35,000 Feet

I am on a plane. On my way to see my 97 year old grandmother. Leaving the country means not seeing loved ones anytime in the near future. At 97 that future might be shorter than others.

I planned this trip a month ago. My cousin Suzie has always been afraid to drive her car across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a 3.5 mile span of bridge connecting mainland Maryland to the Eastern Shore. She normally pays $35 each way for someone else to drive her car across. I offered my sevices in lieu of room and board at her lovely home in DC. She and I have always been pretty close cousins.

When leaving on your infinite trip, traipsing off to other parts of the world, one of the choices you make is to leave your family. At our age that family runs deep. No kids of our own, but plenty of cousins we’ve watched grow up and have families. Nieces and nephews who have grown up and had kids. Friends who have grown up around you and had kids. These are as much family as if we had had our own. I think it is a little easier to leave them behind though… you know their immediate families are close and watching over them. You kind of realize how alone your life really is.

Now I know we have worked just as hard as the family and friends around us. We have been able to make investments and cash out on those to fund our next phase of life. We don’t have to think about any legacy, how to make our kid’s lives easier once we are gone… by the time that happens our family’s kids would be having kids. Life is somewhat selfish when you don’t have any immediate legacy to worry about.

Looking out the window of the plane I see flat. I am on my second leg through Minneapolis on to D.C. My family has seen my FB post and realize this is it… figure out how to visit with me now or continue to visit via internet. Growing up there was no internet, cell phones, texting or ” blogging”. You got in your car and drove to visit your people. You planned elaborate dinners around holidays. I think I actually like the virtual connections better. A whole year would go by without a word then you are thrust back into each other’s lives and try to play catchup in a few hours.

Introduce internet, cell phones, Facebook, Instagram and so forth and now on an almost daily basis we can see their kids grow up, achievements, and ups and downs. It’s like being in their lives on a weekly basis. You can visit and continue a conversation without the catch up. It brings the entire world into your grasp. It makes the world a smaller more friendly place. It connects generations. Opens new worlds once thought unachievable. It becomes a road map to exploration of foreign cultures and life styles… without being so foreign anymore. It also has taken us away from today. Heads down in our phones. Find a balance. The world is still out there.

 

 

A Long Time Coming

It’s hard to tell a story with so many twists and turns. Sometimes the anticipation and planning is more stressful than anything I’ve done before. It’s different when it’s a long term decision. The path we choose now WILL affect the next phase of our lives. Saying that out loud really brings this into perspective. The decisions we have made in the past could be wrong… we always had the time and means to make it right. This decision may not be so easy to undo.

What on earth could be so dire? Well it’s the decision about our new home on wheels.

So you may be saying, so what’s the big deal?

When you are going from a house too big for two, to a custom created camper van with a living space of 73.5 square feet. Everything you own is contained in this space. How do you decide what to keep and what to discard? We grew up in a time when at least 40 years of our lives were NOT digital. That means for a photographer… boxes and boxes of prints and negatives. I have a wood toy chest from my childhood I have lugged all over the US every time I moved. Handwritten letters from past loves, friends and family. Artwork collected from around the world.

The electronics, furniture and other STUFF is easy to part with. There is just so much STUFF to get rid of…

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The process: We have really vacillated back and forth between a very used Sprinter van to a gently used Ford Transit. My mind has been designing and redesigning our cozy living space. The main goal is usable space and storage. A space that two women and a corgi can live in comfortably. A “home on wheels” that is comfortable and inviting. Our Tiny Home.

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There is so much I have had to learn. Solar, plumbing, electrical, wood working. The imagination is strong and the ability to recreate what I see may be tough. We hopefully will be buying our van this week and the build will begin. I hope we will be able to be patient and build out our space carefully and “hell for strong”, as my dad would say.

Utah Desert Solitude…Searching for Swasy’s Leap

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We spent the weekend in the Escalante Staircase National Monument. This is a prehistoric yet wondrously accessible desert in central Utah. If our Commander and creep has his way, this land will be mined out… selling its beauty to the evils of oil and natural gas exploration. Oil fields scattered all over this beautiful landscape. Heavy machinery traveling on the fun back roads we explore in the peace and quiet of this desert.

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At least for now, this is a pristine area that takes you into some of the most ancient exposed rock on earth. The vast panoramas are breathtaking and are the product of millions and millions of years of evolution. More to the point… wind, sand and water. I have traveled to many places in this world and seen many landscapes.
This Utah desert is spectacular and has a history full of intrigue, cowboys, Indians and bandits.

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We set out to find a trail called Swasy’s Leap. It was at the end of some pretty advanced 4WD roads requiring a high clearance vehicle. I can say that the trek in was far easier than the trek out. Funny we never did find where this little bet was waged and the leap was made back in 1800. No problem the 5-6 miles we hiked were rewarding and around every butte was more and more wonder and awe.

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We followed an eighteen year old 4WD Book and a topographical map. The dirt roads go off everywhere. We got off on the road to the trailhead, finally, and maneuvered our Cruzer carefully over the rocky ledges and step downs for 4 miles to the trailhead. The heavy black storm clouds hung around the rocky peaks in the distance, and threatened us with curtains of rain and flashes of lightening. The sun held the storm at bay until we got back to the car and found our remote campsite.

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We unfolded our roof top tent as it got dark with heavy thunder clouds and sought refuge inside the Cruzer as Mother Nature unleashed her fury. We kicked back to wait out the storm and had a well deserved cocktail and laughed at our hike and joked about this kid Swasy, who jumped a crevasse, on his horse, somewhere out there, instead of riding around the damn thing. He got 75 head of cattle for this little stunt, which made him rich and got him written up in the Utah history books.

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The storm passed, gave us a rainbow, and as is usual, the desert sucked up every drop and dried out quickly. We settled in, cooked some dinner and had a fire. Love, love LOVE the desert solitude.

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We were basically “trying out” the remote camping or boon-docking. We have purchased so many new items to get prepared for our upcoming Overlanding adventure. A new Snomaster fridge/freezer, new double battery setup, new suspension and steering components, new Baja full length flat roof rack, we wired and installed a Pure Sine Wave 1750 Watt Inverter. She’s never really been tested out.

I am here to tell you she performed incredibly. The fridge didn’t pull down the AGM spare battery at all. The Inverter worked flawlessly. She stepped up and stepped down rocky trails, got her first brush scratches, rooftop tent was awesome, although a bit hard… but toasty warm.

We spent the weekend talking about how to build out the interior. Wether or not to buy a 4×4 van. The SportsMobiles are very expensive. You can’t drive an ULEV diesel into Central America… the diesel isn’t available, so a lot of the nice big turbo diesel vans are out of the question. Decisions… decisions…

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Iceland: The Ins and Outs

I must admit the “Land of The Midnight Sun” in the Summer is the land of rain, clouds and beauty. We never saw the Northern Lights or the sky full of stars… big deal! The immense beauty of this place was reward enough.

The reason I love to travel, aside from the normal getting away and holiday? Experience.

Iceland did not disappoint. This land of stark contrasts is a photographers dream. I think if everyday were sunny and clear, you would somehow miss the hand of Mother Nature at work. Any good traveler will come prepared for the changing climate… and change it will.

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The end of the Summer months bring fog, misty rain, downpours, wind, clouds and occasional sun. The temperature is a perfect 45-60 degrees. Great for hiking and sleeping.

There are several modes of transport and visiting. You can pay for a room (150-1,000 USD/night) then travel out on daily excursions from Reykjavik. The tour companies are vast and tours range from $50-$1,000 USD or 4.900 to 110.000 ISK. You can climb glaciers, go 4 wheeling, dive in the continental divide, do the Golden Circle in a day, parasail, do a city tour, whale watching, and the list goes on.

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Second, you can rent camping equipment. This can be as simple as a tent and sleeping bag to fully self-contained travel trailers. We chose the middle of the road. We rented a camper van from KuKu Campers out of Reykjavik ($2300€). It came with bed space for 4 adults, running water and a sink, a propane single burner stove, an electric cooler, utensils and plates, bowls and cups for four. The bottom bed can be converted into a table with bench seating but we just left it as a bed. We are avid campers and Delta Medallion Skymile members, so we chose to bring our own sleeping bags, backpack sleeping pads, Jet Boil backpack stove, REI backpack chairs and table without worrying about checked baggage fees. This saved us about $350 US vs renting the same equipment. Note: you will read that you can camp anywhere in Iceland… I am here to tell you that unless you like sleeping on lava, you will take advantage of one of the 170+/- developed campsites ($12-16/pp) If you are in a camper, you must use one of these campgrounds.

Third, you can do a self driving tour. This is a pre-planned tour that makes you drive from point A to point B and stay in pre-arranged hotels. You can choose budget, comfort or luxury accommodations. You also have the choice of how much of Iceland you want to see. Choices range from the entire Ring Road (RTE 1), Northern Iceland or the Southern Coast. These tours range between $2,500 to $6,000 US/pp. this only includes breakfast, car rental and your room for the night. Segway into the next point….

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Food… OMG only the wealthy can afford to eat here. A hamburger with fries…$20.00. A bowl of fish or lamb stew…$25.00. Yes for a bowl of soup. The local favorites, hotdogs… $12.00. A beer…$11-14.00 USD. Petrol/Diesel 2.03-1.87 KIR/liter. We spent $85.00 and bought the staples we needed including hamburgers, produce, bread, milk, cheese, produce for sandwiches, lunch meat, pre-marinated locally caught fish and condiments. We ate on this plus pre-packed food we brought like spaghetti and sauce, canned chicken, backpacker meals, boxed milk and spices. We ate out occasionally and had major sticker shock but justified it by the mode of transport we chose and how much we saved by not staying in hotels. LOL…

We got the “touristy” stuff out of the way the first two days then ventured up towards the Snæfellsbær Peninsula and the West Fjords to escape the crowds and experience the cliffs, birds, oceans and waterfalls. There are hot pots, or hot springs as we call them, all over the island that have showers and toilets. There are swimming pools, which are geothermal which cost between $7-15/pp in just about every town you come to. Note: we never found a single “pit toilet” on Iceland. All facilities were extremely clean! There was very little trash anywhere, including the beeches.

Here are the must haves. Rent a GPS and laugh your ass off as she tells you to turn on Snafelsnesligur. Also rent a mobile WIFI to avoid major frustrations. We started our trip with only the GPS Garmin then three days in we rented the mobile WIFI too. We had 5 paper maps and guide books and a headache from trying to decipher the names and routes in tiny little print because all the road names where 15-25 characters long. Patience and the ability to roll with it will go a long way. Lastly… a good sense of humor and spirit of exploration will eventually get you to your destination.

I hope that this has been inspirational and informative. If Iceland is not on your bucket list, it should be. I would be happy to answer any questions anyone may have in planning your own trip. We did hours and hours of research and turned an otherwise expensive travel destination into an affordable one.

Day Six: Hiking the Highands of Iceland

I am sure that there is a whole lot more of Iceland we have yet to discover, but our time has come to an end. Today we took a hike in the Highlands in a town called Husafell. It took us to the confluence of two rivers, one a crystal clear glacier river and the other a silica laden river that was the color of ash. The two remained separate until the silica river overcame the crystal river and turned both grey. Oh, and yes, there was a small waterfall…

Last night we soaked in a mineral hotpot, as hot springs are called here. We didn’t have the right method of payment and the people at checkin let us in on our word we would come back and pay in the morning. To keep good karma, we showed up at 13:00 and they had forgotten that we were coming back to pay the $25 or so dollars. The people in this country are so friendly, accommodating, and trusting, we couldn’t, in good conscience, not pay the 2.700 kir for our entrance.

We are off to our last campsite in Reykjavik. It is always sad when a trip comes to an end. I love everything about this country. It’s people, the scenery and the peacefulness. As we drove along the highways back to Reykjavik we traveled from the inland and back through the coastal mountains. The storm that had blown out of the highlands had not broken its hold on the coast yet.

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The incredible sights of the clouds shrouding the mountains and pouring over the tops like waterfalls was awe inspiring. The clouds would pour over and swirl back up to the heavens creating a graceful wave. It was the most incredible thing I had ever seen. The wind was blowing over these mountains and blasting down the slopes and across the road making it a two handed drive all the way back out to the peninsula.

Siri took us right to the campsite and we checked in. These campsites are a brilliant idea. If I had a country to run I’d model the common areas as campsites. The people that come to them are from all over the world. The commonness is the desire to discover new worlds, share experiences and knowledge. There are shared kitchens, bathrooms, showers and of course WIFI. We all claim our space and go about our own experience in the common spaces. If you are open you can meet some very interesting people. It is a broadening of ideas by like minded people.

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I think this is the way to experience Iceland. At every camp, those that are ending their adventure leave all sorts of treasures; half empty fuel cans, jackets, tarps, unused food items, toiletries, blankets and various other sundries. For those traveling on a tight budget these are gold mines. We contributed our half used fuel cans, food items like condiments, to the one here at our last camp just as we took similar items from the camp when we started our trip.

Camping in Iceland is a caring, sharing, and multi-cultural event.

Day Four: Iceland The West Fjords

We woke today to rain… imagine that. We parked our camper van in a field at the campground in Vik, that was already saturated when we arrived. Overnight, however, more campers arrived and have turned the field into a soupy mess. We are planning our exit strategy so we don’t end up axles buried in mud. If and when we get out of here we are heading north west, back along the Ring Road to the beautiful West Fjords.

 

We planned on stopping back at Ku Ku Campers and seeing if they had a mobile WIFI available, since they were out when we left and I have a perpetual headache from trying to read the maps, yes plural. After driving through Reykjavik and getting horribly lost, we went into the gas station we knew had free wifi and googled directions. We were in luck and picked up the small device and we were PLUGGED IN!

So the biggest problem with driving through Iceland is the beauty. OK… beauty is a problem? Oh yes… There are so many waterfalls, cliffs and quaint little homes built right into the sides of mountains with dirt and grass covering the roofs. There are rock formations, crashing waves, black sand beaches and bird colonies. The thing that has struck us the most is the cleanliness. The roads are beautifully paved, although quite narrow. The little towns have horse farms, fluffy lambs and each home has its own waterfall. The mountains bleed waterfalls.

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We took out time and enjoyed little unplanned stop-offs. We drove through a three km tunnel under the ocean and onto an island. We had Siri telling us the way (ok Garmin) as we entered each little town and crossroad. The immensity of this little island just can’t be understood until you are actually exploring her byways.

We arrived at camp pretty late and settled in. The rain had finally let up and we saw blue sky. We had one of those fire logs and lit it and pretended we were having a fire. Then off to bed.

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Day Two Iceland: Doing Things the Old Fashion Way

Eight am… two am… I tell my brain it’s eight, my body and brain argue with me for half the day then finally my stomach settles and my brain clears itself of the jet lag fog.


Chris and I desire to head to two tourist spots today. This is totally out of sorts for us. We visited a place that two continental plates come together. Iceland experiences 100 tremors a day… maybe that’s why I feel sea sick? This was the place of the first parliament in 930 AD. There was a cool waterfall and a huge lake. If the wind and rain weren’t so bad we might have been able to see the immensity of this lake.


We took our time on back roads to avoid the huge tourist buses. Off to Gullfoss and the most visited waterfall in Iceland. It is an experience that slowly unfolds itself. Now me, I love geology and the history of the earth. It amazes me that a glacier can melt into a river… that river carves away through the earth to expose, on this island, thousands of years of geological evolution. Unlike home where we have ancient bones, this island is relatively new in geological terms… and still evolving.

Here-in lies the fun part of the day. Twenty five years ago, Chris and I took off and drove 27,000 miles, covering 22 states all using old fashion maps. Today we can use Google Maps, the Internet and Garmin to get where we need to go. That’s all good… IF you know where you are going. On this island, you can’t pronounce a single towns name. We have bought three maps and books because we were not able to rent a mobile wifi for our camper van. We are totally disconnected in a day and age were we “google” everything. We have to read about the island and try to find the points that go un-touristy. We do have a Garmin. She, however, always seems to give us the choice of two routes. Hello… if you don’t know where you’re going… how can you decide?