December 19, 2014

Transition back to reality.

Hey friends! I bet you thought that we totally abandoned this blog! We promise we haven’t, but we’ve certainly had a ton going on as we transition back to reality.

2015 | good morning, mountain

First, we really wanted to focus on time with family as we soaked up every precious moment of our final days in Australia. Then after another 24-hours of air travel, we arrived in Boston just in time for Christmas with my side of the family. After a few days in Massachusetts, we traveled by bus to Philadelphia for a week of catch up and Christmas celebrating with Will’s family. And finally, on January 4th, we filled our MINI to absolute maximum capacity (fuller than when we lived in it for months!) with about half of our things and trekked back up for our move to Massachusetts.

Fireplace in Flight | good morning, mountain

I watched this on our final flight to Boston, to prepare myself for the summer to winter switch.

Moving in a MINI | good morning, mountain


Northeast Massachusetts after the first blizzard; picture about 5-6 feet on the ground after a few more storms.

Will started his new full-time job as a campus Technology Specialist (translated: Mac guru) at our alma mater later that week, and two weeks later, I began my full-time job as an Instructional Technologist working to assist college faculty with technology use in their classrooms. We’re both loving our new roles (and it’s fantastic to car pool and have the same hours!), but it has been quite the adjustment as we unpack and readjust to the routines of daily life. Something that has been particularly helpful in that transition is that we’ve had three full snow days from work, and two delayed openings. Working at a school certainly has some fabulous perks – I don’t hate it. When there’s snow on the ground in June? You may be hearing a different tune from me.

More than anything, we’re trying to focus on learning our new jobs, getting enough sleep, shoveling the car out, and the biggest challenge – starting the home-buying process. As you can imagine, we’re just trying to keep our heads above water. Or snow, actually.

It’s more important to us than ever to continue blogging about our experiences last year, because as we try to acclimate to this new norm, we’re going to forget to process through and document those adventures. Slowly but steadily through this transition, we will venture on :) Coming up next will be some general photos of our time in Sydney. Might be a little torturous to look at through all these flakes!

Stay warm, everyone!

written by: Cas

December 18, 2014

North Island, New Zealand

As I write this, I think I’m still experiencing a bit of disbelief regarding the fact that we made it to New Zealand. But you know what? New Zealand is a place, just like any other. It’s a place of incredible beauty, don’t get me wrong; but one of our hosts there put it well: Everyone talks about New Zealand having such incredible features and beauty, but the truth is that it’s really just condensed into a smaller space.” Now don’t get our host wrong either – the New Zealand land and seascapes are amazing, hence why both he and his wife have lived in Kaikoura all their lives. You’ll get a photographic taste of why in a post soon to come. For now we’ll focus on the North Island, our wonderful hosts, Caitlin and Andrew, and our fantastic adventures there.

North Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountain

Caitlin is a dear friend, and a fellow Recreation & Leisure Studies graduate we know from our time as students at Gordon College. She and I concentrated our studies in Outdoor Education and shared a semester-long adventure now known as the Wilderness Immersion and Leadership Development (WILD) Semester. I’m sure you’ll be able to tell how fitting this was for her once you take a look at her blog. I’m pretty sure that she and Andrew have made their way over to South America by now and are immersing themselves in new experiences.

Andrew is a native Kiwi who grew up a ways south of Te Kuiti, where we stayed with them. As it turns out, he was working as a professional cave guide in a little town called Waitomo, just next door to Te Kuiti, when we arrived. I’m not positive I had ever heard of the Waitomo caves, but I think it would have sounded at least somewhat familiar prior to our visit. These caves are famous for the incredible glowworm populations living within. Incredible is an understatement. You see, I can say this because our hosts, wonderful as I called them earlier, decided to take us into the caves late one evening. And that was after a day of rock climbing in Wharepapa (pronounced fuddypapa) at Froggatt Edge, exploring the Rurakuri Bushwalk, supposedly one of the most beautiful in the country, and enjoying a delicious meal at Caitlin’s place of work, the Huhu Cafe. It was an incredible day, to say the least.

New Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountain North Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountainNew Zealand | good morning, mountainNorth Island, New Zealand | good morning, mountain

You can certainly search the web for some more incredible pictures of the Waitomo caves and their glowworms, but the best and most straightforward description I’ve come up with is the night sky. Imagine looking up into a clear, dark sky and tinting all of the stars a satisfying, fluorescent shade of greenish-blue; we’ll go with aquamarine or teal. It’s incredible, and then strange when you actually get into the cave and an expert on the subject tells you that all of the luminescence is actually given off by excrement still sitting within the abdomens of the glowworms; oh, and they’re actually larvae, not worms. Admittedly, I’m fascinated in spite of knowing that it’s really just glowing maggot poop. Unfortunately we don’t have any of our own cave photos because it wasn’t the most camera-friendly environment.

We spent hours in the caves – swimming through underground rivers, exploring various caverns, marveling at the glowworms on the ceiling of the caves – and eventually exited into midnight darkness. It was all quite surreal and exhilarating, especially once headlamps were turned off. In those moments floating through the pitch black underground on our inner-tubes, I felt unimaginably small within the universe and yet so comforted by my raw recognition of the mountainous existence that surrounds us all.

New Zealand | good morning, mountain

The following day was much more low-key, but the all-day lounging we enjoyed at home in Te Kuiti was nice and necessary in its own right. From there, Caitlin chauffeured us to Hamilton, we hopped a bus to Auckland, and then flew off to Christchurch. More on the South Island to come – stay tuned!

Written by: Will

December 12, 2014

Big Sur, California

Big Sur | good morning, mountain

California | good morning, mountain

Days 60 – 61

Throughout our travels in California, almost every single person we encountered said, “Are you going to Big Sur?”

With that kind of expectation set, I thought to myself, “Man, I really hope this place delivers.” And even though our one day to explore was a bit cloudy and overcast, it was still unbelievable. It most certainly delivered.

Big Sur is the type of place where everything seems normal – gorgeous coastal California – until you hit Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Then your jaw hits the floor and you feel like you’re in another country.

We arrived one evening in June right after dinner time. We established ourselves at Big Sur Riverside Campground in just enough time before daylight escaped us. Funny thing about this campground: it was a bit on the expensive side and the sites were basically right on top of each other with nothing dividing them. It was a pretty cute campground, but we were definitely paying only for our location in relation to the coastal beauty. That’s what real estate is like here, just because you’re in Big Sur. As we were setting up our tents, the neighboring site with multiple families totaling about ten kids under ten years old, was wrapping up dinner and starting to unwind for some evening fun. We were unloading our car and setting up the tent as these kids were literally running through our site, basically bumping into us, and then kicking a soccer ball which narrowly and continually missed hitting our car. We exchanged nervous looks as we wondered why the parents didn’t seem concerned about any of this. Oh well – we were only there for one night, and our priority wasn’t hanging out at camp for the evening. It was getting a late dinner into our bellies and exploring the area the next day.

Big Sur Roadhouse | good morning, moutainBig Sur Roadhouse 2 | good morning, moutain

With tent in place, we headed around the corner for an incredible dinner at Big Sur Roadhouse. There are too many good things to say about this place. The restaurant was decorated with tons of wonderful succulents and local plants, they had a big copper fireplace in one corner, with stylish lighting all throughout. Their outdoor seating areas had the most adorable patio arrangements, where if we had gotten there earlier, I’d want to stay all night. The owner greeted us when we arrived, and we had such pleasant conversation as we waited to be seated. When we glanced over the menu, we were presented with too many seasonal, local choices to pick from – it was a tough choice!

In my opinion, we hadn’t waited very long at all before the waiter re-visited us apologizing for the wait. Evidently our order hadn’t been put through on time, so we were offered drinks on the house! It was with the waiter’s recommendation that I had the pleasure of enjoying the most delicious glass of wine I’ve ever had – and it was free! When the waiter came back with our food, I exclaimed, “This wine!” With an earnest stare and a serious tone, he responded, “I know, right? It takes everything in me to leave work with my paycheck, but lately I’ve been spending much of it on bottles of this wine.” I couldn’t blame him. And actually, I was jealous. If I remember correctly, it was this Sonoma Valley Grenache. That’s where it’s at.

Big Sur Roadhouse | good morning, mountain

The food was scrumptious – every bite was savory, juicy, and better than we’d hoped. I should have known after my wine appetizer. This place knows what’s up. If you’re ever in town, Big Sur Roadhouse gets our thumbs way up!

Big Sur Roadhouse 3 | good morning, moutain

When we returned to our site after 10pm, the neighbor kids were luckily all tucked in their sleeping bags. We happily hit the hay in peace in preparation for our Big Sur exploration day. In the morning, we started the day with a trip to Big Sur Bakery which had rave reviews. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I was overly impressed. Maybe it’s because we ordered a sit-down breakfast instead of the pastries? Maybe it’s the pastries that everyone was in a tizzy about. Anyway, after breakfast, we set out to drive the coast.

Big Sur Bakery | good morning, moutain

This is the part of our adventure where anything else that was sub-par was promptly forgotten. The scenery here was the reason you tolerate ten running neighbor kids nearly tackling you during tent setup and kicking soccer balls at your car.

Big Sur 2 | good morning, mountainBig Sur 1 | good morning, mountainBig Sur 3 | good morning, mountainBig Sur 4 | good morning, mountainBig Sur 5 | good morning, mountainBig Sur | good morning, mountain Big Sur | good morning, mountainBig Sur | good morning, mountain Big Sur | good morning, mountain_2 Big Sur | good morning, mountainBig Sur | good morning, mountain_3

Even on our cloudy, overcast day, we saw what we needed to see to understand why everyone in the entire state needed to make sure this was on our agenda. It’s their crown jewel, and they needed to know we wouldn’t miss it. So that’s our advice: If you’re ever going anywhere south of San Fransisco, even if you’re hours away, we think you should make this trip.

written by: Cas

December 11, 2014

King’s Canyon & Sequoia National Parks, California

King's Canyon | good morning, mountain

California | good morning, mountain

Day 58 – 60

It’s time to revisit the big trees! I hope our previous photos of the Coastal Redwoods did these giants at least a bit of justice because they are truly incredible. But as large as those Coastal Redwoods are, Redwood National Park is actually not home to the largest of trees. The largest single-stem tree in the world is a Giant Sequoia located in Sequoia National Park. Let me introduce you to General Sherman:

Sequoia | good morning, mountain

As it turns out, the Coastal Redwoods in fact tend to be taller, but they’re also leaner. There are other tree varieties that hold other records too – heaviest, greatest circumference, etc. But right there in the United States stand some of the largest trees by volume. That means they are technically the biggest, as they simply have the most tree in them. The world’s third largest tree is just next door to the first, in King’s Canyon National Park. Here’s General Grant:

King's Canyon | good morning, mountain

volume: 46,608 cubic feet // height: 268 feet // weight: 1,254 tons // age (estimated): 1,700 years //
circumference (at base): 107 feet // diameter (maximum): 40 feet // largest branch (diameter): 4.5 feet

King's Canyon | good morning, mountain

Did you guess it – The Nation’s Christmas Tree? We didn’t either. It’s thanks to President Calvin Coolidge in 1926 that this tree has that designation. General Grant is also the world’s widest known Sequoia, though it is 1,500 years younger than the oldest known Sequoia. Here are some more fun facts about the General Grant tree that we gathered from various signage in the park:

  • If the trunk of the General Grant Tree was a gas tank on a car that got 25 miles per gallon, you could drive around the earth 350 times without refueling.
  • The General Grant Tree is so wide, it would take about twenty people holding hands to make a complete circle around the base.
  • If the General Grant Tree’s trunk could be filled with sports equipment, it could hold 159,000 basketballs, or more than 37 million ping-pong balls.

I’ll just quickly delve into a more detailed comparison of the tree types I’ve mentioned, as promised in an earlier post. Both are in the Sequoioideae subfamily (in the Cypress family), but interestingly the Coastal Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are in the genus Sequoia whereas the Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) are in the genus Sequoiadendron. According to the corresponding Wikipedia articles, each is the sole living species of their respective genera.

The only other thing I’ll mention is that these trees are so big that their bark layers can grow up to three feet thick. That’s a lot of armor, and it actually allows them to withstand most fires which are a natural part of forest life. Because of this, you’ll notice that many of the trees have large fire scars on their trunks denoting victory in the face of battle. These fires knock out a lot of other, smaller plant species that might otherwise compete for water and sunlight.

King's Canyon | good morning, mountain (3)King's Canyon | good morning, mountain  King's Canyon | good morning, mountain King's Canyon | good morning, mountain King's Canyon | good morning, mountain   King's Canyon | good morning, mountain (3)

Admittedly, all of this is only part of the swarm of interesting facts that exist about these trees. But as fantastic as all of that information is, I think it’s the first-hand gazing that really pushes the mind into a state of awe. These parks are ones we would highly recommend visiting, but make sure to leave yourselves ample time to gaze when you do.

King's Canyon | good morning, mountain King's Canyon | good morning, mountain King's Canyon | good morning, mountainSequoia | good morning, mountain (6) Sequoia | good morning, mountain  Sequoia | good morning, mountain Sequoia | good morning, mountainKing's Canyon | good morning, mountain (3)King's Canyon | good morning, mountain

Enough with the statistics and information. In addition to being enthralled, we simply had a great time in these parks. We scored one of the most remote campsites in King’s Canyon, with plenty of room to move about, and even set up our hammock! The days were beautiful and the nights comfortable, full of quiet rest and rejuvenation.

Written by: Will

December 4, 2014

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park | good morning, mountain

Yosemite National Park: the fleeting adventure that almost wasn’t.

Who goes on a road trip of the United States, visits 28 national parks in three months and doesn’t go to Yosemite? We obviously couldn’t be those people, but things weren’t looking good.

California | good morning, mountain

Days 56 – 58

I knew that booking a campsite at Yosemite was chaos. I was aware that it’s cut throat, every man for himself, and the mayhem for staking summer claim starts in January. I knew all of these things. Why did I think that for some reason we would have it easy? To be honest, it’s because often times, things just kind of fall into place for us. It’s a blessing and I definitely shouldn’t live by it, but much of our road trip was a vague idea with a timeline plus a healthy dose of flying by the seat of our pants. And 95% of the time, that worked out.

But I’m foolish. Yosemite is in the 5%. Who am I kidding – it’s in the .001%. This place is a freaking zoo, people. We didn’t hear as many foreign languages anywhere else this summer. We didn’t face traffic and a race for parking inside the park barriers this badly at any other national hot spot. I thought we surely could secure a campsite in the “no reservations” category if we simply arrived early enough in the day. But that was when I was still so naive.

Yosemite National Park 1 | good morning, mountainYosemite National Park 1 | good morning, mountainYosemite | good morning, mountain 1Yosemite | good morning, mountain 2

As our dates to visit Yosemite were finalized and began to steadily approach, I took to the research a bit more seriously. That’s when I learned the truth. Have any of you ever heard of Camp 4? It’s the only campsite at Yosemite where there are no reservations, so if you show up early enough, you might get a spot. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places, because it’s recognized as the birthplace of modern rock climbing. There are massive boulders right in the camping area where climbers would hang out, and many of the most famous climbers in the world would gather here and practice together. Oh, and it’s only $5 per person per night. Perfect spot for us, right?

How perfect does this sound: You arrive in line before 5AM to be one of the first ten people waiting. Three and a half hours later at 8:30, the ranger shows up at the payment booth. By this point, there is most likely thirty to fifty people in line behind you. The ranger then passes out slips of paper, and not everyone in line will get one – guaranteed. Depending on the number of people in line, sometimes preference is given to those who are not sleeping in a tent – those opting to sleep on the ground in the open, or in a hammock. The reason to conserve space is because you are guaranteed to be sharing a roughly 12×12 plot of land with strangers. Six people to a site sharing a fire pit, and you simply can’t fit many tents in that space. Oh, this is also a campsite known to attract a raucous crowd, so don’t expect quiet until well after 11PM. And some of the loud folks just might be your campsite mates – there’s no way to guard against it.

There are four metal food lockers for each campsite, which are shared and obviously need to serve six people. We also weren’t simply carrying food and supplies for a few days of camping at Yosemite – we had months of provisions and toiletries. You absolutely must keep your food in the metal lockers however and not in your car, because the bears roam through the area and demolish cars when they smell anything in them. Your car isn’t near your tent so you can keep an eye on it either – it’s parked in a parking lot which would take a few minutes to access. Basically, even if the car next to yours had food inside and a bear went at it, it’s likely your car would be damaged in the process just be being nearby. I don’t think car insurance covers bear damage. Since your car is not right near your tent, you also need to schlep all of your food and gear to your site. Your site neighbors (since they are raucous and eager to party) are also likely to leave food out over night, because they’re drunk and just want to go to bed. Our bear friends are then excited that they’ve struck gold, and meander through the campsites to see what they can muster. Hearing growling and rummaging in the night is not too infrequent of an occurrence. Check out this video. [source]

Yosemite Bear Video

So what do you think?! Are you sold on Camp 4? Is this for real? People do this and call this fun? I hate to be a fuddy-duddy, but no thanks. Maybe another time, but without jobs to pay for extreme damage to our stuff, we were not feeling it. It felt like way too big of a risk to take our car to a campground where it might be demolished, too ridiculous to surround ourselves with people who don’t care enough to be bear-aware, while waking up well before sunrise to drive and sit in line to do all of this.

Yosemite El Cap | good morning, mountainYosemite El Cap 2 | good morning, mountainYosemite Falls | good morning, mountainYosemite Half Dome | good morning, mountainYosemite Half Dome 2 | good morning, mountain

With our decision pretty set against Camp 4, we were starting to wonder if we were seriously going to miss visiting Yosemite on our cross-country venture. That would just be insane!

Then, an absolutely saving grace kind of thing happened. Remember the distant cousins of Will’s in Eugene, Oregon? They have a cabin in Yosemite and offered it to us for a few nights! What?! This was the hugest blessing we could ever conjure up. They obviously rent this place out for a pretty penny, but they extended it to us for nothing. Thank you, Cooleys, for giving us an amazing experience we would have otherwise missed! They had a nephew staying there for two weeks at that time already, but they were willing to call him and ask if we could join them for two nights, simply to aid in giving us a Yosemite experience. How unbelievably thoughtful is that? I’m still in awe.

Yosemite Cabin 1 | good morning, mountainYosemite Cabin | good morning, mountain

So we shared the cabin with another couple close to our age for two nights – which of course wasn’t as luxurious as two weeks – but it was long enough to give us one solid day of exploring Yosemite.

When we venture back to Yosemite some day, we will definitely hike Half Dome. We’d love to do some rock climbing – it was staggering just laying our eyes on El Capitan. We’d love to chill in the river by the cabin. This particular day, we only had enough time to do a drive-through of the park with a bunch of stops for viewpoints and photo opportunities. But man, was it gorgeous. Let’s just say, we understand what all of the fuss is about.

However, this place was crawling with people. That’s probably my main hesitation about our someday-return trip. I much prefer a woodsy environment where we feel a bit isolated, and Yosemite is not that place. You can definitely get lost wandering on trails and feel alone, but your camping experience will most likely not feel that way. It will be great to have a more in-depth experience of the park, but when the day comes, I can’t say that it won’t be stressful.

Yosemite wildlife | good morning, mountainYosemite wildlife 1 | good morning, mountainYosemite 2 | good morning, mountainYosemite Glacier Point | good morning, mountainYosemite Glacier Point 2 | good morning, mountainYosemite Glacier Point 3 | good morning, mountain

This time around, although brief, we really did enjoy ourselves. It was sensational to be in such an iconic place.

written by: Cassie