Going Wherever It Leads

A family adventure blog


Camping with baby donkeys, oh yeah, and the total eclipse

So we have tamed down our adventures for the month of August, quite to my liking. Over the eclipse weekend, we rediscovered the joys of car camping. Car camping so lazy that on Sunday we only roamed a few hundred feet the entire day –down to the river and back to cool off. We had a sweet set-up along the John Day River beside a giant juniper that provided shade, along with a tarp, to just relax all day in this no-cell-service-no-internet zone, with some friends, whose gourmet car-camp cooking put ours to shame.

Jason had an in with this rancher in the middle of nowhere Eastern Oregon (Twickenham, to be exact), beautiful canyonlands and ranch country near the Painted Hills, that has a similar feel to the Southwest.

It was definitely a working ranch. As we were greeted by our host, complete with cowboy hat and handlebar mustache, a threesome of donkeys greeted us in the middle of the road as well.

Some photos of the ranch:


The three-day-old donkey named Eclipse and watchful Mama



litter along the cow path


view of the ranch from a nearby hill


another nice shot of the cow pelvis


more donkeys (I was kinda obsessed)


playing around with my 75-300 mm lens


sunset reflected on the hills, first night


second night sunset even better


morning of the eclipse, breaking camp, love that morning light

Then, for the eclipse we drove up to a part of the ranch on the height of land with amazing views of hillsides, valleys, and Mt. Jefferson and Hood in the distance. It was a perfect morning –just enough clouds in the bright blue sky to make it interesting. Before the event, I wasn’t quite convinced it was necessary to drive four hours away, brave the traffic (which was mostly hype –there was no traffic getting there and mostly minimal coming back), all for an extra 3% of coverage. (Walla Walla was at 97%) But man, Jason was right, that 3% made all the difference.

He described the difference like this –what was something you looked at in the sky all of a sudden became an event all around you. And that’s how it felt. As the moon overtook the sun, the air slowly became colder and colder, even though it was still bright. The quality of the light changed so that everything looked different, a sunset orangey tint to the air. Then during the two minutes of totality, you could whip off your glasses and look around. The sky became night, even a few stars were visible. A 360 degree sunset spanned the purple clouded horizon. And the moon! It was total black with a crisp thin bright white line of light all around it that twinkled. It was amazing. I would definitely drive even further to experience it again. (2024?)

I hesitate to post photos because I did not have the lenses nor the skills to do it justice, but here’s a pale hint of what it was like:


enjoying the view


Mt. Hood on the horizon, sky getting darker


right before totality


this photo really doesn’t do the total eclipse justice


coming back to light

Over and out,


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PCT Revisited: Providing Some Magic to Hungry Hikers in Oregon

Charlton Lake, Oregon

Charlton Lake, Oregon, first thing in the morning, before a beautiful trail run, then quick swim –ah, camping life

This past weekend Not-a-Bear and I donned our trail names once again and headed to the PCT –this time as trail angels, and weekend car campers, at Charlton Lake in the Willamette National Forest, near Bend, Oregon. The lake and campsites that surround it are on a lovely stretch of trail surrounded by tall pines and dotted with crystal clear lakes. We passed through the area last year at this time (about a week later), and figured there would probably be a good-sized pack of this year’s PCT thru hikers to feed.

We were right! We lost count, but we probably saw around 40 hikers in the two days were we there. We grilled up 60 hamburgers, 32 hot dogs, and 2 veggie burgers, and doled out 48 cans of soda (grape, strawberry, and cream soda were the hits, and favorites of mine on the trail), 72 beers, 2 bags of applies, 4 giant bags of potato chips, sour patch kids, a bag of baby carrots, and lots of baked goods –basically everything we craved as hikers. We didn’t bring any food back with us and ran out earlier than we’d expected.

We had a blast! For those of you unfamiliar with trail magic, it is when strangers give unexpected food to hikers. This could be in the form of a cooler by a trail head filled with cold soda, or cooking up an actual


fun time feeding new friends

meal. It is something you don’t expect on the trail, but is always appreciated, and often the pick-me-up you need at just the right time. Our highest compliments of the weekend were from hikers who told us they were having a really bad day until they saw our signs on the trail for burgers and beers, and then things picked up. I remember feeling the same.

finally got to break out the hammock we got as a wedding gift, thought I'd have more time to relax in it, but we were quite busy with our guests!

finally got to break out the hammock we got as a wedding gift, thought I’d have more time to relax in it, but we were quite busy with our guests!

We really enjoyed chatting with this year’s hikers and learning about how different the trail is compared to last year. For one thing, they got a lot of snow in the Sierras and had some miserable sounding stories involving miles of snowfields, ice axes, and micro-spikes. I am glad that wasn’t us last year! 2015 was an exceptionally low snow year, followed by a pretty high one this year. This led to more water in sections that were very dry for us, but also an increase in mosquitoes. We had a small smokey campfire burning all weekend to keep them down, but when you left that circle you certainly felt them, and many hikers came in with bug netting covering their faces. The bugs were long gone last year at this time.

For us it was nostalgic to be hanging with hikers again (I didn’t even mind the smell!), and fun to live vicariously for the weekend. For me especially it was really nice to feel like I fit in, something I struggled with most of my own hike last year. I finally felt like I earned my trail cred. It felt good to be able to give advice to this year’s hikers, share our stories, and listen to theirs.

Deschutes River, near Bend

Deschutes River, near Bend

It was a great group of hikers, and just a perfect weekend, topped by heading into Bend on Sunday for the night. Since we ran out of food on Saturday, we left a little earlier than planned and had time to check out some of the sights around Newberry National Volcanic Monument, like Lava River Cave, a cave created by a hollowed out lava tube, and some rapids on the Deschutes River. Then we spent the afternoon and evening exploring McMenamin’s Old St. Francis School, a Catholic School beautifully and creatively restored to a hotel, complete with a soaking pool, several bars and restaurants, and even hidden rooms filled with very cool art work.

one of many really cool pieces of art at Old St. Francis School Hotel, Bend

one of many really cool pieces of art at Old St. Francis School Hotel, Bend

Now we are home, back to the real world, but it was a great mini-vacation.



P.S. If you’d like to see some of the things I’ve been up to check out The Passion Project, especially the profile of potter, Amy Hepner, a thru-hiker we met on-trail last year. Subscribe to read about another creative thru hiker I met in the next installment.


sunset, Charlton Lake


moon’s reflection




Roadtripping: Coast-to-coast with All our Possessions

Update: This post was written last night, we have arrived! But I’m too tired to update anything else ๐Ÿ™‚

So, we are 8 days into our roadtrip with 1 to go! Here’s the short version of what our days looked like:
Day 1: Merrimack, NH to Erie, PA (We took several days to meander from Kingfield to MA visiting friends and family, so we didn’t count that as part of the trip)

us in our very packed-down Corrolla, starting out

us in our very packed-down Corrolla, starting out

Day 2: Erie, PA to St. Ignace, MI

Day 3: St. Ignace, MI to Appleton, WI

Day 4: Appleton, WI to Wall, SD (our longest drive)

Day 5: Wall, SD to Badlands National Park, SD (our shortest drive)

Day 6: Badlands to Billings, MT

Day 7: Billings, MT to Yellowstone National Park, WY

Day 8: Yellowstone to Boardman, OR (our second longest day of driving, crossed 5 states)

Day 9 (yet to come): Boardman, OR to Oakridge, OR, where our stuff and our car will land for the next 5 monthsRather than bore you with details of the road, here’s a list of what we found interesting and not. Sorry to the states that didn’t get mentioned highly. I’m sure you all have beautiful spots; we just did not see them on I-90. For example:

Most boring state to drive through: Minnesota, which was one of my favorites when I drove through it on Route 2, but I-90 goes through pretty boring farmlands with no rest stops along the way.

Most interesting state to drive through: Montana -so gorgeous at every turn with the white-capped Rockies in the distance, rolling rangeland, buttes, and mesas. There was lots to look at as well as the most fun driving, with all its twists and turns, inclines, and declines. This is where we passed through the Continental Divide. And hardly any other cars on the road.

Place we took the most pictures: Badlands gets first place; Mammoth Hot Springs, in Yellowstone takes second.


Badlands National Park, South Dakota


our backcountry campsite in the Badlands

Place we took the least pictures: Mt. Rushmore; once you see it, you’ve seen it, and can check it off the list and move on.

Best roadside stops: Again, Montana wins. It had the best and biggest truck stops. Although Al’s Oasis in South Dakota was pretty fun too. And I enjoyed the cheese/gift shops of Wisconsin.

Worst roadside stops: New York; overpriced and generic rest areas on the very long turnpike.

Warmest part of the trip:ย South Dakota and into Montana on Day 6, got into the 70s.

falls near Lake Superior, cold but beautiful

falls near Lake Superior, cold but beautiful

Coldest part of the trip: The Upper Penninsula, near the Great Lakes, didn’t get above 40 all day.


Friendliest state: Wisconsin; everyone seemed so genuinely kind and happy to see us.
Place with the most wildlife: Badlands. These were all the animals we saw: prairie dogs, bison, antelope, deer (white tail and mule), ground owls, blue birds, meadowlarks, killdeer, morning dove, coyote, bighorn sheep. Yellowstone was a close second, where we saw bison, antelope, pronghorn, elk, a bald eagle, rabbits, magpie. We were amazed at the amount of wildlife we encountered in these parks, and how close we got to them. We saw bison scratching themselves on picnic tables, and elk grazing so close to our campsite we could see the mats in their fur. Most surprising animal find were mountain goats at Mt. Rushmore beside all the tourists.


bison in the Badlands

bison in the Badlands

Most played CDs: Grateful Dead, Phish, Tom Petty, and Turner Templeton.

Most frequent car snack: Chocolate bunnies! No, just kidding. (If you missed the bunny saga click on the Instagram feed to the right.) Clementines.

Highest Speed Limit: 80 mph in South Dakota


Favorite place we ate: Jason -Hooch and Blotto’s, in Erie, PA; “purely for the name,” and the food was good too.
Catie -Dobber’s Pasties in the Upper Penninsula

Best craft beer we tried: Big Sky IPA (more points for Montana)

Bottom 3 Worst Moments (in no particular order):

  • Sharp corners through Cleveland, OH
  • Crossing the Mississippi into Minnesota in the pouring rain with construction
  • After Mt. Rushmore, seeing the line of cars waiting to get into Bear Country to see “Cub Fest” (cages bears and their newborn cubs)

Really, it was hard to come up with the worst moments. The trip has been wonderful!

Top 3 Best Moments (in no particular order):

hiking the Badlands

hiking the Badlands

  • Backpacking in the Badlands, especially spotting the buffalo after scanning the landscape for so long. (Grandpa’s binoculars came in handy), and being able to pick out our own campsite.
  • Driving into the Badlands and being greeted by two prairie dogs, one on each side of the road, doing that cute thing they do when they stand up.
  • Driving into Yellowstone, in the first 5 minutes spotting heards of bison, antelope, and elk.
  • Watching ducks surf the rapids at Boiling River in Yellowstone. We saw several ducks lining up to float the rapids, just like kayakers or white water rafters do. They were just playing, and enjoying the river, warmed by a hot spring.

Tomorrow is our last day, which is a little bittersweet. We are happy to finally arrive at our destination, but a little sad to see this great trip end.Next up on the agenda: visiting friends and family in Oregon, flying down to Orange County to visit with my brother and sister-in-law, then they drop us off at the trailhead on Sunday! So close we can see it in the extended weather forecast! Looks warm ๐Ÿ™‚

Happy Trails,
P.S. Here are some more photos of the trip:

elk, Yellowstone


Mammoth Hot Springs

a terrace of Mammoth Hot Springs


sunset in Yellowstone campsite




Boiling River, Yellowstone





being badass in the Badlands


among the wildlife we saw, some of it was just bones


morning, moonset, Badlands


following buffalo trails instead of human ones, buffalo prints on our morning hike out in Sage Creek


Lake Huron, going over the Mackinac Bridge



plains of South Dakota