Our recent trip to great state of Utah featured a lot of variety: a four day backpack on the historic Boulder Mail Trail, a day of canyoneering in Capitol Reef, downhill skiing at Brighton, and mountain biking in the central part of the state. We also caught up with our cousin Brian and our nephew Pat, so we got in some good family time, too.
With cousin Brian, backcountry tour guide extraordinnaire
Souzz with her nephew (and expert snowboarder) Pat, fresh off of a Naki concert
Over the course of the week, we traveled by plane, bus, car, foot, rope, ski, and bike—not bad for a couple of flatlanders from the east. And we capped off the week with bear watching (ok, so the bear was the mascot at a Utah Grizzlies hockey game).
Souzz hanging below Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef NP
Mountain biking near Price
At the trailhead of the Boulder Mail Trail, with Souzz’s cousin Brian
Crossing the stream in Death Hollow
Souzz hanging out in Cassidy Canyon
The natural bridge in Mamie Creek, Escalante
Capital Reef NP
Descending into Death Hollow, Escalante
Camp in Mamie Creek
Well, the blog is called souzzchef
with cousin Brian above Escalante
Part of our trip was spent around the town of Price, a coal-mining community of about 8,000 that at first glance doesn’t look like much of an outdoor playground. But there are some great mountain bike trails on the plateau just outside of town, and friendly locals told us about a nearby must-see area called the Little Grand Canyonin “The Swell.” After getting some vague directions, we poured over our maps and found what they were talking about—a BLM recreation area in the heart theSan Rafael Swell.
There’s pavement in a few places, mostly where the road washes over
Close to the Wedge
Headed down towards the river
To get to the Little Grand Canyon required about 20 miles of driving on a dirt road…but “it’s a good dirt road where you can go 60 miles an hour,” to quote one of our new friends in Price. We were a little slower than that, but the road was in great shape. There was a BLM visitor center kiosk along the way that provided some information as well as a few good area maps.
BLM visitor center and kiosk
Headed in towards the Wedge
Shade must be nice in summer
Lots of cattle gates
A great lunch spot on the rim of the canyon
A side canyon near the river
Nice interpretive signage
Those are antelope out there
A good sense of location
The locals were right that it’s a spectacular place, with cliffs and canyons as far as we could see. The Little Grand Canyon itself is not as grand as its larger namesake, but there are stunning vistas, petroglyphs, an old (1937) bridge, primitive campgrounds, and an abundance of hiking and biking trails. And what is plenty grand about this place is what’s missing: people, concessionaires, streams of vehicles, and the suffocating infrastructure that can be somewhat common in larger parks. This place is definitely a hidden gem.
Looking to the north
That’s the San Rafael River down there
I must be standing on a rock above Souzz
Selfie, little Grand Canyon style
Looking down canyon
A great hike or ride, but don’t stray too far right!
As we were leaving Price earlier in the day to head towards the Swell, the guy at the local convenience mart asked where we were going. “Aaaah, yes, the Swell, you’ll love it,” he said. “It’s exactly like the Grand Canyon, only way better. And who wants to drive all the way to Arizona anyway?”
I’ve wanted to hike hut-to-hut in Switzerland for years, but planning such a trip always seemed like a daunting task. For starters, there are more than 150 huts in the Swiss Alpine Club system, which seemed totally overwhelming. And the language barrier for someone that doesn’t speak Swiss German is big, as almost all of the websites and information are in Swiss German (go figure).
Enter our good friends Reto and Annika, who live near Zurich and know a thing or two about these huts. They helped us plan a three day trip of about 30 kilometers on the Greina Plateau in the south central part of Switzerland–and by “helped us plan,” I mean that they planned it. Best of all, Reto came along (perhaps he thought we could use a chaperone?).
Reto and Souzz at Rheinfall, near Zurich
Annika and her best friend (oh, wait, I think that’s Reto)
Getting from Zurich to the trailhead near Vrin was ambitious enough, requiring four hours, three train rides, three cups of coffee, two bus rides, and a kilometer of walking up a village road.
Along the way
The marker is Vrin
Reto scouts future trips
On the train
In the village of Vrin
The start to our hike
From the trailhead, it was about 9 kilometers and 800 vertical meters to get to the Terrihutte, which is a beautiful stone structure on a point at the head of a valley.
One of many stream crossings
Souzz and Reto
Another stream crossing
A beautiful spot!
the last leg of the hike
I look like I am helping Souzz through a tough section, but Reto actually did the hard part.
The Terrihutte was built in 1925, although it has been renovated and expanded multiple times since. It has space for 110 in shared bunk rooms, as well as a full kitchen and a bar with cold beer and wine (as with most huts, restocking is done by helicopter). It also has electric power generated from the creek below, quite the luxury.
Food at the hut was simple but hearty. Potatoes, meats, soup, breads, butter, and salads are typical, all served family style in a dining room that offers ridiculous views.
ok, so it’s cloudy…but a pretty cool view
Mashed potatoes and meat
A busy room
Huts kind of have some views
The huts are also highly social places, even if you don’t speak the language. We were generally sitting across the table from someone who hiked the same hard kilometers that we did, which means we had a few things in common–including sore feet and tired legs. And, despite our ugly American language skills, many of our fellow hikers were gracious enough to reach out in English (which was a good thing, as hearing Reto and his family laugh as I tried to say the word for “three” in Swiss German wasn’t very encouraging).
We filled our water bottles here
A charging station in the backcountry, pure magic!
Souzz in our dorm-style room
The next day we headed up and over our high point at Greina Pass (2703 meters) to theMedelserhutte. It was a 15 kilometer hike, including some scrambling and a descent of a long snowfield. There were also some really fun glissades (the easy part) before a short ascent to the hut.
Headed up to the pass
Capricorn against the snow
With Reto at Greina Pass
Headed down the snowfield
Glissading is fun, no matter how old you are!
With Souzz, looking down the pass
The Medelserhutte is in a saddle with a commanding view to the west. It is a smaller hut than the Terrehutte, with 55 bunks, but still plenty roomy. Despite an early-ish start to our hike, we didn’t get there until nearly 6pm–but that was still enough time to catch sun on the back patio and watch Capricorns (a type of bighorn sheep) run the hillside.
Looking down valley
An inviting front door
A room with a view!
Rooms were pretty nice
I guess I’m not much of a conversationalist
Souzz and Reto
Reto spies some Capricorns
Our entire route
Soaking in the sun after a big day
Capricorns roaming the hillside
Looking back, Reto and Annika made it easy for us to do something that would have been very hard for us to do on our own (impossible?!), and for that we are very grateful. Visiting Switzerland with their help was priceless, spending time with them and their children before and after our hike was a treasure, and we are still glowing about our trip.
As for our time in the huts, I caught myself wondering how the Swiss built these places. But mostly I wondered why my legs were so sore. And then I wondered what another beer would taste like.
This weekend we joined good friends for a quick getaway to the nearby Blue Ridge mountains and a stay at theRosser Lamb House. The house was built in 1915 as the home of Hiram and Lucy Lamb and their nine children, and it is now one of thePotomac Appalachian Trail Club’s primitive (no power or water) rental cabins. It is located in Lamb’s Hollow (of course), adjacent toShenandoah National Park.
The spacious sitting room
The dining room, just off of the kitchen
The renovated kitchen
SNP Map #10. The Lamb House is in the lower left quad
Looking down into the valley near Stanardsville
A peek at the two decks and the screened in porch
Shenandoah National Park was created during the Great Depression, and the formation of the park resulted in more than five hundred families being forced by the U.S. government to leave their homes. Many of these families had been on land that they had occupied for generations, and entire communities were uprooted and moved to the east—including some to a subdivision in nearby Madison County called “Resettlement Road” (seriously).
George and Emma Meadows Lamb. Photo courtesy of PATC
George Lamb. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
More than 500 families received letters like this. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Heritage Project
Resettlement Road. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Heritage Project
Emma Meadows Lamb. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
The Lambs had been in Lamb’s Hollow since 1845. Nevertheless, they got the word that they were to be one of the relocated families. But in a twist of fate, the U.S. government ran out of funding for the park before the Lambs were forced to move. So the park border stops just short of the Lamb house, and they stayed there well into the 1960s–when the house was eventually sold to be used as a hunting lodge.
Rosser and Rosetta Lamb. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Rosser and Rosetta Lamb with Sevilla and Thurman. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Sevilla, Rosetta, Thurman, and Rosser Lamb, at their front porch. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Rosetta Lamb and son Thurman. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
In 1995, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club acquired the house and its surrounding property and began what became a 17-year project torestore it. The house has been described by a park historian as “a tribute to a mountain family living out the American dream in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.” And a fine tribute it is.
We spent our weekend hiking on the nearby trails, enjoying the stream-side setting, cooking in the spacious and renovated kitchen, and imagining life here some 100 years ago.
The Blue Ridge Heritage Project Memorial in Albemarle County. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Larry Lamb and Kristie Kendall. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Larry Lamb with the chimney that is a central part of the Memorial. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Larry and Kristie were incredibly gracious in sharing the history of the house and the surrounding area, and both of their organizations are doing amazing work.
Larry’s father, Thurman, was born in the house in 1925, and Larry visited the house often as a kid. He shared that his grandparents, Rosser and Rosetta Lamb, were “kind, humble people who loved the mountains and their home.” There were also stories of corn growing on the hillside, a smokehouse, a big garden, and family gatherings that featured banjo music and dancing the Virginia Reel.
Larry Lamb’s Aunt, Sevilla Lamb, playing guitar. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Inspired by the history of the house, our friend Lou brought his guitar
The Virginia Reel!
As for food during our trip, we tried to use recipes that we thought might be common back in Rosser and Rosetta Lamb’s day. Cherry trees were popular in the Blue Ridge, so we made a cherry pie. The Lambs made sorghum molasses, so we baked molasses cookies and muffins. They grew corn, so we had corn on the cob. They likely atewild ramps, so we had some ramps. The streams in the park had wild trout, so we made a trout dip. They had a smokehouse, so we smoked some fish.
soon to be smoked trout dip
Apps on Friday night
a portable smoker
smoked salmon, 30 minutes start to finish
molasses and apple muffin ingredients
molasses and apple muffins
the muffins, after baking
Molasses cookies, ready for baking
Molasses cookies, not bad!
Pickled ramps, a first for me
A pickled ramp
The finished pie
Ice cream and pie, through the miracle of dry ice
Of course, it’s a lot easier when you get your food from the local supermarket and keep it on ice in a giant cooler—a little different than in Rosser and Rosetta Lamb’s day.
Later on the trip, we visitedFar Pocosin Mission, which is about a two mile hike from the house. The Mission was founded in 1902, and historians describe it as the center of the community at the time. Now, 115 years later, the Mission is slowly fading into the forest–but there are old foundations, stairs, and chimneys that are still visible. Rosser Lamb attended church at the Mission, and his children went to school there.
Remains of the Mission worker’s cabin
peeking into the Mission worker’s cabin
artifacts on the Mission worker’s cabin
A foundation at the mission
Steps to an old cabin
I’ve enjoyed hiking and backpacking in and around Shenandoah National Park for more than 30 years now, and I confess that I haven’t always thought much about the human history. But we found the house and the mission to be powerful reminders of the people that were here before the park. The house is a fine tribute to the Lamb family, and to a lot of other families that lived in the neighboring hollows. I really can’t imagine what it must have been like for those that were forced to leave.
Main headstone in the Lamb Family Cemetery, just up the hill from the house
The Lamb Family Cemetery
Paying our respects for those that went before us
Lastly, it turns out that Pocosin Mission was founded by a very distant relative of mine,Frederick William Neve, a fact which was fascinating to me—but was either irrelevant or annoying to Souzz and our friends. After all, how many times can you listen to someone say “hey, I’m related to the guy that built this!” without wanting to scream?
Actually, I know that answer, and it’s four.
Frederick Neve, the Archdeacon of the Blue Ridge. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
A young boy at the mission, early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
As we planned our menu for an upcoming backpacking trip, Souzz reminded me that she “basically grew up on doughnuts”—which was a shocking revelation coming from somebody so fit. Apparently her hometown of Buffalo has a long (or round?) doughnut heritage–withFreddie’s, Paula’s, Tim Horton’s, and Zen’s (her family favorite as a kid). Doughnuts were (and are) such a part of the Buffalo scene that hometown hockey hero Jim Schoenfeldonce famously screamedat one of the lesser fit NHL referees to “have another doughnut!”
Freddie’s started in 1922
Paula’s is the new rage
The weekend’s destination was a quick overnight toKepler Overlook, in the Blue Ridge near Van Buren Furnace. Our good friend KB joined us for the first day.
Detailed trail map
Down low along Cedar Creek
KB and Souzz near the ridge
The hike started out along Cedar Creek before finishing on a long ridge, covering about five miles and 1000 feet of elevation. There were several great campsites up high, as well as a nice “improved” site on Cedar Creek with benches and a huge fire pit. We headed to one of the sites on the ridge, bringing a gallon and a half of water along with a bunch of good food (winter camping, even on a warmer weekend, should always be about food).
Souzz and KB near our campsite
KB and I shared our first adventure was in 1987. He looks the same.
cool clouds from the ridge
We shared the trail with a mountain biker
It was too bad KB couldn’t stick around for the evening, because dinner at our camp overlooking the Shenandoah Valley was fabulous. We started with an appetizer of local ham, smoked trout, and cheese, and then followed with beef tenderloin, gnocchi with tomatoes and garlic, red wine, and frybake chocolate chip cookies. We don’t lose weight on these trips.
Souzz gathering wood
ham, bread, cheese, smoked trout
that thermometer was handy!
ok, maybe we cooked it a little too long…but it was pretty good!
Gnocchi with tomatoes
Dinner at sunset, not bad!
The day’s mild temps eventually dipped into the high 30s, and then morning dawned warm and sunny….perfect doughnut weather, right? We learned soon enough that backcountry doughnuts really are pretty easy. We’d made the dough ahead of time using aBetty Crocker recipe, and we didn’t really need a lot of extra stuff on the trail–just an instant-read thermometer, a pair of tongs, vegetable oil, and cake doughnut toppings (chocolate, cinnamon, and powdered sugar).
Ingredients for the dough
dough and flour, pretty easy
While the oil was coming to temperature on our cook stove, we rolled out the dough and cut it into shape using the top of a Nalgene bottle and a cap from a Diet Coke. Then we dropped the dough into 375-degree oil for about two minutes a side. From there it was a quick dunk into the topping of choice and it was time for our Zens-like moment(s).
improvising is key
we could have ordered a doughnut hole cutter (they actually make those), but what’s the point?
raw doughnuts on a frisbee
Getting the oil to temp
Waiting for toppings
A “backcountry dozen”
With several miles of walking ahead of us after breakfast, it was pretty easy to justify a doughnut. There was less of a case for the next four.
We closed out our trip to Newfoundland with a hike in Little Cove, just south of the village of Twillingate. Our hike took us to Jones Cove and then up and over the ridge toLower Little Harbour.
The Twillingate hiking website listed this particular hike as easy, but we found it to be a bit more—four or so miles with a lot of up and down. Perhaps this was due to weather in the low 50s (Fahrenheit) and high winds (25-30 mph gusts), or maybe we are just flatlander tourists. In any case, the hiking was interesting, with sections of heavy forest, sections of bare rock, a summit ridge, and even a short stretch of rocky beach.
Along the way, we passed a natural arch and the remains of a settlement from the 1930s, including what was left of a restaurant called Kelley’s Sunset Chat. Our hike was a nice mix of nature, history, and exercise–including some scrambling and some up-hill climbs.
Souzz up on the ridge above Jones Cove
A wooded section of trail
Great views to the east
Colors are changing
Beautiful natural arch
A root cellar from the 1930s
Kelley’s Sunshine Chat restaurant, from the 1930s
Back in Twillingate atOceanview Retreat, we closed out our stay with another interesting Newfoundland dish,seafood chowder. It’s pretty clear why I haven’t lost weight on this trip.
Fresh north Atlantic salmon
local carrots, celery, onion
mixing in savory and pepper
Some other local dishes this week includedNewfoundland fish cakes, pickled herring, and fried dulse. Menu staples here are highly seasonal, revolve around the sea as well as roots and berries, and have a simple charm about them.
Dulse, a local seaweed
Lots of ways to prepare dulse
Somehow this looked better in the jar
We are back in Virginia now, but we have some great memories of “The Rock,” as Newfoundland is often called. We didn’t know much about any of these places before planning this trip, and now we’ll never forget them. The culture is interesting, the people are amazingly friendly…and there is so much more to see.
On our way to the airport in Gander, Souzz uttered the telltale phrase that marks the end of a great vacation: “I wish we had one more day.”
We just headed off to Gander, Newfoundland for a quick trip. So where is Gander, you might ask? We knew this place was a bit off the beaten path when we checked into our flights on Air Canada, and Jessie, the Air Canada agent, asked “is Gander in Canada?”
Gander is a town of 10,000 that has an airport with a big runway and it has a lot of aviation history. A walk through town reveals streets named after Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Richenbacker, and Chuck Yeager. Gander was a stopover for almost all trans-Atlantic flights back in the day–until fuel capacities got bigger in the 1970s. And Gander continues to be a safe haven for flights over the North Atlantic that have mechanical problems (thankfully, that wasn’t us).
Gander is indeed in Canada (as of 1949)
Our hotel, the Albatross Inn
Gander also had a big role in helping the world on September 11, 2001, when US-bound planes were diverted here and6500 passengers spent five days in townwaiting for US airspace to re-open. The town’s population nearly doubled in just a few hours, and the people of Gander answered the call. They opened their homes to total strangers, the hockey rink was converted to a giant refrigerator to store food for the “plane people,” and citizens made weary travelers feel as comfortable as they could (imagine hearing this: “Hi, welcome to Walmart. Would you like to come to our house and take a shower?”).
Gander on 9-11, with 38 planes grounded
Gander’s post-9/11 role was largely overlooked at the time, but it is an amazing story—even inspiring a musical that is playing now at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC called “Come from Away.” One of the many passengers stranded in Gander back in 2001 was so touched that she started a highly successfulscholarship programfor the high school in nearby Lewisporte. The stories from that time offered a ray of hope in the midst of a very dark time.
As for us, we took in a few local sites, including the Silent Witness Memorial, and then stopped by the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. It offered up some fascinating artifacts from Newfoundland’s rich aviation history, as well as a few more reminders of 9-11 (including a piece of steel from one of the Twin Towers).
The front of the museum, unintentionally ironic
A PBY-Catalina, part of sea rescue in World War II
A Link Trainer, another classic!
A piece of the twin towers, given to Gander to acknowledge all of the town’s help to passengers diverted on 9-11.
A letter displayed in the museum
9-11 thank you
9-11 thank you
9-11 thank you
From Gander, we headed on toTwillingate, about an hour and a half north, where we’ve rented a cottage overlooking the harbor. We are going to take in as much local culture as we can, hike a bunch, cook up some local treats, and perhaps learn a little more about a corner of the world that we don’t know that much about.
With a kayaking trip planned to the mountains this weekend, we decided we’d stop through Petersburg, West Virginia, to catch their 4th of July parade on the ride back home. Petersburg is a town of about 2500 in the Potomac Highlands and we figured it was the kind of place that knows how to put on a good parade. Last year on the 4th of July, we had a lot of fun at aparade in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, so we thought we’d go for two years in a row.
But first, we were off to paddle. So on Saturday morning we met up with our good friends Scott and Denise, who were on a road trip through West Virginia. The four of us paddled one of my favorite runs, the Cheat Narrows, in the north central part of the state. Souzz and I were in our Alpacka packrafts–in part because these boats are lot of fun, and in part to get ready for an upcoming trip out west. Ultralight packrafts are capable of running very technical whitewater despite weighing just six pounds each (although my packraft likely weighs more when I am in it).
The Cheat Narrows is pretty easy, probably low class III, but it is splashy and fun and it runs through a beautiful valley below Cheat Mountain.
Backender coming out of Calamity Rock
The group at the put-in
Entering Calamity Rock
Where are the Cheat Narrows?
My Alpacka packraft and a breakdown paddle
From there, Scott and Denise headed north while Souzz and I drove over the Allegheny Front to a cabin that we had rented for the weekend.Spruce Mountain Cabinsare right on the road to Spruce Knob (the highest point in West Virginia), and these cabins are a great little place to stop over. Our cabin (#3) was simple, just a main room/kitchenette and a bedroom, but with a covered porch, a comfortable bed, and power and water.
Spruce Mountain Cabin #3
Enjoying the porch
Clean, simple, comfortable
Once at the cabin, we had planned on cooking some fancy meals and making an apple pie(hey, what’s 4th of July without apple pie?). But it turned out that the cabin had no oven, so the pie will have to wait (and it turns out that a 4th without pie is still just fine). We did manage to make a few fun meals, though, including slow-cooked ribs on Sunday. And we’d highly recommend these cabins!
Ribs and sauce in the crock-pot
Ribs and beans
Steak, potato, caprese
Enjoying the fire
In between meals, we mixed in a hike on Spruce Knob as well as some mountain biking, so it was a good full weekend of adventure.
Looking out to the east
Looking out to the west
A bumblebee does its thing
Spruce Knob Observation Tower
Map of area trails
On Monday the 4th, we woke up to steady rain, so we figured that the parade would be washed out–but we decided to pass through Petersburg anyway. Stopping for gas on the edge of town, we overheard someone say to the cashier “hey, a little rain can’t keep me from a parade for the good ole U.S. of A.”
Sure enough, we entered town and found the streets lined with people holding umbrellas and wearing red, white, and blue. A bunch of folks were on covered porches at houses that faced the parade route, while others chose to sit on their back bumpers under their car’s back hatch (very clever). We drove over to the east side of town, where the crowds weren’t quite as thick–but were still plenty enthusiastic.
A few spectators, dressed for the occasion
Another way of staying dry
Making their own sunshine
I guess Souzz didn’t get the memo on red, white, and blue
The Grant County Courthouse has a memorial for Petersburg natives lost in battle
Moments later, the color guard rounded the corner and led the Petersburg High School Band as it played The Stars and Stripes Forever. Following was a long procession of fire trucks, old cars, new cars, bands, golf carts, floats, motorcycles, and a few horses. Many in the parade carried signs thanking veterans, and there were several veterans riding along. A number of floats and cars were throwing out candy, most of which seemed to land in deep puddles of rainwater (which didn’t discourage the kids, of course!).
Color Guard leads the way
Lots of respect for the flags
No idea who these folks were, but we were no doubt the only folks in town that didn’t know
Lots of signs thanking vets
Passing out candy
The Petersburg High Marching Band
The Forest Service float
More candy, and a great 4th of July beret!
Irony: Smokey Bear has spent a career trying to put out fires, but has to stay dry himself
More irony: Noah’s Ark
There was a lot for an outsider to take in, and it is easy for me to forget that scenes like this are repeated across the country every year (and I’m guessing the parade in Wessington Springs, South Dakota, looked much like the photo below from last year).
As for Petersburg, it was great to see so many people come out–especially in the rain. It was also nice to see the strong theme around supporting veterans. Petersburg has lost a number of its citizens dating back to at least World War I, and there are several native sons and daughters serving now. I happened to stand next to the parent of one of them on the parade route, which offered great perspective about what (and why) we were celebrating.
Closing out the parade were the Shriners, who came down the route wearing red fezzes anddriving miniature carsin tight figure eights at what seemed like 40 miles per hour. Based on the looks on the drivers’ faces as they cranked along, nobody was having more fun. I learned later that most Shriners have a “Parade Unit” that does some variation of this display in parades across the country.
I have no idea how tiny replica cars powered by lawn mower engines have anything to do with veterans, the American Revolution, or our country’s independence. But then I imagine how disappointed those Shriners would be if the US had never separated from Britain, and I wonder when the next parade is going to start.
This past weekend I had the chance to go on an adventure with a friend that I’ve known since the 1960s. Tim and I share a hometown and a lot of interests–including a passion for the outdoors–and we’ve been tied together for a long time (sometimes literally, on technical climbing trips).Tim also happens to be my brother.
Tim and Court on the trail
In the Alaska Range
This was to be the first-ever backpacking trip for Tim’s sons Sebastian and Tristan, so it seemed important to pick a good place! We chose one of our favorites, theDolly Sods Wildernessin West Virginia, about three hours to the west by car.
The Sods are one of our favorite places for a bunch of reasons. There’s a great trail system, nice cool weather (even in summer), and the high elevation (4000′) translates to flora and fauna that are more typical of Quebec. It is the southern-most range of a lot of interesting plants, and the winds up high are so constant that many of the spruce trees are three-sided.
The Allegheny Front
Where are the Sods?
The human historyof the Sods is interesting, too, as the region was named after a German immigrant (Johann Dahle) that used the area for grazing cattle in the mid-1800s. At some point, the spelling of the region was changed to the now familiar Dolly, and in 1975 the area was designated as Wilderness.
Some years back, we had the chance to meet one of the original Dolly descendants, known to the locals simply as “Mister Dolly.” We wanted to cross his property with our kayaks to access the river, so we walked up Dollytown Road (really) and knocked on his door to ask permission. He answered right away and talked with a thick accent and a rapid fire cadence that made him hard to follow (but made it easy for my friend KB to imitate him afterwards).
As we chatted, we noticed that Mister Dolly was calling city folk like us “smarties,” and we wondered where the conversation was headed. But in the end he charged us a dollar a boat and tucked the bills into his shirt pocket in a way that made it seem like he’d done that before. It was a pretty good deal considering that we got river access and a story, all for $4. We enjoyed meeting him…and he seemed to enjoy meeting us.
Smarties or not, the Dolly Sods are a pretty smart destination. We started out from Red Creek Campground under cloudy skies but generally great weather. Sebastian and Tristan did more than their part, carrying packs that included their gear as well as a Nerf football. Tim and I shouldered the rest—including a generous kitchen and a rain tarp (in case the skies ended up “watering the family tree,” so to speak).
Fitting Tristan’s pack
At the trailhead
The trail was wet and muddy, but that didn’t dampen anybody’s spirits–and might even have lifted a few, as the boys enjoyed the challenge of keeping dry feet. The hike was fairly straightforward and the terrain and scenery were interesting, including blooming mountain laurel. We also saw a deer and jumped a wild turkey, so we had a pretty good sampling of the flora and fauna.
At some point, the boys decided to “gamify” the hike and rock-hopped most of the way. I have no idea who won–but when we got to camp, they immediately started throwing the Nerf ball, played baseball using hiking poles as bats, and swimming in the creek. There was no shortage of energy in this crowd (or at least half of it).
A muddy trail
Tristan puzzles over the best route
Nerf balls and mountain laurel
Below Blackbird Knob
Camp on the North Fork of Red Creek
Rock-hopping over the North Fork of Red Creek
Swimming on a hot day!
The trip really wasn’t about the food…but what backpacking trip isn’t at least a little about food? With this being a short hike, just four miles or so, we’d brought along homemade beef jerky, antipasto, homemade Buffalo wings, and the makings for twofry-bakepizzas.
Antipasto on a frisbee
dough in the frybake
Sebastian hard at work
Sebastian proud of his work!
Sebastian, with Tristan photobombing, and me on the right. That’s two pizzas in front and wings behind me!
The final product
Who wants the first slice?
The boys jumped right into prep, which was a great help! For the pizzas, we used store-bought fresh dough and sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, and a bit of fresh basil. For the baking itself, we used 6 charcoals on the bottom, 12 on top, and the baking took about 50 minutes (which gave us time to devour the wings, which we heated in a frybake).
After dinner, we started a fire and then we turned attention to dessert. The center of attention was a treat that dates to the 1920s that was originally called a graham cracker sandwich. Now it is commonly called as’more—two graham crackers, chocolate, and a roasted marshmallow. No matter how old I get, s’mores are still a ride right back to childhood, when my campfire limit was about a dozen. As an adult, just one bite had me searching for a glucometer (a new vocabulary word inspired by the trip).
What I’d forgotten about s’mores is just how social an experience that they are. For starters, there’s the need to search for and then carve the perfect roasting stick, with plenty of consultations along the way. That’s followed by a lot of discussion about the best area of coals for roasting, and then a lot of riffing on anyone that drops a marshmallow into the fire. The whole process is a Sociology Masters Thesis waiting to be written (providing one has access to a good ultralight glucometer and doesn’t mind that nobody reads their thesis).
Tristan finds the perfect stick
Tristan roasts a marshmallow
Tim samples a marshmallow
Ok, sometimes they catch fire
After enjoying a handful of s’mores, my nephews told us that the only thing that they loved more than s’mores was ice cream. Of course, we knew that going into the trip, so there was another surprise in store. Through the wonders of dry ice, two pints of (very frozen) ice cream made their appearance, along with grishgroom (homemade chocolate sauce). At that point, the night became one long sugar coma. And isn’t that what a backpacking trip should be with your dad and your uncle?
We are having a great visit to Havana, Cuba, where Souzz had a work trip and I tagged along. While Cuba has been off limits to Americans for a long time, U.S. tourism on the island has been ramping up since late 2014 when the U.S. and Cuba announced that they were moving towards “normalized” relations. That’s a relative term, of course, as there doesn’t seem to be much that is normal yet between these two countries. Visitors from the U.S. currently must meet certain criteria; Souzz’s trip was a part of an educational exchange, where American and Cuban professionals share information about their respective disciplines (certainly a good thing for all involved).
As is true with any adventure, Souzz and I weren’t quite sure what to expect here. After all, it has been a 50-year stretch of two countries giving each other the cold (war) shoulder—including an embargo on U.S. imports since 1962. But once again, it turns out that people are just people, no matter where you go.
From a tourist’s perspective, Havana has quickly turned itself into an inviting destination (or perhaps it was all along, but we just didn’t know). The Cuban government is starting to open things up, and there is now a burgeoning restaurant scene. Tourism-related services are also starting to emerge in Havana.
Plaza Vieja, which dates to 1559
The skyline looking west
Havana is a city of 2 million, and it is the oldest and largest city in the Caribbean—dating back to the 1500s. It has amazing architecture, 500 year old forts, and a lively arts and music scene. Walking the streets here, it is easy to imagine what it must have been like in its heyday back in the 1940s.
As for the food, that was just one element of this trip, and I’m still digesting a lot of other lessons and observations. There’s enough going on here to fill up several blog entries, and I’ll share some more thoughts in the coming days. But I’ll start with what’s on the table.
Coming in, we expected a somewhat simple cuisine–especially considering that there’s
been arationing systemin Cuba since the 1990s (imagine being permitted to buy just five eggs per month, as well as limited quantities of stipends like sugar, rice, and oil). Stories of shortages of certain foods, as well as basic medicines and vitamins, are real and ongoing. That said, people here seem to take it in stride, at least as far as we could tell. The restaurant scene largely insulates tourists from these shortages, which is both good and bad.
As for our experience, the dishes we’ve sampled on the island are carefully prepared and delicious. Whether lunch or dinner, the meal generally includes a meat/seafood dish with rice and beans, as well as locally grown vegetables like yucca, squash, sweet potato, avocado, or eggplant.
As one might expect, portions are smaller than the U.S. (read: normal and not super-sized), service is generally slower, and meals tend to feel like more of a communal experience than a drive-through. Add in the fact that you are often sitting in a 300-year old building full of amazing art and listening to live Cuban music, and you have a recipe for a very memorable dining experience.
Mini taco (mayo, pepper, rum, chicken in a sweet potato shell); squash and cream; caviar of eggplant, olive oil, capers
Chicken with a lime honey glaze
roasted vegetables, rice, chicken
deconstructed lemon pie
Family style lunch platter
a typical breakfast spread
onions for sale on the street (vegetables are no longer rationed)
It’s worth noting that bottled water is also common for visitors, as the city’s water system is still a work in progress (water is often supplied by trucks in the areas of the city that are dense with restaurants).
In addition to the food, most every meal at a restaurant seems to start with a Mojito or perhaps aCuba Libre(rum and coke…well, rum and Ciego Montero tuKola, as Coca-Cola is off limits due to the embargo). As for wine, most of the wine consumed here is sold by the glass and comes from Chile. Cuba does produce its own wine, but one local told us (only half-jokingly) that it is only suitable for salad dressing.
Rum is mixed a lot of different ways here
The Cuban version of coca-cola
a typical fruit bar
Bucanero is one of the more popular local beers
More colorful mojitos
A bar with no US brands
At Sloppy joe’s, once a favorite hangout of Ernest Hemingway, and supposedly the originator of the sloppy joe sandwich, the bane of my childhood
Rum and cola
Seafood is on most menus, but it is not as common as we expected. Later we learned that the relative dearth of seafood may be due to the tight restrictions on fishing licenses…restrictions that could be borne out of concerns by the government that boats in the harbor could head north to the U.S. Ummm, wow.
Sea bass with a parsnip puree
fried fish with beans, chicken, and squash
Throughout our visit, we encountered Cubans that were friendly and curious, albeit somewhat cautious–as nobody knows what happens next, and there are more questions than answers. Will normalized relations lead to a lift of the embargo? Can the country make economic progress and still preserve its culture? Or will there be a shiny casino and a t-shirt shop where a 300-year old building used to be?
Aaah, yes, many questions. But whatever happens next, the country showed itself as a beautiful place with a charming culture—despite our two nations’ complicated history.
This is a work trip for Souzz, of course, but it is mostly tourism for me. During the course of our visit, we’ve made every effort to be respectful–even as a tourist experience here is the essence of contradiction. Each day we are mindful of what is on our table, as opposed to what is likely on the tables of the wait staff and the chef and the taxi driver. What I suspect we all share is hope for a better day.
Virginia is bracing for record-breaking snowstorms tomorrow, but I’m still basking in the glow of a fun backpacking trip last weekend with my friend KB. We went toBrown’s Hollow, near New Market, Virginia, and we had a fabulous hike. We also cooked up a storm, and once again ourfrybakedutch oven came in very handy. Past frybake meals have included lasagna, cheesecake, enchiladas, even Baked Alaska, but we’ve never deep-fried anything…until this weekend.
Barbecued ribs have always been a favorite dish, but a dish that typically takes hours–which is completely impractical in the backcountry. But deep-frying offered a shortcut, so we decided to give it a shot. To make it happen, we brought along a rack of pork ribs (of course), two cups of peanut oil, and some extra stove fuel. We used a recipe forbeef ribsthat we adapted a bit, and in trueEiger Sanctiontradition I was smart enough to get KB to carry the ribs.
Brown’s Hollowis a great hike along a beautiful stream, complete with cascades and beautiful views as well as some interesting rock formations. And, like much of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, it offers both geological as well as human history.
The hollow was named after the family of former Old Rag postmaster William Brown,
whose ancestors lived in the valley through the 1800s. Life was often a challenge in those days, but much of the recorded history is decidedly upbeat. One of William Brown’s descendants shared that his family “may have been poor people, but compare them to the people in the soup lines in the Depression. They grew everything they needed, except coffee and sugar.” Food for thought.
After a really nice hike on a well marked trail, we dropped our packs, set up camp, and headed up to the saddle of Brown’s Mountain. Once back at camp, dinner started in earnest with bacon-wrappedstuffed dates(hey, why not?) and then we baked some cornbread (also in a frybake, of course).
While the cornbread was baking, we heated the peanut oil to 350 Fahrenheit (ourMSR Dragonflystove was a key, as was a small instant-read thermometer) and got busy with the ribs.
It was tricky to maintain the temperature of the oil on such a cold night, but in the end it worked out just fine. In addition to the cornbread, we cooked up some beans, and we topped things off with some Crown Royal and Swiss chocolate. Celebrity chefs likeJosé Andréscouldn’t have done it better (ok, so actually José could’ve done better. Much better. But let’s see him hike.).
Brown’s Hollow was a new destination and fried ribs was a new recipe, but both proved to be good choices. We also enjoyed the chilly weather, with lows in the 20s and a dusting of snow. The cold seemed like an invitation to shamelessly consume a lot of calories, a task that we took very seriously.
Adventures with KB, a great friend for nearly 30 years, are always fun, and this one was no exception. We had a nice hike, we stayed warm enough, we shared a lot of laughs, and we ate well. Sure, our pants are fitting a little tighter, but isn’t that the point? (ok, don’t answer that).