An Alaskan adventure was one of the most anticipated trips on our board once we decided it was time to explore the National Parks Monopoly Board. Anytime someone asked where we were headed this year and found out it was Alaska there were nothing but positive remarks. Either they had been there and would like to go back or would love to go there. We were amazed how many people have traveled to Alaska, usually on a ship. With so many positive comments how could one not be excited to go? Was it possible to have too high of expectations and be disappointed that Alaska didn’t live up to them?
After a few days of exploring Olympic National Park and touring Seattle, the time had arrived to board the ship towards this highly anticipated destination. We were fortunate to share this experience with a number of friends and family who decided to join us for their first cruise making it even more memorable. For the first time our ship left the dock before our 4 o’clock departure time catching us off guard as I usually like to be out on a deck as we set sail. Hmm… maybe I had better pay closer attention to time on this trip. There’s a history of me getting on board at one of our stops right before we sail. In fact, I’ve been the last one getting on the ship before. I could very well miss this ship if I try to do that this time. Noted!
Seattle faded into the horizon and two other ships were in tow as we left Puget Sound bringing rougher seas and more ship motion. A little time settling into our state rooms and then dinner. Completing dinner there was little to see outside as darkness had fallen bringing eagerness for the next days views as we enter Alaskan waters. Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Victoria oh my.
Morning light began shining in the window. A quick look out of the window showed why the ship seemed to be rocking so much – 15 –20 foot swells along with clouds and fog making the shore difficult to see. From time to time the mountain ranges would appear however nothing more impressive than we had been accustom to seeing over the last couple of days. As the day at sea wore on, the clouds and fog continually increased reducing visibility considerably. The cold and wind made taking a stroll outside unenjoyably. Being restricted to the inside of the ship there wasn’t much to do that day but eat. Guess we were in the right place for that. From time to time the shore would reveal slightly taller mountains exciting those who saw it as these indicated what might be ahead.
Day two brought calmer waters as the ship was now sheltered on both sides by mountains and clearer views of shore. Snow was beginning to show up near the peaks on mountains proving the journey further north. If it wasn’t for the snow and cold it would be difficult to know if you were in Alaska or Hawaii as the shape of the mountains looked very similar. As the day entered noon the first glaciers began appearing however the picturesque landscapes were only partially visible due to the low hanging clouds. Still they were beautiful to see. What amazing color these glaciers have even under this dreary sky. At this point I was a little disappointed because this type of weather was in the last forecast I looked at for most of our Alaskan Adventure. That meant peering at these vistas from inside the ship and not being able to see them in all their grandeur. O.K. it was too early to let this dictate my attitude for the rest of the trip. There was still much to see and do.
On to Juneau!
The above photo is of a Columbine as photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park. We were taking a family trip there as part of our Monopoly travels to see the Flattop Mountain trail. In addition to seeing this trail there was much else to explore. To get this particular photo I had to climb down a very steep bank. The purpose was to see one of the higher waterfalls in the park. Unfortunately most of these falls were covered from view by trees. Once I got to the river I noticed some of the flowers in the area and took a few pictures. When looking back at this picture I remember the adventures in the Rockies but also enjoying a moment of solitude as the water rushed passed. The rest of the family was not far and were in sight almost the whole time but this was my own little personal experience in the Rockies that not many others get to share.
Below is a picture of another Columbine which I photographed in the bluffs lining the Mississippi River. This was another family adventure where we decided to embark on a 7 mile hike exploring the bluffs. This photo is a reminder to me of the time shared with members of my family and completing the longest hike for our family to date. It also reminds me of some great views of the Mississippi River and surrounding landscapes.
This last Columbine was a Mother’s Day gift to my wife. It is a hybrid that was grown in a greenhouse. Fortunately I have actually been to the greenhouse where it was grown, however it was not purchased there as it is a wholesale greenhouse only. It is a wonderful yearly reminder of why it was added to our landscape.
Each of these Columbines has a unique experience attached to them while all being closely related to one another. One found while exploring in the Rocky Mountains with another discovered on an adventure to the Mississippi River Bluffs and the last one represents the family that goes on these adventures along with the place that family returns to at the end of an adventure. At least for now!
Isn’t it obvious? Traveling to the different parks on the National Parks Monopoly Board! Right? Sort of. Travel is one of the ways the objective is accomplished but it is not the main concept of this sight. Our main goal is “gaining life experiences”. This is not highlighted much at all in many of the stories. I hope to correct that with a little identifier on what new experiences occurred in each post.
What is meant by gaining life experiences and why is that important? Life experiences are responsible for who each of us is. Many people may share an experience even though each person has a unique perspective on that experience but no one else in the world has all of the same experiences during a life. It is that whole combination of experiences that help make each one of us an individual like no other. One of the best parts, we get to choose many of our life experiences!
People are very different in how they gain life experience. I like to learn about a lot of different things so I take on a hobby for awhile, learn a lot about it, and then go on to a different hobby. That’s why traveling to different locations fits me. I’ve been to Mazatlan Mexico five times. Mazatlan is a nice place and I really enjoyed it but the last time I was there it was not as stimulating for me because I have experienced it before. I don’t plan to return for awhile if ever. I want to experience some place different. The same thing with cruises. I’ve been on five of them and the last one just wasn’t as much fun. I likely will not go on another one for while (After this summer when we are taking a cruise to Alaska to see Glacier Bay National Park which is on our Monopoly Board).
These are all different ways of gaining life experience making each of us unique. Tough to gain life experience in bed or watching TV. Sure I like to take a break from gaining much experience once and awhile and watch a moving or two and take a nap on a rainy day. Who doesn’t? Accomplishing a something new can be extremely simple such as a walk to a park. You may noticing a bird you haven’t seen before or briefly observing kids playing a game or having a disagreement. BRIEFLY is key here as watching for too long could bring questions from the police. Maybe you see an old friend or meet a new one. All can provide a new experience. In the photo below I had never witnessed hundreds of Robins clustered together like this before. A little research indicated that it is not a rare event further south.
We are in control of how we react to an experience and what we take away from it. Not all life experiences are positive ones. A loved one in the hospital or the passing of a pet. These are still new encounters and add to the total computation of life. Asking a few questions in your own mind or even writing them down helps you understand yourself further. Did you like this experience? Why or why not? What did you take away from it? Did you learn something new about yourself? It’s ok to laugh about having an ah hah moment. I find it very intriguing when I learn something new that I would never have imagined before about myself.
Let me provide a brief example. I don’t recall the exact place and time but I do remember the events and the enlightenment that followed. It had just finished raining and I went outside to work on some of the plants around the house. I’m a horticulturalist, it’s what I do. While walking under some trees I brushed against a branch and water rain over my head. It was just at that moment I realized I don’t like things dripping on my head unless I’m in the shower or swimming. There are more exceptions but in general I don’t like slow dripping liquids. Now it is my choice to not like slow dripping liquids on my head so it is also up to me to change that if I so desired. Not sure how but I’m confident I could. I also don’t know if this has been a life long thing or started recently. That doesn’t really matter to me.
This simple life experience provided insight into me. I learned something and didn’t intend to. We all have this ability. It just takes a conscious effort and willingness to do so. Each little experience leads to a lifetime of knowledge which is why life experience is so valuable and makes you unique.
-Take a moment to realize how little you actually need to live while you’re hiking and surviving on only the things you can carry on your back. There are so many distractions in life that we begin to believe are necessary filling houses with so much stuff to occupy our time. It’s nice to live in a simple manner if only for a few days. These few days of simple living can also serve as reminder to appreciate the comforts of home.
-One aspect of taking a backpacking trip that no one mentioned to me ahead of time was training for it. Adding a 40 pound backpack to your weight instantly puts a lot of stress on your body especially while walking up and down hills, over rocks and trees, and any other obstacles on the trail. Some methods of training include putting on the pack and running, using a Stairmaster while wearing the pack, or just go hiking on local trails with your pack on. You make think this is not necessary or be a little concerned about what people are thinking as they see you training with a backpack but it will make a huge difference on how much you enjoy your backpacking experience. After completing the first hiking trip I entered a conversation with more experience backpackers on what they do to get ready for the physical endurance required. Two of these included ex Marines that agreed backpacking is tougher than the training in the military regarding carry packs. In the military training may include running with a 40 pound pack for 10 miles but these miles are on flat, smooth surfaces. The trail is very rarely flat and smooth!
-Take a few moments and just be. What does this mean? Sit or stand still and close your eyes to listen to all the activity that is going on around you. The breeze moving leaves, critters rustling around, birds fluttering, a deer off in the distance. After a few minutes open your eyes to the amazing vista you came to visit. Just listen and feel yourself breathing: your heart pumping, lungs inhaling and exhaling the fresh air, your muscles aching reminding you of the feats your accomplishing. Realize how few people actually get to experience this solitude of the wilderness. People call these the simple pleasures in life. I believe these are reminders of the great and necessary things in life.
I hope these tips help you understand what is involved in a backpacking trip so that you are better prepared and most of all enjoy your first experience.
To read more about my first experience check out these articles:
An Easy National Parks Trip?
Isle Royale Preparations Update
A Night on Isle Royale…or Three
If you’ve never been on an overnight backpacking trip before but have the urge to see what it’s all about like I did, here’s some tips from my first experience.
-Every backpacker is looking for 3 things from their gear:
1. Quality to last
2. Lightweight for easier carrying
Pick 2 out of 3 because getting all 3 is very unlikely
-Realize that for your first time out your are going to be carrying a lot of weight for a couple of reasons. First, you will most likely over pack for your trip simply because you have never done this before and are unsure of exactly what you will need and what you can live without. Being caught in a rainstorm without rain gear or running out of food during a hike are not going to make your trip fun. Second, acquiring lightweight gear is something that takes a number of trips to accomplish due to the expense of it so for the first time you will likely have equipment that is reduced cost but heavier to carry. Some options for finding good lightweight gear include borrowing it from someone you know that has it or renting gear from an outfitter.
-bring a partial roll of duct tape. This stuff comes in a variety of colors and patterns now instead of just the good old grey to make it a little more fun to use. Ultimately you want this as it can be a versatile fix it tool. If something breaks or rips on your tent, clothing, or hiking boots duct tape can get you through your trip. In a pinch you could make a rope out of it by twisting long pieces of tape together or use it as a medical bandage.
-when planning your meals, try to plan a couple of meals that don’t require cooking each day especially if that day requires a lot of hiking. This accomplishes a couple of things. First, you save on fuel. Second, and probably more importantly you save water and time. Cooking a meal requires water to cook with and clean with. Cleaning is the more water and time intensive task. Once everyone is finished eating a warm meal the dishes need to be washed with the wash and rinse water needing to be strained away from water or trails in an effort to leave no trace for wildlife and other hikers to find. This requires filtering more water to clean with. All in all cooking a meal requires time and energy that can be spent on the trail. I took the time to cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for my first backpacking trip. Next time I will plan on more breakfast bars and snacks with a warm meal only once a day for some of those days. In addition, food to be cooked generally adds more weight to your pack.
-Plan a practice backpacking trip a few weeks before the real thing. Go to a nice campground that’s not to far from a store or restaurant in case you forgot to pack something preferably with a river or lake so you can test out your water purification methods. Your back yard doesn’t count because it is to easy to go in the house to get stuff. This accomplishes a number of things. It forces you to have all of your equipment you think you’ll need with enough time to make adjustments before going somewhere with nothing available except what your carrying. This gives you practice in real conditions with your equipment to make sure it all works the way you want it to and figure out how to best use it. Also, this is on opportunity to figure out how to pack your backpack and how much it’s going to weigh. The most important thing this does is give you confidence in your ability to successfully prepare for a backpacking trip in the solitude of the wilderness.
The first portion of this trail follows the shoreline of Lake Superior giving amazing vistas demanding a moment of your time to take in all the sight has to offer. There are many places along this trail begging you to stop and see what nature has created. Unfortunately this also means more time with a full backpack strapped to you each time you give in to natures majesty. Each ache and pain in your body asks that you keep moving so that this heavy load can be taken off. Each person has to decide which portion of this battle will win. I gave in to the natural creations knowing that the pain will go away but the memories will be there for a long time. I would have regretted not taking in this part of the island. As the trail turned inward to cross the island we began to ascend up a long hill being greeted with a light rain shower. This was no real surprise as we could see the clouds off in the distance while walking along the shore.
Near the top of this hill the rain subsided but the mosquitoes began targeting us for lunch. These mosquitoes where persistent for much of the trail encouraging a faster pace. Our group split into two during this trail: a faster group and a little more relaxed pace keeping in contact with the use of two-way radios. Each group continued on the trail going up and over rocks, around water, and on to our final destination taking a moment to explore an old copper mine along the way. The first group reached Washington Creek and secured the same shelter we used earlier. Our second group had a little more interesting trek. After stopping to explore the Wendigo Mine, they came upon a moose blocking the trail. Slowly backing away as anyone who has encountered a moose knows that they own whatever territory there on. After backing away it was decided to remove the packs as who knows how long the moose would be here and it would be easier to blend in to the trees without the additional weight if that need should arise. After about 15 minutes the moose moved on along with her calf allowing this group to continue towards and eventually reaching Washington Creek.
Everyone was glad to be back at this first campsite quickly removing the packs and resting a few minutes before setting up camp for the last night. The night was cool and again treated us to a sky filled with stars. Our next morning consisted of eating and packing up getting ready to board the Sea Hunter III for a return trip to the mainland. Once again the morning was beautiful and sun drenched giving us one last day with amazing weather. Our younger participants became Junior Rangers once again and where ready to shove off after four days of extreme camping. If you can believe it, this was done with children from 7 to 12 years of age who all carried at least some items as far as they could. A learning experience for all. Just imagine how little we can actually live on and how little we need to survive compared to everything we desire in everyday life. Even living on this little, there were and are people who live on less!
We were off to the next destination which was just over four miles away while carrying 40 pounds or more of camping equipment and food. While researching backpacking it was recommended to carry a maximum of 20% of your body weight in your pack. Ours seemed slightly higher than that which appeared to be more common amongst the other hikers on the island. 20% would certainly have been more comfortable and easier on our bodies. The scenery was quite nice and changed along the way however after a couple of miles of walking up and down hills with all this weight the scenery became less important. Finally after five hours of hiking we arrived at our destination and where able to take the packs off for an extended period of time. This did include stopping for lunch and a couple of other snack breaks so it was not constant walking. After some recuperation it was time to set up camp for the night and enjoy our surroundings.
Huginnin Cove was without a question worth the hike. We had Lake Superior on two different sides of us with trees and rock formations everywhere else along with plenty of peace and solitude. The landscape was spectacular even when you’re exhausted from getting there. Listening to the waves of the lake crash against the rocks surrounding the shoreline while taking in the surroundings was an amazing experience. Off in the distance we could see the shores of Canada and at times see the city of Thunder Bay. At this camping area there was no pre-built shelter, running water, or flush toilets so it was more extreme camping. Our evening meal was prepared while watching the sunset across the water. As we finished cleaning up for the evening the stars light up the sky with no moon to interfere. This happened to occur at the same time as the Perseid Meteor Shower was winding down so not only did we get to star gaze but we were treated to shooting stars and numerous satellites crossing the sky. This was the experience I was hoping for!
Our next morning was beautiful and sunny giving some incentive to get up and enjoy the day. We were much slower in emerging from the tent even with this nice sunny day as there were many sore muscles and joints along with the knowledge that it was another day of hiking with all this extra stuff strapped to our backs. Eventually we made breakfast and cleaned the dishes and packed everything away into our packs in an effort to head back to Washington Creek. There are two ways to get from Hugginnin Cove to Washington Creek. We explored one of those the previous day so decided it was time to take the second trail today. A very good decision as the scenery was much better and the trail slightly easier.
For the conclusion of this post click to continue…
A trip to Isle Royale National Park is different than many other parks. It is one of the least visited parks for good reason… getting there is a little more difficult because you can’t drive there. This national park is on an island located in Lake Superior and is at least 15 miles from shore. There are only two ways onto this park: boat or airplane. We chose to take a 1.5 hour boat ride from Grand Portage, MN on the Sea Hunter III to the Windigo side of the island. Now once you get to the Island what are you going to do? There is the short day trip that many people utilize and spend about 4 hours exploring Isle Royale before returning to the mainland. If you decide to stay longer you will need to spend the night. Be prepared as there is only one small resort area which is likely booked and requires getting on the right boat to get there as it is on the opposite side of the island from Windigo. The last option is camping. We chose to camp for three nights allowing us the opportunity to explore the island a little further.
Our first night we decided to make it relatively easy and stay at the nearest camp area known as Washington Creek. This location is easy as there where shelters available which are enclosed on three sides and screened on the forth side allowing for air movement while keeping out bugs and other curious critters. Also, water suitable for drinking is nearby and a short distance away there are bathrooms with running water. Our shelter was right on the banks of Washington Creek giving us a relaxing view when waking up. One of the only downfalls of this camping area is the noise coming from boats, airplanes, and a higher population of people than most other areas. Well, a lot of noise compared to the solitude experienced elsewhere but substantially less than even a small town.
The next morning involved grabbing some oatmeal for breakfast then cleaning up and packing it all away in preparation for our hike to Huginnin Cove to spend the next night. Did I mention that you need to bring in all of your supplies and bring them all back out with you again as this area is designated as ‘Leave No Trace’? That means backpacking all of your necessary items if you do not have a boat of your own docked somewhere around the island. We could have spent three nights in Washington Creek and just did day hikes without all of our gear but our purpose in traveling to all these different parks is to experience new and different areas so we decided to try our hand at real backpacking. Thankfully we did a trial run a few weeks earlier allowing us to be more prepared for multiple nights living out of backpacks.
For more go on to part II…
We are down to the last month of the summer season and only a few weeks away from our backpacking trip to Isle Royale National Park. While in Northern Minnesota for this experience the thought of also visiting Voyageurs National Park had crossed our minds however that has been dismissed due to the distance involved. Voyageurs is about 4.5 – 5 hours drive time from where the boat picks up for Isle Royale in Grand Portage, Minnesota. That would be about the same distance from our house so we will have to look at that another time. Much of the spring and summer has been spent getting ready for our backpacking trip to Isle Royale and the time is near for all that planning to be put through the test. Often you hear that you should step outside of your comfort zone to experience life and find out more about yourself. This trip is doing that for us.
Over the past 5 months we have been researching the gear necessary along with the cost for that gear and possible alternatives and procuring that gear. This being the first backpacking trip, most of our camping equipment does not work due to weight and size. We are restricted to 40 pounds of gear for each person contained in a backpack for the boat ride to and from the island. This should be easier to accomplish on the way back as much of the food weight will be gone. There is a lot of stuff to carry on your back while hiking for miles and most of that is all in an attempt to sleep as comfortable as possible such as tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and a tarp for under the tent. Keep in mind there are 4 of us to accommodate with one of them unable to carry their weight worth of stuff so the rest of us have to pick up that weight. All of this for 3 nights camping on Isle Royale.
In an effort to be prepared for this backpacking trip we embarked on a trial run this weekend. We stayed at a county park with numerous short hiking trails in a mock hiking trip. It was a mock trip because we had our car with us and some extra camping equipment just in case. We tested our 4 person tent, sleeping pads which were made out of foam mattress pads, blankets, cooking equipment and mess kits, etc.… The tent was really tested because there were 5 people and one golden retriever. One person and the dog will be absent on Isle Royale. Surprisingly we all fit however there wasn’t much room. Our sleeping pads work well for adding warmth but offer little in the way of softening the ground. The blankets we brought didn’t keep us warm enough during a summer night and the nighttime temps on the island are expected to be a little cooler so there’s one area we need to improve in the next couple of weeks. Fortunately we had sleeping bags in the car so warmth was found.‘
On the cooking and eating front things look good. Backpacking stoves were tested in an effort to learn how to cook different foods as well as how much fuel we will need. We found foods that will work well and some that we should stay away from. There are two types of stoves in our arsenal: a gas stove and an alcohol stove. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. The gas stoves are adjustable so you can use that for foods requiring different temperatures in order to cook thoroughly or keep from overcooking. Alcohol stoves are either on or off more like a candle. You light it and it heats or the flame is out. They tend to have a wider flame to heat more evenly so are good for boiling water as long as you add enough fuel. Our alcohol stoves come from bottlestoves.com and are quite useful and durable along with made from recycled materials. The mess kits include plastic ware and storage containers that are lightweight and pack together fairly tightly so they don’t take a lot of room. They seem to fit what is needed for backpacking. We did also bring a steel knife, spoon, and spatula for cooking purposes since plastic will melt. One of the things learned in this area is to use a different metal spoon and spatula since the pots being used are Teflon coated and metal can scratch that off.
During our time camping we took 1 1/2 mile hike with backpacks loaded just to get a feel for what we’re in for on Isle Royale. All things considered, this hike went well. We traveled at about a mile an hour on average over uneven terrain. Not bad considering there are two younger kids traveling with us carrying backpacks. I’m glad we did a practice trip as there are a number of things we learned and need to make some adjustments before getting to Isle Royale. All of this for only 3 nights on the island. This better be worth it!
In place of the luxury tax on the traditional Monopoly Board, the National Parks edition has Dinner at the Ahwahnee which is located in Yosemite Valley inside the Ahwahnee Hotel. This is an upscale restaurant requiring a casual dress attire or more in order to enter and be seated. There were those wishing to dine that did not have the proper dress attire of collard shirts and long pants or a dress, skirt or slacks and blouses for the ladies who were given two choices: either borrow the proper attire from the hotel or dine elsewhere.
We had made reservations a week earlier as our schedule was tight and we wanted to be sure and fulfill this location on our board as there are no intentions of returning to Yosemite National Park before this board game is complete. As our time neared, as usual we were running a little late so I quickly made my why to the host stand to check in and let them know we were running late but were there for our reservations. The host looked at me with my t-shirt, shorts and hat just about to remind of the dress policy when I cut him off explaining that we would be late because we needed to change before being seated. Turning back towards the rest of my family we proceeded to a changing area. Many of you would call it a restroom but for us it was our changing room for the evening.
Returning to the host stand waiting to be seated the host once again asked if we had reservations to which I replied yes, gave him the name and mentioned I was the one who moments before stopped by. Surprised he said he didn’t recognize me and quickly found us a table. I guess that could be considered a good thing. Once seated we were given drinks and bread along with being introduced to our waiter George. George has been at that restaurant for 42 years and is the most senior member of their staff. It seemed fitting that we should be served by the most senior member in our efforts to complete this board.
Once inside the atmosphere was beautiful. Built with numerous windows to take in the sights of Yosemite while dining and decorated with stone and wood added to the overall experience of this park. It has been obviously updated since originally built to include electric lighting but still gives the feel of dining by candlelight for an authentic experience. A piano was softly being played to add to the ambiance of this historic dining room. During the evening we recognized many of the songs being played as the kids have practiced most of the music during their efforts to learn how to play piano.
Having looked over the menu on-line we knew ahead of time the selections available for dinner along with the hefty prices for those plates. In past experience when a meal is fairly pricey the portions are generous as well. In this case I was somewhat disappointed in the amount of food we received for the cost. Anticipated generous portion sizes we had determined ahead of time that we would share meals allowing us enough room for dessert in the end without any leftovers. Turns out we could have each had our own entrée and still had room for desert.
I indulged in the rotisserie chicken which comes in a seafood sauce. I’m not a fan of most seafood so I was living on the edge to begin with. The chicken was excellent and the sauce was to match except for the scallops and that is strictly due to the texture of scallops which I do not care for. In addition I ordered a spinach salad which was small but delicious. To end our meal we ordered a red velvet cake. This was definitely the best part of the meal! Sorry, no photos of the desert as the batteries died on the camera. We ate it to fast and didn’t think of capturing this with the camera first.
Finishing desert it was time to locate the Monopoly Board to get another property signed. I made my way back to the vehicle we were using to locate our board along with the pen to be used and hurried back. Night was fleeting and we wanted to get to the top of the mountain for the sunset and take in a clear star filled sky later. Discussing our intention of our travels with people at the host desk they suggested George be the one to sign it (it wasn’t until this moment that we were informed of his tenure at the Ahwahnee). They quickly fetched him and the board was signed. Completing our experience we explored more of the hotel and headed out to witness the end of another day.