Rollin’ Out: Colorado –> WY –> NE –> South Dakota

Day 14: Last time, I ended the post talking about our impromptu drive out of our campsite. It was a rough night for all of us but we made the best of it. Once we got to the hotel, Wilder was wide awake again and wouldn’t dare go to sleep in his pack n play so it ended up being a night of us all sleeping together anyway, just like camping! Which basically means that Chris and I each get one edge of the bed while Wilder gets to do a couple of 360’s between us throughout the night. He has nights when he barely moves and others where he twists and turns throughout, and this was the latter.

Anyway, the upside of this change of plans was that we’d at least knocked off two hours of driving, and this was our longest drive yet (6 hours) so we only had 4 hours to drive today to get to Boulder. We probably left the hotel around 10 (we all accidentally slept until 8:45 but got packed up and left right after breakfast – one of those free ones with the waffle machine!) and drove for about 1.5 hours. Wilder wasn’t in the mood for napping apparently, so we didn’t get as far as usual in the morning. Chris found a great rest stop with a visitor center, a rushing river, and plenty of grass in Eagle, CO. Wilder and I got situated and Chris went into town to find lunch for us. After two weeks on the road, we caved in and this was our very first fast food lunch. There just weren’t any other options, but once I was eating my mayonnaise-laden spicy chicken sandwich, I really didn’t care. We stayed there for about an hour, and after that it was smooth sailing to Boulder – Wilder slept the rest of the trip until we were almost at the AirBnb. The drive into Boulder after we left the rest stop was amazing – we drove through Vail and Colorado Springs and despite the fact that we were on an Interstate Highway, it was still pretty gorgeous.

Once we got to the AirBnB, we got unpacked and settled a bit, started more laundry, and walked out to get some dinner. It was nice to get out in a city and walk a little bit – something we’d not done in a while now!

After we got back and got Wilder to bed (which was relatively straightforward), we used the rest of the night to catch up on some things like email, blogging, and enjoying the cool breeze on the deck of our apartment (and since we were in Colorado, that musky pot smell on the balcony made us feel like we were in San Francisco – ha!). Oh! And we needed to figure out what we were going to do in Rocky Mountain National Park the next day ;).

Day 15: We were up around 6:30 since Wilder was in same room as us but that wasn’t too shabby! Today was the day we’d decided to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is about an hour drive from Boulder (at least to the park entrance). RMNP is VERY busy and we were warned about parking lots being full early but it was a 1.5 hour drive to the trailhead where we had planned our hike (Bear Lake). Of course we get there and just missed the last spot around 10am. Wilder was napping anyway so we just kept driving around and instead decided to do a somewhat longer hike up to Deer Mountain Summit. Found parking there easily and got going around 11:30. Things were going well at first but the hike kept getting harder (and the book promised a moderate hike!) – we were scrambling up dirt in some cases, but we kept saying “but this is the trail! look how clearly marked it is!”. As it turned out, we’d ended up taking a slight detour and wandered off the main trail at some point, and figured it out as we were carefully walking down a steep hill only to find hikers on a much more manageable, and wider, trail. No big deal – just 0.6 miles out of our way and a good 30 minutes later we were back on the trail. The real trail.

Once we got to the summit we had lunch, took a few pictures, and then made our way back down to the car. Total hiking was about 7 miles with summit at around 10,000 ft. The views up top were incredible – you could see lots of the snow capped peaks of the Rockies, the meadows below, and even the entrance station to the park where we came in. We felt the side effects of the elevation but nowhere near as intense as it was back in Yosemite – probably because we were used to hiking so much by now!

Wilder fell asleep on the way down, which was great, but also made for a questionable drive home since we knew he’d be up the whole time! We stopped by the Stanley Hotel to snap a couple of pictures (this was the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining!) and then made our way back to town. No problems until the last 15 minutes, so I call it a win! Got home, showered and ordered pizza (I’ve missed delivery food!) and enjoyed some tasty local beer from Left Hand Brewery (we are huge fans of their Milk Stout which is more widely available so it was fun to try some more beers!). We were happy to go to sleep knowing the next day was going to be extremely low key with no major driving OR hiking in sight – just a day to chill out in Boulder and take it easy.

Day 16: I’m excited to report that today was our laziest day thus far! We had no major driving or hiking to do which was a first for this venture. Chris coordinated with a friend of his from his old company who’d recently moved to Boulder, so we met up with him and his lady friend at Avery Brewing Company for lunch and beer (that should probably go without saying, since it’s a brewery, but I like to be clear). Their food was pretty awesome, but the beers were spectacular. Pretty much everyone who knew we were going to Boulder recommended this place, and now we know why! We spent the majority of the afternoon here just eating, drinking, and for the first time since we’d left SF, hanging out with someone we knew! Wilder was stoked because there were french fries and after that, an outdoor patio with some fake grass to walk around in. He’s easy to please, generally ;).

We squeezed in a quick trip to Target and a nap for Wilder, and then we strapped him in the carrier for a walk down to the Pearl Street Mall for dinner and people-watching. Since we’d eaten and drank so much already, we found a little smoothie/healthy food bowl place and took that to a nearby grassy area. While walking to said grassy area, we passed one of those kids watering things where there are water holes that spout up in the air randomly, and of course there were lots of big kids playing in it (because, well, 100 degrees and all). Wilder had to check it out and walked right on over to it and after standing there for what felt like an eternity, he walked in and stood right on top of one of the spouts, at which point he was instantly soaked. He shrieked and I thought he was upset but then he started laughing and squealing. It was pretty funny. Downside is we didn’t have a change of clothes (because we clearly didn’t expect this to happen and I like to live on the edge and not bring a change of clothes when I’m out with a child), so Chris ran into a little shop and bought a sweater to change him into for the walk home.

All in all, it was a nice relaxing day. But just to keep it interesting, Wilder decided he wanted to resist sleep and he figured he may as well scream some before finally falling asleep an hour or so later. This got us all worried (again) about his sleep for the rest of the trip since the night before wasn’t exactly awesome either – it seemed like Wilder was having so much fun being around us all the time that he has decided to get very upset when we leave him. I mean, we are pretty fun parents and all, but geez. Gonna have to figure out a solution or else we’re going to plow through the rest of the country!

Day 17: A major driving day. Our original plan since we had a decent drive today was to get to Hot Springs, SD, which was probably about 6 hours from Boulder. We were up and out by about 9:30 or so.

The first part of the drive was pretty boring – lots of freeway driving as we made our way from Colorado (goodbye!) to Wyoming. Since neither of us had been to Nebraska, we worked that in to the drive, agreeing that an extra 30 minutes or so in Nebraska was ok, since we would otherwise just be driving straight north through Wyoming (and we hung out there when we went to Yellowstone a few years ago). The difficulty in driving through Nebraska is that it is very remote in the western part of the state, and finding a good stopping point was challenging – partially because there weren’t many, but also because we didn’t have good enough service to look for much. Chris – always resourceful and a way better “Goose” than I – found a town called Scottsbluff that had a cute little sandwich/coffee shop in their downtown and around the corner there was a… wait for it… park with grass! and shade! We grabbed our food and hung out in the grass for a bit while Wilder hobbled around with his grilled cheese sandwich that primarily fed the squirrels instead of him.

After that, we continued on, and drove up Hwy 71 towards South Dakota. We were expecting a really boring drive for this section, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that this was one of the most beautiful driving days on the trip. We managed to avoid freeways and drove through a ton of farmland, and then we happened upon the Uglala National Grassland, which was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever driven through. Sure, the National Parks we’ve visited have been awesome, but this was just so unexpected! Tall green grass dancing in the wind, large rolling hills, a ton of cattle with all their little baby calves, and gorgeous blue sky the whole way. We even risked waking Wilder up from a nap to stop and snap a few pictures. I couldn’t resist, and I knew snapping them from a moving car and a bug-spattered windshield would just piss me off when my future self looked back at the pictures from this day.

As seems to be the case with this trip, there is always something that crops up to keep it interesting. I was walking back to my car after taking pictures and looked down at my frighteningly white legs (well, the bottom 1/4 is red because I wore yoga pants one day and forgot sunscreen – yay!), and they were covered in some sort of freakishly giant gnats, all of which bit me and left globs of someone’s blood on my leg after I swatted them off / killed them. Then they all proceeded to swell up to about the size of my thumb, which isn’t that big, but big for a welt from a bug bite. UGH. Imma have to get that future yard of ours treated for this type of stuff because I’m going to be really annoyed with the amount of bug bites I get. +1 in the column for moving back to SF where we don’t seem to have mosquitoes!

Moving on….

Wilder was a champ on the road today – smiling and laughing the whole time he was awake. We easily made it into Hot Springs, South Dakota but it was only something like 3 or 4 pm. We grabbed a cold brew from a cute little coffee shop in town and sat for a bit to figure out what we wanted to do. We found a couple of options for hotels in Custer, about an hour away, and decided to drive up that way for the night. But once we got through Custer, we realized we actually weren’t that far from Deadwood, SD (yes, the tv show!) so we just said screw it and drove there! Figured it would be fun to check out that little town.

Of course our luck ran out on the way there and clouds started covering the sky. Fortunately it didn’t rain for too long but it was crazy dark. We checked in at the Bullock Hotel and as we were checking in the lady asked us if we got caught in the storm. We told her just a little rain but nothing too bad, and she started telling us about the giant hail storm they just experienced! There was glass all over the floor, she said, because their skylights were shattered by baseball sized hail!! And on top of that, most of their guests who had parked out back in their lot had shattered windshields as well. Geeeeeezzzz. We’d literally avoided a major road trip setback by about 20 minutes! Luckily the rain had stopped by the time we got settled into our little room, and we made our way out for dinner and to do a little wandering around Deadwood.

We had a really great dinner at Deadwood Social Club. Wilder gobbled up some of the wild boar ragu I got and made friends with the ladies at the table behind us – as per usual. I also had a couple of very tasty Manhattans which made me pretty happy. Then we hit up a few stores for some touristy shit and even sampled some of Deadwood’s finest moonshine. We decided it was the perfect treat for Luke and Cheryl and grabbed a bottle for the road (not literally for the road, but for their place).

As for Wilder’s sleeping (I’m sure you’re dying to know), we decided to stretch it and put him down for bed later tonight, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t sleepy these last couple of days and if we just pushed it back some, it would do the trick. And it did! He was asleep in minutes after putting him to bed in the pack n play that we shoved into the bathroom.

Day 18: The morning started off without too much trouble. We found a rinky dink coffee shop and grabbed breakfast, loaded up the car, and got going around our usual time of 9:30 or so. Today was a day of lots of scenic routes as we planned to make our way back down to Custer and eventually to Mount Rushmore and then Badlands. We turned onto Highway 87 (Needles Highway) into Custer State Park and then onto Highway 16A. The views were amazing – the roads were narrow, the guard rails were nonexistent, and the viewpoints were plentiful – my kind of drive! We took our time (because it was pretty and because almost every turn was literally a hairpin turn, so not much choice) and before getting to Mount Rushmore we stopped at the State Game Lodge for lunch, some more stickers, and a little outdoor time before making the rest of the drive up 16A. It was surprisingly not that crowded on the road so we were able to go super slow and pull off to take pictures. There were these super cool one-way tunnels on the last part of the drive, and when you went through a couple of them there were views of Mount Rushmore in the distance – so cool!!

We hadn’t planned to spend a ton of time at the Mount Rushmore Monument, but we still wanted to at least get out and see it. I’m glad we did – we probably stayed for about 30 minutes – took a few pictures, grabbed another sticker, and made our way on towards Rapid City, where we’d planned to go to Dinosaur Park, this little area I’d read about that had giant dinosaur statues. I figured Wilder might enjoy it so may as well check it out. The weather had cooperated up until that point but the dark clouds slowly started creeping in and before too long it was raining again. We dug out our rain jackets and forged ahead to the dinosaurs! Wilder let out a few squeals but in all honestly there really wasn’t much to it – just 4 or 5 dinos and little plaques about each one.

Since we were supposed to go to Badlands tonight, we had to sit in the car and figure out what we were gonna do the rest of the day and if we needed a Plan B in case it continued to rain. The forecast called for rain at Badlands later that night, so we decided that we probably weren’t going to be camping, at least the first night of our reservation. We decided we’d find something in Wall after we went to Wall Drug, another touristy stop on our list that lots of people recommended. The drive to Wall was pretty boring (just down I-90) and it was finished raining by the time we got there thank goodness. We got a little cabin at Amy’s Motel and then walked over to Wall Drug, which turned out to be super super lame (aside from the donuts). We had dinner across the street and then went back to the motel/cabin for the rest of the night, with plans to get to Badlands the next day and spend one last night camping.

Hotels are always interesting with kids because there’s just one room, and little kiddos like Wilder get too excited when they wake up with their parents in the same room. I was never a big fan of co-sleeping for this reason, although I know a ton of parents keep their kids in the same bed for months. No thanks. That said, I am always more nervous about sleeping in a hotel which is why AirBnbs and even tents have been nice when it comes to bedtime. When we first walked into this little motel/cabin situation, I was thinking it would be the worst sleep ever because I couldn’t see how we’d “hide” from him. But creativity is key – we nestled that dang pack n play right into the doorway of the bathroom, just enough to shield him from us once we had the door opened too. He could still hear us, but we cranked up the white noise and kept our voices to a whisper and it worked like a charm. The difficulty came when I had to pee before bed, and I had to do some yoga-like maneuver to get up over the crib, into the tub, and then onto the toilet, at which point my head was basically IN his crib. You’re welcome for the mental image there.

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Day 19: Man. Last night, we had the BEST night of sleep on the whole trip I think. Wilder went to bed without trouble and slept all night with barely a peep out of him. And in a tiny $88 motel! Had to wake him up around 8:15. We left the hotel around 9:30 and drove over to Badlands.

Badlands was really cool. I’ve had trouble explaining how incredible these places are other than saying awesome and cool but I suppose I’m at a loss for words! This park is so different from the rest we’ve visited – lots or grass and prairie land and then all of a sudden you see buttes and spires and these beautifully colored mini-mountains. We did a hybrid hike and went through most of the Castle Trail but then looped around on the Medicine Root Loop. Total hiking was about 8 miles. It was pretty flat and although it was hot, it was breezy in some places too. Wilder took a couple of short naps along the way and we had our usual PB&J lunches at Saddle Pass while we admired the views a little more.

After our hike, we made a quick sticker-buying stop at the Visitor Center and grabbed a snack and beer at the Lodge Restaurant (even grabbed a $20 bottle of South Dakota wine for camp!), and then made our way to our campsite for the day. The campsite was absolutely perfect! It was smack in the middle of the park with awesome views of the mountains. Hung out around our site and made a weirdo dinner of leftover potatoes and baked beans – mmm mmm. Wilder had more admirers and a family came by to visit (from Minnesota!) while we were setting up our tent.

Things were going well at camp until it was time to get Wilder ready for bed. I was sitting outside the tent feeding him in my warm PJ longjohns (that also seemed to keep the mosquitoes out) when all of a sudden my crotch got super warm. It was confusing at first since I hadn’t experienced this in a while, but then I realized that I was getting peed on. Yay! I guess this kid had wiggled around too much and his diaper had slid off one side of his butt, so that was awesome. Then Chris went to get him ready for bed at which point we realized that he had also taken the most massive shit of his life. Fortunately getting him to go to sleep went ok…but still. Always keeping it interesting!

Meanwhile, the sunset was spectacular. It was nice to sit down and admire the views for a little bit – we were almost halfway finished with this adventure, and this was the last planned night of National Park hiking/camping, so I was happy to be able to sit and soak it in a little before calling it a night.

Day 20: There isn’t much to report for today than lots of driving! Had a pretty good last night of camping and got up around 6:30, left at 9. Since we cross time zones it was essentially 10am. We’d planned to drive halfway to Luke and Cheryls in Rochester MN today since the whole drive was 7.5 hours but we were doing some research and realized there’s absolutely nothing to do in Sioux Falls (we’ll, nothing we wanted to do and nothing super fun for Wilder) so we just decided to plan to drive the whole way and bail out if things went south.

The thought of waking up tomorrow at their place rather than another hotel room sounded pretty good, and Wilder generally cooperated so we just plowed through Eastern South Dakota and Western Minnesota and made it to their place around 8pm after a few rest stops, gas stops, and a late lunch/Park stop in Sioux Falls.

Wilder was STOKED to see their cats, and they actually let him pet them! He was in heaven. I knew he was going to be pretty happy for the next few days, as were we! It already felt good to be somewhere familiar, knowing we had some relaxation ahead of us for the week.

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Rollin’ Out – Bryce Canyon –> Arches

Back at it again! Continuing on with the day-by-day recount of activities on this giant adventure. I left you in the last post with our final full day in Zion National Park.

Day 9: We packed up our things slowly this morning to leave Zion for Bryce Canyon. The drive was only a couple of hours and we hadn’t made any other plans that day, so we weren’t in a rush and could easily time the trip around a nap and lunch. We left around 9:30 and said goodbye to our neighbors. They were some of the best camp neighbors you could ask for! It made me realize just how important your neighbors are to your stay while doing family camping. Wilder was so happy to have people to play with and it was really fun chatting with them every morning and night to hear about each other’s day. It made me sorta sad to not be camping at Bryce like we’d originally planned – we made the decision back at the shitty Death Valley hotel to cancel our campground reservations for Bryce in order to get a few days break from camping in case Wilder continued to not sleep so well. As it turns out, we would have been fine, but ultimately it was still nice to have a little more space, some air conditioning, and a place to do laundry without using up my quarters! Not to mention, a full night’s sleep without having to get up once or twice to nurse.

After an uneventful drive, we got to the AirBnB and immediately started our giant bag of laundry. Since we still had most of the afternoon left, we decided to drive down Highway 12 a bit to check it out. We’d heard it was a pretty epic drive, but weren’t sure we’d have the time to add it in on our way to Arches since the drive was already 4.5 hours. Anyway, we drove down it for about an hour and stopped at a little spot called the Kiva Koffeehouse. This little spot was a real treasure – for those of you familiar with Big Sur area in California, imagine a “Nepenthe” in the middle of Utah and that’s what this was. Beautiful views, hippie feel to it, and something that looked like it was built around the natural landscape/mountainside. I snapped a few pictures and ordered our drinks while Chris waited in the car with sleeping Wilder – too bad we couldn’t all go in but we’ve learned the dangers of waking him up from a deep car nap when we still have a long drive ahead of us. We did not risk it ;).

Anyway after that we headed back home for the night, got Wilder a nice long bath, he walked around the house about 30 times, and we made plans for our first full day exploring Bryce Canyon.

Day 10: It felt good to wake up in a bed with a full night of sleep and no one tapping on my head at 6am. We took our time getting out of the house and made it to Bryce around 10 or so. Bryce was nowhere near as busy as Zion, which meant that parking wasn’t an issue and we weren’t required to take the shuttle service. Chris had picked out a great overview hike for us on our first day, so we parked at Fairyland Point and proceeded to hike the “easy” Rim Trail from there to Bryce Point. The entire hike was about 6 miles, then we’d take the shuttle back most of the way, but we’d have to walk back to Fairyland Point on our own, so ultimately we had a 9 mile day ahead of us IF we decided to go the whole way. If we didn’t, we could drive the rest of the route the next day and see any viewpoints we’d miss if we weren’t up to hiking.

Things were going well on the hike. The hike ended up being a little more difficult than we expected (but man, the views!!), and Wilder was starting to get a little fussy/hungry, so we decided we’d stop at Inspiration Point, which gave a great view of the area and the hike we’d planned the following day, and we’d drive up to Bryce Point the next day. We hoofed it up to Inspiration Point and snapped a few pictures amidst some whining from a disinterested freeloader, and made our way back down to a little bench where I could feed Wilder somewhat inconspicuously and then we’d eat lunch and hike/shuttle back. Chris put the pack down, turned it around and low and behold – this kid has passed out in the 10 minutes it took us to get down. So quick change of plans (we’d gotten good at this!) and we decided to go back up to Inspiration Point and finish the hike at Bryce Point after all. By the time we made it there, Wilder was awake and we all sat and ate our PB&Js, took the shuttle back to the Visitor Center where we grabbed our Bryce sticker for our cargo box, and then we all happily hiked back to Fairyland Point. All in all, it was a great first day at Bryce and the park was absolutely gorgeous AND we felt pretty good about hiking 9 miles that day – more than we’d planned to do on any day with a little in tow! Zion was large and vast, but Bryce was much more accessible and consolidated. The hoodoos were really neat – Bryce was a park I’d seen pictures of many times, but seeing it up close and personal was otherworldly. I was excited to get down into the canyon the next day.

We got back to the AirBnB mid-afternoon afternoon which meant that Wilder actually got a second nap, and one in his pack n play – a first for this journey! Chris had found a surprisingly nice restaurant in the town we were staying in, so we decided we’d skip the camp-style homemade meal for the night and actually go out to dinner at Stone Hearth Grille. It certainly wasn’t the relaxing meal most of the couples were enjoying since Wilder was not in the mood to sit still (I swear, once he started walking he has done everything he can to get out of all seats), but luckily there was a family at a table nearby and they were quite interested in Wilder just like he was in them. So at least he got the attention he was used to, and we were able to eat and have a glass of wine – the rest of the bottle came back home with us (thank you Utah law!) to finish after his bedtime.

Day 11: Our hike today in Bryce Canyon was exactly what I had imagined Bryce Canyon to be. We had a leisurely breakfast at the AirBnB (instant pancakes! just add water!) and hopped on over to the park to start a highly recommended hike. Chris’ parents had hiked a similar trail a few years ago, and our National Parks book had also recommended this hike. Let me say here that my preferred way of hiking is to do the hard part first and then finish up with some nice downhill… but this was the opposite. We started at Sunset Point and proceeded to hike down the Navajo Trail to Wall Street (the only slot canyon in Bryce). A lot of people take the Navajo Trail back up, which isn’t really that bad, but it’s a bunch of short switchbacks and it’s super hot. We saw plenty of inexperienced hikers run out of water, coveting any semblance of shade they could find to cool off on the way back up. Instead, we had lunch at the bottom (our typical peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which Wilder has grown to love as well!), and then took the Queens Garden Trail back up to the top. This made for a more gradual ascent, even though it was a little bit longer in terms of actual hiking. I think our total mileage that day was somewhere around 3-4 miles with only a few hundred feet of elevation gain. It was still just as hot as our previous days in Bryce and Zion with temperatures easily into the high 90’s, so we made sure we all had plenty of water and we took our time getting back to the top of the trail.

The pictures (above) are some we took while down in the canyon but as usual, the pictures can’t begin to clearly articulate how freaking awesome these parks really are in person. As for Wilder, he was wide awake during this entire hike, as we’d gotten a good car nap in prior to starting the hike since we drove all the way down to the end of Bryce to Rainbow Point, and then back to the trailhead. He thought this one was pretty awesome too, and as usual he made lots of friends along the way. We finished up the day of hiking by stopping at the General Store for a few groceries and some soft serve ice cream outside, then we made our way back to the AirBnB at which point Wilder got one more nap in, and we had a simple dinner there while we packed and figured out a game plan for our 5 hour drive the next day to Arches National Park.

Day 12: Even though we already did a good portion of the Hwy 12 drive the first day we got to Bryce, we ultimately decided to do the whole thing after reading about the parts we’d missed on the other side of Kiva Koffeehouse. So we were up and out of the AirBnB by about 8 that day. Our plan was to get an hour of driving out of the way while Wilder was awake and cheerful, and we’d stop at the coffee shop (again!) on the way out for breakfast and a chance for him to walk around some more before a longer stretch of driving.

This went as well as we could have imagined it! The drive to the coffee shop was awesome, just as it was earlier in the week, but the second half of it was even better! This part went primarily through the Dixie National Forest. This drive was breathtaking. There were lots of spots with free roaming cattle which completely cracked us up, and there were plenty of view points along the way to get a few pictures of the landscape. It was pretty cool to see the change in scenery from the red rocks of Bryce and up to 10,000 feet elevation or so where there is lots of greenery. We even had time to get to the freeway before Wilder woke up, which was further than we’d anticipated! You have to time these drives around naps, and on top of that you have to make sure that when he does wake up, that you can stop if you need to, which is sometimes dicey depending on where you are. In this case, Wilder woke up smiling so we kept driving a little further, and made it about 4 hours before stopping for lunch and a park. Chris found a really cool taco truck that had taken over an old gas station parking lot in a town called Green River. We were lucky to find a small park literally across the street where we took our food and hung out for an hour or so to stretch our legs and let Wilder wander around and “get his steps in”.

Our final destination for the day was a campsite at Dead Horse Point State Park, which is about 30 minutes from Arches and maybe another 10 from the town of Moab, the “hub” of the area. Since we had to go to Moab anyway to get groceries for cooking the next two nights, AND since we’d made such good time on the way in, we decided to cash in our good fortune and drive slightly outside of Moab to squeeze in a winery! The drive there was along the outside of Arches National Park which was spectacular. Unfortunately we got there and learned that Utah passed a “no one under 21 allowed in tasting rooms” law so we couldn’t do the tasting but instead went to their little bar at the nearby hotel since they carried their wine. It was not good. Fortunately I chose wisely and went for a beer anyway, but Chris suffered through a subpar glass of wine. Not that we had high expectations for Utah wine…. but still. Sort of a bummer considering it was an extra hour of driving.

After our wine “adventure” we made it back into Moab where we stopped at a hipster grocery store (like Rainbow in SF – this place also didn’t have any bags so I had to walk out balancing bottles and raw chicken like a juggler) and then we drove up to Dead Horse Point State Park (wtf with the name?!) to camp.

Our site was really great view-wise but we both whined a little because you have to walk in 100 yards or so with all your crap. That isn’t fun with a toddler wanting to jump in cacti. But we managed after a failed attempt to change our site at registration. The guy babbled for a few minutes in what I thought was an answer and then he said, “wait. What was your question?” I think he must have just finished a can of whippits or something because he was totally weird. Or maybe that’s just what happens after working at a state park booth all day – you sort of freak out when you have to talk to a human….

Anyway, we sucked it up and went to our campsite to unpack around 6. Given we’ve camped five nights now, we are pretty much pros at this, so we both got to work at our respective tasks and pretty soon we had the tent ready and a dinner of chicken and mac n cheese. Meanwhile, Wilder was sufficiently covered in red sandstone and happy to be in the dirt again!

The campsite was relatively quiet after 9:30 or so and the campsites were further apart than at Zion, so we didn’t make any friends here, but we also didn’t piss anyone off during bedtime, so it was overall a wash ;). We were happy to get to sleep at a reasonable time and were excited to have a day ahead of us in Arches!

Day 13: I keep saying this, but these Utah National Parks are so freaking amazing. Arches was no different. I made another batch of pancakes for breakfast and then we made our way to Arches for what would hopefully be a couple of hikes. We’d heard the parking at Arches was slightly more difficult than Bryce, so we weren’t sure we’d get spots at the trailheads, but we were hopefully early enough to get lucky. We figured if we didn’t get a spot at one trailhead, we’d just find the other one and hike in a reverse order.

Aaaannnnd success! Our first trailhead was crowded, but we still got a spot. This was the hike we were pretty set on doing so that worked out perfectly. We parked, got all our gear and sunscreen on, and made our way to Delicate Arch. This was the kind of hike I enjoyed – one you could see your destination (or at least the high point) on the way, knowing the trip back would be much more straightforward. You could see a lot of the hike ahead of you – the slickrock as they called it resembled some of the granite hikes you’d encounter at Yosemite, but fortunately not as steep! Plus, this hike was one of the more popular ones in Arches, so there was always someone to follow on the trail. Once we arrived at the arch, Chris and I decided to take turns going over to the arch for our pictures underneath it. It wasn’t exactly dangerous (there were a ton of kids and families going), but we didn’t feel comfortable taking an excited and roudy toddler in a backpack over there, so we settled for separate pictures of each of us. Again – responsible parent decision ;). After our pictures, we had a quick lunch and made our way back to the car to get to our second hike of the day. The hike to Delicate Arch was only about 3 miles and a few hundred feet of elevation gain so we definitely had more gas in the tank!

As you can probably tell from the pictures, Chris carried Wilder most of the time on the hikes. I think he liked the attention :). For the second hike we did today, I carried Wilder, at which point I found a new appreciation for the difficulty of carrying a child in a backpack. Once you add the weight of said child + the weight of the pack, it’s pretty much like backpacking, which is something I haven’t done in, oh, two years at least. Fortunately the hike we planned here was pretty short – we got a stellar parking spot and hiked a mile or so in to see Landscape Arch, and then turned around, hiking about 2 miles for this one over a relatively flat terrain. Even so, my feet were aching by the time we finished!

And even after two hikes, we still had some time left in the day! We hopped over to Moab for a snack and beer at Moab Brewery, then drove to a lookout point at Dead Horse Point State Park to check out some view of the nearby canyons – totally amazing and something I didn’t even expect to see on this trip. Someone nearby said, “the Grand Canyon has nothing on this place.” I sort of agreed – the color changes were incredible, and it sorta reminded me of Waimea Canyon on Kauai. After that, we got back to camp, I made tacos, and then we got ready for bed.

Here’s where things take a dicey turn.

What should have been a regular bedtime for Wilder ended up being a pretty disastrous night, unfortunately. I did my regular nighttime feeding, then put him in the tent to go to sleep. He cried and cried. I thought he was asleep and then about 45 minutes later he was crying/screaming again. I went in the tent to feed him again (sometimes he gets distracted when there is a lot going on so he ends up still hungry) and at that point he was ready to play, jumping around in the tent like it was a freaking 5 year old’s bounce house party. After over 2 hours of trying to get this child to sleep, we both decided it was time to just call it. We packed up the tent, threw everything in the car, and left for Boulder at 10:30pm. We knew we wouldn’t make it too far, but were determined to get him to sleep some, and figured we may as well cover some ground in the process! We ended up stopping about 2 hours out in Grand Junction where we found a decent hotel.

Not a great way to end the post, but this is reality! It isn’t always rainbows and sunshine on the road. We do our best, and 95% of the time, things are awesome, but there are certainly exceptions. Like I mentioned in the first post, you have to learn to roll with the punches, and know that overall, you’re having loads of fun, even though some moments are real downers. This night was pretty rough, but all in all, we were still on vacation, and all we had to do the next day was get to Boulder, so we kept that in mind.

Next up – Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, and South Dakota!!

Rollin’ Out: Yosemite–>DeathValley–>Zion

Ok, so we left last week. We’re now in Utah! It’s been a pretty incredible adventure so far. As it turns out, I haven’t had a ton of time to devote to writing here, but I want to get something posted just to document some of the highlights, so I’ll try to write here every few days with a quick summary and some pictures.

Here we go!

Day 1: We got a bag of burritos, drove outta San Francisco, and made our way to Oakland to meet Vivi and Robin’s 4-day-old baby, Marianna! Omagod she is so adorable and those two are like total parenting pros already. It’s impressive. I’m SO glad this little babe was born in time for us to meet her and I can’t wait to see more updates over the weeks and months. We said our goodbyes to the new parents (yes, I cried…because that’s what I do) and then we drove on and stayed with Liz & Kevin in Livermore. They literally got back from vacation that day (I mean, we got to their house in time to do laundry and get groceries before they even got there!). It was awesome spending a night with them to catch up from the last few weeks. Wilder and Ethan are starting to really love hanging out together.

Day 2: Liz, Kevin, Eva (sort of!) and Ethan all saw us off on Thursday after lunch. I cried a lot. I honestly just couldn’t keep my shit together. For one – we will miss these guys so much. And for two – it was official that we were leaving. Even though we left San Francisco the day before, leaving this group was the moment it really sunk in for me. June 14th had finally arrived, and there was no turning back. I hated leaving not knowing when we’d see them again, but I have my fingers crossed that it won’t be that long.

Once we left, we got off to a great start in terms of the road trip, and Wilder slept the whole 2 hours to Yosemite Pines Resort. This was a little cabin we got near Yosemite so we could get up and find a campsite first thing the next morning (fortunately we didn’t have to do that as I scored a last minute rez last week online!). We got settled in to our little cabin and walked down to the petting zoo which tickled Wilder to pieces, except when the llama spit on him. Ha! For dinner we headed into Groveland and got some sorta ok Mexican food, but that was basically our only option.

Day 3: Not too bad a night’s sleep for a hot tiny cabin. We had a quick breakfast (toasted english muffins!) and got showered in the bathrooms nearby. For whatever reason, I keep thinking about the “worst thing that can happen” on this trip and today I thought it had already occurred – I “lost” my car keys and Chris had his IN the car – not helpful!! This was NOT how we wanted to start this road trip. Fortunately, they were just sitting underneath one of our thousand bags on this dark plaid patterned bed. This fact did not reveal itself until after I’d already ran down to the check-in area and asked if anyone turned them in and once I learned that they hadn’t, I then proceeded to figure out the Plan B of how we’d get into the car without any keys – not an easy feat when in Yosemite. Chris will forever make fun of me for this, because I was seriously convinced that this little Asian lady had stolen them when I left them at the sink to go poop. She did not. (Don’t tell him, but I even checked through the trash can in the bathroom because I thought she may have maliciously thrown them there – wtf is my problem?! Imma chalk that all up to vacation stress and call it a day.)

Anyway, so once we got packed, we drove about an hour to Yosemite Valley, found a decent parking spot, and hiked most of the way up to Vernal Fall. It was glorious and Wilder had a blast! We hadn’t used our Osprey pack in a while with him, but were thrilled to discover he was just as happy in it as he was the time we used it a few weeks ago. This was a pretty good feeling, considering we were planning on having him spend a decent amount of time in it. The trail itself got pretty wet and steep the closer we got to the top, so as smart responsible parents, we stopped and turned around (were we child-less, we would have definitely done it – we will say this many times on this trip, I know already). It felt good to clock about 6 miles on our first day and we were all happy at the end!

We then drove up to Tuolomne Meadows where we scored a campsite reservation for the next two nights. At check-in the guy said they had a “nice site” for us, which was a flat out lie. It was super shitty – muddy with a thousand mosquitoes. I hate mosquitoes – because they love me so much. We made a quick dinner which ended up being a long dinner because there wasn’t a good system for washing (#bearcountry) and I ended up cheating and washing dishes in the bathroom because I didn’t have a wash basin…

This was our first official night camping in a tent with Wilder, and so far, it has been the worst of all (I guess it’s good to get that over with?). He fell asleep easily and on his own, but when we went in, he was down at the end of the tent and I was overly paranoid about the cold weather. I made the horrible, horrible mistake of moving him up to sleep beside me at which point he woke up screaming bloody murder. I probably had to feed/nurse him 5 times that night to shut him up, and we got practically no sleep at all.

Day 4: We were determined to make this a good day and to move past our sleep issues from the night before. Of course, Chris was already being Debbie Downer about camping with Wilder since we had a decent amount of camping reservations lined up, but we both agreed to see how the next night went before making any changes to our plans.

After we got going, we hiked out of our campsite and went most of the way up to Cathedral Lake. The 8k elevation was killing us and probably the lack of sleep too! So we turned around about 2 miles from the lake. Still a good day of hiking and Wilder officially fell asleep IN the pack, which I wasn’t sure he’d do given his constant need to see everything. We’d decided not to worry as much about naps on this trip as we (I) usually do, so we used today as a test day to see what happened if we just went out and did our thing. He got a good hour in – not as much as he usually naps in a day, but we weren’t going to complain.

After we got down to Tuolumne Meadows, we had a tasty cold beer outside and then an early dinner at the grille (the same one Jennifer and I ate at on our JMT hike!!!) to avoid cooking in bear country. Once again Wilder went to sleep on his own and we crossed our fingers that the night would be better.

It was. The night… at least!

Day 5: So yeah, Wilder slept pretty quietly but as soon as we were getting excited about it, here comes 5am when the sun comes up and he is wide awake screaming again. I am convinced that the cold bothered him (despite having him in his regular footed PJs + a down snowsuit that he HATED) but we’ll never really know. Or maybe he just wasn’t a fan of the tent at first and it took getting used to? Or the elevation? Regardless, there was no amount of the boobs that would get him to calm down, so after Chris and I quietly yelled at one another, we finally decided to get in the car and drive. We all climbed out of the tent in our PJs, got the car cranked, and took off. Meanwhile, the youngsters next to us who were sleeping in their van were up by this time and glaring at us. We didn’t make any friends there, that’s for sure.

But we turned lemons into lemonade! ha ha ha. Chris found a diner (thank you offline Google maps) about 30 minutes away and it was a great side trip to Mono Lake for some views and pancakes. In our PJs – did I already mention that? Then we drove back to camp, got packed up, and took off mid-morning for our 4.5-hour drive to Death Valley.

This drive was splendid. It was really humbling to see the ranges of mountains I’d climbed just 3 years ago, but from the road! We even stopped in Lone Pine for lunch (where Mt Whitney, the end of the JMT, is) and had lunch at the same spot where we all ate the day after our giant walkabout (Alabama Hills Cafe).  Then we spent some outdoor time in the nearby park before finishing our drive to Death Valley.

Now, Death Valley. Getting down to the valley was a real butt-clincher. I was terrified during that drive and I swore I was in a board on Mario Kart. There was even a car in front of us that literally stopped IN THE ROAD while a car was coming on the other side. It was cool scenery and all, but boy was I glad to finally get to our hotel – even if it was the shittiest of all shitty hotels (note – never stay in a hotel that is undergoing renovations). Whatever though – all we cared about was a night in a bed with Wilder in his pack n play. Oh, and “free” ice. Oh, and Wilder getting to practice his walking some more – I think he was upset in Yosemite that he couldn’t walk around much, so when we put him down in the hotel, he took off and walked until he fell asleep.

Day 6: It was great to get a good night’s sleep in a bed. Now, let me tell you – the mat we have in the tent is great (ExPed Duo), but it’s loud, and you have to make sure your toddler child has enough space too AND doesn’t wake up when you need to readjust after your leg goes dead, so a bed is just, well, luxurious. We squeezed the pack n’ play into the bathroom, so with Wilder in another “room” than us, it meant he’d sleep all night and not get up until 7:30, instead of waking up shortly after sunrise, either screaming or wanting to play (see future posts).

Ok, so today we had to get to Zion National Park where we had reservations for 3 nights at Zion River Resort, an RV/tent campground. It took us pretty much all day, despite leaving around 10 for a 4-hour drive. This is when driving across the country with a toddler becomes challenging – the crying…the crying…the crying. We made it to Las Vegas at which point we had to pull into a gas station so I could feed him, and we just sat in the dang lot for 30 minutes. Then we drove through Vegas (which is, in my opinion, quite lame) and ended up having lunch near some race track before hitting the road. We then made it another hour or so and had to stop again, at which point we hung out at rest stop at the AZ/UT border for another 30 minutes. After a stop at Target for some forgotten items (can opener!) and a few groceries, we finally made it to the resort around 6, at which point we quickly set up camp and had dinner. Wilder immediately took off, walking around on rocks and grass – things he hadn’t been too excited about until now. The downside? He also liked “eating” the rocks. They were small pebbles that were the perfect grab-able size to put in his mouth – so every time he was hanging out on the rocks (which was a lot since that’s where our tent and table was), a rock would go into his mouth and a few seconds later he’d spit it out. Rinse and repeat. After a few times of doing this, we stopped worrying about him choking since he was clearly doing it for fun and not really to eat them. Still weird. And gross. By the end of our trip, our campsite had the cleanest rocks on site ;).

Given we’d also lost an hour due to entering Mountain time zone, Wilder probably went to sleep around 9:30 instead of his usual 8, but he was so pumped there was nothing that was gonna change that! He had a friend next door (a 5 year old girl named Mia) and lots of room to walk – what more could you ask for?!

Day 7: Thank freaking goodness this first night of camping here went swimmingly. Wilder slept all night and woke up around 6, but this time he wasn’t screaming. He was happy, smiling, and bapping us on the head to wake up. That’s the Wilder I know! We happily got up at 6 (much better than 5, although it was actually 5 in Pacific time, but ssshhhh!!!), made breakfast, and starting figuring out our day.

Zion is a very busy place. We drove into the town right outside the park (about 20 minutes from resort) and walked into the park because you have to take the free shuttle to get to destinations. The part we hadn’t planned was that the wait for the shuttle at 10am was over an hour. And it was already like 90 outside. UGH. We made the best of it – talked to some folks in line, bought our requisite Zion sticker for our cargo box, and finally got on the shuttle. Now, try keeping a 13 month old who’s been in a backpack for an hour still on a 30 minute shuttle ride. Fortunately he was hungry so I fed him most of the time, but still.

Anyway, we finally got to the end to do the River Walk trail which was a couple of miles and pretty easy, and then waded in the water into The Narrows for a bit before we decided the rocks were too unstable to keep going. It was pretty fun, and since we were in water, Wilder was totally excited.

I didn’t get to see much of the park on the shuttle ride in the morning, but the afternoon trip back was pretty spectacular. Zion is a beautiful place – and definitely a “we’re not in California anymore” realization as the granite in Yosemite was replaced by the red rocks in Zion. Equally amazing, but so so different.

We headed back towards camp at which point Wilder promptly fell asleep in the car – surprise! He had a small nap on the way in and while we were getting ready once parked that morning, so he was due for a good one. Rather than waking him up after 15 minutes, we detoured and went up to see the Kolob Reservoir area, which is essentially another entrypoint into Zion that is less traveled. It was a pretty sweet drive and allowed for a nice 1.5 hour nap. Then we got back to camp, made dinner, hung out in the grass for a while and called it a night.

Day 8: While the second night at camp wasn’t as amazing as the first, Wilder still woke up happy. The difficulty with camping with little ones is that, when they wake up at night, you can’t necessarily do like you do at home. If Wilder wakes up at home or in a hotel, for example, he might cry/whimper for about 5 minutes, and he’ll put himself back to sleep. Well, five minutes is enough to wake up the whole campground, so you have to just give in and quiet him quickly – which in this case, means I have to nurse him back to sleep – something I haven’t had to do in a while now. But we knew this would happen, so we just rolled with it. And he slept in until about 6:30, which was an improvement!

Chris did most of our hike planning, and had found a cool 5-mile or so hike on the Kolob Canyon side of the park (another less-visited area), but as we pulled up to the entrance, there was a giant “closed” sign – apparently they were doing updates to the area this summer. Whoops. So instead of that, we quickly decided to check out the tunnel that leads to the East side of Zion. We had a minor ‘run out of gas’ freakout, and rather than sitting in a super long line to head back through the tunnel, we drove on to the next town and got gas, then ate lunch at Thunderbirds, a restaurant Chris’ parents recommended. Food was great, but the best part was that Wilder had a little fan club there. A family ooohed and aahhed over him on the way in and once we were seated, they were right beside us. So we spent the entire meal watching them flirt with Wilder and he just giggled and squealed the whole time. They came up afterwards and gushed over him some more and as usual, he was totally enamored with the new people smiling at him.

On the way back in to Zion there was parking available at one of the hikes we wanted to do, so we grabbed a spot and tossed Wilder into the backpack and went on our way! This was a relatively easy up and down hike to Canyon Overlook, which had some of the most beautiful views of the park. We took lots of pictures and had a grand ol’ time. I’d definitely recommend this little hike to anyone going to Zion – not too much elevation gain, rails in the areas that looked a little sketchy, and a hike that doesn’t involve a shuttle through the park – win!

We made our way back through the park and stopped at the weird little place called Fort Zion to check out the wares, and to enter the petting zoo where we got to feed a llama – this one didn’t spit at us.

We took it easy for the rest of the night and Wilder got to play with his friend Mia a little when we got back to camp.

Side note: A lot of people think we are absolutely crazy for going on a 6 week road trip with a toddler. I agree, sometimes, and during those first few days at Yosemite and the 2 long drives afterwards, I was wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into! But around today was when we really hit our stride, I think. We had a routine at camp, we’d figured out how to work the drives to and from places into a car nap (with very little effort!), and we absolutely learned to roll with the punches and not make a big deal about anything. So far, that’s really my biggest piece of advice – don’t get too set on any one thing – just know that no matter what you do each day that it’s going to be pretty epic – and just be happy to have the opportunity to do it ;).

Next up – Bryce, Arches, and then we’re off to Boulder!

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

IGZIeqSZTLSzFtZnqbDRMgI promised I’d try to write a little here and there while we were on our road trip, so here goes Post #1. Let’s hope it’s not 1 of 1!

It’s been about a week since we left San Francisco. It was emotional, but that probably goes without saying. It sucked. Last Monday (6/11), we watched our belongings get loaded into a truck, piece by piece. It’s weird – this event that you completely and totally planned, that you paid for no less, and then when it’s happening you feel so helpless. They just take everything! It’s so sad. And then you’re left with this empty home that used to be so vibrant.

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This is the home we were so happy in. We did renovations here! We don’t do stuff like that. We put up a backsplash. We added a bathroom (okay, we paid someone else to do that). Geez ya’ll – this is the home where my water broke and three days later, it’s the home we brought a baby into without a clue as to what to do with him. I will never forget those moments. And if that isn’t enough, we watched that tiny baby turn into a walking little boy. He took his very first steps here. No other place will have these experiences – all of these firsts. It’s hard to leave a home with those sorts of memories.

It’s hard to leave San Francisco.

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But we did. And now, we’re on the road having the time of our lives. Camping, driving, hiking, crying (mainly Wilder on this one), meeting lots of people along the way, and creating a ton of new memories as we journey to our new/old home in North Carolina.

I’ll stop here and start #2 with the trip itself ;).

 

In Transition

I feel like we’ve been in this transition process for years already, but nope, it’s only been a few months.

The planning is pretty intense.

For starters, our house is a mess. I guess that helps it feel a little less like home, to be honest, but I can’t say I enjoy staring at a bike rack that should live in the attic. We’ve been tackling project after project since April – some are small things here and there to get our flat on the market, some are things to get us ready to move across the country, and some are road trip/packing projects. The house projects are the worst – as is always the case, every small project turns into something bigger. You think you’re just gonna hop over to the nearest paint store to buy paint for the deck, but the paint was special mixed years ago and no one can do that anymore, the “match” doesn’t match, and then after 5 trips to the paint store you realize you’re painting the whole deck anyway (neighbors too) so you finally just say ‘what the hell’ and get a different color altogether. But then the guy painting it ran out twice and you end up going back for more and then the store runs out and you have to wait a few days for the last gallon and then finally, sweet Jesus, it’s really done. That sorta stuff has been par for the course over here, folks. But man, it looks great! Shoulda painted it a couple of years ago, but whatevs.

Then there’s moving. What do we need for our trip? What do we need when we get to NC? What can go in storage until we buy a house? And it’s not just Chris and me anymore – what does Wilder need from now until we settle and get our stuff out of storage? What toys will he want now, what will he grow out of while it’s in storage, and what clothes need to be with us versus available when we get to NC versus ok to pack for 6 months or longer? And by the way, this kid is an official toddler now – walking all over the place – so that’s great timing right before we stick him in a car for 3,000 miles. Oh! and we have cats too, you know. They don’t just walk across the country. And they can’t road trip with us in a hatchback. So when do we fly them out and how do we time it just right so they settle in a little bit at their grandparents’ house, but don’t stay so long they forget us?

I’ll be impressed with all three of us if no one ends up with any major damage by the end of this.

In some ways, I’m so ready for Phase 2 (road trip) to start and to get out of our house. Sure – it means we’re also leaving San Francisco when that happens. But I’m ready. For the most part, I’m ready. Ok, I’m not ready. But it’s inevitable – we’ve made this choice, our cats and 6 cases of wine are all at my in-laws’ house (and they get to keep NEITHER of them. You hear me, Barry?! Chris inventories the wine.). Movers pack tomorrow and load on Monday. We canceled swim class. We don’t have daycare anymore, and those wait lists are months long. There really is no turning back, essentially. And we’d have to be finding some jobs real soon if we were staying here. Minor detail, but this city ain’t cheap.

So yeah, let’s get this show on the road (bah dum ching!). Let’s get the car loaded, let’s say a few more goodbyes, let’s finish those 4 bottles of wine, let’s cry and cry and cry as we walk down our stairs and outside one last time, and (fingers crossed!) let’s have just enough time for some snuggles from Vivi’s much-anticipated baby that is being super stubborn.

I’m ready. Reading to get camping, driving, hiking, and exploring the country with my loves. I’m ready. to. roll.

But really, I’m not.

Chapter 7 and Chapter 8

It’s been a really long time since I wrote here. I mean a really long time. Jennifer and I hijacked what was once my food blog (yes! I used to cook! a lot!) and wrote about our John Muir Trail adventures for a while, but after that things went silent.

So why write another post after a year-long hiatus? It’s time to revisit those posts I wrote a while back about Chapters in life. Let me catch you up real quick. Detailed more here and here, for reference.

Chapter 1: My childhood and some college. Oldies but goodies for sure (1980-2000).

Chapter 2: The year my brother died and then the following year, I flew away to Italy. This one was really shitty, but the hole it left in my heart caused a giant pivot in my life that I will forever be grateful for, and the memories of my brother live on each and every day (2000-2001).

Chapter 3: The years following Italy when Chris and I found each other, decided we were (both) in love, moved in together, and lived happily for a few years in North Carolina finishing college and figuring out our next steps together (2002-2004).

Chapter 4: Graduate school in Chicago. There was so much booze involved that I probably don’t remember a lot of this timeframe (2004-2006).

Chapter 5: Chicago. We got married, started our careers, snuggled on our cats, and fell in love again, but this time with a city. We spent many good years in Chicago, and that city will always hold a very special place in my heart (2006-2011).

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Chapter 6: San Francisco. The whole point of writing about these Chapters was to officially document our move west in 2011. Chris’ career brought us here, and we moved all of our belongings, our two cats, and our open hearts and minds to California. We were nervous, but excited. We knew it was going to be a huge change but hey, we’d done that before.

We absolutely LOVE San Francisco. We love the weather (usually), we love the scenery, we love that we fell in love with the outdoors and started hiking and backpacking, and we love the friends we’ve made along the way. We appreciate the diversity, the acceptance of all people no matter what. I enjoy seeing “the naked man” out walking on a cold windy day, and I enjoy laughing at the tourists staring at him in disbelief. We adore our condo, the one we spent our life savings on – but it’s truly home – more than anywhere we’ve ever lived. This is where we feel safe, happy, and complete. We’ve both taken chances in our careers, changed jobs, taken risks that have sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. But we learned every step along the way and we have supported each other through it all.

In San Francisco, I had to say goodbye to the one thing I’ve had my entire adult life – my beloved Tangerine. If there was only one animal for each person in life, I can rest assured that I certainly found mine. She was the fluffiest, handsomest ball of sorbet-orange fur out there, and I swear she loved me just as much as I loved her. As we shared a mutual love for bacon, the one up-side to her death is that I get more bacon nowadays.

Last but certainly not least, San Francisco is where our family of two became three. We went years as a happily married couple with cats wondering if we’d have kids – not knowing if that was what we wanted or not – and then all of a sudden it just seemed like a no-brainer, the logical next step, albeit 11 years without. And then he was here, little Wilder Matteo. I think he deserves his own special chapter.

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Chapter 7: the baby Wilder. I could spend pages upon pages here, but I’ll try to show some restraint because as I tend to, I’ve already rambled on quite a bit. I can’t believe I ever thought there might not be a baby Wilder. I don’t regret for a second having taken the length of time it took for us to decide to be parents – those parent-less years are really special to me and I truly believe people should spend more time as a couple before having children, for lots of reasons that I won’t go into here.

But Wilder. Almost 11 months ago this tiny 6-ish pound little creature made his way into my life and my heart. I didn’t believe people when they told me I’d never ever love this hard, but now I know that to be true. Being a mom is one of those things I could never really picture, and then I just was one. It felt, and feels, so normal now. Looking into his eyes, watching him grow, and man oh man, that first smile just melted my heart. But let’s be honest – every day my heart melts because of something he’s done – yesterday it was because he was teething and needed to just lay in my arms to snuggle; today it was because he wore one of my favorite shirts – the yellow one; a few days ago it was a picture I took of him that made me realize how much he looks like my brother, and I am so thankful for that. One day soon, probably too soon, it will be because he is taking his first steps. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine though. Parenting is hard, the hardest “job” of them all – but the most rewarding one, too. I make fun of Chris for being a “momma’s boy”, but now I understand that. This kid is never dating, never moving out, and definitely never finding another woman.

Being Wilder’s mom has led me to think about life differently. I think about what’s best for him, not just for Chris or myself, or our careers. I realized recently that the months were practically flying by, and meanwhile I was spending way too much time working. I wanted more time with him – more time to hang out, play with blocks, take walks to touch the trees, and for crying out loud, to do the freaking laundry. I left my full-time job to do that, and this past month has been pretty awesome since I now get a couple more days with him each week. I’ll figure out the work thing later – I’m taking it slowly because that just makes more sense right now. Fortunately, that works for us for the time being, and I’m taking advantage of it.

Because ultimately, our time here is short. That sounds way too doomsday. I meant to say that our time here, in SF, is short.

Which leads me to Chapter 8.

Chapter 8: What’s Next. So life has a way of telling you when it’s time to make some changes. And for us, that means it’s time to hit the road (literally) and move on. We’ve been telling ourselves that our time here in San Francisco is winding down, but we originally intended to stay here another couple of years. But having this little one around, like I said, it changes how you think.

When I think about what I want for Wilder’s immediate future, it’s pretty simple. I want him to be around people who love and adore him. He’d get that in SF if we stayed here, no doubt – we have lots of friends here and have fortunately been able to stay relatively active socially, despite having a baby. Wilder gets kisses and snuggles from everyone all the time; he makes friends on the train, in bars (yes he LOVES sitting at the bar), at the park, in line getting ice cream, and everywhere in between. His smile is one that cannot be ignored – his face lights up a room, his squeals make people grin rather than cringe, and don’t get me started on the curls.

The thing is though, that Wilder’s family feels that same way about him. His grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins swoon over him every time we are in town. He’s the baby they all thought would never be, but he is, and I think that invokes a certain love for him that we as his parents didn’t expect. It tears me up inside each time we say goodbye to them; Wilder may not appreciate goodbye the way adults do, but I think that’s also what makes it even more difficult. He doesn’t know when we say goodbye that it might be 4 months before he sees his cousin again. He doesn’t know that one day he’ll be like Chris and I and not have a grandparent to wrestle with, pick berries with, and terrorize when dropped off for a weekend. He doesn’t know that flights across the country are expensive, and that money doesn’t grow on trees. He doesn’t know that life is unpredictable and unfair, and that there are no guarantees as to when and if he’ll see someone again.

But we know that – his dad and I – we know all of these things.

So with these things in mind, a few months ago we decided it was time to go “home”. We know that we find “home” wherever we end up – Chicago was home, San Francisco is home, and while we have been away from North Carolina for 14 years, we know we will find home again there too. I am excited, nervous, sad, terrified, and stoked all at the same time. But I know this is the right choice for right now. I know we’ll never regret moving closer to our family, and giving them all the opportunity to spend time, more regularly, with this kiddo. It will take getting used to – NC is different in so many ways from San Francisco or Chicago – but we’ll find our way, I’m sure.

I won’t lie – it will be difficult to leave California. At one point I remember thinking we would never leave – but that was when the extreme cost of living in the Bay Area was justified by all the adventuring we were doing, and long before our two became three. As was also the case when we left Chicago, leaving friends will be the part I dread the most. But we will leave here knowing we have created a number of true and lasting friendships – friendships that should stand the test of time and distance and of course, friendships that will keep us coming to San Francisco for years to come. That and the wine, of course.

There is a lot to take care of here before we go, though. Movers to arrange, jobs to finish up, a condo to sell, friends to say goodbye to, wine to ship, a birthday celebration on the horizon (if you can believe it), and cats to transport just to name a few. Oh, and a road trip, because we can’t just teleport. What’s the use of moving all the way across the country if you can’t enjoy the journey there, anyway? So eventually, and soon, we will be there.

We look forward to this new Chapter and will see you on the other side.

John Muir Trail, the days after

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in SF, the day before we left for the JMT.

For whatever reason, once Jennifer and I wrote all 20 days of the JMT, adding this final “follow-up” post didn’t seem as urgent. I mean, it’s been over a year since this trip happened. But then I thought about it – this is the post that closes it all up. The post that wraps our adventure up with a nice, pretty bow. So let’s get this shit done already….

[Just as some insight here – I wrote this a few months ago so now we had to go back and update it all over again. ha ha ha ]

As you might recall from Day 20, we finished up the JMT 1 day early. At the end, I was glad we did. The final miles to the end were pretty treacherous, and not because they were harder than anything else but because we were so close to the goal – I wanted to run, but couldn’t. And showers and beer and pizza were beckoning.

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we made it to Whitney in 1 piece!

Once we downed our beer and french fries, we made our way to the car. There was a family next to our car who was celebrating the end of their adventure, and they had all sorts of fresh vegetables. Normally I don’t get super excited about carrots and spinach and tomatoes. I mean, I like them, but I get much more excited about beer and pizza. But this was different – we’d been eating dehydrated food for days. They offered us some veggies and I think the Jennifer and I tried our best to look dainty but it was pretty much impossible. Anyway, it was certainly a treat and just one more reason this experience was so amazing – people are just awesome.

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We were lucky enough to find some space at the hostel we’d originally booked for the following night. Jennifer and I were in a girls’ room and Chris in a guys’ room – sorta weird and it felt like a dorm with bunk beds and all, but there was a shower! But first – FOOD. There was a pizza place nearby so we decided that was way more important than a shower. We had a couple of pitchers of beer and plenty of pizza that at the time tasted like the most amazing thing I’d ever eaten. There of course were plenty of co-hikers eating pizza so it was fun to chat with people before heading back to the hostel.

Meanwhile, we’d texted with Courtney and Brittany – they’d finished the JMT earlier in the day, and we’d all decided to meet with them first thing in the morning for a nice big breakfast.

It felt good to shower and get dressed in some normal clothes that weren’t covered in dirt. I didn’t realize how much I missed deodorant, and the soapy smells of freshness. And let’s not even talk about running a brush through clean hair – man, I’d taken a lot of stuff for granted! It all felt so luxurious, and the irony was that we were in a freaking hostel sleeping in bunk beds with strangers.

The next morning, we figured out where to meet up with our buddies. We saw Andrew for a brief second because the girls shacked up with him and his parents the night before. It was pretty funny hearing about that experience, and picturing the look of shock on Andrew’s parents’ faces as he walks off the JMT with two chicks at his side and says, “hi mom and dad. these are my new friends and they are staying with us tonight”. ha ha ha ha. Anyway, they dropped Brittany and Courtney off at the restaurant and went on their way. We spent a good hour eating all the carbs and other yummy things that we could. Brittany and Courtney had relatives picking them up who lived in a town relatively close by, so they joined us for breakfast as well. It was fun to hang out in the real world and chat about some of the fun times on the trail with new people. We eventually made our way outside, took a quick group picture of us all nice and showered, and said goodbye.

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post JMT group shot!

After that, we made our way home to San Francisco – Chris drove the whole way and it was awesome to just sit and sit and sit.

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Going home was completely surreal. Showing up in SF was such a crazy contrast to our lives over the past 3 weeks. Cars everywhere! Bikes! Pedestrians without backpacks! And all sorts of food choices, booze, and familiar faces. We spent the weekend catching up with friends at a backyard barbecue/housewarming party a friend was throwing that weekend. On Sunday, before taking Jennifer to the airport, we spent some time in Dolores Park where Chris had miraculously arranged a surprise party for us before he’d left for the trail. There were balloons and cake and a giant sign and lots of friends. It was pretty spectacular.

Meanwhile, our bodies were sore, our feet were severely swollen, and Jennifer’s toes were barely recognizable as toes. The physical aftermath was starting to materialize and it was not pretty. My ankles had been hurting for days. Fortunately the morning and evening doses of Ibuprofen had helped on the trail, but I didn’t want to continue doing that every day. It would be months (months!) before my ankles would feel stable upon getting out of bed each morning. I got used to hobbling out of bed like an old gimpy lady, hoping that wouldn’t become the norm, and feeling very thankful when it eventually dissipated, but again, it was seriously months.

Jennifer had similar foot issues in that it took quite a while for them to get back to normal but I can guarantee all nastiness did eventually disappear and her feet are more or less normal again. Ok, they are back at baseline, let’s leave it at that ;).

As you’d imagine, Jennifer was ready to get back home to her life – her trip was longer than mine since she had flights from Seattle on both ends of it, and she was really really needing some Jon time. I know she was happy to be hanging with us in SF (she has lots of friends there too!), but if I were her I would have felt the same way – that my journey was still going. It was really hard to drop her off at the airport knowing we’d spent over 3 weeks together, mostly within each other’s sight the entire time. We knew the adventure we’d just completed together would be something we’d never ever forget. And while it wasn’t rainbows and sunshine every day, we left the JMT with a stronger bond than when we’d started, we’d become closer despite our differences (and tent-cleaning philosophies), and we were already thinking about what hike we wanted to tackle next – but that would have to wait a while.

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the longest day ever on the JMT (at least for me)

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one of my favorite Jennifer/Heather selfies because it so nicely showcases 1) chapped lips 2) duct tape and 3) those sexy buffs. Oh, and scenery.

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you can’t do a recap without a picture of one of our very best JMT moments 😉

We commemorated our adventure by getting tattoos together over Thanksgiving (we spend every T-day together along with another couple). We wanted something small and simple, nothing too crazy, but something that would be meaningful to us. We ended up going with a tracing of the elevation of the trail, similar to the picture we used on all of our daily posts. I love mine – it’s a subtle daily reminder of the journey and a great conversation piece about something I always LOVE talking about.

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this took all of 5 seconds to scribble on.

Would I do the JMT again? Absolutely. We had an email thread going for a few weeks between Jennifer, myself, and the rest of our trail family that was titled “Who’s ready to go Northbound”? I think we all were ready to turn around and do it again that year.

But this year has taken a different turn, and we have other focuses in our lives right now. For one of us, that just means a new job, a few small hikes here and there, and nursing a cat back to health after surgery. For the other, it means something bigger – like a miniature Carter that will soon be tearing up the streets of Seattle. I for one could not be happier about that. And who knows? Maybe there’s a family JMT hike in our futures. Or maybe it’ll just be a good excuse to leave rugrats at home. Time will tell.

So much so that I had to re-write that paragraph up there. That little miniature future Carter is now a real life human menace to society and is now about 3 whole months old. I can vouch for his cuteness as I got to cuddle him and squeeze him some over Thanksgiving in Seattle this year. All in all, Jennifer’s 2016 was exactly what she wanted it to be – 2015 was for hiking, and 2016 was for baby-making. I’d say that turned out as planned!

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the adorable Clark Spencer Carter

And while 2016 was very different for me, which did involve nursing our cat back to health after double knee surgery and getting a new job, Chris and I also ended the year with a much welcomed surprise ourselves – a future Wetzel who will be terrorizing San Francisco in May! Now we will have to plan a family hiking trip sometime in the next few years – although a NorthBound JMT hike will probably not be what ends up happening after all! Maybe a long weekend somewhere? Let’s play that by ear….

No matter how different this summer year (2016) was from the last one (2015), I continue to carry this adventure with me everywhere I go. It might sound like a bunch of hippie dippy shit, but it’s true. That trail – those 20 days of ups and downs, the gorgeous scenery, the connectedness you feel to the world while ironically being in the middle of nowhere, the things you put your body through to see those amazing vistas, all 250+ miles of carrying myself and the weight of a freaking toddler aka backpack (practice?), realizing that you are capable of so much more than you ever thought and that not even a giant mountain (or mountains) can stand in your way. It’s all those things, and so many more that I can’t put into words.

But yes, it was totally worth it.

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