So the people of the UP are called Yoopers, with their own accents and ways, you might hear phrases such as ‘you betcha’ or ‘oooh’ or ‘eh’. After checking out the locks, we made our move for the coast. We drove with the great Lake Superior in view out the window, through small towns, and came across an old Indian burial ground and the Point Iroquois lighthouse before landing on the first beach of the trip. As expected very few people were on the beach, which I was looking very forward to. The beaches on this coast are very rocky, covered in smoothed over pink rocks and many unique colored and shaped ones as well. The coast line is rugged with rocky cliffs, reminded me alot of Nova Scotia when I was there. Luna loved digging in the sand and dipping her toes in the cold waters, as we walked along. It was here I started noticing all the wonderful Birch trees everywhere. Part of the trip for me was exploring the forests and researching how Chaga grows abundantly in this region. We followed the 123 north to our next most northern tip called White Fish point. Here the waves were crashing hard and it is famously known for the ship wrecks that have taken place here. There were many people there as there is a few museums and attractions at the point. Of course there was also a lighthouse. We made camp at a nice state campground called East Branch Fox River, which is off highway 77 north. It was nicely spread out and few people there. A small lake led into the river and it was a perfect place to leave some ashes, Jill left some of her Love dog and I my two fathers.

I started to get a real feel for how vast and expansive Lake Superior really is, I believe we read that it is bigger than Lake Michigan and Huron combined! The waters of the Superior are dark blue for the most part and are fiercer than the others as well. Any time I’m around water I want to jump in, that may just be the Aquarius in me. It refreshes my soul to be around water, I love rivers and streams and creeks, so being around these huge lakes was heavenly. Rolling on we stopped to see a lighthouse in a cute little town called Grand Marais. There we would come across a neat VW bus coffee shop. Jill of course loved it, being a VW bus momma. This one was called Stella. By this point we were engaging in eating pastries, which would become a common theme the whole trip. I have a funny story about this later on. After the coffee stop we ventured off to one of the bigger highlights, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area. This is along highway H58. The first thing we encountered was Sable falls, a nice little waterfall, which we’d see many more over the trip. In the opposite direction from the falls along the north country trail was the Grand Sable Dunes. These dunes were super cool and the view from up there was amazing. We enjoyed lunch at a pullover overlooking Grand Sable lake. Just up the way brought us to a big look out area called the log slide overlook. It was a short hike to a huge opening were right away we saw an eagle and another large bird tangle up in each other right above us, it was really neat and Jill captured it on video. It’s a long way down to the bottom and takes about 10 mins to get there but than takes an hour back up, we didn’t do this. A little further up the road we stopped to hike out to my favorite light house of the trip called the Au Sable Light Station. It is a beautiful hike following the lake coast and splashing waves. It opens up at the light house, there’s a few other buildings around and a small beach. That area had a neat feeling to me and I just loved it. I always say one day I’d like to stay at a light house as a keeper for like six months, this would be one I definitely enjoy staying at. We’d set up camp in one of the campgrounds, this one was on Lake Kingston and it was a great spot, the spaces were separated pretty good giving us a bit more room and peace and we were on the lakes edge. The next day we did two waterfall hikes and spent some time on Miners beach roaming around, from here you could see the pictured rocks in the close distance. We ended our time in the lakeshore by checking out Miners Castle point. It’s one of the neat Pictured Rocks that looks like a castle. The Pictured Rocks area is a must do in the UP!

At the end of the lakeshore area we drove into Munising. We found a good ice cream spot that also served pasties, also spelled Pastys, and here comes my little story. So when I researched this trip I saw the UP is famous for pasties, which I translated as pastries and thought we’d be at alot of bakeries. We did visit alot of bakeries anyway. A pasty is a large pot pie/hot pocket type of meal. traditionally it is filled with potatoes, beef, onions, peppers and carrots, topped off with gravy. There is various versions of it however, we had a chicken one and a blueberry one as well. I will say they are delicious and hearty. Trying the different ways people make them was fun and filling. We got the pasty pictured below at a place called Muldoones.

I’m alittle embarrassed to say we stayed at a KOA outside of Munising. We needed showers and daylight was running out, it wasn’t awful but was right next to the highway. We saw a small waterfall called Munising falls and another called Alger falls. We followed highway 28 which bobbled between the coast and the inland. Our next destination was Marquette. On the way we found one of the coolest things on the trip, which some of the best things you just happen upon randomly as was the case here. We pulled into a roadside park called Lakenenland. A place self described as junkyard art. The owner and artist is named Tom. We walked through his theme park of sorts where he built/made metal sculptures, some were funny, some fascinating, some beautiful, some highly political, all in all each one was magnificent. It is a place like nothing I’ve seen and I loved it! I appreciate art in all it’s forms and even more so political work. If you zoom in on some of them you can read the messages within. Keep going Tom!

Marquette is a cool little city, we didn’t stay long and just passed through after a lunch including french onion soup and poutine, two of my favorites. We also supplied up on some essentials while there. We’d travel along lakeshore drive for a bit before going inland along highway 41, landing in Baraga which is right on Keweenaw bay. There we found a small roadside, lake side motel with restaurant attached. It was very vintage 70’s looking and actually nice and clean. We visited a small park with Sand Point light house in it, part of the Ojibwa reservation, the native people to the UP. It’s a good time to mention much of the UP was Trump country, this being an election year, there was many flags and signs supporting him. It was alittle disheartening to see but people are entitled to their views, but I still wonder why Trump? I’ll leave it at that. We’d follow 41 up the peninsula on our way up to Copper Harbor and yet another tip. We came across a place called Quincy Mine, an old, huge mine with remnants of the old glory days left behind. It was pretty neat to walk along the half left buildings and equipment. Mining was and maybe still is the lifeline up in the UP, so this was a fitting stop. Moving on we rolled through Phoenix, named after Jill (: going from 41 to 26, another coastal highway. This led us to Eagle river and Eagle Harbor, stopping at more waterfalls and beaches. In Eagle Harbor we’d find the Jampot bakery, something we were looking forward to. The bakery is run by monks that live in a place called Poorrock Abbey, part of the Byzantine Catholic Monastery which is originally from the Ukraine. Their baked goods and jams are off the hook, some of the best goodies I’ve ever had! So good we visited twice. The monks were nice and answered our questions gladly. We stopped to see Eagle Harbor lighthouse before going up to Copper Harbor and finding camping at Fort Wilkins state park. Camping here was not that great, as we were close to people on all sides. The park was pretty great though, we’d see the Copper Harbor lighthouse from afar and hiked around the park. The fort was neat and well preserved.

The two harbors were enchanting and relaxing. I’ve grown fond of the harbor towns and traveling along the coastal highways. We moved along and headed south towards the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness state park. I had been itching to swim the whole trip and the day was in the 70’s, so we stopped at a state park called Twin Lakes and after a little prep, I dove in. The water wasn’t too bad and felt awesome. I couldn’t convince Jill or Luna to join me though. I really wanted to get in Lake Superior but the cold waters and waves kept me out of it. When we arrived at the Porkies, as they are called, all the campgrounds were full so we found one in the town of Ontonagon, the Ontonagon Township park. Lucky for us we got a spot in the woods away from people, with a short walk to a nice beach. The next day we jumped into the only mountains we would see, which are pretty tiny compared to home. We drove up to check out the Lake of the Clouds. It was busy with people but it was a neat place and lived up completely to it’s name, the lake was literally in the clouds. We’d hike the Lake Superior trail for a bit and see two waterfalls, Nawadaha and Presque falls, and had a chance to say goodbye to Lake Superior. We would follow coastal highway 2 through several small towns, stopping for pastries and a pasty naturally. As we wheeled back down to the coast and the southern end of the UP, we’d find Squaw Point boathouse and another unnamed lighthouse before taking a forest road down into a town called Nahma where we found a primitive camp site, my favorite, right beside a river. We cooked bacon and indian food in a marina parking lot as the sun was setting. Luna loved the campsite as she got to run free and explore, dipping her feet in the river and running around like a wild one. I loved the spot except we got attacked by mosquitos pretty badly.

Our last stops in the UP was at a really cool spots. we first made a stop in Manistique, which I learned is the home of Paul Bunyan. this is a big deal because of memories with my dad stopping to see the big statue up in NY and now I have to visit them when I see them and this was a great one. There is also a sweet lighthouse called Manistique East Breakwater lighthouse, I had to walk a long concrete boardwalk and some slippery rocks to get to it but it was epic. We ate at a place called Clyde’s drive in and the food was delicious! The next cool spot was called Kitch-iti-kipi springs, or big spring. These springs were a brilliant emerald green color and so crystal clear. The waters are in the 30’s but man I wanted to jump in those waters. We got to climb aboard a floating dock with a glass bottom section to view lots of big fish and the bubbling springs making clouds of sand. On the last stop in the UP we’d drive down a long dirt road to Seul Choix lighthouse. A wonderful and pretty lighthouse that was very old and well preserved in the town of Gulliver.

We decided to spend one more night in the UP at another state campground, Hog island. Our spot was great and right on the lake. The wind however was strong coming in and blew hard all night, plus we were close to the highway that never seemed to slow down with traffic. From there we made our way back over the bridge and it was time to explore the LP, lower peninsula, the land of the trolls. They call the people there that because they live under the bridge. We would be following Lake Michigan now. The waters of the Michigan are so beautiful and inviting. The turquoise color is one of my favorites and has a tropical feel. As we drove down the 31 we came across yet another lighthouse and as we encountered another lovely day weather wise I was ready to swim again. This time we drove down a random road to Crooked Lake so I could jump in again. These waters were cold, cold but I enjoyed never the less. It wasn’t but a small stretch down the road that I had to jump in again, this time into the Michigan I’d go to swim around in those lovely waters, this was a roadside park called Big Rock Point. This time the water was warmer and I really enjoyed my time in it. Rolling on we found camping at Traverse City state park, an urban campground. The set up here is not the best, it’s right off the main drag, near train tracks and an airport, so needless to say it was noisy. The spots were kind of close together as well. However there are black squirrels there! This is the first time I’ve seen them. In Brevard, NC we have white squirrels, so this was a cool treat. We gorged out at a place called Bubba’s and the next morning had coffee at a great local spot just up the road from the campground. It’s a neat little city with alot going on. We discovered a dog park and Luna got to play and play, which I’m sure was the highlight of the trip for her. We decided to cut across to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore next. This was another big highlight. We hiked around the Empire Bluff trail which was really neat and has amazing views, it seemed to go on forever. The dune climb came after that, which is a giant sand hill dune that was no joke climbing up. I really enjoyed hiking in the sand barefooted and looking down on the lake from atop the dunes was spectacular. Our trip down this coast was almost all dunes.

The next and final lighthouse of the journey was Point Betsie. Camping for the evening happened in the Lake Michigan recreation area, this was one of the best spots of the trip. The spots were plenty spread out and very few people were there. There are five campgrounds back in the forest, all self pay. We landed in the orchid loop, spot 50. There was a nice trail to a great beach and more dunes there as well, and we got to watch the sunset. Our next campground was at Van Buren state park. We’d be near the beach again and enjoyed walking the shoreline. We made a stop in St. Josephs for treats, even Luna got to get in on it at a pet bakery called Fuzzy Butts. She also got to enjoy another dog park. The last camping we’d do was at Warren Dunes state park. This campground had several loops. We hiked around this park and even found a dog beach. There was another giant dune hill to climb and the view atop this one was just awesome. It seemed a fitting way to end our time in Michigan. On our way home we’d stop and stay in Kentucky. We went to two dog parks there, both were huge and Luna was loving it. 16 hours and 3,500 miles later we made it home.

It’s always bitter sweet at the end of a trip. A good part of me wants to travel all the time, a life mostly on the road, living out of a sprinter van or a camper. I can do my mushroom business from anywhere and can be foraging, making products and shipping from the road. There’s so much I want to see and experience and the more I see people doing this sort of lifestyle, the more I get amped up to try. Michigan was pretty awesome, being around the great lakes gave me a lot of appreciation for them and amazed me how much it was like being at the beach and near the ocean. I got to see another great Chaga region and it is quite abundant there! It’s always interesting to study different places, the different types of Birch trees and elevations/environments etc. It’s pretty cool also to visit an area and if you return you kind know what’s around and how to get to different places. Traveling fills up my soul, makes me feel excited and alive with adventure. Until the next journey, hopefully sooner rather than later….

Strange, sad and unusual times in 2020

The first image sums it up when I think of what is happening in these times. The Corona virus or call it Co-Vid 19, is still on loose, the Black Lives Matter movement is spreading just as fast and there is much uncertainty in both. The crying black women, face masks, deaths by illness, death by injustice, fires in the streets, six feet apart, quarantines, protests, racism, symptoms, opening in phases and all the while our country has virtually no leadership or direction it seems. I felt compelled to write this post because in all my years on this planet I haven’t witnessed anything like either of these events.

I’ll start with the Corona outbreak. I can recall some months ago when I first heard of it and how it seemed to be in only parts of the US, then I watched it spread, it came to North Carolina, I watched alittle closer, suddenly it was literally everywhere. Overnight we changed the way we worked, many people could not work, and staying home was a requirement. Italy was full of deaths, older people were in danger, New York City blew up with cases. A wave of new rules hit the whole of society, around the world. Dr Fauci has become a top name and expert and his warnings and updates are of the utmost importance. Staying six feet apart, wearing a face mask, gloves, using sanitizer, traveling put on hold, people were ordered to stay at home, curfews went out, travel bans, and many businesses made to close. I learned alittle about viruses, pandemics, and always thought of the black death, the plague as an example. Suddenly this appeared much worse. As I write this the US just hit 2 million cases, 113,000 deaths, globally, 7 million cases, 464,000 deaths, and every single day these numbers go up. The symptoms are fevers, coughs, respiratory issues, and basically attacks your lungs and your left where you can’t breathe. It’s scary the two biggest events have that in common, George Floyd screamed ‘I can’t breathe’, and those who pass by way of Corona experience the same.

For me I never stopped working. My job was considered, essential, and rightfully so. Lucky for me I had that and also saw a big jump in my mushroom business. I did work from home for about three weeks total, which was interesting and felt so different but nice actually. My work was fortunate enough to get PPE, personal protective equipment, and we have been pretty well covered. That picture above is me at work. We have entered an unusual new time, one where so many things are different now, paying closer attention to how we interact, wearing face masks everywhere, being extra careful when going out, seeing businesses operating differently and in some cases closed altogether. So I listened to talks, updates, watched videos explaining it all and my conclusions are that it effects older people, people with weak immune system, kids with certain conditions, and as for the majority of us, we may catch it and it have mild to stronger effects or it may be we are asymptomatic and don’t show symptoms but the way it spreads around, through droplets, anyone can pass it along pretty easily. As I watch, I understand that they don’t understand it completely, wither it’s on surfaces or in the air, not sure there is a certainty how exactly it passes, yet it does. The other factor is that it mutates, changes, and scientists everywhere are looking for a vaccine and answers on how to slow it down. The word social distancing has become very known and many of the things we used to do, everyday stuff is no longer. For example, going to the gym, concerts, doing yoga, funerals, weddings, birthdays, graduations, going to recovery meetings, or for some the bar, all these things aren’t happening and it feels like a certain connection is gone with it. Connection to friends, neighbors, strangers, the community, and a sense of isolation has crept in. With that feeling our country was changed again in a single day, with an event that has brought millions of people together, and at the same time has caused a huge divide.

The murder of an unarmed, nonaggressive black man in handcuffs on the ground by a white police officer who knelt on George Floyds neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds was a truly heartbreaking, viciously wrong crime. I can’t imagine knowing you are going to die this way, it is certainly one of the worst ways to be taken from this world. Captured on video for the whole world to watch and what happened next is an explosion of emotions that run so deep and have been there just below the surface for so very long and what has been born is a movement, a revolution, an uprising, and with it I hope real change to finally end racism, hatred, murder, brutality, division, us against them, black and white and I’m wishing there at last be some unity. The Black Lives Matter movement has been going on for many years, there’s endless examples of innocent black people being killed by police, videos and images, all this along with a resurgence of supremacy, hate groups, and a president that seems right there cheering it on, instead of using his power to make some real reforms. Can’t express enough how bad Donald Trump really is, as a leader and as a person period. This time around has seen the most ever protests, in every city and even small towns, all around the world, and for weeks, even as I write this. It started like a small fire that grew into an all out raging inferno, that saw violence, looting, destruction, fires, national guard troops, tear gas, beatings, vandalism, anarchists and  even deaths. It literally was a stand off between the people and the police. I was glued to the protests, watching everyday, never before had I seen such sights of so many protesters and so many police in riot gear and so much madness and chaos mixed with people on their knees and peaceful, powerful images of police taking a knee in solidarity, protesters protecting them, protecting store fronts, laying down face first in silence. I saw peaceful protesters abused and huge crowds blocking intersections and highways, gathering in massive numbers in front of the white house, down Hollywood boulevard, in New York City, Minneapolis, Seattle and so many other places. It is unexceptable the way the police and guard physically harmed people, old people pushed to the ground, kids tear gassed, people beaten and pepper sprayed, unbelievable! I watched and felt helpless, removed, so I joined on a day of a candle light vigil in my city of Asheville. It was completely peaceful, and meaningful to be a part of that day and way of protest. Protests came to Asheville about a week after it happened and they started off intense with police tear gassing people, rubber bullets shot, arrests, buildings boarding up, buildings spray painted and turned into a wave of calmer energy which is more the heart of this special city. I walked the city and saw displays and messages of the movement. I know Ian, the artist  that did some of the art work on boarded up businesses, he is an example of compassion and creativity. It was beautiful to see all the different races standing up for one, for a cause that’s beyond description. Since the founding of this country people of color have been treated unfairly, unjust and as second class people. I saw young people letting their voices be heard, I saw groups of people shouting in street and then taking a knee in silence, I saw signs and joined in chants and raised my fist to let the world know I’m with them, apart of them, and together we can bring change. I’m understanding what it means to be an ally to the movement, the idea of white privilege is a real thing, as a white person I see that many of the struggles black people encounter I do not. To be an ally means to do things that can bring change, such as vote, support black business and people in the community, show up at protests, write legislators and let my voice be heard in support.

It’s way past time for everything in our country and all over the world really, for everyone to be treated equal. For leaders to make changes, for society to be in unity, and for the separation of races to end, period. I see racism everyday living in the south, I hear it in the way people talk and the words they use, I see it in areas of poverty and the divisions between the rich and poor. It’s a time of police vs protesters, citizens vs authorities. I stand in unison and the belief that Black Lives Matter, I march with marchers and support all those are there bringing change and making their voices make a difference. The fact that black people have the struggle they do is unacceptable, the history of unjust, hateful and criminal acts done to them is sick and plainly wrong. To witness this sort of out cry for justice, for equal treatment and opportunity, is inspiring and way past due. I’ve always believed in reparations and think every case of police killings of innocent black people should be revisited and those officers charged with murder. Our system is broken in so many ways but this particular issue is beyond simply broken, it is wrong and not moral. The black culture has always had an influence in my life, from music, sports, and style to some of the most important people I have met, call friends and mentors. I believe we are all equal, no matter your race or financial bracket. It’s such a beautiful thing that we have so many different races and types of people in this world, that needs to be celebrated, honored and above all held in the highest regard. Any form of discrimination should be punished, against the law and banished as soon as it happens. I also believe in a world without borders, without walls, with no authority that tells people you can’t go here or there. I believe no one should ever live in fear, of the police, of hateful people, of being deported, of bosses or coworkers. The violence that occurs due to race or gender is disgusting. I have seen it my whole life from Rodney King to Treyvon Martin, Eric Gardner, Philando Castile, Freddy Gray to George Floyd, the gay community, transgender, the me too movement, immigrants, Native Americans, Muslims and so many others. It’s way past time for a shift in our society as a whole, a radical shift towards peace, understanding and equality for all with zero exceptions!

 

While these days bring fear and uncertainty and new ways to look at how we do things, they also made me want to retreat out into nature more than ever. I have done alot of just that, hiking my way from spring into summer, camping, exploring, and foraging. A slightly bright spot in all this has been watching my business flourish. After getting a small shout out from a well known theorist, whose name is Clif High (whose big on twitter-#chagagangsta), I started receiving orders from all over the country. Chaga, more than ever, along with other mushrooms, have been recognized as valuable for immune boosting and combating illness. Something not in any news, is the idea of being preventive, of being proactive with strengthening our systems of defense during this time of a highly contagious virus. I of coarse, highly believe in the healing powers of mushroom medicine and using nature as therapy. This passion, turned venture, turned small business has begun to gain roots. It’s been fulfilling to do what I do, I feel I’m making an impact in a positive way all the while I’m making a living, it literally is my dream come true. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being out and all over the mountains as of late. I have had great forages of Reishi and Chaga and am able to create a nice supply of stock to continue to do what I do. We moved out to Fairview, North Carolina, with horse farms and country surrounding us. I watch the birds and sit on the porch with the sounds of a tranquil stream in the back yard, it’s good living. Brendan and Jill have come on adventures, each experiencing the virus in different ways. Jill left her salon and is doing her business her way, finding a new freedom in that, as well as having time to develop the next phase of her ventures in health coaching and yoga. Brendan is having to do college from home and being an essential cleaning worker. Moving through times of change is what life is all about, surviving and thriving is the goal.

We also added a new member to the family, her name is Luna or as I have dubbed her, La Luna Love bug. A precious labradoodle  puppy, we got from a sweet family farm. She is jet black with a hint of chocolate brown. It was never too much on my radar to get my own dog but after some time, thought and discussion it happened, and honestly I dig it. Dogs really are best friends, they are always happy to see you and want to be right next to you. Luna is a cuddlier and such a calm, chill one so far, just the way I imagined having a pet. I’m learning as I go, it helps to have Jill and Brendan who both know what it’s like to be dog owners. I can’t wait until she is accustomed to being in the woods, hiking along our side!

Black Lives Matter

One chant

No Justice, No Peace

A second chant

Say their names…..

George Floyd

Ahmaud Arbrey

Freddy Gray

Tamir Rice

Treyvon Martin

Sandra Bland

Philando Castile

Eric Garner

Michael Brown

Breonna Taylor

Rayshard Brooks

And the list don’t stop

Murder in the streets

That we watch in color vision

Before our eyes

White cop

Black man, Black woman

Protest, riot, protest

Riot

The people vs the authority

Brutality

Military

To be silent now is the crime

So we shout,

Set fires

Brake windows

March and sing and take a knee

Move the movement

Try and take the power back

To be heard

To be seen

To be EQUAL

A country beginning to crack

America not so great again

And again

And the lights go out

In the White house

And the leader closed his eyes

Hands up…..

Don’t shoot

Cries in the street

Shouts in the dark

As the rest of us wait

For a change

For another day.

Winter Escape into 2020

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So the cold, winter weather has crept in here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In some ways I love this time of year, it often reminds me of growing up in upstate New York without the snow and brutal cold, just the season itself really. I love to hike in the winter season as the air is refreshing and crisp. However I also love to get away! or New Years 2020 this year we traveled down south into one of favorite regions, northern Florida, the Suwannee river and the springs district. While living in the Tarpon Springs area I often found myself out kayaking. I loved visiting the northern reaches, especially the natural springs. I frequented the Hillsborough river near Tampa, the Peace, Suwannee, St. Johns, Crystal and Alapaha rivers. I pretty much jumped into the water every chance I could get, finding little, twisty, secret passage ways and got lost in adventure. It had been several years since I traveled back down south to get back in it and I missed it greatly.

Our journey started at Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs state park. We arrived at night and camped in the car. The next morning we had breakfast at one of the only little diners open, which note there’s not much for good eating at all in the whole area, then went and rented a two person kayak, at a cost of $35 for two hours and strolled out into the crystal blue waters. The blue color of the spring was amazing! As we paddled along we came to a merge of the blue waters into the tannin waters of the Santa Fe river. It was so refreshing to be back in a kayak and rolling along the river. We saw some exotic birds and tons of turtles. Along this stretch there are numerous springs to explore. We stopped in Lily, Poe, Mermaid and Rum island springs. I jumped in three of them, the temperature is an average of 72 degrees. It felt so nice to be swimming in January. Time always seems to slow down on the river. My only regret was not having goggles to look at the springs from underneath. We hiked a small trail in the park before moving on.

Next up we made our way to Old Town and the Suwannee hideaway campground. The people that ran the campground were super nice and let us have our pick of sites to camp in. We talked with them for alittle and were inspired by their lifestyle of hosting campgrounds. They live in Maine 6 months out of the year and travel the other six months hosting at campgrounds, this is an ideal way of living and we hope to one day do the same, sooner rather than later in life. In our travels we have ran into people doing the same thing a few times and are building our knowledge of how it works. The camp ground was super quiet and remote, not to mention the showers were super hot. There is a long board walk that leads to the Suwannee, perhaps my favorite river ever. We walked that and continued on along the river on a nice trail. We heard two owls the whole way, frolicking in the forest. Their calls could be heard the whole time we were there. I felt connected to them even though I never got to actually see them. While here we visited Fanning Springs which was right in town. Again treated to the clear, blue waters, which of coarse I dove into. This time some visitors, also swimming there, let me use their mask to see the bubbling spring. It was super cool to see the sands bubbling up, the fish and the rocks in the deep chasm. We lingered in the park some, soaking up the sun before jumping on our bikes and getting on the nature coast bike trail. This trail was great, 31 miles of biking, it goes through small towns and remote parts of the route. On our expedition we rode to an old trestle bridge that overlooks the Suwannee. I really enjoy riding like this, flat, easy and serine. Not finding any good food near by, we drove to Gainesville to have a nice dinner on our anniversary, four years together!! It’s been wonderful and enriching and full of awesome adventures and oh yeah, LOTS of love. Hanging out along the Suwannee was fulfilling, I just love the big cypress trees, the hanging Spanish moss and the dark, amber waters.

Before leaving this area we popped into Manatee springs and got to see four manatees hanging out, along with some huge fish. I once kayaked with several manatees and it was a true highlight of my time on the springs, seeing these gentle creatures again was pretty cool. The state park is a neat little place also to explore. Also made a quick stop to but some ashes of my fathers at the base of a giant cypress tree along the Suwannee, so they may know the peace it has brought me.

We decided to head for the coast after a few nights along the Suwannee. Our first stop at Flagler beach to lay on the beach and jump in the ocean. Flagler is a small beach and it was not very busy which was great. We continued up A1A heading into St. Augustine. We stayed in the beach area near Anastasia island. We did a nice long beach stroll, which is a favorite thing. That night we drove into the historic city. It was buzzing with people. It’s neat to walk around the small streets, all the shops and architecture. The city was in full swing with horse carriage rides, trollys full of people and christmas lights all over. We walked the old fort, the water front and had dinner in the mix, finished off with a homemade ice cream treat. We also visited Mantanzas national monument park. The ferry was closed to the fort so we hiked in search of the great horned owls which apparently left a few years ago. We also spent some time driving around the side streets of the city and checking out the old houses. Another highlight was the St. Augustine lighthouse, even though we didn’t pay the $20 something charge to go inside, it’s always cool to see a lighthouse. It is the first picture on this post.

We had a last meal at a place on the water, where they had baby gators hanging out. It was a really good seafood dinner. We didn’t get a chance to paddle the Suwannee which made me alittle sad or see it’s limestone cliffs but that just makes for a future adventure back down sometime. It was the perfect little get away full of awesome memories and marking another year together on the journey. Upon returning home I did a cold, snow on the ground, icicles on the rocks hike and found a nice haul of Chaga, it’s gonna be a great year ya’ll!!

Voyage West Ward

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Zion

This years big trip was one that took us out west. In two weeks we passed through 12 states and drove 5,027 miles, visiting 5 national parks and several other amazingly cool spots along the way. I had never been into the true west besides visiting Californias redwoods. I was especially excited to see the great barren desert, Native American country and of coarse the Grand Canyon. The first leg of the journey was through Tennessee which was a good eight hours by itself on highway 40 west. Then it was into Arkansas and Oklahoma. This is when the trip really began for me. The landscape began to change and we entered Native lands. The mountains flattened out and long flat mesas emerged. Wind turbines dotted the roadside, casinos were everywhere and trains seemed more active here than anywhere I have seen. I instantly felt I had entered the American west. While in Oklahoma we ran into the famous route 66, which I learned was a highly used highway back in the day that runs from California to Illinois. It was neat to get on and off a few times during the trip, each stop led us through segments of small towns, most of which were quaint and charming, some had very little left except the remnants of past glory. One day I’d like to travel that route in it’s entirety. Passing through the reservation lands had a special feeling for me, since my youth I have held Native culture close to my heart. I could feel the spirit all around. We did a stretch across the pan handle of Oklahoma called no mans land. Crossing states, we made a stop in Amarillo, Texas to see the Cadillac ranch. It was out in a big open field, ten Cadillac buried nose down and covered in spray paint, done by artists in the 60’s. We also ate lunch in a small town and I had a bacon cheeseburger stuffed between two grilled cheese sandwichs, with onion rings mixed in, some things are bigger in Texas. After sleeping in the car, we crossed yet another state and stayed a night in Gallup, New Mexico. This little town was the home of Native artisans. Lots of little jewelry and hand made Native crafts and my introduction to trading posts, a big thing here in the west and traditionally how Natives and white settlers traded. In this town we checked out a Native American museum that I found interesting. Being in New Mexico really immersed us in Native surroundings, as well as desert environment. The landscape began to have some color, mesas and canyons, a truly beautiful state.

 

 

Onto to Arizona and the serious adventures begin. It seemed almost immediately after crossing the border between states, the landscape changed again. Mesas turned to mountains. We pulled over at a trading post to take it in. Huge cliffs of reds and browns and purples towered above us. We bought a few sand paintings which is a traditional form of art in Native culture and very cool. Our first big stop came at the Petrified Forest, wow what a place is all I can say! We bought an inner agency park pass here, which would get in any National park for a year and more than paid for itself along the duration of the trip. We did a short one mile hike along the rim of the painted desert to start off this adventure. It seemed endless, sand dunes in blues, greens, purples and reds. For the first time the intense desert heat hit me and man it’s no joke. There was several small hikes to enjoy and one that stood out most was called the blue mesa, it was a hike through these small, blue striped mountains of sand, and all along the trail were stumps and pieces of petrified wood. We went from end to end of the park and saw remnants of  the Native peoples village and also super cool petroglyphs, these amazing drawings in the rocks. On one of those hikes, called newspaper rock, the hat I just bought especially for the trip blew right off my head in a huge wind gust, sailed down the cliff and is forever gone, guess that’d be my offering to the ancestors. One of the amazing things about this park was how many trees used to be here, big ones too. We’d later learn from a friendly park ranger that much of the wood here traveled along rivers back when the world was still connected, Pangaea as it’s known. This is dating back to dinosaur times. This whole area of New Mexico and Arizona is well famous for dinosaur bones and history. The idea of Pangaea had always fascinated me and though I thought it made sense , I never wasn’t completely sure if it was true. Seeing examples like this made it clear it happened no doubt. One of the last hikes we did here was one called the avenue of the giants, huge stumps and whole petrified trees covered the hills by the visitor center, just magnificent. Inside the center we saw dinosaur skeletons and  beautifully polished petrified stumps. If your out that way it is a must see park.

 

 

From there we were Sedona bound. Some say it’s the land of vortexes. We camped a night on a forest road on the way to Sedona, we’d return for a second night because it was close enough and free camping is the best stuff. A huge discovery that came on the trip was how much BLM land there is out there. BLM land is government owned land that’s free for the people to use, especially to camp on, there are sooo many long, dusty side roads to pull off on and set up shop it’s unreal and highly convenient, we would use these roads the whole trip. Driving into Sedona was breathtaking. We drove through an area called Oak Creek Canyon and the views were unreal the whole way, each new corner brought awe inspiring views. I was instantly taken by the charm of Sedona, thinking as I do on most trips, I could live here. We had a fancy lunch at a restaurant called Mariposa Latin Grill and it had some great food and amazing views. After that we made our way to a stupa I discovered online called Amitabha stupa and peace park. Funny story here is, last year we were given these postcards from a local photographer of this very place, we both picked these out of many random ones to choose from and put them up in our home, not knowing it was the same place we were bound for. This park was great. Right outside the city, tucked away in a neighborhood was the park. It has a very peaceful setting, lots of hiking trails and beautiful back drops, one being a place called thunder mountain, a huge mountain close by, supposedly a vortex. We spent some time here, hiking around, exploring the park and meditating. We left the ashes of our loved ones with the Buddha on the hill. It was cool to see many people here taking part in rituals and healing ceremonies, others leaving ashes as well and meditating. Just an awesome place. As part of a spiritual day, we made our way to the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This is a huge, pretty chapel set into the side of the red rock cliffs, also very close to downtown Sedona. It’s an inspiring place, with amazing views. I left some ashes of my two fathers here as well.

 

 

After camping again we took on a big hike at a place called Cathedral rock. Here again is said to be a vortex. One way to tell your in a vortex area is all the twisted trees, in this area it’s juniper trees. This hike was intense, it involved some light rock climbing, very little shade and some serious heights. When you reach the top, your blessed with spectacular views. It challenged my ever present vertigo, ever since falling off a waterfall several years ago I have struggled with this in high places, especially anywhere with steep drop offs. Yet I managed and really enjoyed this hike. At the end is a somewhat skinny ledge to walk that takes you to the side of the mountain, the drop off here is insane. Jill was completely comfortable doing yoga poses there, as for me, a quick look and I was happy to go back to safer ground. That night we went to spend the sunset at Airport Mesa overlook, a very popular spot and you guessed it, a vortex. We did a short hike to get to a sweet spot, many people were gathered there, even a Native man playing the drum and flute for a group. Have to admit I didn’t feel much but it was a great sunset none the less. We spent a few hours that night running around downtown Sedona, grabbed a bite to eat and peeked in a few shops. Part of us wanted to stay another day and do a hike along Bell rock but we decided to move on.

 

 

Leaving Sedona was bittersweet but we had much more to see. We gained some serious elevation going up the mountains through Flagstaff, perhaps the highest city in Arizona. Here we grabbed a much needed shower at the YMCA, yes membership does have it’s privileges and helpful road tip if your a Y member. We didn’t stay in town much longer than to grab a bite to eat. The place we stopped at was one of favorites so far, called the Toasted Owl. Everything in the restaurant was owls and everything was for sale, it was super cool. Little ceramics, tee shirts, paintings, lamps, stickers, mugs, and on and on. I bought a really neat tee shirt for myself, simply loved this place.

 

 

From Flagstaff we headed to the big event, the Grand Canyon. The depth and shear splendor of the canyon was apparent and almost overwhelming upon first sight. I instantly felt my vertigo hit standing there at the first overlook. I could barely walk to the railing to look over into the canyon. It is magnificent however and I took it all in. The size of the canyon is unreal. We walked the rim trail, which goes for something like 17 miles. I had to stay away from open spaces and walk on the inside of the trail, away from the edges, but how amazing to look over as your walking and see the endless canyon. We stopped here and there to peek out into the massive expanse. We took the shuttle the first day because parking was limited and there was a lot of people there, when I say a lot I mean it! We heard lots of different languages and saw the various styles from around the world present, all of which was quite entertaining and fascinating I’ll say. That night we camped just outside the park on another forest road. While camped in the Prius we were serenaded by the cries and howls of the coyotes, it was super neat to hear. The next day we’d get up early to dive in head first into the canyon on the bright angel trail. This trail was intense! It goes straight down and then straight up on the way back. We managed to make the 3 mile rest point instead of going to the canyon base and the river which was a few more miles down. My vertigo was on and off as I traveled down, eventually getting comfortable with being on the edges. The three miles was more than enough as it was mostly straight sun with stretches of shade here and there and it was really hot. We left some ashes at the three mile point. Doing the trail was pretty great, it was hard and beautiful and at the end we felt a real nice sense of pride and accomplishment. As we concluded our time at the grand, we drove to the desert view portion and the watch tower. It was really cool inside the watchtower, with lots of Native art all over the walls. Great views of the canyon and the river from inside and on top of the tower as well.

 

 

As we left the south rim side of the Grand Canyon, we had the plan to go to the north side. Here we rode highways 89 and 89-A, which would be very much used small highways on our trip and truly scenic roads overall.  Leaving the canyon we entered Navajo lands and right away saw little road side stands. We stopped to check one out and met some friendly Native peoples with some really nice art and jewelry. They shared stories and meanings of some of the things they made. It was sad and humbling to be in their presence. The stands were make shift, tattered structures, beat up trailers were parked behind the stands and the people themselves did not seem in the best health. Once a mighty, dignified people that lived in harmony with these lands, now living in poverty and fighting to survive. Jill bought a bracelet from an older woman sitting with her daughter and grand daughter, made from juniper berries. The lady told how the ghost berries are for protection, safety and represent connection to the earth. She told how many Natives in the military have given them to fellow soldiers for protection, especially in world war 2. Being as there was very little out there in the desert period, few towns and I’m guessing fewer work opportunities, having these stands might be all they have. As we drove along there would be scattered little houses, mostly trailers, all looking in rough shape. Jill put it best when she said it’s just heart breaking. We drove along through most of the daylight and as night came on we hit an area called the Vermilion Cliffs. We decided instead of pushing through to the north rim, we would camp in this area and check it out and I’m glad we did. A place called Lees Ferry is where we found a campground and even in the night, what we could make out seemed pretty cool. We awoke to find a little wonderland to explore. The vermilion cliffs are wonderful and big, our camp site was a skip away from the Colorado river and there is some historic sites right there. I couldn’t contain myself at all, the whole trip I had wanted to jump into some water and there it was. The Colorado is amazing shades of jade green and crystal clear. In this particular area was another, smaller river called the Paria that flowed into the Colorado. The Paria is much warmer and pretty muddy. The Colorado was damn cold, 49 degrees to be exact, but boy it felt so good. Getting in that river marked a certain huge highlight for me. As we explored around, we found out this was a launching spot for rafting tours into the Grand Canyon, huge rafts were loading up there. We went out of the park and checked out the Navajo bridge, a historic bridge built in 1929. There is now a newer bridge beside it. A California condor lives underneath the bridge, an endangered species , there are few remaining in the world. I stopped to check out the Navajo art stands there and bought a turquoise owl necklace, my spirit fetish. As we went back into the park we did an educational hike with a lady ranger, who interestingly enough had done a season on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville. She gave us the history of Lees Ferry, a Mormon church member who moved here to set up a settlement and eventually got a ferry service started across the Colorado. The ranch switched hands a few times over time, even a polygamy commune in the mix. We hiked alittle around the ranch, saw an old graveyard, rusted out truck, several old structures and oddly enough a wonderful orchard full of pears, apricots and apples and yup I helped myself to an apple and a pear that were mostly unripe but fine by me.

 

 

We spent two beautiful nights in the tent, which felt amazing after sleeping in the car. We were blessed with two huge, full moons that lit up the whole area as well. Before we departed from Lees Ferry, we did a hike along the river and saw more historical remnants and did the Cathedral wash trail which was pretty awesome, it took us into Glen canyon, following a dried up wash (stream bed) and felt like something out of star wars. It was a super fun trail, we saw animal prints, most likely some sort of cat paw, climbed some rocks and frolicked along the smooth, colorful canyon walls. We also wondered around a big section of huge rocks balancing on small rock platforms, reminded me of Hopewell rocks, it too was like something straight out of star wars, the whole area was a really surreal setting.

Next we traveled to Page, Arizona. There was much to see here, as well as grabbing some good food and using the internet. We discovered a huge lake there called Lake Powell, it was yet another chance to jump in some water. There was a pretty big beach area and of coarse practically zero shade, we did however manage to park in some shrubs that gave just enough shade to survive without any real sunburn. The water was warm and cooled us off. Giant mesas and mountains provided a nice back drop. There was a busy boat scene which cut into the peace of our time there but it was still great. A big highlight came at sunset when we hit Horseshoe Bend, a wonderful rock formation that was surrounded by water in a perfect horseshoe shape. Our timing was almost perfect, we arrived as the sun was setting but just as we reached the overlook and sun sank a little faster than we expected and we caught just that last moment before it disappeared into the far off mountains. Didn’t get to catch that picture except in our minds. We did hang out there awhile and roam around the rocks, it’s really something amazing to see. We were atop a huge cliff and my dear friend vertigo came back once again. The drop offs are so steep there, like the Grand Canyon and every other place we’d visit with huge drop offs and steep cliffs, people love to go right to the edge for a picture or dangle their feet off or look straight down into the chasms which blows my mind, scares me and seems just plan dumb but then again not everyone has the vertigo. We parked the car in a parking lot of our next adventure and one most stunning ones the whole trip, a place called Antelope Canyon. The lot was empty and we got permission, since we had to be there early we decided to just stay there. Now just before we got there for the night we were driving trying to find it in the dark when across the road came a large looking wolf, it was whiteish-gray in color and big, I could easily make it out it’s teeth and to me it looked like a werewolf. We’d learn it may have been a cross between a coyote and a wolf.

So Antelope Canyon, this place is truly a spectacle! We booked a tour of four canyons with a place called Adventurous Antelope Canyon. All the tour companies are run by Navajo people and that’s the only way to get into them. They are on private land owned by a 95 year old Navajo woman, she discovered these canyons after her live stock wondered into them many, many years ago when she was a young child. We were glad to pay to go into them and support the Navajo people. We got a guide who was 22 and went by the name Blue Sky. He was great, along the way he told stories from his life and experiences, also shared history and traditions of his people. He was very laid back and patient, not rushing us at all. He even took pictures for us with our phones inside the canyon to get some absolutely amazing shots. Blue Sky really made the tour a lot more special than it already was. The formations in the canyons were stunning, I caught myself just starring at them, the curves and twists, the colors and cracks were all just so unreal. Using your imagination you could see faces, animals and shapes in the formations. Antelope was indeed crowded, hundreds of people in there at once but it was pretty well organized and flowed nice. On the way out we got to see ‘the beam’ of light that has been the iconic picture. The other canyons we did were called Owl, Mountain Sheep and Rattlesnake Canyons. They too were very cool, not as awe-striking as Antelope but neat in their own way. For example we saw two great horned owls in Owl canyon, which was super special to me. They blended right in with the canyon walls. Rattlesnake has tight, curvy walls, beautiful patterns and was quite awesome. Mountain Sheep was the longest one and made for a little hike and some small climbing around and we also saw a rattlesnake. I can’t say enough of how amazing it was to be in those canyons, truly magical moments to cherish.

After such an awesome experience in the canyons we were refreshed and ready for more. Before we left Page we did a small hike to a place called the hanging gardens, a rare oasis of life. Springs sometimes seep out of the rocks and create a little area of plant life that is lush, in this case it was ferns hanging from the rocks. Our journey would take us to Zion National park next but we had a small ways to go to get there and in-between we’d stop at a place called the Toadstools, an interesting little hike that led to formations called toadstools because they are essentially big rocks resting on longer, skinny rocks. The Toad Stools are a part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante. We were lucky to witness these as there used to be a lot more and they have vanished, the sands are always falling and eroding and with them go the toad stools. Very few remained but they were pretty cool to see. We stopped for the night off a long park road at a place called the pink corals in Utah. All night we heard coyotes that seemed to be all around us and in the morning we saw prints everywhere.

Driving into Zion National park was pretty awesome. The landscape in there is like nothing I’ve seen. The colors of reds, pinks, purples, greens, beige and browns are fantastic. The Natives here call it the land that grows straight up, fitting as the mountains are towering. On a light note, one of the first sights we saw was a huge body builder in just his speedo doing some sort of photo shoot. Driving into the east entrance gave a chance to really take in the park, it’s a long scenic drive with lots of pull overs and a long tunnel to drive through before reaching the trails and visiting centers. we saw big horned sheep right away as well. As we got to the other side of the tunnel the landscape changed from sand dunes and mesas and small mountains into the towering mountains. You have to use the shuttle in the park which was convenient and they ran every ten minutes or so without missing a beat. We dove right in, checking out a few short trails and after eating a taco buffet at a park restaurant we got right at it, doing one of the hardest trails in the park, Angel’s Landing. This trail was no joke, reminded me of the Bright Angel trail at Grand Canyon only in reverse. There was steep drop offs and we started climbing in elevation right away. It is a twisty trail full of lots of switch backs, 21 to be exact called Walters Wiggles. It seems to never stop climbing but we made it to lower top level. When you reach here there is just a half mile left of the trail and it continues up, except you climb along chains and there super steep drop offs on both sides. 17 people have lost their lives here. We decided to not take this section on. Where we ended up had amazing views and was plenty high enough and a strenuous hike in it’s own right. Another huge accomplishment for me and my vertigo issues!

We stayed just outside of the small town next to Zion, down a BLM road once again. The next day we had breakfast in the little town and Jill bought a pair of crocks, which she was very hesitant about, given how ugly she has always thought they were but she was super glad she got them as we were about to hike the Narrows. Zions most famous trail is a four mile trek into the canyons. You have to hike through the river, along tons of  big river stones and water sometimes up to your waist. This is my idea of great fun and some of my absolute favorite hiking. It was simply awesome in there! I loved every second. There was no shortage of people in there that’s for sure. I wore my sandals which held up with some mindful slow steps but in the future I’d advise water shoes for sure. We stopped for a swim break along the way which was great. We didn’t quite make it through the whole trail but spent a good four to six hours in there getting it. It made for a fun memory for sure. After that hike we enjoyed one more lunch in the park and it was pretty hard to leave. Zion is one of the most picturesque places I have ever seen, simply beautiful in there, I will return for sure. We were able to take some much needed and refreshing showers just outside the park. From here we were bound for Arches National park traveling upon highway 70 East.

On the way to Arches we drove through a crazy section that was like deer heaven, they were everywhere! One big horned male was actually standing right in the middle of the highway, just standing there, it’s always scary, those guys. We decided to pass up on going to Bryce Canyon as after Arches we wanted to stop in Colorado and enjoy some of that wonderful state. The speed limit in Utah is 80, worth mentioning, way too fast in my opinion. We stopped in a place called Green River to have breakfast by the river and a huge cinnamon bun. We also stopped at a fruit stand and got one of the best melons I’ve ever had (Israeli Melon), seems they are famous for melons here. Arches did not disappoint. There was a lot of people there like many of the other parks. While waiting to get in we even had a car next to us that was from Asheville too. The Arches were something to see, amazing how they form in such magnificent formations and how just in this small section of the desert there was this rare place. We drove through the whole park and stopped to do a few hikes within. It never got old, seeing such wonders. Before leaving Utah we stopped in the neat city of Moab, right down the street from Arches. It is a  mountain biking mecca and destination for sure. We had a fine mix of ice cream and espresso and grabbed some showers at a local hostile called the lazy lizard.

As our trip was entering it’s last days and the journey, it’s last leg, we opened the road to Colorado. We didn’t want to get too far into the state at night so we could see all the beauty in the daylight, so we stopped for the night. We drove miles down a country road to try and camp at a state park only to find it closed off. We ended up at a rest area,