Hot springs North Carolina

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A lovely drive through the southern Virginia countryside, with the mountains in the background. The trees down here are bursting with spring colors; white, yellow, pink, green, even red and purple blooms. And I love the random clusters of daffodils along the highway, reminding me of the bluebonnets in Texas.

I arrived in Hot Springs, North Carolina, around 2 pm. I knew Chris had camped the night before at mile 253, so he’d have to hike 20 miles to get to Hot Springs. I figured he’d get in around 5. So that gave me a couple of hours to walk around town, check out the Trailfest Weekend going on in town, and explore the crazy 170 year old inn we were staying at. It’s a beautiful house with crazy rooms, sweeping staircases, slanting floors, and wrap around porches on both floors. Owned by a 3-time thru-hiker, it’s $20 a night for hikers. What a deal.
The inn, built in 1840, was later used during World War I as a boarding house for wives of the German officers who were being held as prisoners of war across town (three blocks away) at the Mountain Park Hotel, next to the mineral springs. Later, the house was a boardinghouse for teachers who worked at the Dorland-Bell Institute, a school for Appalachian girls.

Chris came limping into town at 5:20 and after showering and changing, we walked through the town. He was so happy to grab a beer, some salad greens, and hot wings and sit on the patio of the Quarter House Tavern, overlooking the French Broad River. He told me about his hike- some rain, some wind, ice chunks and heavy frost, but no snow. One bear north of Clingmans Dome and some cool birds, two deer, and lots of hikers. In town we ran into Indiana, Rhode Island Red, and Admiral Caboose, all thru-hikers he had met on the trail in the past two weeks. After dinner a band played on the patio and it was a very relaxing evening.
On Sunday we walked around Hot Springs, had a yummy pancake breakfast with a bunch of hikers, and visited the Hot Springs spa. On the banks of the French Broad River, the spa has a dozen outdoor hot tubs, enclosed on 3 sides by a gazebo, fed by the hot mineral springs themselves. The open side looks out over the river and it was a lovely long soak and a pleasant way to spend an hour. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we went back the next day for another. After a “Hungry Hiker skillet” breakfast and a long soak, Chris got back on the AT to make his way 120 miles to Elk Park NC, where I will see him next Sunday.

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Hiking the Appalachian Trail

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My dear sweetheart is hiking the Appalachian Trail for the next few months. For the past month he’s been reading all about the trail and what to pack and what food to buy. He’s a pretty experienced camper and hiker already, so he pretty much knows what to do. Last week he purchased all his food for the first month and got it all measured out and packed away. And finally this weekend we drove down to Georgia to get him started.

We stayed at Amicalola Falls State Park lodge, one of the two main places that people start the trail. The AT actually starts at Springer Mountain, GA, but there is an 8 mile approach trail that leads from Amicalola Falls to the trailhead. While we were at Amicalola, of course, we visited the waterfall, a bit of a tradition with us (no arrests this time!). Long story, from our travels in Africa.

On Saturday morning we drove to Springer Mountain and parked. From the parking lot, it is .9 miles to the southern terminus, so I hiked that part with him. He signed in at the registry, put on his pack, and off he went. I drove back to Virginia, stopped at Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina, to deliver his first resupply package, and I also drove through Hot Springs NC, where I hope to see him in two weeks.

A little trail history: the trail officially began in 1935, after the US government purchases bits and pieces of land to make one long continuous trail/park. About 2,000 people try to hike the whole thing each year. About 17% succeed. The trail is 2, 108.5 miles long.

Galapagos and Ecuador, Dec 2013

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Wow, what a fun vacation! We started off in Quito and visited the city for two days, seeing the churches, the mountains, the equator, the volcano craters, and having a great meal on the roof of a restaurant overlooking the city at night. Very neat.
Then it was time for the islands! We met another couple, Ben and Jo, right off and spent most of the week doing day tours with them. We snorkeled off of San Cristobal island, and swam with baby sea lions (so cute!). We ferried over to Isabela island and visited the underwater lava caves and saw white tipped sharks, equatorial penguins, and flamingos. We visited two turtle breeding hatcheries and saw ancient land turtles as well. We went diving at Gordon’s Rocks and saw a giant sunfish, several manta rays, and hammerhead sharks. And everywhere, the blue footed boobies, sea lions, iguanas, and frigate birds.
It was a great vacation and words don’t do it justice, so I’ll just add some photos- they speak for themselves.

Arizona November 2013

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It was cool getting to go see the Grand Canyon as an adult, and also revisiting places in Arizona I hadn’t been in ten years.  Also great to see Nicole and her family.  Chris and I flew out for Thanksgiving weekend and arrived in Phoenix on Tuesday night.  We caught up with Nicole and Mark, and the next morning we did a little Phoenix exploring- Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West- and then the Montezuma Castle National Park.  Then we headed up 89A and visited the canyons of Sedona and all the cool rock formations such as coffeepot rock, Cathedral rock, Courthouse Butte, etc, as well as the Chapel of the Holy Cross- is there a prettier chapel in America?- and my favorite bridge, Midgely Bridge, spanning Oak Creek Canyon.  We stayed up on Airport Mesa at a little place called Sky Ranch Lodge, an absolute gem.  Had a fantastic meal right next door at the Airport Grill.  

Thursday we drove through Flagstaff and then on to the Grand Canyon, where we spent the day hiking around the rim and riding the bus.  What a grand vista.  It is truly mind boggling to think of time and the elements on that kind of scale.

The next day,we spent the morning around Sedona, and then we took the long way back to Phoenix, passing through Jerome and Prescott and other little towns, winding up back at Nicole’s in time to have Thanksgiving leftovers and chat with them.  It was a great weekend and a lovely look at some of Arizona’s finest features. 

Adventures around NoVa

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Some of my new friends are complaining that I never post any pictures of life in the US here, so I will do that. Here are some adventures I’ve had in the last few months while hanging around Northern Virginia.
I’ve been riding my bike more often- I did a very fun 25 mile ride with some friends in Dover, Delaware in September, and this past weekend I did a 56 mile ride to the end of the Washington/Old Dominion trail here in Virginia. The nice thing about getting out on a bike is being out in the fresh air, enjoying the fall weather, and not having it hurt every fiber of my body, like running does.
Speaking of running, I did the Army 10 Miler with my sweetheart and some friends, but due to security measures, couldn’t take my phone with me to get pics. But we kicked ass at 2 hours, 11 seconds.
The fall weather up here does something amazing to the trees. We don’t have beautiful fall leaves down in Texas- they just turn brown and fall off. Here in NoVa, they turn sunny yellow, brilliant orange, fiery red, majestic purple, and some just stay a glossy green. Really. It’s very beautiful, and it makes my daily drive home on Fairfax County Parkway really great.
Last week, I took a day off work to do some things, and wound up in a corner of DC that I had never been to, and ran smack into (not literally) the Washington National Cathedral. I had heard of it but never really seen a picture of it or been to it. Wow! What a gorgeous cathedral. I can’t wait to go check it out with some friends and tour it.
And, of course, my favorite event of all time occurs around this time each year: Halloween/ my birthday. Accompanying that is decorating the house, carving pumpkins (this year I did some drilling!), dressing up, and going to Oktoberfest (where we volunteered at the wine tent). And getting a year old, which turns out to not be so bad (so far).

Colombia and Panama: August 2013

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What a fun two weeks!  And yet exhausting!  We flew down to Colombia, landed in Barranquilla, and stayed at the Puerta del Sol hotel for one night- very nice! Then a bus ride to Santa Marta, where we prepared for our hike to the Ciudad Perdida.  The hike itself was four days, and 46 km, and involved hiking up – and then back down- three large mountains and crossing 6 rivers- or the same river six times, I’m not sure.  It was very challenging and at times absolutely exhausting, but I made it and getting to see the ruins of a 7th century city was amazing.  And I learned that sleeping in hammocks isn’t so bad.

After the hike and a day of recovery in Santa Marta, we went to Cartagena de Indies to enjoy the beach and the old walled city.  I liked the cobbled streets from the old section and seeing how it’s been revitalized and still retained its quaintness.  Cartagena is hot and sweaty!  Whew!  Ready for some ocean action, we signed on to take a four-five day sailboat to get to Panama.  The first two days were ocean crossing, and a bit rough, but we made it through and the last two days were blissful sailing and swimming around the beautiful San Blas islands.  Snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, sailing, and lobster to eat- what more can be asked of a vacation?  Plus a bottle of Medellin rum, shared four ways.  

Finally we left the boat and made our way in to Panama City, where we went to see the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal.  We enjoyed staying at the Central Park Hotel and Casino and especially their shower and their bed that did not go up and down with the swells.  We toured the museum at the Canal, and watched several really large cargo container ships pass through.  They are building a second set of locks that will accommodate boats up to three times bigger!  That is incredible.  All too soon it was time to head home, although to be honest, this time I think was ready to get back to normal life for a while. 

July: Niagara Falls and Toronto, Canada

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For the long July 4th weekend, we decided to drive up to see Niagara Falls and Toronto.  We left Wednesday after work, and spent Thursday afternoon and Friday morning at the Falls.  We did the Maid of the Mist boat, saw the fireworks for the 4th, and tried a couple of restaurants.  All in all, Niagara is a cute and somewhat tawdry place to visit for a day or two, not really enough for a whole weekend, unless you also go visit some wineries in the Niagara On the Lake area.
On Friday afternoon we drove to Toronto to check out the city.  We stayed close enough to downtown to walk in, and we visited the CN Tower on the first day.  We also had some great Indian food, but unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the place.  On Saturday we had breakfast at Mystic Muffin, which was a really interesting place, and we enjoyed talking with the owner- a super nice guy.  And amazing apple cake.  In fact, I planned on going back on Sunday morning to grab some stuff for the drive back, but unfortunately they are closed on Sundays.  Sad.  

We enjoyed the parks and greenspaces of Toronto, as well as the museum, and overall, had a very enjoyable visit there.  I’m glad we visited in the summer- it was hot but not too bad, and we didn’t have to deal with all the snow!