Doing What Comes Naturally: Fun on Triple Lakes Trail

To read my Alaska journal from the beginning, click here.

Bonus poem: My Nice Dry Cabin.

We were feeling overwhelmed.

Standing at the counter in Denali National Park’s crowded Wilderness Access Center, we had intended to buy bus tickets into the backcountry. One road snaked deep into the park; the ticket allowed you to get on and off any bus, anywhere you wanted, and explore the backcountry, as far in as your purchased destination.

But apparently we didn’t fully understand the system. Yes, one could hop on and off any bus, the ranger patiently explained. But we must first choose a specific departure date and a specific departure time. Buses left every hour. Which bus, exactly, would we be on? The ranger’s fingers hovered over the computer keyboard, ready to punch in our answer, while a long line of people waited behind us.

I hadn’t anticipated needing exact dates and times. In retrospect, it makes sense– they don’t want to oversell any one departing bus. But we felt pressure as we stood there talking to the ranger, holding up the whole line as we tried to sort out the information in our heads. Quick! Which bus, what time? So we stepped aside to discuss things.

It felt like a stressful start to our day.

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Perched on Denali’s Doorstep: Healy Alaska

To read my Alaska journal from the beginning, click here.

Bonus poem: My Nice Dry Cabin.

Today we would leave our gorgeous cabin in Seward and drive through Anchorage and beyond, about seven hours north, to the town of Healy, perched on the doorstep of Denali National Park.

Seven hours of driving? We better be fortified! We stopped at a little coffee shop on the edge of town, where the clerk took our order for coffee and scones. That should do it for seven hours, right? As she handed us the bag, she chirped, “Scones are still warm, freshly delivered by the bakery/hardware store!”

A combination bakery/hardware store!

Come on in! Get your blueberry muffins here! Would you like nails or screws with that? Half-price sale today on all cinnamon rolls and garden hoses!

I love Alaska. It doesn’t do anything like everyone else.

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The Seavey Dogs: Iditarod Champions and Trail Runners Extraordinaire

To read my Alaska journal from the beginning, click here.

Bonus poem: My Nice Dry Cabin.

We were rushing breathlessly down the trail, the last ones to arrive for the 10 AM group tour of the Seavey Sled Dogs. The Seaveys are a multigenerational family of dog lovers and Iditarod champions. The Iditarod— a grueling 1000-mile dogsled race across the face of Alaska— takes place in the freezing dark of Alaska’s harsh winter. Only the most intrepid even attempt it. Only true champions finish. The Seaveys have done it— have won it!— multiple times. We were here to get a tiny taste of the Iditarod by being pulled in a wheeled cart by the famous dogs themselves.

We joined the group and tromped down the trail. Our guide stopped before reaching the kennels; one of the sled dogs was on display, standing on a large box while the guide talked about the dogs, the brutal race, the Seaveys—

Actually, I have no idea what he said.

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Exhilaration on Resurrection Bay

To read my Alaska journal from the beginning, click here.

Bonus poem: My Nice Dry Cabin.

We presented ourselves to the Kenai Fjords Tours office for our 12-hour boat cruise to Northwestern Lagoon (two fjords over from Seward’s Resurrection Bay) for wildlife-ogling and glacier-viewing. Dark clouds loomed overhead. Rain spit from the skies; the forecast promised significantly more. Inanely, the tour operators said: “The weather isn’t good.”

Apparently we had three options. We could: (1) cancel the boat tour for a full refund, (2) put the tour off until a nicer day, or (3) go for it, understanding that the captain might elect to turn back early, in which case we would receive a partial refund.

Well duh! That’s easy! Door #3, please!

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An Unparalleled Day: Kayaking to Aialik Glacier

To read my Alaska journal from the beginning, click here.

Bonus poem: My Nice Dry Cabin.

We presented ourselves to Kayak Adventures Worldwide at 7:15 AM. The skies were clear and blue; it was freezing cold. This is summer? We met Nick, our guide, and were told that we were the only people who had signed up for the Aialik (“Eye-AL-ick”) Glacier kayak tour.

A private tour? Works for us!

We boarded a water taxi, captained by a vibrant 30-year-old woman, a 4th– generation Sewardan. “We have life rafts for twenty people,” she quipped to the crowd of way over twenty people. “First come, first served!”

I liked her.

It was a three-hour boat ride out of Resurrection Bay, around the rocky cape, and into Aialik Bay (where we would climb into kayaks and start our paddle to the glacier).

Martin and I spent the entire three-hour trip pressed against the front of the bow, gripping the railing, admiring rocky cliffs and green mountains, and scanning the sea. Looking straight down, we could watch the boat slicing through the water, could feel the waves below. It was cold and windy. Bundled up in my hooded sweatshirt and Gortex jacket (hood cinched tight, wrist cuffs sealed, all battened down!), Gortex pants and gloves, I was toasty warm. Not one other passenger spent the entire time in the front with us. They’d venture out and quickly scurry back into the boat cabin’s warmth.

Loving every minute!

Loving every minute!

But we were exhilarated. As we left the protected bay and entered the actual Gulf of Alaska, the swells increased and I rode them with pure joy, surfing them up and down, using my knees. The boat soared up to the crest of a wave, then plunged down into its trough – and I would find myself airborne, clinging to that railing for dear life, whoop whoop whoop!– then the boat was tossed up another wave and crashed down the back side again. Over and over and over, those swells kept rolling in.

It was a thrilling, wild ride. I loved it. I kept looking back up at the Captain, and she’d grin at me, giving a thumbs-up.

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Falling in Love at the SeaLife Center

To read my Alaska journal from the beginning, click here.

Bonus poem: My Nice Dry Cabin.

It rained hard all night, and was still raining as darkness brightened to gray. We propped ourselves up in bed with comfy pillows and, through the huge windows, watched a sea otter swim slowly by. It dove and rolled in the bay, feeding and grooming as rain poured from the sky.

Watching sea otters while lying in bed. I’m never, ever leaving.

Because it was forecast to rain all day, we decided on an indoor activity, and duly presented ourselves to the Alaska SeaLife Center. It is an enchanting aquarium full of informational exhibits and videos, glass tanks with all kinds of fish, crabs, and jellies, plus several large animal enclosures. Each exhibit so enthralled me that I could barely tear myself away – but then the next exhibit would enthrall me, too.

First stop was the aviary. I knew it’d be a cool place when I read the sign at the door: Please do not touch the birds.

Are you kidding me? Don’t touch the birds? They need a sign stating that? Is there even a possibility of touching them? Surely they couldn’t be that close, that accessible.

Yes they could, and yes they were.

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Seward, Alaska: Getting There

We were flying to Anchorage, the starting point for our two-week vacation in Alaska. And because “vacation” is the operative word, the forecast was, of course, for rain.

Heavy rain. Like, the entire first week. Possibly longer.

Looks like another classic Beebee vacation!

And since it’s Alaska, let’s expect some snow during our summer vacation, shall we? Why not!

From the plane, the panhandle of Alaska gave us stunning views of mountains, shimmering lakes, and snow. But as we neared our destination, clouds gathered and blotted out the majestic peaks and green valleys. We descended, diving down into the white-out, until suddenly the wheels were skidding across the runway.

Alaska! We couldn’t wait to get right into the middle of it.

In the rush to start our adventure, Martin left his jacket on the plane. You just can’t venture into Alaska, even in the summer, without plenty of warm layers. So he ducked back up the hallway from baggage claim, ignoring the conspicuous “Exit Only!” and “Do Not Enter!” signs, intending to slip onto the plane and grab his jacket. He made it about two steps before being stopped by a veritable wall of stern-looking, beefy security guards. For a bunch of big guys, they sure materialized silently, from seemingly nowhere.

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Trouble Along Snowbird Creek

My husband Martin, our two-year-old Golden Retriever Holly, and I were backpacking, and it was pouring rain.

Of course it was. That’s what happens when Martin and I travel. Rain, torrential at times, followed us on virtually every vacation.

We were living in North Carolina. The South was in the grips of a severe drought when, six months earlier, I had requested vacation time from work for this trip.

“Plan for rain that weekend!” I quipped.

Everybody laughed. We hadn’t seen rain in months.

But driving to the Appalachian Mountains near the North Carolina/Tennessee border, the road led us towards an ominously dark sky. As we pulled into the parking lot of the trailhead, fat rain drops began to fall. We sat in the car, windshield wipers flashing furiously, as the sky opened up and rain poured down.

It was classic Beebee backpacking weather.

The latest forecast, checked the night before in those pre-cell-phone, pre-know-everything-all-the-time days, was for “scattered mountain showers.” And sure enough, thirty minutes later the rain abruptly stopped.

We climbed out of the car and hoisted our backpacks. Holly sported a pack of her own. With an insatiable zest for both tennis balls and swimming, she pranced happily about, utterly delighted. She knew what it meant to wear a backpack. She knew tennis balls were stowed inside. And she could hear Snowbird Creek somewhere down that leafy trail, rushing enticingly over rocks, calling her name.

She couldn’t wait to get wet.

Yeah, getting wet wouldn’t be a problem on this trip.

Snowbird Creek, Nantahala National Forest, NC

Snowbird Creek, Nantahala National Forest, NC

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Heading Home: Travel Tales

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Martin and I had decided to wear comfortable Tevas on the plane home, rather than our heavy hiking boots, which were now expertly stowed in our very-full travel bag. Feeling perky in my Tevas and socks, I step out of the hotel room, ready to head to the airport.

Martin and Dakota eye my footwear. “Er,” they both murmur doubtfully. “Are you, er, planning on going out like that?”

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Nuevo Arenal: Moya’s Place

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

I was starving. I’d had entirely too little food these past few days.

Bound for Liberia, we had left our ecolodge near the Nicaraguan border, and had retraced our way down 40-km of bone-chipping dirt road into Pital, back past the small town of El Castillo, and into Nuevo Arenal. It was here that we stumbled, ravenous, into Moya’s Place, an inviting open-air restaurant. The wall facing the street isn’t even a wall, it’s just… a wide opening. The interior walls sported brightly colored murals depicting Mayan and Aztec scenes.

A friendly waiter hovered helpfully over us as we ordered our food. I requested a papaya drink.

“With milk?” the waiter asked encouragingly.

“Sure!” I answered.

The waiter beamed and made a little note on his tablet. He turned happily to Martin, who ordered a mango drink.

“With milk?” the waiter asked uncertainly.

“Sure!” Martin answered.

“Hmmmm…..” the waiter said doubtfully, pencil hesitating over the tablet.

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Boca Tapada: Playing With Fire

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Marco had suggested a nearby hike through the forest. If I understood the Spanish correctly, we could make a simple 2 km loop, or (taking a left-hand fork in the trail) a longer 4 km loop.

Well duh, that’s easy! We’ll do the 4 km hike, thanks. The little trail led us through the jungle, its edges dotted frequently with placards identifying various plants with both scientific and common names.

Occasionally a big scary sign in all capitals would appear: “CAUTION! BULLET ANTS!” which always launched Martin and Dakota into an agony of indecision. They were both powerfully drawn to the fierce tropical ants. They desperately wanted to see them, so they nervously peered around the forest floor and poked long twigs into every nearby hole, prodding the cavities to see what might swiftly emerge.

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Boca Tapada: Kayaking With Crocodiles

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Martin, Dakota and I waved cheerfully at our host, Marco, as he drove away, leaving us alone in the remote Costa Rican jungle.

He had driven us an hour up isolated dirt roads, bumped down tiny dirt tracks, and dumped us off on the muddy banks of this small river. It would be up to us to find our way back to the ecolodge, kayaking down this, the Cas Del Mar River, into the Tres Amigos River, and then onward to the great San Carlos. From there, we hoped to spot the take-out site for our ecolodge, buried in the dense jungle.

If we missed it, we would end up at the Nicaraguan border.

Going kayaking, baby!

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Boca Tapada: Hungry

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

It was our last morning in Arenal – we would shortly be heading northeast, towards the Nicaraguan border, to stay in a remote ecolodge in the depths of the jungle. Martin went out early, as usual, to photograph the soft sunrise light. I got up early-ish, as usual, to make coffee and sit in the rocking chairs, enjoying the bird songs and the volcano-and-lake view. Dakota got up late, as usual, staggering out with bleary eyes and his shock of hair standing on-end, reaching blindly for the coffee.

On one of their more memorable camping trips to the desert, Dakota needed afternoon coffee, but was uninterested in going to the trouble of actually brewing it. So he famously spooned the dry coffee directly into his mouth, chewed it up with focus and determination, and swallowed the bitter granules down. Dry.

Gritty? Yes. Unpleasant? Yes. Worth it? Apparently, yes!

The man needs his coffee. Do not stand between Dakota and his coffee!

So the morning found Dakota and me sitting companionably in the rocking chairs on the front porch, binoculars in one hand, coffee in the other, Dakota slowly coming back to life – when suddenly he cried, “Toucan!”

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Arenal Rappelling: Extremo! Maximo! Super!

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

In Monteverde, we had been accosted with huge billboards and countless flyers, hounding us to take extreme, adrenaline-filled adventures through the canopy. Zip-line across yawning chasms! Bungee-jump from high cliffs! Tarzan-swing from dizzying heights!

“EXTREMO! MAXIMO! SUPER!” screamed the signs.

No thank you! We preferred wandering through the quiet cloud forests, listening to the music of tropical birds rather than the shrieks of pumped-up people.

And yet… here we were, in Arenal, signing disclaimer “We won’t sue you if we die” forms in the front office of Pure Trek, a canyoning company that offers adventures for stupid plucky folks like us.

Adventures like, you know, risking your life rappelling down the thundering throat of waterfalls. EXTREMO! MAXIMO! SUPER!

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it?

Hello?

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Arenal, Costa Rica: Paradise

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We were sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of our rental house in El Castillo, deep within Costa Rica’s tropical rain forest. It was early morning, and the porch faced Arenal, the iconic cone-shaped volcano which towered over the smooth glassy lake before us. Coffee cups in one hand, binoculars in the other, we scanned the lush foliage for Toucans, one of our elusive must-see birds. It was here, in Arenal, that Toucans lived. It was here that we’d have our best chance of seeing them.

View, across the road from our rental house in El Castillo: Arenal Volcano

No Toucans so far, but then we’d only just arrived. We’d tumbled in the night before, tired from our long drive from Monteverde up in the mountains, to discover a kitchen full of tiny black ants, pots and pans covered with thick furry mold which no amount of scrubbing could entirely remove, an empty propane tank, and a dry swimming pool.

Oh, and a flat tire on our car.

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Monteverde: Close Encounters

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We were wandering slowly through the gorgeous cloud forest of Santa Elena’s Hanging Bridges near Monteverde. Today was supposed to be our “relaxing” day. Nothing was scheduled, other than this little trip through Hanging Bridges, and a night hike at 6 PM. Maybe we’d even take a nap this afternoon! So we savored the tangle of greenery, searching for tropical birds, monkeys, and sloths, and rejoicing in the forest’s unbelievable beauty.

The lush cloud forest trail in Santa Elena. How can one see a bird through all that?

Rounding a corner, a long narrow bridge would, unexpectedly and thrillingly, open up before us. We would step onto the bridge as the ground below us plunged away; as we crossed, we would find ourselves suddenly high up in the trees, in the midst of the canopy.

Martin and Dakota cross a hanging bridge, high up in the trees

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Monteverde: Lost

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

I’m just not sleeping well.

My pillow feels lumpy. The wind roars and gusts loudly, incessantly. A dog barks every night. Is the dog okay? Where is he? Why is he barking?

Lack of sleep is not helping my emotional fragility at all.

And then the alarm clock goes off at 4:50 AM, just as I’m finally, blessedly, drifting off into an exhausted sleep. Too bad, time to get up.

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Monteverde: Struggling to Breathe

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We were in the Santa Elena Reserve near Monteverde, a beautiful amazing dense cloud forest of trees covered with mosses covered with epiphytes dangling with vines covered with ferns covered with mosses covered with epiphytes.

A green riot of life. Santa Elena Cloud Forest

Plants grew on top of other plants, vines wound around tree trunks, ferns choked the hillside, mosses sprouted from thin air. Don’t stop walking! A vine might grab you, a moss might take root.

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Monteverde: Feeling the Strain

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

Not only was Dakota navigating, he was driving.

Martin and I were pretty much at his mercy when he announced, “I think there might be a birding preserve up here somewhere!” and swerved off the highway.

Here we go again.

We were again on dirt roads leading to who-knew-where, jouncing along while Dakota the Navigator monitored his neck hairs and the earth’s magnetic field for which way to turn. The road, wide and well-graded at first, went on and on. It didn’t lead to any birding preserves, of course, but through the Costa Rican backcountry, with funky little houses and fields full of cows or crops, past the occasional little store selling soda. Dakota turned here and there onto secondary roads as his neck hairs dictated, and the road narrowed, the grading worsened.

Truly. Here we go. Again.

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Playa Grande: Navigating Our Way

To read my Costa Rica journal from the beginning, click here.

We needed money for the turtle-viewing tour later that evening, so we were headed to Tamarindo. Martin was driving; Dakota was navigating.

That was the problem, right there.

Dakota prides himself on a special sixth sense, an infamous and supposedly flawless sense of direction. Maps? GPS? Directions from anyone or anything? Dakota eschews them all in favor of the tingling of his neck hairs, a little whispered voice inside that says, “Turn here!” and his alleged ability to tap into the earth’s magnetic field and feel his way.

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