Thursday, October 29, 2015

New Zealand’s Te Araroa - A Speaking Tour

Te Araroa is trending. 

While the Te Araroa Trust estimates there were 200 hikers on the trail last season when we were out there, those numbers are surely doubling this season. 

And because I’ve written about Te Araroa every which way—for Backpacker Magazine, the Appalachian Trials blog, Gregory’s blog, the Therm-a-rest blog, Superfeet’s blog and the Big Agnes blog—we decided it was time to start promoting it via presentation. 

In the months of December and January, we will travel to 8 REI stores across the country to share photos, tips for success, including information on obtaining a Visa, Te Araroa route information and gear suggestions. 

Oh, did we mention we will also be giving away FREE GEAR from companies like Gregory, Hi-Tec, SuperfeetSawyer and more!

REI East Hanover
Tuesday, December 1
280 State Route 10
East Hanover, NJ

REI Columbus-Easton
Thursday, December 3
4150 Worth Ave
Columbus, OH 

REI Castleton (Indianapolis)
Monday, December 7
8490 Castleton Corner Dr.
Indianapolis, IN

REI St. Louis
Tuesday, December 8
1703 S. Brentwood Blvd
St. Louis, MO

REI (Overland Park) Kansas City
Wednesday, December 9
6281 W. 135 St. 
Overland Park, KS

REI Colorado Springs
Tuesday, January 5
1376 E. Woodmen Rd.
Colorado Springs, CO

REI Boulder
Wednesday, January 6
1789 28th St.
Boulder, CO

REI Denver
Wednesday, January 13
1416 Platte St.
Denver, CO 

Hope some of our readers can join us at an event!!!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

9 Years

We celebrate 9 years of marriage today. And when I say celebrate, I mean it is like any other day because, well, we are on an island with no restaurants or other services. Not that we would do anything different if we weren't on the island … but I digress.

Recently, Backpacker Magazine wrote an article about how couples survive on trails and they featured us. One of the things we stressed in our interview is that marriage is not 50-50 on the trail or in life. Because some days, one partner is going to have to give 90%. But, that's okay because other days, the other partner will give the 90%. Marriage is about reading each other and knowing when to give and take.
See, one of us is giving 90%, the other 10%.

And in the spirit of celebrating us, and backpacking, I give you a backpacking photo from each of our 9 years of marriage.
2007 - Havasupai Canyon in Arizona (this is the same area where Justin proposed in 2005!)
2008 - Acadia National Park in Maine
2009 - Baxter State Park in Maine
2010 - Northern Terminus of Long Trail in Canada
2011 - Big Bald (TN) on our Appalachian Trail SOBO Thru Hike
2012 - Our first ski-to-hut trip in CO
2013 - Highest Point in the Lower 48 - Mount Whitney, California
2014 - Leave No Trace Master Educator Course - Grand Canyon, Arizona
2015 - And of course, Te Araroa Thru Hike in New Zealand 
(photo courtesy of Kevin Gallagher)

Our backpacking adventures will never stop. And when we are not backpacking, we are talking about backpacking ...

Which leads us to our next crazy adventure. Hitting the road Dec. 1, and maybe coming to a city near you, we will are launching our speaking tour on New Zealand's Te Araroa - The Long Pathway!!!! Details coming very soon ...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Currently: October

Currently living/working in: Caretaking an island off the coast of New England and loving it! 

Current mood: Happy!

Currently thankful for: A simple and uncomplicated life on an island. 

Currently proud of: A new venture for our "Wandering La Vignes" brand that will be announced shortly … 

Currently excited about: Upcoming projects and job opportunities (one with a very lengthy job application process that we are just about through, thank goodness).

Currently not excited about: Insanity workout … J is trying to convince me to start up the 60-day Insanity workout again (we only made it to day 53 in 2013). He wants to keep in shape for his Denali climb in May. Why do I have to suffer? 

Currently worried about: What to do with Big Bird (our yellow Subaru Baja). We have outgrown him a bit and are not sure if we should upgrade to a bigger vehicle. 

Currently regretting: Not bringing more long-sleeved shirts. Most of our winter clothes are in storage in Colorado, so I brought what I had, which wasn't much.

Currently amazed by: Our ghost life we had through 2011 … we've had to dig deep into our old calendars for that new job application and wow, who were those people? We bear as much resemblance to them as a kitten does to a tiger. But I digress. What I did realize in walking down memory lane and describing it for a job application is that I have hiked close to 6,000 miles in my life. J, of course, has a bit more lifetime miles than I do, but still. Woot! Woot! 

Current confession: I could watch more TV. We have one here with a smattering of channels, but have been disciplined about limiting ourselves to Wednesday night for Survivor and for NFL games (Thurs night and Sunday). Okay, sometimes Friday night for a show my mom got me hooked on: Blue Bloods. But wouldn't it be so easy to just turn it on every night … 

Currently reading: Just finished "Teaching The Cat To Sit" by Michelle Theall (EXCELLENT) and almost done with "The Wild Truth" by Corinne McCandless (PRETTY GOOD). J, on the other hand, is reading every mountaineering disaster book he can (seems like good prep work for Denali?!). We still plan to do a full book report soonish. 

Current guilty pleasure: LOBSTAHS!! Twice in one month. Booyah. Hoping we will have them one more time before leaving the island. I know you are pea green with envy. 

Currently watching on Netflix: A horror movie here and there. Our Internet is not the best, but we do have enough bandwidth to watch Netflix … just have to be patient with the loading process. Instead, J finally convinced me to rewatch the TV series "Lost" that we have on DVD. Fitting since we are living on an island by ourselves. We are on season 2, but if we end up watching all 6 seasons, please just slap me. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Island Life - Part 2

All the islanders are gone. Well, 1-2 will come back here and there, but for the most part, we are alone (aside from the hawks, herons and owls who haven't migrated). 

The outhauls and dinghies are almost all pulled. The sumac and maple trees have turned their brilliant shades of color and are loosing more and more leaves every day. The crab apples are still falling and we are enjoying the plethora of concord grapes that have ripened, but the last of the raspberries have dwindled. Aside from a few hearty winter plants, the gardens are mulched with seaweed. 
Fall is here on this quiet island. We are 3 weeks into our gig and have 6 weeks left and still love it. 
Many people were concerned about our claim to have enough food to last us through November 27. One person looked in our pantry and said, "That's what you have? You're screwed. I would eat that in 2 weeks." We still feel like we would have survived on our provisions (replace "survive" with "thrive" so I don't sound so desperate), but a lot of the islanders gifted us with leftover foods that won't make it through the winter and we are grateful for the treats. 

Anyone who knows us knows we waste nothing. So 6 half-eaten bags of chips were welcomed into our pantry and 2 half-full cartons of milk into our fridge. 

Actually, it was kind of like an early Christmas accepting all the donations. It was a whole bunch of random goodness--asparagus, maraschino cherries, cream cheese, jelly, mandarin oranges, a pepper plant … For example, someone brought us a half of bottle of maple syrup. Maple syrup was not on our original shopping list because I don't like it on my pancakes (J does) and couldn't justify needing it for enough recipes. Now we have it! 

Also on the donation list: beer and chocolate. 

We definitely skimped on the beer supplies for J upon coming out here, figuring it was a luxury item, not a necessity (said no one ever). To be precise, J brought a 6 pack of beers, which would work out to 1 per week (football Sunday). Clearly not enough for the normal person. Thank God for islanders. The 12+ beers they left us should more than compensate. 

As for the chocolate, my stomach cheered loudly when one woman gifted us a box of brownie mix and another gifted us a few chocolate bars. My thighs, on the other hand, sighed. 

And so, our island adventure continues! Like the snakes we see everyday, we serpentine the empty houses, making sure they are good and secure. Civilization exists, but it twinkles from across the ocean.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Island Life

We have settled in for our 2-month caretaking job on an island off the coast of New England. 

Some of you have been quite curious about this gig! There is only so much I will reveal on the blog and it is merely to protect the privacy of the island's residents. They have entrusted us with the safekeeping of their island and we are grateful and respectful. In just our first week, the islanders have been quite welcoming!

So I thought I'd give a few vague answers to FAQs:

1) Our major job here is to literally walk the island every day. We check on the houses from the exterior and report any visible damage to the owners. The walkabout takes us anywhere from 1-2 hours, depending on how many times we have to stop, take pictures, make notes, close a door, etc. It turns out to be about 2-4 miles, again, depending on the routes we take and if we skip house checks when people are home. We've also seen the power of the sea from the effects of Joaquin and take time to observe the surf.

There are other small tasks, besides walking, but the rest of our time is our time. However, we've found ourselves to be quite busy and I'm not sure the 15 books we brought with us will get read! Not only do we have some personal projects in the works to be revealed later, the islanders occasionally hire us for some side projects, like hauling stuff and battening down the hatches for winter. Barnacle cleaning is up next. Overall, this is quite different than our previous gigs--there are no guests to host, toilets to clean (just our own), or meals to cook. 

These barnacles won't clear themselves!

2) We are off the coast of New England. On one side of the island, we see America. On the other, we imagine we see Portugal. The sunsets are glorious. We could opt to see the sunrise on the other side of the island, but, we love our sleep. 

3) This is a residential island, but the majority of islanders vacate for the winter. Yes, "The Shining" comes to mind. But our long-timer readers should know we love ghosts. In particular, we heard about a ghost cocktail party that takes place in one of the houses everyday at 5pm during the off-season months. We will be attending. 

4) We are only here for 2 months. The islanders typically hire caretakers for the whole off-season, but since we had a wilderness first aid class scheduled for December, we only committed to the first 2 months of their caretaking season. We shall see beyond that! 

5) Because we were only coming for 2 months, we do not plan to leave the island and decided to try to food shop for the whole 2 months. We already know we didn't bring enough bread (but we can make that) and brought too many carrots. I don't know what we are thinking when we purchased the 5 lb bag of carrots. I am curious how long our provisions will last us. There are people coming to/fro the island to whom we can ask a favor or two, so don't worry, we won't starve!  

6) We are off the grid, but it is a stellar off-the-grid system (this coming from our amateur knowledge of off-the-grid systems). We naturally conserve electricity, but we probably don't need to be so stingy. In fact, it does not feel like we are off-the-grid at all. The caretaker apartment is very nicely set up, with an incredible ocean view to boot. Our cell phone works! Our satellite Internet may be sketchy, but we can FaceTime! We have a TV with a few channels (though we only turn it on for Survivor on Wednesday night and football on Sunday)! We feel spoiled. 

7) Island life is quite idyllic, but don't think for a moment it is not hard work. As I was telling my sister that islanders don't have washing machines, she decided this is more like Gilligan's Island or Little House on the Prairie. These islanders make sacrifices and have worked together very hard to put systems that work in place. The rewards of the salt air surroundings take effort! We are in awe at how they live and are excited to soak up some of their knowledge. And, we have picked our favorite house out just in case someone wants to buy us a present. No, no one famous has a house here (that we know of). 

8) Lobsters outnumber insects here. That should make you very, very jealous. 

9) Though there are plenty of trees, there are no squirrels or chipmunks on the island. I find that very interesting! Plenty of snakes though! 

10) Every place we go, we learn something new. There are lots of new things to learn here. For example, winds are reported in weather reports as knots in this area. I got worried about having to do some conversions (I hate math, but love watching weather). As it turns out, knots are very close to miles per hour. One knot = 1.15 mile per hour. Still enlightening. 

All in all, we are excited for the next 2 months and have been anything but bored yet! 

Again, please don't mention the island's name in comments if we've told you it. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

And The Winner Is …

John Miller!!!!!

John, please e-mail us your mailing address at so we can send you the awesome Princeton Tec Helix Basecamp lantern!!!

Thanks to everyone who entered and thanks to Princeton Tec for providing the great prize!

Oh, and happiest of birthdays to this guy who likes to GIVE presents away on his birthday rather than RECEIVE them (well, he has no choice since I didn't get him anything for his birthday and I can't even buy him a birthday beer since we are on an island). As an aside, J actually shares his birthday with at least 8 people (that we know of!). Crazy, huh??? So happy birthday to all his birthday buddies as well!

Yes, we picked the winner the old fashioned way … out of a hat!