South for Winter: Manatees, Doulphins, and Sun

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 Honeymoon Island

Right after the first of the year, Lucas and I flew south. It was the first time either of us had taken a trip to warm weather in the winter and it happened just as the polar vortex was covering our little part of PA. I can’t say prefect timing enough.

The gulf coast of Florida is beautiful, and we enjoyed every minute of sun and temperatures that allowed for t-shirt and flip-flops. A few of our favorites: Ybor City in Tampa, 7venth Sun Brewery in Dunedin, Honeymoon Island (shells and dolphins!) just north of Clearwater, and of course, the highlight of our trip, swimming with manatees in Crystal River at the Three Sisters Springs.

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Honeymoon Island Dolphins!

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More Dolphins!

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Three Sisters Springs Manatees

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Watching manatees!

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Face to face

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Baby!

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Sea bird giving us the eye

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Pelican!

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the best of becominganomad

As 2013 comes to a close, and snow drifts down in lazy clumps outside my windows, it seemed like the perfect day to look back. I have been blogging here for just over 2.5 years, which seems crazy and unreal and wonderful. So today I thought I would re-post some of my favorite memories (oldest to newest with links to the blog post).

Thanks for sharing in our journeys and we look forward to new adventures in 2014!

P1010923Denali National Park, Alaska

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Glaciers and Bears in Seward, Alaska

Dalton Highway 071Dalton Highway 391Dalton Highway 098

To the Arctic Circle and Beyond!

Snowshoeing and Mushing 027Mushing School: A Dog Sledding Adventure

P1030872Back in Alaska: Moose!

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Lights, Lights, Lights!

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Opening Day: Denali National Park

P1040388On the Road: Fairbanks to Valdez, Alaska

P1050008The Southeast Continues: Juneau, AK

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Wonder Lake, Denali National Park

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The First Leg: Yukon, Canada

P1050896Jasper National Park, Canada

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The Icefields Parkway, Canada

P1050991Lake Louise, Canada

P1060038Glacier National Park (Part 1) (Part 2)

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The East Coast Trail: Newfoundland, Canada (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

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The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Happy New Year!


Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

At the end of November (yes, I am still trying to catch up on life!), Lucas and I went to the Pittsburgh Zoo.  It happened to be the prefect storm for a zoo-viewing day, cool and cloudy, producing active animal sightings again and again. And Lucas’ pictures perfectly captured the playful, adorable, amazing moments we saw.

P1070153Snow Leopard (awake and visible!)

P1070157-2Tiger Mom and Baby.

P1070162-2Play time!

P1070175-2Lions! We even heard them roar.

P1070182-2So much cuteness…

P1070185-2Beautiful Elephant.

P1070189-2Polar Bear at play… He spent most of his time trying to eat it.


Moraine State Park

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IMG_6385This weekend I got out into the woods again. Yay!

I am already enjoying the fact that we are within 45 minutes of three state parks and have even more options within a 2 hour radius. So on Sunday, I decided to explore a new place: Moraine State Park.

I hiked part of the Glacier Ridge Trail, the longest trail in the park (14.8 miles) and part of the North Country Tail, which holds a special place in my heart as it also crosses through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This trail sticks to a thick, wooded ridge line that runs above Moraine Lake. The trail was shaded, deep green, and almost-empty. I loved settling into the quiet, with sunlight filtering through the trees in blinding winks. It was good to breath deeply and think about nothing for four hours.

I also took a side trail down to the marina. It was loaded with people, and the sun was sticky-hot. But I loved watching the sail boats glide across the horizon and I saw butterflies flitting from flower to flower. A happy way to spend a water break.

A very nice Sunday afternoon!

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The East Coast Trail: Newfoundland, Canada (Part 3)

The Adventure Continues…

IMG_6324Hiking along Motion Bay

Day five on the trail included a whole lot of wind! Wind, wind, and more wind. We started the day hiking along steep cliffs that dropped into the churning ocean. The trail hugged the coastline and wandered through wide open fields of heather, coastal grasses, and haphazardly placed boulders. It made me feel like a tiny speck compared to the landscape.

IMG_6315Wind!

The wind pressed in around us, pushing us off the trail, and then back on, tossing us like toy boats. We saw no other hikers on the trail all morning and it made the power of the elements seem that much more intense. Here wind and water rule. They carve and shape the land.

IMG_6327Looking back at Motion Head

IMG_6326Clear Ocean Water

The boulders, speckled across the horizon, also added to the magic of this sunny, windy day. The rocks looked like lost marbles dotting the land. Just before lunch we reached Motion Head, a small rocky point jutting out into the sea. I loved watching the waves pound this low-lying point. They crashed into the geometrically broken rocks and sprayed, several feet into the air, a wall of water fanning out towards the sky. Very cool.

P1060910The Big Hill

IMG_6330Wildflowers

In the afternoon, we ascended “The Big Hill,” aptly named. It offered us impressive views back down the coast, out into Motion Bay and took us through some of the prettiest wildflowers we saw on the trip. Waves of dancing, wind-swept pink.

At the bottom of the Big Hill, sits Petty Harbor, our favorite community link. It was spotted with bright-colored houses and friendly inhabitants and a little shop that sold us giant ice cream cones. We sat in the harbor, looking at all the fishing boats, sun on our faces, enjoying our treat.

The hike out of Petty Harbor takes you up onto another series of high cliffs overlooking Motion Bay. We enjoyed the views and particularly liked a little side trail that let us drop down into a tiny, rocky cove complete with a waterfall and clear, cold, blue-green water.

With all the wind, we settled on a narrow pocket under a clump of pine trees for our camp that night. And we heard the heavy gusts of wind plowing into the coast all night. We were glad to have found a sheltered campsite.

P1060917Waterfall!

P1060916Rocky Coastline

In the morning, amid overcast skies and a cool breeze, we set off for Cape Spear, the eastern most point in North America. We once again followed the coastline, seeing nothing but wide open space and endless views. We loved all the craggy beaches and little freshwater creeks that drop out of the coastal woods through the rocks to the ocean.

As we neared Cape Spear on our way to St. John’s we saw more day hikers, and got updates from the outside world, like the status of the Stanley Cup hockey series, and the weather. It is so interesting how you can just dip out of the world for five days, and I felt a twinge of regret as we realized we were headed back to “civilization.”

We took a lunch break at North Head, a spur trail on a large piece of land that bows out into the ocean. From here we could see Cape Spear, and the two lighthouses in the distance. I love that on this trail you can continuously see both where you have been and where you are going.

P1060921Historic Lighthouse

P1060922Working Lighthouse

Cape Spear is an interesting mix of history, rugged coast, and tourism. We loved the old battery there and seeing the historic lighthouse, but it was strange to see fences and warning signs along the coast, keeping people back, putting the wild just out of reach.

Due to weather concerns we decided to make a final push on this day and hike the rest of the ECT. It would make for a long day, but I loved this last section of trail, especially once you reached the plateau that would lead us into St. John’s.

But first we wander along the coast, then headed up to the dummy fort on Blackhead, and passed through the tiny town of Blackhead proper. In this section I also spotted a humpback whale! A fellow hiker suggested looking for tour boats slowed or stopped in the water to help up your chances of seeing a whale, and that is just what happened. We saw a boat sitting ideal in the ocean, then scanning the area, I saw a blow. A few minutes later the whales back then tail. It is the first time I have ever seen a whale from land. Very cool.

We continued to curl down through a coastal woods and had small glimpses of the coves that pocket this section of the trail. In Freshwater Bay, we passed across “the gut,” a long stretch of rocks separating the fresh water from the salt water. It was tough on the feet and we were glad to head back along the coast.

IMG_6338Pitcher Plant

IMG_6343I’m obsessed!

IMG_6353More…

This is where we went up and up and up. It was out steepest and most continuous climb of the trip, but it was also the first spot that we saw pitcher plants, the provincial flower, and something I had been really hoping to see. They are a strange and impressive flower with a deep pink and yellow belly and fuzzy “ears.” They seem a little alien. For the rest of the hike, we saw them in small clumps and standing alone on the edge of the trail like bright-colored jelly beans.

P1060935Cape Spear in the distance

P1060938Wildflowers and Views!

P1060939Signal Hill (from day 1) and St. John’s in the distance

When we reached the top of the plateau you could see back to Cape Spear, out towards the harbor, and the distant ocean horizon. The sun poked through creating spot lights that dotted the landscape and as we crossed rolling rocks we passed through another section of beautiful, pink wildflowers. The landscape up here was very different from the rest of the trail and uniquely captivating.

Finally, we had to go back down towards the harbor, Fort Amherst, and St. John’s. It was sad to know that when we reached the bottom our time on the ECT would be over, but we were looking forward to a shower 🙂

P1060941The End of the Trail

What an amazing trip!


The East Coast Trail: Newfoundland, Canada (Part 2)

The Adventure Continues…

IMG_6249 - CopyThe water is SO blue here

With clear, sunny skies, we continued down the East Coast Trail (ECT) past Cape Neddick to the LaManche Bride, a long suspension bridge that stretches across a quick-moving slurry of blue-green water. The bridge rocks slightly in the wind and offers some awesome views of the ocean and the river feeding into it.

IMG_6262Suspension Bridge

IMG_6264Doctor’s Cove

IMG_6267Doctor’s Cove Campsite!

P1060709Seals watching us watch them

Our next stop on the trail, and also camp #2, was one of my very favorite places, Doctor’s Cove. This pebble/boulder beach is tucked in behind a massive wall of rock and curls like a spoon before it opens to the sea. It was the perfect place for us to throw off our packs, set up the tent, and relax for the evening. We scrambled on the rocks, dipped our feet in the icy Atlantic, and had the privilege of spotting two seals at play in the cove. They spent as much time watching us as we did watching them! We fell in love with Doctor’s Cove.

The next day we tackled a long section of the trail (17.5miles) that included several community links. During this section we also met our first, and only, fellow thru-hiker. He was from Maryland, and it was fun to exchange stories and thoughts about the trail so far (he was headed south while we were headed north). During this stretch we also saw Gull Island, which was appropriately named, and swarmed with a cloud of birds so thick that without binoculars it looked like a heavy, gray cloud, crazy!

IMG_6278Rocky Coast

Today was also our first taste of the famous Newfoundland wind. As we ducked back onto the trail and pushed away from town we were tousled by gusts of wind as we soaked in long stretches of rocky beach. At Tinker’s Point it was so windy my shirt billowed out like a kite as I used the binoculars to search for whales. No luck with whales, but we enjoyed the 180 degree views. It is so neat to be able to look back at what you have already hiked and to look forward at what you will cross over in the future.

IMG_6282Looking for whales

P1060737The Coast

On this section of the trail we also loved all the deep narrow coves and the way the water rushing in pulled the pebbles up and back making a rock slide-waterfall kind of noise. It seemed like a day of endless beaches: rocky and blue and echoing with waves pushed by wind on a smashing collision course, overflowing with churning whitecaps.

IMG_6284I loved the sound here

But the section of trail right after the community link at Bay Bulls Harbor was probably our favorite of the day. By then the wind had pulled in clouds and it rained, heavy, then slow, then gave way to more wind and fog, but before the fog settled in we saw some amazing, massive rock sheets, broken in clean rectangular lines that stretched out until they disappeared underwater. It looked like giants had dropped huge slabs of rock into the water. These crazy rock formations lined the whole edge of Useless Bay. As we moved up the trail the fog rolled in. A thick layer the swallowed the sea and the coast and us. By the time we reached the Bull Head Light House, we couldn’t seem more than 10 yards in front of us. And we made a final push to Freshwater, the home of an abandoned village, marked now only by leftover stone foundations. We camped at Freshwater, happy to have a protected, flat space to sleep.

IMG_6298Solar-powered Lighthouse

P1060751Sea caves and the lighthouse in the background

P1060777Freshwater river running into the ocean

All night it rained and the wind gusted, but in the morning we woke up to sun and clear skies and an endless coastline. We decided to back track (without packs!) to see a few of the places hidden by fog the night before. The steep drops and sea caves at Dungean Cove were worth the extra hiking! We climbed up into the solar-powered lighthouse for 360 degree views and enjoyed seeing the same place in such a new way.

P1060792Sculpin Island

P1060804Tilt-a-whirl

P1060803Waterfall to the ocean

It was a day of warm weather (our only day in a t-shirt for the trip) and great views. At Sculpin Island we scrambled out on tilted rocks to get up close with a series of cascading water falls that dropped into the sea. We loved how these huge rocks lifted up towards the sky and then broke off and dropped straight down to the water. It was like standing on a chunk of ancient ruins.

P1060829Sea Stack

P1060825Sea Arch

IMG_6309Sea Stack

P1060850Nesting Eagle

As we continued down the trail we saw a series of impressive sea caves, a sea arch, and several huge sea stacks. The sun made the water a tropical-blue and we were a little giddy. Every corned seemed like another picture perfect moment. Our favorite sea stack stretched over a hundred feet into the air and was separated from the cliff by a small gap, like a missing tooth. The waves pounded the bottom and birds swirled around it calling to one another like white dots of confetti. As we skirted around it from the cliffs, we saw a bald eagle nesting on top of it like a wild cake topper. It was hard to stop smiling.

P1060860The Spout

P1060862The Spout

For lunch we pushed ahead to the Spout, one of the iconic features of the East Coast Trail, and it certainly lives up to that status. The Spout is a freshwater, sea-driven geyser that blows a hissing puff of cold water into the air every few minutes. It looks like the bed of rocks is spitting out a gulp of water. We sat just below the spray, listening to the waves crash below us and watching the geysers puff into the air. When the wind pushed in the right direction we were drizzled in icy drips of water.

At this stop we also met a work crew clearing the trail. The ECT was created by the East Coast Trail Association, a volunteer group who also continues to maintain and expand this amazing wild, coastline trail. It is pretty amazing that a group of volunteers can do such a great job maintaining a trail this long. During our 6 days on the trail we met several Association members and they were both surprised and pleased that a couple from the states was out backpacking on their trail. We also obtained our maps and some great travel information from this organization. Click here to learn more about the East Coast Trail Association.

P1060872The Spout in the distance

As we continued down the trail, it was really neat to look back and see the Spout flair to life in the distance like a whale breath. We could still see it as a tiny speck when we reached our next stop, Long Point. Here we took another moment to enjoy the endless views, gushing wind, and soft heather underfoot. I never got tired of putting my feet up and just looking as I stretched out on the soft, spongy ground cover. We also watched the gulls “deep-sea fishing.” They would fly in a large loose circle then almost on command rocket straight down into the water, disappearing for a moment, and then reemerge. It was pretty cool.

P1060891Miner’s Point Campsite

From here we made the last push of the day to Minor Point campsite, the only established campground we stayed at during the trip. It has two sites, but we had the place all to ourselves complete with an ocean view. Lucas even found a crab buoy when we was exploring the rocky river that emptied into the ocean near our hilltop campsite. A great view to end the day!

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Part 3 (our last two days of the trip) coming soon 🙂


The East Coast Trail: Newfoundland, Canada (Part 1)

IMG_6190 - CopyThe East Coast Trail (ECT)

Three weeks ago (yikes, I’m behind!), I was hiking my way along the East Coast Trail (ECT) in Newfoundland, Canada with Lucas. We hiked 60 plus miles in five days and managed to soak in an incredible, rugged coastline, spot some stellar wildlife, and to be reminded how wonderful it is to disappear into the wilderness for a while.

I think I have been putting off writing this blog because life has been a little crazy, and because I never know quite where to begin when writing about a place we spent so much time and saw so many beautiful things. But I will do my best to capture this special place. So here goes…

Our adventure really started on the plane, when we met several friendly folks from Newfoundland, who were more than happy to talk about “the rock,” as it is known to locals. We learned that Newfoundlanders, particularly those who live around St. John’s (our starting and ending destination), are mostly descendents of Irish immigrants and that we should expect to hear thick accents during our travels. It was a wise and helpful piece of information as we did indeed meet many Irish Canadians, some of whom we did have a difficult time understanding.

Our new plane friends also expressed surprise, a common occurrence when talking with locals, that we would be hiking and backpacking on the East Coast Trail. Many of the locals we met had never been on the trail, and most seemed shocked that we would be camping along it as well. This was a bit of a surprise to us, but it also meant that we ended up having this incredible trail mostly to ourselves. Pretty amazing.

P1060625View from Signal Hill

P1060626St. John’s from Signal Hill

P1060633Fort Amherst, from Signal Hill, end point for the ECT

We arrived in St. John’s late, spent a little time getting our supplies reorganized, and crashed. The next morning we wandered around downtown for a bit, took a walk up Signal Hill to Cabot Tower, an iconic spot that overlooks the narrows and St. John’s, and grabbed fuel at a local outfitter before catching our cab south to start on the trail.

IMG_6184 - CopyReady for rain on the ECT

We began our first few miles in typical Newfoundland weather: rain and fog. At the trailhead our cab driver, a very nice Irish Canadian, seemed reluctant to leave us, even as we layered on rain gear, put on our pack covers, and started down the trail, it was clear he had doubts about our trip. During the drive he even asked us, “Have you done this kind of thing before?” Which made Lucas and I chuckle. I can only imagine him telling his family at dinner about these two crazy kids he dropped off in the rain who were going to hike from Cape Broyle back to St. John’s, 109 kms, he would say throwing his hands up in the air, “Can you believe it?”

IMG_61871st Day on the trail…60 plus miles to go

I liked that he was worried. It reminded me that Lucas and I share a passion for something that not everyone understands or would enjoy in the same way we do. I, for one, couldn’t wait to disappear down the trail, to sink into quiet and calm. For five days no cell phone, no internet, no life decisions besides the basics: food, water, shelter, and movement, one foot in front of the other. I love how simple life becomes on the trail. It slows you down, lets you think, cleans you out.

IMG_6216Fog, fog, fog

Our first day on the trail was a short one as we didn’t even arrive in Cape Broyle until late afternoon, but right away we got a glimpse of what we had come to see: a rocky, rugged coastline, pounded by crushing waves. The fog sunk in so deep you couldn’t see the horizon, but instead, enveloped the world in an eerie, magical cloak. It felt prehistoric.

IMG_6229Hiking!

IMG_6196 - CopyNight #1

The trail snaked along the coast with views of white caps speckled along the shoreline, jagged rock pile islands, and clear, cold water. We also spotted our first bald eagle of the trip. We hiked, hoods up, for several hours before we made camp in an open grassy field right on the water’s edge. All night we listed to the waves breaking and the rain tapping on our tent. It seemed like a good initiation to the East Coast Trail.

IMG_6206Deep Cove

On day two we set off in a light mist through our first community link, South Brigus, a sleepy village along the shore, before climbing up and into thick coastal woods. Again, we enjoyed the way the fog danced along the coast hiding and revealing at the same time. At Frenchman’s Head, we marveled at the steep drop-offs and clumps of bone-breaking rock outcroppings. We stopped for a short water break in Deep Cove, thick with the mist of fog, and marveled at the clear, green-blue water, and the breaking, geometrical lines of the rocks walling us in. It seemed like a pirate ship could have floated into the cove at any moment.

P1060648View from Flamber Head

From here we went up, and the fog became so thick it felt like walking through clouds. The world around us disappeared. We took a short spur trail out and up onto Flamber Head, a small jut-out into the ocean like a thumb made of rocks. The cliffs reminded me of broken teeth, sharp and uneven. In the cove below we spotted our first otter of the trip. I was thrilled! It floated on its back bobbing and rocking with the waves until it dipped under water and disappeared into the foggy ocean beyond our view.

IMG_6222Up we go…

P1060688More fog

P1060687Starting to lift

The next stop, and one of our favorites of the trip, was Cape Neddick. Dipping out onto another spur trail, we climbed up a steep rocky trail until we were on a point so high we couldn’t see the ocean below us through the fog. We ate lunch, shoes off, relaxing. This is when we had a “movie” moment. The wind picked up and the fog started to blow out and the sun, our first of the trip, poked through. It felt like a miracle. We watched the wind pushing the fog like a cold breath disappearing and suddenly the whole coast opened up. We could see both north and south in a single moment, and it felt like we were getting our first glance of a whole new world.

P1060669The coast!

P1060677Oh, yea

If I wasn’t already in love with Newfoundland, I sure was now!

More soon…