Year: 2017

Packing Light: Carry On

Over packing can be a real pain in the ass on vacations and definitely slow you down.

Important things to consider are:

-Do you have multiple layovers?

-Will you be using public transportation or renting a car?

-Can you carry all your luggage while looking at your phone/a map?

On international flights you get a free checked bag (at least on all the airlines I’m aware of), so I typically say take advantage of that! That does not mean pack more crap, it means check your bag, whatever size, so you don’t have to carry it through the airport, ESPECIALLY if you have multiple layovers. Check a small duffle, and then bring a backpack or small rolling suitcase as your carry on. This will allow you to carry both bags and have a free hand. I have been standing in Paris, in the rain with a big rolling bag, and a small rolling bag and no way to look at my GPS without stopping in the rain- this sucks.

For your carry on, pack the important things like your camera, chargers, a change of clothes, makeup, things that are horribly annoying to replace. For your person item (which I think it more essential to pack properly), pack everything you want to have access to during your long flights. I haaate people that are constantly up in the overhead bins pulling down their luggage rummaging through their belongings in the aisle- don’t be that person. My personal item is typically a large purse/tote or small backpack that I can shove under the seat in front of me. This should contain your phone, passport, travel accommodations, directions (always have a printed copy in case your phone dies or chooses to act up in a foreign country), phone charger, any entertainment (i.e. tablet, book, magazines), aspirin/ibuprofen (trust me, when you need it on a 12 hour flight, you don’t want to be without), tums/gas-x (gas expands when you are flying, and it can give you the worst cramps!), hand lotion, lip balm, tooth brush & paste (seriously), earbuds/headphones, snacks, refillable water bottle, and I always pack a blanket even though you usually get one on long flights.

Always make sure your bags aren’t packed to the brim so you have room to bring back things you found abroad! If you are short on space upon return, one trick is to wear your bulkier items/ carry your coat.

A Unique History: Matera

It is easy to get lost in the beauty and winding streets of the Sassi, so come prepared with a camera. There are very few roads in the Sassi district that allow vehicles, so it’s best to park in the more modern neighborhood. Explore the paths on foot, as there are many that become narrow, go through archways, down steps, or just slowly fade away.

Matera is believed to be one of the oldest towns in the world, said to be inhabited for over 7,000 years, originating in Paleolithic times. A small town in Southern Italy, in the region Basilicata, known for it’s ancient cave dwellings. Known at the Sassi, they are habitations dug into the rocky cliff side. The caves have house-like facades built over them, and they are nearly stacked on top of each other. The roof of one could be a street or the entrance to another dwelling. Although there are many that are uninhabitable, there are still quite a few residents as well as ones that have been turned into cafes and hotels. But there are more than just cave dwellings, there are quite a few churches that were carved into the rock. My favorite and most stunning being Church of Santa Maria de Idris. Such a beautiful sight to see, and as you are making your way towards it, it stands alone at the top of a little hill. Inside are original chalk frescos that you can only see in person, so be sure not to miss it! The oldest of the Sassi caves are in view just behind the church with la Gravina separating the two areas. You can hike over the caves and explore what was inhabited until as late as 1950. With such poor living conditions and riddled with malaria, the Italian government moved the residents to newer construction when author Carlo Levi published his memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli. The book talked about the severe poverty in Matera and unhealthy conditions which is said to have brought shame to Italy, so the government worked quickly to remedy the situation. After the caves were vacated the city became nearly a ghost town as it was considered a disgrace to the country. Crime was high and city officials talked about walling off the historic areas and just leaving it all int he past. Luckily curiosity got the best of some travelers, so wanted to see the unusual cave town. UNESCO later made the Sassi a world heritage site and the city thrives off tourism. The interesting history and unique architecture draws everyone in!

This ancient city is just a short drive from Puglia and is worth the trip. Spend the day wandering the streets, museums and churches and get lost in the old “holy land”. By the way, Passion of the Christ was filmed here, and is also known as the second Bethlehem. It’s truly hard to describe stepping out onto an overlook and seeing the city for the first time. If there is every a way to feel transported back in time, I firmly believe this is it. The stone streets are quiet and have a sense of mystery to them, that just makes you want to peak around the corner silently to see what else is there. If you ever get a chance to go, don’t hesitate.


Dog Mountain for the Doggos

Dog Mountain is an out an back bitch of a hike just outside Stevenson, Washington. Along the Columbia River Gorge it’s obviously going to be gorgeous. First, I’ll warn you. If you don’t like hiking, don’t do it. Don’t think about it, don’t ask about it, just go home and eat a burrito, like I kinda wish I would have. If you go May (April if you’re lucky)-June you’ll see the most beautiful mountainside of wildflowers. I was skeptical, like the more I hike up this freaking mountainside, the more I thought, why am I doing this. But when you get to the clearing and see wildflowers nearly as far as the eye can see.. you’ll be okay fine, it’s worth it. Would I do it again? LOL no. It’s only 6.5 miles out and back, but with (what they tell me) is a 3,000 feet elevation gain (I think it’s more), it can be a bit painful at times. Every single switch back is relentless with its climb up hill. Bring water, and bring your dog. Cause you know, it’s Dog Mountain and people take that literally. It was the most dogs I’ve ever seen on one hike. I brought my five pound chiweenie, and she probably did better than me if we are being honest. I did spare her the hike down by putting her in my pack, and it probably saved my ego and little. After the first set of switchbacks there is a fork in the trail. I stuck to the right, and it got me to the top. The left does as well but I haven’t hiked it, I’m not sure if it’s a little easier or more steep. If you stayed to the right you’ll come to a clearing in the trees and you first patch of wild flowers. There is a bench on the right overlooking the gorge. This is a great place to stop and rest. I’d LOVE to tell you that this is a good place to stop and turn around if you want an easier hike, but it’s just not. If you keep going, you’ll know what I mean. It’s tempting to turn back here, but continue on through another patch of forest and the next clearing will be the last. The final stretch of trail takes you through an open mountain side covered in flowers. The yellow daisy like ones dominate, but there are red paintbrush and a few purpley types mixed in. I’m not a botanist, sorry. At the top there is a bench to take in all the views. On a clear day you can see Mt.Hood peaking out above the foothills.

Take I-84 East and cross at Bridge of the Gods, or just cross on I-205 and head East on hwy 14. If you take hwy 14 the whole way it’s a little slower but I think it’s a more peaceful drive with pull offs to view the gorge that you don’t really get on the Oregon side. I-84 stresses me out, it’s loud and boring, but either way will get you there. The parking lot is right off hwy 14 on the left with a big sign, it’s hard to miss. From what I understand it’s always fairly crowded, especially if you go during the wild flowers. Why would you go when there are no flowers? I don’t understand why you’d submit yourself to such torture with no wild flowers.

Abiqua Falls

A short, beautiful and somewhat adventurous hike in Oregon. Just a little ways outside of Scotts Mills, arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Oregon.

To get there, take hwy 213 out of Silverton, turn right on Mt.Angel Scotts Mills Road which will turn into Crooked Finger Road. After approx 13.5 miles, turn right on an umarked forest service road. After a quarter mile or so you’ll see a road to the left that’s used for dirt bikes/atvs, continue straight for about a mile. You’ll come up on a dirt parking lot on the right, park here if you don’t have a high clearance 4×4. If you do, continue straight. The road will narrow and is not maintained. There is limited parking at the end, but a few spots along the way if you sense it’ll be full. To avoid crowds go in spring or after Labor Day or go during the week.

If your hike begins at the first parking lot you’ll have a couple miles down the bumpy gravel road to walk, which makes this about a 5.5 mile out and back hike. If your vehicle makes it to the end, your hike will be under 2 miles out and back. Just before the end of the road you’ll see a trail with a sign stating its private property but open to the public. The trail starts off pretty easy and then gradually you’ll lose elevation. After a half mile you’ll come to the two difficult portions of the hike. It’s very steep, and and uneven footing. If it’s been raining, good luck, I can’t even imagine. There are ropes attached to help you down/ back up, so utilize those! Once down to the river you’ll head to the left and it follows the water until you get to the falls.

The falls are mostly dramatic because of the basalt columns they are falling over. Rivaled only by the basalt columns seen in Vik, Iceland, the columnar basalt shaped as a bowl provides a unique setting you can’t see many other places. If you’re lucky and you came on a slow day, you’ll have the place to yourself to sit, relax and eat that dang sandwich you hopefully remembered.


Stahlman Point Trail

A great little hike in the foothills of the Cascades in Oregon.
To get there take hwy 22 East from Salem, towards Bend. Go through Detroit and turn right onto Blowout Rd. Head down Blowout road for 3.7 miles and the trail head is on the left. The lot is fairly small, with space for only 4-5 vehicles. I did this hike on a late Friday afternoon, the weekend of Memorial day and I only ran into 3 groups of hikers. This is an out and back trail. It’s not too rough at only 4.1 miles but you do gain 1,433′. The trail is well defined and pretty smooth most of the way.

The trail winds up through the forest with views mostly of old growth trees. Once you’re about halfway up the trail you’ll start to spot Detroit Lake through the trees. The last quarter mile its the biggest climb and the last coupe feet to the top is a little rocky and may be a little difficult if raining.

Once at the top there is a small flat landing where a fire lookout once stood. Looking to the East you’ll have an incredible view of Mt. Jefferson, and looking to the West you’ll have a great view of Detroit Lake, so make sure to do this little hike on a clear day. The top offers some great spots to sit and have lunch so make sure to haul some goodies up the trail. Seriously though don’t forget to bring a sandwich like I did, or you quite possibly will be thinking about sandwiches this entire hike. Looking at beautiful Detroit Lake, thinking about sandwiches. Looking at snowy Mt.Jefferson, containing drool over sandwich thoughts.

This trail is also good for dogs so don’t leave the fur thing at home. There are quite a few chipmunks hanging out off this trail and I’m not sure if you know, but they make the craziest noise. Stay calm, if you hear  a screaming bird like noise and then some scurrying.. its just a chipmunk. I’m curious how they are they even able to make this noise.
And if I make this noise, will they come to me?

Food for thought.

God’s Thumb Trail

A short but beautiful hike on the Oregon Coast. This hike can be a little confusing to find, but worth it in the end.

To get here: Take hwy 22 west from Salem towards the coast, continue on hwy 18 through Grand Ronde. Follow signs for hwy 101 south towards Lincoln City. Once in Lincoln City, turn right on Logan Road at the light. Follow Logan Road, passing Road’s End State Park. Follow Logan until it nearly comes to an end, before it turns right. Use the large cul-de-sac like space to turn around and park somewhere along the road. Parking can be a pain in the ass, and if you’re unlucky you might have to park at Road’s End. Be aware though as there are No Parking signs in some areas.

The driveway on the right says “this is not the trail head” That is accurate. Head down the gravel driveway on the left.

The driveway on the right says “this is not the trail head” That is accurate, and typically had a closed gate. You’ll want to head down the driveway on the left. A little bit down the driveway is a gate, which is sometimes closed but you can go around. Head up the gravel and you’ll see a path on the right, this is the trail. If you go a little further there is another path on the right, you can take this one too, they meet up after 100 yards or so.

Gate is sometimes closed, but you can go around.
Small foot path on the right, this is the trail.

This is a short 1.6 mile out and back trail. I did this hike last week, it has been sunny with no rain for a few weeks. The mud on this trail is unreal. I was told it would be muddy, but I swear to god they are hauling this shit in and dumping it here. Like how is this even happening? Are they having mud parties? I can’t even begin to understand. Needless to say bring waterproof boots, your best bet is tall duck boots, or tall rain boots. If you wear anything else, just say adios now. So long nice shoes, it was nice knowin’ ya.

Like…what, it’s 80 degrees.

The trail is easy to follow and there are a few paths heading off separate ways but the trail is well defined. Continue through the muddy mess and you’ll start to see views of the ocean, light at the end of the mud tunnel. You’ll soon exit the overhang of trees that is probably partially to blame for the mud and it’ll be grassy and dry from here on out. You’ll see God’s thumb right in front of you and the path leading up it. It looks more intimidating than it really is, as there are notches carved in to make it much easier.

It’s not so bad

The space at the top has beautiful views but isn’t too large. Two- three groups can be up there and still give each other some privacy but any more than that and it’ll likely ruin the experience. The lower meadow would be a good place for some snacks if you want to wait to have the place to yourself.

We all know the wind at the Oregon Coast can be pretty crazy, so use caution at the top as gusts are pretty unexpected and the drop off is pretty severe. With it being so grassy, the edges aren’t quite as defined as a rocky cliff, or as stable.

After the hike, Road’s End is a nice beach to check out, with a view of God’s Thumb.

View of God’s Thumb from Road’s End. Also the 60’s diner on the way out of town is legit.

Iceland by Car : Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Iceland has dramatic scenery every way you look, but head to West Iceland for a day trip to see scenes straight out of another world.  According to Jules Verne’s novel, its the entrance to center of the earth. That has to count for something, right? Unlike Reykjavik, the golden circle and other popular stops, West Iceland feels very isolated and you won’t be running into too many people.

From Reykjavik, head north on highway 1, the “Ring Road”, you’ll go through a several mile long tunnel and there will be a toll booth at the end. They accept credit cards so don’t fret. Continue on highway 1 to Borganes. Borganes is the last decent sized town along the way, so stock up on food, gas and other goodies. This town is beautiful in it’s own right, and if you got enough early enough start, take the time to explore.

Head west on highway 54 from Borganes. Stop, pull over, drive slow, take in everything the countryside has to offer.  After about 100km on highway 54, turn left onto Útnesvegur. Shortly after, take a left onto Búðavegur for a short detour to an old black church that’s great for photos. Once you’re back on Útnesvegur, head West about 15km to Arnarstapi.

Arnarstapi is a beautiful little Icelandic town that’s great to stop for lunch and wander and explore. When I was there last month there was a fish & chips food truck, it doesn’t get more authentic than that.. except hot dogs. I don’t know what it is about Iceland and hot dogs. Don’t be afraid to stop for gas and grab yourself a hot dog with pylsusinnep (sweet brown mustard), or remoulade, a sauce made with mayo, capers, mustard, and herbs if you really want the local experience. Both are pretty gross. Anyway, Arnarstapi is a beautiful little town, so don’t bypass. There are a few paths that head down to the water, and along the coast line. Views of the water, mountains, Icelandic homes and some turf houses. There is also a walking path from Arnarstapi to Hellnar if you have the time. Continue on Útnesvegur, it will go around the edge of the peninsula and meet back up with highway 54 on the other side.

Stop at Londranger, a pull of on the left. It’s not far outside of Arnarstapi. There are wider trails that go to the top of a view point, but don’t miss the small dirt paths that hike down and over to the rock formations. This will be the most people you see in West Iceland; dramatic cliffs and rock formations straight out of a fantasy. Hike down the dirt paths to leave the “crowd” (like 20 people), and explore area on your own. Depending on when you go, watch for falling icicles from the rock formations. It sounds ridiculous but some pretty large ones break off and could be deadly.

Just down the road is Vatnshellir Cave, but there is a fee to get in so I didn’t stop. If you’re feelin’ rich & fancy, go for it! But down the way just a little further is Djúpalónssandur beach and is definitely worth a stop. Explore the pebbled beach and mossy rocks for at least a few minutes and some photos. Saxhóll crater Well of the Irish, Svöðufoss, and the town of Ólafsvík are some other worthy stops.

The most interesting stop for me was Fiskbyrgin á Gufuskálum. Just past the Well of the Irish is a small pull off on the right. For such an amazing historical site, I would think this would be better marked, but it can’t even be found on Google maps. Fiskbyrgin á Gufuskálum are the remains of fish drying sheds from the 1500s. This site is said to have the ruins of up to 200 sheds, but there are only a small hanful that are still mostly intact. These sheds are made on small hills by stacking lava rocks, leaving gaps between the rocks to allow for airflow. This let the fish dry rather than rot, as dried fish was Iceland’s biggest export at the time. There are several footpaths that walk around the sheds and navigate around some of the bigger rocks so you can examine them up close.

Don’t miss stopping at Svöðufoss, a quiet waterfall where you won’t find many people. Travel down a gravel road a ways to a decent sized parking lot and a short walk to the falls. You’ll pass some beautiful Icelandic horses, and if you’ve yet to stop for photos or to pet any of them by the point, now is the time to do it. Icelandic horses love attention and will walk to the fence the moment they spot you. They are very short, husky and will love you.

If the sun has not gone down by now, take the time to drive around the small town of Ólafsvík. A very sleepy fishing down. If it’s late in the day, it’s likely everything will be closed and you won’t see a single person.

Don’t forget to eat a hot dog.

Alder Springs Trail

A lot of people have been asking me about the hike I went on recently so I thought I should get the info up for everyone.

First off, the access road to this trail is complete shit. It is clearly not maintained and has large rocks and areas washed away by water.  You’ll need a high clearance vehicle.

To get here: From Sisters, go through town.. veer left taking Hwy 126 towards Redmond (like you’re going to Smith Rock), after about 5 1/2 miles, turn left on Holmes road and follow to the end turning right onto a continuation of Holmes Rd (weird). Go for about 7 miles and turn left onto Road 6360- there will be a sign for Alder Springs Trailhead here. Follow this gravel road for about 5 miles and turn right at a sign for Alder Springs TH. Follow this road until the end (about a mile) and there’s a small parking lot and signs marking the trail head.

This area is known for rattlesnakes and ticks. Also no bathrooms, so just be prepared for that. Don’t ask me for help with any of these things because you’ll prob die. I saw a rattlesnake on my way back up the trail and froze and backed away, went 25 feet off trail to completely avoid it and maybe cried a little. Also my history with ticks is short but a complete failure. I am however pro at peeing outside, but not sure how I can help you there.

Anyways, back to it. This is an out & back trail. The trail is clear and well marked. Near the beginning of the trail there is a detour to go down to “the old bridge site” that dead ends. Continue straight and the trail is flat for a bit and then descends down into the canyon. Make sure you have plenty of water as there is very minimal shade, and your elevation is gain on the trek back out. You’ll pass quite a few rock formations on your way down into the canyon, and there are a few little nooks/caves you can explore or rest in the shade. But snakes.  Once you make is down to the creek you’ll have to cross to continue on. In spring it’s about knee deep and I read in the fall it’s only ankle deep. Do rattlesnakes swim? I don’t want to know. Across the creek is a grassy meadow where you can camp and wade in the springs. Continue straight through on the trail that follows the creek for a little ways. You gain a little elevation for a nice view and then back down to meet up with the creek. At the end of the trail there are large Ponderosa trees and large boulders at the Deschutes River. The trees provide nice shade on the boulders for eating lunch or a nap. There are nice smooth rocks at the rivers edge as well so you can stick your feet in to cool off. The current is a little too rough to swim but there are some calmer areas to wade in.

I wouldn’t recommend this during the summer, but this is a great hike for spring or fall. Leave early to avoid the heat and you can easy spend a better part of the day laying in the Ponderosa Pine’s shade and playing in the river before heading back. I went on a week day and only saw 4 people on my hike, so fairly lightly trafficked. Hike is about 6-7 miles round trip, and fairly moderate when considering the heat and a elevation gain on the trek back… and snakes.



Rolling Hills of North Bank

A couple weeks back I ventured down to Southern Oregon to explore a different style of countryside. Roseburg has a lot more of the rolling hills than we do up here in the Willamette Valley, so I thought that would be a nice change of pace. My family has a cabin in the area, so I drove down the night before so I could get an early start… which I think ended up being 1pm. What can I say, I’m not an early riser.

I chose North Bank habitat to hike since it was close-ish to our cabin and had those rolling hills I wanted to explore. It used to be a cattle ranch way back in the day, which with how steep those dang hills are, I’m not quite sure how the cows did it. Does this mean cows are more agile than me?

The drive out to North Bank is beautiful as it follows the Umpqua River most of the way. You take 1-5 to Wilbur and then N.Bank Rd. heading East for 12 miles. There are quite a few places to pull over with views of the river, and some fields of sheep. Why do I find sheep so impressive? I’m really not sure, but I enjoy the view of sheep just as much as the view of the Umpqua River, if not more.

When you get to the parking lot there are quite a few trails you can take around the land. I asked a group of locals on their horses which they suggested and they pointed one out. I followed their recommendation but forgot the name of the trail.. not that it matters.. you’ll see. I headed out on the trail and it splits a few times, but all with proper signage which is nice. The trail was a little flooded from rain the previous days, which normally wouldn’t be an issue but this particular hike I chose to bring my very short chihuahua. We tried walking next to the trail but the grass was just too tall for her little legs, so I ended up putting her in my pack. I kept looking up the side of this steep grassy hill to the top and thinking I just wanted to get up there! So with it being mostly clear of trees and brush, I decided to bee line it up the side of this monster.

On the way up, it was fine as I was basically crawling with how steep it was. The view at the top was ridiculously amazing looking every direction. I did find a nice wide trail while at the top, that was probably the one I was supposed to follow. I would’ve went back down that way, but what fun would that be. With the grass being a little wet, I did slide down about 25 ft, which was quite exhilarating and I somehow managed to keep my dog in my pack and not squish her to death. I’d say win-win.

Overall this place is great of horses, bikes, and hikers, and would be great for a family day trip to wander, explore and get some sun.

Oh.. and check for ticks.




Columbia Gorge Drive & Wahkeena Falls

My friend Kimi and I ventured off towards the Columbia Gorge the other week, with our eyes set on Beacon Rock. Neither of us had explored the Washington side of the gorge, and were excited for the potential views and photos we could get. We started late, because well, yea. The drive is a little long for being a local drive, but with the view of the gorge for the last third of the trek, it wasn’t so bad.

Unfortunately for us the hike was closed from a recent snow storm…which happened to slip our minds. Anyways we ventured on down Hwy 14 (Lewis & Clark), there were quite a few view points to stop at that were completely breathtaking and required zero work or effort on our part… but we were here to do some hiking! We crossed back to the Oregon side at the Bridge of the Gods and headed back West towards Portland. We made a few photo stops, all incredible in their own right, but chose Wahkeena Falls.

We were full of bad judgement on this particular day, so we chose the Gorge 400 trail. It was great to get a workout in, with some steep inclines and a lot of switchbacks, and definitely added the miles (about 6) we were looking at for the day. It didn’t have the best views, but was extremely private, which is a great change of pace from a trail like Angel’s Rest. We got a little stumped when the trail turned into multiple forest service roads and decided to head back at that point. I’d like to say I’m directionally (is this even a word?) inclined, at least when it comes to driving, but put me on a trail with the possibility of getting lost, freezing and being bear food.. it. will. happen.

Once back down to our starting point we decided to do the Wahkeena Falls trail. Even though its short, with no elevation gain, its beautiful. Starting on what seems to be a gravel road, you walk creekside. At the end of this little road you come to the first waterfall. This was so fun, and would be amazing on a hot August day.. a wood bridge crosses the water right up against the waterfall, so you can stand right in front of the fall and feel the mist on your face, or reach out to brush your hand under it. So. Cool.

Continue on a small hiking trail past the first fall; this time of year it had some pretty uneven footing with snow, falls branches/trees and some other fun expected nonsense. Of course I fell down pretty much the only patch of ice. Like… where… did this come from, its 45 degrees and icy? Leave it to me.  Anyway, when you make it to the end (it’s about one mile total) you’ll immediately see a tall skinny fall on your right with a small bridge across the water. If you head straight and go down the rocks you’ll see a shorter but bigger fall. Camp out on a large rock for some snacks or lunch while taking in the view before you head back!

Continue on 1-84 toward Portland and you can stop to Multnomah or other viewpoints on your way back into town!