Backpacking for Beginners

Travel in the time of COVID-19 isn’t quite what we’re used to. Masks, social distancing, limited options, extra risk… One option is to travel by foot to explore the natural world around you. If you’re careful, backpacking is one fun way to do that.

Backpacking is an equipment heavy activity. As such, it’s tempting to learn about it from staff at stores, but you’ll likely end up spending and carrying too much if you go that route. Some store employees do have valuable expertise, but keep in mind that you don’t need to buy everything that might be nice. Remember – you have to carry it all.

There are a few primary categories of supplies and equipment you should consider.

Heading up to the Continental Divide over Roger’s Pass

1. Shelter and Sleep

Backcountry shelter can be broken down into tents, tarp shelters, and bivouacs or bivvies. None of them are houses, to be clear. A well-made shelter used correctly in conditions it was designed for can keep you dry and add some warmth to your night. If an animal or another human wants to get in badly enough, they will.

Tents come in a wide variety of sizes and types. You’ll want one designed for backpacking as car camping tents can be quite heavy. A tent will also normally be heavier if it is rated for more seasons (e.g. a 4 season vs. a 3 season). If you are going alone, a single person tent will help keep you warm, but there likely won’t be room for your pack inside, so consider getting a pack cover or packing a trash bag to cover your pack with in case it rains at night. If you are traveling in a group, you can use a bigger tent and split the parts up amongst the group so the weight is divided among everyone. Take note that size varies widely – a 3 man tent of one brand may be of a much different size than a 3 man of another. Set up new tents at home before taking them into the backcountry.

Tarp shelter can mean you bring a tarp and some p-cord (parachute cord) and set something up yourself. Commercial varieties also exist. The quality and effectiveness of such a shelter is just as variable as you might imagine. Bivvies fit over your sleeping bag to keep it dry in case of rain, but not much else will fit in there with you. They can be nice if you are looking for a particularly lightweight option.

2. Your Pack

First and foremost, your pack must fit. Backpacking packs should carry the load on your hips and should adjust to fit close to your back, without weight on your shoulders. Definitely try packs on before you buy and practice packing it at home before you go. The heavier items should be packed closer to your body. Consider putting frequently used items in accessible places.

Trekking poles are a nice accompaniment, especially in mountainous areas. I just use old ski poles as they are cheap.

Note, if you just go on weekend trips, you shouldn’t need the biggest size pack. If you choose that option, just be ready to carry it.

3. Food and Water Treatment

I would recommend always treating your water, no matter how clean it may appear to be. Iodine tablets are probably the most commonly used treatment, but chlorine based products are also available. Follow the manufacturer’s directions and consider bringing a flavoring agent as the treatment does affect taste. If you are travelling somewhere where the water is not very silty, physical filtration pumps also exist. Silty water tends to clog them, so careful and bring a backup treatment. You’ll want to stay hydrated, so take safe water seriously.

Food can be pretty personal. I definitely eat things in the backcountry I normally never touch. Things like powdered instant coffee, spray cheese, powdered mashed potatoes, and beef jerky. Don’t forget to pack snacks, breakfast, and dinner. I like one pot boil and eat meals that are simple to make. You want things that cook quickly so you don’t waste fuel.

That leads to the tricky topic of fires. I know some people feel that an outdoor experience is not complete without a campfire, but living here in arid Colorado, I almost never build them as the risk is too great. If I do, it’s only at established fire pits and only if there is no current fire ban. In the US, check the regulations if the county you will be in. Personally, I think cooking is so much easier and faster with a lightweight backpacking stove that I would never try to cook on a fire again, but that’s me.

4. Staying warm and dry

At night, you’ll want a decent sleeping bag, possibly a compression sack to get it to fit into your pack, and a sleeping pad. The pad is not just for comfort, but to insulate you from the ground. Have a dry pair of socks and also consider fleece pants and a hat to sleep in depending on your climate and time of year. I like packing a small synthetic camp pillow, but that’s up to you.

On the trail, it’s a good idea to have rain gear accessible, packed where you can easily reach it. If you are fair skinned, have sunblock in reach as well. As previously mentioned, a pack cover is also worth considering.

A final note on apparel – make sure your boots fit and consider a non-cotton sock liner under your non-cotton socks to help prevent blisters. Make sure you have a blister kit in your medical kit (yes, you should have at least a basic med kit).

5. Navigation

I love tech, but I do not recommend relying completely on your phone or GPS. Have a paper map and compass as a backup and learn how to use them. Your map never needs batteries and can make the difference between life and death.

6. A small form of amusement

Optional, of course, but I don’t go anywhere without a book, notebook, and pen. What do you prefer?

There are a lot of great books and training courses on this topic, so this post is just an intro and not a complete guide. Have fun out there, but also please keep in mind that resources are stained due to the pandemic and rescue may not be possible. Plan ahead and make smart decisions!

Barker Reservoir

Are you ok? A shout into the void

Musings on COVID-19

As COVID-19 disrupts lives and shatters norms, we all are having to make changes to adapt and stay healthy. Lives have been lost, travel plans shattered, and for many of us, our sources of income have been disrupted. I’m fortunate as my day job still exists, though my husband’s does not, so our income is reduced. I am able to keep blogging and working on some side projects, despite disruptions to others. I have shelter, food, and clean water. Fundamentally, I cannot complain, though I fear for friends and family in areas where leadership is behaving in ways that indicate their primary concern is the economy and not public health.  

We exist now in isolated bubbles, connected only by the internet. It is the opposite the sort of adventurous wandering that inspires this blog and I can’t help but wonder how everyone is doing and how you are all coping. Not just physically, though of course I hope you all can shelter safely, but psychologically and emotionally as we all struggle through isolation and uncertainty. 

I am a travel writer because I love travel and aspire to visit everywhere I can, but I am not a travel writer because I frequently travel. My goals of changing that have been disrupted, but any petty inconveniences I am experiencing are superseded by both my anxiety and concern for the present and my hope for the opportunities presented by the future. 

As we witness the changes to our world from our computers and televisions, take note that we are presented with an extraordinary opportunity to reshape a new normal. To demand a better life for ourselves, our children, and ultimately for our species. It should be abundantly clear at this moment that societal values that overweight the contributions of the extraordinarily wealthy are both incorrect and damaging. Society is built upon the backs of our essential workers, who are now sacrificing their own safety and well-being to provide us services we have long undervalued. Our air is cleaner, our streets quieter, the birdsong more vibrant, and many of us had some much-needed time to reflect. Life has been reset and while the circumstances that wrought these changes and wholly undesirable, that does not mean that we should not seize upon the positive aspects of our current condition and recognize that opportunity exists in the face of crisis and despair. 

Established power does not readily yield and societal change can be unnervingly and frustratingly glacial. Yet, some change cannot wait. Our climate issues truly must be addressed immediately, and such a problem requires planetary collaboration to resolve, not isolationist nationalist policies currently favored by certain governments. If we are to continue to live the lives of adventure and travel we all desire, we are not immune from these concerns and must acknowledge the innovation needed to reduce our own personal contributions to the problem. 

I do not personally have a way to influence decision makers on my own. A single fist shaking into the void changes nothing, but economies don’t restart without us. The veil has been lifted and we should recognize our importance even if those who rely upon us do not. Are you willing to put your safety on the line without having your demands met? I’m not. It’s time we collectively recognize our own value and treat ourselves to the self-worth we deserve. We matter and in our collective action there is hope. Let us all shake our fists at those who would have our return to normalcy be one of servitude that devalues our lives. Clog their phone lines, their inboxes, and their snail mailboxes. We have the time to time, so let’s use it to create a future that works for all of us.  

A snowy Colorado road
The road will be difficult but all things worth achieving are

 

 

Travel Reading During Quarantine

Travel in your mind

As has escaped no one, things got pretty crazy in the past month. No one is going anywhere, or at least, they shouldn’t be. When I can’t physically travel, I travel in my mind, so I’m sharing five of my favorite travel-related books.

I say say “travel-related” because some are definitely “travel-adjacent” – this is not a typical travel book list. It’s a list of books that inspire me to travel, whether that be through history, science, food, or adventure. I hope you enjoy them and please, share your personal favorite travel or travel-adjacent books in the comments. I’m always looking for new reading material.

1. The People’s Guide to Mexico by Carl Franz – It’s been awhile since I read this, but I found it to be both comprehensive and engaging. It incorporates a lot of personal experience acquired over a broad swath of time, and will really pull you in. I have no idea if it is still relevant, it was first published in 1988, but if you are reading for enjoyment and inspiration whilst quarantined on your couch, I don’t think it matters.

The cover is beautiful, too.

2. A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – I will never experience Paris as Hemingway describes it in this book, and for that, I will always feel loss. Though it’s much more memoir than specifically travel themed, the romance of Paris between the wars is palpable and fierce. An all time favorite of mine, even if I weren’t quarantined.

Travel back to a Paris you will never experience on your own

3. My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Leibovitz – I’ve learned to really enjoy cooking these past few years and, along the way, I’ve discovered a love for books that combine travel with food. This is one such book. As a bonus, it contains recipes, so you can cook your way through quarantine when you aren’t reading.

Read and cook your way through quarantine

4. Bee Quest by Dave Goulson – Goulson is a professor of biology by trade and this book is about his search for rare bee species, a search that takes him to a number of locales, both exotic and common (depending on perspective, of course). It sounds like it could be quite dull, but Goulson’s dry wit and love for the topic are entirely engaging. I was surprised how much I loved it and I hope you are, too.

Learn about bees in a most engaging way

5. Avoiding Prison and Other Noble Vacation Goals: Adventures in Love and Danger by Wendy Dale – The author travels to Columbia and stays there, during a less-than-safe period of their history. You often fear for her safety and live vicariously through her adventurous spirit. This is another one that’s a little older – I read it in the early aughts – so I’m actually a little curious how I’d feel about it now. Maybe I’ll re-read it myself.

Disregard the cluttered cover

Colorado Road Trip Activities

For when you’re stuck in traffic

Colorado is a great place to visit, but if you want to experience all the state has to offer, you’re going ot be on the road quite a bit. Odds are pretty solid you’ll be stuck on I-70 at some point. However will you pass the time?

Rocky Mountains in the Indian Peaks Wilderness
Look at all of that natural beauty you’re struggling to access

  1. Ski Rack or Cop? It’s seriously hard to tell, especially from a distance. Given that the Subaru is the unofficial car of Colorado, be prepared to live in constant fear of tickets you can’t afford. Be especially concerned if it’s winter and you aren’t obeying traction law on I-70.
  2. Dead skunk or marijuana grow? A real thing in Colorado and especially relevant on rural backroads. Seriously hard to tell the difference sometimes.
  3. Podcasts. Not a joke, just something I like. Download them first if you are headed to the mountains because rural areas often equal shitty phone service. Plan ahead. Side note, also bring a physical map for the same reason. Yes, I know it’s 2020 and yes, I’m serious. I live in the mountains so I know how bad Google can be there.
  4. I-70 Tailgate Party. Stuck on I-70 again due to ski/summer/holiday/mystery traffic? Plan ahead. Bring snacks, chairs, maybe a small grill. Setup shop. Get to know your new neighbors. You live there now.
  5. Emergency Tire Chain-up. Fun! It’s June, but somehow you’ve found high altitude snow and you’re sliding backward down a mountain canyon. Good thing you planned ahead and have chains in your trunk.

Have anything you like to do that you want to share? Tell me in the comments!

An Ode to the Tulip Poplar

My Favorite Species of Deciduous Tree

At my first college, I took an ornithology course. There were three other people in my class – my friend Brandy, a basketball player whose rare presence indicated a failing attempt to fulfill some kind of science requirement, and the registrar’s mother.

This school didn’t function off of either semesters or quarters, but instead had a module system in which you took one class at a time, intensively, for about a month and then switched it up to new class. That meant all morning 5 days a week and, if it was a science class, a big chunk of the afternoon, as well.

The many pros and cons of this system can be debated at a future time, but one clear pro was that we were able to take tons of field trips to watch birds, set up mist nets, visit the Pittsburgh Aviary, and camp all around the state because there were no schedule conflicts for anyone to worry about.

This was how I discovered the tulip poplar.

A tulip poplar tree
Photo credit Baumann Tree Service

Yes, I’m sure I was supposed to discover birds, not trees. In fairness, I did. I loved that class and I still pay attention to birds, much to my husband’s confusion. He’s learned to not be surprised at my sudden exclamations: Common Grackle! Mountain Bluebird! and just takes it all in stride. Several field guides have a prominent position in my kitchen, from which I can see my bird feeder. There are plans for binoculars and more feeders.

Still, though – the tulip poplar.

Tall and slender, with big floppy leaves that catch the light in just the right way and leave the forest floor glittering like Lothlorien in the fall, they are the one type of deciduous tree that I really miss in my evergreen mountain home. I miss hiking by them, reading under them, and I especially miss them when backpacking because, let’s face it, pine needles make awful toilet paper and those giant leaves are just the best.

A tulip poplar leaf
Photo credit tree-guide.com

Jokes aside, there is a romance to them. The ways they dapple the sunlight and tower above the undergrowth. The way they make the forest floor look, the shadows they cast, and the wildlife they do their part to harbor. They get pretty tall, so in my case, I think it’s that they make me feel small, in that positive way that only nature can manage.

The tulip poplar does its part in autumn, with it’s golden leaves. In Colorado, people are familiar with the gold of the aspens. They are lovely, but those giant poplar leaves combined with the reds and golds of other species make fall in the West Virginia and all around Appalachia and the eastern U.S. something special. It’s one of the few things that I prefer about my home region. Not enough to move back or anything, but if you are visiting that area in the fall, take a minute to look at the trees.

I’m no botanist and therefore can do little to espouse their merits or deride them for any ecological fault. The pleasure I take in them is purely aesthetic and, for all that, I don’t even have any photos of my own of my favorite deciduous tree, a problem I will have to remedy during my next summer visit to my home state.

If you do visit West Virginia, whether it be for the world class whitewater rafting (the best reason to visit, in my opinion) or for some other rationale, pay attention to the trees. If you happen to find yourself under a particularly pleasant, large-leafed variety, you may have found a tulip poplar. In which case, enjoy it for me.

Continue reading “An Ode to the Tulip Poplar”

Holiday Travel Tips

Stay sane during your travels

The husband and I are about to embark on our yearly pilgrimage to the decaying industrial wasteland of my youth. The holidays are hard and holiday travel is worse, so enjoy this list of survival tips, and make it your destination with your sanity intact.

1. Fly Southwest. I find this necessary because my mother will inevitability give us gifts despite our protestations and then we’ll have to pack them home. Southwest’s baggage friendly policies make them my go to for holiday travel.

One caveat – if the weather gets bad and your flight is canceled, enjoy your sleep on the airport floor. They offer no hotel vouchers for weather issues.

Ideally, you can avoid packing much in the way of objects, stick with a light carry on, and fly with any airline you choose. However, if your family insists on gifts… Southwest, it is.

A crowded airport
Chicago Midway Airport. A wretched hive of lines and misery during a snowstorm.

2. Avoid Children. Like, don’t have them. Then you neither have to fly with them, nor inflict them upon others. It’s all win. If you do bring your small human on the plane and said small human spends the entire flight kicking the back of my seat, then I shall curse you and your house with incurable acne for seven generations.

Note: Don’t ask how, just run with it. Oh, and please don’t send me angry messages about kids. I love other people’s kids. Just not on planes.

3. Wear Antiperspirant. This one is for you. Also, for me. Antiperspirant all around, please. Holiday airline travel is no time for simple deodorant or ineffective crystals.

4. Do not drink heavily the night before. You do not want to be the passenger using the vomit bag. Yes, I am speaking from experience. No, you may not ask questions.

5. Pack an empty water bottle. Once you get through security, fill that baby up. Drink from it. Avoid dehydration.

4 bottles of moonshine
These bottles contain moonshine, not water. Do not pack them.

6. Pack snacks. Do not give airlines and airports the pleasure of the upcharge. They are cheap bastards who pack us into planes like cattle and charge us $6 for a handful of chips. Take that pain and feed it back to them in the form of reduced profits. It’s all we have, really.

7. Noise cancelling headphones + music of choice + a healthy imagination. This is even more effective if you also pull your hat over your eyes. In this way, you can be anywhere you want, and nothing seems sends a stronger signal to your seatmate that you want left alone than blocking all your senses.

8. Wear proper footwear. This is not the day to wear your thigh high lace up boots. We will hate you at security and will silently cheer when you are hauled off for a randomly selected and overly handy pat down.

9. Don’t hog the chargers. Airports never have enough of the damn things and we all need them. Avoid airport hunger games and pack a battery pack. This reminds me – I need a new battery back.

10. Don’t Participate. Just opt out of the whole damn thing and stay home. Do as I say, not as I do.

Happy holidays and what not.

5 Easy Tips for Colorado Leaf Peepers

How to keep the locals from hating you

Are you not from Colorado and do you therefore not know what the title of this post means? I had not heard the term before we moved to the mountains of this state, so I’ll clarify. A leaf peeper is someone who comes to the mountains to look at leaves. Specifically, leaves changing colors in the fall.

As someone who grew up in Appalachia and the Midwest, I find it a little baffling as aspens really only turn yellow, whereas the greater variety of deciduous trees we had where I grew up would change a wide variety or reds and oranges in addition to yellow. It’s perfectly pretty out here, but there’s no comparison. Ironically, I find the color change in Colorado to be prettiest in the city which contains a lot of non-native trees. If it really were just the trees people wanted to see, they could just go to Capitol Hill in Denver.

However, I digress. Odds are, it’s just an excuse to go to the mountains, which I understand.

There’s definitely a love-hate relationship between mountain residents and the peepers as tension tends to build when you want to go to the store for an onion and there’s a 40-minute line of traffic to get into town. The business is appreciated, but the inconvenience is real.

That being said, here are a few things to consider if you are going to peep at leaves.

  1. Stay Out of Traffic – If you pull over to peep or to photograph peeping for your holiday cards, please pull over all of the way. Despite the aforementioned tension, no one really wants to hit you. However, if you leave the ass of your car out in the road or, even worse, if you stand in the road, there will be issues that could include death. Stay safe. Stay out of the road.
  2. Consider the bus – It depends where exactly you are going, but if you are planning on peeping in the Nederland area, you can take the RTD NB bus (formerly the N) to the mountains. There are many lovely aspens that you can see from the town of Nederland. If you wish to peep further out in the wilderness, you can take the Hessie Shuttle (it’s free!) from the RTD Park & Ride in Nederland. It picks up where the NB bus drops you off, so it’s super convenient and allows you to enjoy the view of yellow leaves from the comfort of a vehicle you are not controlling. The destination is the Hessie trailhead, from which you can hike to Lost Lake or beyond and see many fine yellow aspens. Check out the link above for schedule information.
    Note: The last day for the shuttle in 2019 is October 6th. Apologies for the late post.
  3. Stay off of private property – Some of those yellow trees are not on public land and humans that own that land probably don’t want you peeping on it, even if that pic would make great Instagram content. Be courteous, obey signage, and stay off private property.
  4. Be Kind to the Land – This is important year-round, but the crowds can be pretty bad during peeping season, so problems are exacerbated. Pick up your trash, obey any current fire bans, and leave-no-trace. The locals will appreciate it, the wildlife will appreciate it, and you’ll feel the personal satisfaction of being a good person. That matters, yes?
  5. Take a deep breath – The trees do this every year. There’s no need to rush or be irritable. It will happen again.

Yellow Aspens in the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado
The trees do this every year

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Destinations: Santa Monica

A Seaside Escape

The Pacific ocean and Santa Monica Pier at dusk
The Pacific ocean and Santa Monica Pier at dusk

California is a huge state, so choosing where exactly to go for a visit can be a chore. There are many fine choices, however I submit Santa Monica for your consideration due to the walkability of the area, proximity to the ocean and the airport, awesome farmers market, and the fact that I’ve been there recently.

Where to Stay

Parking is pretty bad, but thankfully you can easily Lyft or Uber from the airport and that walkability factor means you don’t really need a car. If you can find an Airbnb a little north of the pier, that area is very pleasant and close to a grocery. There are of course many expensive hotels in the area and, if that’s your jam, I’m sure they are quite nice. My budget dictates that they are not my jam, so Airbnb is my first choice. There’s also a HI USA hostel that is right in the thick of things, near the ocean and plenty of restaurants. If I were travelling alone, I’d choose there.

The Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica
One of the many beautiful hotels that are out of my price range

Getting Around

Aside from Lyft, Uber, and your own two feet, there is a shuttle service and a bus system. Also, electric scooters are everywhere, much to the dismay of locals. When I was there last there were passive aggressive signs all over the place on the sides of buses and buildings urging people to not ride on the sidewalks. I got yelled at by a lady just for trying to park one of the things (they get parked on sidewalks and can’t be at intersections). I happen to love them, even though I can understand the frustration with them. Just stay off of the sidewalks (except for the inevitability of parking) and enjoy the ride. They’re great if you need to get somewhere nearby cheaply and faster than your feet can take you. Try not to piss off the locals too much because I want the damn things to be there next time I visit.

Eggplants
Some attractive produce at the Farmer’s Market

What to do?

The ocean is right there and the climate is super pleasant, even in November (yes, this is when I visited). There’s also the pier and the aforementioned farmer’s market, which is quite big and full of awesome produce and other delicious options. It’s on Arizona between 4th and Ocean on Wednesdays and Saturdays and it’s super easy to grab a reusable bag (I always pack one) and hop on one of those scooters to grab some produce to cook up in your Airbnb. I tend to be a budget traveler, so I like to get Airbnb’s with small kitchens so I can avoid the cost of eating out every night.

The Pacific Ocean with seagulls
The Pacific Ocean complete with gulls. They will steal your food. Caution.

I do like to sample local restaurants as part of the experience, but just can’t do so all of the time. When I do go, one place I have visited repeatedly is Ye Olde King’s Head, a British restaurant/pub/gift shop with nice curry and an even nicer atmosphere.  I also like Chez Jay, a place that is more bar than restaurant (a rarity in Santa Monica), but still serves excellent food. Finally, there’s a little hole in the wall Italian place on Ocean called Bruno’s. Their pizza is probably the best deal in town and the “medium” Caesar salad on the lunch menu is pretty damn big and therefore a great deal. It’s a cozy (read: tiny) place, so prepare for a tight fit at busy times.

A Pacific Park Pier sign in Santa Monica with an Octopus
The Pier Octopus

There are other restaurants and lots of shops on the Third Street Promenade (read: outdoor mall) that runs along… you guessed it – Third Street. It’s a nice stroll and there are lots of neat shops to check out. It’s a pretty wealthy mall, so there are a lot of shops you can’t afford that are interesting to look at.  The climate is so nice in Santa Monica that I find myself really enjoying just walking around and occasionally stopping for a coffee.

A dinosaur fountain on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California
Some Promenade decor

Finally, there’s a YMCA nearby, so if you want a workout, and want to pick up heavy objects and put them down again, that is an easy affordable option. If you are aready a Y member, you can visit out of town Y’s for free. If you aren’t a member, inquire about a day pass. Many YMCA’s allow that.

Oh, and the Santa Monica website says there are events, so look into that, I guess.

In Conclusion

Santa Monica is a pleasant, if expensive, area. However, it’s definitely possible to travel here on a budget and the climate and ammenities make it worth your time. It’s less of an adventure travel destination in my experience, though I might not think that if I knew how to surf. That’s a goal for the next time I come. Have you visited Santa Monica and do you have other suggestions for me? Leave a comment and let me know about it!

A close-up of some sea creatures under the Santa Monica Pier.
A close-up of some sea creatures under the Santa Monica Pier.

10 Very Specific Places I Want to Visit

What’s on your list?

A Lighthouse in Maine
A Lighthouse in Maine, an enjoyable place that is not on my spreadsheet

I keep a travel spreadsheet. I’m orderly like that and I enjoy recording interesting places that I learn about in the hope that I can get there someday. Fundamentally, it feels optimistic, which is nice.

Some of my entries are on the vague side, “Morocco” for instance, while others specify an exact museum, restaurant, or some other locale.

Here are some of my favorite, most highly anticipated, and specific choices.

Do you keep a spreadsheet? If so, what’s on it?

1. Hobbiton Set – New Zealand

Why:

I love Tolkien. I’ve read nearly everything published from Smith of Wooten Major to the The Book of Unfinished Tales to The Silmarillion, and of course The Hobbit and the trilogy. The trilogy movies had some good moments (let’s not even talk about The Hobbit films), and getting to see the Hobbiton set would be some serious childhood wish fulfillment.

2. The Literary Man Hotel – Obidos, Portugal

Why:

I love to read and this place doubles as a bookstore, with books lining the walls throughout. They also offer some literary-themed programs and a bar with drinks named after authors. It’s just an environment I know I will like.

3. The Mountain Hostel – Gimmelwald, Switzerland

Why?

Just look at the pictures and video. I can’t fathom not wanting to be there. In truth, I could easily made a list of 10 places in Switzerland alone, but decided to spread it out.

4. The Isle of Skye – Scotland

Why?

Another spectacular setting full of adventure and photographic opportunities. Mountain biking, axe throwing, hiking, and kayaking? Yes, please.

5. H.R. Giger Museum Bar – Gruyeres, Switzerland

Why?

Fundamentally because it seems a neat place to have a drink. Giger is probably most well known for his work on Alien and the look of this bar has a similar feel. I want to visit Switzerland for the mountains and stunning vistas, so why not have a beer here as well.

6. Shirohige’s Cream Puff Factory – Japan

Why?

I love sweets and the work of Hiyao Miyazaki. It’s hard to resist a cream filled Totoro.

7. Giant’s Causeway – Northern Ireland

Why?

It just looks really neat and I want to get a closer look. I’m a sucker for natural beauty, especially when it’s as unique as this.

8. The Mobil – Lee Vining, CA

Why?

Why, indeed. This is a gas station in California, but by all reports, it’s as much gathering place for outdoor adventurers as it is gas station. There’s also live music and a deli, making it much more than your average gas station.

9. West Highland Way – Scotland

Why?

I love traveling in non-motorized ways, so the notion of backpacking through Scotland is exactly my type of thing. Plus, it looks at though there are options to stay under a roof certain nights, which will appeal to my husband. In general, I need to explore Europe’s hut-to-hut backpacking system more. I’m happy to start here.

10. Anne Frank Museum – Amsterdam

Why?

Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it and I’m pretty concerned that a repeat may be imminent. For all I know, it’s being repeated in my own country as I type this. The situation is sobering.

So, that’s my current 10. It’s a list I’m sure will change.

Scotland and Switzerland are repeated, so I guess that means one of those places needs to be our next destination. It also means that I need to research some other areas more thoroughly.

Suggestions?

Destinations: Valle Nevado in Chile

Take a ski trip to Valle Nevado in Chile for gorgeous scenery and excellent skiing.

As the ski season comes to a close in the northern hemisphere, it’s just getting ready to begin for our neighbors to the south. The ski season at Valle Nevado typically runs from approximately June to October, depending on snowfall. Located in the Andes, east of Santiago, the resort is pretty accessible from the airport via one of the many transport services available. I got a great deal through Turistik, a company I would highly recommend over the much more expensive Ski Total.

The road to the resort is narrow and twisting and is limited to one-way traffic at certain times, so be prepared. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for livestock because they can access the road, so watch your speed lest you hit a stray cow or horse.

The road from Valle Nevado Ski Resort to Santiago Chile is long, windy, narrow, and stunning.
The road connecting Valle Nevado Ski Resort to Santiago is a Class VI drive.

Why Valle Nevado?

In my case, it’s easy – I won my trip. As in, I filled out a form on the internet, and the contest was actually real and not just data mining. Yeah, I was shocked, too. The prize did not include airfare, but it did include 6 days of hotel, breakfast & dinner, and lift tickets, all for two people. It was pretty sweet.

The prize was only for late season – I went in September – and the conditions were appropriately slick for late season skiing. However, I had a lot of the mountain to myself. There were days that I was pretty much the only person skiing the backside and all of the lifts back there were open. It was like having my own private mountain.

I do think I was lucky to have the coverage I did. Even though it was icy, the vast majority of the runs were open. One worker I talked to told me that the prior year there had been almost no snow left that late. If you plan a late season trip to Valle Nevado:

  1. Don’t count on powder
  2. Don’t even count on snow.

Just research conditions before you book anything.

The balconies of the Hotel Puerta del Sol have a stunning view of the Andes
View from the balconies of the Puerta del Sol looking out over the frontside of the ski runs in the Andes.

Where to stay?

There are three hotels of varying price range at the resort. The Hotel Valle Nevado is the most expensive, followed by the Puerta del Sol, and then the Tres Puntas. There are also condos (the Mirador del Inca being one), that our driver told us can sometimes be rented. A quick search on Airbnb brought up some possibilities, so I’d consider trying there and comparing prices to the hotels. My prize included lodging at the mid-range hotel – the Puerta del Sol. The view from the room was stellar, with a little patio overlooking the Andes, but the room was average. It was older and a bit small, with two little twin beds and not very many outlets. The hotel did provide a little set of outlet adaptors, but you’ll likely want to bring your own so that you have more than one.

In short, you might do better in an Airbnb. I wasn’t overly concerned, I was simply excited to get to ski, but it’s worth noting and likely worth a bit of research.

Two of the three hotels at Valle Nevado Ski Resort - Hotel Valle Nevado and Puerta del Sol
The Hotel Valle Nevado on the left and the Puerta del Sol in the back to the right.

The Tres Valles System

Valle Nevado is part of the Tres Valles system of Chilean ski resorts, which also include La Parva and El Colorado to the north and west. Both of those other resorts are visible from various parts of the mountain and are accessible by skis if you can afford the lift tickets to them. Actually, in the case of La Parva, it’s possible to accidentally ski down the mountain to it. In this case, you would be stuck buying a lift ticket to get back to Valle Nevado on skis. Caution is advised in this regard. I caught myself just time – take note that any unmarked lifts on your Valle Nevado map may not be Valle Nevado lifts at all.

The resort is situated in a high mountain bowl and is known for its excellent powder in peak season, but spring visitors to all resorts in the area should be prepared to ski ice and crud. The mountain groomers did an excellent job with what was available and only one of the six days I skied was icy enough that I quit the mountain early for the bar. However, spring conditions are spring conditions, and visitors should be prepared for them.

Visitors should also be prepared to get to watch an incredible array of ski racers train in the mornings. One of my favorite activities was to sit on the patio outside the gondola unloading area and admire the skills of the racers after I had myself completed my morning runs.

A view of El Colorado from Valle Nevado during a stunning pink sunset.
The sunsets at Valle Nevado are stunning

Off-Piste

Skiing aside, the resort has other offerings for non-skiers or skiers taking a break from the slopes. There’s a hot tub, outdoor fire place, and several shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s best to purchase a food package, as it’s particularly expensive to eat if you don’t. One can save a bit of money by filling up on soup and hot cocoa at the daily apres ski event before dinner. Also, there’s a little grocery a short walk from the Puerta del Sol and Tres Puntas which can be used for food to save you from having to eat at the expensive restaurants. If you do visit the restaurants, tipping is expected and will be added to your bill at the end of your stay if you don’t tip along the way. When we visited, there were three restaurant options – Chilean, French, and Italian. They were all excellent, but the Italian place offered a free glass of wine if you booked early.

We ate Italian all but two nights.

The treacherous class VI drive up the mountain is far enough from Santiago that transport will need to be arranged in advance and if you choose to not rent a car, it can be difficult to get to other areas. A shuttle is available from the hotel area to the base of the gondola and non-skiers are allowed to ride that gondola up to its end at mid mountain if they have a lift ticket. Some other shops are available at the gondola base, and food and drink are available mid mountain for skiers who do not pack snacks.

The hot tub at Valle Nevado as viewed from above.
The view down onto the hot tub makes it look a bit like human soup.

A Note on the Lifts

The majority of the lifts at Valle Nevado are surface lifts, which is to say they are mostly J-bars (Poma lifts) with at least one T-bar. There is a gondola and a high speed 6 pack up front as well as few others chairs, but every lift on the backside is a surface lift except one. That includes the Tres Puntas Poma which is like riding a bucking bronco. It throws you up into the air at the start, so be ready. It’s fun once you get used to it, but it handed me my only fall of the trip. Beware of Tres Puntas lift.

This is all fine, really. It just gets a little tiring, so it’s good to know. I’m told it can get pretty windy, so this is probably part of the reason for the abundance of surface lifts.

The Tres Puntas lift is mildly treacherous, so beware.
View from Tres Puntas Lift

The Verdict

If you can afford to ski Valle Nevado, do it. It’s a beautiful place with excellent skiing, even in late season. I will say that if you are into steeps or trees, this isn’t your mountain. The runs labeled as steep here really aren’t and everything is above tree line. There is some nice looking skiing out of bounds here so, if it’s a good snow year, consider the resort’s heli skiing services or a reputable backcountry guide service such as Powderquest. If you want powder, don’t come late season, though that goes without saying. The reason I enjoyed myself was:

  1. I got to ski. Anytime I get to ski, I’m a happy human.
  2. There were almost no lines. This is likely the best perk of skiing late season here.
  3. It was free, or nearly so (I bought snacks, plane tickets, transport via Turistik, and I tipped).
  4. I got to ski.
  5. The Andes are spectacularly beautiful.
  6. I love to travel.
  7. I got to ski.

If you want a cheaper way to ski in Chile, I’ve heard that it is more affordable to stay in Farrelones. This is a small mountain village from which El Colorado can be accessed. Since Valle Nevado is accessible via El Colorado, this is one way to ski that resort without staying there. Unfortunately, this option would require lift tickets for both El Colorado and Valle Nevado since, to the best of my knowledge, the resorts do not co-operate in an fashion in regards to lift tickets.

Regardless of all of this, Valle Nevado is worth your time if you can manage it. Not only because the skiing is excellent, but the staff are lovely and very forgiving of those with poor Spanish language skills, as personal experience attests.