#optoutside

#optoutside

There is this thing in America which begins earlier every year and is increasing in strength and ferocity. We call it “Black Friday”. Immediately after giving thanks for everything in our lives, we either take off after the evening meal, or wake up at the crack of dawn to join thousands of other Americans to go shopping. I tried it once years ago – there was no place to park, crowds in stores were elbow-to-elbow, and to top it all off, the prices were not good! So, I decided then – never again.

Delightedly, this year I learned of a new tradition called #optoutside. Instead of heading in to a store for shopping, or sitting on your couch watching tv, thousands of Americans decided to opt outside for some time in nature.

We pulled up the google maps, located some new trails, and then headed out. Our trail selections were just about 2 miles from each other but about as different as night and day. Our first stop was at Spring Creek Bluffs. We parked in a small gravel lot, leashed up our hound dog and took off. The trail started in some scrubby woods and quickly we found ourselves in a high bank overlooking Spring Creek. Chas found a log that had fallen across the Creek creating a natural bridge and walked across it with Desi. It was mid-afternoon and the light glowed through the colorful leaves creating a scenery that looked a bit like the stained glass of European cathedrals.


We wondered if these were the Bluffs and hoped that wasn’t true. Soon enough we came to a point where the Bluffs appeared, with straight, tall Beech trees sporting yellow leaves standing like guardians on the slope.


The slope quickly climbed steeply to the peak of the Bluffs and as we reached the crest we met some folks who spoke with an English accent turning back because they thought the trail had ended. We enjoyed the view for a bit before continuing on.


Good thing we continued because the trail became even more breathtaking as we followed the ridge and meandered down to a greenway that bordered a neighborhood. We met a runner who jogged by with ragged breaths and a haggard expression on his face. Boy, I know that feeling, I thought. After a few hundred yards we turned back on to our trail to loop back to the beginning.

A short distance later we rejoined the path and walked along the ridge and down the slope before winding up on a surprisingly long boardwalk. The place must be swampy in the summer time. At the end of the path we found a beautiful placard engraved with this poem. Nice inspiration on our day opting out in nature.

After completing this trail, we drove the short distance to Hemlock Bluffs – a nature preserve that had a beautiful nature center and what turned out to be very well-developed chip bark trails.

Such a contrast to our first trail experience of the day. At Spring Creek Bluffs we saw maybe 10 people and one dog. Here groups of families, many with happy hounds tugging at the end of a leash, strolled along together enjoying the fine fall weather. Because we were still traveling the same bluff (I had assumed), I expected the scenery to be the same. As it turned out that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This park hosts a rare grove of Hemlock trees – a type of evergreen that is normally found in the mountains of western North Carolina – that thrives here because of a unique cold and swampy microclimate.

The preserve also has a large population of beech trees and what blew me away was the color of their leaves. Here the trees were wearing golden brown leaves, while on the other bluff the leaves were bright yellow. I still don’t know why this phenomenon would occur, but you can bet I’ll be doing some research on it.

We hiked all the trails at the park (about 3 miles worth), sometimes racing to stay ahead of noisy families, other times enjoying a rare human-free moment. I was impressed with the infrastructure and think it would be fun to return in the summer for a hope at a glimpse of the many salamander species that make this preserve home.

Today was sunny and warm and we headed off to San Lee for a mountain bike ride. Another gorgeous day on a challenging terrain made a bit more treacherous by the coating of colorful leaves.

I’d recommend checking out all of these parks if you have some time to explore in the area of Cary and Sanford, North Carolina. And if you didn’t do it this year, I’d encourage you to join us next year as we #optoutside!

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The Striding Edge

The Striding Edge

The guidebook warned – “not for people who suffer vertigo”. I’ll say!

Our first hike in the Lakes District was a trek to the peak of Helvellyn. A beauty of a mountain, distinguished as being the favorite hike of William Woodsworth, the romantic poet. Two days before our hike we sat at Adam’s sun room table, fresh pints of English ale within arms reach, carefully studying trail maps. We had 2 full days to explore the wonders of the Lakes and Adam recommended that we make two hikes: Helvellyn and Great Gables. The hikes were expected to take between 4 and 6 hours each. We checked the forecast and the weather promised to be beautiful during our visit. It’s not advised to hike during inclement weather, which I completely understood after we were on the trail!

On the day of our ascent, we started our hike around 9 am, half expecting to get in another hike in the afternoon, on the advisement of Adam who indicated we could cover the trail in a few hours…. 7 hours later, as we hobbled down giant stone steps, our only destination was a shop to acquire a few hard-earned cold British beers and meat pies. But I’m getting ahead of myself, here’s the rest of the story.

We parked in the lovely village of Penrith and asked a local where we could locate the trail head. This is much easier, by the way, in England, where everyone speaks (some version of) English. A brief instruction, “walk up that road, look for the sign” and we were on our way.

Our first encounter was with a friendly couple who spend all their vacations hiking in the Lakes and sleeping in their caravan – the British term for a camper. Genuinely friendly and upbeat people, we had a nice chat as we began our hike and they reconfirmed our path to the peak. They reassured us that we could certainly make it up the striding edge. As we walked, the terrain almost immediately was nearly completely vertical, or at least that’s how it felt to me, and I silently thanked my lucky stars for my months of stair climber training over the winter. We shed our outer layer as our body temperature climbed with the elevation.

Half-way up the first hill, we reached a livestock gate and they split left as we continued up, now moving slightly laterally and a little less steeply up the mountain.


Our first destination was “the hole in the wall”. A curious name, I thought, “why do they call it that?”. Well, actually, because it is, literally, a hole in the stone wall! 

The area is crisscrossed with beautiful hand-built stone walls used to separate pastures which are grazed by sheep. Luckily we arrived on the tail-end of lambing season and our soundtrack for the duration of our visit was the bleats of sheep. Such a lovely sound!


After we climbed across the “hole in the wall”, we marveled at our first views of the peak of Helvellyn – hugging a lake called Red Tarn. 


We paused for a bit to ask a chap to snap a photo of us. 


Then we reciprocated by taking a photo of him for his wife. He had lived in the area for over a decade and was hiking the infamous mountain for his first time. We talked about our impending encounter with the striding edge, and he expressed he was also a bit worried… this did not help!
After a stroll across a high mountain meadow, we were suddenly on the striding edge. Which is basically, a ridge ascent where you climb across rocks with, ocassionally, nearly shear drops that it is best to avoid looking at, if you know what I mean. In the beginning, it was easy going. 

Then, the path narrowed and we began hand-over-hand bouldering, if you will, at great height. 

The most challenging part came when we came down the backside of a rocky ridge requiring quite a bit of triceps and careful foot placement. This is where we met a chap in his 50s who was on his last nerve. We helped him down and he decided he would not continue. It was sad, because we’d met him on our way up the first mountain ascent and he was excited to be finally hiking the mountain after considering it for years. But, as he made the decision to bail out and literally slide down the gravely backside of the mountain mere feet from the summit, my husband and I reflected on the power of intention. When we first met him, he said that he was going to “try” to make it but he wasn’t sure he’d be successful. We, on the other hand, perhaps foolishly, certainly boldly, never doubted our ability to make the ascent. And, you know what, we did!

But first, after we completed the rocky ridge grappling, we needed to make one final push. I’ll admit, seeing a grown man bail out, got to me a bit, so I focused my attention on quickly pushing up the ridge to the peak. Here the trail became more vertical and more of a scramble with lose rocks and not as much solid footing. We charged up quickly, and suddenly we reached the peak.


It was time for lunch and some fellows were rising to continue their hike. We grabbed their spot on the rim to savor the view as we refueled with salami and blue cheese sandwiches. Yes, an admittedly strange combination, which turned out to be delicious! 


After our lunch we spent a bit of time on the peak taking in the views of Ulswater in the distance.

We read a monument to a hiker who died on the mountain and his skeleton was later found because his dog stayed by his side for 3 months! Quite a tale of loyalty, or desperation (she allegedly consumed his flesh), you take your pick.


Fortunately, this was not our day to die, but we weren’t quite certain of this yet. We had ahead of us the descent down the Swiral Edge. Not quite as steep as the striding edge, but challenging, nonetheless. A group of college kids skipped across the rocks and we watched in wonder at their nimble steps.


We found ourselves wondering, where is the trail? Seriously, y’all, I have never encountered such trails in America! It was rather invigorating and felt like a real adventure!


Clouds passed overhead, altering the colors of the landscape moment by moment. As we descended, I snapped photos of the changing scenery. 

We paused for a moment on the banks of the tarn to admire the reflection of the mountain in the water. Then we continued our descent.


For a bit, we climbed out and back, basically up to the hole in the wall. This is where we needed to make a decision – go back the way we came, or take a looping path back to Glenridding. Of course, we went for the loop, we always go for the loop option. The first portion followed the rock wall along the ridge, then made a descent down what could best be described as steps for giants. Huge rocks which basically formed a stairway. By this point we were a bit tired and our feet began to complain about the pounding on the rocks. 


We persisted, occasionally stopping to admire the views and say hello to the sheep. 


After what felt like a very long time of walking down giant steps, we re-entered the valley. The first person we met was a boy and we asked him the way to Penrith. In the most delightful Lakes District accent, he informed us we could either walk up the hill (my legs cried: “please, no more hills”) or along the beck (the local word for river or creek) in to town where we would find a store and then turn right and follow the road to Penrith. We opted for the Beck path and happily soaked in more scenery.

A stop at the market to assess supplies confirmed they had a good selection of beer so we pushed on to our car and then drove back to stock up. We ended the day with beer and reheated meat pies as we soaked up the sunset over Ulswater.


Such a lovely day! We were filled with a sense of accomplishment and a bit of worry about the chap who bailed and went down the side of the hill. We wondered if we should have taken his number to call and make sure he was ok. We also wondered how he felt after bailing halfway and were grateful for our convinction and ability to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

As often happens on a hike in the woods. Once again, the mountain was our teacher and reminded us that a prepared body, supported by a sound mind, can accomplish any challenge.

It was one he** of a day on Helvellyn!

Flying high at Planica, Planica

Flying high at Planica, Planica

“Planica, Planica 

snežena kraljica!” 

The song rolled over in my head as I caught myself humming the rhythm for days after returning from the Planica ski-jumping hill. The first chorus from this polish folk song is played whenever a ski-flyer lands past the 250 meter mark on the famous hill that is called Planica. In sync with the rhythm, hundred of fans waved their country flag: Slovenia, Polska, Austria, Netherlands, Deutschland, Japan, and one lone America flag, happily danced through the air. Music over the speak was accompanied by a variety of noise makers – horns and rattles creating a fantastic unified roar of satisfaction. I wonder now what it sounded like for the fliers clipping out of their skies as they waited for their score. The only jumper who was greeted by almost complete silence was the Russian jumper. Not too many folks cheered for America either. But when a Slovenian flier was on the gate, the crowd went crazy!!! It was a good weekend on the hill, so we heard it A LOT! 


But, let me back up a bit and set the scene. After our half day tour through Ljubljana. we checked in to our room in Podkoren. We stayed at a recently renovated lovely house/hotel that had been in the family for more than 100 years. The house was decorated in local themes – one dominant theme being a carnation flower pattern. As we checked in our lovely and accommodating hosts asked us when we’d like our breakfast. Then we made a little dinner from the foods we’d gathered at the market in Ljubljana and turned in for an early night. The next day we would head to the hill!


The next morning, we used this fantastic European invention (an electric tea kettle) to boil some water. Seriously, I don’t know why we don’t use these in America! Incidentally, I purchased one when I was home for Christmas because I now find life difficult without this kitchen gadget. I stirred up a cup of surprisingly good instant coffee and took a stroll through the town. I often have a hard time sleeping in, even if I’m late to bed, which is why I don’t stay up late too often nowadays. One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to take a sunrise run or walk in the neighborhood where I’m sleeping, which is why I prefer to find a central city hotel, or a place in an interesting neighborhood. Sometimes I meet folks, but often I’ll meet a friendly cat or focus on listening to the birds chattering to each other. I notice more details as I walk with the absence of human interaction – beautiful lace curtains, interesting architectural details on the buildings, slightly hidden political messages in the stickers attached to a power box.

On this morning, as I strolled through town, the sun slowly crested the mountains. As I held my coffee mug in my hand to stay warm, I greeted a man out walking his dog. A few blocks later, I paused to admire some horses in a small corral in the center of town. The town was very small, maybe 10 blocks, and as I made a right turn to loop back toward the hotel for breakfast, I could hear a burbling brook and was delighted to find a functioning sawmill! I took pictures and a small video to send to my dad in Oregon who is a lumberjack and has his own sawmill.


After a delicious breakfast of fresh local farm eggs, local yogurt and delicious Turkish style coffee, we took off for a hike to the ski-jumping hill. This is one thing I loved about the event – the only way to arrive was by shuttle bus, helicopter, or the best way of all, a hike through the forest! Fans proudly flew their flags and happily chatted as they trekked to the ski hill. Some already with a bottle of bier in their hand at 8 in the morning. Yes, I kid you not. The atmosphere was a bit NASCARish. How was it like NASCAR? The first thing is the flags (country flags instead of numbered car flags but some flags were emblazoned with the name of a favorite ski-flier) and country scarfs (in the place of ball caps), copious volumes of bier, greasy food, loud noise (in this case coming from the fans and not the athletes – cars on the tracks), and lots of friendly folk happy to meet fellow fans. 


On the first day the jumping began in the afternoon, so we planned a diversion hike on our way to visit Zelenci Spring – the headwaters of the Danube River. Trees were breaking bud and the forest floor was dotted with wildflowers. Very few people hiked along the same path. We were enveloped in the gentle sounds of the forest. As we walked, we were amazed at the spring scenery because we expected everything to be covered in snow. In fact, the weather seemed a bit strange – it was very warm and sunny and I regretted that I hadn’t packed a light weight long-sleeved hiking shirt to protect my arms from the sun.


As we walked the meandering path to the spring we enjoyed the shade and after a short distance, caught our first glimpse of Zelenci spring – sheltered on one side by trees and opening up onto a meadow with mountains towering above. We approached the spring bank and looked to the left to find an observation tower with some people taking in the views. Ahead of us was a small dock. We walked to the edge, sat down, and swung our boots over the water. After a few minutes the folks in the tower headed off down the trail and we had the spring to ourselves.


I began snapping pictures as we studied the spring, searching for signs of life. After a few moments we spotted a trout swimming through the crystal clear water. Then we saw another, and another. In total we watched about a dozen beautiful trout lazily swimming through the water. Midges danced above the water, providing bait for the fish, who occasionally broke the surface leaving behind circular ripples in the wake of their attack. As we continued gazing in the water we saw caddis fly larvae walking along the floor. Caddis flies are amazing creatures – the larvae build for themselves a case that they carry with them to protect their soft body. The case can be used to identify the location where they live because they use local “supplies” – rocks, twigs, bits of plants – that are glued together with silk. My mind flew back to my aquatic entomology course at UC Davis as I explained to my friend the curious details of the life of a caddis fly.

Time passed quickly as we shared memories of fishing in our home countries. The silence was broken by a runner who burst out from the trees and stopped to say hello. She asked where we were from and we answered Japan and the USA. Her face was puzzled, and we went on to explain our connection via a German employer. As we chatted we discovered that she worked with the US and Canadian ski-jumping teams. We inquired about the health of Kevin Bickner, who had recently had an injury during a jump. I was looking forward to him jumping in the team competition the next day and she reassured me he was in good health and would jump! We snapped a photo for the memories. Then after a quick viewing from the platform, we continued onto Planica.


The trail was now filled with more fans traveling to the event. We strolled up the hills and through a meadow, then a path through the forest and suddenly we were there and I had my first view of a ski-jumping hill! 

What a curious thing it is. A giant piece of ice and snow, striped with lines to mark distances. A narrow ramp at the top from which the jumpers leap after seating themselves on the starting gate – which looked to me to be a relatively small piece of wood. The ramp reminded me a bit of the giant slide at the pool that we all nervously waited in line for as a child. The courage of these jumpers. Hurling themselves through the air at speeds of 100+ km per hour!!!


The sun was beating down on us and I hadn’t brought a hat, so I bought my first souvenir – a felt Slovenian cowboy style hat. My friend bought us a couple of Slovenian team scarfs. We asked a photographer we met to snap our photo and then headed off to set up our viewing station.


My friend had a giant Japanese flag to wave after attaching it to a collapsible fishing post. Such a clever system! I never would have thought of such a thing, but she wasn’t the only one. Dozens of other fans were expanding their fishing poles and hoisting flags to the sky to cheer for their country jumpers.

As the crowds began to grow I ventured off to find lunch. We’d been hiking for a few hours and I’d worked up a hunger, besides I saw people eating these giant sandwich-type things and I was curious to try it out.


Verdict – not sure of the meat source – maybe grilled spam (?) on a focaccia style bread with a curry type sauce, peppers and mustard. It was good! I was now reloaded with energy and ready to cheer!

After a few more minutes, the jumpers began to fly. Between jumps we chatted with the Polish fans who were stationed around us. Friendly folk! German was the common language, although some spoke English, and we chatted about our respective country cultures between loud rounds of cheering for the jumpers. Bier flowed and the sound level climbed. I wasn’t drinking bier in support of my Project Life goals and it made the people watching even more entertaining. 

I used my telephoto lens to snap some photos of the jumpers and also found it served as a nice binocular to get a better view of the jumpers on the top of the hill.


After the jumpers were finished for the day, we hiked back to town to rest up for day 2. During the evening, we watched some local TV coverage of the day and my friend explained to me more about what was happening and how the jumpers were scored. I felt more prepared to watch the next day. It’s not all about distance. Points are deducted depending on the direction and strength of the wind, or the style of the landing. 

The second day was the team event and this was my chance to root for Team USA. I strapped my American flags on to my backpack for our hike to the hill. I’d bought them at Walmart on a recent trip home and was pleased to discover they were actually Made in America!


As we approached the ticket controls, we met a crowd of folks waving Canadian and American flags and enjoyed a round of high-fives. As we set up our cheering station, my friend attached one of my American flags to her pole so we could wave it wildly for the American jumpers.

The jumping began as we walked up and it was a spectacular day at the hill. Team USA wound up placing 7th out of 12 teams, which was a very respectable place for the team. But, the most amazing moment was toward the end of the day. The great Austrian jumper  Stefan Kraft set a new record on the hill. Everyone went wild! Then the next jumper from Poland, beat the new record!!! Everyone went completely nuts at this point!!!! The starting gate was moved to ensure safety of the subsequent jumpers. The guys were practically jumping as far as possible on the hill. Conditions were incredible – the perfect wind.


Jumping ended early-afternoon and we walked down the hill happy and satisfied with the day. After a quick lunch, we hoped in the car and headed off to explore Bled. Bled is fabulous enough o deserve its own post. More on one of the prettiest places on the planet later.

My impressions of a European ski-jumping event. It’s a lively, loud, friendly, rambunctious environment. I was so glad that I took a “leap” and decided to travel with my friend to Planica. As a bonus, the countryside and people of Slovenia are lovely. I’m tempted to return this summer for a visit with my husband.

Swamp thangs

Swamp thangs

“A beaver skull. Oh my gosh, it’s a beaver skull!”

I yelled to my husband half-way through our bush-whacking hike through the Jordan lake and panther creek swamp-land behind our house.

It was a journey we’d been talking about and pondering and halfway planning for three years. One of the big draws of our property was the direct access it has to the American tobacco trail and a large swath of protected fish and wildlife land that surrounds panther creek and runs all the way up to Jordan Lake. We regularly walk out the back door and down a well-beaten path to a fork. Right takes you to the tobacco trail. Left takes you into the woods. With options to roam freely or follow a trail that borders the wildlife land and is marked by trees banded in three stripes of orange paint. Both are great options.

Speaking of trails, have I mentioned that my husband is trained as a civil engineer which means he LOVES maps. I mean LOVES them! His love of maps is one of the reasons why it wasn’t until I moved to Europe and, finally, had to navigate on my own, that I discovered I have a sense of direction. I was so used to following him around, happily mind you, on our rambling adventures. Well, one day as we were studying our property on google earth, because who doesn’t do that nowadays? We began to speculate that the path that runs to the left and into the woods, might just take you all the way to Jordan lake. We promised ourselves that one day we’d drop some bikes down at the local gas station and then make the hike and bike back. But, the problem with this planning is, well, it required planning…. something we aren’t always keen to do on the weekends. 

So it happened that a day after I landed at home, we woke up to a surprisingly sunny and warm day, and decided that today was the day. We were hiking to Jordan lake on the path. No bikes for drop off, we were going all the way there and we’d figure out how to get back. We loaded up a back pack with snacks: oranges, cheese sandwiches, Belgian chocolates (because why not?) dog food for Desi, and a couple of bottles of water. Snapped a leash onto Desi, laced up our boots and took off.

At the fork, we turned left and descended down along Panther Creek. This time of year is great for hiking along the creek bank because these crazy thorny vines (maybe they’re called brambles) are just coming out of their winter sleep. The trees are pushing out helicopter seeds in brilliant shades of orange and red. The sun, perched above in the Carolina blue sky, was shining down warmth. Birds were singing and frogs chirping. The spider webs were not yet stretching between the trees at just the right height to smack you in the face. Basically, it was perfect and then it got better, when we made our great discovery.

“Check this out, there’s a lot of beaver activity”. I hollered to my husband. He’s, he’s always telling me to talk more quietly in the woods. 

We had turned to follow along a creek spur that feeds into Jordan lake and found many stumps with fresh beaver teeth marks. We also noticed that the grassy terrain was now interrupted by large stones and big boulders were supporting the soil and trees along the ridge. I climbed up on to a boulder, because it’s fun, and Chas snapped a picture of Desi and me to remember the day. Have I mentioned, Desi is a grand hiking companion.


We continued walking and discovered more evidence of recent beaver activity and I even began to understand how they managed to take down a tree and break it into movable chunks! It was like being in a nature film, which is a very strange thing to think, right? Why do we always compare real life to the movies? I snapped some photos to share with my nieces and nephews for a science lesson later.


We proceeded down to the water, around a slight ridge, and discovered the beaver dam. A large one at that!


Then I backtracked a bit and that’s when I made the amazing discovery of a beaver skull! Which now has a home on our fireplace mantel. Yes, this is how we decorate our house (no shopping at the pottery barn for me) – shells, feathers, stones, bits of branches, the occasional fungal specimen, old bottles, the interesting bits that we find on our journey of life. I do believe this will be one of our most treasured hiking momentos for years to come.


We noticed that the sun was beginning to sink low and we had about 1/3 of our route to go, so we safely stowed the beaver skull and continued our journey along the banks. The vegetation changed from pines and schrubs to bottomland hardwoods and back to pines. It was amazing to find all that was hidden just off the road and behind our country neighborhood. 

After another hour or so, we popped out along the country highway and turned left to the gas station then walked along the roads for another hour to our house. Traveling our familiar driving or biking path on foot completely transformed the experience. We found details we had never noticed before and even paused for a bit in a patch of grass to soak up the later afternoon sun before our last push to home. Now that I think of it, maybe that’s where I picked up these danged chiggers in my right arm…

As we turned up our street, our feet were aching, our bellies were hungry, and our souls were completely happy and glowing from our spontaneous adventure. 

Tenerife hiking – pick your climate

Tenerife hiking – pick your climate

As demanded…. umm… requested by my buddy Mike, here’s part 2 of our Tenerife island adventure. This installment will focus on the variety of hiking adventure we enjoyed.

Our last episode ended when we arrived at our apartment rental for the week and admired a gorgeous sunset. My memory gets a little hazy here, but I think we were pretty lazy for a good day, or so, as we got our bearings in our new town: Adeje. Conveniently located on the southwest coast of the island. We picked this town because it was near enough to the tourist areas to have (we thought) lots of restaurant options and such. But, far enough away from Los Americanos to be not so touristy. Apparently the tourism barrons have also located this town because directly across from our apartment a Hard Rock casino was under construction. At first I thought it would be loud and annoying, but actually it was pretty interesting since both my husband and I enjoy construction work. Besides, our apartment faced the sea and was in the direction away from the construction and overlooking a small black lava rock bay which we were told was sometimes visited by sea turtles! 


The first couple of days at the apartment the weather was stormy and this caused the water to be cloudy – not ideal for snorkeling. We followed natures lead and relaxed. Soon, the weather cycle broke and we were greeted by sunny days, perfect for hiking. In the morning and evening we often walked on the path shown in the picture above which was also popular for dog walkers and runners. One day we met a cute dog, and his owner, who happened to be German. I asked for recommendations on a good beach to visit, preferably with a fun beach bar and cafe. He said (in German -my translation skills were becoming increasingly more valuable every day) that the best secret beach was in nearby Puertito with a fabulous Bodegon called Pepe y Lola. 

We noted this down as a destination of choice and that evening I began to research securing a permit to go to the top of El Tiede. As it turns out these are not easy to come by. Something like 50 people are allowed to the top each day to decrease the environmental impact of all the tourists. Passes were booked up for at least a month. So, that was out. We figured, well, so, we can’t go to the top, but I bet we can have some spectacular hiking in the park, and that we did!

We drove slightly south and then headed east climbing up the mountain roads to the volcano. I noticed that on this side of the island appeared to have a dryer climate and in the place of banana plantations the roads were bordered by tiered vineyards.


 As we entered the strange landscape of the volcano another rainstorm rolled in revealing other-worldly landscapes shrouded in clouds. 



We stopped to take a picture at the viewing spot for Roques de Garcia. A friendly German tourist snapped a shot for us and unfortunately our heads are completely blocking the rocks… 🙂 We popped back into the car and headed toward the visitor center to grab a map and figure out a good hike for the afternoon. Along the way we saw some incredible green rocks!


The park ranger recommended that we hike a trail called “Arenas Negras” which looped around a small peak. As we started off I noticed a big cloud bank approaching from the south and I fully anticipated we might get socked in my the storm which could likely bring visibility to a minimum as it passed over. This gave some urgency to our hike and we completed the trail much quicker than anticipated. The scenery was spectacular and, expect for passing a couple other hikers, we had the entire trail to ourselves. Quite different than our experience in the touristy valley we had left behind. My kind of hiking! Here’s some of what we saw.


On our way back to the hotel, we looped up for a quick visit to the spectacular rock formation called Los Gigantes – the giants. And giants they are! The cliffs soar over the ocean forming a fierce and unforgiving fortress.


We went to bed craving more time at the volcano, but we clearly wanted to stay away from the crowds, so the next day we headed to a region called Samara. The scenery was incredible – like walking on the moon! It was super cold, probably in the thirties, but the sun shined above us and again we had the trails nearly exclusively to ourselves. A day I will never forget as we crossed the everchanging terrain of volcanic rocks. We saw no less than Six different types of formations. One thing I particular enjoyed was admiring the sharp contrast between the pine trees and the black rocks. As we hiked, El Tiede loomed above us showing off her snowy cap.


I’m off to the gym for my morning workout. Next installment will include our beach hikes and our quick adventure in the Anaga mountains cloud forest.

Here’s a preview…

The next morning we popped into the Dino market and bought a cooler backup, loaded it up with bier and hiked off to the secret beach. The path was surprisingly easy to follow and after about an hour we found ourselves at the beach. Along the way we passed through some small camps. Crumbling brick walls marked the perimeters of old plantations…

Land and Sea

Land and Sea

This post has been in progress for over a week. Apparently, I have a lot to say about our adventure in the Canary Islands. So this is part 1 of ???? Time will tell. It’s time to let this bird fly.

Crashing surf, banana plantations, volcanic rocks, hiking trails, flowing beer, fresh fish – layered over a soundtrack of Spanish, German and English language. This was our experience in Tenerife. We chose this particular Canary island because it is billed as an adventurers paradise and it didn’t disappoint. 
If you’re looking for a place where you can hike next to the sea at a temperature around 70 F and then later explore a deserted trail at the foot of a volcano at 30 F – then this is the place for you. 

Last October, I waited anxiously in Madrid airport at the gate for our connection to Tenerife. People lined up to board and my husband hadn’t yet arrived. I studied our itinerary and thought maybe the connection time had been too tight… boarding began and I searching the terminal awaiting his arrival. Finally, a fourth of the way through boarding, he ran up – Harley ball-cap on his head, unlaced hiking boots on his feet, wearing an old racing shirt from Louisiana and hiking shorts, a bit out of breathe, and I was so happy! We were together again after about 2 months apart. 

We boarded the flight for our island adventure. Our first views of the island were quite impressive as we approached from the north east corner. Tenerife is a Spanish Canary Island which contains the Tiede volcano – the highest elevation in Europe. It also contains miles and miles of hiking trails, rocky beaches and winding mountain roads. We love to hike, snorkel and take road trips which is why we chose this destination. 

When I started to plan our vacation I was often reminded of a trip we took to the big island of Hawaii about 8 years ago. In many ways the islands are similar. Tenerife is a bit smaller. Instead of the macadamia plantations, Tenerife has many banana plantations. Both have spactacular volcanoes and lots of rustic places to explore. Both have touristy areas that I deliberately avoided. Hawaii has Kona and Tenerife has Playa de Las Americas. Our trip to Hawaii included stays at many small hotels as we traveled counterclockwise around the island. On this trip we spent the first night in a small town of Tenerife on the north west coast called “San Vicente”. We stayed at the Hotel Rural Bentor, a place I would recommend. The hotel offered a modest modern room with spectacular views of a ravine and the ocean. But, the charm of this place was the old house and courtyard which included a breakfast area. Broad beams and typical Canary island decorations enhanced the charm. 

We checked in and then began to explore the town. I was happy that I had recently picked up the habit of spending a half hour on the stairclimber every day as we labored up steeply pitched roads. So steep that many of the sidewalks were steps! We found a cafe in the city center and enjoyed our first Dorada bier in the shadow of a towering church. Dorada quickly became our drink of choice. Fortified by bier, we continued our climb to the top of the city and found a beautiful Drago (dragon) tree. I snapped a few photos and around this time we noticed that the locals began to look at us suspiciously. This is the downside of not being in a tourist town. We didn’t feel particularly welcomed. That was ok, it was nearing sunset and we headed back toward the hotel for the evening. Along the way we stopped at a cafe and had our first, unfortunately disappointing, meal. I have to admit, I was not very impressed with the food, which was a bit sad, but on the other hand I didn’t gain any kilos on my waistline on this vacation!

That night we slept 12 hours! My husband was adjusting to the time change and I do believe I was wiped out from work. After a quick swim and a lovely breakfast on the terrace overlooking the sea we decided to take off for a hike on the coast. We decided to make it spontaneous. A quick check of google maps indicated that if we drove about 10 minutes to a nearby point surrounded by a banana plantation, we could strike out on a path in the sea cliffs. Driving through the banana plantations was very interesting. The design of the plantations was uniform across the island. The plantations were bordered by concrete brick walls or fencing and typically relatively small in size. I can only guess there might have been a threat of theft. 
We passed through a tunnel decorated with a crab motif and were greeted by a spectacular view of the ocean. 

Fisherman, standing tenuously on the rocks below, cast their lines. One cried with joy as he landed a fish. Another washed an altar with great deliberation and care. I wondered if he had lost a friend on this rough coastline. A small dog scurried about searching for scraps. The fishermens’ base camp was built up around a small cave with a rusty metal door. My curiosity beckoned me to enter the cave, but we respected their space and, after an exchange of friendly greetings, continued along the trail. 


As the elevation gently climbed, we re-entered the banana plantation. The plantation walls were made of volcanic rocks and we were delighted to discovery black and green lizards peaking out between the rocks. Later in the day we saw people feeding them bananas!

We continued along the trail and came across a view of an eerie old building, I believe it was called the Hamilton House. A local guy, originally from England, was also nearby snapping photos and he shared with us the story of the building. The building was a water pump built to pull water from the sea, desalinate it, and then pump it to the cities. The cost of desalinization was prohibitive and eventually abandoned. The water on the island is now rainwater collected in tanks, or drawn from underground aquifers filled by rain water and filtered through the volcanic rock. Droughts are a common threat and as we drove around the island we noticed elaborate pipe and covered canals criss-crossing the hillsides running water from aquifers to terraced- fields andwater tanks.
Another turn on the trail brought us on a brief stretch through town. We heard German words pouring out of a small bar and realized we were a bit hungry and thirsty. A bier and a snack, ordered in German, was just the cure to restore our strength for the return hike. This was the first time my German came in handy, and it continued to be for the rest of the trip. The common languages on the island are Spanish and German, and some people spoke English. 

The next day we checked out of our hotel and took a drive up into the mountains en route to our home-away apartment rental where we would spend the next week. Along the way, we paused to admire the statue of Bentor, the namesake of our hotel. Bentor was a local native who stood up in one of the last great fights against the Spanish invaders. I imagine that when he fought he wore clothing, but apparently the naked version of him is what people want to remember. His feet were huge! Seemed a bit like a Rodin sculpture style.

We hiked from the banana plantations and north along the coast.

We quickly entered the countryside and saw terraced fields, horses, cattle and many people walking alongside the road. 

It started to rain and we abandoned our plan to walk out to the Faro lighthouse on the northwest corner of the island. Instead we turned inland toward Masca for what would become a white-kuckled drive along a narrow road, dodging tour buses and occasionally socked in by clouds.
After surviving the road to Masca, we were happy to relax on the balcony of our rental apartment and soak up a spectacular sunset.
More to come in part 2 of our Tenerife island adventure…

The Gift of Being Present

The Gift of Being Present

It’s just past midnight and I’m sitting here in my yellow wingback chair from Ikea trying to convince my brain that it’s time to sleep. Of course, I know the source of confusion. Just 24 hours ago, midnight was 6 pm. Ah, the two country life.

Fortunately, my Tony cat is on German time – curled up in my lap, purring and trying to convince me to sleep.

As I learned over and over again last year, great good can come out of difficult experiences. In this case, sleeplessness creates the space to write.

You’ll notice I was quiet again for the last few weeks. I assure you, there was a very good reason. I was fully immersed in holiday celebrations with my husband, our dog and hens, family and friends. I decided to give myself the present of being fully present in the moment. My gift rewarded me many times over.

It was a lovely holiday. When I went to the airport I left with a touch of sadness but fortunately no tears. In the place of tears was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my life and the people who count me as their own.

This is how I passed the holidays at our home in North Carolina. Lazy wake up, make coffee, take the dog for walks bundled up in pajama pants, my husbands Carhart barn jacket, beanie hat, scarf, gloves and a thick pair of hiking socks wrapped up in my sturdy German hiking boots. It was cold and I did not care one bit because when I looked up the sky was brilliant blue! Blue I tell you, a color I often long for in Germany. We covered many miles in the woods near our house and at nearby parks and trails. The Piedmont area of NC has wonderful hiking.

We enjoyed three lovely days of temperatures warm enough to slip on a helmet, riding boots and mechanics gloves and take our Harley’s out for a spin in the countryside. The wind, the scenery, the rumble – it never gets old. I coursed around corners with easy confidence in spite of not riding for four months. It amazes me how the riding technique just stays with me – it’s part of my DNA.

We decked our house out for the holidays with nearly the last tree at the local Home Depot. Decorated with ornaments going back to our childhoods and a few new additions from 2016 that I bought at a Weinachtmarkt in Bonn. We lit the candles on a beautiful handmade German Pyramid that I purchased at the same market. Our faces glowed in the candlelight as we watched the tiny wooden nativity scene twirling at surprising speeds. When we took it all down a couple days after New Year we left up the lights on the stairway bannister because they make such a beautiful glow!

They say whatever you do on New Year’s Day you will do the rest of the year, and I hope that is the case! We rang in the New Year with home made tacos with family on New Year’s Eve and then devoured a traditional New Year’s Day meal with friends: black eyes peas and collard greens for wealth and pulled pork for happiness.

To work up an appetite before the New Years feast, we woke early, brewed a pot of coffee, bought some donuts and headed to a trail. Surprisingly the donut shop had no lines! I declared my New Years resolution to the bakers: “eat delicious foods”. Properly fueled, we embarked on a First Day hike which is becoming a tradition in our little family. We like silent woods and were a bit taken-aback to find so many other hikers out in spite of cold weather and a threat of rain. After we escaped the crowds of happy hikers, I admit I was a teensy bit pleased to see so many other folks starting their year immersed in nature. Everyone we met was happy and passed along a friendly greeting for the New Year. I left the forest feeling hopeful and lucky, especially as the first rain drops fell as we left the parking lot.

Then the news began to fill with anticipation of a forecasted snow storm. Snow storms are always big news in North Carolina because the place isn’t equipped to deal with snow. As a result, everything sort of shuts down and I admit it is pretty fun! Especially when you’ve got a 4-wheel drive truck to drive around on the empty streets. We waited up half the night for the snow, and when it finally came it was not nearly as much as forecasted, but it was enough to enjoy some magical snow walks through the woods. Our new dog also experienced the snow for the first time and she was in love! To top it off we hopped on our mountain bikes and took a snow ride to share a few home made beers and a meal with friends a few mikes up the bike path from us. We chased the last rays of sun as we pushed our bikes the final 100 yards to the house.

In between it all we went to the grocery store I don’t know how many times. I’ve clearly adopted the frequent, small shopping patterns of Germans. We cooked and filled the dishwasher and hit repeat. Lentil soup, red lentil casserole, bacon, steaks, more bacon. Washed down with good old-fashioned American beer.

Life was simple and unplanned and wonderful. I returned to the office in Germany today and colleagues commented that I looked rested and refreshed. Between meetings in the washroom, I looked in the mirror and saw it was true. The weeks of freedom and calm were good for my soul.

I hope you are just as restored and prepared for an amazing 2017. Now it’s time to start planning my weekend adventures. First stop, Poland. Any travel advice from my globe-trotting followers?