Lodge for Less at The Ranger Inn

It was our backup plan, our failsafe: in the scenario where we can find no decent rental before the end of the month, we’ll move in to The Ranger Inn. Because at The Ranger Inn, “You can lodge for less!” and pay by the week OR the month – a temporary solution if we need more time to find our next spot.

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Out driving around Bangor one afternoon, a little dejected after checking out a giant Victorian house in the middle of town – too much house, too much rent, too much in town…meh – I tell Stéphane: “Since we’re out this way already, we might as well go check out The Ranger Inn, see if they have availability in July, check out a room…”

 

We pull up to The Ranger Inn. First impression- seems okay – it is a motel / short-term rental after all – we aren’t expecting The Ritz Carlton. Approaching the office, I hear “It’s closed!” and look to my right, down the narrow strip of building that makes up one of the rows of The Ranger. There’s a scruffy-looking guy in sweats loitering in front  of his room. A rusty old grill sits under a window and older, banged up cars line the lot in front of the rooms. A woman who poured herself into her tights this morning mills about her car, doors opened, music blaring. She bends over to pull some trash out of the car and – yep – not much left to the imagination. A few seconds later, as if on cue, a Bangor police car creeps slowly but purposefully through the parking lot, as if its been here many times before.

 

I hop back in the truck, look at Stephane. He says one word: “No.”

 

On to the next…

 

There’s No Place Like Home

The population of Maine increases with the temperature: each day we see more and more cars on 1A (the main highway between Bangor and Acadia National Park) and our once-quiet lake community is overrun with the buzzing of pontoon boats, yapping of dogs and/or their owners down on the railroad trail, and the shrill screams of children as they take turns cannonballing into icy-cold Phillips Lake. While we are enjoying the more social vibe “the summer people” have brought to our neighborhood, we are not digging what the population increase has done to our local national park…

 

Taking a break from the rental search for a quick day trip to Acadia National Park and a little climbing…

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We have heard that Otter Cliffs are a “must do” – a section of cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. You set up an anchor at the top, lower down, and climb out.

 

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Except…what are all these people doing here? Oh wait, we forgo: A), it’s the east coast. B) It’s a National Park and C) It’s Memorial Day Weekend. The quietness and seclusion of the Western Slope of Colorado has completely spoiled us. To me, this climbing scene is such a turn-off.

 

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Thanks to Stéphane’s persistence, we were able to find a secluded section of the cliffs to climb. Here he is setting up the anchor.

 

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Enjoying the sea breeze.

 

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We’ll come back on a non-holiday, non-weekend, early morning and climb so of the more legit routes but it was nice to get a little taste of the area.

 

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Waving to the passing tour boats.

 

One of the realities of living out here is that there is just a lot more people packed into a lot less space: something we are trying to get used to; something we don’t really want to get used to… I keep telling myself, “we aren’t in Colorado anymore”… Now where are those ruby-red slippers?

 

 

Ad-libbin’

One thing our sailing adventure on Free Range taught me was to be comfortable living a more ad-lib lifestyle. To-do lists, routines, and type-A personalities just don’t really mesh all that well in the Hefti household. We have learned over the last few years that we operate best as a flexible, minimalist, impromptu kind of couple.

 

So the fact that our beloved cabin on the lake has been sold and we’ll need to find new digs come end of June is not very daunting – just a little sad: we were just starting to reap the benefits of a lake house (of which there are zero in the winter months).

 

So, on to the next – bring it on. Here’s to flying by the seat of our pants and making it up in Maine as we go!

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Springtime at 6 Potters Drive: freshly-mown lawn and lots of happy, green things popping up out of the soil after their winter slumber.

 

A Country-Kind of Wedding

It’s 941 miles to Detroit, we’ve got a full tank of gas, a cooler full of spritzers, it’s dawn and we’re wearing sunglasses.

Hit it!

 

We kick off the week-long festivities with a non-eventful but full-on day of driving to St. Clair Shores for the wedding of my big brother Pete to his girlfriend (now wife!) of four years, Ryan.

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Newlyweds!

 

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Stephane stepped up to the plate and did a masterful job of officiating the ceremony. Bravo Bug!

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In addition to investing in my very first pair of cowboy boots, which I love, I also had the pleasure of standing up with three very lovely and fun ladies – Nora, Emily and Heather. Congratulations to Nora (dark purple flowers) on her seventh and final showing as a bridesmaid (I kid you not) – put away the bridesmaid dresses and kick off the cowboy boots girl: you are officially retired!

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Notice the belt buckle bling – the guys all received nice leather belts and ridiculously large (but oddly, they work) belt buckles with the initial of their last name. “H” for Hefti, etc.

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Dan and his sweet and fun girlfriend, Chantel (note the belt buckle bling).

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Pre-wedding contemplation. With beer.

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The wedding party rides in style.

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“Hey! Your tag’s showing!” Can you tell they are brothers, or what?

 

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After what seemed like several hours of posing in various positions (both casual – “look away and laugh!” and formal – “take off your sunglasses, smile, and look at the camera”) and settings (chapel, train, park, limo), our very thorough photographer freed us to go eat, drink, and be merry with the rest of the wedding guests (who thought we had gotten into an accident on the way over because we were taking so long).

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Pete & Brian

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A good time was had by all.

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The bartenders mixed the drinks too strongly, the DJ played the music too loudly, and the guests were too rowdy: it was the perfect Trombley wedding reception.

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Mom and dad cuttin’ the rug.

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Scott & Missy.

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The “church lady” and Care-Bear.

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Pete singing country and posing with his new ball and chain.

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Cowboys.

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Cheers!

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Photo Booth Madness

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Just hanging out with my new sis!

 

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Me and my guy!

 

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Fun on the dance floor!

 

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Father and sons.

 

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Happy couple! It was the most perfect, awesomely fun, so Y-O-U two kind of day. Thank you Pete & Ryan for letting us share in your day! We love you SO much and are over-the-moon excited and happy for you two! Ryan, my sister, welcome to the family. We love you!

Where the Magic Happens

The weather in Maine has shifted and spring is here! The days shuffle between gray and calm to blue-sky-sunshine and breezy. Regardless of the wind factor, we have been treating our Cabin Fever with mega doses of granite walls, root-infested trails, and cold, clear lakes.

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Gearing up for some exploratory climbing at Park’s Pond – another local crag.

 

The first few climbing days spent at Eagle’s Bluff – one of our local climbing areas – were frustrating (mostly for me – Stephane can get on anything and climb it). The climbing out here in Maine is very different from what we are used to in Colorado. First of all, the rock is different – Colorado is gritty, dry sandstone sliced through by beautiful cracks. These cracks are what we use to climb up the rock:

 

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Charlie leading a line @ Indian Creek (Utah).

 

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Depending on the width of the crack, you can get your feet (or a toe) into it, your hands / arm / fingers into it, and move on up. Here’s Lee on a climb @ Escalante (Colorado).

 

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Because you are sticking your hands into the gritty rock, you tape them up to protect your skin (and sometimes wear a long-sleeve shirt).

 

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If you are lead climbing (this means you are the first one to go up the route – it is your job to climb the route, taking the rope up with you, and then set the rope through the anchors at the top), you place this gear in the crack as you move up the route. This is called a “cam” (short for Camalot) and it protects you while you are climbing. You secure the cam in the crack, put the rope through it and if you fall, the cam will hold you.

 

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Cams look like this – they come in different sizes because cracks some in different sizes. Part of the job of the lead climber is to look at the route they are climbing and determine what kind of cams (which sizes and how many of each size) to bring with them on the climb.

 

The cam is then placed into the crack, like so, and the rope runs through its other end, like so. The lead climber climbs over this piece for a bit, then places another piece. The process is repeated until they reach the anchors (top of the climb). The rope is then threaded through the anchors and down below. Then other climbers can then climb the route on “top rope” – meaning they are not at risk for a fall because the rope is already secured at the top.

 

We’ve established that the rock out west is this beautiful, red, crack-filled sandstone. So, what about out east? Here, we have granite. Granite is much harder than sandstone, more slippery (you’ll use a lot more chalk on your hands to keep them dry), and there are fewer cracks in it. So a lot of the climbing done out here is called SPORT climbing (versus CRACK or TRADITIONAL climbing like I just explained).

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With sport climbing, you grab onto little (or sometimes big) pieces of rock that stick out of the wall; you place your toes on the tiniest little granule and hope it holds. I think it requires a lot more finger / hand strength and balance. As you can tell, I am missing the crack!

 

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With sport climbs, there are no cracks in which to place gear and protect yourself. Instead, the person who has put up (created) the route has drilled bolts into the rock at certain intervals up the rock until the anchor is reached.

 

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In place of cams, “quick draws” are used. With these, you clip one end to the bolt and the other end to the rope (which is attached to you). If you fall, the bolt / quick draw / rope combo will hold you.

 

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This is what it looks like on a route.

 

Now that you are a little more educated on the climbing that we do out west versus what we have to climb here in Maine, you can see that there is a big difference between the two! This new style of climbing is taking us outside of our comfort zones; making us to push a little more (each in our own ways).

 

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Me on top rope. The rope goes all the way up, out of the picture (through the anchors), and back to me. See how tight the rope is? If I were to fall off the rock, I would go absolutely nowhere. I might drop *maybe* a couple of inches. The beauty of climbing top rope is feeling secure. You can also try moves that you wouldn’t feel comfortable trying on lead.

 

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This is an example of lead climbing. Stephane’s job is to climb to the top of the route and put the rope through the anchor. Right now, he has placed one piece (in this case, a cam because it’s a crack) and has put the rope through it. So, if he were to fall right now, he would be held up by the cam. The scary part for him is that he needs to climb up and over the piece of protection, another four feet or so, and then place another piece that will protect him further up. He’ll continue to climb and place pieces until he reaches the top. The beauty of lead climbing IS the fear factor and mental challenge of climbing knowing that if you fall, you could fall a good 6 feet or more, depending. Physically AND mentally demanding.

 

Last Sunday was blue-sky-sunshine and a little breezy but we’re protected by the warm, south-facing granite wall of Park’s Pond. Stephane’s leading a really hard climb (unbeknownst to him, it’s a 5.11d – that means its really hard). He is on the route a good while, trying this move, trying that hold:  he’s focused and creative, careful and thoughtful. After much effort and time on the wall, he finally concedes, down climbs, and we move on to another route.

 

Later in the day I find myself on top rope facing a swing if I fall while attempting a series of three moves. One of the things I fear while climbing is swinging. I know that I’m completely safe if I swing but just the thought of the split-second free-fall petrifies me (my palms are sweating and gooping up the keyboard as I type this). So, I’m standing on a ledge, staring at the moves and thinking it’s time to tap out, tell Stephane I’m done, and have him lower me to the ground.

 

Except, I don’t.

I actually surprise myself and go for it.

I make the moves and I don’t swing.

 

I don’t remember where I saw this image, but it resonates with me and I try to apply this not just to climbing but to all kinds of random daily life things.  It doesn’t happen all the time; I’m not perfect and I LIKE being in my comfort zone but when I do try and push outside my bubble of well-being, I have never been disappointed.

 

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This past weekend on the wall, we both happened upon a little magic of our own, each in our own way. Maine’s got some lessons to impart. School’s in session and we are sitting in the front row.

The next home away from home

We keep having close calls on the sale of The Great White Buffalo (and Truckee, the 2WD-diesel-wonder-mobile). Thanks to the awesomeness of our slick used RV salesman, one Dan Quigley, and the magic of Craigslist, we are definitely getting some bites. Now that spring is here we are hoping for The Big Bite.

While we enjoyed our time roaming free in The Buffalo, she no longer suits our needs and seeing as she lives two time zones away, slowly devaluing, it’s time to send her on her way.

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The Buffalo has allowed us to play in and explore some amazing places out west. While the exploring continues in Maine, we’ll do it on a smaller scale since our next camper will not be our primary residence.

 

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The Buffalo hosted morning coffee, breakfast, and Pente sessions while out camping and post-dirtbike/run showers and beers.

 

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One of the Buffalo’s cooler features (and Myra’s nemesis), the outdoor shower: because when you roll in dead skunk, it’s just a crime to wash that scent away.

 

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Great times tailgating in the boonies of Western Montana.

 

So, the search is on for our next camper. Options we are considering are:

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A truck camper, like Tom & Melisa’s. The truck camper sits in the bed of your pickup. It features a bed, small stove and refrigerator and most have heat. Some have a table/eating area that converts to a second sleeping area as well. You can take them wherever you can take the truck – much different from hauling a 32 foot Buffalo behind you.

 

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A pull-behind pop-up, like Dan & Karen’s (in the background). D & K’s is a high-clearance, off-road style pop-up (beefier tires). These also have a stove and bed; some have a fridge and heater. What we don’t like about these is they seem kind of chinsy and flimsy.

 

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New to the list of contenders: the A Liner. Pros: all walls are hard (instead of tent material). Seems more sturdy/solid. Also has fridge, stove, bed, heater…

 

Thoughts from our readers? Any suggestions one way or the other? Submit feedback now or forever hold your peace on the Hefti’s next home away from home…!

 

Some Observations on Maine

Stereotype Busted

In telling people that  we were moving to Maine, we often received this response, something along the lines of, “Good luck with that, everyone is mean to outsiders in Maine.”

Leaves you with a big warm fuzzy, right?

Well, after living here for 3+ months, we can say with confidence that nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone we have met so far – from the chatty dog-walker at the riverfront park to the quirky, Newsie-cap-wearing cashier at our local grocery store – all have been very open, friendly, and kind.

Maybe it’s because of this cute guy with the funny accent:

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She’s got moxie

Exploring a local store, “The Christmas Tree Shops” (think Walgreens + Bed Bath Beyond + Dollar Store), we came upon a display of “Moxie”.

“What is Moxie?” you might ask? Well, thanks to some special behind-the-scenes-in-depth digging by staff researcher Debbie Trombley, we can now tell you this about Moxie:

 

  1. Moxie is one of the first carbonated beverages mass-produced in the US.
  2. We all know the definition of the word “moxie” as “having daring, courage, or spirit” – but did you know that this word came to be BECAUSE OF the brand advertising of the cola Moxie?
  3. Moxie is the official soft drink of Maine (designated as such on May 10, 2005).
  4. Moxie’s flavor is unique, as it is not as sweet as most modern soft drinks and is described by some as bitter (I can neither confirm nor deny this as I haven’t tasted it).
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Make Mine Moxie!

 

Mailboxes…

In Maine, many mailboxes hover over the ground suspended by chains which are attached to wooden beams, metal poles, you name it. On windy days (nearly every day), they sway back and forth in the breeze; some hang on long chains, other on shorter chains; some on thick chains, some on thin chains. Is this decorative? Functional? Is there some historical or cultural significance? Is it just a Bangor thing? We have no clue as of yet but will report back to you on our findings once we investigate further.

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Boom

Driving down highway 1A on our way to our new home for the very first time, we passed Main Fireworks Company on our left. A few minutes later, another fireworks store comes into view – Big Bang Boom! Yet further down the road,  on right-hand side of 1A, we roll by Phantom Fireworks. And no, these are not the red-and-white-striped tents you see pop up in parking lots mid-June – these are legit, brick-and-mortar buildings. And another thing…THEY ARE OPEN ALL THE TIME. WalMart’s closed, and you’ve got Phantom Fireworks’ neon sign flashing “open”. Something very sketchy is going on if you are open more than WalMart. Just sayin’. Stephane and I are convinced these are fronts for some much seedier (and more profitable) business.

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Tree Roots for Nimble Feet

I always thought I liked trees before moving to Maine. Now I feel choked by them. They are everywhere – blanketing the land, blocking out the sun, hiding any hope of a view; of open space. On the plus side, their root systems -which grow in thick, intricate patterns covering the trails – make runs much more focused – you drag one – just one – foot instead of picking it very much up and placing it very much in the proper hollow between roots, and you’ll be washing dirt out of your hair for a week.

 

Other random observations

For some reason we thought of Maine as a more wild, untouched, natural place. Well it certainly has not remained untouched by the government – lots more rules and taxes here. Also there’s a lot of smokers which surprised us. People don’t use Rs so much when they speak (“Park the car” becomes “Paaaaaaahhhhhhhk the caaaahhhh”) and there are holes (legit, not bullets like in Montrose) in a lot of the traffic signs (assuming that is so the wind can pass through…)

 

Regardless, we are enjoying our little corner of Maine – our trusty log cabin on Phillips Lake, our local trails and climbing crags; the natural food store with the yummy, daily, fresh-baked bread. And we are (still) looking forward to some NICE WEATHER – after mud season (a.k.a spring) and then black fly season…

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He’s dead set on enjoying the sunny day (finally a sunny day!), freezing cold be damned!

 

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Taking our mountain bikes out on the road (huh? The trails were too wet to ride) at Acadia National Park. Many of the roads at Acadia are closed during the off-season so we took advantage of checking out the views by bike without any cars zooming by. We’ve been told come summer Acadia is overrun with tourists so we are enjoying the calm before the storm.

 

Intake, Burn, Repeat

Our days as of late have taken on a steady, simple rhythm:

ingest calories, burn calories, repeat.

Egg, turkey sausage, and cheese breakfast sandwich (don’t forget the slice of tomato- tomato makes it); hit the trails on the bikes.

Homemade vegetable soup (Stéphane makes the best vegetable soup); a session of sweaty P90-X plyometrics upstairs.

Hike up Mount Megunticook for a view of the ocean (all we saw was fog);  flatbread pizza down in town (I might add that the Flatbread Pizza Company of Rockland, Maine, definitely rivals Colorado Boy for the Hefti’s vote of best pizza ever).

Crusty, fresh-out-of-the-oven bread slathered in brie or camembert; strawberries for dessert; hit the lakeside trail for some mileage with Myra.

Homemade apple pie (yes, Stéphane makes the best apple pie too), and…oops, a movie. Meh, hit the gym tomorrow.

 

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Hiking up Mount Megunticook down in Camden, Maine. Behind me you’ll just have to imagine the ocean spreading out in the distance. It’s there, just not on this day.

 

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Post-hike splurge: AMAZING pizza at the Flatbread Company. With each bite we were torn at the thought of de-throning our beloved Colorado Boy pizza but…Flatbread Co. just might take the crown. We’ll need to go back again (and again) to confirm.

 

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Flatbread Company lives in this super cute red barn-type building. Inside, although large, is cozy and homy with a funky bar and large pizza oven dominating the back. Another cool thing about this place? They are one of the many Maine companies that support Life Flight of Maine. A month or so ago they had “Life Flight of Maine Night”: money earned that night went directly to LifeFlight. It is so great to see the people of Maine come together to support a company that they trust, believe in, and are proud of.

 

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Myra dipping her feet into the chilly stream on our way down Megunticook.

 

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The landscape of Maine reminds me a little of Michigan (not the SE Armpit-of-Michigan but more Up North): lots of roots, pine trees; dark, rich soil, wet, lichen-covered rocks.

 

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Taking advantage of one of the nicer days we’ve had in Maine, we hiked up Chick Hill, one of the larger local hills in the area with really nice views – the mountains of Acadia National Park behind us.

 

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Of course, a photo of food must follow a photo of exercise. So this apple pie doesn’t look like much but let me tell you – I have to start rationing what I ask for because when your husband is the amazing Stéphane Hefti, Ask And You Shall Receive. One evening I was talking out loud about how yummy a piece of pie would be. Of course we don’t keep pies or cakes around the house but we do keep the ingredients and my husband, being the fabulous baker that he is, decided to whip one up, no problem. Me: “but we don’t have that pie crust thing or the filling, do we?” Him: “We have flour, sugar, and apples. We’ll be fine.” This pie did not have a very long life after emerging from the oven. Soooooooo good.

 

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So Stéphane’s been working quite a few shifts down at the Lewiston base (about 1.5 hours SE of us) this past month. One weekend I met up with him and got to check out the base, meet some of his co-workers (so nice and drama-free! What a happy change!), and get a quick tour of the helicopter!

 

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It might be hard to see on the picture, but all the little points of glowing light? Yeah, those are all different switches and buttons and screens – so much data to take in, so many things to keep track of…nuts.

 

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MORE screens. I’m not even going to pretend I know which one tells you what. I think there’s a weather one in there somewhere, and an altimeter and a…gyroscope? That is the extent of my helicopter vocabulary.

 

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While in Lewiston we found the PERFECT mountain bike on Craigslist! It’s been quite a while but I am excited to get back into mountain biking! Check out my new ride: a 2014 Santa Cruz Juliana – dual suspension, 27.5″ wheels – yeah!!

 

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Getting the bikes ready for our first excursion.

 

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Please note that Stéphane took these photos within a few seconds’ time. Look at Myra: have you ever seen a more ridiculous dog? Her absolute favorite thing in the entire world (after licking our yogurt tubs clean) is to be outside running around and rolling in the snow. If you can’t tell, she is smiling. Pure happiness.

 

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On one particularly dull day, Stéphane decided to call the local creative arts center in town and see if we could come in and “play with clay”. The woman on the line seemed confused at his request saying, “I’m open but not teaching any classes today…” To which he replied, “That’s okay – can we just buy some clay and mess around with it?”. A pause on the other end then: “Ummm…okay”

 

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I felt like I was in Ms. Katanick’s pottery class in high school again! Just like back then, I could not for the life of me center the dang lump of clay on the wheel so I worked on a pinch pot instead.

 

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Taking his work very seriously.

 

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There’s this shop in town called “The Christmas Tree Shops”. I’ve seen it in a few other towns in Maine. I just assumed it was a seasonal shop that was only open during Christmas-time until one day, bored and driving around, we decided to pop in and check it out. The Christmas Tree Shops is like Jo-Ann Fabrics meets Bed, Bath, and Beyond meets Walgreens: selling an assortment of random knick-knacks (shnick-schnack as Papi would say), makeup, candy, decorative pillows, and…MOXIE.

 

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I actually have no clue with the drink Moxie is all about, but the WORD Moxie (mox·ie / noun: force of character, determination, or nerve) is in homage to my friend Sue McDonald and her Crescent sailboat, Moxie. Back in my sailing days I would race against her on another Crescent. Here she is, ripping it up in the Detroit River. Badass.

 

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Consider yourself caught up on All Things Hefti! We are doing our thing in Maine and looking forward to spring: some climbing, more hiking, trail running, mountain biking, and exploration!! But first we need to get through mud and black fly season…To Be Continued…

 

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Arrrrrggggghhhhhhhh!!!!! Polar Plunge!!

Free Range Update

 

Remember that time when we bought a sailboat and went for a 9-month sail? Well we are happy to report that our beloved Free Range is having a great Chapter Three of life down in Antigua with her new owners.

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Neem (a.k.a Free Range) sporting a more subdued, taupe-colored stripe. The new owners also extended the stripe of color all the way forward to the bow and backwards to the stern.

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For comparison, Free Range with her old blue stripe. At anchor in Little Farmer’s Cay, Exumas, Bahamas. Ahhhhhh.

 

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Styling with brand-new cushion covers! Bright, cheery island yellow.

 

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The original blue cushion covers.

 

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Here she is under sail as a Canadian boat (her owners are from Nova Scotia) and with new lettering / name.

 

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I do have to say I prefer our choice of font 😉

 

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A multi-national sailing vessel! Sail on, Free Range!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trips & Redemption Centers

I remember when I was little sometimes my mom would let me keep all of the aluminum can deposit money if I rounded up all of the cans, cleaned them out, and took them to Farmer Jack’s (well, she would take me to Farmer Jack’s since I couldn’t drive). At the front of the Farmer Jack’s stood a wall of can-sucker machines – mouths the diameter of a coke can – patiently waiting to be fed. Place a Bud Light in the mouth, watch it get sucked in on a little conveyor belt, rotated around, scanned, and then…wait for it…you get the 10 cent credit on screen (score!) or you hear the sound of the can hit the reject bin (but why?).

 

In Maine, you get 5 cents per can and a whopping 15 cents per wine bottle. But you don’t return your cans to your local grocery store. Here, you go to a redemption center.

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First trip to our local redemption center.

 

So redemption centers work pretty much the same way as the Farmer Jack’s in Michigan except each redemption center has its own little personality and theme.

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The theme of the Brewer Redemption Center? Seventh-grade girl doodles?

 

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No machines to feed at the redemption center – instead, there’s REAL PEOPLE!

 

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A display showing items the redemption center does not take.

 

The weather in Maine hasn’t been all that great since we moved here so we’ve had to get creative about staying active. Between racquetball and yoga / spinning classes at the gym, an indoor climbing wall at the University of Maine, and cardio / pilates / kickboxing sessions at home in our upstairs “workout studio”, we’ve done all right.

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Have you ever been to a climbing gym? It’s fun and if you’ve never been, you can go and get instruction on how to climb! See the different-colored tape all over the wall? Those represent different routes you can take to the top. So if you are following the “brown route”, then you can only touch the holds that have brown tape next to them – this is a fun way to challenge yourself.

 

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(or you can just use whatever hand / foot hold you want, like I’m doing here – it’s much easier and a good way to warm up).

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Stephane demonstrating “T-Rex arms” (super tired, pumped out arms after climbing) and our friend Kevin. Lorry and Kevin just moved out to Maine too. Stephane knew them from back in the day in Montrose – small world!

 

 

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It seems we “take our gear for a walk” more often than not lately. What this means is that we get dressed / packed to ice and/or rock climb, then we hike with our backpack and gear to the area, but for whatever reason – usually conditions, we don’t end up actually climbing. On this particular day at the local climbing area, Eagle’s Bluff, the granite was just super wet (read: not safe to climb).

 

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Stephane’s enjoying the work at LifeFlight of Maine. He spends a lot more time flying out here! In Colorado, there were quite a few other helicopter company / bases and so – competition / less flying. In Maine, there is ONLY LifeFlight of Maine – they are non-profit and no one can compete – so with two helicopters to service the entire state, they are in the air a lot.

 

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A few weeks back we took a trip to southern Maine to check out the Sanford area. LifeFlight is potentially opening another base here and so we wanted to see what Sanford was like. I made Stephane stop and pose for a photo here because it was one of the very few areas that actually opened up and a little view. Mostly you are swallowed by the trees out here in Maine.

 

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Of course Myra came with us on our little road trip. We were even able to find a pet-friendly hotel.

 

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Best buds.

DSC_0121Sanford doesn’t have much going for it but it does have a pretty sweet street name…NEARLY SPELLED CORRECTLY…

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The Sanford area seemed pretty similar to Bangor – lots of trees, not much open space… we drove an hour north and into New Hampshire to check out White Mountain National Park. Here we are driving through the quaint (but super touristy) town of Conway, NH, with Mount Washington looming in the background.

 

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The slogan on the bus at the Mt. Washington Visitor’s Center – GET OUTDOORS! We were surprised by how many people were at the visitor’s center and/or getting ready to hike/climb or getting back from a hike/climb. Even though it was COLD and WINDY out, the people of New Hampshire were getting after it!

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Wintry hike near Mount Washington. Stephane pushing his luck.

 

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A real mountain! (Mt. Washington)

 

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Sweet little covered bridge in Jackson, NH.

 

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Back at the homestead, another awesome meal prepared by Chef Hefti – mushroom risotto-stuffed bell peppers. Amazing. To those of you who are willing to make the trip to come visit us in Maine this spring/summer, we will make it worth your while!! Come hungry!

 

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Parting shot: family hike up to the summit of Chick Hill – another one of our local “mountains”. In the background are the mountains of Acadia National Park. Chick Hill is a great spot to get above the trees, get some distant views, enjoy the open feeling, and breathe deep.

Random thoughts on a rainy day

Outside, rainwater drips ceaselessly off the eave of our cabin; the pine trees, which house our fat squirrel friends, shift and shiver in the wind. I sit here in a tank top sweating as a I type because Stéphane has built an outrageously hot fire. He’s out sitting in his “new” truck learning how to use all the gadgets in his bat-mobile. We’ve been looking for over a month for the right truck (proper combination of cylinders (6 not 8 – for better gas mileage) / doors (4) / year (>=2009) / miles (<=100,000) / gadgets (yes please) / price (how low can you go?)) which we finally found – unfortunately for us at a dealership, but we stuck to our budget and got a great deal.

 

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Proud new owner of a Ford F-150! Thanks to our super cool salesman, Declan @ Casco Bay Ford – come climb with us when the weather gets nicer!

 

So, it’s gross outside today and I’m missing Tom & Melisa, Pat & Kim, Dan & Karen and all of our Colorado friends – and all of the adventures we went on together. Just the other day we got a text from an old-new friend, Julie – it’s so funny how people come in and out and then back into your life:

 

Super Bowl Sunday at Puerto Bahia in Samana, Dominican Republic. We share slices of pizza, laughs and stories with a woman named Julie who has escaped the cold, Maine winter for a week. A year later, cleaning out her purse, Julie comes across our boat card, pulls up our blog and sees we have moved to Maine and live only a few hours away! We’ll meet up with her when weather gets nice and we start exploring Maine further afield.

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Beautiful Puerto Bahia – the one and only time we paid to stay in an actual marina.

 

Craigslist add: free ink for HP Deskjet 423C printer (before leaving for our sailing adventure we were giving things away, shedding our belongings like so much skin we had outgrown). Tom Lamb, who just so happened to be perusing Craigslist that morning and needed printer ink for his own Deskjet 423C, answered the ad, picked up our ink (and dropped of some of Mrs. Lamb’s very tasty cookies), and has been our number one blog fan ever since.

 

Georgetown, Bahamas: a supercharged midnight gale dislodges Free Range’s anchor and blows her into Adastra, a neighboring sailboat. The next day, we sheepishly deliver a bottle of wine, boat card, and our apologies to Bob and Judy, with whom we become fast friends and traveling companions for the next month.

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Boating buddies! Us, Bob & Judy, and Steve.

 

The docks of Sailcraft Marina in Oriental, North Carolina. A beautiful Island Packet, s/v “Someday”, rests a few slips down. Stéphane strikes up a conversation with Dale, Someday’s owner, who later gifts us with paper charts (which we treasured and used throughout our journey). Although we never met up with Dale and Merna again, we each follow each other’s blogs and revel in each other’s (mis-)adventures.

 

The blisteringly hot cement shoulder of the Ohio Turnpike: a busted tire en route to Virginia and our sailing adventure had us spending an afternoon at Auto Smith Tire & Service in Newton Falls, Ohio (home of Ohio’s second oldest covered bridge, also zip code 44444). When you can fit everything you own into your car, there’s usually some kind of interesting story as to why – the boys at Auto Smith were interested in hearing ours. We had no clue that T.C. and the gang had been following our adventures on eeeeeep until they left a comment on the blog one day – to our great surprise and happiness.

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Good people @ AutoSmith.

 

We have some pretty cool stories about the people who have come into our lives. And we count ourselves lucky to have you travel along with us – whether we were buddy boating with you down in the Bahamas, climbing with you at Indian Creek, picking your brain on how to sail in North Carolina, or making you eat fondue in Michigan, a big cheers to you! Thinking of you all on this rainy, gray Maine afternoon and thankful to have each of you, in whatever small or large way, in our lives.

 

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Master Mariner One, Marc Lucas, breaking out some boating knowledge.

 

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Celebrating Tom & Melisa’s marriage! Climbing, camping, and celebrating with the best of friends in Escalante.

 

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Pant- work @ Indian Creek

 

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How many can we fit on Free Range? That’s how many, right there.

 

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Family!

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Family! (on the other side of the Atlantic)

 

 

And a parting shot:

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Doing our best to control the Myra-hair infestation at the cabin.

On furniture, helicopters, & snow

It’s not that we live in the total backwater of Maine, but the furniture selection here sure makes it feel like we do. One’s furnishing options in Bangor range from the “unfinished” Maine log-cabin look to Great-Aunt Matilda’s frilly, floral-patterned loveseat complete with matching pillows and ottoman – not really our style. (Please note I did not say “grandma’s frilly loveseat” because my Grams is pretty much the most modern grandma out there, so when I think of fuddy-duddy, I do not think of Grams).

 

So, we bit the bullet, hitched up our little wooden trailer to The Tig, and drove the 4.5 hours south to Boston and the nearest IKEA.

 

After a total of nine hours on the road, six hours in IKEA, and two hours placing our purchases tetris-style into the trailer, we returned home at two in the morning, tired but victorious.

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Couch: check.

 

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More couch pieces. One of the reasons why IKEA is so cool – couch doesn’t fit in your current space? Pull a few pieces out of it and now you have two chairs!

 

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It’s not much to look at it but it is functional. There’s a little hand crank which you use to raise or lower the desk so you can work while standing or sitting. New desk chair too – sure beats the camp chair for working.

 

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Lighting fixture ($10), and bed frame which also doubles as a dresser.

 

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Our socks, underoos, and pants now have homes.

 

In other news..

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Stéphane’s been working through ground and flight training in preparation for the new gig. Here is his study station, complete with a print-out of the cockpit controls.

 

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Here’s what the real cockpit looks like. So many buttons, pedals, gadgets and levers!

 

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Get back to studying!

 

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This is the helicopter that Stéphane flies for Life Flight of Maine. It’s an Agusta 109. It’s quite a bit bigger than the A-Star that he flew in Colorado.

 

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There is more room for the nurse and medics to work on the patient, and more room for everyone in general.

 

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Here is what the little A-Star looks like.

 

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It is smaller and lighter than the Agusta 109, which makes it really good for high-altitude landings like the one Stéphane made here, at 13,600 feet (they saved a guy who was having a heart attack near the summit of Handies Peak). p.s. Aren’t those mountains fabulous?

 

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Yesterday over a foot of soft, powdery snow dumped down. And this morning, we took advantage of the blue-sky-sunshine to get fresh “tracks”

 

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We made tracks with our own two feet! We’ll probably invest in cross-country skis but we’ll save that for next winter – I’m still recovering from all the new furniture purchases.

 

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Snow art.

 

 

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Snow Removal – capital S, capital R – is a real thing out here. More than half of the trucks driving around have big plows attached to their fronts. If you don’t already, you better make sure you have a plowman engaged before the next winter storm comes because otherwise, you will be in a world of trouble, my friend. You will not be getting your car out of the driveway for a long while.

 

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Mainers must remove the snow from their roofs as well. Enter this handy-dandy tool. It’s like a scraper on a giant, extended arm.

 

 

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Stéphane says its a good arm workout, so I’ll be doing it next time (gotta whip my wimpy arms into shape).

 

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My birthday was last weekend and it was awesome. My special day included: A. A family run in up to the top of Bald Mountain whereupon I wiped out on ice, busted my knee and my phone. B. The most fabulous lunch AND dinner cooked by my fabulous husband C. All the red Haribo gummy bears I wanted to eat. Can’t beat that with a stick.

 

And so…Month #2 in Maine begins…

Out & About

Out and about with friends and family in Switzerland…

 

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Trying out a new sport: urban golf!

 

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The golf balls are rubbery and bigger than your regulation golf ball, and the golf club is made in such a way that it is both driver (side) and putter (back). The bottom of the club is hollow so that you can store your ball!

 

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There are 18 holes placed in different areas all around the medieval town of Fribourg. I hit my ball in the river, Stéphane hit his in a goat field; there are holes under old bridges, next to an abbey, etc

 

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GREAT idea, Lolo and GaGa! An awesome way to spend a day outside with great friends and to see more of the town of Fribourg.

 

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Right before sending my ball into the river.

 

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I have noticed all around Switzerland these diagnal-stiped shutters, in all different colors. The shutters on this building are painted black and white because it is in the town of Fribourg, in canton (state) Fribourg, whose flag is black/white. It’s all coming together now…

 

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Crane (homage to Gruyère) sculpture / funculaire – a little train car that carries passengers up/down a steep section of the city. The way it works? The car that is going down carries sewer water with it – the weight of the sewer water pulls it down and in turn the car moving down pulls its counterpart car UP. / Airing out some pillows.

 

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We learned a new card game to play back home – Jass (pronounced “yass”). The suits here are: acorns, shields, flowers, and bells.

 

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The scoreboard. MUCH more complicated than euchre.

 

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We drove to Saint-Étienne, France, to see our brother-in-law’s band, Deos, play. Deos is a Death Metal band. We have never experienced this kind of music before so didn’t really know what to expect.

 

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A pre-concert beverage with the band. These guys are awesome! A great band and really good people.

 

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So there are different kinds of genres within Death Metal. Deos is inspired by ancient Rome and so their music / lyrics revolve around ancient Roman themes. Fabio calls it “war music”, and it’s really true. Total adrenaline. If I were skydiving and about to jump out of a plane, I’d probably have Deos cranked up in the background.

 

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We got to listen to three different Death Metal bands at Thunderbird Lounge. Deos’s vibe was ancient Rome. Then there was NeverCold and MythArk. NeverCold had organ music playing in the background and the singer was more screechy and high-pitched than Deos. Of the three, I liked Deos the best.

 

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Fabio wowed us with his top-notch cooking skills. He made us pasta (from scratch!). The noodles are made with flour and egg.

 

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I’m sure Adriano will be just as good a cook as daddy one day.

 

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I don’t have a picture of it, but for dinner we ate mutton kebobs, pork, and duck with a yummy salad. I think this is the longest I’ve gone without eating my boring chicken – so many other flavors out there!! Merci beaucoup, Fabio!!

 

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We strolled around Annecy Lake and checked out the medieval part of Fabio & Yvonne’s town, Annecy (France).

 

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They call it “The Venice of France” because of the canals that run through the old part of the city.

 

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Super tourists!

 

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Cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways.

 

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Our visit would not be complete without a timed Family photo!

 

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Amazing view from a Swisscom tower, high up on a hill. Love the layers: green meadows, forest, fog, mountains.

 

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View from the top of the Swisscom tower – yeah!! —

 

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360 degrees.

 

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With the boys.

 

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Look at this conference room!!! Who could pay attention to a meeting with these mountains in the background?

 

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Swisscom’s generator – nothing but the best: DETROIT DIESEL!

 

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A visit to the quaint village of Villette to walk through the vines.

 

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A walk through the vineyards of Villette.

 

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These vineyards are right on Lake Lemon and the views are beautiful. In the right season, you can walk from village to vallage on narrow roads through the vines and stop at different “wine caves” to sample the local fare.

 

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We were *just* above “the soup” (fog). The fog visits the area in the winter and settles over Lake Lemon. If you are at just a slightly higher altitude, you are up and out of it, like us.

 

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Sunset shot.

 

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Sunset over fog and vines.

 

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We checked out “Marche de Noël” – it is a Christmas market where local (and not-so-local artisans Yvonne Hefti wink emoticon ) sell their wares. You can buy a vin chaude (hot wine with spices) and Hot Fondue (think Hot Dog but instead of the hot dog in the bun, you have melted cheese), woolen sweaters, blown-glass baubles and other such schnick-schnack. And…CANDY!

 

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A kindred spirit.

 

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Next…time for more cheese!!!! Matthieu and Christelle had us over for raclette at their new and beautiful apartment.

 

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This is the little raclette oven. Each person gets their own mini-pan on where you put a slice of cheese. You can also put things like onions (pickled or salted or regular), pickles, tomatoes, olives on the cheese. Once the cheese has melted (it has to be goey but not TOO melty to the point where its oily), you scrape it onto your plate and eat with potatoes.

 

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The mini-pans and scrapers for the cheese.

 

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Mmmmmmmmm Raclette cheese slices…MERCI BEAUCOUP Matthieu et Christelle, pour la bonne journée / soirée!!

Swiss Road Trip

Time to explore Switzerland! We packed our clothes and ice climbing gear and headed east to see more family and find some ice.

 

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We drove 3 hours east to visit family in Sargans. Stéphane’s cousin, Erwin, owns a farm and makes amazing cheese and meats. Every spring, he takes the cows up to the high meadows of the Alps. While the cows are up there grazing on yummy Alpine grass, their milk and cheese can be sold as “Alpine Cheese” / “Alpine Milk”, etc. It is amazingly rich and flavorful.

 

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View from the farm. I am now forever and completely spoiled by the proximity to the mountains that most of the Swiss enjoy.

 

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Cousins!

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The cows are brought down from the Alps in the fall and spend winter in barns. The cows here are all pregnant. They each have their own little stall area and lots of clean, fresh hay to eat. Erwin takes them out to a nearby pasture for sunshine and to stretch their legs. Happy cows!

 

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The cows’ tails are tied to a piece of rope so that when they are lying down, their tail does not slip through the openins in the grate (where the poo/pee goes).

 

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Each cow has a little plaque above her stall with her name and other pertinent information (I forgot to ask but I’m guessing due date, etc.).

 

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This is Denise. She is one of the really big, gray cows with horns. The other cows are all smaller and brown. Erwin is going to phase these gray types of cows out because the brown cows produce more milk for the amount of food they ingest. You can’t tell from the picture but Denise is absolutely enormous.

 

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Each cow has tags on their ears showing to which farm they belong.

 

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Lunch time!

 

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Family photo!

 

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This is Stéphane’s cousin, Ivo. Ivo is a professional paraglider. Guess what we got to do with Ivo? 

 

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Arrrrrrgggghhhhh!!!!!

 

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Flying!

 

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Sara Hefti December 14, 2015 · This was my first time paragliding. For the start, you run as fast as you can down a pretty steep hill, and then, before you know it, you are in the air.

 

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Stéphane’s turn!

 

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View down the valley from above.

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If you are in Switzerland and want to experience this, call Ivo! chickenwings.ch

 

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The family came to see me off!

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DANKE Ivo! Thank you for the special and memorable experience.

 

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After the farm, we headed into town for a visit with Stéphane’s Aunt Frieda and cousins Sybille and Carmen and their families. A fun evening of great food and catching up. Danke Frieda!!!!

 

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Our next goal for the trip is to find some ice to climb. After driving up to a high alpine valley into a little village…

 

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Ice!

 

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We rented two beds in a 6-bed room and got lucky – we were the only ones – yeah!

 

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Our little hotel at night – look at the stars!

 

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Check out the mountains and stars – we took a walk and saw four shooting stars in less then 20 minutes.

 

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Breakfast consisted of: various cheeses, meats, bread, yogurt, cereals. A pot of boiling water and these ingenious little metal cages which hold your egg in the pot while it boils. You can then choose a 4 / 6 / 8 minute timer, depending on how soft you like your egg. Swiss Precision.

 

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At each table, a weather report for the day.

 

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En route to the ice.

 

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We climbed the route to the right, just the first pitch.

 

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Pretty.

 

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View down the valley – our little hotel is somewhere down there.

 

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Phew! Made it!

 

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It’s been quite a while since we last climbed ice. We are happy with our one pitch and figuring out our gear and setups, etc.

 

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A great first day getting back into the swing of things on ice. Hopefully we’ll find some more tomorrow – heading to Andermatt in the morning!

 

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A cheerful pop of color in the mountains – the village children painted this lovely scene on a water reservoir – note Les Cloches – the cow bells!

 

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We spent two nights over in eastern Switzerland in the state (canton) of Graubünden, one of the German-speaking states. Graubünden’s flag is on the right. As you can see, their special animal is the bouquetin (alpine ibex, like we saw on our hike last week, left).

 

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The bouquetin is everywhere! On local beer cans / wine bottles, street art, and license plates and car stickers. The people of Graubünden proudly fly their state flag.

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As charming as the canton of Graubünden is, we were ready to get to the canton of Uri to search out more ice near the mountain town of Andermatt. After driving several hours on windy, narrow mountain roads, we were only 9 miles from Andermatt! Only one mountain pass left to go!

 

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Except that mountain pass, it was closed for the winter. Only 9 miles to go and we had to turn around. To drive to Andermatt from where we were, we would have had to backtrack 3.5 more hours. So…charming little hotel, time out, and plan the next move.

 

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Dinner. Cervola (my new favorite thing – it’s a Swiss sausage). Motta is an Italian sweet bread. And I discovered a NEW (to me) type of Haribo – Orangina!

 

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We discovered that we could put the car on the train and take the train the remaining 9 miles over the mountain pass to Andermatt. Voila!

 

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Car safely parked on the platform.

 

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Here we go!

 

12370943_10207000236618276_5574575813813533415_oNine miles of massive, snowy Alps.

 

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A little chapel along the way.

 

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Snowy mountain village.

 

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Majestic.

 

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The cars parked on platforms, pulled behind the train. Genious!

 

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Thanks to the car-hauling train, we reach Andermatt and the canton of Uri – their flag is a bull. And now, instead of bouquetins, we see bull imagery everywhere.

Fondue, Absinthe, and Mountain Goats

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Vending machines in Switzerland sell…what else? Cheese! And potatoes, etc.

 

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We spent a fabulous day with Laurent et Gaielle hiking around the lake at Charmey.

 

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Picnic lunch – fondue!!!!!

 

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Picnic lunch: easy friends, amazing views.

 

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Melting the fondue.

 

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Santé!

 

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Melty goodness.

 

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This bridge debuted in the movie, Bridge Over The River Kwai!

 

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Up in the mountains, a small chapel.

 

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Chapel with tree.

 

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Climbing on mossy wall / Lolo et Gigi / Awesome Swiss signage / drinking out of a very cold “fountain”.

 

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Les montagnes.

 

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The trail we took today started out a dirt single track covered with roots and leaves. At times it grew to a narrow, paved road, a jeep road, and even a barely visible track in the grass up in the mountains. But always, the yellow signs will guide you.

 

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Frère et soeur 🙂

 

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Good times with the family.

 

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Nifty contraptions to deliver the mail.

 

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A walking tour of Fribourg, courtesy of Silvia. Merci, Silvia, pour la belle journée!!

 

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If you get lost in Switzerland, I’m not sure that there is any help for you. Just follow the yellow signs!!

 

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TonTon is fun!

 

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We walked all over Fribourg – past the local dam, an abbey, over bridges, up cobblestone streets and down narrow alleyways.

 

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Beautiful old bridge.

 

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The Sarine River snakes through Fribourg.

 

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Every fall, the cows are led down from the Alps to the lowlands. Many homes have paintings of this hanging on the exterior of their homes / The abbey in Fribourg – founded in 1255! / Mossy tree shrine / Cave shrine

 

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Mossy cobblestones – the streets of Old Fribourg. / Front steps of a home in Old Fribourg. / You must put your trash in the special blue trashbag. It is six gallons and costs something like $2/each to dispose of. This is why you recycle / compost as much as you can! / Dolphin centerpiece adorning an old fountain in one of many small, quaint squares in Fribourg.

 

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Silvia had lots to share about Fribourg, its many buildings and squres, and its history.

 

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One of the oldest parts of Fribourg. They are paved here but there are still sections of narrow, cobblestone streets.

 

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Fribourg grows out of a rocky cliff.

 

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Riverside homes.

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Cliff dweller.

 

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Medieval square.

 

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The Gottéron Bridge (wooden!)

 

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Funky Fribourg café.

 

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Checking out the views from The Belvidere.

 

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One of the original entry points of Fribourg.

 

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An exterior wall of one of the churches in Fribourg- above is the old/original stone and below, new stone. Two artists chip away at the stone to give it texture and to blend the new with the old. I would like to go back and see the finished product – I wonder how camo the new bricks have become…

 

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No such thing as a cookie cutter home here.

 

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Narrow, steep, cobblestone road. Complete with steps on the side for pedestrians.

 

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Imperfection is so much more interesting.

 

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TonTon (Stéphane) & TaTa (me) with our nephews. In French, “uncle” is “Oncle” – so you get tONtON. For “Aunt”, which is “Tante”, grab the first two letters and you have Tata. Et, voila.

 

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The crane, symbol of the Gruyères area, is still as significant today as it was back in the 1500s. Above: stained glass from Gruyères Castle, 1543. Below: “La Gruyère” newspaper, Dec. 9, 2015.

 

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Like the US, each state in Switzerland has its own flag. Swiss license plates display the Swiss flag on the left and the state flag on the right. The Heftis live in the state of Fribourg and its flag is shaped like a shield, top portion black, bottom white.

 

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En route to a trailhead back in Colorado, you’ll pass by some homes, a school; some onion fields. In Switzerland, you pass by…Medieval towns and Roman amphitheaters…whaaaa???? Awesome.

 

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The boys getting booted up. Today we hiked The Creux du Van.

 

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You May Not: have dogs off leash, camp, pick flowers, or base jump. / Other things you also May Not Do.

 

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The trailhead. Lots of helpful yellow signs.

 

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The area where we hiked is called the Route De L’Absinthe. Wormwood, which grows here, is harvested and the roots are used to make absinthe. You can sample the locally-made absinthe at any of the local bars.

 

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The trail begins. Marked with a cool old column.

 

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Ça monte bien! (It’s steep!)

 

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Historical print – “A day at Creux du Vent”

 

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A bear was shot and buried here – 1757 (basically that’s what the rock says).

 

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Where are we?

 

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And we go that-a-way.

 

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First glimpse of the Creux du Van.

 

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Yet another random wee home in the wildnerness

 

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Papi cruising up the steep stuff.

 

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The boys.

 

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Us.

 

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Looking good in his new red jacket!

 

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It’s like The Lord of The Rings

 

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Nearing the top.

 

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Topped out! 2,500 feet ascent. The Creux du Van in the background.

 

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Creux du Van.

 

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Look! It’s the Eiger again!

 

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Because it’s such a cool rock feature…another Creux du Van shot.

 

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Groupie at the top!

 

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Feeling good!

 

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We think this is a state line marker. On one side, the state flag of is chiseld. On the other side, it looks like it used to be another flag but it is too old to tell.

 

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Papi is not hard to find.

 

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Checking out the Alps.

 

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Which way? There are so many!

 

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Summit view. Amazing Alps in the background.

 

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We came across a family of “bouquetin des Alpes” at the top. (alpine ibex – like a mountain goat). They were completely unafraid of us and let us get quite close.

 

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We found a nice log to sit on for lunch; out of the wind. Cervola (sausage), hard-boiled egg, cheese, bread, beer. Yes!

 

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The trail passes by a farm on its way back down. I thought the fences seemed a little flimsy to be keeping these giant bulls in. I didn’t realize they are electric fences!

 

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Papi and I on the home stretch.

 

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And to round out the amazing day, we sample the local absinthe (tastes like licorice).

 

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Santé to a great day!

Switzerland: Week Two-ish

In the flurry of final fondues with family, packing up the trailer once more, and driving to Maine, I have yet to complete the Switzerland 2015 category of eeeeeep.

 

So without further ado….

 

Week two (ish):

 

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Just out the door and a short walk down the road, one enters a magical, mossy forest. It is amazing to me that with all the people and the limited land available, there is any land like this left at all (but there’s tons, thank goodness!).

 

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Some keep their wood in the forest. The wood piles are neat, tidy, well-stacked, and protected from the elements.

 

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Man in the mist.

 

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Rolling fields and Neyruz (Stéphane’s home) in the background.

 

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There are crosses all over Switzerland: in the fields, at the summits of every mountain, and in the churches whose beautiful steeples can be seen from the very smallest village to the largest city.

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Jürg and Maria cook an amazing birthday lunch for Fabio et Maria’s birthdays.

 

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Aunt Louise has some great stories to share.

 

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BRAVO for picking up after you pet!

 

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Enjoying du vin chaud Chez Missana – a yearly event – the neighbors gather with food and drink.

 

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Anthony shows TonTon his very cool Lego creations.

 

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Thierry paints a Père Nöel. Joli!

 

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Silvia serves the Magic Potion (vin chaud / hot wine).

 

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The Swiss throw very little away. If you look at a Swiss trash bin, it’s divided into compost section (food scraps, which go out back in the compost bin), aluminum, plastic, cardboard. What’s left, which gets thrown out, is very little. Here Mami is demonstrating her handy-dandy plastic bottle-smooshing machine.

 

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After our daily parcours session, we checked out the Chateau de Gruyères (castle!)

 

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At Gruyères, everywhere you’ll see a crane on a field of red. The story goes, back in the 400s, a duke was passing through the area. That evening, he saw a beautiful crane fly by, in front of a fabulous red sunset. He decided to settle in the area and made the crane, in a field of red sunset, his special crest / flag.

 

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The castle gardens.

 

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See all of the roof tiles?

 

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This is how the are attached! A notch in the back that rests against a piece of wood.

 

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Look how thick the walls are! If I lived here, this would be my reading nook.

 

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Posing on “the rampart” – the wall built around the chateau.

 

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One of the many rooms inside the chateau.

 

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Views.

 

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Many levels.

 

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The mountain in the background is Dent de Chamois (tooth of the goat).

 

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Some armor.

 

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A giant box, 1693. Older than my country, no big deal.

 

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Pietà: wooden sculpture of Christ & Virgin in the chapel / gardens / floor of chateau – all rocks / moss growing on roof tiles.

 

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Cool art in the chateau: stone, stained glass, tapestry, painting (the last one is a modern painting from a local artist).

 

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This is a cool story. Gruyères castle was going to be attacked by enemies. The women herded all of their goats inside the castle walls. That night, they tied straw onto the goats’ horns, lit them on fire, and shoed them out. The enemy army fled from “the devil army”!

 

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Raclette! So, you get a big slice of raclette cheese and it sits on a little tray under a heater. It gets all melty and goey and you scrape off the melty top part onto your plate. Then you eat it with pickles, pickled onions, and baby potatoes. YUM!!

On Thin Ice

After picking the brain of one of the locals at the sports shop downtown, we set out discover our first Maine ice, Frankfort Quarry: quarry by spring / summer / fall, but during the winter, a place for snowy hikes and icy climbs. We found the spot easily enough (“turn at Waldo Mountain Road, park on the left when you get to the gate”).

 

Hiking up the trail towards the quarry, we crossed paths with a runner on his way down. Asking him about the ice climbing area – which must be accessed by crossing a frozen pond – he replied in his wonderfully odd Maine accent, “I wouldn’t cross that pond – not yet anyways”.

 

Hmmmmmmmm…..

 

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Hiking up to the quarry. A “warm” Maine day – 29 and sunny!

 

We kept hiking and figured we’d test the ice for ourselves. Friends of ours had climbed just the day before and had tested the thickness of the pond in several areas with their ice screws, so we felt fairly confident that the ice should hold…

 

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Nearing the ice!

 

Upon reaching the quarry, our hopes of climbing some thick, epic ice were deflated. The ice was definitely there, but pretty thin in most places. Now, I was happy because this is all single-pitch ice. I go up, I get to come back down. Good practice climbing ice and getting more acquainted with my new tools and climbing ice in general. However, that being said, the ice needs more time to form. Or, we’ll have to get used to mixed climbing (where you climb using your tools on both ice and rock).

 

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The ice we discovered at the Frankfort Quarry, Maine.

 

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The ice we get to climb out west – Bozo’s near Cody, WY.

 

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Thick, solid, LARGE ice.

 

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Our old playground, Ouray, CO.

 

So, yeah, all in all, a *little* disappointing but we know there’s more ice out there and we’re glad there’s any here in Maine at all.

 

Long story short: we approach the frozen pond, walking very gingerly over the surface and noticing a few refrozen cracks as we go. We get to what appears to be a little island in the middle and Myra breaks through. Stephane is able to grab her right away, pull her up and out and we hightail it home.

Live to climb another day!

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It was still a nice hike outside in the snow. We were able to get a little elevation and see some nice views.

 

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Quarry graffiti.

 

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Snowy cairn.

Maine Misc.

 

One day last week I threw my camera in the front seat and took a drive. It felt like a Colorado day – blue-sky-sunshine – except a lot colder. Driving alongside the Penobscot River, where ice chunks clattered against each other as they raced towards the Atlantic, I came upon the little town of Bucksport.

The drive through Bucksport’s downtown, four blocks long, took about twenty seconds during which time I caught sight of a Chinese buffet, antique shop, a coffee joint, and a scaled-down version of the local Maine grocery store, Hannaford. Also in attendance – and this is definitely a “Maine thing” – Dunkin’ Donuts (their spelling, not mine). Now, I know that Dunkin’ Donuts has chains in other states, but people talk about Dunkin’ Donuts here like it’s the-place-to-be/thing-to-do: “Let’s go get a Dunkin'”, they say. I have yet to “get a Dunkin'” – will disclose a full report upon doing so, though.

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View of the Penobscot River from a little overlook in Bucksport.

 

So, these small, quaint (some more so than others) towns like Bucksport are scattered across Maine from the banks of the Penobscot River, further west into the Maine mountains, and northward into “The County” (the giant county of northern Maine, Aroostook) towards Canada. They are dots on a map which sometimes translate to a single ramshackle town hall, the bees-knees back in ’62 (1862). Others are more vibrant, filled with little novelty stores – coin shops, rock shops, knick-knacks for tourists, etc.

 

 

Right now, Maine feels like its asleep – it’s quiet, there’s not many people out and about, and it’s really cold. I have heard several people say, “just wait ’til summer” – when the tourists and Fair-Weather-Residents return to enjoy. So for now, the antique and rock shops sit quietly on the side of the road, closed up tight against the onslaught of winter.

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Roadside antiques & furniture.

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Not your everyday run-of-the-mill rock shop – this one is UNIQUE.

 

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Roadside ice.

 

Although the craggy mountains and wide open spaces that we love so much are absent from its landscape, Maine has its own brand of wildness: trees galore, rocky seaside cliffs, soft, undulating hills, and, when you can get it, a pretty fabulous view. We’ve been finding ourselves driving around trying to get the lay of the land and looking for a vista. Whenever we think we’re heading north, we’re actually going east; sure we’re heading west towards bangor and we’re somehow magically on our way south – it’s really easy to get turned around with no Grand Mesa or Mt. Sneffels to point out the way.

 

Autumn wedding setting at The Lucerne Inn Dedham ME

Picture of Phillips Lake and the hills beyond – our current backyard (picture taken at another day, by someone else – it’s not that pretty here right now).

 

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Another view of Phillips Lake and the hills of Dedham.

 

In all of our day trips, we managed to find a great set of trails close to our house in Dedham!

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On the Dedham Trails, just down the road

 

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Myra is in heaven. Her two favorite things: Stéphane and snow.

 

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Discovered the super cute town of Ellsworth, about 20 minutes SE of us. It’s a Dot-PLUS town – super cute downtown and just a short hop to Bar Harbor / Acadia National Park.

 

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Grabbing some comfort food at Bangor’s local Irish pub, Paddy Murphy’s. We always think of our Oriental, NC friend, Mark Lucas whenever we eat Irish food. Cheers, Mariner One!

 

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Myra continues to enjoy our little house on the lake, particularly the low windows.

First Week in Maine

We’ve been in Maine for a week and a half. In that time, we have purchased a mattress, television, a set of twenty (twenty!) pyrex containers, a few loads of groceries and a cord and a half of firewood. It is amazing how quickly one can accumulate things if one has the space. And we have the space! Our 1800 square foot rental on the banks of Phillps Lake feels like a mansion. A mansion filled with camp chairs, a card table, and a make-shift desk, but a mansion nonetheless.

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View overlooking Phillips Lake from the living room.

 

The most notable differences between our last home -The Great White Buffalo (our camper) – and our new rental house in Maine:

  1. While taking a shower, we do not have to worry about how much water we are using, nor do we have to turn on the hot water heater in order to take a toasty shower.
  2. We do not have to visit the RV dump once a week to get rid of our shower / sewer water – awesome!!!
  3. When we want a change of scenery, we can’t just close the slides, hook up to the truck, and take off. I miss that.
  4. When the cold wind blows, it stays outside. I suppose drywall and insulation go a long way to help with that.

 

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6 Potters Drive is a log cabin-style home nestled in the trees and overlooking the northern, narrow part of Phillips Lake. This particular area is a community-within-a-town – we are in “Lucerne-In-Maine” which is part of the town of Dedham. Yes, Lucerne as in Lucerne, Switzerland. I still don’t know why it’s called that (lots of Swiss people here?) but I will get to the bottom of it and report back to you.

 

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A view of the house from the trail that runs along the lake. Taken by someone else during a nicer time of year. It’s really cold and snowy here now! Eight inches of light, powdery snow fell the other night.

 

 

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Our favorite room is the one with all the windows and the views out on to the lake. It is light and bright and, once we get the wood stove going – toasty warm.

 

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Thanks, once again, to Craigslist for putting us in touch with the right people for the right things! It took a couple trips but we secured a cord-and-a-half of wood.

 

On a side note, did you know that a “cord” is a unit of measurement for wood?  It’s a stack of wood that measures four feet high, eight feet long, and four feet deep. I have no clue how much wood we will go through before Spring hits. We’ll see how long a Cord Point Five keeps the cold at bay.

 

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There’s a retired railroad track that runs along one side (our side) of the Phillips Lake. It’s pretty awesome to have access to a trail right from your backyard. Myra and I have gone on a few snowy, exploratory runs so far. Railroad Running is not for the careless runner – the uneven ties force you to pay attention to each step. One false placement or “lazy lift” (not raising your foot high enough) and you will be sporting railroad rash for a solid week.

 

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During our last grocery outing, Stephane bought some birdseed and filled up the empty bird feeder that hangs out on the deck. A few hours later, the entire contents of said bird feeder were covering the snow below. We have a very fat, bold squirrel neighbor.

 

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The town of Bangor is on the banks of the Penobscot River, which flows out to the Atlantic Ocean. Bangor is bigger than Montrose and definitely has more of a “city” feel. It does, however, have a waterfront park with a vibrant music scene, a beautiful old library, a quaint downtown with local shops.

 

 

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One of several mini tributaries that flow through the city and meet up with the Penobscot River.

 

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It’s not Backstreet Bagel, but it’s still pretty good.

 

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Bangor’s library is housed in a beautiful old building.

 

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Absolutely no clue what this store is all about but the building looked cool. So there you go.

 

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Myra, with her trusty favorite shoe (dad’s), is acclimating to the snowy cold and loving being back on the trails again (as am I).

 

All in all, a good first week in Maine. Next week we hope to check out Acadia National Park, Camden (cute town on the coast with great trails in the hills), Clifton Crag (rock climbing), and hopefully find a little ice to climb.

 

Stay tuned!

Becoming Mainers

During our non-stop, full-on, month-long trip to Switzerland, we paused a few times to discuss (in English, a nice time-out for my brain) our potential future on the east coast in Maine. So when the Offer Of Employment from SevenBar Aviation popped into Stephane’s inbox, we already knew the answer. Although there was another potential gig on the table that paid quite a bit more, Said Gig was in New Jersey. And after much research on the two states, countless pro-con lists, and many back and fourths, in the end, the “mountains”, coast, and wild spaces of Maine won out over New Jersey and ka-ching ka-ching.

 

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Excited to be joining the SevenBar Aviation family!

 

So we begin the new year in our new home, starting a new chapter of our lives: Becoming Mainers.

The Elephant In The Room

Since returning from our sailing adventure, our focus has been job search and conserving our funds. But Stéphane hasn’t been home in over three years and I have yet to meet my sisters-in-law and their families. Add to this the fact that we have a lot of free time now and will have less once Stéphane is flying again, and you’ve got yourself lots of opposing forces in the mix. Switzerland was fast becoming The Elephant In The Room of The Great White Buffalo.

 

So…

 

We pulled the trigger.

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At Detroit Metro Airport – packed and ready to go! You only live once, you can’t take your money with you when you go, and family is Number One. Switzerland here we come!

 

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An enjoyable flight across The Pond: a tasty dinner, a few glasses of red, one book, and one breakfast later, and we are in Geneva.

 

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My first experience with Swiss Precision in Switzerland: we disembark from the plane, get our passports stamped, and walk to baggage claim to find our baggage WAITING for us. When has that EVER happened to you? Twenty minutes after our plane lands, we are on a train to Fribourg.

 

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With Silvia and our nephews, Anthony and Thierry.

 

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TonTon plays a few tunes. Note: In French, “uncle” is “oncle”, and slang is TonTon. “Aunt” is “Tante”, slang – TaTa.

 

 

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We piled Silvia and the kids into the car and did a little driving tour of where Silvia and Stéphane (her husband) live – Sorens. It is a beautiful little village in the Gruyères region (where the Gruyere cheese comes from) surrounded by forests, green fields, and massive mountains.

 

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We saw The Rega practicing some moves in one of their helicopters (Swiss Rega is Switzerland’s elite search & rescue / air ambulance company).

 

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Organic farm.

 

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Old farm building in a field of green.

 

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Layers of nature.

 

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Meeting our newest nephew, Adriano! With Fabio, Yvonne, and Maria.

 

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Bro & sis.

 

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A hike up to the summit of one of the local mountains, Cousimbert.

 

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Beautiful weather for a hike – lots of green down below and white, further up.

 

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Lake Gruyère below. Village of Sorens, where Silvia, Stéphane, and the kiddos live is on the green hill in the background.

 

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Switzerland has the most excellently-marked trails I have ever seen. This sign marks the winter snow-shoeing trail that we hiked today. As you move up the mountain, these pink signs can be seen sticking out of the ground and/or red/white plastic ribbons tied to tree branches, marking the way forward.

 

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Gaining altitude.

 

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More Swiss Precision: check out the perfectly-stacked walls of wood – these guys are ready for winter.

 

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Look! The trail markings continue! A rocked painted with a yellow arrow. I think we should go this way!

 

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More trail markings: an arrow carved into a tree stump.

 

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Nearing the top…

 

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The Eiger in the distance.

 

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Lunch at the summit: various cheeses, cervola (Swiss sausage), farm bread, and to wash it down, Cardinal – local beer.

 

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Cheers!

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The amazing Alps.

 

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A shot with our Moosejaw flag and Eiger in the background.

 

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At the summit of Cousimbert, you can just begin to see the layers and layers of Alps that go on and on. I look forward to coming back in the spring or summer and running on the extensive trail systems here!

 

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In Fribourg to see Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of Fribourg. Every year, crowds gather in the city to watch as he makes his way to the cathedral riding on his donkey. He then makes a speech (in French and German – Fribour is a bi-lingual city).

 

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Me and Silvia.

 

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The massive crowd assembles in the streets of Fribourg, children sit atop parents’ shoulders anxiously awaiting Saint Nicholas.

 

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Can you see him yet?

 

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Papi and Mami.

 

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Anticipation.

 

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Drinking Vin Chaud (hot wine – wine + tea + spices) and waiting for Saint Nicholas.

 

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Saint Nicholas makes his way through the streets of Fribourg on a donkey to the grand cathedral, mounts the steps, and gives a speech (in French and German, Fribourg being a bilingual town). Joyeux Noel!!

 

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After Saint Nicholas, the family assembled for a fabulous fondue dinner.

 

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Father and son.

 

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Enjoying the melty, cheesy goodness.

 

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An evening out in Bulle to watch (Silvia’s) Stéphane’s band, Moment’Homme, perform. We’ve been going non-stop since we arrived in Switzerland – cramming the days with family, food, drink, friends, and exploring. The Elephant In The Room is no more.

Cross Country

After *almost* either selling The Buffalo or getting scammed and losing The Buffalo (we really weren’t sure if the guy was trying to scam us or really was a scammer), we winterize her, pack up The Tig and the trailer, say goodbye to our friends, and hit the road. We’ll hopefully sell the truck and Buffalo this spring, once the weather is nicer and people are actually looking for RVs again.

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Only seven months out from our sailing adventure and we now own more things than can fit in a car (sigh). Although, we do have the entire back set aside for Myra, too (she was very anxious as we were packing, thinking we were going to leave her in Colorado again).

 

After spending an uneventful first day on the road, day two brings a little more interest. Apparently we should have checked the weather before leaving Colorado…

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First Storm of The Century for the midwest winter 2015 season. The blue dot? That’s us about to enter the storm and some major carnage.

 

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The snow begins to stick…

 

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And let the carnage begin.

 

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Cars and giant semis speed past us – our average speed about 40mph from Iowa all the way home to Detroit – only to end up taking a dive into the snow.

 

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We call it the “selfie jack-knife”. Ouch.

 

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As the carnage began, we started counting the cars and semis off the road. And when we pulled onto good ‘ole Lange street, the final count was 170.

 

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The Edgetowner Motal. De Soto, Iowa. Our haven from the storm for a night. Shabby and old but they are cheap and take dogs so…

 

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Myra was super stoked about the snow. She loves burrowing in it.

 

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Don’t tell anyone, but we did let her hang out on the bed with us for a bit.

 

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Sparkly, popcorn ceilings, retro pendant lighting, funky stripes, paper thin walls. The Edgewater.

 

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Long story short, we made like The Tortoise and got home to Detroit safely. Slowly, but safely.

On The Verge

(or, “On The Edge”, but then Stéphane would wail: “of glory!” à la Lady GaGa so we’ll leave Verge in there and move along).

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On the road to Indian Creek – the San Juan mountains behind us, the lovely La Sal range in front.

 

It’s definitely taken longer than we had initially anticipated, but the extra months of searching and waiting have allowed us the time we needed to shift our priorities; re-organize what we thought we wanted our lives to look like. While the overall picture of how we see our lives playing out remains fairly intact, the backdrop is shiny and new. And completely unexpected.

 

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You can’t tell from the picture, but it’s cold outside. We will definitely miss the sunny Colorado climate.

 

All of Stéphane’s hard work to improve his pilot  cred has absolutely paid off. His updated resume gleams and – consequentially – his new phone —bought specifically because he was always asking, voice raised, “what’s that you said?” of the previous model — chirps daily with potential futures.

 

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Skeleton atop a motorcycle atop an International atop a conex. Only out in the boonies, Colorado.

 

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Tom & Melisa took off a few hours earlier than us and secured a Buffalo-friendly camp spot – Camp Gnar Vee.

 

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The message board @ Beef Basin turnoff in Indian Creek – Army of Darkness always has the coolest messages.

 

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The Great White Buffalo makes the trek to Indian Creek (climbing mecca).

 

And so it seems that the last bit of 2015 will bring lots of beginnings and “news” and, as such, endings and “lasts”. Lounging in The Great White Buffalo as I type this (sick with the crud) and staring out the dusty window at the familiar, warm red walls of Indian Creek, I wonder when we’ll be back here next. And what our life will look like when we do return. Stéphane’s out climbing right now. I imagine him placing gear in a crack, testing it, and moving higher – climbing in that confident, strong way that he has – and I wonder if he’s thinking of lasts too. Today could be his last day climbing at Indian Creek. Tonight may be the last campfire shared with our friends here. And next week we may leave life as we know it in Montrose for good.

 

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View out the Buffalo’s window @ Indian Creek – not too shabby.

 

So even though I have the crud, I’ll walk – and I may even run a little – down dusty Beef Basin Road this afternoon. I’ll look up to my right at The Ruins wall and remember Halloween 2012, climbing with fairy wings, facing divorce, and worrying about how the rest of my life was going to play out. Maybe I’ll make it far enough down the road to Way Rambo and my first climb ever at The Creek: I scampered up thirty feet or so, looked down and screamed “Tom, let me down!!”.

 

Its cold outside but the sun, intense up in the perfectly blue sky (not a cloud), will keep me warm enough.

 

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A morning bocce ball game around camp.

 

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The boys are super stoked at their successful fire-gathering mission. The girls call this “pant work” (meaning the boys do it).

 

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Climbing in the sun @ Selfish Wall.

 

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Need a boost?

 

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Bocce

 

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Bocce @ Camp Gnar Vee

 

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Leaving The Creek…on the road back to Montrose. Beautiful, weird rocks in Utah.

 

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Paradox Valley.

 

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Posing next to the NEW and IMPROVED “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” sign.

 

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This was what the old one looked like – nothing very colorful about it.

 

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And nearly back home. Stopping to say goodby to our lovely San Juans.

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San Juan Selfie.

Here’s To Tom & Melisa

Our very-best-good friends, Tom and Melisa, got married this past August at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.

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If you know Tom and Melisa, then you know that this ten day hike up to the highest point in Africa epitomizes the life they enjoy together: multi-pitch crack climbs out in Indian Creek, whitewater kayaking class IV / V down in Costa Rica, climbing ice in Silverton; exploring wineries, medieval towns, and more cracks in Croatia.

 

Over Halloween weekend, Army of Darkness and Team Duck Tape rallied up in Escalante Canyon for several days of climbing, eating, drinking, hanging out by the campfire, and celebrating Tom and Melisa’s marriage.

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Tom singing a dirty campfire song to his new wife.

 

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Here we go!

 

Camp Mayhem was tastefully decorated for the occasion…

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Skull in a juniper.

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Susan’s “beer cake” – with a top layer of Sofia (champagne in a can) – flanked by the bride and groom.

 

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Bejeweled skull

 

We were able to secure our normal camp spot close to our favorite crag, Green Machine. A crag is an area along a rock wall where there are lots of different rock climbs. That way, with the number of people in our group, we can all climb in the same area so its a fun and social day together.

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River crossing on the way to Green Machine.

 

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Hanging out, belaying, and climbing in the sun at Green Machine.

 

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Lee breaks out his big-breasted alter-ego and Melisa’s a witch.

 

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Lee leads Elvis (name of the route) in a dress. Boob jam, anyone?

 

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I had a really great weekend of climbing – getting stronger and more mentally tough (I think).

 

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Nearing the anchors on Twisted in Trovia.

 

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Back at Camp Mayhem, more costumed friends awaited – here’s Karen as Effie (Hunger Games) – “May the odds be ever in your favor”.

 

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Heidi, Charlie, and Karen/Effie.

 

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Karen made this amazing “Witch’s Brew” – complete with frozen ice hands and dry ice (which created a bubbling, steaming effect) – super creative and tasty!

 

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We broke out our “moozies” (think beer coozie + mitten). Susan knitted each of us a moozie – Stephane’s is red with the Swiss flag, mine is green stripes.

 

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Here’s a pic from our Northern Rockies Roadtrip – showing off the moozies! Stylish AND functional!

 

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Pat made a super tasty wedding cake – can you guess what the frosting design is? You got it – that’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Pat & Kim were also on this trip with Tom & Melisa and Pat married them (in Swahili, nonetheless) at the summit.

 

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Keeping warm thanks to the ridiculously huge fire.

 

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Dan surfs a pallet seconds before it goes up in flames.

 

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Our wedding present to Tom and Melisa – a wine box with wine for 1st, 3rd, and 5th anniversary. Stephane made the box from scratch and I penciled and then burned in the tree design.

 

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Here’s a close-up. We had a lot of fun working on this project together. Typically Stephane does these projects but I was happy to be able to contribute my two cents this time!

 

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Alan cooks up some grub the next morning.

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Breakfast of champions: cake topped with salami (???)

 

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After two full days of climbing and three nights of campfire songs, way too much food, and multiple “baby sips” from the tequila bottle as it made its way around the fire for the twentieth time, it’s time to pack up and head on home.

 

 

Adventures Closer to Home

We finished our Great Northern Rockies Roadtrip with a spur-of-the-moment push south, back home to Colorado, to spend the weekend in Escalante climbing with Team Duck Tape.

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Stephane gears up for the only climb we could find in the shade.

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A curvaceous crack.

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Happy to be on some rock again.

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Cooling off in a nearby creek.

 

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A fun weekend with friends. And yes, we do look like we just popped out of a toaster. It was that hot.

 

 

We spend a solid 4.5 days in Montrose: Stephane chasing job possibilities, me working and setting up my portfolio in hopes of drumming up more contract gigs. Myra gets a bone stuck in her intestine and after several trips to the vet, we confirm she has cleared it (paid $100 for the x-ray to prove this, even after me digging through every piece of her poo). It’s Friday – let’s roll out.

 

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The little “town” of Sargents, CO (it’s more like a gas station / general store, mechanic, post office, and six homes), a couple hours east of Montrose, is our stomping ground for the weekend.

 

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It’s a dirt biking (the boys) / trail running (me & Myra) kind of weekend. The weather is cool and the mountains await..

 

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Tom poses next to Charlie’s new 450 “death bike”.

 

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The indomitable Shadow Cruiser.

 

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Bones and such.

 

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A shout out to Gilbert and Andrew – two hunters I met while on a trail run. They lent me one of their extra orange safety vests so that I wouldn’t be mistaken for a deer or elk while running. THANK YOU, boys! I did return your vest and hope that I dropped it at the right camp spot!

 

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Campfire jamb session – pass the tequila.

 

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Myra dreams of a tasty, grilled chicken thigh.

 

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Charlie & Tom

 

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After three days of fun, time to head back to MoTown. Stephane guides The Great White Buffalo down a steep section.

Mission Accomplished

We’re going into the third and final week at the Laurel, Montana airport.

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Stéphane’s been studying and flying and testing. He’s knocked out his CFII (that’s Certified Flight Instructor – Instrument), Fixed Wing Instrument, Fixed Wing Commercial, and – the biggie – ATP (Airline Transport Pilot – the highest rating you can get as a helicopter pilot).

 

 

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It’s a Thursday afternoon and I’m working in the pilots’ lounge – a small, yellow quonset hut set on the immaculately manicured, very green patch of grass just on the other side of the barbed-wire airport fence. “Doc”, the airport manager, pokes his head in the door and asks me if I’ll help him set up the Magic Jack for the lounge later today. I tell him no problem and ask if he has any other projects he needs help with. Last week Stéphane mowed some of the grass and I helped him dispose of tumbleweeds that had gathered along the fence lines and empty fields around the airport. Doc’s been the airport manager at Laurel since 1967. He also has an RV and has visited every state except for Alaska and Hawaii in it.

 

On this particular Thursday, Stéphane is taking check rides for fixed-wing commercial and ATP. So while he is flying around in planes and helis, I work and stare out the window, watching the comings and goings of the little airport community. Wherever we go, I always end up being Neighborhood Watch – laptop set up in front of a window, half working, half people watching. It’s not a bad gig.

 

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Our little setup at Laurel Airport. Myra loved the cool, green grass and Stéphane loved the commute to the flight school (first building on the right).

 

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One of Stéphane’s tasks was to do a “cross country” flight in the fixed wing. And guess who got to go with him?

 

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We flew from Laurel up north to Shelby, Montana – almost to the Canadian border.

 

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Filling up at the super-small Shelby airport. The fuel is stored in the wings? Really?

 

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Selfie with plane – a Cessna 172-RG (that’s for “retractable gear” – meaning the wheels go up and down; no clue what the 172 means).

 

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Flew over some pretty amazing scenery – mountains, rivers, fields of wheat; ranches, tractors the size of micro-machines.

 

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Meandering…

 

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In between quizzing Stéphane and working, Myra and I took off for afternoon runs at Phipps Park, a local trail system + disc golf course.

 

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What Hefti Trip would be complete without things breaking? We discovered a large, unfixable crack in our gray water holding tank (gray water = dish soap water; black water = toilet water + waste; very thankful it was the gray). We did a little surgery on The Buffalo, pulling out the cracked holding tank.

 

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While repairing The Buffalo, we discovered that she had, at one point in time, been patched up with a piece of metal that used to be a PARKING sign…whaaaaat?

 

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Draining the remaining gray water – a foul business. Dirty dishwater mingling with rotted scraps of food made for a putrid stench.

 

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The Great White Buffalo spent three weeks near the corner of Laurel Airport and Buffalo Trail roads – meant to be, or what?

 

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And so after three weeks of sleepless, late-night study sessions, endless hours practicing maneuvers in both plane and heli, and stressful, strenuous check rides, Stéphane emerges victorious! While The Heftis may be leaving Montana with a few less dollars in their pockets, they are now PLUS ONE bad-ass pilot who is at the very top of his game and ready for ACTION!

 

The Beartooth Wilderness

After a week of training and flying @ Northern Sky Aviation (Stéphane) / working in the parking lot of NSA (me), we are both ready for and excited about  the prospect of an actual, real weekend! (When you don’t have a “regular” routine, you tend to forget what day it is and you lose appreciation for Fridays and weekends. Now that we are getting back into work mode, we’re starting to appreciate the weekends again).

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Friday afternoon we hitch up The Buffalo and head off into the Beartooth Wilderness.

 

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Thanks to beta from our new friend (and Stéphane’s flight instructor) Dave, we found ourselves at a legitimate National Forest campground this time around. The max trailer length of 21 feet advertised on the campground’s website did not deter us and we were able to squeeze The Buffalo, all 32 feet of her, plus the truck, into a spot easily enough.

 

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Tucked in at the end of East Rosebud Road and feet of the  Beartooth Mountains, we shared this amazing valley with the Alpine Lake Association, 1894 – a small grouping of homes circled around Alpine Lake. The Alpine Lake Association made it abundantly – and repetitively – clear that their lake is  PRIVATE and their property is PRIVATE.

 

 

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Who needs an elitist, private lake when you have a network of trails to choose from?

 

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Even though it’s the weekend, Stéphane is in work mode – studying, reading, absorbing all that he can. So that means its time for Myra and I to go exploring up a trail!

 

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Spread Creek Trail begins just at the base of our little campground and gradually rises 1,600 feet in 4.5 miles, offering expansive views of the valley below and up close and personal, in-your-face mountain time.

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Working our way up.

 

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Gaining altitude.

 

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Myra taking a breather in the shadow of a giant cairn.

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Topped out.

 

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Running through sections of blackened trees (forest fire a few years back),  clear, alpine streams, and new forest growth – Myra’s bear bell jangling cheerily on her collar as we go – we top out at a cairn-filled meadow offering 360 views of the surrounding Beartooths: the effort was rewarded!

 

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The next day Stéphane joined Myra and I for a hike up East Rosebud Trail. Rosebud took us back into the nooks and crannies of the Beartooths as we headed into an ever-narrowing valley with craggy peaks and jagged, tooth-like rock faces looming overhead.

 

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They may not be the grand 13 and 14ers that we are used to back home, but these mountains are imposing in their own right: stoic, harsh, and dramatic.

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Pointy, just like bear teeth.

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Bluebird day.

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Into the wild.

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Bearteeth!

 

 

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Mountain man.

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Family photo. Myra’s never looking the right way.

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Rosebud Creek

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Elk Lake.

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Happy!

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Along the way, we nearly run into a very large moose who, standing silently on the trail in front of us, glances our way, unimportantly, and continues sauntering up the trail towards us; we yield the right of way and back up and off the trail.

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Our first moose encounter! It was surreal.

 

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Myra did very well – she being up ahead of us on the trail (off leash, of course) – when she saw Mr. Moose, she stopped and stared, looked at us, back at moose, back at us, and just stayed put. When called, she came right to us and moved along off the trail with us. Good girl, Myra!

 

 

 

Easy Button Camping

 

We were only there two nights because we do not gravitate towards RV parks and/or such places where groups of campers gather together in confined spaces. That being said, if you’re going to spend some time in a more public venue, Ich-Kep-Pe park is one I would recommend.

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Note the “Musicians Rendezvous 2nd weekend in August”

We discovered this park on freecampsites.net, a website created for and maintained by those free-spirited people of the country who are bound and determined to see America while not breaking the bank. Here you can find places to camp as well as helpful reviews by other campers- describing the amenities or lack thereof, the ease of access, acceptable RV size, vibe of the area, etc.

 

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Right along the banks of the Yellowstone River, Itch-Kep-Pe park offers AMENITIES (a word not typically associated with places where The Buffalo wanders): trash disposal! Water! Firewood!

 

As its my shift to drive The Buffalo, Stephane sits shotgun and reads the park reviews aloud. Everything sounds perfect except for one common theme, which may be a deal breaker: in every single review, the roads are described as rutted out and super rough. Now, we’ve taken The Buffalo down some pretty sketchy roads but if more than one person is commenting on the decayed quality of the roads, then we may need to start looking for another spot for the night. But before we go down that road (no pun intended), we’ll give Ich-Kep-Pe a shot. Because we’ll always give it at least one shot, maybe two if its worthy.

It’s night when we pull into the entrance to Ich-Kep-Pe; not sunset or civil twilight, it’s dark, black night. Which makes it a little harder to read the road but Stephane turns right on in. We scan the gravel road anxiously for the inevitable super washboard that will shake sawdust from The Buffalo or the giant pit that will bust an axle. Except…we don’t see (or feel) anything except an ordinary, nicely maintained, gravel road. We laugh out loud – what were our fellow RV-ers thinking? Not only is the road absolutely fine, all of the camp spots are super easy to access.

 

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The park was set up for the RV-er with minimal maneuverability skills (I count myself in this group). Even I could have driven The Buffalo around the park and into/out of any one of the nicely-maintained sites. Wow!

 

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This is what is known as a “pull through” (because you can pull through it – drive in straight on, drive out straight on: no backing up involved! Easy Button Camping!

If we’re talking in Free Range terms, staying @ I-K-P park is like DOCKING at the ritzy Puerto Bahia marina in the Dominican Republic after being anchored out at various hard-to-get-to, untenable anchorages. Its important to experience both sides so that you can truly appreciate each for its virtues.

At I-K-P, you give up a little privacy, the feeling of being out in nature on your own, and the feeling of complete freedom and self-reliance. But, you don’t have to live with your smelly trash, you can stand under the hot water of your shower an extra minute or so, and if you don’t like your spot, feel free to move – there’s 48 others you can easily drive into.

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Our spot at I-K-P park, right on the river.

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At parks like this, you see all kinds of campers – these guys are in their “RV America” – you pay a little extra to see America through the windshield of a rented RV, but when you’re done, you walk away – no strings, and all.

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This guy’s got a sit-atop – it’s a camper shell that sits in the bed of the truck. These setups are great because you can get into harder-to-get-to more out-of-the-way places. Down side: a little small if it’s your primary residence.

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Not sure if this guy’s prepping for a Civil War re-enactment but he keeps a tidy camp – props!

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Here at I-K-P, its all about numbers. Number of nights you can stay: 10. Number of days before you can come again: 30. Number on the clock when its time to be quiet: 10. Number of miles per hour allowed to drive in the park: 15. Number of hours you can leave your campsite unattended: 48. Number to call in case of emergency: (406) 322-5326 – that’s the Columbus PD. Or, in more dire circumstances, that’d be 9-1-1.

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Thank you town of Columbus, Montana, for such a clean, quiet, easy place to be for a few nights!!

We’re Fixing a Slide…

So there’s these things on RVs called “slides”- their purpose, to grant you more real estate when you’re camped and less when you’re driving. Some RVs have slides on both sides, some on just one side. Some RVs have one giant slide on one side, some have multiple, smaller slides.

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The Buffalo has two slides on her port (that’s left) side – a living room slide and a bedroom slide.

 

Taking its name from its function, a slide does just what you would expect it to (it slides). With the quick push of a button, your slide comes to life, pushing itself outward from the belly of your RV and increasing your footprint a good four feet or more (it doesn’t seem like much but when you live in tight quarters, every little extra square foot matters. Like, a lot).

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Look at all that extra space! (and check out the reflection in the back mirror – that’s the Beartooth Mountains!)

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With the living room slide extended.

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Living room slide closed- BIG difference, right??

The slide’s anatomy is pretty basic – within each sleeps a hydraulic piston, awakened by the press of a single button. You press “out”, your piston pushes to extend your slide; “in”, it will pull to retract it.

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That’s the piston in the center.

 

Slides are in integral part of our camping routine: find a camp spot, get into the camp spot (the hard part), level The Buffalo (because we’re over sleeping at weird angles, thank you very much Free Range- kisses!), then pop out the slides.

Consider yourself prepped for the real story…

 

After driving all day to get to south central Montana, we pull into Columbus, Montana’s lovely town park, Ich-Kep-Pe, to rest for the night. Camp spot achieved, Buffalo leveled, slides… BAM!

“What was that?”

That, my friends, is the sound of a slide coming apart; it seems our bedroom slide would neither extend nor retract after The Sound. A clean and efficient autopsy by Stéphane reveals the problem: the piston and its metal frame have detached from the wooden base, rendering it useless.

But why?

Because, it seems, try as we might, we simply cannot escape the damaging effects of water: rot follows us around like Myra does when we have treats in our pockets.

 

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The wooden base of our bedroom slide had been turned to a pile of rotted, pulpy, sawdust, incapable of holding the metal piston and its frame. A sharp, painful case of déjà vu sends us back to Day Two on Free Range, where we discovered the very same  rot issue.

“Crap- how bad is it?”

After a more in-depth assessment, Stéphane’s diagnosis is not as bad as I had first thought (flashes of us rebuilding entire sections of Free Range’s settee): we just need to add a piece of wood to replace the rotted section, and then secure the metal frame back into the new piece of wood.

 

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Thank you, town of Columbus, Montana, for supplying the town park with free pieces of firewood. In the pile left next to the fire ring at our camp site, Stéphane found the perfect piece – the right shape and size, the right hardness (VERY), the right price (free!).

 

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A quick trip to Ace produces shiny brackets – these help to attach the new piece of wood to the original frame.

 

A generous slather of wood glue, a dash of screws, a pinch of bolts et voilà! Now We Cookin’ With Gas, Man!

 

 

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Finished product! And our slide will live to slide again!

 

A Coke for My Captain

Congratulations, Bug! After much prep and studying, Stéphane took and passed the written portion of the ATP!!

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A celebratory tailgate dinner: baguette, slices of cheese, and wine in a wee glass. Life is good.

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Cheers!

 

With that achieved and after nearly two weeks dragging The Buffalo places she really shouldn’t be, it’s time to put northwest Montana in the rear-view mirror and head east. Stéphane found a flight school where he can complete his CFI & ATP certifications so the Laurel, Montana area will be our new home for a bit.

 

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Goodbye, NW Montana. We will miss your mountains, trails, and lakes. Family run (me & Myra) / bike (S) on Strawberry Lake Trail.

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Three miles and 1,500 feet of elevation gain later: Strawberry Lake.

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Flathead Lake behind us in the distance.

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Blue dragonfly @ Strawberry Lake.

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We enjoyed this super fine camp spot up near Strawberry Lake and stayed quite a few days, enjoying the trail system. As we gain more experience with boondocking (that’s camping in random places on public land), a pattern is emerging: it’s always a lot easier to get The Buffalo IN to a camp spot than it is to get her OUT.

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Yet another tight squeeze. We thankfully did not have to perform any road widening on this exit, thanks to Captain Stéphane’s amazing skills behind the wheel.

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And that’s why I buy him treats to keep him happy 🙂 Coke for my Captain!

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The pointy mountain in the middle of the pic? Strawberry Lake’s up there, just to the right of it. And believe it or not, we got The GWB nearly all the way up there (by “we”, I mean Stéphane). These mountains are part of the Swan mountain range and have a different feel from our Colorado mountains. The Swans are lower but more lush and covered with dense forest.

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Peace out Glacier National Park, Whitefish, and Columbia Falls, and Kalispell! We hope to come back again one day. For now…on the road again!

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