Going Wherever It Leads

Exploring motherhood and Mother Nature


What Makes a Travel Writer?

After a long hiatus from this blog, I thought my comeback post would be all about going to the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival. Instead, it will be all about not going to the Whoopie Pie Festival.

The night before, with our bags and even the trunk of the car packed for an early start and excitement running high, I was awakened by my daughter with the by-now tell-tale sign of a cold coming on because, of course, her first week of summer camp, new germs to mingle with. And just like that all of our weekend plans were canceled. Her middle-of-the-night sniffles and energized fever chatter lead into a day of snuggles on the couch, house cleaning, a quiet day to process my feelings more around the snatching away of women’s rights by a government I can no longer believe in (sorry, that was a lot to unpack there, but that’s where we’re at right now), and then an evening reconnecting with my creativity to help me release a particularly horrendous bedtime at the end of a long solo-parenting day (my husband happened to be off doing unrelated chores elsewhere).

Just an example of some of the cute mess I cleaned up this weekend

But because talking about mopping my floor is not very interesting, and because I know I won’t have time to write about every adventure in discrete posts, nor are the events themselves discrete from one another, since the solo artist date I took myself on last week probably allowed me the patience I needed for the weekend, I will tell you a bit about my day trip to Rockland.

The charming coastal town of Rockland

With an open day on my calendar and a story deadline I could push (and was procrastinating on anyway), I took myself to Rockland, an iconic Maine town, dubbed the state’s arts capital (though Waterville will soon be giving it a run for its money, more on that later). I am almost ashamed to admit that I’ve never visited Rockland before, at least not that I have a memory of.

I walked the 1.9-mile out-and-back Rockland Breakwater Trail to the lighthouse

That got me thinking about how there is still so much I haven’t seen of the state I’ve called home for most of my life. Even so much of my own near surroundings I haven’t experienced (though the pandemic is a good excuse for a lot of that, since we moved to our new town a month before it began). Earlier in the week I found a trail on the way home from summer camp drop-off, along the river, shaded by alternating pines and deciduous forest, and it was such a luscious trail run. I marveled at the fact that it was less than 20 minutes from my house and I never knew about it.

Solo exhibition by Reggie Burrows Hodges and a peek around the corner at a painting by Nicole Wittenberg, part of The View from Here at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art. I had a nice visit to the Farnsworth Art Museum too, both in downtown Rockland

That got me thinking even more about what it means to be a travel writer. The phrase to me conjures up exotic locales, luxury hotels, extravagant comped meals, or off-the-beaten path rugged adventures discovering hidden gems to share with readers (some of which I’ve written about)– but how can one be a true travel writer if you haven’t properly explored your own surroundings? Your own state, town, even the foreign nooks and crannies of your own backyard? I discovered the remains of a trillium bloom in the far corner of our tiny lot earlier this summer and I thought, how did I miss that these past three summers? But I’ve now mapped that corner of the yard in my mind and look forward to welcoming it next year along with some spring bulbs I planted nearby because for the first time in a long time I know I will be in this backyard next year and the year after that and the year after that. That changes travel.

My twenties and thirties were for flying away, escaping, exploring the unfamiliar places far afield and I see now my forties, motherhood still sitting fresh and fragile on my shoulders, is the time to better explore the unfamiliar places right under my nose, perhaps, even, within myself.

This is all part of being a traveler, the maybe less sexy, less talked about part — the coming home, the canceled plans, the living in between the big trips.

View from my hammock

Instead of judging whoopie pies among a crowd of thousands on a scorching summer day, we created art in our cool basement from the flowers we’d pressed two weeks ago during another bout of mild illness and canceled plans, made prints from a celery stock that looked like roses, and rocked in the hammock and looked at the sky.

Weekend arts and crafts

I hope traveling will be a larger part of this year and the years ahead — both solo and with my family, both distant and nearby, but life comes up and I want to come up to meet it. Going wherever it leads is sometimes running down a dream, and sometimes catching boogers running down an energetic preschooler’s nose in the backyard of a little yellow house you bought on Valentine’s Day to be closer to the family that raised you to help raise her. Both a grand adventure in their own right.


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 🙂

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: 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 🙂

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