Exploring the world one word…and one mile…at a time

Weather

Business Trip or Business Adventure?

Alta adventures, clockwise from top left: J on the slopes; passing through avalanche gates; summit selfie; M sliding to a stop; cool cloud inversion in the canyon; and handy RFID lift tickets.

Alta Adventures (clockwise from top left): J on the slopes; passing through avalanche gates; summit selfie; M sliding to a stop; a cool cloud inversion in the canyon; and handy RFID lift tickets.

Returning to traditional employment after two and a half years of self-employment and creative sabbatical wasn’t an easy decision, but it was the right one. Believe it or not, despite picking up a challenging job at a new company managing a team of more than 80 employees, I’m sleeping better, I have less anxiety, I’m producing more creatively, and I’m generally happier. That said, I didn’t want to make the change from total time freedom to working on someone else’s schedule without holding on to some of the adventure that came along with the road trips and European tours of these past few years. (more…)


11 Things I Learned on Achill Island

AU1

L to R: Signage just before crossing the bridge into Achill Sound; J and me battling our nerves on race morning; race course signage (the roads were open); the start and finish line as the ultra runners began; mile marker near the finish line showing all three events.

The Achill Ultra race series on Achill Island in Ireland consisted of three events: a half marathon (13.1 miles), a full marathon (26.2 miles) and an ultra-marathon (a whopping 39.3 miles). There were just over 200 runners across all three races, making this a very personal affair. While most of the runners were Irish, we met folks from Ontario and New Jersey as well. And of course, we were in from New Hampshire. (more…)


Easing Into European Time

Hillside

Scenes from the Hillside Lodge (L to R): M settling in to our room; music memories lining the hallway; the sunny breakfast room; fresh buffet; and delicious veggie breakfast.

The highlight of our time in Clifden was our two-night stay at the Hillside Lodge, a modern B&B located on Sky Road a mile or so from the town center.  Our room was comfy and cozy, the perfect place for adjusting to the time change and convenient base for exploring the town on foot.  One of the owners works in the music industry, and the home is a carefully-curated treasure of music memorabilia.  Breakfast each morning consisted of a fresh pot of coffee, generous cold buffet (with fresh fruit, stewed prunes, and homemade granola) and hot selection cooked to order (based on a menu we filled out the prior evening).  Their vegetarian version of a traditional Irish breakfast included veggie sausage, baked beans, and a potato cake.  It was delicious and satisfied us for most of the day. (more…)


Day 1 in Ireland: Cliffs, Cars, and Clifden

Ireland

Day 1 adventures (L to R:) Sunset takeoff from Boston; our tiny, barely-automatic rental car; looking south at the Cliffs of Moher; O’Brien’s Tower atop the cliffs; and veggie fare in Galway.

Greetings from Ireland!  We left from Boston Monday evening on an overnight flight to Shannon Airport on Ireland’s west coast.  Our plan to sleep through the flight and wake up refreshed in the morning was foiled by the fact that you can really only manage about two hours of sleep on a six-hour flight.  So we were more than a little sleepy upon arrival and quickly downed two airport coffees to jump-start our new day.  We picked up the rental car we had reserved in advance, having splurged an extra $100 or so for an automatic.  We’d heard tales of terror about driving on Irish roads, and although we can both drive a stick shift, we didn’t want the added pressure of figuring out how to do that with our left hands.  Driving on the right side of the car on the left side of narrow roads while navigating endless roundabouts would be tricky enough. (more…)


Stranger Danger

L to R: Our first wilderness hostel in Jasper N.P.; the offending 6-person bunk last night in Canmore; HI's mission; and my mission tonight: blogging and beer.

L to R/top to bottom: Our first wilderness cabin and rustic kitchen in Jasper N.P.; the offending 6-person bunk last night in Canmore; Hostelling International’s mission (They just need to add “up-close and personal”); and my mission tonight at Glacier N.P. (blogging and beer).

Prologue: I wrote this post last night while laying in the middle bunk of a six-person bunk bed (picture the middle seat on a plane…only for sleeping). As you can imagine, I wasn’t in the best of moods. As a result, the post is a bit of a rant, but it’s still mostly true. I’m writing this prologue from the common room of a rustic hostel in East Glacier, Montana, where the peeps are friendly, we have a private room, I’ve had two Montana beers and my perspective has “improved.” Nonetheless, I thought it fitting to share my honest hosteling experiences with you… (more…)


Unpacked…but Not Settled

L to R (clockwise): Our living room at the mill; NH farmstand dinner; today’s delivery=tonight’s homework; and our first apartment rainbow (as seen from the bedroom window)!

So we’ve been in our new apartment for exactly two weeks, and we’ve been going a bit nuts.  In fact, we may have each lost our minds completely at one point or another.  But we’re slowly reclaiming them, and along the way, claiming this space—and this life—as our own.  We’ve unpacked, organized, purchased, assembled, recycled, and figured out exactly where everything will live here.  Our new apartment is less than half of the size of the house we sold in May, and it’s the perfect size…perhaps even a little too big, if I dare say that.  But it’s home.  It’s also a bit loud (an adjustment to communal living in an old building) and quite scenic (the river and myriad sea birds are right outside our windows).  We walk out our front door and cross the street to our favorite coffee shop and breakfast café.  We’ve returned to our favorite New Hampshire farmstands at peak season for zucchini and cabbage and peppers.  And although we last lived in this town just a few months ago (and for years before that), our time on the road has given us new perspective on things.  Our standard running routes, which we tirelessly and willingly logged hundreds of miles on from the old house, now seem like new roads we’ve never run before since we’re approaching them from a different direction.  We are having trouble finding a groove.  Last weekend, we ran in a 5K race here in town and both posted PR times (personal records, or the best time we’ve each run in a race of that distance).  And then today, I went out for a routine 4-miler, while M set out on his longest run to date, a (crazy hilly lousy) 17-miler.  But there were no PR’s today; we both came up a bit short on both speed and distance.  I think part of it was the weather—hot and humid and stormy–but part of it was also our mental state.  Neither of us is centered.  We’re off.  We are unpacked, but we are not settled.  We’re antsy.  We miss the road.  We’re not cut out for settling down.  Or so I think. And then things happen to make me wonder if I should take a deep breath and (ugh!) settle down for a while.  After we returned home from our runs and rehydrated and showered, it started to downpour, and my first mill rainbow appeared across the river.  And then we walked upstairs and across the bridge to a fantastic new restaurant in our complex where we ate local brie cheese and beet salad and a smoked cheddar and butternut squash panini that were perfectly paired with a few local beers on tap.  When we arrived back at our apartment, there was a package waiting by the front door: a new reflective running vest (so we each have one for the Reach The Beach NH relay event we just signed up for…) and a textbook we ordered online yesterday: Essentials of Personal Training, 2nd Edition.  We both recently started studying to become personal trainers, part of a career switch and grander plan still in the early stages of formation.  But even with that direction, we’re not settled.  We leave next week for another stint on the road, two weeks across Michigan and the Midwest, visiting friends and checking out graduate schools.  At this point, we are exploring our options.  We have no idea what we’ll be doing in a year, and we’re not in a rush to figure it out.  But we are on a mission, because if we don’t keep moving, we just might go insane.  –J


Czech It Out: Our First Night in Prague

image

The Beer Course: Cheese, mustard, pickles, onions, spices, bread, and of course...beer, a local Pilsner.

We arrived in Prague Thursday afternoon on a regional train from Leipzig via Dresden.  C and S are traveling with us on this leg of the trip, and we are happy to have the company.  (As an added bonus, we’ve been able to join them as guests in the Deutsche Bahn lounges at every train station…) After a steamy 45-minute walk to the hotel, we happily dropped off our packs and roamed the neighborhood. We stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant (Stará Doba) where we sat in a sunken beer garden and feasted on Czech beer, fried cheese, fresh bread, and roasted vegetables…all for around $12 per person.  After dinner, we picked up ‘to go’ beers at a corner store and continued to wander around, getting a feel for the city and stopping only for cover under a bus stop shelter while a thunderstorm rolled through.  (While we waited, M and C chatted up a Canadian couple on a bicycling trip who have already logged more than 600 miles across Europe…) We made our way back to the hotel just as it was getting dark (after 10:00 PM local time) and quickly fell asleep, exhausted from our travels and excited about the next day of adventure ahead of us.


Putting Charlottesville to the Test

We started our day today just outside of Charlottesville, VA (C’Ville) at Thomas Jefferson’s famous home, Monticello.  The rain held off as we walked through the gardens and took in the view.  As we toured the home itself, the place that Jefferson loved more than any other, a quote from Jefferson about his home struck me.  “I am as happy nowhere else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello.”  This is how I want to feel about the place that I live, at least most of the time.  It should be enriching and inspiring, while providing a venue for both the social and recreational activities I enjoy.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Scenes from Monticello (L to R): J in the Garden Pavilion, extensive vegetable gardens, the main house, gravestones with a story and a view

In addition to exploring ourselves, the United States and the National Parks, one goal of our road trips has been to seek out places that we someday may want to live. Each new city or town we enter goes through a review process either openly or in our minds.  All locations are ultimately compared to the New Hampshire Seacoast.  Why the Seacoast?  Aside from it being our current home and a familiar place, it has several characteristics that we look for in a home base:  Not too crowded and not too rural (our ideal is somewhere between 8,000 and 100,000 people), great places too run (long roads with low traffic, low risk of crime, beaches and/or bike trails), an arts/music/literary scene, and a downtown with quality independent restaurants and coffee shops.  Our current hometown has most of these characteristics, but given our recent freedom, we enjoy entertaining the idea of moving to new places.

One mistake we’ve made during our travels is to build up new places in our minds before actually visiting them.  No town is perfect, and unrealistic expectations can ruin a place before even getting there.  The first example of this for us was Portland, Oregon.  We had built Portland up to be the ideal place to live: progressive, artsy, West Coast (sort of)…it sounded perfect.  When we arrived in Portland, it was raining, gray, cold, filled with homeless people and nothing like the place we wanted it to be. Although we eventually grew to like Portland, we were disappointed by its inability to live up to our escapist/utopian expectations.  It’s easy to overlook the flaws in one’s hometown.  They are familiar, which by nature makes them less threatening.  The flaws in a new place stand out, especially when you haven’t imagined there would be any.

Before we came to Virginia, a friend recommended that we check out Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.  “You’ll like it,” she assured us.  We asked our host, B, about it, and he concurred, mentioning the pedestrian mall, Friday night live music, yummy pizza, etc. as highlights.  Despite the threat of severe storms, we left Monticello and continued to downtown C’ville, anxious to give it a look before we headed out of Virginia for a few more stops on this leg of our journey.

We started our visit with a walk hand-in-hand down the pedestrian mall, taking in the mix of independent and chain stores, shops and restaurants.  So far, so good.  We stopped at the most highly recommended pizza joint in town, Christian’s, for a slice and a local beer.  Lots of veggie options and definitely delicious!  We sat by the window and enjoyed our late lunch while watching the eclectic mix of passers-by:  business people, students, children, grandparents and homeless folks, and they all seemed right at home in this downtown center.  It’s a welcoming place. 

After lunch, we waited out a downpour in a used bookstore called Blue Whale Books.  We chatted with the cashier, a UVA poet, and picked up two used books for $2 (a biography of Rilke for J and an analysis comparing Jungian philosophy to Tibetan Buddhism for me).  We left the pedestrian mall and headed for a drive around the UVA campus where the academic buildings were right across the street from the coffee shops and pubs…my kind of town.

Snapshots of C’Ville (L to R): Orienting ourselves on Main Street, the rainy pedestrian mall, tasty pizza and beer, and the UVA campus

The final test for C’Ville, and any town, was the grocery store.  As vegetarians who do our best to cook and eat healthy, local, organic food whenever possible, the quality of the grocery store is a key factor in determining the livability of a city or town.  When it comes to grocery stores, a town with a Whole Foods is pretty much a sure thing.  With the exception of higher prices, Whole Foods is like a candy store for vegetarians.  It’s a place to buy the specialty items that most grocery stores don’t carry. Tack on a weekly supplemental trip to a regular grocery store for staples and a farmer’s market for seasonal items, and you’ve got everything you need.  The C’Ville Whole Foods was clean, bustling and close to downtown, rounding out the Words Per Gallon livability checklist.

So how did C’Ville stack up?  We could definitely see ourselves living there.  For now though, there are so many other towns to explore, more roads to run on and more National Parks to visit.  Plus, our new place on the Seacoast beckons; it will be ready later this summer.  Maybe we’ll move next year… -M


Modern Self-Reliance

L to R: Storm clouds rolling in, M clearing debris by the fallen tree, this morning’s aftermath

During these early days of our journey, I’ve spent more time being active and less time relaxing than I thought I would.  Although I love reading, it’s hard to curl up with a good book when there is a mountain to climb or a town to explore or a recipe to invent.  This week I finally managed to spend a few evenings reconnecting with the likes of Thoreau and Emerson.  I laughed out loud rereading the introduction of Walden two nights ago, pleasantly surprised (again) by the relevance of some of his statements 150+ years after he wrote them.

Thoreau’s contemporary, Emerson, had a few relevant passages of his own in the 1841 sleeper Self-Reliance, which I’ve also flipped through recently.  To Emerson, self-reliance meant things like individualism and non-conformity and authentic inconsistency.   To me, this week anyway, self-reliance means problem-solving even when we don’t have complete information.  It means knowing how to read a map (and further, actually possessing one) when we’re off the grid and GPS can’t help us.  It means getting creative with where and how we workout when our usual running routes are hundreds of miles away.  And last night, it meant summoning all of my introverted courage to make a cold call to a person I’d never met asking them to help me.

Why did I need a stranger’s help?  First, let’s back up to last week, before our friend left town.  Just before heading to the airport, B filled us in on some need-to-know info about the house, practical stuff like where to find dry firewood and where to drop off the recycling.  He also mentioned the closest neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. H, saying he wished he had time to introduce us to them before he left, but alas, that hadn’t worked out.  So instead, we just got a passing reference to their existence, at which point for whatever reason, I catalogued their names in my brain.

There are only five houses on this gravel road, all set back into the woods and separated from each other by 1/3-mile sections of forest.  We pass three driveways on the way to B’s house, but we can barely see the houses, and we’ve never seen another car on the one-lane road.  Mr. and Mrs. H live just past B’s house, but we can’t see their house either.  Occasionally we hear car wheels crunching over the gravel.  Most folks in the area keep to themselves, and it was unlikely we’d run into any of the neighbors during our stay.

Then last night, after two days of self-imposed exile on the mountain, M and I headed into town for dinner.  We knew a line of thunderstorms was pushing through the area, but we weren’t too worried.  Rain’s rain.  We made it to dinner and almost back to the house before the first drops hit the car.  We assumed the storm was just arriving.  Then we noticed several branches and clusters of leaves on the road ahead of us.  “Looks like the storm already blew through here,” M commented.

We continued toward the house, through the series of dips and turns, before stopping to remove a large branch from the road in front of us.   Only after getting out of the car did we notice a giant tree down, blocking the entire road, about fifty feet ahead of where we stopped.  We walked closer to inspect things.  There was no way around the tree, no lights visible at the nearest neighbor’s house, and the rain was picking up.  The storm was just getting started.

We decided to back track to the main road where the tree cover was less dense, thinking that if one giant tree could fall, so could another.  We drove the five miles or so back into town and waited out the storm in a pharmacy parking lot (where there was cell service).  As rain pelted the car, we contemplated our options.  We could drive back to the tree, park the car, and walk (in flip-flops, of course) the remaining half-mile to the house to pick up B’s chainsaw, which (a) he warned us wasn’t top notch and (b) neither of us had used before.  We could find a map and see if we could locate an alternate route to the house, perhaps on a connecting back road.  Or we could try to flag down one of the neighbors for help.

For context, at my core, I am slightly awkward introvert who can go weeks happily without interacting with another human.  So the idea of blindly ringing someone’s doorbell is a paralyzing thought.  Making a cold telephone call is a close second, but it beats the in-person interaction.  So from the depths of my brain, I recalled Mr. and Mrs. H’s name and used the internet connection on my phone to look up their telephone number.  There were eight H’s in town, but only one on the right road.  With that find, I summoned all of my introverted courage and dialed the number.

After a mildly strange introduction to the tune of “we’ve never met, but I’m staying at the house next door and is there any chance you know of another way into the neighborhood because there is a giant tree blocking the road and we can’t get home.”  Mrs. H, who answered the phone, wasted no time in understanding my rapid Yankee speech and said, why, yes, there was a back road, but she wasn’t sure what condition it was in and the car might get all scratched up if we attempted to use it.  After a minute more of conversation and a brief chat with her husband, Mrs. H said that Mr. H would grab his chainsaw and meet us by the tree in a few minutes.  Sweet relief!

By the time we arrived back at the tree, Mr. H was busy at work.  We left the headlights of our car on to shed some light on the situation.  Mr. H quieted the chainsaw when we got out of our car and approached him.  “You said it was a tree, but I had no idea it was going to be this big of a tree!” he said with a laugh.  We exchanged handshakes and greetings and then looked up and up, to about 30 feet off the ground where it looked like lightning struck.  Half the tree was still standing, splintered at its wounded top, and the other half—an additional thirty feet or so of it—was on the ground, blocking the road from side to side.

After another minute of talk about the weather and how we knew B, Mr. H got back to work, cutting off branches and limbs before tackling the thin upper part of the tree.  While he figured out the best way to fillet the thick main trunk of the tree, M and I got down to work, moving the parts and pieces and stumps and logs to either side of the gravel road.

The whole task took about 15 minutes, a feat only possible because of Mr. H’s chainsaw.  As it turned out, Mr. H was grateful he found out about the tree on a Tuesday evening and not on Wednesday morning as he was leaving for work or his kids were trying to get to school.  He would have had to do the work either way, and better to know about it in advance and have a little help.  We were grateful for his help and his power tools.  Sometimes self-reliance means wielding the chainsaw yourself, and other times it means calling someone with a bigger chainsaw to help you.  -J


Home is Where The Car Is

Clockwise from bottom left: Front porch swing, gravel road leading to house, local swimming hole, morning yoga, and afternoon storm clouds

After our week-long stay in Maine and a weekend stop in Portsmouth for our friends’ wedding, we’ve made our way to a friend’s house in the mountains of central Virginia.  In a happy scheduling coincidence, our friend (who travels frequently) happens to be at the house for the first week of our planned three-week stay.  It’s been nice catching up with him over shared meals and late night card games, and it will be nice to find a rhythm of our own once he’s on the road again.  We arrived late Sunday night and have spent the week becoming familiar with the area and our new temporary home.  The house is set back about a mile down a gravel road, with few neighbors to encounter and many acres of woods to explore.  Each morning, I’ve taken my coffee outside and listened to the land come alive from my perch on the wooden swing. We’ve napped in hammocks and walked along winding paths.  We’ve witnessed deer grazing in the front yard, turkey vultures and coyotes scavenging along the main road, and countless birds and butterflies and bats and other things with wings.  We’ve also managed to keep our fitness routine somewhat intact, with some creative adjustments.  When the weather’s been nice, we’ve brought our workouts to the back yard, and when it was raining, I set up my yoga mat on the covered front porch.  We’ve explored sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and hiked to a remote waterfall swimming hole.  Today, we ventured to the next county in search of a safe running route and ended up finding a converted rail trail that was perfect for today’s training run.  (We’re running a 10K here in Virginia on Saturday, and it’s been a little tough keeping up our mileage on the road.)  We’re now back at the house, enjoying a quiet afternoon and watching storm clouds roll in from the west.  I think it’s going to be a good night to hunker down on the mountain. -J