Camping Trip Recap: Rocky Mountain National Park (Part 1)

IMG_4986 copy

Rocky Mountain National Park is a classic outdoor adventure destination and a superstar of the National Park system, and so I put it on my Outdoor Bucket List a few years ago. I was able to check it off this past June. This was our first camping trip of the 2015 summer season and also the biggest. I was super stoked to see the Rocky mountains, and I had also never been to Colorado before. Everyone I knew who lived in Colorado regales me with tales of breathtaking summits, incredible wildlife, the best mountain scenery, and the best hiking and camping in the continental United States. Naturally, I was expecting RMNP to knock my socks off.

In the morning of June 13, a Saturday, we loaded up our ready-for-adventure Subaru Outback and kissed our little dog goodbye, and start the trek to RMNP. The drive was 18 hours. We drove for about 10 hours the first day and stayed in a hotel somewhere in Iowa.

We resume the drive the next day. As we got closer to the park, the mountains appeared in the horizon, and wow. It’s trite, but it was breathtaking. The jagged snow capped peaks look so dramatic against the bright blue sky.

We pulled up to the west entrance of RMNP around 8:00pm on Sunday. The park admission fee was $20 for a whole week. I’m a little blown away at how cheap it was. I mean, this park is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Only $20? I was glad to give them my money.

We were camping in Moraine Park Campground, the biggest campground inside the park. This was a modern campground, which means they are bathrooms with flush toilets and water taps. I  prefer rustic camping and primitive campsites, but because I had never been in this area before, I decided to play it safe and reserve in the modern campground. Moraine Park is pretty typical of modern campgrounds in National Parks, except that each campsite has an excellent mountain view:


Our campsite in Moraine Park Campground, A122

June 15, 2015

As is typical of most summer camping, I wake up at around 6am because the tent is flooded with LIGHT and my eyeballs can’t escape from it. And you can hear ALL THE BIRDS. Which is ofcourse a great thing, because ya know, we drove halfway across the country to be here in nature. But the first 30 minutes of waking up in a tent is always hard for me, especially if it was a cold night, which it was. It was in the low 40s and I woke up a few times from the cold.

But I also love camping early mornings because of the soft warm sunlight that makes nature look all fresh and new, and because I love making breakfast over a fire.


Used my new Stanley cook set that I got for my bday from a friend! I like it, it boils water pretty quickly.

After we washed up after breakfast, we headed over the to Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.  All the guide books recommend consulting the rangers at the visitor centers about trail conditions and the areas are currently open to the public. More importantly, we needed to get on the wifi because Kory teaches an online class that she needs to log on to everyday during the week.

Anyway, pro tip- Beaver Meadows Visitor Center has wifi and there’s a bench adjacent to the ranger desk that has an outlet, so you can charge your camera battery because you forget to bring a spare!

Kory logged into her class, we got some information about where to spot some big horn sheep because Kory really wants to see them, and I charged my electronics. We decide to check out the one of the most popular sites in the east side of the park- Bear Lake.

We drive out to this Park and Ride spot where we can take a shuttle to Bear Lake. The shuttle makes two other spots to other trailheads around Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain before the last stop at Bear Lake.

There isn’t actually a hike to get to Bear Lake. You get off the shuttle and you walk up a little hill and it’s right there. The loop around the lake is .6 miles. IMG_3856


It was drizzling on and off, and it was a little cold. There was a little bit of snow on the ground. Bear Lake is supposed to be one of the most picturesque lakes in the park, but because the weather was so dark and overcast, it was a little underwhelming. But one could definitely see that this spot would be absolutely gorgeous in better weather conditions.

Overall it was a easy walk around the lake and we ate our packed lunch with a nice view of the lake.

We get back on the shuttle to our car and head back to Moraine Park campground. This is when we notice the temperature/weather difference between the higher and lower elevations of the park. Up in the mountains in Bear Lake, I needed my fleece-lined triclimate jacket, but back down in the shuttle area it was hot and I wanted to change into shorts. The guide book said that the the park’s “high country” and “low country” could have radically different weather conditions. I’m glad that I was prepared with ALL THE CLOTHES.

We are driving down Bear Lake Road when we see our first elk sighting! There were two males eating grass by a bridge. It’s very exciting to spot these huge creatures just chilling and doing their thing.


After admiring the wonderful creatures from afar and taking tons of pictures with my zoom lens, we continue on back to the campsite. We went over a bridge that crossed this fast moving river with these huge boulders:


In Moraine Park, we saw our first herd of elk:


We finally got back to our campsite around 8pm, just in time to start making dinner. We basically spent the day getting our bearings and the lay of the land. Rocky Mountain Park was clearly huge, and we had driven quite a bit today, but we had only seen a tiny portion of it.

It was a dark clear night, and so we could see so many stars in the sky. Watching the starts is always so much better in the wilderness, but they seemed even more bright and brilliant here.

Paddle Recap: Kayaking the Grand River in Lansing, Michigan


I absolutely love kayaking, but I only really enjoy kayaking on a very specific kind of river – the very densely wooded kind and far away from the sound of cars. This obviously means traveling to somewhere more remote or to a state or national forest. Happily there are many of those rivers in Michigan, but it’s not something we can get to every weekend during the season or anything- because hello, I’m not made of time. I have a full time job and a little dog, etc etc.

Yesterday I finally got to kayak the Grand River in Lansing, the city where I live. Lansing is a typical smallish Midwestern city that has seen better days during the auto industry boom. East Lansing, the neighboring city, is home to Michigan State University. In any case, Lansing is a city and this stretch of the Grand River will go through the city. That’s typically not my jam, which is why I’ve never kayaked in the Grand River in the 7 years I’ve lived in East Lansing/Lansing. But I always want to try something at least once before totally discounting it, so the  four us went yesterday after work on a Friday.

Rivertown Adventures is the kayak rental place in downtown Lansing. We went to their booth in the Lansing City Market where you pay for the rentals. We went with the trip that went from Potter Park Zoo back to the City Market. This was advertised as a 2.5 hour trip, but we did it in under 2 hours. The kayak rental was $20. Our friend had her own kayak, and I think they charged her $8 to transport her kayak to the start point.

The four of us pile into their van, and friendly driver guy drives us to the river access point near Potter Park zoo. The drive is a little more than 5 minutes.The dock has steps that lead into the water, so it’s pretty east to get in by yourself, but friendly driver guy gave us a shove and we were off!


This area by the zoo is the best part of this paddle trip because it’s the most wooded and secluded stretch. This part lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how slow you take it.


The interesting feature of this area is the “islands” dotted around the river.


This is the spot where Adison, who has kayaked here many times, decided to veer off the main river to explore the “islands”. There are little inlets and marshes that one could explore, but they are off the main flow of the river. Which would have been totally fine, but she didnt actually tell us that she was leading us to do said exploring. There were many spots where the the river was almost impassable because of fallen trees and vegetation.




We were also trying to find the the Bald Eagle that was nesting in this area. It made the Lansing news a couple of months ago, that a Bald Eagle was spotted here and had made a nest. This was obviously very exciting because Bald Eagles are super awesome, and wild Bald Eagles hadn’t nested in Lansing for like 50 years or something. The only time I’ve seen Bald Eagles in the wild was in the Au Sable river in Northern Michigan, and they are awe inspiring, and seeing them again here, would be super cool. A kayaker that we met earlier had told us that he had seen the eagle, so we were excited to see it.

We searched and searched. We saw herons and several large nests that could have been an eagle’s nest, but alas we didn’t spot the bird of prey.


No Bald Eagle, so we’re just gonna float on

After ending up in a couple of dead ends, we were like, what the hell Adison, we’re lost! And she’s like, I was taking you exploring! She eventually leads us back to the main part of the river, but not before we had to paddle through several fallen trees with bushy branches, covering us in leaves and twigs and spiders.

After that portion, the rest of the paddle is pretty much a paddle through a city.


The river goes through residential areas, the industrial area, and under some highways. The buildings we saw were pretty industrial and generally uninteresting. We passed under several bridges. The biggest eyesore was the smokestacks near Cedar Street that were undoubtedly spewing toxic fumes into the air. The banks of the river were covered in trees and greenery, but you definitely get city scenery from your vantage point in the kayak.

The Lansing Riverwalk also borders the river for a good part of this stretch, so we saw a few runners, bikers, and people fishing. We also saw lots of ducks and turtles.

The scenery got a little more interesting when we approached the downtown area, past Michigan Avenue.


We got back to the City Market around 7:15pm. You end up back at their booth where you pay for the rentals. A guy waded into the river and pulled our kayaks back into their little dock.

The City Market has a bar and grill, but we weren’t super hungry yet, and one of our favorite restaurants, the Soup Spoon, wasn’t so far off, so we went there instead.

We went did our trip in about 1:45 hours, from 5:30pm to 7:15pm on a Friday night. It was a very easy paddle. We only saw one other kayaker in the river. In the downtown area there were a few pontoons and a couple speed boats.

My Final Thoughts on the Potter Park Zoo to City Market paddle trip on the Grand River:

– I really liked the first portion of the trip, the area around the Zoo

– The rest of the trip has city scenery, which isn’t my favorite thing when kayaking

-There were a few short stretches in the second half of the trip where the banks were more wooded, which was nice

– Rivertown Adventures seems like a good kayak rental place, and I’m glad that they are in business

– Aside from maneuvering around fallen trees, this is a very easy paddle

– If a person doesn’t mind kayaking through a city, this is a pretty good trip

If you live in the area, I strongly recommend that you do this trip at least once. And who knows, you might spot the Bald Eagle!


It’s that time of the year again…!

getting tent ready

Took out the the tent today to air and sweep it out. Camping season is finally here!!! Our first camping trip starts this coming Saturday. I am SO excited. This one is gonna be epic.

First camping trip of the year means I have to take out all the camping gear and clean, sort, and take an inventory to figure out what else we need. I may be super messy but when it comes to my outdoor gear, I’m super meticulous. If you take care of your things, your things will take care of you. It’s going to be a busy week, with work and getting ready for the camping trip. But soon it’s going to be doing some of my favorite things – campfires! hikes! watching wildlife! sleeping in a tent! waking up in the outdoors! stargazing!

the best

Reasons Why It’s Easier to Be Healthy During Spring/Summer

Michigan winters, they can be rough. There’s a ton of snow, yes, but that’s not the worst thing about Michigan winters for me. It’s the weeks and weeks of dark, overcast days, when you don’t see the sun for days. I don’t think I actually have seasonal affective disorder or anything, but my energy is def. at its lowest during the winter months. With low energy, my motivation to exercise regularly, eat well, and get outdoors takes a nosedive too. I get a bad case of the winter blahs. All of these things just get stuck in a negative feedback loop of decreased energy, poor eating, and not giving a fuck.

But come late March, when the snow finally stops and everything begins to thaw – doing the whole health, fitness, and the great outdoors thing gets a whole lot easier. And fun.

It’s the Season for Adventure

Yes, there are people who run all through winter and people who go camping in the snow. I aint about that life. Sure skiing is awesome, but it’s prohibitively expensive to go more than a few times during a winter season, and there are just so many more outdoor activities in the summer. When May rolls around I’m already raring to go kayaking, camping, and hiking. Getting out there and enjoying the outdoors, it just makes me so happy, like I’m actually living, and life is good. I’m more likely not to stuff my face with processed chemical shitstorm junk food because I’m feeling like, connected to the earth and shit. So I’m more likely to eat whole foods because I feel all natural!

Gardening, Grow Your Own Food

spring garden michigan

I got kale, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, spring onions, zucchini and strawberries. Can’t wait for the harvest!

This year I planted my first vegetable garden in my adult life. I went the whole nine yards – I started seeds around February while it was still snowing in Michigan, put together a raised bed, got blended compost from the gardening supply store, transplanted in spring. It’s kind of magical, watching your plants grow. It’s practically meditative, tending to your plants. Every morning I go outside and do a little gardening. Watering, pulling weeds, stroking leaves, staring lovingly at the first fruit buds. Anyway, I CANT WAIT to eat these vegetables.

Composting, Turning Garbage into Black Gold

home compost

Garden trimmings and our typical produce scraps – banana peels, orange rinds, eggshells, kale stalks, carrot pulp from the juicer – they all get chucked here!

As soon as the weather warmed I made Kory build a compost bin (she’s so handy).  We are into keeping as much garbage out of landfills as much as possible, we recycle diligently, but composting is even better because you turn your garbage into a useful product. We go through a lot of produce so we generate a decent amount of plant kitchen scraps, and so it just goes into the compost pile, and in a couple/few months – it’ll go into the garden. Closed loop food system? Gettin pretty close. Composting is pretty rad, period.

More Sunlight &  Longer Days


Even Josie likes sunning

It’s so much easier to feel good about life when it’s sunny. When you’re not depressed because you haven’t seen sunlight in days, you don’t have to drag yourself to your workout. When I emerge from my pitch dark bedroom in the morning into the living room bathed in sunlight, I’m happy. When I’m happy, it’s easy to make good choices. When it’s warm and sunny I actually enjoy taking Josie out for a walk. Also, on Mondays and Wednesdays my taekwondo class starts at 7pm. During the winter I can’t bring myself to go then because it’s already dark when the class starts, and it just feels so late. But during summertime it’s still light out at the end of the class at 8:30pm. Thus I go to taekwondo more often.

Farmer’s Markets


There’s just something about going to the farmer’s market and getting your vegetables and fruits from the people who grew them. Being able to have a conversation with the grower about where the broccoli was grown and how bitter the beets are going to be  gives me this connection to my food that makes me more aware, and it just makes eating this food more meaningful. Eating locally is one of our things – I think it’s healthier to eat as close to home as possible, and more ecologically responsible, obv – and it’s mostly only possible to do this during farmer’s market season. Anyway, I really really enjoy going to the market. I like looking at all the beautiful fruit and veggies, seeing what’s in season, checking out the cool stuff that people in the community make- like soaps, candles, maple syrup, pastries. Going to the farmer’s market is  my Saturday morning ritual from late spring to early fall – and I come home with a week’s worth of local produce.

Sweet Fruits


Our fruit bowl, early June

The most delicious and sweetest fruits are in season in the summer/early fall. Mangoes, peaches, and pears – my top favorite fruits, fresh and in season at this time. And so many other delicious sweet things: oranges, cantaloupes, strawberries, grapes, cherries! Go to the supermarket or the farmer’s market and all that stuff is fresh and lots of the time on sale.  I think about how strawberries taste in February or eating peaches from a can. I just snatch them all up. It’s good eating in the summer.

I’m not saying that my health and fitness efforts are perfect during spring and summer. But compared to winter, it’s definitely a whole lot easier. This summer I’m determined to make it a fun, healthy, adventure-filled season!

Chippewa River: Kayaking Recap

The forecast said there was going to be a storm, but we were determined to go kayaking last Sunday- come rain or high water.

This summer we had attempted to go kayaking twice, and both times ended in failure. The first time was during a camping trip in early August, and it was raining and windy that day. It had been raining during most of the camping trip, and we just couldn’t bear to go kayak in the rain when we had already been wet and cold. We planned to go kayaking again on September 13th, but again we weren’t able to go because we showed up late. I wrote about it in this post.

So for the following weekend after attempt #2, we planned to go kayaking again. This time we were going kayaking no matter what. We were determined. We were going to get there early! We were going to kayak even if it rained! And what do you know- it did.

From Monday to Friday, the forecast said that the weather was going to be warm and sunny for Sunday, September 21. But Saturday rolls around and it says it’s going to be 80% rain tomorrow. Oh, great. Doesn’t matter though, we are going kayaking! Summer was ending, and we still hadn’t gone kayaking? Unacceptable.

We wake up on Sunday morning, and it’s about 55 degrees and drizzling intermittently. It keeps raining on our drive to the livery. I had to talk myself out of backing out as the rain lashed the car as we were driving on the highway.


We arrive in Mt. Pleasant around 1:30pm. The livery is called Chippewa River Outfitters. We’ve been to this livery and on this river many times before. I’ll be honest, Chippewa River is not the most scenic river or the best paddle experience in the state or anything. There won’t be any bald eagle sightings or long stretches of virgin forest. But it’s not a bad paddle for an hour and a half drive from Lansing. If we wanted to kayak on a river that goes through some real deep woods, the nearest place would be in the Manistee National Forest, which is at least two and a half hours away, one way.

So when you want to kayak but short on time, you have to compromise.

It’s still steadily drizzling when we get to the place and pay for our kayak rental. We chose the 2-hour trip from Deerfield Park to Meridian Park, and we paid $18 per kayak. The kayak guy said that we were the only group that came in all weekend. It’s been a slow season, he says. The unusually rainy summer has been bad for business.


It’s chilly and wet but we are gonna do this thing

He drives us about 10 minutes to Deerfield Park in a van. We put our kayaks in the water through a little shore, and we shove off.


You put your boat in here

It’s alternating between drizzling and raining, and a touch chilly. The temperature was in the high 50s.  All of us were prepared for the rain, so no one was miserable.  I stayed warm and mostly dry throughout the whole trip. Here’s what I was wearing:

Base layer: Under Armour Cold Gear fitted long sleeve mock

Midlayer: North Face Denali Fleece jacket

Outer layer: North Face Resolve rainjacket

Pants: Columbia hiking pants, maybe these?

I have to say, I was pretty comfortable even though the weather was far from ideal. My core was pretty warm, and my rainjacket kept my top half dry. My pants weren’t waterproof, but your lap/butt getting wet during kayaking is kind of unavoidable. Sure my lap got a bit wet from the rain, but it dried quickly when the rain stopped. The only other way I could have been drier was if I had a spray skirt, but those are so hard to put on and not really for leisurely river kayaking anyway.

The person who was the driest had a poncho and an umbrella. Maybe not the most convenient, but definitely dry:


So, the river.  Again, this isn’t a paddle through a deep forest, which is my preference. It’s pretty clear that you are paddling through a suburban area. There are lots of houses along the way. If you take the longer trip, you will eventually go through a golf course. But there are also places where the trees are thicker and no houses around. The scenery is definitely a mix.

But it is an easy, relaxing paddle. Especially because the water was high from the recent rains, we floated along at a quick pace with little effort.

There are a few large rocks to watch for. There are very few trees that are low enough on the water to be dangerous to the passing kayaker.


We were the only people on the river that day. It was pretty quiet, which was nice. We’ve been on this river before during sunny days in the summer and it’s usually pretty busy with kayakers and canoers and college kids on tubes.

The guy from the livery was waiting for us at the end point in Meridian County Park. He told us that it took us only 1.5 hours to paddle from Deerfield Park ( the trip is listed as 2 hours). I suppose it was because we didn’t stop anywhere and the water was high.

So kayaking finally happened, and I was relieved. I still can’t believe that this is the first time we’ve been able to go kayaking for the season, and it’s practically fall already.

I’m glad we stuck to our guns and got in that river even when it raining. The takeaway for this post is that kayaking can still be fun even when it’s raining, as long as you’re dressed properly for it. A good rainjacket with a hood is a must, and something warm underneath, like a thick fleece. As for your bottoms, wear pants or shorts that will dry quickly. I definitely wouldn’t wear jeans.  Buying a couple of high quality drybags is a great investment if you go kayaking a lot, and is indispensable during rainy conditions. A thermos of something warm can be really lovely too.

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.” — Sir Rannulph Fiennes

The only consolation for a failed kayaking trip is books and coffee


Yesterday we were supposed to go on a kayaking trip in Three Rivers, Michigan.

I’ve been dying to go kayaking all summer. I love kayaking. Kayaking was my first foray into outdoorsy nature stuff. Paddling down a river in deep woods fostered my love for being outdoors and going on adventures. After discovering kayaking my first summer in Michigan and loving it, I branched out to camping and eventually hiking. But kayaking will always have a special place in my heart for its simplicity, tranquility, and the great scenery.


On the Au Sable River in Huron National Forest, 2013

After that first summer when I got hooked on kayaking, I went at least 5-6 times each summer. Give me a warm summer weekend and I’ll be floating down a river. But so far this season I haven’t gone once. Lots of factors: we moved to a house in the beginning of August, and moving is such a huge production. I also had an odd work schedule this summer where I had to work several weekends. We attempted to go kayaking several weeks ago but we decided to turn around and head home because it was rainy, windy, and cold.

So we planned a kayaking trip with our friends who live in Kalamazoo, an hour and a half from Lansing. They suggested a place in a nearby town called Three Rivers. They had gone before, and said that it was a pretty good kayaking river.

The livery was called Liquid Therapy, very near the downtown area. Our friends told us to be at the livery by 2pm, because their website says that you have to be in the water by 2pm. We showed up at the place 2:12pm. Why were we late? Well, it could be attributed to a whole lot of factors: when we woke up that morning it was freezing cold so we decided we didn’t want to go kayaking (but eventually changed our minds mid morning), Kory went to a 10:30am Aikido class, I went to the farmer’s market, I demanded we stop at Panera to get food, etc etc. Doesn’t matter- we showed up twelve minutes past 2pm. Our friends had gotten in the water at 2pm, and were basically just around the bend waiting for us to catch up.

The kayaking rental lady wouldn’t let us rent kayaks. She said they don’t let people in the water after 2pm. We argued that our friends just got in the water 12 minutes ago, and they’re waiting for us, so….but she was intractable.


Oh, the disappointment! We had gone all this way! Our friend was ready to murder someone (namely, either Kory or me). I couldn’t believe our plans to go kayaking was foiled yet again. Summer was practically over, and it’s only going to get colder.

I was seriously bummed out. I already felt that this summer was disappointing in terms of our outdoors stuff; we hadn’t gone on nearly as many trips as we should or could have. Le sigh.

So now we had to figure out a way to pass 3 hours until our friends got done with their kayaking.

On the way to the livery, I noticed a huge bookstore in the small downtown area. I suggested that we go there to wait instead of sulking in the parking lot.

The name of the bookstore is Lowry’s. It’s in the historic downtown area of Three Rivers, which is a tiny town as far as I can tell.

Here’s where the crushing disappointment of the failed kayaking trip had a silver lining: this bookstore is an absolute gem. For fuckin realz. I’m amazed that I’ve never heard of it, and amazed that this bookstore exists here, in this tiny Michigan town in the middle of nowhere.

It’s a used bookstore and it is huge. It had like 4 large rooms filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves, and a basement too! Seriously, this place was big. The biggest bookstore I’ve been to in Michigan. Their website says that they are the third largest bookstore in the state.

Have I mentioned that I love used bookstores? This is one of the best I’ve been in. Why? Their huge inventory, sure. Seriously, I could have spent a whole day in there. Maybe more. Aside from that, the books are organized really well. There’s also a lot of space between the shelves. Many used bookstores feel cramped and disorderly, but not Lowry’s. Three people can walk abreast down an aisle, no problem.

Their prices are also cheaper than other used bookstores I’ve been to in Michigan. A similar book that I could buy in Ann Arbor’s Dawn Treader for $9 would be like $5 in Lowry’s.

Here’s my haul from Lowry’s. The vampire books are Kory’s.


Jane Eyre $4 ; Women in Love $3; Hound of the Baskervilles $5

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books, but I only have a paperback. I have this weird thing where I want to my favorite books, especially classics, to be hardbound. I’m pretty OCD about how my books are organized and displayed – you can read about it in this post! I’ve read The Hound of the Baskervilles years ago, but to be honest I got the book because it was a beautiful book. Ha! Does that make me shallow? I do love Sherlock Holmes though. After I finish it, Women in Love will join my two classic erotica books, Story of O and Little Birds on the shelf. Story of O is what Fifty Shades of Grey (not that I’ve read it) could be if the writer had any writing chops or made any attempt to write literature. Ha!

Do I sound like a book snob? Not really, I will read trashy memoirs like this, which is the equivalent of bad reality tv.


Smashed, Story of a Drunken Girlhood: 50 cents!

I also got this vintage hardcover for only $5 for my vintage book collection. I dont think I’ll ever read it though. I buy vintage books and pulp fiction for the covers.


Kory got these because she loves vampire anything.


Vampire Academy graphic novel $4.50; I,Vampire $2.50

7 books, including 2 hardbacks and a vintage book for only $24.25 with tax! I’d say that’s a steal.

Lowry’s is also pretty proud of its independent bookstore status and is fighting the good fight against giant retailers like Amazon that are a  threat to indie booksellers and brick and mortar bookstores. I’m not going to deny that I buy books from Amazon, but I also strive to give my money to independent bookstores as much as I can.

So after discovering this gem of a bookstore, the day didn’t seem like a total failure. It’s only natural, really. My favorite leisure activities are camping, kayaking, reading, traveling and drinking coffee. So if the outdoor activities fail? Books are pretty much the only thing that can come close. But let’s not forget the coffee.

Because it’s such a tiny town, the only place to get coffee after 2pm on a Sunday was McDonald’s or Biggby. So after Lowry’s, we head to Kalamazoo to hit up the café with the best coffee in town: Water Street. I had a soy caramel latte, and it was legit, y’all.


espresso goodness

At that point our friends finally got out of the water and we arranged to meet them at another bookstore, Michigan News.

Michigan News is an independent bookstore in Kalamazoo, Michigan. It’s pretty tiny- there are only three aisles in one room. It’s also not a used bookstore; the books are full retail price.


Michigan News mostly stocks bestsellers. I was talking to the owner and she said that she stocks the top 50 on all the major categories in the New York Times Bestsellers list at any given time.

The cool thing about Michigan News is that they stock only one copy of every book, and when someone purchases a book they buy another one to replace it. This lets them keep their overhead down because they don’t have to store overstock, and this also makes it a lot easier to browse for books because you don’t have to sift through multiple copies.


I bought two books that I’ve already read. The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my favorite books ever, but that book along with all the books I owned before I turned 22 is in my parents’ house in the Philippines. I wanted to have Coraline because I felt like rereading it and getting spooked around Halloween. Also determined to complete my Neil Gaiman collection in a year or so.

We went to a Peruvian restaurant called EL Inca  for dinner and deserts at Chocolatea. The Peruvian food was pretty good, and I was surprised. Chocolatea has a large assortment of loose leaf teas and pastries and chocolates.

So yeah, the outdoors excursion was a fail but books, coffee, Peruvian food, and a huge cream puff happened. You lose some; you win some.

Trip Recap: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, July 2014

Miner’s Castle on Lake Superior, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Over the 4th of July weekend, we went on our second camping trip of the season in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Our next-door gaybors Jess and Kayla were getting married in Marquette on the 5th, and we decided to make a camping trip out of the 2 nights before their wedding.

If you live in Michigan and love the outdoors, the Upper Peninsula is heaven. You’ll find acres of dense forests, unspoiled rivers, picturesque lakes, waterfalls, mountains, and a beautiful coastline. Here there are still bears and eagles living in the forest. You can do practically any outdoor activity for weeks and still not run out of things to do: camping, backpacking, fishing, hunting, kayaking, canoeing, biking, skiing. The Upper Peninsula is one of those places that you can truly call wilderness.

I decided that we would go to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for our camping trip. We were actually also there last year in June. I chose to go back there primarily because we were taking our fat little dog with us, and I wanted to take her to a place that I was already familiar with. It’s her first camping trip with us (we rescued her 9 months ago), and I didn’t want to overwhelm her. Pictured Rocks is run by the National Park Service, so it’s a little more developed especially in the high tourist areas. Normally my intention when we go camping is to be as rustic and primitive as possible, but this was a compromise because I obviously didn’t want to freak out our little pug too much. If you know anything about pugs, you’ll know that they aren’t exactly like huskies.


This is Jobug; she’s not the outdoorsy type. Pretty sure her natural habitat is the couch.

Day 1: July 3, 2014

We drove up to the U.P. on July 3rd. Being a holiday weekend, I was naturally worried that the campgrounds would be full by the time we got there. It took us about 7 hours to drive from Lansing to Pictured Rocks and got there around 8pm.

We bought some firewood at a little shack in front of someone’s house and piled it into the back of my sedan.


so much wood

The we head to Little Beaver Campground, which is one of the 3 drive-in campgrounds in Pictured Rocks. It’s also the smallest, with only 8 sites.From H-58, we turned into the 3-mile road that led to the campground. With mounting anxiety, we drove around the small loop in the campground and saw that every site was taken. What did we expect? It was a day before a major holiday on one of the most popular camping weekends of the year.

It was still daylight, but we knew we had about an hour and a half before sunset. We wanted to set up camp asap. Luckily, I had a back up plan (who am I kidding, being an uber-planner I had researched and mapped ALL the campgrounds in the area).

I knew that there are several state campgrounds off of H-58, the closest 15 minutes. These weren’t the part of the Pictured Rocks system that’s run by the National Park Service, but instead by the Michigan DNR.


We choose Ross Lake Campground simply because it was the closest one. We were crossing our fingers that we would find an open campsite. And we did! There might have been around 10 sites there, and only half of them were occupied. And you know what? Ross Lake seemed just as nice as Little Beaver Lake. Sure, all the sites at Little Beaver Lake had an unobstructed view of the lake, but the sites were so much closer to each other that it just seemed cramped. We didn’t have anyone at either side of our site, and the campsites seemed larger in general.

Kory and I have set up camp together several times, so we unloaded and set up in about 30 minutes.


It was starting to get a dark when we started the fire to start making dinner. Making food over the campfire is one of my favorite parts of camping. From starting the fire with kindling and nursing the flames, to roasting a sausage with a stick and watching it sizzle, to watching flames dance around the edges of a pot of baked beans and seeing it bubble. There’s just something so satisfying about cooking your food over an open fire. Eating the food you cooked over a campfire feels like such an achievement because of all the effort you put into it. Add the fact that a campfire is such an enjoyable experience.


It’s just the best thing ever

It turned out to be a cold night, and I for one didn’t get a lot of sleep. I always have trouble falling asleep anywhere that’s not my own bed, especially on the first night of a trip. My feet were also freezing. During the first couple of hours Josie was inside my sleeping bag with me keeping my top half warm, but soon my arm was going dead because it was pinned beside/underneath her. Eventually she walked out of the bag and slept on her dogbed.

Day 2, July 4, 2014

I finally got some sleep in the wee hours- probably around 3 or 4 am or so. Ofcourse, because were camping, we woke up shortly after sunrise, around 7am. Depending on how you look at it, waking up at sunrise is either one of the best or worst things about camping. Sunlight permeating every corner of your tent and the sound of every bird and critter in the vicinity is nature’s alarm clock, and it’s kind of hard to ignore it. For me, it’s usually rough the first day, but then it’s ok after that. It’s amazing how quickly your body clock resets and becomes attuned to nature when you’re sleeping outdoors.


Josie also had a rough night

After breakfast, our first destination was Miner’s Castle. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Pictured Rocks. There’s a National Park Service information center/shop and bathrooms with flush toilets. You basically park your car, and walk like 100 feet to the vista point. Tourist attraction or not, the views are magnificent.


You can see many more incredibly views comparable to this one all along the Pictured Rocks lakeshore if you were to hike the North County Trail that hugs the coast. This portion of the NCT is apparently the most beautiful and scenic in Michigan. I believe it. Someday, I’ll hike/backpack it!

Then we headed to nearby Miners Beach where we sat on the beach and ate our lunch.

IMG_7075 IMG_7140 IMG_7148

After Miners Beach we were so sleepy that we decided to head back to the campsite to take naps. I inflated the airbed and we all got some shuteye.


The airmattress seems like the antithesis to roughing it, but I dont curr I love it

After naps it was now time to go on a hike. We chose a really short and easy one because we had Josie. We chose the Beaver Lake loop that went from the Beaver Lake Campground to Lake Superior and back.

The mosquitos were ferocious, especially at Beaver Lake. We couldn’t stay still very long because then the mosquitos just attacked us.

Beaver Lake copy

Beaver Lake

After Beaver Lake the trail starts to get more sandy as it approaches Lake Superior. It was pretty cool to walk out of the forest and up the side of a dune and then finally see Lake Superior as you get to the top.

It was about 1.5 miles from the campground to Lake Superior, and it took us about 40 minutes.

It would have been absolutely gorgeous to stay and watch the sunset over the water, but we didn’t want to hike in the dark. It took us about an an hour and a half to do the 3 miles or so loop.

We got back to Ross Lake campground as it was starting to get dark. There were a couple more campers, but the campground still didn’t feel cramped.

We made our classic camp dinner of baked beans, sausage for me and vegan dogs for Kory, and roasted potatoes. After dinner many s’mores were made.


I never make baked beans unless I’m camping

The air mattress was still out and we lay on it to watch the stars. We had still had so much wood that could last for several hours. So we put the air mattress as close to the fire as it could without catching. We took our sleeping bags out of the tent and crawled into them, with Josie curled up between us. It was pretty fantastic falling asleep under a brilliant canopy of stars, snuggled in with my babies, being warmed by the fire. This is why I camp, people.


pretty awesome

Around 3 am or so the fire finally died out and we headed into the tent. It was thankfully not as cold as last night. Everyone had a good night’s sleep.


goodnight, critters.

Manistee River Trail Day 3: Trip Recap

Day 3:  June 13, 2014

For the second day of the trail, we decided to just go back the way we came on the Manistee River Trail. The 12-mile hike from Red Bridge to Seaton Creek the day before was a killer, and the North Country Trail that forms the second half of the loop was supposed to be a lot more challenging. We were like, f*ck that noise.

We pack up the campsite and start back on the trail (downriver) to Red Bridge where our car was.


Lies! The sign says 10.6 miles but it’s really 12.2!

Curiously, the hike on the second day was nowhere near as grueling as the first day. I think we paced ourselves a lot better, and it certainly helped that we were familiar with trail and knew how far we had yet to go. Here are some fun pictures from the second day:

The views of the river were just as awesome the second time around


We stopped on campsite #7 for lunch. The view was spectacular!


It was a little chilly that day, so we started a small fire to go with our lunch. Good thing I brought matches!

keep blowing babe!

keep blowing babe!



It took us the same amount of time to hike the trail – around 7.5 hours. But the second time around, we weren’t on the verge of paralysis by the end. I think the first day of hiking was a shock to our bodies that weren’t used to walking for hours.

After we got back to Red Bridge, we got in the car and drove back up to Seaton Creek Campground. We loaded our stuff into the car and then drove 3 hours home.

By the time we got home, we were pretty stiff and sore. But overall our Manistee River Trail trip was awesome. The area is beautiful and the perfect place for an outdoor getaway. We’ll definitely be back next sumer – hopefully backpacking it!

Stay tuned!

Manistee River Trail Day 1: Trip Recap

We got back a few days ago and I finally finished sorting, washing, and cleaning all our clothes and gear. Camping for a few days is like throwing a party; there’s so much work to do afterwards with cleaning up and all!

Anyway, our original plan was to hike the 23-mile loop of the Manistee River Trail and part of the North Country Trail. This is a pretty popular 2-3 day  hiking/backpacking trip in Michigan: Start at Red Bridge, hike the 12 miles of the Manistee River Trail, spend the night at Seaton Creek Campground, then the next day cross the bridge to the other side of the river, then hike the 11 miles of the North Country Trail, ending back at the Red Bridge. That was our plan. Many have done this trip before. That’s not what we ended up doing.

Day 1 (June 11, 2014)

We drove the 3 hours from East Lansing to Mesick which is part of the Manistee National Forest. We set up our camp at Seaton Creek Campground, which I’ll review soon!

Day 2 (June 12, 2014)

The next morning, it was a little slow going, but by 12:30pm we were ready to leave.


Finally ready!

We drove about half an hour to the Red Bridge Access Site.


There’s a boat launch, vault bathrooms, 4 camping sites, and the parking lot where you can leave your car for an overnight.

We locked up the car; we were going to leave the car there overnight. You have to cross the bridge and then the street to get to the trailhead. For a few minutes you’re just walking by the side of the road wondering if you’re going the right way. Eventually we find the trail marker and begin our hike in good spirits. I’ve read several reviews of the trail and most of them said that it should take 5-6 hours.


Crossing Red Bridge from the parking lot

The trail hugs the river for the most part, offering majestic views of the Manistee.


One of the many scenic views of the Manistee River from the trail

In some parts the trail moves away from the river and plunges into pine woods.


More than a dozen creeks and streams cross the trail on their way to the river. There are foot bridges to cross the many small streams on the trail.



Arquilla Creek

The bridge over the biggest creek, Slagle Creek:


Slagle Creek

There are 14 marked camping sites for backpackers throughout the trail that can be found on the trail map, but there were over a dozen campsites that weren’t on the map that were just marked with an orange ribbon. On that first day we only saw about 4 other hikers and one big group of children clearly on some kind of scouting exercise. None of the the campsites were occupied. Finding a good camping spot on this trail wouldn’t be hard.


One of the campsites not on the map


This is campsite #6. This is where I’m gonna camp when I backpack this trail! Great view and a source of water

Almost all of the other reviews and descriptions of this trail say that this is a flat, easy trail. Sure, for the most part it’s just walking on a level, even path through the forest. But there are definitely some elevation where you are clearly going up. These aren’t huge, steep hills, but hills nonetheless. And after hours of walking, any kind of incline started to feel like a struggle. At least for these girls.


ah dang my backpack is gettin heavy

After about 4 hours on the trail we started to get tired. My feet started aching and my back was starting to feel the strain from my daypack. Kory was feeling the same way too. We stopped for the second time. It was now around 5pm, and we were anxious to arrive back at the campsite before it got dark. We knew we had at least 4 hours of daylight left, but we gauged that we were about halfway through the trail.


Smilin’ through the ache in my feet

At least the views are still awesome:


One of the highlights of the trail is this waterfall. It’s tiny but very cute.


We head off again, getting more tired by the minute. Around hour 6, it started to get really rough. My feet were officially in pain now, and my calves and quads were starting to cramp.  I kept asking to stop to rest, but Kory insisted that we MUST power through, and that stopping would just make it worse (She and I have opposite ideas about how to tackle problems).  So we kept trudging on. The last hour and half was a grueling slog. It also didn’t help that we had earlier miscalculated how far we had come- we mistook some of the unmarked campsites for the marked campsites on the map and thought we were farther along. Finding out that we weren’t as far along was definitely a blow to morale when you’re already tired.

By the time we reached the suspension bridge that connected the Manistee River Trail to the North Country Trail , I was done. Just done. The Spirit Lady of the Forest could have appeared before me and offered secrets of the fairy folk and I would have pushed her down and just kept walking; I was so done.


I just realized that we were getting some cute sunset action when we passed the bridge that afternoon, but I didn’t notice at the time because no fucks could be given at that point


I just want to get back to the campsite.

What we didnt know was that the spur of trail from here to the campsite was another 1.5 miles. It felt like the longest 1.5 miles of my my life. The spur to the campsite crosses about three clearcut areas of power lines, definitely a little disconcerting after walking through the forest for 7 hours.


Clearly we aren’t in the woods anymore

We finally made it to Seaton Creek. It took us about 7.5 hours to cover 12.2 miles (according to the Fitbit). We were completely exhausted but managed to recover enough to start making dinner before it got completely dark.  We were also drenched in sweat and covered in bug spray, and it felt vital for me to wash my hair to feel like a human being again. So I pumped some water from the handpump thing, lugged the container back to our campsite, and washed my hair over a basin. Seriously, I’m all about getting rugged – but I can’t go to bed completely dirty. I will clearly have to get over this before I ever go legit backpacking.

So I ate two chicken sausages, baked beans and about a billion s’mores. The Fitbit said that we burned 2,000 calories that day. Heck, I wasn’t worried. I could have eaten a whole Chinese buffet if it was there.


damn right I’m gonna eat two

We now had to decide what to do tomorrow, because you know, there was still the second leg of the trip. We couldn’t bail because our car was 11-12 miles away at Red Bridge. F*ck’n hell. It would be easier for us to just hike the way we came, on the Manistee River Trail. I knew that the North Country Trail leg of the loop is much harder than the MRT. All the reviews say so and described it as “a lot of ups and downs and ridges”. Yeah, doing that after a day where my legs went numb  sounded like fun on a bun. Logically, I KNEW that we could get through it. I mean, we would have to. Our car was at the end of the trail. But there’s also the little thing called pride. We set out to do this MRT-NCT loop, dagnabbit. Kory feebly insisted that we should definitely do the NCT – we would just need to suck it up and power through.

But this was one of those times where my Virgo practicality won over her Leo bravado. I argued that the chances were high that the NCT could be absolutely brutal on us. It might not be, but it could be…and that possibility sucked. After hiking back to the car tomorrow we would also have to drive up back to Seaton Creek, pack up the campsite, and drive 3 hours home. Why take the chance that we would be absolutely miserable tomorrow? We already conquered 12 miles. In my eyes, we were already champs.

So we decided to just hike the Manistee River Trail again. The North Country Trail will have to wait for next year. But in any case, we hiked and explored 12 miles of the great outdoors that day! It was a great adventure and for us newbie hikers, a great feat!

My recap of the next day on the Manistee River Trail is in this post.

2 more days till first camping trip!

Ok, I have to say that I’m just a teensy bit worried about our upcoming camping/hiking trip. The camping, no problem. I’m a super planner , so I’ve got checklists for our gear and the to do list on all my devices. Our camping stuff is all in one place and I already went to the store twice for our supplies and other miscellaneous gear.

I’m worried about the hiking. This is going to be our longest hike – 23 miles over 2 days. I don’t doubt that we will complete the hike- logistically we have no choice, unless we want to spend the night in the middle of the trail with just our water bottles and granola bars. I’m worried that we will be extremely tired and miserable, especially on the second day, and Kory will want to kill me for dragging her out there to walk her feet off. Heck, I’m worried I’ll be miserable. I also get hangry – and when I do it’s pretty crazy.


My co-adventurer, hope she doesn’t kill me if this hike turns out to be terrible

I had meant to do some training where we would hike for the last three weeks and increase the mileage till we got to about 9 miles- but heck, it just didn’t happen. Life, you know? We went on one 5 mile hike last week and that was it.

Anyway, the first day, 11 miles, I think we will be ok. But the next day – another 12 miles on more difficult terrain- it might just be the worst thing ever. Kind of like the time we went sea kayaking in Lake Superior for 6 hours and our kayak was broken so we were paddling like mad but not really getting anywhere. And after the 12 mile hike, we will have to pack up our camp and drive home for 3 hours! That last day is going to be killer, for sure. I think we’ll just have to power through.

Ugh. I’m sure there will be some pain involved. But oh well- people don’t go out into the wilderness to be pampered. I’m going to keep reminding myself that it’s going to be an adventure – and the best kind are the ones you can’t completely predict how it will turn out. I’m sure I’ll come back with some stories to tell!