Friday, August 18, 2017

National Park 42/59: Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Over the years, we've spent A LOT of time in Colorado, but only I had been to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. And in our quest to visit all 59 of the national parks, it doesn't count until we've been there together!

We finally visited it together last weekend, making it number 42.

We were returning to work at Fenton Ranch in New Mexico (teaching and caretaking) and decided to include a detour to see the park on our drive.
There are 2 entrances and I had previously been to the north entrance (less visited), so we explored the south side.

There are less than 5 miles of established trails on the south side, and we made sure to do them all. The Oak Flat Loop and Warner Point trails give you the best views of the deep and sheer canyon walls. Early settlers found the canyon to be foreboding given how dark and narrow it was. Back in the early 1900s when they finally surveyed the canyon via the Gunnison River, the expedition took 9 days to travel 33 miles!!

And while you can follow one of the unmaintained trails to get to the bottom, we took the easy way to see the Gunnison River. We drove down, down, down the 16% grade to get to the East Portal. This historic community developed because the surrounding areas of western Colorado needed a more reliable water source. However, to bridge the Gunnison River to the people and land, they needed to dig a tunnel through the mountain. While the East Portal community eventually dissolved, the tunnel thrived. Completed in 1909, this 5.8-mile long by 12-foot high tunnel still delivers river water for irrigation today.

The canyon is not the only sight to be seen while in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. It is known for its stargazing and is labeled as one of the "International Dark Sky Parks." We camped on a clear night and the park even had a volunteer astronomer set up with his telescope. In addition to viewing 15,000+ stars and the Milky Way, he showed us Saturn and Jupiter through the telescope! 

We are hoping to hit one more National Park before the end of 2017, but we are certainly pleased with how many we've hit this summer alone. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Summer 2017 Speaking Tour Road Trip Statistics

Dates: May 1- July 25

Distance Traveled: 14,240 miles 
   *12,328 miles on the Superfeet Van 
   *1,912 miles on our own car
***Our friend Alexis put together this REALLY AWESOME video of the Superfeet van. Check it out on our YouTube channel. Gracias Alexis!***

Longest Drive: 922 miles on 7/23/17 from Moorehead, MN to Denver, CO

Number of Days: 116 days 
   *roughly 100 days in the van

States Driven Through: 31

Presentations: 31
   *Favorite Presentation: Hopkinton Town Library in New Hampshire, mostly because we knew more than half the audience and hadn’t seen some of these people in several years! In fact, there were only 9 events where we didn’t know at least 1 person in the audience. And of the gear companies that sponsored the tour, all but 2 companies had representatives come out to watch.

Friends Visited: Approximately 140+
I certainly DID NOT get a picture of everyone we stayed with and everyone we visited/stayed with. But I sure did try. And even if we didn't see YOU on this trip, I'm sure we'll get you on another trip. Or another trip. Or another trip. 
Miles Hiked: 150.2 miles (each)
   *Favorite Day Hike: Chaos Crags in Lassen Volcanic National Park
   *Favorite Backpacking Trip: Channel Islands National Park from one end of the island to the other (Prisoners Cove to Scorpion Cove)

High Points Attempted: 4
High Points Achieved: 3.5

National Parks: 11 (9 were ones we hadn't been to before)
   *Favorite NP from this trip: Channel Islands NP

National Monuments:

Most expensive diesel gas price paid: $3.09/gallon

Number of times the gas warning light went on: 4 nerve-wracking times

Number of breakdowns/flat tires/speeding tickets/accidents: ZERO

Nights sleeping inside/outside friends’ or families’ houses (we sometimes slept in the van in someone's driveway): 36
Simply put, this tour would not have been what it was without our friends and families opening their homes. Thank you for all of your modern conveniences, comfy beds, flushing/non-public toilets, full-pressure hot showers, fresh towels, non-coin operated washing machines, full-size sink, dishwasher, unlimited electricity, unlimited Internet ... I feel like I am forgetting something ... oh, companionship!!!

Nights sleeping in the van at rest areas: 12 
    *Best kept secret: The wayside on Route 6 along the Wilson River between Portland and Tillamook in Oregon

Nights sleeping in a Walmart parking lot: 10
    *Best Walmart on this trip: Houghton, MI. We found quite a few Walmarts this trip that were tucked back and off the main road, including this one. We also found a bunch of Walmarts that apparently DO NOT allow overnight parking and can make for an unpleasant 2AM wakeup call (SLC, I'm looking at you). 

Nights sleeping in an RV Park/Campground: 5
     *Best Campground: Wheeler Peak Campground in Great Basin National Park 

Nights sleeping at a trailhead in van: 3
     *Best trailhead campsite: Ross Dam Trail in North Cascades NP (this was actually our very first night in the van!)

Nights in our tent: 6
     *Best backcountry campsite: Del Norte Backcountry Campground in Channel Islands

Nights in a hotel/rental condo/cabin/B&B: 16
     *Best paid accommodation: Government Camp condo we rented with Bobby & Tammy for Mt. Hood climbing in Oregon

Wildlife Spottings:
Bear, Whales, Moose, Bald Eagles, Owls

Radio, iTunes Library, Podcasts or Books on Tape? 
For this trip, we actually listened to the radio a lot. We only remembered to bring one of our iPods with us until we had the other 2 sent to us. Plus, often we were relying on my phone for navigation, especially on the shorter trips, so radio made the most sense.  

Card Game of Choice: Sushi Go

Concerts: 3 (U2, Dead & Company, Redwings Roots Festival)

Theater shows: Beatles Love in Vegas

Favorite Road Snack: Hummus (particularly carmelized onion flavor) and tortilla chips/cucumbers

Favorite Fast Food: Chick-fil-A 
    *Unfortunately, we ate more Chick-fil-A this summer than I'd like to admit. It was highly convenient that it’s open until 10pm because we almost always finished cleaning up from presentations and packing the car by 9:01pm when most other fast food establishments were closed for the night!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Outdoor Retailer

Our summer nationwide speaking tour truly culminated when we turned the Sprinter van back over to Superfeet, which conveniently happened while we were at Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City.

Outdoor Retailer. Let me take this opportunity to write an ode to OR.
When people ask us what this semi-annual trade show is all about, we have a hard time explaining it. Simply put, it is the opportunity for 1000+ outdoor gear exhibitors to showcase their newest products, some of which won't even hit the market until the following summer. Everyone who works within the outdoor industry comes out--manufacturers, retail store buyers, PR reps, media, non profits ...

Organized chaos is a better way to describe it.
The first time J & I attended OR was in the summer of 2013. We were on a nationwide speaking tour for Backpacker Magazine and our role at OR was to meet with the brands supporting the tour and just be there. We basically walked around aimlessly with smiles created equally from confusion and admiration.

At OR, there's always a lot of tech talk, gear envy, schmoozing at daily happy hours and pure exhaustion. If you are an introvert, wear uncomfortable shoes and don't drink water, you'll likely drown in the sea of flannel.

I don't remember much from our first show, but I do remember drooling and pinching ourselves a lot. How did we get to be so lucky to be among all these outdoor enthusiasts and geek out over all the gear?

We've gotten a much better handle on things since that first show and now we go with more of a purpose. Under Backpacker's media tags, we are walking the floor to see what jumps out that potentially can be tested for the magazine. Now that Justin is the category manager for knives and multitools, he had meetings set up pretty much from beginning to end. We haven't been able to master the strategy of scheduling appointments according to the floor plan, so we each walk a freakin lot. The showroom floor something like 50,000 square feet, so J & I estimate we inevitably walk at least 6-10 miles everyday.
Appointments or no appointments, because brands are either looking to snag orders from retailers or good press from media, our press tags get a lot of attention.
At OR, I feel a comforting happiness to be among so many like-minded people. And not just the shared camaraderie, but these are some of our personal idols and heroes. This time around, I got to chat with Jennifer Pharr Davis, while Justin got to shake hands with Conrad Anker.
 Starstruck? Just a little.
I also thoroughly enjoyed getting to catch a few minutes of the presentations this year from all-stars like Conrad, Alex Honnold, Cedar Wright (all big climbers) and Bethany Hamilton (surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack). Our Backpacker friend, Heather, was on a women's panel and it was lovely to see the spotlight on so many powerful females in the outdoor industry. 

You just never know what you are going to get with OR. There are so many pleasant surprises. This year, I saw a small flyer announcing that Keenfest would include a performance by the "Head and the Heart" for just 3,000 people. If you didn't know, this is a band who sells out venues with 10,000 people. We ended up with a front and center spot, all because of our OR pass!
This year's show was the last time it will be hosted in Salt Lake City. Instead, the show will take place in Denver for the foreseeable future. OR's been around for 30 years, and 22 of them have been in SLC. However, the outdoor industry decided to look for other options after Utah expressed a strong stand about how to treat public lands. OR brings in roughly $45 million/year to the city, and the industry just couldn't see pouring that kind of money into a place that didn't support their core values and playground. It was a bittersweet departure, but ultimately, the industry's commitment to public lands weighed out its loyalty. Nearly 3,000 people (including us) marched to Utah's state capitol building to show our support for public lands and to say a heartfelt goodbye to Salt Lake City.

As draining as OR is, we love it and am so grateful every chance we get to go.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Currently: July

Currently living/working in: Just last week, we reluctantly turned over the keys to the Superfeet Supervan! As for our living situation going forward, we’ll be in Denver through mid August, then head back to New Mexico to teach environmental education for our fourth session at Fenton Ranch. 

Current mood: Post-trail blues … our epic summer adventure is over and it has finally sunk in. I think of that 1989 Soul II Soul song, “Back to life, back to reality ...” 
Nevada, you so pretty.
Currently excited about: Though we are disappointed our nomad travels have ceased, we are excited about getting back to our tiny cabin in the woods at Fenton Ranch, teaching the kids again and re-domesticating the Fenton cat (can’t really call her our cat since she’s everyone’s cat now). 

Currently not excited about: Adulting. These next 12 days in Denver will be filled with all those tedious life logistics you people probably deal with on a weekly basis, but Justin & I try to avoid until it catches up to us! Plus, we are in a perpetual state of unpacking and packing again, and frankly, that is never fun, but a byproduct of being nomadic. At least there are cute faces in Denver to distract us. 
 Passing on our love for cool gear ... 

Currently amazed by: Justin is officially the “category manager” of knives and multitools for Backpacker Magazine. We’ve been testing gear for BP since 2013, but Justin always wanted to step it up into a category manager position. His persistence and hard work has paid off!!!! I am pretty proud of how he is handling his new role. 
J filled in as knife category manager at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2016                  
and his hard work paid off.

Currently proud of: Storage Wars. I’ve complained plenty of times on the blog about our storage unit in Danville; in fact, just recently in this post. But, I truly think we made a dent in our main storage unit and are continuing to go through stuff while we are in Denver. I’m always the one who yells “DONATE!” and Justin yells “KEEP!” However, I am quite impressed at J’s recent attempts to prove he is not a full-on hoarder. It's hard to simplify when you are a gear junkie. 

Currently worried about: You know, the things adults worry about. 

Currently thankful for: Well, I can finally say it. We put 13,000 miles on the Supervan and there were no speeding tickets or accidents. We (Justin) got pulled over once, we got one parking ticket and we allegedly missed a few tolls, but overall, pretty great track record. Phew!!!

Currently regretting: Spending way too much energy tracking our mail around the country. Most people don’t get a lot of mail, but we seem to get more than others because of product testing and shipments from our gear sponsors. We spent an unnecessary amount of time this summer tracking down packages and mail that were supposed to arrive well before we did. Another byproduct of being gypsies … 

Current confession: We’ve spent our whole summer conserving our 5GB phone data plan (that we had to upgrade from 2GB) for Google Maps and emergencies only, stealing moments of Internet when asking every friend/family for their WiFi password and spending too much $$ on Starbucks coffees to cram in computer time in between driving. The point is, while we love unplugging and being disconnected, it is not recommended when trying to run a mobile marketing tour funded by sponsors. 

Current guilty pleasure: Unlimited Internet and private restrooms while we are in Denver. We’ve used more public restrooms in the past 3 months than all of you combined. Guaranteed.  

Currently reading: Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. J & I have been listening to this book about Steinbeck’s 1960 road trip across America with his dog in his camper. It had us shaking our heads often in agreement even though it took place in a completely different decade! We still have a few hours left on the book, but I’d like to finish it.

Currently watching on Netflix: Still trying to polish off Season 5 of “House of Cards.”  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Exploring Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park

After our backpacking trip in Michigan, we continued to hug the Canadian line to drive into Minnesota. Another national park lies in this far-reaching section of America: Voyageurs National Park.
Voyageurs is a HUGE park, something like 200,000 acres. It has 3 (maybe even 4?) visitor centers/entrances. We knew we wouldn't be able to spend a whole lot of time here, so we picked the Rainy Lake Visitor Center and entrance as a focus.

The park showcases the interconnected water routes used by several generations of Native Americans to make trades with French Canadians. Using birchbark canoes, the adventuresome voyagers traveled hundreds of miles back and forth trading things like fur (particularly from beavers) and wild rice.

The main way to explore the park is via the extensive water highway. There are more than 500 islands within the 56-mile stretch of the historic water route within the park! We did a short 1.7-mile hike near the Rainy Day Visitor Center, mainly to see if the bugs were still just as bad as they were in the rest of the North Country (they were). Then we hopped on a tour boat to take us to around some of the islands.

It was gorgeous, as expected, but the best part was all the eagle sightings! Many just had their babies and we caught a few bringing food back to the nests.
 Mama (or Daddy) bringing food back to the nest

Baby eagle waiting in the tree. Fun fact: their head doesn't turn white for a few years! 
 Skimming for fish! They can actually spot them from a mile away!

We have a few more northern adventures to chronicle here, but for now, we need to focus on our LAST presentation of our tour in Denver Monday night (and the 17-hour drive that is getting us there ...).
Pssst ... we just arrived. But hot damn, we don't recommend anyone drive 900+ miles in one day. Ever. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Backpacking Michigan: Isle Royale National Park

There's a reason Isle Royale National Park is the least visited park in the lower 48. It has nothing to do with its beauty. It has to do with the fact that it is WAAAAAAAAAAAY up north in the middle of nowhere. 
Allow us to entertain you with details about our 45.3-mile backpacking trip across Isle Royale National Park. 
When we were planning our return western route for our summer speaking tour, we thought, oh hey, we have a full week, let's go hit some parks and highpoints that are out of the way while we have this time. "Out of the way" is a relative term and for most people, it doesn't mean a 2-day drive to get there. 

But, we're committed to seeing all we can about America, so to the north we went. 

Isle Royale NP is an island off the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. People seriously understate Michigan. When you meet someone from Michigan, they hold up their left hand (because that's the shape of the state) and point to where they live. But then there's the whole Upper Peninsula, across the 5-mile Mackinac Suspension Bridge (the longest in the western hemisphere). The "UP" is a forested region of Michigan bordering 3 of the Great Lakes. 

As you reach the northern side of the UP and peer across Lake Superior to Canada, there sits several islands, one of which is Isle Royale NP. It's actually a chain of islands totally 850 square miles, but 75% of it is under water. 

You can either take a 3-6-hour boat (depending on the departure/arrival port) or a 45-minute seaplane ride to the island. After much debate and detailed planning of our tight itinerary, we opted for the seaplane ride.

We used Isle Royale Seaplanes (the only vendor currently allowed to land at the NP) and it was smooth flying with our pilot Tomas both directions. It was also a wonderful way to see the whole island!!!

 This picture really shows the island underwater. 

We landed on Monday morning at the Windigo side of Isle Royale. We went in without a real itinerary, just knew we had 3.5 days to get to the other side of the island at Rock Harbor.
 Windigo Harbor
Rock Harbor: much more crowded & built up

There are 165 miles of trails that meander around the island, so the options are really endless. Backcountry permits for camping at the established sites are free and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. So while you discuss and plan your itinerary with the ranger, you don't need to stick to it. 

After talking to the ranger and some others, we opted to take the Greenstone Ridge. It is the most popular route across the island, and most direct. 

Day 1: 12.6 miles to South Lake Desor Camp 
Day 2: 16 miles to West Chickenbone Lake Camp
Day 3: 13 miles to Threemile Camp (on Lake Superior)
Day 4: 3.7 miles to Rock Harbor to meet our afternoon seaplane ride
Total mileage: 45.3 miles

All of our camp spots were beautiful, on one of the many island lakes.

 South Lake Desor
West Chickenbone Lake
Threemile Camp overlooking Lake Superior

The Greenstone Ridge is almost entirely forested with birch, balsam fir and spruce trees. Given that, the Greenstone Ridge affords fewer views, but when you get them, they are worth it! Besides being surrounded by Lake Superior, there are tons of smaller lakes on the island.

That's Canada in the distance!

There's a very cool history about the island. At one time, there was a community of 130 people living on the isolated island. Now, the NPS operates it seasonally, closing during the winter to give the animals a chance to run nature's course. 

Speaking of animals, that's another neat piece of history for Isle Royale. The island's distance from the mainland has limited the diversity of species; only those who able to make the crossing of Lake Superior have called it home. Wolves crossed via ice bridges on Lake Superior from Canada years ago (though there are only 2 wolves left right now!). Moose swam to the island and are still thriving. And no one knows how the red squirrels got there.  It's pretty unusual to think about a place where wildlife is ever-changing! We saw no wolves (but maybe wolf poop?), only 1 moose, but plenty of other goodies, like hearing the loons every night, lots of cool snakes and the most beautiful fox I've ever seen.
 Unconfirmed wolf scat. 

Sorry, I really need to work on my wildlife photography!
Two snakes intertwined ... we'll leave you be ... 

Our verdict about Isle Royale is that it is gorgeous. It really reminds us of hiking in northern Maine. With just as much mud!