Savage River Trail

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

Bonus poem: My Nice Dry Cabin.

We had an hour.

One hour for the Savage River Trail, an easy two-mile loop. It apparently meandered downstream along the Savage River, crossed a little bridge, and came back along the other side. We would then drive four hours back to Anchorage, return our rented Nissan Rogue, and properly pack our bags in the hotel room. I had literally thrown our clothes into packs this morning; Martin would be aghast, but not surprised, when he unzipped the bags later, revealing the rumpled disaster inside. We would then hopefully get some sleep (“nap” seemed more like a more appropriate word), and be up again at 2 AM to catch our shuttle to the airport, for our early morning flight home the next day.

We had a schedule to keep.

One hour is plenty of time for a nice, peaceful two-mile stroll. It’s perfectly do-able, perfectly complete-able, for normal people. Except we’re not normal, we’re us. The ones who stop and stare every two steps, who scan for animals, peer at plants, scrutinize the river (“If we were kayaking right now, would we want to go right or left at that rock?”), who photograph, record, breathe, listen, gawk, examine, linger, and are completely incapable of making any forward progress.

Ever. At all.

So we knew we’d be late. One hour isn’t nearly enough time for us to walk two miles. But we had to try.

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Hiking to the Top of the World: Savage Alpine Trail

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

Bonus poem: My Nice Dry Cabin.

We had arrived at the Mountain Vista Trailhead near the end of Denali National Park’s one paved road. Our plan was to hike the Savage Alpine Trail up and over the ridge, a total of four miles, ending at the Savage River parking lot on the other side. From there, we would catch the free shuttle bus back to this parking lot, and collect the truck.

As we started up the trail, some plants were in heady fall color, others were becoming bare. We would eventually enter unequivocally wintery conditions. But down here it was still fall, the air cool but not freezing, the shrubs and trees colorful and only starting to shed their leaves.

Starting up Savage Alpine Trail
Denali National Park, AK

We hiked up a gradual incline, climbing higher, with stunning snowy mountain ranges all around us. Plant life started petering out. We ate lunch – the last of our crackers, cheese, and that age-old turkey – overlooking magnificent views. We kept climbing, stopping frequently to get videos of us clomping along a wooden boardwalk, or photos of us hiking up the path. Or we’d stop simply to ooh and ahh at the scenery, and breathe the fresh air.

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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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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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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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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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Kauai and the Na Pali Coast: Wow! Crazy! Impossible!

To read my Kauai journal from the beginning, click here

Parking at Ha’ena State Park was a breeze, with none of the chaos and congestion (not to mention $35 parking ticket) we’d encountered last time we were here, when we went snorkeling. We parked right at the edge of Ke’e Beach, at the Kalalau Trailhead.

Scary-looking signs greeted us: “Danger! Falling Rocks!” “Warning! Stream Crossings!” “Alert! Narrow Trail!”


“Look Out!”

We took a deep breath, bravely tightened our daypack straps, and started up the dangerous-sounding trail.

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Kauai: Waimea Canyon and the Kawaikoi Stream Trail

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

When I was packing for this trip and eyeing the weather forecast calling for day after day of rain, friends and family kept saying, “It will be a warm rain!” and “You won’t need a rain jacket, you can get wet and still be comfortable,” and “Don’t pack long-sleeved clothes, you won’t need them! Trust me!”

They were all so totally wrong.

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Kauai and the Kuilau Trail: Fighting Anoles. Pesky Wives.

To read my Kauai journal from the beginning, click here

This morning, Martin, ever-hopeful, went out into the wind and stormy cloudy weather, hoping for pretty sunrise shots. I took up happy residence on the lanai, watching the surf and heavy clouds, admiring the flocks of birds.

Sunrise, Kauai

A pretty good sunrise in Kauai

I teased Martin when he arrived home – wow, how about that sunrise, huh? Pretty nice, huh? – and he silently reached over and flicked on his camera, displaying dramatic shots of orange light streaming through darkened clouds.

Oh! Well, yeah!

That’s a pretty good sunrise.

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