Wednesday 4 January 2017


We decided to spend Christmas in Baja Mexico this year and, given the snowy and cold weather in most of North America at the time, I have no regrets. Since I grew up in Thunder Bay, I normally crave snow to feel Christmas-y. However, there's something to be said for waking up on a beach Christmas morning...

The whole trip was just under 4000 km and a whole tonne of hours in the van. Thankfully we had zero problems, either with the van or any of the military and police check-points. And that was even with knowing essentially no Spanish!
Our friend Kyle gave us a piñata bull, named Larry, right before we left and the guys at the military check points got a kick out of every single time. We're not sure if piñatas are just really popular in Mexico or if they were laughing at our painfully obvious gringo-ness in having one--but either way I was glad it put them in a good mood. The only downside was that Larry had an unfortunate cavity search by one soldier (if you know where you put the candy into a piñata, you know what I mean).

We started from Mexicali and after the quiet, laid-back environment of Calexico on the US side, it was a rude awakening. It was pretty chaotic and not the nicest way to figure out how driving is done in Mexico. Turns out you only stop at stop signs if you absolutely have to...otherwise it's just a suggestion. The kind of great thing about that is everyone goes slow and watches closely as they go through, instead of assuming they can barrel through if it's 'their' turn.
There is a pretty sad shanty town on the outskirts of Mexicali. Tiny homes are trendy in North America, and probably palaces for these Mexicans. They live in tiny shacks all crammed together. I won't get started as to my opinions on immigration.

We had just gotten out of Mexicali when I big sand storm kicked up, which made for some difficult driving:

The landscape is pretty fantastic though and most of Baja is very rural/deserted. The eastern route is particularly uninhabited, with long stretches of desert, mountains, and the occasional seaside views. Our first campsite was at a volcanic beach. We were the only ones there, except for a nighttime visit from either a coyote or mountain lion. The night sky was unreal.

volcanic beach goodness

bird skull on the volcanic beach

so many stars!!!!!

The next day was a bit of a long one, since 30km of the highway is under construction and we had to drive down the rough, rocky, washboard dirt roads that run parallel to it. It took about 2 hours to get through all that. In general there are the occasional tiny villages, and some larger towns where you could get gas and some food. However there really isn't very much at all until you make it to the Loreto area, which is over half way down the peninsula.

Pretty Loreto street

My name is *so* trendy right now :P

We camped just off the highway in the desert on the second night. There were lots of cow hoof prints in the sand. Cows aren't fenced in, so they graze all over Baja.
One of my favourite things about Baja is the dogs--there are so very many, none on leashes and all are quite road-savvy. Most travel in pairs, like doggie-best friends hanging out, and they occasionally get together in groups of 4. Also, when they are having their mid-day siesta on the street they look so unbelievably relaxed. It's awesome.

For our third night we camped at a free beach in the Bahia de Concepcion area. This whole area is simply beautiful. We were nestled in a little treed jungly area right next to the beach.

camp spot #2

camp spot #2 beach

beach where I went for a mid-afternoon swim 

There were an incredible amount of hummingbirds at this camp site. One even came into the back of the van to see if Larry the piñata was a flower.

After another long day of driving we finally made it to southern Baja and La Paz. La Paz is quite a big city with a beautiful water front area. We camped out at a beach about 45 minutes north of there, called Tecolote.

Puffer Fish


The next day we drove down to Los Barriles, where our friends Ute and Vicki were vacationing. It's a nice quiet town.

Los Barriles

Los Barriles traffic jam

We drove down to San Jose and Cabo, then to La Ventana and Todos Santos. Todos Santos was my favourite. It's a lovely historical town with beautiful buildings, streets made with bricks, and lush greenery. It's also a surfing destination and turtle nesting area.

We spent Christmas Eve and morning on a quiet beach along the east coast. It was so great to wake up and have a swim in the ocean. Luke and I don't really bother with gifts on gift-giving occasions but a fellow came by with hand woven wool blankets and another fellow came by with a hand carved owl made of iron wood--so those were our XMas gifts. Baja in general didn't have any of the in-your-face commercialism of XMas, which was *so nice*. It was even better to have our XMas shopping come to us on the beach ;)

XMas morning beach

Here are some more shots of sunsets and cacti and beaches and loveliness.

Boojah tree

We travelled up the northwestern part of the highway on our way back to the US, partly just to see it, partly to avoid that 30km of construction on the east side. That part is the agricultural area of Baja, so there were many more towns, many many more people, and so much garbage everywhere. The 50km of that ended up being slower than the construction on the other side.
Ensenada seemed quite nice, but by that time we were keen to get across the border and didn't want to stop and look around. There's a nice vineyard area north of Ensenada as well, but that was the only nice part of going that route.

We crossed at Tecate, recommended above Tijuana, but since it was boxing day evening the border wait was two hours. By the time we got across we had a 14 hour day driving in the van.

I'm glad we got to see Baja when we did, and that we got to see so much of it. Apparently there are big plans to get lots of expats to buy up lots of land (there are so many expats in the south to begin with), all done by American and Canadian investors. It's going to be a very different place if it is packed with people. The entire peninsula is a desert and they don't have enough water as it is. So every area they want to further develop is banking on desalination plants, which doesn't seem like the wisest plan to me. They will also need to ramp up their infrastructure in a big way, so it will be a big undertaking. In a lot of places garbage is just dumped in the desert. At the moment garbage from Loreto gets trucked to Tijuana, over 1000km away. I can't blame them for wanting a better life by trying to ramp up their economy, but the poorest rarely benefit from such things and it'll be sad if such wonderful nature gets ruined in the process.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Paradise, Montana

I managed to take no photos of our time in northern Montana. I still haven't gotten into the habit of thinking 'oh, I should take a photo of that'. The good news is I'm generally enjoying the view so much that I don't think about taking photos because I'm too busy enjoying. But I'll keep trying to grow a better photog mind.

Missoula is noticeably larger than the other Montana towns we've visited. It still has a small town feel, for the most part, with lots of biking lanes and paths. It was a bit rainy, so we checked out some thrift stores, a used sporting goods store, and a yarn store (the first of the trip--I think that's pretty disciplined of me!). I now have yarn to make Luke's first part of knitted socks!

There are mountains on all sides of Missoula and the next day we decided to go to Blue Mountain to ride our bikes. It was generally really fun--big pine trees, sweet smelling sage bushes and flowy trails. The biggest thing of note was that Luke met a young deer who sneezed and sneezed and sneezed (it is quite dusty with the fine dirt there), and looked stunned for a moment before bounding off. I also met a deer, but it just looked at me, all cute like.

The next day we drove up the Flathead Valley, to Kalispell and Whitefish. I CAN'T BELIEVE HOW AMAZING IT IS THERE. It makes my heart swell.
So, there are mountains everywhere. Also, crystal clear, pristine lakes. So you can go for a bike ride in the mountains, and then hop over to the nearest lake and have a swim. This is my absolute favourite thing of all time. The hardest thing is picking which mountain and which lake.

We stayed at a free campground at Abbot Bay--and had a morning swim, of course. What was there on the side of the road on the way there? Why, spring water of course! We still had lots from the other day, so we didn't stop.
Then we went over to the Whitefish Trails. There was a sign letting people know that a grizzly had been sighted in the area that month. After our ride we met a local guy on his bike who lives just on the other side of the mountain. He hadn't seen the grizzly, but his neighbour had. We didn't have any troubles. With bears at least.
The green uptrack trail was doable for me, but other than that the trails were too hard for me. But I'm happy to push my bike through the too-tough parts of the blue trail if I get to be in woods like that. Even Luke found the trails tough.

That night we camped at the free sites on Ashley Lake. Since it was the weekend, it was very busy there. Luckily, since we have our self-contained van, we could take a spot that was vacant because didn't have a good spot for a tent.

We also checked out Whitefish. It's quite touristy-hippie-hipster-y, but that's not surprising since it's just outside the National Forest. The 100th anniversary of the parks had just happened, and I felt pretty tempted to check out Glacier...but then Luke pointed out that every National Forest we've been to has always been packed, and truthfully the area outside the park was fantastic enough.

Our next ride was at the Herron Overlook Loops. We went to the trailhead to check out the map and there was another rider there. We got to talking and it turns out he's a fellow Canadian from Alberta. He just moved to Kalispell for work and was loving the area for the same reasons we do. So we did the ride together and got to know each other better, and now we have a friend in Kalispell :)  That might come in helpful when I become a cowgirl and move there.
And of course there was a swim, this time in Foy's Lake!

We went to Flathead Lake, which is one of the cleanest lakes of its size in the world. It's quite big and quite flat, and a lot of the surrounding land is native american reservations. Luke worked on his bike in the Bear Dance trailhead parking lot, while an eagle perched in its nest looked on. It took longer than expected and we ran out of daylight. So we returned the next day to do the ride.

I found the Bear Dance Trails to be challenging, mostly because there were lots of steep areas. There were lots of white pine cones, which are much softer than regular cones. At this time of year they break apart effortlessly and the pieces look like rose petals. I tried eating one of the little nuts from inside, because I had read that it was a staple of the native americans and bears in the area. It was *so bitter*. So either I remembered what I read incorrectly, or they have a tougher palate than I do.
Lucky for me, there's another mountain water spring at the base of the trails so I had delicious spring water to wash that down.
Luke and I were doing different trails, but he took a wrong turn so I ran into him as he was backtracking. As soon as he kept going I noticed that he had dropped his bear spray, but he disappeared instantly and didn't hear me when I yelled after him. So I put it in my pack and hoped he wouldn't need it. Then I met a couple with their two dogs, and they had been on the trails the night before and ran into a couple of bears. After he returned from his ride he was happy to be reunited with his spray (which, it turns out, is made in Kalispell!) and told me that he did see a bear...but it had heard him coming and was already taking off in the other direction.
[FYI bear spray is the best defence against bears, much more so than a gun. We don't worry about it too much, but a mountain biker had been killed when he surprised a grizzly in Glacier earlier this summer. So I'm glad Luke didn't have any problems]
Then, a swim in Foy's Lake. YAY!

I love Montana.

Oh Montana

Our first Montana stop was Bozeman, one of our first destinations from when we first started traveling. It's still as vibrant and beautiful as it was a couple of years ago.
Luke had ordered a new hydration pack from REI so we went to pick that up, drove around to see what's new, and stayed at the (free) Battle Ridge campground again. They've had to cut down a few trees but it was still great--especially when a couple of owls hung out in the neighbouring tree and hooted back and forth as we were going to sleep.

The next day we biked the Emerald Lake Trail in the Hyalite Canyon. There were quite a few people on the trail, hiking, running and biking. It's such a beautiful area!

That night we stayed in the Walmart parking lot. It had a nice view:

However, it was much more active during the night than I had hoped. This included a guy doing unbelievably shitty rap to music that had a repetitive high-pitched ding. All. Night. Long. This annoyed other people besides me, but whenever someone would yell at him to be quiet it would just encourage him to be louder and use more swears. Awesome.

The next day we learned that a large part of the Yellowstone River (not the part of the river in Yellowstone Park though) was completely closed to any use at all. A parasite was killing large amounts of trout and the river was closed until they had it under control. How awful.
I also learned about a local area called Beaver Chew. Back when Lewis and Clark were doing their famous voyage through the area, Lewis had left a message for Clark on one of the trees at the fork of the river to tell him which way to go. Then a beaver chewed the tree down before Clark could get the message. So Clark went the wrong way and almost died. Lesson learned: don't leave messages for your friends on trees.

We went to Leverage Canyon, which is also a popular trail destination with lots of bikers. It's a bit of a climb, but there's some great views at the top. Then we left for Helena.

Helena has the biggest city park in the US, with quite a number of we went for a fun bike ride! We then walked around the downtown for a bit to see what's changed since the last time we were there too. There were a few more stores for rent than I remembered, but it's still very lovely.

We grabbed some groceries and as I was walking through the parking lot I noticed a large yellow truck running with no one inside (that seems to be a thing there. how hard is it to turn your vehicle off?). It was also parked diagonally across two parking spots, parked illegally in (two) handicap spots, and had "TRUMP Make America Great Again" plastered all across the back of it. I think their idea of 'great' and my idea of 'great' must be very very different.

The next day we went to Grizzly Gulch, another fun trail area, for a bike ride. There were a few old limestone ovens used to make mortar for brick and stone buildings in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Luke very nicely found us a place for a swim, and there was a bonus very friendly dog who came over to hang out with us as we swam.
We decided to move on to Missoula and got to do the gorgeous drive through the Helena National Forest.

Much to my absolute delight, there was a mountain spring water fountain along the road!!! We filled up our water containers and I drank as much water as I could to maximize the spring water experience. The water tasted soooo amazing.

Luke filling our water container

There was a fellow also getting water, so we chatted with him a little bit. He was quite soft spoken, but unbelievably nice. He was making lemonade--the bag of squeezed lemons was right there, so it was as fresh as it gets--and he kindly offered us some. It was also so delicious. I'm smiling hard just thinking about it.

What we've seen of Montana makes a lot of sense to me. People seem to care about community and the quality of their society. There are co-ops and thriving arts scenes. And they make mountain water springs just because they can.

Our next blog stop will be Missoula and then the Flathead Valley/Glacier National Park area, my new favourite place!

Friday 26 August 2016

The Black Hills SD

I had very low expectations of South Dakota and Mt.Rushmore in particular. Usually if it's a well known tourist destination, I don't enjoy it. So I was pleased as punch to learn how wonderful the Black Hills National Forest is!

We didn't actually stop to see Mt.Rushmore, but we saw it a bunch of times regardless. We drove the Iron Mountain Highway (the 16A), which had a number of one-lane tunnels with a view:

Can you see the teeny tiny faces of some presidents?

There was a fun stretch of road that had a pigtail bridge, which is a spiral road built in 1932. It was a bit hard to photograph, but it was entertaining to drive!

I also took a photo of this bit of road, which Luke called 'car singletrack'.

I actually did take a couple of photos of Mt.Rushmore, from afar.

As we first started driving up the Iron Mountain Road, a crazy bunch of tractors came driving down. There were probably about 50 of them. It was pretty adorable.

It was another hot day, but Luke found me a lake to swim in! It was Horse Thief Lake and it was perfect. It has lots of easy ways to access the water for swimming and it also has cliff diving. I haven't cliff dived before, and starting with a 25 ft jump didn't seem like the way to start, so I didn't partake. Maybe next time!

The cliff diving rock

My safe dock jump

We also camped at a free campground just down the road from the lake--it's at a popular rock climbing area called Wrinkled Rock.

There was a thunder storm over night which cooled the temperatures off a bit for the next day. We still had a morning swim (couldn't resist another dip at Horse Thief Lake!) and went for a bike ride on Storm Mountain. It was a super fun ride and everything smells of can't beat that.

We climbed back in the van and headed to Montana.

Tuesday 23 August 2016

Going out west trip #3

It took us about three days of driving all day after leaving London ON to get to our first destination--the Black Hills of South Dakota.
It was soooo hot. Luke and I don't like using air conditioning, so we relied on having the van fan blowing air on us to keep us going. It actually was comfortable enough, as long as we weren't doing anything beyond sitting as we drove. After the three days, I was pretty dehydrated and it took almost a week for me to feel mostly normal again. Blech.

There weren't many highlights on the drive, since we didn't stop much. However we did stop in Sparta Wisconsin, which calls itself the bicycling capital of America. It's in the centre of 101 miles of state trails (penny farthing not required)

We also stopped at the Spam Museum in Austin Minnesota. I've never seen Luke so enthusiastic about a museum before. Unfortunately it was closed when we got there, so we had to make due with peering through the windows and taking this photo op:

Our last notable stop was in Wall South Dakota, to see the kitschy tourist trap drug store, It was full of 'wild west' buildings and souvenirs galore. It made Luke's skin crawl, so we only really had a chance to take a photo of their cheesy T Rex before we split.

my T Rex impression

We also made a stop for some groceries for lunch in some super small town, at what looked to be a grocery store but was actually more like a dollar store. They had five aisles of 'grocery' items, that were 80% junk food. We did find sliced bread though and, thanks to the fantastic tomatoes from my dad's garden, we had a decent lunch. I did however luck out and bought Luke this bonus item.

That brought us to our first official destination--Rapid City, SD.

Monday 22 August 2016

I love Vermont

After another day in East Burke and the Kingdom Trails, Luke and I drove to Montpelier, Vermont's capital. It's a small town, but sooooo pretty and lovely. It has a beautiful downtown, with lots of public art and cast iron bridges going across the river that winds through it. Luke has lots of photos of it on his blog []. Check it out.

We stayed just outside of Montpelier, in a little town called Barre. They have a trail area, called Millstone, where one of the trails has a bunch of really nice carvings in the rock.

And here's the view at the end:

There are several old quarries in the area, that are all filled with water now. And you can swim in them! Here's the one I swam in:

I've never swam anywhere that obviously deep. There was a little ledge and then it dropped down about 100 ft...and you could see all the way down. Awesome.
Here are some other quarries too:

We also rode at Perry Hill, an area recommended by a trail builder Luke ran into a parking lot. Lots of climbing to get up there, but the super fun payoff makes it so worth it!

That weekend we drove to Montreal, to visit Luke's brother and his family. The wait at the border to get into Quebec was brutal--it's really not big enough for the people wanting to pass through it. But we had a wonderful visit!

We had a day off before we were due to be in we turned around and went back to Vermont for the day. That's how much we love it there. The border was still awful, even on a mid-morning on Monday. We stopped in Burlington because you can't not stop there.
Then we went on to Wains, to the Camel Hump State Park. We were in the clouds all day, so there was a nice drizzle/mist the whole time keeping us cool.

The next day we drove to Ottawa to see my brother and his family. We learned our lesson and opted not to cross at the Quebec border but drove over to Cornwall to cross instead. We had a great visit with them as well, and went to the Museum of Nature to see the ultimate dinosaur exhibit (yay!).

After Ottawa we stopped in the Belleville area to meet up with our friend's dad for a visit. He took us to Goodrich Loomis for some riding and then we had a great lunch, with great conversation, in Trenton. After lunch we stopped by the fantastic bike shop of the area, Bloomfield Cycle, to pick up some new grips for my bike (I feel like I'm always buying new grips).

We also stopped in Cobourg to go to the beach. I had no idea their beach was so good! It was a super hot day though, so even in the water I was toooooo hot. I stayed and played in the waves as long as I could though :)
Then we headed back to London for a week to visit and regroup for....our trip back out west!