Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Life is what you make it






















Life doesn't always go as smooth as you want it to. Walking through the beautiful Red Wood Forest today, we got dumped on by rain again. I look at my surroundings and all I see is this beautiful lush green, rain forest-like environment around me. It's so gorgeous here, but I feel annoyed and wish it just wouldn't be raining! Shortly after thinking this I realize that without all the rain, there wouldn't be any tall Red Wood trees, moss growing on branches and fern winding around tree stems. I feel silly complaining about the rain so I decide to just enjoy being out here, breathe in the fresh crisp air and try to appreciate what I have a little more.

When we were driving from Redding to Patrick's Point yesterday, I was listing to an Episode of "This American Life". They had an interesting contribution on dreams and wishes that made me think of how lucky I've been throughout my life. There have been at least 3 big dreams that came true for me. When I was a little girl, my biggest dream was to have my own horse. We didn't really have money for one, but somehow things fell into place and when I was 14 I ended up with my own horse. Maybe I was just spoiled, or maybe it was my tenaciousness to make things happen but what seemed unreachable to me at that time became reality. I also have to say, I really really have to thank my mom for everything she's done for me, because without her my dream would have never come true. 

A few years later into my teenage years I started dreaming of living in the US. I never stopped thinking of it until, again it came true or somehow I made it happen and ended up moving to California. Part of my longing for coming to the US had to do with the incredible landscape this country has to offer. Traveling around and experiencing all this, has been another dream of mine. Working in the US though seems a lot harsher than in Germany. The meager 2 weeks vacation that are standard over here just left me enough time to make a quick annual trip back home to Germany. So after graduating from school and working for a design agency I saw my dreams of traveling for an extended period of time dwindling pretty quickly. But again after putting up with a bad job for a few years, getting laid off and being pretty frustrated in general about where my life was going, things fell into place. I met Tommy, I got a new job and a whole new life opened up to me. We started planning a life together, started dreaming together and started making those dreams come true. Sometimes I wonder if it's just pure luck or if I myself make all the good things in my life happen. Maybe it's both, but I think it's important not to be discouraged too easily if things don't work out perfectly and rather trust that things will fall into place in some way or another if you work for it. Just remember "Life is what you make it" or how you would say in German "Jeder ist seines eigenen Gl├╝ckes Schmied".

Monday, May 30, 2011

Patrick's Point (Day 1) Rememberance





















When I was a little boy, maybe 7 or 8 years old, my grandparents took me on a camping trip to the coast. They had this cab-over Lance truck camper and I loved spending time with them in it. I remember I would swing like a monkey from the camper through the pass-thru window into the cab of the truck.

I vividly remember this trip we took 25 years ago. We literally drove to the most magical place I had ever been. It was the greenest, most alive, country I had seen and it just stuck in my memory. I felt like I was swallowed up by ferns and berry branches, the sunlight showered the moist undergrowth with big beams of soft light but only after it found a path through the thick tree canopy. I saw big bright yellow slugs and when we walked on the beach I found a starfish. Up until then I didn't know any of these things existed. This place is called Patrick's Point and it's heaven on earth. I hadn't been back here since that trip but I've always meant to come back one day.

Being here is especially meaningful now because my grandmother passed away last year. I remember playing yahtzee with her in the camper while my grandfather drove and she made us some egg and bacon burritos in the morning. This is the trip she taught me that if you have a stomach ache you can lay down and put a pillow over your stomach to make it stop hurting. I just remember lying on the cab over bed with a pillow over my stomach.. I probably ate too many egg and bacon burritos. She was such a loving, kind and beautiful person. The time we spent together on this trip was just one of the special experiences we got to share together.

You know how sometimes when you remember something so vividly from your youth and then you go back as an adult it just doesn't measure up? It was an experience so powerful and unique to your 7 year old self that it's no longer so unique after you've experienced 25 more years of amazing things? Well, I was going to find out if this was one of those times.. Danielle and I got to our RV park in the afternoon and then went straight to Patrick's Point. We were driving through the park and I've got to say, it still has the same magic I remembered. We walked down to the beach and then i really felt like a kid again! We got there at low tide and we hopped along on the rocks looking at starfish, sea lions, sea anemones, shells, little sea snails and crabs. Then we collected some smooth round rocks and talked about how when we have kids we will definitely take them here.

We drove over to the point but by now it had started raining pretty hard so we decided to just drive around the park a little bit. This place is so lush and green. The little walking paths through the forest look like something out of a children's book. What a perfect day this turned out to be. My memory of this magical place is still intact, it wasn't an overgrown remembrance that got too big for reality. I'm glad that I was able to experience this place with two of the most amazing women I've ever known. Now if only I could get Danielle to make me some egg and bacon burritos... :)

-Tommy

Photos:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/14097442@N00/sets/72157626407846881/

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Yosemite!






















Wow.. where do I begin? Last weekend when we were in Reno our friend Scott told us that he was trying to put together a trip to Yosemite next weekend with his girlfriend Kenita (Danielle's good friend, who you might remember also met up with us in Moab for the canoe trip). He told us about how the unusually large amount of snow melt had swelled the rivers entering Yosemite and that the waterfalls were supposed to be the best you'll see in, '20 to 25 years.' That was all we needed to hear to swap around a few days on our trip and make a weekend in Yosemite a reality.

On Thursday we had to take care of a few things and get some work done before we took off for our waterfall weekend in Yosemite. So it was around 3pm before we actually hit the road. Well, we didn't make it very far before we stopped for a break. There is this hamburger place I loved as a kid and I've been craving it ever since we put Redding on the itinerary, Bartel's Giant Burger I love you. I thank you for your meaty goodness and crispy perfect fries. 

Okay, back on road we drove straight through to Yosemite. Because we had to beg, borrow and steal to find a campsite for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, none of the camps were at the same place. Luckily, Danielle snagged a campground at Hodgdon Meadow which is right inside the northwest entrance of the park. Since we were getting into Yosemite at night we were going to be able to get up in the morning light and drive to the valley floor. We got to our campsite and were greeted by Kenita and Scott. Scott cooked us some steak, asparagus and these awesome spicy beans. It was a perfect end to a 7 hour drive with great people dishing up plates of awesome food. Thanks Scott! We drank beer until the wee hours of the night and then crashed, excited about the majestic ocular treats that awaited us the following morning.

The next morning we got up and I made fried spam, eggs and english muffins (fried up in the spam juice). It was a sodium celebration. We packed up camp and then headed into the valley. I have to mention something before I get too far into this story, Scott actually lived in Yosemite for about two months last summer. So he knows what view is around every corner. We pulled off before a curve in the road and we got a glimpse of the magic of nature that awaited us this weekend. Right in front of us was Bridal Vail Falls and there was so much water tumbling down from the top that it made Yosemite look even more heavenly than it already does. I've been coming to Yosemite since I was 14 and I've never seen it like this. 

Once we got to the valley floor and started driving towards Curry Village it was waterfall after waterfall. The usual waterfalls were no longer usual, they flowed bigger and louder than ever and got so full that they birthed waterfalls to either side. The rocks were springing water spontaneously where it seeped straight out of their granite faces. We saw one waterfall that stair stepped all the way down from above Curry Village it ended about 300 to 400 feet north of where it began in dramatic fashion, like a kid poured kool-aid down stairs and you were seeing it's profile.

We got to our campsite and setup. I was still a little tired from the 'drank beer until the wee hours of the night' so I setup a blanket and took a nap under a tree. Danielle joined me for a little while until the excitement of making plans for the afternoon consumed her and everyone started planning a hike. They ended up planning a hike up to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls while I snored and dreamt about things I no longer recall. 

Off we went to Vernal Falls. Standing below a waterfall while it's pushing this much water off of it's rocky perch gives you natural pause. It was the first time in my recollection that a waterfall seemed completely violent. It was loud, and the sheer volume of water coming down it's chute was enormous. Even with our rain jackets we got soaked from the mist. Quickly we climbed the old rock stairs to the top of Vernal Falls and witnessed the tranquility these little water molecules enjoyed before the extreme chaos that waited for them at the edge of the fall. I was glad at this moment that I was a man and not a water molecule. We finished the hike by hiking up to Nevada Falls and then back down along the Mist Trail, catching a bus back to camp. Danielle and I crashed early. We got to sleep in the back of our Subaru together for the first time. This was one of the reasons we bought this car in the first place. We woke up to condensation from our breath beaded and thick on all of the windows, but our night was warm and cozy. Successful choice on the car.

On Saturday we went to do a little climbing in the morning with Scott, Kenita and Scott's friend Julie. The area was pretty crowded but we found we found a route that was easy enough for us to play around on. After Danielle and I did our one unsuccessful trip up the route each we watched everyone else climb for a while. The guy climbing next to us let me watch his 11 month old pit bull who licked my face about a dozen times and then passed out in my lap and started snoring. I really miss my dog. I try and talk to everyone I see with a dog so I can pet it. It's getting pathetic. 

Danielle and I left the group and went for a hike up to the top of Yosemite Falls, which is 3.5 miles and 2700 ft of gain. We were already sore from the hike up to Nevada Falls, so when we got to the start of this hike and learned that the beginning was 60 switchbacks, with about a half mile of flat trail and then another set of switchbacks that were worse than the first set.. we almost went back and drank beer instead. But alas, onward we trudged. Remember when I said there was a flat piece of trail? Once we got there, it began raining. Onward we trudged. Remember when I said there was a second set of switchbacks that were worse than the first? Once we got to the top of those switchbacks it started snowing. We finally reached the top of the fall and it was freezing cold. We barely had time to enjoy the view when the cold wind forced us from the top. From the time we did spend on the top we had an amazing view of Yosemite with a serious weather system rolling in. Yosemite Falls, like Vernal Falls the day before, was a violent torrent of water spilling off of a beautiful rock edge. The only difference was that Yosemite Falls is a lot taller than Vernal. As we got to the bottom the rain fell harder and faster until we were soaked to the core. 

We got to camp and found that Scott, Kenita and Julie had a good fire going and a tarp hung over the table so we could cook. We got dry and got our stomachs full just in time for the skies to open up again and dump large amounts of water. Danielle and I said good night and hopped back in our car for another cozy night of sleep.

The next morning we woke and went for a lazy bike ride with Scott and Kenita, taking photos of Yosemite with frosted snow-covered trees on it's rim. It was a really nice morning for a couple of very sore people. Our trip to Yosemite was epic. To see a place as magical as Yosemite in such a rare state of being was amazing and at times surreal. We left Yosemite through a snow covered pass, it was perfect.

Photos:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/14097442@N00/sets/72157626407846881/

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Redding, CA (Day 4)

I got my groom on. I've been complaining to Danielle for weeks now that my hair was getting too long.. today, I fixed that. She likes it when it gets longer and curlier, but she also loves liverwurst and stinky cheese. So I ignored her requests and got it cut.

It rained all day today. Pretty heavily actually. On my way to the barber I dropped Danielle off at a coffee shop so she could work. I had called around to a few of the coffee places in downtown Redding and finally found one that had wifi and wasn't a Starbucks. I forgot to ask what time they closed.. I dropped off Danielle at 2:50 and they ended up closing at 3. Danielle had to walk (in the rain) to a another coffee shop, which turned out to just be a drive-up coffee hut sort of place. So then she walked to a Starbucks (in the rain). She was soaked.

While we were at Starbucks I talked to my childhood friend Rick and he decided to stop by so we could catch up. I hadn't seen him since we were 12 years old. It was great catching up with him. He's a highway patrolman so he had a lot of great stories of high-speed pursuits as well as what they do when they're waiting on the side of the road for the next high-speed pursuit, I can't tell you though, I've been sworn to secrecy.

After we got home from coffee and got Danielle in some dry shoes we started packing for Yosemite. We had decided to go camping there while we were in Reno last weekend. Our friend Scott had told us about the snow melt and how huge the waterfalls were right now in Yosemite. We made plans to meet up with Kenita (Danielle's good friend from LA) and Scott (Kenita's boyfriend) so all four of us started checking the online campsite reservations. It's a really busy time there with this being a holiday weekend. So we were really luck to have cobbled together camping reservations for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. We're really looking forward to 'roughing it' a little bit. Here's to smelling like campfire and looking like hobo's! Or at least like a hobo with a fresh haircut. ;-)

- Tommy

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Redding, CA (Day 3) - Best Water on Earth!















We decided that we would just do a little road trip today to see some of the area north of Lake Shasta. We drove about 45 min to a little train town called Dunsmuir. It's this really cute, idyllic town along the 5. Their claim to fame is 'Best Water on Earth,' and they prove it with little water fountains all over the town. We also got some great views of a snow covered Mt Shasta a little farther north of Dunsmuir.

We got a bite to eat at the Dunsmuir Brewery and also, um, drank some beer. We knew we were out of Utah when we got a little buzzed after just two beers.. this surely wasn't any of that 3.2% beer from Utah!

After we sobered up a bit we drove to Castle Crags state park and did a quick hike up a scenic trail to get a really awesome view of both the crags and Mt Shasta.

It's a really beautiful time here in Redding. There has been a lot of fresh rainfall and what are usually golden fields of grass are now nice and green!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shasta Lake: When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!


















Last week Tommy complained that the last few days in Zion were kinda boring. Canoeing down the Colorado river or rappelling off waterfalls is really hard to top, but I guess there's all the little unexpected adventures that keep you on your toes. Like yesterday, when the RV got a flat tire or today when we went mountain biking and got stuck in a thunderstorm.

After working most of the day, we decided to go on a little afternoon bike ride around Lake Shasta. It was warm and sunny outside when we started our ride. The trail was gorgeous, winding around the lake with beautiful views. Since it has been raining unusually much this year, there was lots of high grass and wild flowers, and the water level of the lake was really high as well. Tommy said I was lucky I got to see it that way. We even saw some deer, ducks, an eagle and a big garter snake that was crossing the trail. And there was nobody else on the trail! We were so amazed and had so much fun, that we completely missed the big heavy clouds that rolled in. About half way in the ride, it started raining slightly and when we looked up to the sky we saw a big storm front right above us. We decided to hurry up and try to get back to the car as soon as possible, but we were about 4 miles away. Soon after, we heard loud thunder almost exactly above us. I got really scared. Being on a bike is certainly not the safest place to be in a thunderstorm. Is it unsafe because you're basically on a piece of metal or is it ok because you're insulated by tires and you're moving? I decided that it was unsafe and dropped my bike to the ground when I heard loud thunder right above me. I ducked next to some bushes on the ground. Tommy looked half scared, half amused and then sat down next to me. At that point rain started coming down really hard and then even turned into hail. After a few minutes, we were completely soaked and Tommy suggested to move on, saying the storm was already moving on. I think he thought I was overreacting, but that's exactly the reason why guys are 4 times more likely to get hit by lightening than women are. They just think they're invincible. Not really convince that this was safe, I hesitantly got back on my bike and started pedaling. 2 minutes later there was loud thunder again, really close to us. I started yelling at Tommy, how crazy this was, dropped my bike to the ground again, and crouched away from it on the ground. I think he got a little annoyed at this point, but I really didn't feel safe to ride. We waited about 10 minutes and then decided to move on again. The storm had somewhat past, or at least the thunder sounded a little farther away. There was still thunder through the rest of the ride and we were still getting rained and hailed on, but we made it back to the car safely. I don't think I've ever been that scared, soaked or muddy during a bike ride. Quite the adventure! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Redding, CA (Day 1) - Feels like home!













Well, we were going to take three days to get from Zion to Redding. But then we decided to keep on trucking and get all the way to Reno (585 miles / 942 km) in one day. We were really glad that we did. The two towns we picked out for halfway points were slightly depressing. Plus, one of our friends, Scott, happened to be in Reno staying at his parents house. So he invited us to park the RV there, eat BBQ and drink free beer. Free RV spot, free bbq and free beer? There was no way we were going to miss out on that.  It took us most of the day, and we ended up missing the bbq but that just left us more room for beer. Scott's parents were so nice, and so were his friends and his dogs. We had a blast! It was really nice interacting with real people again. The last time we had a conversation with real humans besides the basic niceties was with a couple we met way back in Bryce Canyon, Matt and Nancy. They're a really nice couple from Connecticut who've been doing the same thing we're doing.. but for 15 months so far!

This morning we got up and said goodbye to Scott as he was heading off back to LA and then we went and met up with my cousins Jeff and Emily who go to school at UNR. Jeff suggested we go to a local place for breakfast called Peg's. It was really really good food and it was great catching up with them. I mentioned needing a new battery kit for my Suunto watch, they told us about an outdoor store called Scheels and then gave us a personal escort to the store. They didn't have the watch kit but they did have.. a ferris wheel, animatronic talking presidents (kind of weird for an outdoor store), a $6k shotgun,  a sword with a dragon on the handle and this HUGE mountain thing that had staged taxidermic animals all over it. This was the most awesome outdoor store I've ever seen. They had so much stuff (besides my watch kit). If you're in Reno, eat at Peg's and go to Scheels, you'll thank us.

After our shopping trip we decided it was time to get down to business and hightail it to Redding, CA. My hometown. We had 200 mi (320 km) of driving to do. All was going great, we were making good time and then.. we got a flat tire on the RV. One of the rear dually tires had indeed perished. Luckily we were close to Susanville which has three tire shops, luckily one of the three was still open on a Sunday afternoon, luckily they said they had our tire in stock and could drive down the 16 miles to us and fix it. Which they did! Lassen Tire, we owe you.. at the very least we owe you a positive review on Yelp. 'Onward to Redding!' we screamed as we peeled back onto the highway.

Once we got through Susanville we got onto the 44 which takes you straight through Lassen National Park. Oh man, that was breathtaking. With all the recent rain and the snow melt off the streams and lakes were swollen thick. It was so different from what we've seen the past month. Out with the red rocks and in with the wet, misty, crisp pine forests.

We finally got to our new RV park around 7pm tonight. It's only a few miles from Shasta Lake and we've got some beautiful scenery outside our bedroom window. We ate dinner and then went grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, which we've been missing since LA. Then I took Danielle on a quick tour of Redding where I showed her where I played little league baseball, my old elementary school, our old house, the houses of my old friends, the place where I ran over a kid with my go-kart and the tree in the play yard where I got in a fight with this other kid named Logan who then became my best friend. It was a really good day. I'm glad we've got a few days to see things here. I do miss Redding from time to time, it's just slower here.

- Tommy

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Where were we?















Sorry for the absence, but trust me, our last few days have been boring. It's been pouring rain here in Zion. Our internet has been garbage. The hikes have been muddy. So all we've really been doing is working, watching movies, playing Rummikub (Danielle has been doing all the winning though). We have done a couple hikes but nothing to write home about. The one we did yesterday was so muddy we had a good two inches of mud on the bottom of our shoes!

We had the most awful internet situation of the trip thus far. Pretty much 4 solid weeks of good to great internet.. then this. We were constantly bouncing around from my phones internet connection to the parks wifi and neither option was great. We ended up finding a really cool coffee shop called the, Mean Bean, they had awesome wifi and equally awesome chocolate croisants.

In a few hours we'll be on the road to California after a quick stop in Reno, NV.

Dear Utah,  
We've loved your red rocks, your twisting Colorado River and your slot canyons. Your 3.2% abv beer wasn't nearly as bad of a situation as we thought it would be. Your people we're friendly and kind. Moab might not have been our favorite mountain bike destination but I did love your Thunder Mountain. All in all your state has been amazing, it's been more than we thought it would be. We can't wait to come back and we already have plans in the works to do so. We'll miss you. Now we're off to Northern California to ride our bikes among the redwoods and walk along the beach to see what treasures it offers. 
Thanks again, 
Tommy & Danielle 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My 10 Year Anniversary






















Today 10 years ago I moved to the US.

I was excited. Wanted to get out in the big world. For some reason I always dreamed about living in America. The opportunity opened up and I jumped on it. You can always come back, my Family said. Selflessly they supported me in whatever I decided to do. With mixed feelings I leave. I'm happy, I'm sad, excited and scared at the same time. Then the Culture shock. After the initial excitement wears off, I'm confronted with reality. People are different over here and I miss Germany. Still do to this day. It's hard being away from my family, missing birthdays and holidays. But we're still close, in a different way. I'm glad technology has evolved so rapidly and it's easier to stay in touch. When I moved away people just started to have cell phones and using the internet. Now everybody is available anytime. I'm writing this sitting on a beautiful campground in Zion National Park. This wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago.


Time flies and the occasional phone calls from friends in Germany, telling me that this or that person had a baby or got married, make me realize how long I've been away. I'm shocked to realize another year has gone by. It gets easier and I'm starting to feel more at home in the US. I still miss Germany but I start missing the US as well whenever I go back to Germany to visit. It's like there's two separate worlds and I'm part of both of them. Two parallel lives or homes I have.

When I think of Germany, I miss the simple things…hearing the birds sing, the forrest, the fresh crisp air after it rains. Although I hate that it rains so much there. I miss the food…the pre-packaged Kraft Spaghetti dish called Miracoli, that my dad used to make for me when I was little. I've been hooked on this stuff ever since. I've brought boxes full of it back to the US. Smuggled them in my suitcase, worried they'll opened my suitcase at customs and find 20 packs of it and take them away. But I don't care, it's not an extraordinary dish, just comfort food that reminds me of my childhood. I miss the fresh bread you can pick up from one of the many bakeries in town and the black forrest cherry cake my mom made for my birthdays. I miss certain things about Germany and despise others. And I feel the same way about America. I love the lightness of existence people lead here. Americans are positive, happy, open and friendly, yet at the same time they can be superficial and it takes a while to establish real friendships. Germans are much more direct, in a way that would often be considered rude in the US. But they're honest and you know right away if they like you or not. Germans often seem more genuine but there's this heaviness that everybody carries around. I don't know if it's the bad weather that makes people grumpy or the burden of the war that still lingers over generations long after. Germans often seem confined by their own structure and rules, that make it hard for them to break free from. I'll struggle with it sometimes. I want to be both. I love structure, it makes me feel secure but I also yearn for freedom. That's what I love about America. You can be anything you want here. You can dream, you can break free and try new things. Fail and get up again, learn and explore. That's exactly what I did during the last ten years, there's failures and accomplishments. I'm a different person now then I was back then but I don't regret anything and I'm happy where I am today.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Zion (Day 3) "If you touch me I'm going to chop off your head"





















I promised Danielle that I wasn't going to tell anyone this but I was tickling her and she said, "If you touch me I'm going to chop off your head." We rolled around laughing hysterically for at least 10 minutes afterwards. Well, it made such a good headline I had to break my promise, sorry baby. You know, for a German she's really funny.

So what did we do today? Mostly work. We woke up, and started working. We drank coffee together, I had cottage cheese, bananas and this awesome granola that I FINALLY found at a market here in Zion. Danielle had.. Ahh I can't remember exactly but I know it involved cheese, it always involves cheese. It was probably toasted cheese with sliced cheese on top and some fresh cut cheese on the side.

By the afternoon we were kind of itching to go into the park and do a quick hike. I begged and pleaded that we do something short. I'm still oddly sore from mountain bike riding. Well, she found a short one just for me, the only problem is that it went straight up! It was 1 mile with 900 ft of elevation gain. Super short, I feel kind of girly even bringing this up because it was a very easy hike. It was also pretty steep, they had some chains bolted to the rock so that no one falls. Maybe it was our death defying experience yesterday but I wasn't even scared. I don't really know what to say though, it wasn't a spectacular hike. It was just there and we needed to get out for a while.

Danielle's dad is really funny. She was talking to him this morning over Skype and I could tell he was really animated, Danielle was cracking up. After she got off the phone with him I asked her what he said and she told me that he was reading our blog and saw the posts about Thunder Mountain and then yesterday's canyoneering trip to which he asked, 'So what are you doing today? Skydiving?!?! Are you going to go lion hunting?!?' haha I can't wait to meet her dad. For a German, he's really funny too.

I really love this by the way. I thought that living this way would be harder, that everyday we'd be managing the RV and our workload while trying to squeeze out little drops of fun too. That we'd get grumpier and want more space. That we'd both secretly wish it was over sooner and dread the fact that we still had a month left. But it's none of these things. We could live this way forever; but don't worry mom, we'll bring the RV back.. one day! ;-)

- Tommy

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Canyoneering in Zion

















Zion is well known for it's deep and spectacular canyons. Unfortunately many of them are not very accessible or are very technical, so that you need the right equipment and experience to do it. Since Tommy and I don't have either them, we decided to treat ourselves to a little guided Canyoneering adventure with an outfitting company. Although I'm afraid of heights and therefore don't like climbing and rappelling (the controlled descent down a rock face using a rope), I didn't wanna miss out on a great experience. So I decided to challenge myself and just do it. How bad can it be, I thought. Since I'd never done canyoneering before, I assumed the rappels wouldn't be much higher than 30-50 feet (15 Meter) and that I would be lowered by somebody from the top. Well had I known what we were about to do, I would have probably changed my mind about going. After a 45 minute drive, a 2 mile hike in and about 1000 feet elevation gain, we got to our base camp. There we got our orientation and started setting up ropes for the first descend into the canyon. I couldn't really see the edge when we started out, which was probably a good thing. Because the drops were a lot longer than I had expected and I wasn't lowered by somebody but had to do it myself. When the guides told me that, I started getting really nervous. What if I made a mistake and the rope would somehow slip through my hands. I would certainly crash on the ground and die! I wanted to trust somebody else rather than do it myself. The guides smiled and said that it would be a good exercise in self-trust for me. Shit, there was no turning around now. I was roped up and ready to go. So I decided to not look down, try to stay calm and just concentrate on what was in front of me. The ropes are set up with extra security mechanisms, so that my fear was actually unjustified. But since it was my first time. I didn't know that. So I just went for it. The first decent wasn't too bad actually, we just went to a ledge 20 feet below from where we rappelled about 40 feet over a waterfall into the canyon. It was amazing. What a great way to see the canyon from that perspective. It was nerve recking and exciting at the same time. Full of adrenalin, I got to the bottom and couldn't stop smiling. The next rappel was even longer and we also had to go over an overhanging cliff, so that we were actually freely dangling from the rope without any contact to the canyon walls. But the craziest one was the rappel after that. It was over 100 feet (30 Meter) long, where we had to lower ourselves through a waterfall and then swim out of a pool to get out. It was nerve recking enough to descend from that high up, but the water was made it even worse. The outside temperature was about 80 degrees (26 Celsius) while the water was only 40 degrees fahrenheit (4 Celsius). I got completely soaked! Shivering I got out, but I still couldn't stop smiling. I just couldn't believe I just did all that! I felt like I overcame my fear and pushed myself to try something new. I was able to trust myself that I wasn't gonna kill myself and I stepped out of my comfort zone. All around it was a beautiful day. Our guides and the people in our group were a lot of fun and we got to see an amazing canyon in a completely new way. I just loved it!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bryce Canyon (Day 3) THUNNNNNNDER MOUNTAIN!!!














Wow. Okay let me start off by saying that Danielle and I usually write this blog with a big sense of togetherness as far as opinions of things go. But on this day, we differed sharply. We decided that we'd seen just about everything we wanted to see in Bryce Canyon and Danielle had found out that there were some mountain bike trails about 10 miles away in a place called Red Canyon. It's Friday and we had a long work week so we decided to drive on down and see what this place was all about.

We parked at the visitor center and we were talking to the ranger and I was kind of screwing around with him..

we said: 'we want to go on a bike ride.'
Ranger: 'What kind of bikes do you have?'
Me: 'We have full suspension bikes and we like danger.'
Ranger: 'We have this ride called Thunder Mountain. Here's a map. You take the bike path up here, take a right here, it joins the trail here and it's a 12 mile loop. You'll love it.'

I hated it, at the beginning. It was 5 miles or so of concrete path and steady climbing. When we finally got on the trail my legs were hurting badly (mostly from yesterdays hike). My first impression was, 'this is gorgeous!' My second impression was, 'god damn this hurts.' This love/hate relationship I was having with this trail was a major theme throughout the evening. It would have these great descents followed closely by strenuous climbs. The terrain was mostly packed dirt and the scenery was heavily wooded; which was such a welcomed change from Moab.

We finally made our way to the top of Thunder Mountain, finally... finally (have I stressed how tired we were?). This is where the fun started, for me. This is where the hate started, for Danielle. It was this awesome single track descent that winded down the mountain. There were some steep drop-offs on the sides of us and some very technical maneuvering. I decided that after all that damn climbing.. I was either leaving this trail a very happy man or I was leaving en route to the hospital, but no matter what, I was going to go fast. It was a blast. Twisty switchbacks, flying over loose rock, roots, mud, water.. you name it. I felt like a kid again.

Danielle hated it. I'll have to say that if something makes her feel unconfident then she will not take a risk, which is a very responsible way to ride. Her front brake needs adjustment badly and this trail turned out to be a lot more technical than either of us planned for. I think when we do this trail again she might have a different opinion, but as of this writing.. she hated it.

Thunder Mountain is by far one of the most impressive mountain bike trails I've ever been on. It's big in every way. Scenery: probably the prettiest ride I've ever done. Technical: manageable, but it definitely tested me. Strenuous: I'm going to be sore for a few days at least. Fun: I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Bryce Canyon (Day 2)















I had a big meeting this morning for work. It takes quite a while for my department to get all the items together for our part of the meeting, so yesterday was a really long day, which stretched into the night. So after the meeting I was ready to get my hike on and de-stress. Off we went to see what Bryce is all about!

I don't know how I went my whole life without realizing what Bryce Canyon was. I had this assumption that it was the yin to Zions yang. I pictured big iconic gray cliffs and pine trees. How wrong was I? Completely wrong. I'm so utterly amazed by this place. We did a pretty long loop today and you basically start off on a rim overlooking the valley floor. A lot of people stop there and still, they get an amazing view of this place, but Danielle and I opted to see what the valley looked like. So from the rim you follow some switch backs and these huge sandstone fins and spires start rising farther and farther above you until you're all swallowed up in the belly of this sandstone giant!!

We followed the Navaho trail till we got to the Peek-A-Boo trail and took that for 3 miles. The Peek-A-Boo trail weaves through some amazing fins and spires, you also get a good elevation gain so you can get a beautiful view of the valley from the opposite side you began. After that we met up with the Queens Garden trail where we met an opportunistic chipmunk who luckily, for me, thought my camera could possibly be food. So when I got low to take his picture he came right up to sniff the lens, snap! Gotcha! haha

It was a really fun day and a great way to decompress from being cooped up in the RV working and dealing with the weather this last week.

Oh! Danielle has fully trained me to spot Germans! They all wear this brand called Jack Wolfskin and the logo is this paw print. It must be the equivalent to us wearing North Face gear. Anyhow, today we were walking along the trail and I spotted the logo on this girls sock, so I turned to Danielle and said quietly, 'Germans.' She turned to me and said, 'Your training is complete.'

Tommy

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bryce Canyon (Day1)















After two rainy days we woke up early, right when the sun started peaking over the mountains. Ahhhh finally, the sun is back! We took care of a few things for work then packed up and headed to Bryce Canyon, our next destination. The drive was short and lead us up into higher elevation. Which lead us right back into another storm, that greeted us with a cold wind and snow! Disappointedly we checked into the Campground and decided to just work the rest of day, unless the weather would get better. We were lucky, in the afternoon it stopped snowing and the sun came out. So we used the opportunity to go out for a quick peak at Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon is basically a giant natural amphitheater created by erosion, leaving these exposed delicate and colorful pinnacles called hoodoos. The erosion is taking place in a pretty short time span, so that you can see trees growing along the ridge of the canyon, whose roots already had been exposed. Every once in a while pieces break off, and apparently you can hear the sound of crumbling rock in the spring when the sun starts heating up the rocks. When we arrived at the park, we got out of the car and walked up to the first vista point. I looked at Tommy and he had his mouth open and said: "I had no idea what Bryce Canyon was". I laughed and asked him if he had never seen pictures of it, not even in the gift shop at the campground a couple of hours earlier when we checked in. Apparently he hadn't because he was really blown away by what he saw. It really is a beautiful place and there is no comparison to seeing it in person, but what a surprise it must have been for him not even knowing what he was in for and then seeing this amazing place for the first time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Escalante (Day 2)















Today is our second and last day in Escalante and unfortunately the weather turned even worse. Temperature dropped and rain, snow and thunderstorms alternated back and forth all day. Once in a while it cleared up and the sun started peaking out, but the next storm front and dark clouds were already building up in the distance. I was really disappointed because I had really wanted to check out some of the amazing slot canyons in this area. But during weather like this, a slot canyon is the last place you would wanna be. So I just had to let it go and decided to make plans to come back here another time. Even the 4-5 weeks we are staying in Southern Utah is not enough time to see everything. There's just too much to explore. But luckily, once we live in Flagstaff, Utah will be just around the corner and most places will be reachable in a 5-6 hour drive.

~ Danielle

If you like to see more pictures...

http://www.flickr.com/photos/14097442@N00/sets/72157626407846881/

Monday, May 9, 2011

What's in a day?

I was sitting here tonight thinking about what people might think while they were reading our blog. How they might imagine our day unfolding. What we've written so far isn't exactly reality. We give you a picture and a brief description of a highlight or two. So I decided that it might be nice for you to see what a day for us is like, from start to finish. Today is somewhat unusual because we moved the RV from Capitol Reef to Escalante. But today encompassed all the of the 'usual' things we do in a day while living on the road. So here goes:

5:20 am - Wake up to the sound of heavy rain and wind. Decided that we shouldn't move the RV today because the weather is way too bad. Had breakfast (english muffins) and coffee; read the news, start working.

7:00 am - While working we realized that the rain had stopped for a while. We talked it over and looked at the weather on the internet. Seems like we had a brief window of good weather so we decided to close up camp and make a run for Escalante which is only 65 miles away. So I dumped the sewage and locked all the storage bins, these are all standard moving chores. I do these while Danielle makes sure everything (potential flying projectiles) is put away inside.

7:20 am - Depart for Escalante.

7:40 am - Starting to rethink our decision. Didn't realize that we'd be going up to 9600 ft elevation which means.. snow. Everything got a lot better once we got over the mountain. We saw deer, deer, deer and a marmot. Danielle actually started yelling into her walkie talkie 'Oh my god I saw a marmot, I've never seen a marmot!!!!'

9:00 am - Pulled into the Broken Bow RV park. Got our spot picked out. Started working.

10:15 am - Had our weekly Monday morning department meeting over Skype with Billy and Jess. We had a lot to talk about but somehow we always finish before lunch.

12:00 pm - Lunch! Split pea soup with crackers (meh.. could have been better).

5:30 pm - Hiked to a waterfall. It was a pretty easy hike and the waterfall was running. We saw a momma duck and some babies swimming around. Then.. the weather rolled in. I've got to say, Danielle and I have been very lucky with rain. We get back to the car and 5 min later.. rain drops.

8:00 pm - Got back to the RV and I made some dinner (stuffed chicken with goat cheese, broccoli and left over cous cous).

9:40 pm - Write blog!

Sunday, May 8, 2011



















SInce it's Sunday and we had a long week of work, we decided to sleep in before going on a hike today. So we actually didn't get up until 8:15am. As we finally roll out of bed to walk into the kitchen area to make some coffee, my mom calls from Germany. She suggests to video chat with my Grandma since it's her 91st Birthday today. "That way", she says, "Grandma can finally get to meet/see Tommy". I asked her to give us a couple minutes to put on some clothes and comp our hair to look half-way presentable. Tommy wants to make a good impression and selects a nice collar Polo Shirt :) I give him some last quick instructions on how to impress Grannie, by trying to teach him to say Happy Birthday in German. I say: "Look, it's really easy, you just say: Herzlichen Gl├╝ckwunsch zum Geburtstag". He looks at me a bit confused then lights up and says: "oh just like: Hairs-licking Glue-range some Woodstock"? I burst out laughing, he sounds like an auto-spelling program that you have on your computer or smartphone. He's so cute, always happy and always finds a way to make me laugh. We get on the computer with my Uncle and my Grandma, they see us for a quick moment then the connection goes out. We try it a couple more times but no luck. So I pick up my phone and call my Grandma and she tells me excitedly that she was able to see Tommy and me for a quick moment and that she saw Tommy has a beard! Not sure why she pointed that out. Maybe she likes beards or maybe she just thought Tommy looked a nice a guy. Either way she'll get to meet him in person soon, because we're planning a trip to Germany in late September.

Well hello there Capitol Reef















We pulled into Capitol Reef National Park a little after noon today. The drive went really fast. Danielle drives the Subaru and I drive the RV incase you were wondering. The first couple drives with the RV I would sit there and hit the 'scan' button on the radio over and over to try and find something to listen to. I would mostly end up listening to country, but I even found a native american station once. I finally got smart and just loaded a couple podcasts on my iPod and now I drive with one headphone in. The time flew today.

Anyways, we pulled into our new campground, which we love. It's a really small place and they have chickens, horses and a dog named Dylan. The view is really great too. Since it was already mid afternoon we decided to head straight into Capitol Reef National Park and stop by the visitor center. We bought a map of the hikes in the area and spoke to a friendly Ranger who pointed out a couple hikes to do today. She also let us know that one of the things we really wanted to do, Glass Mountain, would be off limits unless we had a 'high clearance vehicle.' So we ended up picking two hikes that the ranger recommended and off we went!

The first hike was called Chimney Rock which was a 3.5 mile loop where we climbed up onto a ridge to the north of Highway 24. Once we topped out the views were breathtaking. Huge walls of sandstone on one side and a geologically puzzling rise on the other.

The next hike we did was back south through the park and then we turned off onto a dirt road and drove through this amazing gorge called the Capitol Gorge, driving through these rocks felt like being in a IMAX movie. The road was barely wide enough to pull off tight to one side and let another car pass, so I'd say it was a 1.5 lane road. On either side of you rose up these 200 foot sandstone cliffs. The hike wasn't much different. It wasn't exactly a slot canyon but it wasn't more than 10 feet wide and the whole time you were flanked by sandstone. We saw a set of petroglyphs that were.. meh.. they were okay. The really awesome man-made thing on this hike was a 'pioneer register,' basically it's a place where pioneers and early settlers came and carved their names on the stone of the walls. I believe the earliest date we saw was in the 1890's. Unfortunately, the latest dated carving we saw was possibly from last summer, there was a lot of graffiti. At first I was kind of sad seeing this, then it hit me that the authors of the new carvings were no different than the authors of the old carvings.. they're just men claiming nature as their own with a knife.

It was a great first day here in Capitol Reef, such a beautiful place and it's amazing to me that there aren't more people who visit or talk about this park. After our hikes we came back home and had a very fancy dinner, prepared by me, world-renowned chef Tommy O'Connor. On the menu was a starter salad featuring shitake mushrooms and a crumbled goat cheese, the main dish consisted of a parmesan cous cous and the star of the show was a hotdog on a microwaved two-seconds-ago-it-was-frozen hotdog bun! We eat like a king and queen.

Tommy

Friday, May 6, 2011

Last Day in Moab




















Today was our last day in Moab. Looking back we've really seen and done a lot. Different hikes, the canoe trip (which was by far the best thing here) and umm yeah mountain biking. A couple of days ago we both felt a bit disillusioned. We were so excited to come to Moab for mountain biking, just to find out that it's not what we expected or wanted it to be. So after admitting that our skill level is rather intermediate and not expert, we decided to select some easier trails. No crazy steep slick rock or fatal cliffs to fall off from. We went on a 16 mile ride to Gemini Bridges yesterday and it was perfect for us. Beautiful scenery, wide road, some nice climbs and the Gemini Bridges at the end. Only sad thing was when we heard, that 3 people had died at this spot as well. Not mountain biking this time, but one guy fell off the cliff in his jeep and two people tried to jump the 10 foot gap between the two bridges and didn't make it. But enough about dead people, that why we decided to go to Dead Horse Point State Park today. Not sure why it's called Dead Horse, but it's a State Park that contains beautiful overlooks of Canyonlands and the Colorado river. And it happened to have an easy 9 mile bike loop. Not expecting much or rather expecting this to be a pretty boring easy ride, we got on our bikes and started pedaling. The trail turned out to be a fun single track, not dangerously close to any cliff but it had some fun fast turns and decent drops to keep your attention and heart pumping. At the end we finished with a big smile and agreed that Moab's mountain biking wasn't so bad after all. We just had to look for the right trails. I guess sometimes it's better not to have any expectations. Unless they're bad expectations and you get pleasantly surprised.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Moab (Day ?) - In Love















Well, we've been in Moab for almost two weeks now. Danielle and I really love this place. There are so many beautiful things to see here. But the most beautiful thing here, hands down, is the girl I get to spend my days with. Tomorrow marks our three week anniversary of being on the road. Sure, she nags at me, for this and for that, which I mostly deserve but will never admit to. But to wake up next to her every day is something special. Even when we wake up and it's reeeeallly cold in the RV because she wanted to save on gas the night before and she nags at me to go turn on the heat, she's still the most beautiful thing in Moab.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Moab - Portal Overlook





















This week has been pretty busy. Since we took a couple days off for our canoe trip last week, we have lots of work piled up to catch up with. So after a long day of work, we decide to do a quick evening hike. We choose the hike to Portal Overlook. Close to town, 4 miles roundtrip, 1000 feet elevation gain and promising a panoramic view. Sounds perfect and off we go. This trail also happens to be a mountain bike trail, and as we start to climb up the rocky, steep and narrow trail, I'm wondering how people have the courage to ride down a trail like that. As we get up higher, the trail narrows to about 2-3 feet with a horrifying cliff going down at least 1000 feet. Tommy's and my knees start to feel weak and we are barely able to walk the trail, clinching to the walls of the rock trying not to look down. It's relatively safe to hike it as long as you pay attention and don't trip, but riding this on a bike is definitely insane. As we go on further we see signs, warning mountain bikers to dismount their bikes and walk. Apparently 3 different riders have died by falling off the cliff. I can't believe people are actually riding this trail, but tons of tire tracks on the trail leave no doubt. Tommy and I decide that our skill level must be way below those people's skills and that Moab might just be suited for fearless expert riders. We're definitely not willing to risk our lives just to have some "fun". Maybe we just go on another hike again tomorrow or pick a really easy simple wide trail far way from any cliffs.



Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Moab, we're not impressed with your slick rock trails.

















So, we've been looking forward to Moab for quite a while, but mostly for our canoe trip and doing a LOT of mountain biking. The canoe trip was awesome. The mountain biking, we've only been able to do two rides and both of them were so-so.You basically ride on huge sandstone hills, which has a really fun feeling under your tires, but the shape of the rock also makes it so that you descend at a sharp slope and then you have to climb steep slopes. We love the descent part, it's the vertical climbing where you lose momentum and then have to un-clip from your pedals and hop off the bike before falling over only to then have to hike the bike up the climb get back on and then ride to the next climb where you jump off again.. wash, rinse, repeat. We decided that we'd probably like it a lot better if we were in much better shape and slightly more skilled. We're most likely going to do a trail called the Porcupine Rim Trail that's mostly downhill. Although, I'll admit that 'primo downhill advanced technical stuff, dropping off a gazillion small rocky ledges, with the last 3 miles a hairy single-track on the edge of deadly cliffs' kind of scares me.

Today we rode the practice loop for the most famous of Moab trails, the Slickrock trail. It was 2 miles of me frowning and complaining about how, 'I thought this was going to be different' and 'I think I like the trails back in California better,' oh and a few times I think I cried a little out of frustration. Oh well. We're lucky that Moab also has so many other things to do and see.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Moab - Negro Bill Canyon






















Seeing the arches and all the beautiful spots Utah has to offer is truly amazing. It's something I definitely wouldn't have wanna missed on my trip. But I noticed that the times you wander off the beaten path and get away from the crowds are often much more rewarding. In Arches for example we followed a short paved trail to the sign that said petroglyphs, took a couple of pictures and looked for the next sign that would lead us to one of the Arches while passing other tourists also tromping to the same destination. After taking some shots of the Petroglyphs I thought about our canoe trip and how we had seen some Petroglyphs there as well. Those Petroglyphs were not as spectacular as the ones in Arches, but when we saw them we were way more excited about them. Not knowing where exactly the Petroglyphs were located we followed a vague mark on the map the river guide had given us. There were no signs or no other tourists. All we saw was a little opening in the brush on the shore, where we pulled over and tied up our boots. We walked a narrow trail through some brush that spit us out in front of a big rock formation. We hiked around looking for some hints of where the petroglyphs could be and after about 45 minutes and almost missing them we finally saw them. We felt like real explorers. It didn't matter that we weren't the first ones to see them, it still seemed exciting to us.

I got the same feeling again today when after a long day of working, we decided to go on a little evening hike. We went to Negro Bill Canyon, which is close to town. There wasn't anything too spectacular about this hike, other than that it lead through a beautiful canyon. It was pretty quiet since it was later in the evening and I really enjoyed being away from the crowds. Tommy told me to stop and kissed me while taking a picture of our shadows. It's these moments you remember for a long time.

Moab - Arches






















We all woke up nice and early and dehydrated from our canoe trip. It was Kenita and Lindas last day with us here in Moab, so we all decided we should go explore Arches National Park. We rolled out of the RV and went straight for Love Muffin to have some pre-Arches breakfast. Kenita found this restaurant on yelp when she was researching this trip and as it turns out, it was fantastic! Danielle and I shared a breakfast burrito and a breakfast panini. The coffee was fantastic too. I'm pretty sure I could eat breakfast here everyday for the rest of our trip. Then with our bellies full, off we went to Arches NP to see some big awesome… arches.

The first formation we stopped at wasn't even really an arch, it was the Balanced Rock. It's basically this large rock formation that's standing a good 60 feet up on top of a smaller formation below. How it happens? The larger rock is made of a stronger sandstone than the lower rock, so the lower one erodes quicker than the top rock. 

Next we saw the Double Arch which is two, two, two arches in one. If Arches National Park is ever looking for corporate sponsorship then McDonald's will be first in line for this one!

Then, we hiked to see the most famous of all arches, the Delicate Arch (the arch in the headline). It truly is amazing. It's this twisting arch that really seems like it shouldn't belong where it is. I think the description at the trailhead said something about it, 'seeming like it jutted out from a lunar plateau,' which is pretty well said. 

We saw some other stuff, lesser arches, cool rock formations, but I won't bore you with any of those.. I'll get to my second favorite sight of the trip.. Landscape Arch. It's really amazing that it's still standing. In 1991, a large chunk broke off of the right hand side of it while people were there. This is the arch you shouldn't miss if you ever find yourself in Arches NP. It's gorgeous and it might not be around for long. It's a Limited Time Offer Arch. 

After seeing all these arches we were famished, and Kenita and Linda needed to get to Grand Junction to catch their flight, so we all headed on over to this awesome little milk shake and hamburger stand called Milt's that's near our RV park. Every time we drove by this place it was packed! We got milkshakes, burgers and sandwiches; all of which we're great. They opened in 1954 and they've got a really fun atmosphere. When you step up to order from the counter, if someone else's food is ready they ask you to call out their name.. so when I got to the window I had to yell out, 'Steve your order is up!' I did it so well they offered me a job. We hurried through our lunches so that Kenita and Linda could hit the road, said our goodbyes and went back to our home.

I know this post is already really long. But a story isn't a good story without also telling the other side of things. The crappy side of things. Bambi wouldn't have been a story unless that hunter hadn't killed Bambi's mother. Living in an RV is awesome. Danielle and I were just talking about how we didn't miss living in a house and how great this kind of life is. Then, 2 minutes later we got one of our slide-out's stuck. Which is a really bad thing because when your slide-out is extended, you can't move. By the way, a slide-out is a part of the RV that slides out to give you more room inside the RV. We were also pretty full with our holding tanks (dish water and umm poo/pee water) and needed to dump them. We had no electricity besides the power from our generator which is noisy and has to be turned off at night so you don't annoy the neighbors. Oh, and the internet was really bad where we were parked. We could remedy all of this very easily if our RV was parked back in our usual spot. But it wasn't, we couldn't get the slide-out back in and couldn't move to our spot. So we were stuck. We called mechanics in Moab and learned that none of whom fix slide-out's. We tried everything, I even climbed below the RV and tried manually retracting the slide-out. Nothing worked. The next morning we were getting pretty worried about how we were going to fix this. We decided to give it one last try and low and behold, the slide-out retracted. Later we realized that it must have been because our batteries had gotten very low. When we went on our canoe trip and left the RV I accidentally forgot to switch a couple things in the control panel and ran the batteries down pretty far. When we got back and couldn't get the slide-out back in we started running a generator to power the RV which eventually charged the batteries over night and that's why we were able to get the slide-out back in. It was a tough lesson but we'll never do that again!!

Tommy