How to Include Your Dog on Awesome Outdoor Adventures

Outdoorsy, adventurous dogs have been getting a ton of attention lately…not just from me, but from all of those crazy “Camping with Dogs” Instagramers too.

Roxy, the most chill dog EVER

Roxy, the most chill dog EVER

It makes a lot of sense though, given that approximately 70-80 million dogs are owned in the United States and about 37-47 percent of all households in the United States have a dog. And seriously, why even bother getting a dog if you’re going to leave him home alone or with a stranger every time you do something cool?

Sasha is super excited for Jeep rides...and at just a year old...everything else too.

Sasha is super excited for Jeep rides…and at just a year old…everything else too.

Check out my published blog written for a new startup called OutsideMyWay for tips on how to get your pup as ready and excited for the great outdoors as you are.

http://www.stories.outsidemyway.com/how-to-include-your-dog-on-awesome-outdoor-adventures

At 160-ish pounds, Zeiger couldn't more gentle.

At 160-ish pounds, Zeiger couldn’t more gentle.

Fall Road Trip Ideas for the Uninspired Traveler

Summer is little more than a fleeting memory in the rear view mirror of life, but that doesn’t mean that wanderlust fades away so easily.

Fall road trips are awesome because they renew the sense of summer adventure before having to worry about annoyances like ice, snow, and road closures. So quick, before winter sets in, hop in your ride and set off on a journey to somewhere…anywhere!

road trip Italy

If you’re feeling a little uninspired, check out these recommended routes on Tripbase:

Sure, driving is more time consuming that booking a flight, but it’s consistently my favorite way to travel to keep costs down and the randomness quotient up.

Cheers!

Gorillas in Georgia?! A Tour of the Dewar Wildlife Trust Sanctuary

Georgia sounds like the absolute last place on earth that gorillas would be living in the wild. But there they were, roaming around on a couple hundred acres in the mountains of northern Georgia.

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Over a decade ago, a software engineer decided to switch gears, follow his passion, and build a gorilla sanctuary. His name is Steuart Dewar, and he made a good chunk of his gorilla-funding fortune developing a calendar application for the Palm mobile operating system. After some other land deals fell through, one worked out – a plot near Blue Ridge and Morgantown in the rolling mountains of northern Georgia.

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Dewar’s goal was to build a facility to care for gorillas that couldn’t otherwise be kept at zoos because of their medical or social issues. He built 14-foot concrete walls that enclose about eight acres of green space and indoor enclosure spaces for them to sleep at night. By enlisting the help of well-regarded veterinary facilities and veterinary professionals, the sanctuary earned the approval of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

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When I arrived at the gorilla sanctuary for my scheduled tour, I unknowingly expected to find lots of gorillas living behind these fences. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that only TWO gorillas lived on site. The current residents are Kidogo and Jasiri, and they’re both about 15 years old.

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A former resident, Joe, arrived at the Dewar Wildlife Trust (DWT) in 2003.  In July 2012, Joe had to be euthanized “at the conclusion of an emergency immobilization following a recent marked decline in his health along with ongoing chronic health conditions that included advanced periodontal and cardiac disease.” Although Joe was born in the wild in Cameroon in 1963, he was captured and contained in a series of zoos in Birmingham, Denver, and Brownsville, Texas.

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DWT took on a gorilla named Oliver in 2006, but he was later moved to Ohio to live in the Columbus Zoo and father his first child. Kidogo and Jasiri, the third and fourth residents, both arrived at the facility from Zoo Atlanta in March 2012 after causing a ruckus and fighting with younger gorillas in designated bachelor groups.

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This nonprofit organization isn’t technically open to the public, but they still offer tours and host school groups. To get in touch, I contacted Steuart’s wife, JoBeth Dewar, by calling 706-374-5109. You can also email her [email protected] Keep trying and leave messages if you don’t get a quick response.

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These gorillas are tucked away in the absolute middle of nowhere, and your vehicle had better have four-wheel drive if you’ve booked a tour. Steuart and JoBeth don’t advertise the GPS location of the sanctuary until your tour is on the calendar because they’re afraid of high school kids sneaking in to mess with the gorillas. To respect their privacy, I’ll just say that the roads to reach DWT are dusty, windy, hilly, narrow, and a bit treacherous. There is absolutely no signage along the way to let you know you’re on the right track.

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After rerouting my Jeep a couple times, I called JoBeth to let her know that I had arrived for the tour. Apparently, my boyfriend and I were the only ones scheduled for this tour, which worked out well since the drive from Pigeon Forge, Tennessee took longer than expected.

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JoBeth and Steuart pulled up in a (much older and rugged) Jeep of their own and told us to hop in. They took us to the front office, which was unassuming and featured little more than a small TV set and a decade-old laptop. Steuart shared a PowerPoint side presentation with us about how he started DWT and the gorillas that had lived here. Then we hopped back in the Jeep to meet Kidogo and Jasiri.

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Although Kidogo and Jasiri live behind a large concrete wall with a ton of open space, they stay in one place. JoBeth and Steuart brought a bag of apples and grapes to let us feed the gorillas between metal bars beneath windows in the concrete enclosure. Given their sheer size and power, I was surprised at how gentle the gorillas took food from our hands.

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Oh by the way, gorillas smell absolutely terrible. Apparently baths aren’t part of a gorilla sanctuary care regimen.

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Now you need to understand that my boyfriend and I aren’t just casual wildlife observers. We’re really into primates, having recently visited the Chimp Haven Sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana, supporting the Born Free Primate Sanctuary in rural Texas, and watching every documentary out there. So we had a ton of questions about caring for the gorillas, and Steuart and JoBeth did an excellent job of answering all of them.

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At times, the sanctuary area made me feel like I was the one in the cage, while the gorillas roamed “free” in open space. To my relief, they don’t seem the least bit crowded and they get along marvelously. We watched Kidogo and Jasiri tease each other, play-fight, and even grope each other a bit. I suppose it gets boring without having any female gorillas around to play with.

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After feeding time, the couple took us to the upper “observation deck” area to watch the gorillas interact without our intrusion. Then we went down to the nighttime enclosure space, which has large cages, hammocks, and a few toys.

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We also got to see the veterinary hospital room, with its large operating table and medical equipment. Both gorillas recently underwent routine cardiac ultrasound exams to test them for cardiac disease, which is the #1 cause of death for gorillas living in captivity.

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According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Zoo Atlanta pays for two full-time curators, Horton and Bobby Fellows, to care for the 14-year-old gorillas, both of which remain property of the zoo. The zoo also supplies other in-kind support, including gorilla chow. Apparently, Zoo Atlanta remains interested in working with DWT to find solutions for some of their 21 male gorillas who don’t assimilate well with groups in the zoo’s small 3-acre space. The Dewars don’t live on site, but rather travel back and forth from Texas in their live-in RV for tours and other gorilla business.

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After it was all said and done, the Dewars spent a couple hours with us and really seemed to enjoy working with “the boys,” as they call the gorillas. Group tours cost $39 per adult and $19 per child, usually start at 1:00 pm, and last for 2-3 hours. These group tours are scheduled on select Saturdays from May through September, otherwise you’ll be paying $495 for a private tour scheduled at a date of your choosing.

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Aside from the small number of gorillas living onsite, two other things surprised me. There is a ton of underutilized space at DWT that has never been built out. Steuart indicated that maybe someday they would be able to take on other types of animals and use the vacant buildings and land spaces for unrelated conservation use. But for now, the buildings are empty and the construction materials lie in stacks.

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Finally, there is a thrift shop onsite. A full-blown thrift shop with dusty furniture, lamps, and knickknacks – I’m not even kidding. After JoBeth sold her six-bedroom home to live a gorilla-filled life on the road with Steuart, she had a lot of extra stuff at her disposal. Every DWT tour ends at the thrift shop in case you’d like to buy anything or make a tax-deductible donation of your own unwanted junk. All for the sake of fundraising!

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I must say that I absolutely loved spending a Saturday afternoon with Steuart and JoBeth, who were some of the most interesting characters I’ve met in a very long time. Although the need for a gorilla sanctuary isn’t incredibly great, there is still is a need. As someone who has come to hate everything that zoos stand for, I think DWT is making the best of these gorillas’ situations and helping them live out their adult lives more peacefully.

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Kidogo and Jasiri were sweeter, calmer, and more playful than I would have ever expected them to be after all they’ve been through. DWT has a Facebook page, however, most of the updates are about general animal conservation topics rather than what Kidogo and Jasiri are up to. But I still check in every now and then to see what shenanigans these teenage gorillas might be getting into. And I wish them both the very best!

For more information on visiting Dewar Wildlife Trust, visit Steuart and JoBeth’s tour page: http://www.dewarwildlife.org/tours.htm and register online.

A Gnome Pub at the Edge of the Smoky Mountains

On a recent road trip from Chicago to the Smoky Mountains I was delighted to discover that one particular pub would be a convenient pit stop along the way. The Roaming Gnome Pub & Eatery is located in Sevierville, Tennessee, just north of the tourism madness of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

Walking into wonderland

But you see, I didn’t stumble upon this wonderland on accident. As an avid writer of all things gnome, I’m familiar with pretty every gnome establishment out there and even receive daily gnome Google alerts to keep up with it all.

Not only was I ecstatic to finally visit this gnome pub, but even more excited to pull into the gnome pub’s parking lot towing a popup camper. Just a couple hours earlier, I had picked up a popup rental near the Indiana/Kentucky border to tow behind my Jeep and spend some time in the Smokys.

Pulling camper

The Roaming Gnome used to have three locations: Sevierville, Knoxville, and Maryville. But sadly, only the Sevierville one is still in business today. Three gnome pubs in one regional area would have been too much for me to wrap my head around anyway, I suppose.

Gnome pubs are few and far between, but I am willing to go well out of my way to reach them. But surprisingly, they often let me down. Take for example Dirty Bill’s, a sorta kinda gnome-themed bar in Austin. Although the display of gnome photographs at Dirty Bill’s was nothing short of amazing, the place was clearly trying to phase gnomes out of their decor and become just another generic dive bar off of 6th Street.

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The Roaming Gnome, however, is keeping the gnome enthusiast spirit alive and well. The exterior of the building has nothing going for it, as it’s wedged into a strip mall across from a Wal-Mart. But as you approach the door, you’re greeted by a clever gnome window display and large gnome rug.

Table top

Some of the high top tables inside have huge gnome faces on them and there are gnome statutes scattered inconspicuously throughout the bar. Miraculously, there are even gnomes plastered upside down on the ceiling.

On the ceiling

The pub has a traditional Irish pub feel, with about 75 beers on tap, a no-nonsense food menu, flat screen TVs playing sports, and pool tables in the back. Add some gnomes to that mix and you’ll have a hard time dragging me out.

Inside shot

For dinner, my boyfriend and I settled on a few starters to share: the calamari, the Reuben eggrolls, and the mega nachos. I can safely say that each of them exceeded my pub cuisine expectations. I’m no food critic, but I am a gnome critic. So moving on…

But first – it was Sunday, and I have a really difficult time passing up Sunday Bloody Mary specials. So I gave in and ordered one. No harm done.

Hanging with my gnomies

It was a bit chilly that evening, so the back patio wasn’t open. However, chalk-drawn gnomes teased and tempted me into the “someday” possibility of eating outdoors after a seemingly endless winter.

Patio thadda way

The Roaming Gnome has been in Sevierville since 2007 and prides itself on being a local hangout among the tourist chaos. And it seems to be exactly that. A group of local 20-something guys popped in at 9:00 on the dot to take advantage of Pour Hour, a window of time where well drinks and domestic drafts can be chugged for just a buck each.

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There’s a drink special every night, just in case the gnomes don’t draw you in on a daily basis like they would for me if I lived nearby. For example, very Wednesday night (9pm to midnight) is Pint Night with normal people pints for $2 and hard core high gravity pints for $4.There’s also a decently sized stage in the front corner of the pub (in front of the gnome window display!), where local bands take the stage Friday and Saturday nights.

The Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area is just as touristy as you remember from when your parents dragged you there as an awkward pre-teen. Of course, I fell in love with The Roaming Gnome because well, there are gnomes everywhere. The bartender even let me pose with a huge gnome in a Guinness Hat who normally lives behind the bar!

New Guinness friend

But honestly, I would have dug this place even if there was no gnome in sight. The pub is spacious, which is a nice change from the obnoxious crowds everywhere else. The menu makes a lot of sense, the prices are spot on, and the vibe is laid back – without being so laid back that you’re twiddling your thumbs waiting for a pint.

Bought the t-shirt

So if you find yourself in the middle of Tennessee for whatever reason, make a point to stop in and say hello to my newest gnome friends. I came, I drank, I bought the t-shirt…literally!

The Tent to RV Transition: A Camper’s Journey of Compromise

Despite the pesky inconveniences and irritating discomforts that go along with camping, I’d trade my bed for a tent almost any day. While waking in up a bed feels automated, waking up in a tent feels like an adventure. While cooking in my apartment’s kitchen feels like a hassle, making dinner over a campfire feels like a relaxing activity. While I repeatedly hit the snooze button at home, the sound of birds chirping and the first rays of sunlight motivate me for the day ahead.

And that crick in my neck from sleeping on the ground? It’s much more likely to go away after a long morning hike than after staring at a screen and pushing letter buttons below it for eight hours.

One of my favorite campsites: Padre Island National Seashore

One of my favorite campsites: Padre Island National Seashore

For Valentine’s Day this year, my boyfriend escorted me to an RV show. Romantic, right?

I had hoped that the 46th Annual Chicago RV & Camping Show would have some cool tents and outdoor accessories, but it was almost exclusively RV-focused. Since we had already bought tickets, we spent some time looking at RVs. I instantly fell in love with the smallest pop-up camper at the show, which had a price tag of just under $6K. It seemed to be the perfect compromise between the tent camping I love and the RV lifestyle that sounded mighty appealing after a few miserable nights in the freezing cold and pouring rain.

Sadly, I was not surprised with the gift of an RV this Valentine’s Day. But I didn’t forget about that little pop-up back at the convention. A severe case of restlessness set in a couple weeks later and we started tossing out ideas for our next adventure. We didn’t feel prepared to make a major RV purchase just yet , but what if we could rent one…for just a little while?

A lesson in camper setup

A lesson in camper setup

A quick phone call to Greenwood RV Rentals settled the matter. We booked a pop-up camper, similar to the one at the convention, and drive down to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee for a couple weeks. Although this rental shop’s two locations are in the Indianapolis area, Dave agreed to meet us with a rental closer to the Kentucky border, just north of Louisville. This way we didn’t have to battle Chicago traffic with it or run up the gas mileage as badly.

Surprisingly NOT a gas guzzler

Surprisingly NOT a gas guzzler!

Dave patiently waited in a storage facility parking lot as we rolled in with the Jeep nearly an hour late. The pop-up had two full-sized beds, a dinette table with bench seats, a two-burner propane stove, an ice box, furnace, and air conditioner. As long as it’s not a holiday or a local festival weekend, the standard pop-up rates are $73 per night, with a three night/four day minimum. It also had a 30 amp electrical adapter, cold running water from the kitchen sink, and with a 1,600 pound tow weight, my Jeep Wrangler was easily up for the challenge. Thankfully, Dave spent a considerable amount of time giving us a thorough rundown of how to tow, expand, and collapse the camper.

Campsite at River's Edge RV Resort in Pigeon Forge

Campsite at River’s Edge RV Resort in Pigeon Forge

I have previously made a reservation at River’s Edge RV Resort in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. After emailing several RV campgrounds, I chose this one because of its Wi-Fi/Mi-Fi Internet coverage, proximity to the national park, price, and responsiveness of the staff. Since our reservation dates were still considered “off season,” the rate was just $33 per night. That jumps jump to $45 per night between April and the first of January.

I learned a lot during the two weeks that I spent in my very first pop-up camper, and I loved calling it “home” for awhile. Some parts I expected to be frustrating and they weren’t, while other challenges were a total surprise.

1. Pop-up campers have crappy insulation. In most parts of the country, pop-ups are best suited for late spring to early fall weather. The windows are made of plastic and the walls of canvas. There is a small furnace, but it’s no match for 30-degree temperatures. Bring an electric space heater!

Pop-up working/sleeping situation

Pop-up working/sleeping situation

2. Backing up a pop-up camper is really hard. It really is, and I have no idea how anyone does it.

3. Pop-up campers are more spacious than you’d expect. I expected to feel at least somewhat cramped while working, cooking, playing games, and sleeping in the pop-up. It looks tiny pulled behind a hitch, but don’t be fooled! There’s actually a ton of space in there. Use the extra bed for luggage and make use of all of the interior cupboards.

4. It’s easy to cook, do dishes, and store a couple weeks’ worth of groceries in a pop-up camper. When we tent camp, we cook most of our meals with a Jet Boil canister. This translates to lots of ramen noodles, beans, and oatmeal. Although I’m far from a culinary chef at home, I loved buying and cooking fresh vegetables in the pop-up. The faucet only puts out cold water, so if your dishes are gross, you’ll have to head to the campground bathroom and hope no one catches you in the act.

The pop-up kitchen setup

The pop-up kitchen setup

5. Try attaching the stove to the outside of the camper. Why cook inside when you can cook outside?

6. Choose a pop-up with a fridge (not an icebox) if possible. An icebox is exactly what it sounds like, and it only keeps perishables cool for a little while. Ask your RV rental company if a mini fridge is available for rent if you plan on grilling out meat.

7. The beds are surprisingly comfortable. Don’t be fooled by the flimsy mattresses. Unlike the cold, hard ground, you can actually get a decent night’s rest on a pop-up bed. Granted, our pop-up was brand new when we rented it, so the mattress hadn’t yet been weighted down by a Fatty McGoo.

Cranking out some work on the laptop in the pop-up

Cranking out some work on the laptop in the pop-up

8. A small propane tank only lasts four or five days if you’re running the heat. Ask your rental company if they have a propane gauge so you don’t unknowingly run out of heat in the middle of the night. A propane fill costs about $20-25 and you’ll most likely have to do a fill or exchange if you’re renting longer than three days. A small space heater can pick up the slack it unexpectedly runs out.

9. Things I wish I’d brought for my pop-up rental: broom, dust pan, candles, small space heater, floor mat for dirty shoes, bucket for gray water.

Although I’m not planning to run out an buy an camper right away, my first experience made me a believer in the RV lifestyle. Just because I sleep inside doesn’t mean I can’t spend time outside. And “roughing” it doesn’t always have to mean being cold, wet, and miserable. Maybe I’m getting older, or maybe just a little wiser.

As a minimalist, I don’t need the enormous RV with the flat screen TV and a fireplace. Instead, I’m excited to discover a “compromise camper” that equally suits my spirit of adventure AND the whiny little voice inside my head.

Road Trip Poetry: Haikus and Limericks from the Northeastern U.S.

In an effort to keep the creative side of my brain active during long stretches of road, I decided to write a poem every day (or so) during my last road trip. Short stories take too much time, blog posts become tiresome after awhile, and my Facebook friends don’t care to read every thought going through my head.

To keep things simple, I settled on the haiku and the limerick for poem structures. Let me take you back to junior high creative writing class for just a moment. A Haiku revolves around that odd 5-7-5 syllable structure, juxtaposes two ideas, and throws in a seasonal reference. Limericks have a five-line AABBA rhyme scheme and tend to be on the ridiculous side.

Without schooling you any further, here is my collection of road trip poetry…categorized by city and state. (Reader hint: each paragraph is its own poem!)

Michigan City, Indiana

Jeep in the service bay
On the way to Maine today
Engine light cleared

There once was a gnome driving a Jeep
“The engine light’s on!” he exclaimed with a squeak
Mechanic found a hose was bent

Jeep in the auto hospital

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Bare butts everywhere
Sketching by bikes in the sand
Monkeys on a beach

There once was a monkey from Toronto
I was traveling and he asked, “Hey, can I go?”
We biked through the sand
He said, “I’ll be damned!”
‘Cause that beach required no clothes!

Indian market
Beetle leaves and ice cream cup
Can’t find magic fruit

Toronto traffic
Reminds me too much of home
“Squeeze left,” a sign says

A girl was biking to Scarborough Bluffs
She rode a long way and had enough
Locked her bike to a tree
And scraped up her knee
Falling off the edge feels pretty tough

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Campfire burning
Old guitar songs sung in French
Sun sets later now

Biking to Mount Royal
Quiet amidst the chaos
Brakes screech, tires swerve

Fine arts museum
Windy day in Montreal
Textured canvas paint

Grand Isle, Vermont

Citronella light
Illuminates ferry boats
Mosquito bites itch

Working along Lake Champlain

South Hero, Vermont

Roadside antique store
Crafts and creatures on the shelves
Windy twisty roads

There once was a man from South Hero
Where the population’s practically zero
He shopped for antiques
‘Til his bike started to squeak
And he skidded right off the pier. Oh no!

Vineyard concert night
Locals drink and dance along
Sun sets on the vines

There once was a band that played covers
The vineyard lawn full with blankets of lovers
The drummer drank too much wine
Ate some raw grapes off the vine
And was carried off stage by his brothers

Waterbury, Vermont

Vermont tasting day
Cider, cheese, chocolate, ice cream
Rain makes trees greener

Twin Mountain, New Hampshire

Tensions in the air
Tear drops fall like pouring rain
Let’s go get Thai food

Cold beans in a can
Styrofoam instant noodles
Sleeping bags are damp

Rainy campground day
Clothes swirl ’round the washer
Bad TV plays on

KOA pizza
Sketching by campfire light
Internet goes out

Toes dipped in the pool
Soothes itchy ankle bug bites
Dark clouds rolling in

Stir crazy working
Caught up and getting ahead
Rain motivation

Rainy day for monkeys

North Conway, New Hampshire 

There once was a climber from North Conway
He searched for good routes all day Monday
Finally set up some climbs
Mostly 5.8s and 5.9s
A bit scraped and sore, but he’s doing okay

Bar Harbor, Maine

Lobster between bread
Clam chowder and blueberry pie
Rainy day delight

There once was a moose from the state of Maine
He crossed where he wanted, which felt like a game
He ignored the road signs
Was ticketed for his crimes
‘Til he was put behind bars. What a shame!

Lighthouse on the cliff
Bell rings and red light flashes
“Click” goes the shutter

Calm breeze makes ripples
Water droplets splash my skin
Kayak on the lake

Firewood burning
Embers travel toward the sky
A hole in my shoe

Swollen drippy eye
Fishes take revenge on me
Shellfish allergy

Waves crash on the shore
Wind and flies test my balance
Yoga on the rocks

There once was a mosquito from the Harbor of Bar
I swatted him away, but he didn’t go very far
Felt him land on my skin
Sucking blood out again
Screw the tent – I’m sleeping in the car

Acadia National Park

There was an old hag at the campsite next door
Her dunkies would cry, and she’d scream some more
Tossed a burning log in the air
Bowed my head, said a prayer
Now all I hear are waves on the shore

Parade candy thrown
Lobster races to my gut
Fireworks so bright

Shift gears up the hill
Wipe the sweat, pedal faster
Cycling carriage trails

Gnomeless antique shop
Rusty junk out in the rain
Creepy man peers out

There once was a sand pail on Sand Beach
It used to make castles, now tangled in seaweed
Someone left it behind
Swept away by the tide
Rake and shovel too far out of reach

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Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Chicago to Maine
Many stops along the way
Camping from a Jeep

THE END

Road Tripping with the ‘Check Engine’ Light On

Today marks Day #4 of our second workcation. We started calling this trip “The Vermainshire Workcation,” but then we ended up in Canada and name combinations just became too confusing.

I write today from a dorm-like motel in Scarborough, on the outskirts of Toronto, as I knock out some projects to pay for the days ahead. Things are going smoothly so far, but they didn’t start out that way.

On Saturday morning at 7am, we stuffed the Jeep full of seemingly useful crap, attached a couple bikes, and secured the hitch rack cargo bag. About an hour into our drive, my Jeep (who goes by “Chief Surfs with Manatees, if you were unaware) dinged a foreboding ding.

The dreaded “check engine” light was shining brightly back at me from the dash, mocking me.

A debate of the options ensued, and we considered driving back to Chicago to get it taken care of. We settled on pulling over in Michigan City, Indiana to take Chief to the automobile emergency room.

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We first attempted to buy a scanner to diagnose the problem at an Advanced Auto Parts. The dude there was kind enough to scan Chief with the company scanner for free, which saved us at least fifty bucks. Woot! The diagnosis indicated an EGR (exhaust gas re-circulation) issue, and while a treatment plan couldn’t be determined from that, it was clear we needed some professional help.

A crap-hole shop called Apex Auto Care advised they couldn’t even diagnose Chief, let alone fix him because he was “too new”. Apparently, all the cars they service are from 2009 or older, which is weird and lame.

Fortunately, another shop, Chris’ Car Care, ran a $45 test and told us that the EGR valve sensor had been set off, but that no immediate fix was needed. Even after explaining that I needed this Jeep to get me to Maine, the dude reassured me that it would drive just fine. I can’t say I understand his explanation very well, but I guess I am apprehensively relieved. Fingers crossed!

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We’ve made it to Toronto so far and have been hanging out in and around the city, which reminds me of Chicago but nicer, greener, friendlier, and equally expensive. Stay tuned for future blog posts about our adventures, which will hopefully be about fun things rather than Jeep drama.

Posts about biking Toronto Island and the Bellwoods Brewery are coming up next! I’m also creating a road trip poetry book that will feature haikus, limericks, and other forms of random poetry that I decide to Google and learn how to write.

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Happy trails!

Art from the Road

I am an absolutely terrible artist. You may have heard about a project that I was a founding member of back in 2008, Free Crappy Portraits. The purpose of Free Crappy Portraits (FCP) was to draw strangers in public (with or against their will) and/or from the Internet based on photos they submitted. We kept our clients’ expectations low and never disappointed!

The only art class I took in college was art history. I signed up for a park district painting class a couple years ago and the instructor simply stopped showing up. Although I am a lost cause to the art world, I found my place creating really bad portraits for strangers at no cost.

Today, I carry around a sketch book wherever I go on my travels. Although I my technique is embarrassing  and I have no sense of perspective, I love to draw the versions of things that I see along the road. My recent travels to South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana were no exception. Here are just a few of the awesomely terrible works of road trip art from my sketchbook.

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I call this one “Mt. Gnomemore”. After walking around Mt. Rushmore with my trusty travel gnome, I felt that the roles should be reversed. I think that this is a truly brilliant idea and after Googling it, I am convinced that it is unique to my creation. This may just be my ticket to fame and fortune.

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Created with oil pastels, this is my “Welcome to Montana’ drawing. As we crossed the border from Wyoming into Montana, we were greeted with cows on the side of the road, lakes and rivers in the foreground, mountains in the background, and adorable cabins along the roadside. A night of peaceful camping awaited us across the border.

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This colored pencil sketch is called, “Creatures in the Campground.” We camped at Mammoth Campground in Yellowstone National Park for five nights. Due to the winter season, it was the only campground open at that time and the temperatures often dipped below 20-degrees.

Bison and elk regularly roamed about the campground, incredibly close to our tent and Jeep. Although I was initially terrified to sleep next to these wild creatures (who would surely attack at any moment), I eventually came to trust that they wouldn’t mess with me if I didn’t mess with them.

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Prior to starting this road trip, we bought an inflatable kayak and all the necessary accessories. Although the temperatures were almost always cold and the winds strong, one particular day in the Big Horn National Forest of Wyoming proved to be perfect for boating.

Our first kayaking attempt in the Big Horn Canyon was successful. We didn’t tip over, the kayak didn’t get punctured, and no one got hypothermia. This above photo depicts a painting that I completed while staying in a remote, snowed-in cabin at 9,000+ elevation.

Although I take travel notes and write throughout my trips, my crappy artwork helps me to remember things the way that I first saw them. Although my drawings and paintings could easily be mistake for a five-year-old’s, I love flipping through my sketchbook and making fun of myself from time to time while reminiscing.

Even if you’re an avid photographer or writer, give it a try. What you see in your mind’s eye might provide a more lasting memory than any snapshot could show or words describe. For whatever reason, it does for me.

Why I Need to Go To Moab This Fall

Some of the world’s most stunning red rock landscapes provide a perfect backdrop for events in Moab, Utah. Contrary to popular belief, this outdoor adventure destination has more to offer than mountain biking and whitewater kayaking. Small town hospitality meets resort town luxury in Moab.

If you’re looking to escape some heat and crowds, the fall season is a great time of year to visit Moab. In case you don’t have enough reasons to visit Moab already, here are a few more.

Plein Air Moab – October 4-12

Local and naturally known artists flock to Moab for an extended celebration of painting and drawing in the outdoors. All artists are required to create their masterpieces within fifty miles of downtown, and artwork is auctioned off to the public.

Book Cliff Archaeology – October 5-6

Join outdoor education center, Canyonlands Field Institute for a van tour into the unique Book Cliffs canyons. The canyon is located just north of Moab, and focuses on the archaeology, biology, and geology that formed the area’s dramatic landscape.

Banff Radical Reels Night – October 12

Watch this year’s best adrenaline-pumping films from the Banff Mountain Film Festival and get pumped up for your own adventures. This event is presented by the Friends of La Sal Avalanche Center and takes place at the Grand County High School.

Moab Jeep Jamboree – October 17-19

If you don’t have a Jeep, then don’t even bother showing up! This family-friendly event is a celebration of Jeep enthusiasts from around the nation. Trail ratings are generally 3-9 and new trails are added every year. Both experienced drivers and rookies are sure to enjoy this unique event, which includes six meals, trail guides, spotters, and prizes.

Moab Ho-Down Mountain Bike Festival and Film Fest – October 24-27

For its eighth consecutive year, Moab celebrates two of its biggest passions – bikes and the big screen. Movie screenings are featured Thursday and Friday nights and the races begin on Saturday. The festival wraps up on Sunday with a costume party, live music, and celebration at Moab Brewery.

Photo credit: bhenak via Flickr

Exploring Idaho’s Ghost Towns on ATVs

Idaho is full of historic ghost towns, thanks to the Gold Rush and exhausted mining efforts in the 1800’s. What better way to explore the remnants of wealth-seeking western explorers than on an all-terrain vehicle!

Thumbnail - ID Ghost TownAll-terrain vehicles, also known as ATVs and four-wheelers, are small, sturdy vehicles with low pressure tires and handlebars for steering control. Lots of local outdoor companies rent ATVs to visitors and very little experience, if any, is required to rent one.

Rental packages generally include helmets and pick up and drop off service. One company, Snowmobile and ATV Rentals (SAAR) , accepts reservations by phone or fax and charges $30 per hour for a minimal of two hours or $129 per day during peak season.

The Bayhorse Pacific Mine Loop is a great place to take your ATV out for a spin. This 15-mile loop will introduce you to the old mining town of Bayhorse and around the mountains where the Pacific Mine once produce silver ore.

Take a walking tour of the 1880’s era ghost town when you arrive in Bayhorse. The trail system is open to the public seven days a week from late-May to mid-October. Entrance fees are $5 per vehicle and parking and vault toilets are available on site.

Then follow the trail route uphill and through the switchbacks to check out the mine. You’ll also pass by a calm, flowing creek on your way back to Bayhorse on the return trip. Alternate route options are also available to make your trail longer or shorter.

According to Park Manager, Dan Smith, over 90 miles of trail are available for ATV excursions in the adjacent area as well. Nearby town, Challis, and areas of Custer County have designated streets and roads, which are open to ATVs as well. You’ll see old mills, charcoal kilns, mine tunnels, and other building remnants along the way.

Want to see what you’re getting yourself into before committing to an ATV trip? Check out this video from history buff, trail enthusiast, and Boise resident, Ernie Lombard, and decide your level of adventure!

Photo credit: Rolf Blauert via Wikimedia