All posts by John Froelich

Off to Anchorage, Alaska

First of all, Sarah Palin, you are a liar. I never got to see Russia from where we were staying, which was quite the disappointment as I’ve heard Putin’s winter coat should just be coming in. But, the scenery more than makes up for it in Alaska.

Alaska train

Driving between the major cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks, takes about six or seven hours. Being battle-hardened road trippers, Mandy and I had no problems here, and the mid-point between the two cities is Denali National Park, which is just pants-on-head, stupid beautiful. If we had any hard feelings about leaving Fairbanks, it was only because the farm we were staying at was so nice. The rest of the trip was pretty okay, but I didn’t feel like we were really mourning our leaving of the city as much as our dwelling.

If you’ve spent time anywhere else in Alaska, your first impression of Anchorage is that it’s much more of a city than most other places.

In fact, Anchorage is the most populated city in Alaska, at ~292,000 people. The second biggest is Fairbanks, at ~31,535. The difference in population of the most populated to second most populated is around 257,000 people. As you can expect, there is a lot more to do in Anchorage. We tried to hit as much as we could in our week there. I think we did alright.

On our first day in Anchorage, we did some sightseeing in downtown where Mandy managed to make it to almost all (two out of three, ain’t bad) of the yarn shops and we took a humbling, interactive hike that detailed the sort of destruction a 9.0+ earthquake wrought upon the city in ’64.  I also slipped down a muddy hill, thoroughly ruining everything I was wearing for the day. All in all, 10/10, would embarrass myself in front of locals again.

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An authentic Alaskan mushroom, found near the trail

Our second day was spent on an eleven hour boat tour of Kenai Fjords in Seward, Alaska. Much like the Denali trip, we’ll give this section its own post, but glaciers, whales, puffins, and sealife abound.

Kenai Fjord Tour
A glimpse of the changing views seen during the Kenai Fjord Tour

The rest of our trip consisted of a lot of hiking, sightseeing, and coffee drinking. Anchorage actually has more espresso stands, per capita, than anywhere else in the US.

Flattop Mountain Trail (Information)

Panorama view from Flattop Mountain

We hiked Flattop Mountain, which had advertised itself as an easy hike.

This is false advertising.

John during the Flattop Trail hike
Uh oh…

The hike was an extreme uphill stair climb against gravity, and when you got past the steps, you were rock climbing the west of the way to the top. Combined with mossy, loose rocks and slippery mud, it made for a harrowing climb. But in the end, as always, we conquered the mountain and were in for a hell of a view at the top. You could see most of Anchorage and the Seward peninsula leading out into the ocean, as well as a fantastic backdrop of mountains. The climb down was actually a lot easier, as you could crab-walk most of the way.

Mandy and John on Flattop Mountain
Mandy and John on Flattop Mountain

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (Information)

This was an easy, paved trail with nice views and perfect for biking as well.

Mountain views in Anchorage
From the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Eagle River Nature Center (Information)

About 40 minutes out of Anchorage, this trail system felt a lot more removed from the city than the other trails. There are salmon and beaver viewing decks, along with meandering, shady trails. The Rodak Nature Loop is nice and easy, probably taking no more than 30 minutes to go around if you stop for a bit at the viewing decks. The Dew Mound trail comes off of the Rodak Nature Loop, it’s an easy but not boring hike. We swear we heard a wolf howling a few times while we hiked!

Taking a break from nature, we walked the Anchorage Museum and saw tons of native Alaskan art and tools. We watched a talked-up movie about the aurora that was of horrendous quality, with seats out of a medieval torture manual – seriously, don’t pay for this unless you can get in the viewing room first.

By the end of the trip, we had put 2000 miles on our rental car, but there is still so much more out there waiting to be seen. A monumental state with monumental qualities, Alaska is not a state to be experienced in a matter of weeks. Regardless of the time you have, anybody that considers themselves a fan of nature should pack a bag and head off to Alaska.

 

Crater Lake and the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

So, if you can’t tell from our last posts, Oregon is super pretty.

Mountain view
View off of Highway 230 (Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway)

Like, super-duper pretty.

View point off of Highway 230 (Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway)
View point off of Highway 230 (Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway)

The last time that Mandy and I were on the Pacific Coast, we had really wanted to check out Crater Lake but because of the season, most of the roads were closed down and covered in snow. We decided to hang a little closer to where we were staying, which at that point was San Fransisco, and do some sight-seeing there.

Continue reading Crater Lake and the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway

Day 1 in Portland : 21,622 steps.

Mandy and I are suckers for mountain cities. Portland delivers in a spectacular way. We spent the early morning grabbing some local coffee at Black Rock Coffee and watching the sunrise at the top of Rocky Butte Park.

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Rocky Butte is an extinct volcanic cinder cone and a fantastic place in Portland to watch the sunrise. The view of Mt. Hood from the top is absolutely extraordinary and seeing the city unfold below you is an awesome experience.

After Rocky Butte, we naturally decided to check out downtown Portland and see everything that we could while we had the time.

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Cherry blossoms everywhere!

Continue reading Day 1 in Portland : 21,622 steps.

Next Stop : Portland, OR

For the past few years, I’ve been hearing a familiar adage about Portland, OR. Specifically, the idea that it’s where young people go to retire.

Call me a millennial, but I love the sound of that.aplaca

Mandy and I fell in love with the West Coast of the US during our trip to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. We had made plenty of trips up the East, through Savannah, Myrtle Beach, The Outer Banks, Pittsburgh, but we had never gone west. It was on a whim that we decided that it would be fun to going to go camping at the Grand Canyon, so we did. We filled up the trusty Yaris with supplies and set off on a 36 car trip through the US. Like any trip to a new place, it was mesmerizing. After living on the East for almost our entire lives, we began realizing there was a whole lot of the country that we had never seen before. Roads to be driven, sights to be seen, little diners to eat at. It was incredible. Without any real pre-planning, the trip went off without a hitch. Since then, like a couple of addicts, we’ve been reaching for a road trip to hit that same sort of spot. We honeymooned in California, even went back a second time for some sight-seeing, but seeing as California takes up most of the Western coast of the States, we’ve been trying to think of other fun places to visit or potentially move to.

After taking some online surveys (I know, don’t judge), Eugene, OR kept coming up as a place that fit us politically, put-a-bird-on-it-bluefinancially, etc. Before that, we had always heard that same adage above, that it’s a college-y town with a hippie vibe and a cultural renaissance, so we thought to ourselves, why not take a trip? So we did.

Well, are going to. We’ve never been to Oregon, except for like, an hour on a road trip through California, but our next trip is going to take us through Oregon, with a side trip into Seattle, and then back to Oregon again. We’re gonna’ be sort of winging it, with a minimal amount of pre-planning and kind of throwing ourselves to the wind with the rest.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll end up retiring there.

How to keep occupied during a road trip

When Mandy and I go on our trips, we usually spend several hours taking apart our house to look for things to keep our attention when we’re not driving. You should keep in mind that on a twenty-hour road trip, chances are that the things you’ve brought to stave off boredom may just as well start boring you again when you’re doing it for ten hours straight.

Much like raising kids (or from what I’ve seen of them being raised), keeping occupied during a road trip is mostly about the art of distraction. Especially during that boring stretch of I-10.

Just kidding.

That’s all of I-10.  All of I-10 is boring. There, I said it.

Anyways, the art of distraction plays an important role in any road trip. You’ll want to bring enough supplies to split your attention between them for a while, but not enough to where your trip is going to be overly-cumbersome.

Continue reading How to keep occupied during a road trip

Off to Steinhatchee, FL!

Steinhatchee, Florida. A three hour trip north of Orlando, just south of Gainesville and right on the Gulf Coast. According to Wikipedia, the 2010 population was taken at 1,047 people.

I can’t imagine it’s changed too much since then.

Apparently known for its local seafood, specifically the scallops, Steinhatchee seems like one of those small towns that’s built up around a rental market. During the spring, summer, and fall, I imagine it’s a booming place with people from all around the U.S, coming in to roost for a week near the coast. If you’re patient, however, and can wait until the winter, that’s  when the real deals roll around.

Because the winter in Florida is typically in the seventies, Mandy and I decided to take a small road trip out to Steinhatchee Landing Resorts to take advantage of some  of the off-season deals they have. We knew right when we talked into our cabin that we had made the right decision.

Our cabin in Steinhatchee

A photo posted by Mandy Bee (@mandybee) on

Mandy and I are both suckers for fireplaces, and this cabin had one of the nicest I’ve seen. The fireplace actually extended from the main room into the bathroom so it sat above the bathtub. You could sit in a gigantic hot tub with a fire going in front of you. Awesome. It had a full functioning kitchen with a stove, so in lieu of going out every night (there weren’t a whole lot of restaurants to choose from), we cooked in, played board games, and read a bunch.

Fancy fireplace at Steinhatchee Landing Resort

A photo posted by Mandy Bee (@mandybee) on

Totally nerding out with some pre-packaged DnD A photo posted by Mandy Bee (@mandybee) on

Delicious curry on black rice with swai fish made by john in a small kitchen A photo posted by Mandy Bee (@mandybee) on

In the mornings, weather permitting, we would walk around outside and take in the sights and sounds of the resort area and Steinhatchee proper.

This place is adorable A photo posted by Mandy Bee (@mandybee) on

A photo posted by Mandy Bee (@mandybee) on

A photo posted by Mandy Bee (@mandybee) on

A photo posted by Mandy Bee (@mandybee) on

It’s a small town, but one you could easily get lost in if you didn’t know where you were going. We didn’t see any real grocery stores or chain restaurants with the exception of one dockside Hungry Howies (wat), but the coast always holds its own mystique that pays for itself by just being near it. Birds every morning, the smell of the ocean everywhere, and just being a little bit far from home, even just three hours, is a nice vacation.

Safe and Sound in Wimberley

Despite what it may have seemed like in the last post, after leaving New Mexico, the trip was totally straight-forward and fine. We made awesome time, and made it into Wimberley, TX in time to see some an awesome sunset.

Awesome hues of blue into deep red and pink greeted us as we crested over the hills into Wimberley. We made it to Casa DeBonilla and grabbed an awesome Christmas Eve dinner.

Then quickly hit the sack.

Christmas day came around when we woke up, where we spent the morning opening presents with Jim and Debbie, and then we al enjoyed an impromptu jam session on our guitars.

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PRESENTS!

 

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Super comfy pajamas, courtesy of Jim and Debbie. Seriously, folks – they’re the best.

 

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Mandy and Jim starting out our jam sesh.

 

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Impromptu jam session, doing some Beatles on Christmas morning with Jim, Mandy, and John.

 

We spent all of Christmas day watching Christmas movies and playing the guitar, and it was totally awesome. We slept late into the next morning, and a little before lunch time, we went out to Wimberley and did some walking around and city sight-seeing.

 

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Some deer hanging out right outside the door of Casa deBonilla.

 

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Jim and Debbie at Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, TX.

 

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Goofing around at Jacob’s Well.

After doing some shopping in the town, we went out to Twisted X, a local brewery with some kick ass beers.

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Mandy sampling the Twisted X beers – they were awesome.

They had a really cool tree on the site too, with the pictures from their bottles carved into the wood.

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After some beers, we decided to grab dinner at one of the best restaurants we’ve been to in recent memory, Jack Allen’s in Dripping Springs, TX.

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Pork-belly BLT sliders. So good. So, so good,
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Braised lamb tacos with cilantro, marinated red onions, and cheese.
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Chicken-fried ribs with bacon-mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies, Absolutely incredible.

 

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Yule-log desert – A vanilla sponge cake thing wrapped in chocolate with cherries and a local vanilla ice cream.

If you ever find yourself in Dripping Springs, do yourself a favor and check out this restaurant. Now, we’ve returned to the house to spend the rest of the night in a food coma.

Stuck in a Winter Wonderland…

As I write this, Mandy and I are stuck in a massive blizzard on the side of the road in New Mexico with snow up to our tires. So what better thing to do than write a blog post?

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Aw, crap.

I’m not sure if a flash-blizzard exists but that would be the best way to describe what we’re currently sitting in. Our visibility has shrank to mere feet in front of us and sometimes hardly even that.

What I’m currently looking at is like something out of a story book. It’s the sort of storm that you imagine only being summoned by some evil entity; Gargamel of the North, maybe?

It’s the type of storm that comes on with malevolence and covers everything around it in cold and frost.

The sort of thing that you can’t help but feel powerless in front of.

The wind coming down from the mountain to our left is snow, ice and sleet. The windows have begun frosting over and ice is starting to form on the windshield.

Panic? What panic?

Snowwww.
Adios, Colorado. Hola, New Mexico.

The road that we were driving on, once covered in a patina of snow, has gradually filled up in peaks and valleys around us.

We’ve been walled in to our own car.

If you’ve never been trapped on the side of the road in a snow storm, trust me when I tell you that you really don’t want to.

You should know that we didn’t set out for this. The morning actually started really nicely, with a cup of coffee and a good pace being made out of Golden, Colorado after the roads had been plowed.

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Moar mountains.
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Colorado is such a beautiful state.

We made some good time out of CO, and shortly after crossing the border into NM, we ran into the bane of every road tripper.

The road block. Dun dun dun.

We’ve handled this sort of thing before.  Being the mighty road warriors we are, we had decided to find our own detour. We plugged a detour into the GPS, telling it to avoid the current road, and off we went, problem solved. We drove a bit out of the way onto Highway 72 which also heads east and found another road block. We were going to turn around and head way down south when we found this quaint little country road called Potato Mountain Rd that headed straight down to another part of US 64. Jackpot!

Unbeknownst to us, the initial road block was for an 84 mile span of US 64, not just a few miles as we had assumed. Once on US 64, it got a bit gusty. Then it was hard to see beyond 20 feet ahead. Soon, we couldn’t see but 5-10 feet in front of us. We made it to Des Moines, New Mexico, pulled off at a gas station, then decided cautiously that if we just kept driving 5-10 miles per hour, we’d be okay and could continue on. It was only wind and a little snow. Nothing awful. Yet.

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It’s just a little hazy. We’re fine, fine. No, really. It’s fine.

We got stuck in some deep-ish snow (it really didn’t look that bad) about 1 minute down the road from the gas station.

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Well, this is a disappointment.

Around thirty minutes after we had gotten stuck, even having gotten out to try and push the car, thoroughly soaking our shoes, we had resigned ourselves to sitting and waiting out the snow. At least we had a full tank of gas and heat to keep the snowstorm at bay. We settled in to wait for the snow plows, listening to a few podcasts, Mandy knitting, me writing.

More cars began coming up from behind us and some in the lane going opposite us. Some managed to make it through the drift that we got caught in, others would get feet in front of us, and then become lodged.

One SUV near us had tried plowing ahead in the opposite lane at breakneck speed, seemingly defying gravity and gliding across the over-snowed road. It came to rest in a snow bank that came up to their front fender, colliding with it in a loud thud. Steam began escaping the hood and the driver walked out of the car in anger.

The ones lucky enough to pass us merely got caught in a deeper snow drift five minutes down the road.

Eventually, some rescue crews made it onto the scene to begin the process of extricating any stuck motorists. Snow plows and tow trucks began making their way down the street, trying to create a safe path for cars. A valiant effort, considering Snow-Mageddon 2015 was taking place around them. According to one of them, the state had tried to shut down US 64 but the word didn’t get out fast enough, so they put up roadblocks on the major roads going instead.

Oops.

Road Trip Tip #2: Dial 511 if you don’t know what a road block is about before trying to find your own detour.

When a snow plow finally rolled up to us about an hour into sitting in the road, he signaled for us to roll our window down – no small feat in the middle of a blizzard. Against the wind, he told me that he had to go free another thirty cars at a gas station down the street from us, the resting spot for those that decided to test their luck beyond us.

He assured us that he would be back with friends to get us out once he dealt with the gas station. An hour later, he proved to be a man of his word. After a lot rocking back and forth and a good push from the plow driver, we were freed.

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The passenger side of the Fusion after being freed. We’d come out the next morning to discover the driver’s side door frozen. Just a little yank and it was fine, though.

“You’d best go up the road ahead of you.” He told us, pointing to a small side road a few yards in front of us, also covered in snow. “There’s a church there. You’ll probably need to hole up for the night.”

Thankful to just be out of the snow, I followed his instructions and found the church. Cars were lined up around the building and whatever could have been a parking lot was filled to the brim.

The inside of the church wasn’t much different than the parking lot. People were packed at tables and on the floor, trying to find a spot to keep for the night. If I had to guess, there were about 70 people inside.

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The church before it was filled up. The wind was howling outside for the next eight hours.

“Sleeping bags are on the floor to the right.” One of the road workers said, leaving the church after a break. “You should grab one before they run out.”

We didn’t, thinking we would only be there for 4-5 hours. It was only 4:30 pm. Plus, we had our own sleeping bags in the car.

We found our own pew next to a dog named Bunny. We chatted up Bunny’s owner, a 20-something heading home for Christmas. She had rescued another stranded driver that was headed to Colorado Springs. Everyone there sounded like they only had another 3-5 hours. We still had 11 hours to go ahead of us on our journey to Wimberley.

We tried to keep ourselves occupied. I read, Mandy again began knitting. She switched between knitting, reading, and looking around, unable to focus, waiting to hear whether or not we’d at least be able to fit in another few hours of driving in for the day.

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After we found a spot for ourselves. Much like the man in jeans in front of us, we wound up sleeping on these pews overnight.

Around 6:30 pm, one of the highway emergency workers came in and let everyone know that it didn’t look like they were going to open the roads tonight. The wind was still wailing outside and it was not safe to drive.

So we had to spend the entire night there. Luckily, we had tons of almonds and some mead-filled chocolates in the car. It was a comfortable temperature, so we didn’t bring in the sleeping bags.

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Some of the cars streaming out of the parking lot and into the road.

Pews do not a comfortable bed make. They’re just slightly more narrow than the width of a typical human body if you try to lay on them. If you sleep on your side, your arm goes numb because wood does not give.

It also became bone-achingly cold in the middle of the night. But the only thing we could do about that was go out into the 14° weather to the car to fetch the sleeping bags, so we dealt with the cold.

The night was mostly sleepless. The church creaked horribly when anyone walked to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Until about 10pm, there was a cacophony of sound, from movies to video games, to people talking amongst themselves.

Later into the night, all you could hear was snoring. I never gave much thought to how each person’s snore could be like a signature. It was like we were in a swamp, listening to an orchestra of frogs.

By 3:30am, we could not sleep to pass the time any longer. Mandy dialed 511 — a number she had noticed on signs that we had passed on the highways for travel information. They hadn’t updated the information since 10pm last night.

By 4am, we decided to grab our things and just go sit in the car. The sound of snoring was a bit maddening and we really wanted to get on the road. With each passing hour, our arrival into Wimberley inched further into the night.

To our surprise, the road outside of the church looked pretty clear. The Fusion was icy but there was no snow packed around the tires.

We warmed up the car. It took about 20 minutes to get the windshield thawed.

And we were off.

There were only two small crossroads before we would be back onto US 64.  The first small road we could take to get to US 64 was covered in snow. We skipped that, flashbacks from yesterday’s two hour stint in the snow urging us to pass.

Driving straight, we got to the US 64 intersection. There was a tiny 1 foot snow bank that the snow plowers hadn’t quite cleared. We paused. A mini van came up behind us and whizzed on over the bank. Mandy thought maybe we could go over the same tire tracks. Maybe we could clear the snow with our shoes. We tried, it was packed. We decided to turn around. We weren’t feeling particularly brave anymore.

We drove around all of the side streets available to us for about 20 minutes before finding nothing as cleared as that one intersection. So we went back. I stared down that tiny snow bank, squinting at it angrily to let it know I meant business.

It blinked.

I revved my engine, hoping the Fusion could handle what was to come, fearing a repeat of yesterday.

I hit the gas. Mandy cringed.

We flew over that tiny snow bank like the Dukes of Hazard. Not really.

But we made it.

Sunrise and Snow Hikes

On Saturday morning, we decided to get up early and make it to the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Golden, CO to catch the sunrise.

Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater

One of the first early morning shots we took.

Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
The sun is beginning to reflect into the clouds. The colors just cascaded across the sky.
Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
You can barely see the sun starting to crest the horizon.
Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
Closer, still.
Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
A shot of the amphitheater at sunrise. There were only a few people there with us.
Sunrise at Red Rock Ampitheater
The sun finally crossing the horizon. You could slowly see the dotted lights of Denver fading out as the sun hits them.
Mandy at Sunrise
A shot of Mandy in the early morning sun.

After we had our fill of the sunrise, we decided to head out to a small town not too far down from Red Rocks called Evergreen and do a hike up to Maxwell Falls. A very uphill hike in the fresh snow, that left Mandy and I feeling like we had run a marathon.

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Pines and snow were basically all you saw on your way up the falls.
Wee! Downhill!
Mandy posing a picture on the downhill.
A Selfie at Maxwell Falls
Us, somewhere near the top of the falls.

Total Steps: 22,000+