let your thoughts wander

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Young couple standing in front of a bronze statue of a man holding a pickax in front of cloudy skies.

Wishing for Everest

The first of our two “rest” days of the trek, this day left us wishing for Everest. We woke up to mostly clear skies and decided to venture out for a bit to see if we could find a place to view Everest. Unfortunately, the farther we got, the cloudier the skies became, and we decided to turn back.

Having spent a fair amount of time in mountainous areas, we have come to know that later in the day, the the mountains are more likely to be shrouded in clouds. The Himalayas are no exception to that rule.

Once everyone was awake and had eaten breakfast, it was time to embark on our acclimatization hike up to the Sherpa Culture Museum. This was another location where it is possible to view Everest. However, the skies remained far too cloudy and we would have to wait for another day to have a chance to see the tallest mountain in the world.

After the short jaunt, Bill and ventured off to the market. I love being immersed in different cultures and seeing how day to day activities and popular local foods look. We also stopped in the bakery to enjoy some sweets and “free” WiFi, while watching the hustle and bustle happening outside along the “street”.

Black cow with horns carrying large duffle bags on its back walking down a trail with a line of cows following.

Phakding to Namche Bazaar

On our way to Namche Bazaar, we spent 6 hours and 40 minutes on the trail, crossed five suspension bridges over the Dudh Koshi, gained 2,723 feet, encountered one dzo jam, and finally arrived at our lovely guest house in Namche Bazaar.

After our less than ideal room in Phakding, our expectations were set very low for the tea houses we would encounter further out along the trail. Pleasantly surprised, the tea house in Namche Bazaar had a clean bathroom, beautiful views out the windows of our corner room, power to charge all of our electronics, and a hot shower – it’s like the Four Seasons of tea houses!

Another highlight of the day – being able to wash my hands with soap at the outdoor sink of the restaurant where we ate lunch.

View of airplane propeller engine with mountainous valleys below.

Cleared for takeoff

We departed our hotel at 9am. The day vibrated with positivity. My cough was gone (I had arrived in Kathmandu with a residual cough that I had before we left home.), there were blue skies, and the sun shone brightly in the sky. Back to the airport we went, with hopes of safely arriving at the most dangerous airport in the world within just a few hours.

Upon arrival at the airport, we were all thankful to see the “delayed due to weather” sign was nowhere in sight. This, in addition to our guide having informed us that the early morning flights had already departed for the day, had us optimistic that we too would be in the air that day.

We checked in, had our bags weighed, and were through security before 9:45am. Anxiously anticipating the call for “Tara Airlines Flight 133 to Lukla”, we waited. Ten thirty came and went, and we still waited. Around 11am we were finally boarding the shuttle to our plane. There we waited again.

Close to 11:10am we were told we may have to wait 30 minutes before we could board the plane. There was currently too much air traffic in the area. By noon we were taking off.

Once the signal was given, Bill bolted off the shuttle. He had been hoping to be in the very front seat so he could look out through the cockpit window. In his gentlemanly way, he did allow me to have the seat on the left side of the plane – Hari had told us to sit on the left side to see “the mountain”. Bill was like a kid in a candy store the whole flight.

The flight was beautiful. The Nepali countryside is awe inspiring. Going over the valleys literally had their ups and downs. As we’d just pass a ridge, the plane would drop a bit. One time, there were even a few not so helpful screams from toward the back of the plane.

As we approached the runway, my excitement began to build. I couldn’t believe we were finally doing it! I have to say, it was the most exhilarating flight I have been on to this day.

Upon landing in Lukla, it was off to baggage claim (a small chaotic room). After fetching our bags, we set them outside for the porters to pick up and went to lunch at The Nest. Much to our surprise, the portions were huge!

A quick payment of NPR 200 ($2 give or take) for WiFi to check in back home and let everyone know we had arrived safely, a bathroom break (my first experience with an “Asian style” toilet) – thank goodness for my pStyle – and we were on the trail. Off to Phakding for the evening.

Crowd of people standing in front of an airline kiosk with a green sign with Tara Air in white and a clipboard holding a white piece of paper with black letters reading "All Lukla flight delay due Lukla weather".

Lukla is closed

We arrived at the airport by 6:30am and were greeted by not so welcoming signs indicating “All Lukla flight delay due Lukla weather” and thus our 7:45am flight was delayed. Around 9:45am we were finally issued boarding passes and taken through security to the “gate area”. Excitement ensued. Several hours later, we were called for departure, bused out to the plane, watched our bags get loaded onto the plane, and eventually were told we could not fly out.

We went back to the gate area and waited some more. Our flight was called again for departure. This time we boarded the plane before receiving the news that “Lukla was closed”. The even more discouraging news was that the pilots were near their 10 hour limit for working that day. Which meant there was no chance of us departing.

Following much debate over seeking a helicopter vs booking a flight for the next day, we departed the airport around 3pm. After nearly 9 hours in the airport, we left with the hope that our 10:30am flight would put us in Lukla the following day.

Busy narrow street with shops lining both sides and people crowding around the sides of the cars.

Chaotic Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a city of chaotic streets full of vehicle and foot traffic, bustling shops, temples, and livestock. We were fully aware of this before we arrived, but the full effect of its atmosphere does not hit you until you are there, immersed in the chaos. Upon arriving at the airport, we were greeted by a man who hurriedly gathered us and our bags, and guided us to the vehicle waiting to take us to our hotel for the evening.

We had booked our entire trip through Imperial Nepal Treks and they took care of every detail for us – with the exception of a few of our meals, time spent during our free time, and the couple days at the tail end of our visit. We arrived at the hotel, were shown to our room, and informed that we would be meeting with Ram, the manager from Imperial Nepal who had arranged our entire trekking package. We had to make payment as we had decided to do so in person by credit card – the other option was a wire transfer ahead of time, but we preferred to be safe and use a credit card, while also earning points. We also had to be briefed on the details of the trek, and the schedule for the next few days.

During our meeting, we were informed that we would be paired with another couple, Steve and Louise – a father and daughter from northern England. This was somewhat disappointing as I had requested we be on our own with the guide, should we need extra time along the way. In hindsight, after the trek was over, I told Bill it might have been for the better that we were not alone as we may not have gotten along with each other very well. The trek was very exhausting, both mentally and physically, and we would very likely have gotten on each other’s nerves had we been spending the whole time with only one another to talk to most of the time.

As part of the trekking package, we were treated to a welcome dinner with a live Nepali Cultural program. I always enjoy local cultural programs – it’s interesting to see the different dances and learn about the stories behind them. The dinner was also an excellent ice breaker for getting to know Steve and Louise and our guide, Hari. After dinner it was time to head back to the hotel and prepare for our departure the following morning.

Mountain peaks in the distance, with village buildings in the foreground.

Mountain memories

It’s been one year since we reached Everest Base Camp, and I have decided to take this time to reminisce on our mountain memories and share our experience in a series of posts covering our daily experiences from the 12 day round trip trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp and back, as well as the days spent in Kathmandu preceding and following the trek. Below are the highlights with links to the full posts coming as each is published.

Chaotic Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a city of chaotic streets full of vehicle and foot traffic, bustling shops, temples, and livestock. We were fully aware of this before we arrived, but the full effect of its atmosphere does not hit you until you are there, immersed in the chaos.

Day 0: Lukla is closed

We arrived at the airport by 6:30am and were greeted by not so welcoming signs indicating “All Lukla flight delay due Lukla weather” and thus our 7:45am flight was delayed. Around 9:45am we were finally issued boarding passes and taken through security to the “gate area”. Excitement ensued. Several hours later, we were called for departure, bused out to the plane, watched our bags get loaded onto the plane, and eventually were told we could not fly out.

Day 1: Cleared for take off

We departed our hotel at 9am. The day vibrated with positivity. My cough was gone (I had arrived in Kathmandu with a residual cough that I had before we left home.), there were blue skies, and the sun shone brightly in the sky. Back to the airport we went, with hopes of safely arriving in Lukla within just a few hours.

Day 2: Phakding to Namche Bazaar

What a day! We crossed five suspension bridges over the Dudh Koshi, gained 2,723 feet, spent 6 hours and 40 minutes on the trail, encountered one dzo jam, and finally arrived at our lovely guest house in Namche Bazaar.

Day 3: Wishing for Everest

The first of our two “rest” days of the trek, this day left us wishing for Everest. We woke up to mostly clear skies and decided to venture out for a bit to see if we could find a place to view Everest. Unfortunately, the farther we got, the cloudier it got, and we decided to turn back.

Day 4: Namche to Deboche

Today was a tough one! Shortly after leaving Namche Bazaar we saw Everest for the first time! After a few more views of Everest, we were in for a long, tough trek. At one point today we gained 500 feet, then descended 1,000 feet, and finished with a 2,000 foot gain. All in 6 hours.

Day 5: Deboche to Dingboche

On this day we saw Everest, Nuptse, and Lhotse while standing out in front of the tea house. Everest was stunning from that angle. Ama Dablam made a brief appearance as well. As for the day’s 4.5 hour trek, it started out decent, but as the day went on, the air started getting rough on the lungs. Even the flat sections of trail proved to be difficult for breathing.

Day 6: Rest day in Dingboche

Today was an acclimatization day (say that three times fast) with a fairly steep hike. It was hard work, but worth it! The four of us set out around 6:30am. While it was cloudy when we started, we did still receive good views of several peaks along the way. It was also nice that no one else was on the trail and it was cooler without the sun out.

Day 7: Dingboche to Lobuche

Around 4:30am I looked out the window to see clear, star-filled skies. Bill and I put on our boots and jackets and went out to get a better look. It was amazing. SO MANY STARS! We also saw a handful of shooting stars and the silhouette of the mountains around us. The clearest view we had had yet – albeit a dark one.

Day 8: Everest Base Camp at last!

The big day finally arrived! And it was a success – the skies were clear most of the day, providing us with amazing views of the mountains, including Everest. It was very slow going for me at first, but Bill eventually took my pack to lighten my load and things got much easier.

Day 9: Kala Patthar & Gorak Shep to Pheriche

The word to summarize day nine: tiring. I was awake shortly after 5am, and at 6am I met up with Steve, Louise, Hari, and Binod to trek halfway up Kala Patthar. It was a nice view, but a rough up hill trek for so early in the morning without having eaten anything. It was also emotionally taxing as Bill stayed behind because he was not feeling well, and I knew Kala Patthar was possibly more important to him than base camp.

Days 10 & 11: Pheriche to Khumjung to Benkar

This day wasn’t so bad. It was still a fairly long day – around 7 hours of trekking – but not as much extreme up and down. We crossed the highest suspension bridge again today, as well as a couple other bridges. We also encountered a group of children we saw on our way out – their high fives very welcoming.

Day 12: Benkar to Lukla (coming soon)

Exploring the Kathmandu area (coming soon)

Illustrative icon of a stack of multicolored money on a white background.

Cash back, no coupons necessary

For six months I have been using the ibotta cash back app, especially for my weekly grocery shopping. I easily find offers from my phone, add them to “My Offers”, shop, and then scan my receipt when I get home to receive cash back. Typically in less than 24 hours I receive a deposit for my savings into my account. I can then later redeem my cash for a transfer to PayPal or venmo, or gift cards to many different vendors; including Amazon, Chipotle, Target, and many other stores, restaurants, and more.

Throughout the time I have been using ibotta, I have earned nearly $80 in cash back and have redeemed some of that cash for an Amazon gift card I used while purchasing gifts for my niece and nephew.

The ibotta app is extremely easy to use and I recommend it to everyone! If you buy your own groceries, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Sign up today! Use referral code rybcydw and receive a $10 welcome bonus after you join.

My favorite things in Glacier

For one of our trips in 2014, Bill and I took the Amtrak to Whitefish, Montana to visit Glacier National Park. Below are some of the things I enjoyed the most while we were there.

Mountains in the background reflecting in to the lake in the foreground.

Avalanche Lake

Once you reach the end of the Avalanche Trail – and even along the way – you realize just how spectacular Glacier is. Coming off the trail and viewing the reflection of the mountains surrounding the lake reminds you just how small you are in this world. As we hiked out to Avalanche Lake, I continually pronounced it Avalaunch Lake – which, according to “Planet Earth II”, is the British way of saying it, so I guess I was just channeling that. Throughout our visit, and to this day, I still tend to pronounce it Avalaunch. (It drives Bill crazy.) I don’t know why I do it. I guess Avalaunch Lake just rolls off my tongue more easily.

High Line Trail

A feat certainly not for those with a fear of heights, the High Line Trail affords anyone who dares to venture with amazing views and solitude. It does take some planning, however, as you start at one end and finish in a totally different spot nearly 12 miles away. We opted to park at The Loop (where we would finish the hike), and attempted to take the shuttle to the Logan Pass Visitor Center to pick up the trail from there. Each time the shuttle stopped it was full and we were unsuccessful in securing a ride that way. We did, however, request a ride from an older gentleman who had stopped to use the restroom and was on his way to the visitor center with his wife. It was an enjoyable ride – sharing stories of our travels along the way. Soon we arrived at the Logan Pass parking lot and went our separate ways.

Along the trail Bill and I encountered squirrels, marmots (including one so large we thought it might be a wolverine), a bear (well ahead of us), and panoramic views that will never be forgotten.

As part of the trek, we also ventured up the Garden Wall Trail to Glacier Overlook. This short, .6 mile off chute is quite steep and narrow – certainly not for the ill-prepared – but it was worth doing for the view of Grinnell Glacier!

Just west of the Highline and Garden Wall Trail intersection is Granite Park Chalet. Bill and I stopped here for a snack break. If/when we return to Glacier, we have discussed hiking to and staying overnight at Granite Park Chalet. We can then potentially revisit Garden Wall Trail with fresh legs instead of on wary legs that have been hiking for over 7.5 miles.

St. Mary KOA

During part of our visit, we stayed at the St. Mary KOA, and would most definitely stay there again! Their platform tent sites include beds with custom KOA mattresses that we would love to have at home. It had the perfect softness and was extremely comfortable. Perfect for a good night’s sleep after a long day of hiking. And the rustic furniture had exquisite charm.

Collage of three photos. Cinnamon colored black bear on the left, big horn sheep in the middle, and family of three mountain goats on the right.

Bears, and Sheep, and Goats – Oh my!

All throughout Glacier we encountered wildlife. On the first day (and nearly every day we were in the park) we spotted a few bear. Bear watching is Bill’s favorite activity when we are in National Parks that bears call home – so this made him quite happy. While in the parking lot of the visitor’s center we were surprised by a few big horn sheep who decided to run through. And as we were driving we saw a family of mountain goats standing on a cliff up above the road.

Muesli and Chocolate Chip Scones

One morning we decided to set out for the Lake McDonald area of the park and chose to enjoy brunch at the lodge there. I was delighted by the chocolate chip scones and muesli they offered! I enjoyed the muesli so much I debated asking if they sold it so I could take some with me. I refrained from making the request, but I still remember it to this day!

Young adult female with dark hair in a ponytail wearing a black jacket and sunglasses standing in the foreground with her arm outstretched posing as if she is holding the moose that is standing in the water in the background.

All the Moose!

While Bill enjoys spotting bears, I much prefer to see moose. (Which, of course, is far more difficult to accomplish.) In Glacier, however, we were quite fortuitous. A short hike from the parking lot on Swiftcurrent Pass Trail, Fishercap Lake is an absolute must if you are looking for moose in Glacier. Within two minutes of arriving at the lake, a moose emerged and we sat there watching for quite some time. We returned later and were graced with the presence of two moose! We did not spot any bull moose, but it was still a wonderful experience.

Adult female crossing a small wooden suspension bridge surrounded by forest.

North Shore Josephine Lake Trail

The North Shore Josephine Lake Trail was peaceful, with very few people around. It also had nice scenery, a unique suspension bridge over a creek, and the perfect tree for resting on.

Outhouses

Typically when hiking (in National Parks or otherwise), there are absolutely no restrooms available. In Glacier, however, we came upon outhouses on several of the trails in which we embarked. Not only were they were a welcome sight, but they also had rustic charm!

Glacier National Park is a must see for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Especially if you enjoy mountains and wildlife. Be sure to add it to your wanderlist if it is not already there.

Minnesota State Capitol building with protestors congregated in front. Photo taken from the southeast corner.

Capitol diversion

While in the Twin Cities to attend a Tool concert, Bill and I made a weekend of it and decided to go to the Minnesota State Capitol for a tour while we were there. Upon arriving at the Capitol, we realized there was a lot of action going on that day. Eventually we learned that a “March Against Sharia” rally was happening inside, and a group of counter-protesters was stationed outside.

Things were peaceful when we arrived, although we did briefly cross paths with a woman dressed in what appeared to be a military uniform who was visibly upset about a possible counter-protester who had made it past security and was stirring up trouble inside. We shrugged it off and continued on with joining the guided tour.

During the tour we learned of the restoration process the building was almost finished undergoing – it did not disappoint. The only disappointing parts were that we could not go outside to see the horses on the roof, and we could not stand in the middle of the rotunda because of the protest happening that day.

The architecture and decor of the building was stunning. The massive stone columns, domed ceilings with stained glass windows, and elaborately decorated rotunda dome were awe inspiring.

At one point we briefly strayed away from our tour group to check out this “floating” cantilevered stairwell. After the tour, we came back to enjoy it even further.

As part of the tour we were taken into the House of Representatives Chamber, which still had the original seats for public gallery viewing. Each element was described to us – the significance of the different figures and elements depicted and their relationship to Minnesota explained. Of particular interest are the “Minnesota, the Spirit of Government” sculpture above the head seat, and the names of four early French explorers on the ceiling who were important in the founding of Minnesota – La Salle, Hennepin, Perrot, and Duluth.

The tour concluded shortly after our visit to the House Chamber. Although things were calm when we arrived, it seemed things took a big turn for the worse while we were there. We were diverted down through the basement and out through a back exit when it was time to depart. This left us at the far opposite corner of the building from where we had parked.

Underground space with multicolored brick floor and limestone columns.

As we learned more details of what had transpired, it seemed the woman we had encountered earlier in the day and her friends decided to join the counter-protesters outside to stir up some trouble. As we came around the side of the building, we were greeted with the sight of the group and its escalated tensions that had migrated within 25 yards of our car. As we headed that direction – ignoring the police officers who shook their heads and tried to direct us away from the conflict – we saw things being thrown and people being placed in squad cars. Fortunately, we made it to the car safely and escaped without a scratch.

The Florida Keys

The full itinerary of our trip to Florida’s National Parks, included flying in and out of Miami and driving from there to Biscayne Bay, the Everglades, and eventually to Key West. Taking in the Florida Keys along the way.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Having received snorkel gear specifically for this trip, we were excited to try it out. We were disappointed, however, to find that the water was very cloudy at the park, and we did not stay there very long. However, we did enjoy the Environmental Education and Visitor Center and its aquariums displaying some of the native coral and marine life.

Photo of burger and fries from above with "MEAT" stamped on the top of the burger bun.

MEAT Eatery & Taproom

Eating at MEAT made for a fun experience and tasty food. It is a bit pricey, but a unique scene that you won’t find anywhere else. The Wisconsin beer cheese soup was ok, but that’s a hard sell when the consumer is from Wisconsin. The burger was good (Wagyu beef) and the fries (fried in duck fat) were top notch.

Camping at Long Key State Park

In preparation for the trip, we also acquired a two person tent that we could pack and take with us. This helped us avoid paying the high prices for hotels in the Keys, and was also our only option for shelter while camping at Dry Tortugas.

The first place we camped was on the beach in Long Key State Park. Staying at Long Key is an experience I highly recommend. Camping on the beach and listening to the waves was lovely. And the boardwalk afforded us time away from nearly everyone in the park, with the exception of the local wildlife – crabs, snails, birds galore! I would go back there in a heartbeat.

Photo looking out through the windshield of a car at a bridge that is 7 miles long and curves around to the left.

Seven Mile Bridge

It was exciting driving over the longest bridge in the Keys and peering out at the view of the old bridge to the south. The Old Bahia Honda Bridge was originally a railroad bridge – part of the Florida East Coast Railway. It was converted into the Overseas Highway in 1938. And the new bridge replaced it in 1982.

The old bridge now has a section removed from it – preventing access to the western most 5.8 miles. And, at the time of this writing, the entire bridge is closed for repairs – expected to reopen in 2021. I guess sometimes we do get lucky and miss out on some of the scaffolding everywhere!

Bahia Honda State Park & Old Bahia Honda Bridge

My boss at the time (who had formerly lived in Florida) recommended we go to Bahia Honda State Park during our trip. This was a perfect recommendation, as it served as our outlet for walking on the Old Bahia Honda Bridge. While on the bridge, we saw what appeared to be a manta ray swimming in the water – we’ll never know for certain what it was. We also saw a garden spider and a few Portuguese Man-of-War during our visit to the park.

Blue balloon-like creature laying on a pile of sea grass next to a large rock.

Portuguese Man-of-War

These creatures look like they would be fun to play with, but they most certainly are not! When we first came upon one washed up on shore, we weren’t certain what it was. I am glad we were able to easily search for it and learn early on to be cautious. They are not what you would expect to be dangerous animals – especially when you see them washed up on shore and they look like balloons. Be careful! Both in and out of the water.

Collage of two photos. Adult female deer on the left. Young fawn on the right.

Key Deer

While planning the trip, I read about Key Deer. Key Deer are the smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer and can only be found in the Keys. In hopes of seeing the deer in person, we took a short detour to Big Pine Key and immediately saw several of them walking around the neighborhood. Two of which were a female and her fawn.

Photo of fish taco from above. Topped with light orange sauce and jalapenos, with more jalopenos and a lime wedge on the side.

Garbo’s Grill

After seeing Garbo’s Grill on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” earlier in the trip, it was immediately put on my list of places to visit while we were in Key West. We waited in line for 10-20 minutes, but we were rewarded with the most delicious fish tacos. When we visited in 2014, Garbo’s Grill was operating out of a small trailer. They have since expanded and now have a restaurant on Caroline Street. Be sure to check them out!

Concrete monument painted to mark the Southernmost Point in the Continental U.S.A.

Southernmost Point

As we tend to hit the touristy items as well as the off the beaten path items, the “Southernmost Point” was one of our pit stops. It’s not really anything special other than a photo op (and a line of people waiting to do the same).

Ocean water in the foreground. Silhouette of an island on the right in the background, with sunsetting in the middle and a sailboat to the left of the sun.

Key West Sunset

The sunset in Key West lives up to the hype! It was probably the orangest sunset I have ever seen. Be sure to get there early, as the crowd does get rather large, and there are vendors and street performers everywhere. Just as you would expect at most tourist attractions.

Adult couple sitting on the beach in the foreground with the ocean in front of them and a military fort structure to the right.

Dry Tortugas National Park

As outlined in my post on Florida’s National Parks, Dry Tortugas is a must visit for anyone who can make it possible. And I highly recommend staying overnight for at least two nights. Serenity at its finest.

Slice of key lime pie on a dark blue plate sitting on a light brown counter.

Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen

Having learned that the Keys are known for pink shrimp, I naturally looked for the best restaurant with pink shrimp on their menu. If you too want to try pink shrimp in the Keys, look no further than Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen in Key Largo. Be sure to also try the crab cakes. The key lime pie was ok as well.

Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina

Feeding the Tarpon at Robbie’s Marina in Islamorada seemed far too touristy for me, but we had time and Bill wanted to go – so we went. I can honestly say the visit was more worthwhile than anticipated. I can’t say that I would do it again, but I can say it is worth a visit.

All-in-all the Florida Keys have a lot to offer. Much of what is seen from the road appears run down, but there are hidden gems along the way. Seek out those hidden gems and enjoy!

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